National Poetry Month: Contributor Selections | The Sun Magazine
Featured Selections

National Poetry Month:
Contributor Selections

April 15, 2019

For National Poetry Month, we invited Sun contributors to share poems from the magazine. (Don’t miss our staff selections here.)

Ode to Fat
Ellen Bass   |   January 2018

There’s so much to love about this moving ode: the way it expresses a whole range of feelings, from relief to reverence; the way it reverses our conventional valuations of thinness and fatness; the tenderness and affection that suffuses the poem. But what I love most is how perfectly the lushness of language — the extravagant alliteration and assonance, the weightiness of lines like “May you always / flourish enormous and sumptuous” — mirrors the lover’s newly regained bodily abundance after a terrifying illness. The poem is at once playful and profoundly serious, and it comes to feel like a benediction, not just for the lover but for us all. — John Brehm

Intrigue in the Trees
John Brehm   |   
April 2016

A brilliant two-stanza juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane, the urban sublime and mysterious Nature, this poem by John Brehm astonishes me with its sophisticated simplicity. That Whitmanesque wonder pose launches the poem into its set of three questions — what’s happening, why is that happening, and can we ever really know anything at all? Those are the essential questions poetry asks. Those questions are what poetry is for. I love how the question-ravaged speaker seeks refuge in a cafe — The Laughing Goat — oh golly that’s so great. And the stunning ending of this poem, bringing us together in wonder. There’s a lot of menace. Some hope. Some witnessing. What’s next? Pay attention. Brehm is beautiful! — Heather Sellers

june 20
Lucille Clifton   |   
April 2017

Lucille Clifton is a light and a window. Her words first showed me what language could be, what words could be — who I, as a black woman, could be in this space. Her words are the crystalline beauty of a snowflake lattice, microscoped: clear, concise — but, as you look closer and closer, from the shimmering constructions arises an even deeper and haunting resonance. In “june 20,” the speaker’s grief in anticipation of future loss reminds me of the Welsh concept of “hiraeth”: a missing of the home that never was. — Hope Wabuke

Tony Hoagland   |   
October 2016

Tony Hoagland was my first poetry teacher back when I was seventeen, and this poem makes me cry. This is what Tony did so well: take a small and ordinary thing and make it a monument. In this case, to time, and to the legacy of a life. Who doesn’t want to know they’ve changed the world, even a little? — Danusha Laméris

Into the Mystery
Tony Hoagland | August 2017

This poem, written toward the end of Tony Hoagland’s life, finds language for the ineffable. The line “Now you are getting used to things that will not be happening again” is devastating and calm at once — Tony is a master of paradox and pushing opposites close together. But perhaps the most memorable part of this poem for me is the ending, “where more and more the message is / not to measure anything.” When I first read these lines I was almost disappointed. The poem had been so rich with specificity (“thingitude,” Tony called it) that this more abstract statement — advice, even — felt slightly like a letdown. But as with all fine poems, the more you read, the more it yields. Now I find myself repeating these lines to myself all the time, where more and more the message is / not to measure anything. They have become a touchstone, a truth that I need to hear. — Ellen Bass

Praise Song for the Body
Brionne Janae   |   June 2018

“Praise Song for the Body” uses humor and beautiful, precise imagery to deal with a deep subject: How do we love ourselves when the dominant culture tells us we are not acceptable as we are? I love the specificity of the images and the spirit of joyful defiance that animates the whole poem. And when I’ve used it in teaching, this poem has inspired my students to write their own body-self-loving manifestos that are also honest about the scars and brokenness we all share. — Alison Luterman

Danez Smith   |   June 2018

Danez Smith takes the ever-present urge to escape America (like Big Boy in Richard Wright’s novella Big Boy Leaves Home) to another level in “Trees!” It is a hopeful poem that uses verse in a fearless and magical way to imagine a safe place for black people in the land they now call home, a place that has proven itself to be unsafe despite the natural beauty described so well in the poem. — Brian Gilmore

Beauty: 1976
Ruth L. Schwartz   |   April  2016

In Ruth L. Schwartz’s “Beauty: 1976” the poem’s speaker, an adult, longs to communicate with her child self: “I wish I could / tell those girls / how beautiful they are, / but they can’t hear me.” What a moment. The child self can’t hear the adult self, it’s true. But the adult self of the reader — and the many child selves the reader carries within the adult self — we can hear it all. — David Rutschman

In Prison
Jean Valentine   |   July 2017

With such sparse sharpness Jean Valentine encompasses injustice and bleakness in a handful of lines that, almost fading into the fog at first, come into startling clarity at the end. I walked with this poem for a long time. — Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello

Jerusalem Artichoke
Janine Pommy Vega   |   May 2006

I knew Janine Pommy Vega. She lived in the same corner of the Catskills I do — not the Irish Catskills, the Jewish Catskills, or the German Catskills, but the district of aging rock stars and talented watercolorists. Janine taught poetry in local prisons for decades. She was a person who lived her ideals. Yet she could also write a “small” conversational poem like “Jerusalem Artichoke.” Janine died in 2010. I choose this poem to salute her intrepid soul. — Sparrow