NEW: Charles Simic’s “Watermelons”

While we honor those fallen in service for Memorial Day, we also welcome the arrival of summer as May fades into June. And what could be a better harbinger of the season than that juiciest of fruits, the watermelon?

“Green Buddhas

On the fruit stand.

We eat the smile

And spit out the teeth.”

Well put, Charles Simic. In four lines, the Yugoslavian-born poet manages to comment on the nature of human existence–the constant struggle of creation and destruction–as well as make your mouth water. Don’t be fooled by the poem’s simplistic appearance; each line contains multitudes.

Simic was also no stranger to warfare. He suffered a difficult childhood during World War II in Belgrade and, after emigrating to the U.S. in 1954, was drafted into the Army at the age of 23. He has since published several books of poetry and translated the poems of others in five different languages. Since he didn’t learn English until the age of 15, he was “especially touched and honored” to be selected as the American Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 2007.

As the season heats up, come cool off with Simic’s short and sweet poem, “Watermelons,” now fully annotated on Rap Genius.

Bonnie & Clyde: American Gangsters and…Poets?

Well, maybe not Clyde so much, but gun-totin’ Bonnie Parker fancied herself something of a writer. Her interest in poetry began at a young age and in 1932, while incarcerated for a botched burglary, she penned a chapbook entitled Poetry from the Other Side. The ten handwritten poems brought even more sensationalized attention from the media, which was already crazy for the infamous duo.

“The End of the Line”–published as “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” by the press–is Parker’s take on  the unjust nature of the law and society in general, especially in times as harsh as the Great Depression. In the sixteen-stanza poem, she denies accusations of crimes “they had no hand in,” then accurately predicts her own demise.

“Some day they’ll go down together;

And they’ll bury them side by side

To few it’ll be grief–

To the law a relief–

But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”

While Parker was no Emily Dickinson–notwithstanding her fondness for dashes–her heartfelt ballad still echoes the sentiments of some artists today, who feel that the pressure of poverty and injustice force them into crime.

“They say an eye for an eye, we both lose our sight

And two wrongs don’t make a right

But when you been wrong and you know all along that it’s just one life

At what point does one fight? (Good question, right?!)”

–Jay-Z, “Justify My Thug

Beyoncé and Jay may be the self-appointed Bonnie & Clyde of ’03, but let’s not forget the original gangsters of ’30.

Minnesota Senator Reads “Let America Be America” in Plea for Marriage Equality

This week, Minnesota became the twelfth state in the U.S., and the the first state in the Midwest, to legalize marriage between same-sex couples. The unions will be acknowledged as legitimate starting August 1, 2013.

Just minutes before the Senate vote on Monday, openly gay State Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) read three stanzas from the yearnful Langston Hughes’ poem, “Let America Be America,” in a plea for marriage equality.

“Let America be America again

Let it be the dream it used to be

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free

(America never was America to me.)”

However, in the Senator’s rendition he omits the parenthetical lines, explaining, “…I left those out on purpose. Because this is not a day about being alienated and disaffected from the state and the country we all love.” The choice prompts the question: by excising a layer of irony from the poem, did Dibble rob it of part of its force?

Check out the poem that inspired the heartfelt appeal for equality, all up and annotated on Rap Genius.

“The Waste Land” AND “Notes on the Waste Land” Annotated on Rap Genius

Maybe you came across our annotated Waste Land a while back; it got some very kind attention from some pretty cool places. Today we’re pleased to announce that Rap Genius not only features a crowdsourced breakdown of T. S. Eliot’s masterpiece, but also a crowdsourced breakdown of T. S. Eliot’s notes on T. S. Eliot’s masterpiece. Eliot originally tacked on his “Notes on ‘The Waste Land’” to pad out the poem to book length, but they contain some genuine insights into the dense thicket of cultural references…as well as some clever bullshit (a word Eliot loved) to keep you on your toes.

Check out The Waste Land here and the Notes here. And for good measure, check out our analysis of young Obama’s analysis of the poem.

New Verified Poet: Rosanna Oh

We know that his robes are as dark as the black waters,
we know that the clouds are white,
full and beyond the reach of the monk…

Caspar David Friedrich’s 1810 masterpiece, The Monk by the Sea, will blow your horizons wide open. Rosanna Oh’s “Landscape With Monk and Sea,” a poetic tribute to the painting, will take you deeper inside the roaring immensity of the monk’s seascape. And Oh’s annotations, as our latest Verified Poet on Rap Genius, will help you situate both painting and poem within the world of art history.

Rosanna Oh’s work has appeared previously in such journals as The Hopkins Review, Linebreak, and The Common. “Landscape with Monk and Sea” first appeared in The Connecticut River Review. It’s a lovely piece of writing and a great use of the RG annotation platform: enjoy.

Verified Poets Megan Burns, Gina Myers, and Geoff Munsterman Break Down “30 Days of Weezy”

Screenshot 2013-05-10 at 4.38.29 PM - Edited

For National Poetry Month last April, New Orleans writer Megan Burns set out on a mission to write 30 poems in 30 days, all about Lil Wayne. Mission accomplished! In a truly Rap Genius-esque collaborative effort, Burns partnered with fellow authors Gina Myers and Geoff Munsterman to complete 30 Days of Weezy—and now all 30 poems are on the site with killer Verified annotations from all three poets!

