Welcome to the third day of the first round of Countdown to New Year’s dead poet dates! In case you missed the announcement yesterday, so far we have three poets moving on to round two: Robert Hayden, Shel Silverstein, and Robert Creeley. By the end of this post we’ll have three more! I can already tell that these votes are only going to get harder as the competition goes along … some of these poets really know how to put the heat on when it comes to starting up the poetic love flames!
Today we’ll start with three dates, and end with the announcement of the winners of the Day 2 dates. Join in as we journey together into the lives and passions of six more poets vying for that oh-so-special New Year’s kiss!
Let’s get started! (Grab a copy of the round one bracket to follow along if you’d like!)
Breakfast Date: Leopold Sedar Senghor versus Robert Browning
Leopold and Robert arrive bright and early to prepare a nice little breakfast in bed duet. The smells pouring through the doorframe of my bedroom are irresistible. Leopold (October 9, 1906 – December 20, 2001) arrives first, and shares some of his story as he dishes out a bowl of sweet yogurt with a delicious milk roll. I’m flattered to learn I have the first president of Senegal serving me breakfast, but he focuses more on his work founding the Negritude movement, which sought to reaffirm an “African cultural identity” in the midst of a colonialized continent. He saw his craft as a place where he could engage the spiritual, political, and cultural elements of himself and the Senegalese people. In a pre-date interview, K. Anthony Appiah had described his work as representing “one of the models of African and Afro-Caribbean literary achievements.” As he gathers his breakfast dishes and prepares to leave, Leopold places a copy of his poem “Night in Sine” on my bedside table.
Robert (May 7, 1812 – December 12, 1889) enters next with a bed tray bedecked in what he tells me is a traditional English “full breakfast.” I start digging into the black pudding as he tells me of his life in England. He confesses he often was viewed as a failure, in no small part due to the success of his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Despite his upbringing in England, he says he viewed Italy as his “university.” He shares that he loved writing his dramatic monologues, and challenging his readers to see through the stories of the poetic speakers to the truth of the matte. In a pre-date interview, Ian Jack credited Robert for teaching poets like Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot through his “exploration of the exploration of the possibilities of dramatic poetry and of colloquial idiom.” Since I’m not quite finished with the poached eggs, potato cakes, and fried tomato, Robert leaves me with the tray and a copy of his “My Star”.
Which poet’s poem would you prefer for early morning pillow talk?
Lunch Date: Langston Hughes versus Paul Laurence Dunbar
I’m already starting to drool (inconspicuously, of course) Langston and Paul meet me at a soul food café built in the reclaimed frame of an old church. As we all dig into sweet salmon croquettes drizzled in honey, Langston (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) tells us the stories of his controversial place as a Black poet who wasn’t afraid to turn an honest eye on his own community. He says he was always deeply interested in examining the nuances of black life as he saw it, in as true a style as he could manage. He shares that part of what framed his unique voice as a poet was his wide variety of life experiences: he had worked as a cook, sailor, nightclub doorman, waiter, and truck farmer, among other things. In a pre-date interview, David Littlejohn stated that Hughes’ creative life was “as full, as varied, and as original as Picasso’s, a joyful, honest monument of a career.” In between plates he slides me a copy of his “April Rain Song”.
I’m trying to restrain myself as I dig into a plate of baked macaroni and Paul (June 27, 1872 – February 9, 1906) shares his story with us. With parents who had escaped slavery from Kentucky, Paul was raised in Dayton, Ohio. He tells us of his school days with Wilbur and Orville Wright, and how they helped him in some of the early stages of his writing career. He smiles as he notes that many of his most popular poems were his dialect poems, despite the fact that they didn’t make up the majority of his work. He also shares his interest in depicting an honest representation of race and racialized experiences, though it came at a cost—namely a suspicion of the potentially demeaning nature of general, and even his own, dialect poems. In a pre-date interview, critics from the New York Times described him as “a true singer of the people – white or black.” As the waiters clear the table, Paul hands me a copy of “Night of Love”.
Which poem brings more soul to your spirit?
Dinner Date: W.H. Auden versus D.H. Lawrence
Wystan and David meet me at a fusion restaurant, each promising me a culinary treat. Wystan (February 21, 1907 – September 29, 1973) orders us all a Euro Sampler and pomegranate salads, and then tells us about his life. Though he grew up in Birmingham, England, he traveled to Berlin, Spain, and elsewhere throughout Europe and Asia, and eventually moved to America. He found the writing and reading of words very, ahem, erotic, which created a unique landscape for his poetry, which focused on religious and moral themes, love and politics, and the nature of humanity as paralleled to the nature of nature. In a pre-date interview, Barbara Everett said he “can give dignity and authority to nonsensical theories, and make newspaper headlines sound both true and melodious.” When I’m not looking, Wystan slips a copy of his “Ode to the Medieval Poets” into my napkin ring.
David (September 11, 1885 – March 2, 1930) orders us churros and dulce de camote for dessert before sharing his story. Born in England, he traveled to Germany, Italy, and, during his exile, to Australia, Sri Lanka, France, the United States, and Mexico. He says the landscapes of his work were often inspired by the various places he traveled, while his themes were drawn from examinations of human emotions, sexuality, instinct and more. He attempted to capture these themes organically in his writing through the later stages of his poetic career. In a pre-date interview, E.M. Forster praised him as “the greatest imaginative novelists of our generation.” While we wait for the check, David slides a copy of his “Almond Blossom” into my hand.
Which poet’s poem sweetens your life with a more flavorful fusion?
Your Turn! Please help me choose today’s winners by sharing your thoughts on the poets and their poems in the comments below. You can also help me figure out where tomorrow’s dates will take place … where would you most like to take your favorite poet/writer on a breakfast, lunch, or dinner date?
:Day 2 Winners:
Breakfast: T.S. Eliot gave it a good go, but it was Pablo Neruda’s “Tie Your Heart at Night to Mine, Love” that not only buttered my toast but also milked my tea, raisined my oatmeal, and cheesed my danish!
Lunch: William’s poem left me a little speechless, but Arna Bontemps’ “Reconnaissance” had me begging for more like a goblet wanting wine!
Dinner: Although a poet talking to his son could be sweet, it’s Countee Cullen’s “Lines to My Father” that wins the cherry.
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Check out the previous days of the Our Lost Jungle Countdown to New Year's: