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WNIJ’s Poetry on the Page: A Deeper Look into Father’s Day Poems

Tim Mossholder - unsplash.com

You may be familiar with WNIJ’s Poetically Yours weekly segment and monthly extended podcast. Now WNIJ is taking things a step further by featuring a new segment called "Poetry on the Page." During this segment, WNIJ’s Yvonne Boose speaks with Northern Illinois University English Professor Amy Newman about Newman’s latest exploration in the world of poetry. In this episode, Newman discusses a few Father's Day poems.

Amy, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with me today for another episode of Poetry on the Page. How are you doing?

I'm doing well. Thanks. How are you, Yvonne?

The last time we talked, we talked about Mother's Day. And I know, we have a couple of things coming up in June, we have Father's Day. And then we have the Juneteenth Celebration among some other things. So, I'm going to let you tell me what you've been reading in relation to those topics.

Okay, great. For Father's Day, of course, I was thinking about poems about fathers…your listeners might know some of the well-known poems about fathers. And what I was thinking about is how beautifully they end. So, I wanted to talk about some endings of some of those poems and then read a poem by contemporary poet about Father's Day. So, the endings of, say, Anne Sexton's poem, “All My Pretty Ones,” which is her poem about her family history, which is quite complicated, and her father. And the poem ends strangely, she says, “whether you are pretty or not, I outlive you, bend my strange face down to yours and forgive you.” And that's a pretty wild ending.

Yes, it is. Oh, my goodness. It's almost like saying it nice, but you do get the point.

Yes, and it's pretty sounding in some ways, but also dark because some relationships can be that way. And that reminds me of a quite famous poem called “My Papa's Waltz’ by Theodore Roethke, which is, it's from the perspective of, well, it's a man who's remembering, quote, unquote, waltzing with his father when he was a kid. And you don't really know from the words, it sounds like they could be roughhousing, or maybe dancing. Or maybe the father is beating him, and you cannot tell. So, it's unclear in a way, because I think the kid doesn't know and, and he wants the attention of his father. This is the last stanza: “you beat time on my head with a palm caked hard by dirt, then waltz me off to bed still clinging to your shirt.” And the clinging, the fact that the kid is still holding on to his father, you know, that tells me a lot about the attention that he wanted. But I have a poem today that I'd like to share to if I might, it's by David Swerdlow. And it's from his book. The book is called Nightstand, which was published in 2023 by Broadstone Books, and it's called “Our Daughters,” and about this poem Swerdlow says, “By the time I was 12 years old, I lived in four different homes. My daughters, in contrast, grew up in the house where my wife and I still live. This poem arises out of the security might, one might feel in such a place, as well as a sad and liberating knowledge that all possession may be impermanent. So, here's the poem.

Our daughters,

our beautiful ghosts run down the hill.
“They love me,” I hear myself say (and why not,

why not? I query in my small voice to the hill,
to the maple). How long before they grow
out of their bodies? If I call their names, bid them
come home, they will. They’ll sit by our imaginary fire

and pretend to console me, and I’ll pretend
to be consoled (the hill and the maple, our old friends

fall asleep and wake up, comfort at least
in that, my dear). I’m planning to outlive

myself. Look at them. Behind the maple, they’ve undressed.
They’re putting on our old attire.
Should we kiss them
before they disappear? Should we rejoice?

That's David's Swerdlow's "Our Daughters" from Nightstand.

I love the personification he uses in there, the hill and the maple. A lot of times you just don't think about that. Now. It makes it so intimate that there's a tree sitting on the hill. And there's a relationship there. I love that.

I'm glad you like it. Yeah, I think it's a very sweet Father's Day poem. And I really wanted to share it with our listeners.

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to highlight some Father's Day Poetry. Is there anything else you want to share with our listeners?

Just to have a Happy Father's Day, I guess.

Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.