Burns kicks off Day 1 of the series with an “epistolary response” to a Lil Wayne quote about how some women have “deep and dark” reasons for not being able to love.

“Dear Lil Wayne:

Once upon a time there was a dormouse, the deepest and the dark reasons of which clouds description. Once upon a time there was a trilling…”

She and Myers then come full circle on Day 30 with another epistolary poem that mirrors the first.

“Dear Weezy:

outlined this blue, a world of debt accrued

turning every day into something worthy

& new, blacklisted I bite down on

a slipping beat.”

In between are poems rich in references ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Bob Dylan to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Not sure what a prose poem is? Burns will fill you in. Wonder how many bridges are in NOLA? She’s got you! (Hint: it’s a number between 87 and 89.)

Our latest Verified Poets are determined to annotate every single ode to Weezy, so hop in and help out!

Megan Burns lives in New Orleans, where she co-hosts the 17 Poets! Literary and Performance Series. She writes and edits for the literary magazine & blog Solid Quarter, where 30 Days of Weezy first appeared. She enjoys her steaks “super raw.”

Gina Myers is an Atlanta-based poet and editor.  Her collections include A Model Year and False Spring.

Geoff Munsterman was born in New Orleans and is the author of the chapbook Tunnel (2006).

Our First Verified Translator Shares the 19th-Century Russian Love

I can’t forget how, broken-hearted,
I wept and wept with you that day.
My hands, ice-cold and void of feeling,
strove to detain you forcibly;
with choking cries I kept appealing
“Stay on – prolong my agony!”

Alexander Pushkin is the most revered poet in Russian history, beating out such heavyweights as Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, and Boris Pasternak for the crown. Writing in the New York Times a couple years ago, Dwight Garner called him “the rebellious founder of modern Russian literature, and the country’s greatest early poet, its Shakespeare: all roads snake back to him.” Today Poetry Genius is pleased to present a Pushkin poem (so much alliteration!) as our first verified translation.

The translation, and annotations, come courtesy of Roger Clarke, whose new edition of Pushkin’s Love Poems is available this month from Independent Publishers Group. His version of “The Promise” renders this sorrowful tale of lovers’ parting in plangent ballad meter. And the last line’s still a killer after 180 years. Check it out here.

Collaborating With Cleverbot: Ryan Ridge

Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood (2009) is a novel written entirely in questions. By posing Powell’s original questions to a trio of internet chatbots—Cleverbot, Brother Jerome, & Sensation Bot—Ryan Ridge has created 22nd Century Man, a book of answers to Mr. Powell’s project. The result is a perfect marriage of sensitive poet and rational algorithm (or is it the other way around?).

Today we present “Famous Once,” an excerpt from the book complete with Ridge’s verified annotations. (And, of course, Cleverbot’s.)

Ryan Ridge is a lecturer at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of the short story collection Hunters & Gamblers, the poetry collection Ox, and the chapbooks Hey, it’s America and 22nd Century Man. A fiction editor at Juked, he lives in Long Beach, California with his wife Ashley Farmer. His website is ryanridge.com.

Cleverbot is a web application that converses with humans by “learning” from their input. It will destroy us all someday.

Rescued From Drowning By Writing: Adam Clay

Poetry Genius is proud to present our newest Verified Poet, Adam Clay. Adam breaks down some lines from his poem “For Your Eyelash Anchored to the Sky.”

Adam Clay is the author of two books: A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World (Milkweed Editions, 2012) and The Wash (Parlor Press, 2006). A third book of poems, Stranger, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Ploughshares, Denver Quarterly, Iowa Review, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere. He co-edits TYPO Magazine and lives in Kentucky.

So much for his real bio. The poem presents us with a kind of elliptical capsule history of a speaker who may or may not be the poet:

I am thinking of a specific place in time.

A smashed caterpillar somehow on a windshield.

Somehow, otherhow.

I am always wishing you were here.

I am thinking of a general place in time.

The ending, with its imagery of drowning and rescue through art, hovers somewhere between T. S. Eliot’s “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea” and Hart Crane’s “Atlantis—hold thy floating singer late!”:

I am tying a typewriter to my leg with a heavy piece of thread.

Because I do not want to be dragged to the bottom.

I do not want a chain to drag me down.

Because I want to watch thousands of words spill out and up towards me.

I want to watch you laughing down from the pier…

You can read the poem, with Adam’s annotations, here.

NEW: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Brahma”

Since the publication of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Nature” in 1836, the lecturer and author has generally been acknowledged as a key figure in the 19th-century Transcendentalist movement in American letters. He took a strong interest in Hinduism, which is reflected in the spiritually profound and beautifully annotated poem, “Brahma,” now on Rap Genius.

In the poem, Emerson assumes the persona of the Hindu god of creation, speaking from Brahma’s point of view. His presence is all-encompassing and oblivious to time. In the following stanza, we can’t help but be reminded of Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” in which he says, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” A poet as creator of the entire universe and all things in it?  Yeah, that’s pretty large.

Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.

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