Responses to American Poetry
The aim of this online space is to host the research work of university students or young scholars as this emerges from larger projects focusing on the American poetry scene. The objective of this initiative is to bring this kind of research activity to the attention of the general public in an attempt to further promote the exchange of ideas with regard to the process of reading, understanding and appreciating poetry writing.
(Associate Professor, School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece; Advisor and initiative co-ordinator firstname.lastname@example.org)
Athina Bekou Irini Vasila Maria Episkopou
“When You Saw Me”
(a poem inspired by Walt Whitman's Song of Myself)
Feel the green, fresh sprouting of my feelings
I am the grass that your feet touch, that leaves an imprint in your ankles
The home of worms and grasshoppers, green like the bottom of a lake
Like a snake's green lithe body, as it reaches to bite its tail
Like the beginning of everything
Larisa Greece. Pinios River
You say that all humans share atoms
And that is true, because the world is infinite, and they all step in me, to hold nature's earthy brown hand
They are all born the same, and they all seek the same
A quiet place in the meadows to rest their head, curled up in my embrace
Not much different than little beetles, crawling their way into the light
Grapevine in Crete, Greece
And yet, each human is an emblem
Each is forged with tools unique, carved like a sculpture and put into poetic words
By nature's sweet whisperings of stardust and soil
They are clothed in labels and terms, that both drive them apart and bring them together
But you cannot touch them, for each is a work of art, and each deserves their own pedestal
Where their voice will be heard and their presence will clear
The polluted air of sameness
Olive grove in Crete, Greece
Why then, poet, do you insist that you all look like leaves of grass
The precise blades that give me my essence
Of nostalgic familiarity
When you are all flowers
With soft, thin, similar roots
But a magnificent variety of petals
Sharing atoms must be an understandable necessity
When you can share the grass, the trees, the stars
And the kindness of each other
In the face of your different leaves.
Port docks in Piraeus, Greece
I Was There Once
(a poem inspired by Walt Whitman's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry)
Flood-tide below you! You see me face to face!
Crowds of men and women in the usual costumes are curious to you but not to me!
On the ferry-boats those who crossed with you, now I see. Some are still crossing from shore to shore but most are on the new bridge with me. Were they all in your meditations? All those I see?
The similitudes of your future are now my present, the similitudes of your present are where you thought you didn't belong.
You are tied with them, the others. You were certain there were going to be others, to enjoy the same things as you: the sunset, the islands, the flood-tide, the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east.
You were certain, men and women of generations to come will feel the way you felt when you leaned on the rail of your favorite bridge, the captain's bridge!
I am here on Brooklyn Bridge, not the one you loved on the ferry, but the technological feat that would steal your comfort, your familiar space, the known, the conventional, the contact with nature.
You saw me too, among my lot, high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating my body. I am still high and fighting with the wind, I dream, I refuse to let go, I still hope.
Pireas Port, Greece
I keep my distance from you and I see you there seeing the steamers, the flags, the masts, the docks, the seagulls, children, women and men; you are trying to blend in but staying aloof. Your vision is doomed and restricted.
My senses are not! I have been high above all this time, seeing what you saw; hearing what you couldn't, reaching those people and places your ferry wouldn't reach.
I am the spark and the promise of a future beyond boundaries, beyond discriminations, beyond the giant divides threatening the ideal democracy of your vision.
I fly above and I know, my poet, you longed for unity, blending, merging of soul and body.
If you were here you would agree with me. You would see the limitations of your dream. You would have left nobody out of your vision. You would have included all, all that you could and could not see; all that you dared and dared not touch.
From the perspective of your travel from shore to shore, those you saw were the elite. You were content; they were the hope, the promise, the spark of the nation you longed for.
I see you, inhaling the splendor of the breeze and the soothing warmth of sunset, transforming in your mind your favorite surroundings into a common ground for Democracy to sprout.
Piraeus Port, Greece
When sitting on the ferry's bridge, looking at me, conversing with me and with everything and everyone around you, the power of the sun, the river, the sky, the wind, the birds informed your dream; your ideal nation was yet to be realized; your men and women fought for it but to no avail.
You fought for it too, you saw, you grieved, you consoled and then hoped and rejoiced at the prospect of a country emerging from its ashes but to no avail.
The women and men that you saw were all near to you but those you didn't see suffered the most. I can see them now; the native, the slave, the immigrant, the homeless, the refugee; they should have been part of your vision, too. You know now and they know, too.
They emerged from the depths of humanity's flaws, my women and men. Those I see; those you didn't see existing outside the majestic surroundings of the islands, without whom no Democracy can claim to exist.
Meager your thoughts were not! We both knew and know what it is to be evil. We both cherish the lust, the anger that sets you in motion, the longing for a touch, the sense of belonging, the craving for freedom and love. These are the driving forces behind a society that acts as one. You knew; I know too.
