Poem a Day

Academy of American Poets has an excellent service “Poem a Day“. They’ll put a poem in your email box (often with a link to a soundcloud page with a reading) nearly everyday. During the week, they send poems by contemporary poets. On the weekend, they go more historical. It’s all English language, afaict, with no translations.

Still! It’s pretty awesome. I’ve read more poetry in the past year or so than I have in quite a while. And many of the poems have been delightful. Even when I hate the poem, something good comes from it.

On Sat, Jan 6 2018, they sent “A Poem for Children with Thoughts on Death” by Jupiter Hammon.

It’s very…very…religious.

IV

To pray unto the most high God,

and beg restraining grace,

Then by the power of his word

You’l see the Saviour’s face.

V

Little children they may die,

Turn to their native dust,

Their souls shall leap beyond the skies,

And live among the just.

VI

Like little worms they turn and crawl,

and gasp for every breath,

The blessed Jesus sends his call,

and takes them to his rest.

I don’t necessarily hate religious poetry. Or poetry with strong rhyme and meter. But I’d didn’t like this.

But damn, the poet is named “Jupiter”. That’s pretty interesting. So I looked him up to try to figure out what was going on. Turns out, he’s really interesting:

Jupiter Hammon (October 17, 1711 – before 1806) was a blackpoet who in 1761 became the first African-American writer to be published in the present-day United States. Additional poems and sermons were also published. Born into slavery, Hammon was never emancipated. He was living in 1790 at the age of 79, and died by 1806. A devout Christian, he is considered one of the founders of African-American literature.

I’d never heard of him! This is a big deficiency in my education. He was a slave in New York, was of minor significance in the Revolution, and had complex expressed views on slavery (inflected hard by his Christianity). I have his An Address to the Negroes in the State of New-York (1787) queued up to read.

Kaveh Akbar is doing a bang up job as guest editor this month (shout out!). Today’s poem is flat out awesome.

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