Archive for November, 2013

Smart bloggers use their site stats to figure out how to attract more readers.  I’m not smart that way (or I’m too lazy to figure out how to be smart that way), but I still love my site stats.  It’s fun at the end of the day to see how many visitors I’ve had, how many hits on each post, how many hits from each country and clicks on links.  What I enjoy the most is the list of search engine terms that bring readers to the blog.


Last year I did a round-up of search engine terms, and I think I’ll make it an end-of-year tradition.   My report begins with the announcement that the most heavily-used searches haven’t changed.  Year after year, hundreds of people look for Seamus Heaney’s poem “Mother of the Groom,” or without knowing the poet or the poem, search for a poem for that overlooked lady.  I have several poems for the wedding couple, but not nearly as many people want poems for them.  No one who finds his way to this blog wants a poem for the mother of the bride.  Presumably verse-loving guests know she’s too busy to read a poem.  And pity the poor fathers of the bride and groom—not a single person seems to care enough about their emotional states to search for a poem to give them.


The next search that’s stayed on top is “poem for kids leaving home,” or “poems for daughter/son going to college,” a search which drops them in my post on Linda Pastan’s wonderful “To a Daughter Leaving Home.”  Pastan’s little poem is a hard and generous worker, helping parents the world over by providing comfort and laying out the emotional difficulties children growing up.


“Father’s death” and “anniversary of father’s death” is up there on the list of Poem Elf search terms.  I don’t get searches for “mother’s death” but only because thank God in heaven I have not written a post about that.


ImageComplaint department:  one of the most heavily searched terms bugs the crap out of me.  I hate that I am confused with the awful “Elf on the Shelf” toy.  All through the year people are searching for “elf on the shelf poem.”  Hear ye, hear ye: Poem Elf is not related to Elf on the Shelf.  Poem Elf would gladly put Elf on the Shelf on a special shelf. . .  in the morgue.  That other elf is nothing but a marketing ploy disguised as a family tradition that unfortunately has replaced the much richer tradition of advent calendars and advent wreaths.  Blech.


On to the fun stuff.  Here’s a few of my favorite searches from the year.  I’ve preserved the spelling.


Searches that would make great writing prompts:

poem for a lost mother

disrespectful to the dying

manipulative old mother

elf lover (wouldn’t that be a great song?)

why did aaron alexis have my elf on his gun

my greedy sister

poem to my foster dog



Searches that break my heart:

I no longer want to breathe poems (a depressing twist on James Laughlin’s ”I want to breathe”)

mothers verse for leukemia

im sorry im leaving poem

I am a loser and a piece of garbage please kill me


Signs from the universe that it’s time to outgrow my scatological humor:

peeing after readin a poem

glad you’re home someone shit in the hallway


Search that makes me nervous:

Airport trashcan (I’m envisioning a bomb-maker)


Search that makes me less nervous:

poems for baby feet (I want to read that poem)


Searches that prove there are still people in the world who know how to raise children and who probably don’t like Elf on the Shelf either:

poems about acorns for one-year olds

fall poems for young children


Searches that make me worry about the state of poetry:

don’t do inhalants poem

poem about corn hole

poems about clams

croquet poems

funny poems about sausages


Finally, the search that makes my site stats so entertaining:

Edna St. Vincent Millay sex toys


I’m trying to picture it.  A candle that burns at both ends for the S&M crowd?



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by Langston Hughes


What happens to a dream deferred?


Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?


Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.


Or does it explode?


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The poem I taped to the fence at Mt. Elliott Cemetery in Detroit and the poem I’ve copied directly into this blog are not the same. The first version of “Harlem” is the familiar one, but the second, taken from the Poetry Foundation, is probably the definitive text.  In print, the difference between an un-italicized last line and an italicized one seems a matter of style, but as I consider each version, that little difference takes on more substance. “Or does it explode?” sounds like a rhetorical question, in line with the other questions in the poem.   But “Or does it explode?”  sounds like a warning.


Although I had known Langston Hughes was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a writer who suffered racial injustice and celebrated black culture, I had never read this particular poem in the context of race. I thought of the “dream deferred” as a universal experience, something that happens to all but the most self-actualized among us, the weight carried by the lawyer who wanted to be a singer-songwriter, the teacher who wanted to open a pastry shop.  The drying up, the festering, the rotting, the sagging, the exploding are the result of not following the advice in another Hughes’ poem (ever-popular during graduation season) called “Dreams”:


Hold fast to dreams,

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird,

That cannot fly.


But when I see, thanks to the italics, the barely contained frustration of that last line, the poem becomes political all at once, a protest against the limits imposed on the lives of black Americans. Somehow I had missed the implication of “deferred” in “dream deferred.”   Dreams fester and rot not because the dreamers have lost faith in their dreams or are too timid to make the leap, but because an outside force has deferred the dream.  There’s a chilly bureaucratic feel to deferred, as if someone stamped a stack of handwritten dreams with the dreaded word and passed the pile on to another desk.  Not now, not now.  Come back on Tuesday.


The other meaning of deferred—to submit to another’s wishes—is at work here too. How would it feel to have your dream deferred by someone you’re supposed to pay deference to?


Read in this light, I guess “Harlem” doesn’t really belong where I placed it.  The Mount Elliott Cemetery is a beautiful sanctuary in southeast Detroit originally built for Irish Catholics. I had passed by the cemetery after visiting the Solanus Casey Center across the street.  With the poem in my purse, taping it to the fence seemed like a pretty good idea at the time or at least convenient.  By the way, lots of famous Detroiters are buried here, including Beaubian, Campau, Chevrolet, and Hamtramck.  (If you’re interested in Detroit history, you’ll enjoy great blog called Night Train. Link here for Night Train’s post on the Mount Elliott Cemetery.


Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was born in Missouri to a family whose ancestors included slaves and slave owners.  His parents divorced when he was young, and his father moved to Cuba and Mexico to escape racism and to get away from other black Americans, who he had come to dislike.  Hughes, on the other hand, embraced black culture, especially the lives of people he described as “workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York, or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago—people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter—and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.” Later in his career he was criticized for “parading” working-class black characters who spoke in dialect, but his portrayals of those characters in poems, novels, and plays earned him the unofficial title of “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race.”


Before he found success as the first African-American to earn a living from his writing, Hughes worked as a sailor, a doorman, a waiter, a cook and a truck farmer.  He attended Columbia University and graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where his classmate was Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.


He published two autobiographies, several children’s books and wrote a popular column for the Chicago Defender for twenty years.  He died at age 65 of prostate cancer.


(Sorry I don’t have a picture of the poet.  I need to give myself an education on how to use images from the web on my blog.  Flickr has changed and I can’t seem to pull a picture of Hughes to use.  Also, WordPress won’t allow me to format the poem properly.  All lines following the first should be indented.)






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