I am part of Nature; you see me nesting in your rooftops, you can hear my harsh wailing which, I know, you love, I fly above but I never venture far; you can turn to me for your truth. I am part of the outdoors, in contact with which the Democracy you envisioned will be fibred and vitalised but I am not enough; neither the water nor the sun are.
I wish I were. I wish I could fly close to every man's and woman's soul, instill in them solidarity, tolerance, common perspectives for a unified future. If only their differences and their uniqueness were to become the bridge that defies every divide, every schism.
Had you been here with me, on my bridge, your disillusionment would shadow all sparkle and glare of sun and water, would muffle and hush every sound of steamers, flags, masts, seagulls and wind.
Nature's force to reunite, if ever existed, is now eradicated, numb, mute, unable to become the glue. Nature's force is not enough to unify your men and women towards an all encompassing world; they have lost all respect for it, they do not invoke it as you did.
You saw us all; the river, the clouds of the sunset, the woman, the man, the rail of the boat over the river, the spokes of light, the ships, the flags of all nations, the cities, me the seagull. You talked to us all!
You urged us to flow, to spread and drench your soul, to call you by your nighest name, to play the role our life desires, to support and be firm, to run through you and shed you with light, to enter the gates of the ferry and cross the river with you, to burn high and fly on high in the sky.
The generations after you, have you in their hearts and I do too. Your meaning is poured into us. I can see you looking at me and I exist. You never gave me a voice then. I asked for more but you never knew. What I asked I would never have handled anyway but you gave me force, the power of wind under my wings; a light to focus on, a melody to help me through; and now I am talking back to you.
Sullen, tired faces of people, empty looks on the blue, on the gray, on the black; a void was then, a void is now.
The elusive unity you craved, I am craving too. The leisure you enjoyed I try to enjoy too. I can see the people you saw; I can see my people, too. Their gaze is wandering around trying to spot the remains of your dreams. They try to become what you could see.
I see them as a whole, a gathering of souls and bodies. I see them blend, complement each other but mostly they object, protest, retrieve into themselves. The unity you dreamt is centrifugal and cares for the self.
Parts of their souls and bodies sometimes wedge in hidden niches of each others' hearts but mostly float alone, disoriented, trying to heal their painful, open wounds.
I fly above, I am always nigh, I see them all, I hear them all, I feel them all.
I am here on the new bridge and I enjoy the cranes coming alive on the dock, bending their head on the ground, bearing their loads with pride, dignity and self respect, like horses riding to catch the moon. They run when I fly, they never look up but they strive with resilience and perseverance. They stare in awe, with eyes full of hope, at the sight you marveled at.
My cranes; my women and my men; those who suffer, who strive, who survive!
Port docks in Piraeus, Greece
The Road Speaks
(a poem inspired by Walt Whitman's Song of the Open Road)
I know them all
You sent them to me
They hear you call
And begin to walk on me.
I know their steps
their voices, their names
I know their purpose
their breath, their tales
I know their nature
and all that it entails.
Their legs quake
Others can’t wait
To follow their fate
They both prayed
For the visit you paid.
They know you well
Your silly tunes
Your sparkling eyes
They do as you tell
Seek the muse
Like obedient little mice
As they go
Their cheerful march
Their silent hello
Before they reach
The end of the show.
So their journey begins
Full of hope and dreams
Yet I weep
For I know well
That this joy
They won’t get to keep.
I’ve seen the tears
Smelled the rain
I’ve felt the heartache
Felt the pain
Yet here you stand
Without a thing to say.
Thank heavens for the lucky ones
The resilient ones
They give me strength
Keep my sorry heart
They are never short of breath.
They play their part.
The world is theirs for the taking.
Do they know it?
I don’t believe they do.
Because if they did
My job would be easier
The wind calmer
The pebbles softer.
I love them all.
Can’t help but do.
What if they break my heart in two?
I don’t care at all.
They need someone to care,
And if not me, then who?
Do you really care?
I hope not.
Because if that’s your love,
Then it’s all for naught.
If you have dignity to spare,
Tell them what fate has really brought.
Still I have faith
That they’ll learn
To do better.
No matter how frail
I know it’s their turn
To see that they matter.
And I’ll be fair
As much as I can.
Not a single tear
Only a bright sun.
May they see it there
And decide to go far.
So come traveler
My embrace awaits
Move your feet
No more silly affairs
See for yourself
What the future prepares
All images used as part of the photo-poetry project "When You Saw Me" were taken and/or created by Irini Vasila.
Contributor Bios: Athina Bekou, Irini Vasila, Maria Episkopou
Contributor Reflective Pieces: Athina Bekou, Irini Vasila