Archive for the ‘Poems that Can Change Your Life’ Category

A good poem for me has to slip under my skin and inhabit my being. Here is a poltergeist poem that has set up residence in my conscious mind and keeps rustling through and disturbing my thoughts when least expected.  Its range from statistics to thermodynamics is broad. But such matters are inconsequential compared with the theme of this poem, which stretches beyond the universe and outside of time.

This extract from the book Generosity by Richard Powers is an embedded poem of polestar brilliance. (As quoted in The Australian 19/12/09 Book Review Geordie Williamson)

Art is a way of saying what it means to be alive,

and the most salient feature of existence

are the unthinkable odds against it.

For every way there is of being here,

there are an infinity of ways of not being here.

Historical accident snuffs out whole universes

with every clock tick.

Statistics declare us ridiculous.

Thermodynamics prohibits us.

Life, by any reasonable measure, is impossible,

and my life – this, here now –

infinitely more so.

Art is a way of saying,

in the face of all that impossibility,

just how worth celebrating it is

to be able to say anything at all.

Richard Powers

Richard Powers is the author of ten novels, including Galatea 2.2 and The Echo Maker , Generosity. His writing often combines fiction with the themes of historical events or, as with his latest book, scientific developments. He has received numerous honors and awards including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction. He lives in Illinois. (Photo credit:Lorenzo Ciniglio. Books can be purchased through Richard Powers website.)

Generosity (Atlantic 2009)

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When a poet writes an essay they cannot help themselves. Trapped within the essay are literary jewels, poems of exquisite beauty crafted and polished by the poet’s word-smithing skills. Michael Leunig is a poet so it is not surprising that his essay ‘Sleeping in on Doomsday’ from the Good Weekend, The Age (Sat 28th Nov 2009) had a poetic sensuality. This embedded poem in the essay addresses the hopes Leunig has for his children, that they will not be tethered to the family tree but rather free to fly. free as they wish. Moreover, it is within all our capabilities to escape the gravitational pull of our origins.

…no shares in any great cultural franchise

with stories of tragedy and triumph,

and don’t have much in the way of extended family.

None of this to enshrine and uphold.

They are unadorned earthlings.

Human nature is their story.

The spirit of the country runs out of the earth

And the air and into their bodies like a mystery.

This is their inheritance.

It is no virtue, no deficiency and no advantage;

This is simply their lot.


I see them asleep at night, these beautiful earthlings;

their faces still so glowing and  open and young.

There are many of them in this world and in this land.

When they awaken they will create their own way.

Michael Leunig  


 Michael Leunig is a Melbourne cartoonist, artist and poet. His short and often melancholic poems are published in a number of Australian newspapers. His  enchanting poems have been published in books available through his website.

Earthlings pic karstenkneese’s photostream

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This poem reflects the intensity and clarity poetic writing can bring to understanding our shared humanity. But context counts. This poem was added as a comment by Tim Shanasy to the Embedded Poem, Dead Love, by Will Storr posted in this blog. The poem howls with rage about the difficulty of living with tinnitus. When you know this context, you don’t just read the words, you also hear the scream of the white noise.

Like an endless steam train with horns ablaze,

about to emerge from it’s tunnel,

into a forest of crazy cicadas.

This, endlessly, a photo of noisy sounds,

steadfastly displayed in the gallery walls of my mind.

In sleep and in surf.

The only relief . .

Subconscious or immersed,

the only respite.

To awake, is to take control of the emotions.

To sink, or to swim. I swim.

The trick is to normalise.

How bad is this really?

Only to ponder truth briefly, is all it takes.

The plight of so many others, must be so much worse.

The human condition lives on, in us all.

Tim Shanasy

Tim Shanasy is a Byron Bay musician and, obviously, poet.

Pic from Travis Hornung’s Photostream

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Defoe-daniel Daniel Defoe (1659 – 1731) is best known for writing Robinson Crusoe. He was also a satirist and he was put in stocks and had vegetables thrown at him for ridiculing the Tories, a conservative, pro-monarchy party of the time. The wooden stocks were called a pillory and, even to this day, ‘pillorying’ is a term used to describe mocking or abusing someone. Defoe earnt his place in the real pillory for writing a poem: The True-Born Englishman. Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic, (See entry below) included extracts of Defoe’s poem in a recent article. Even today, the words ring true.

A true-born Englishman’s a contradiction

 In speech an irony, in fact a fiction

The Scot, Pict, Briton, Roman, Dane, submit,

And with the English-Saxon all unite …britian image

Fate jumbled them together, God knows how;

Whate’er they were, they’re true-born English now …

Since scarce one family is left alive,

Which does not from some foreigner derive.

by Daniel Defoe

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Andrew Sullivan 1

Poempig is always delighted to find an embedded poem in a newspaper article. They are, indeed, rare but worth the search. 

  Andrew Sullivan writes on business, politics and food for The Altlantic.  His article titled ‘Americans don’t know how black they are'( The Australian 27 Oct 2009) and also ‘Scratch white America and beneath it is black’ ( The Sunday Times, UK, on 25th Oct 2009) was not only a clear headed critique of race relations, it was a secular sermon laced with poetic phrases that brought beauty and charm and dignity to the issue of race.  His words didn’t just inform, they sang from the heart. 

These varied roots, these mongrel evolutions,

this hybrid inheritance

make us who we are.crowd zzzed

And it is this mixture

that is authentically American,

just as the wave after wave of immigration,

ancient and modern,

has made Britain Britain.

It is a pied kind of beauty, this diversity.

And those who wish to simplify it,

to reduce it to some biological or racial element

that renders us something other than we actually are,

are not in any way conservatives. 

They are fantasists and bigots,

deaf to the music true nations make,

and the many variations that still make their melodies soar.

Andrew Sullivan


Books by Andrew Sullivan include HE CONSERVATIVE SOUL: HOW WE LOST IT, HOW TO GET IT BACK and SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: PRO AND CON. Books are available at Amazon.

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tinnitus 2

We stumble on poetry everyday. The problem is we just don’t know it. It is a great joy to find an embedded poem in a newspaper article.

This article, Shattered ( The Age, Good Weekend 3rd october 2009  ) by Will Storr provides  an extraordinary insight into dealing with tinnitus (More Info @ Australian Tinnitus Assoc ).  It also contains an embedded poem which screeches with an unrelenting pitch ‘This is what it is like to be human.’

Repetition is the soul of pop …

….it induces a strange and magical hypnotism

Through which the sound and hurt become indistinguishable.

The music meshes with the pain and then lifts it from you;tinitis Correction

It takes its weight.


In some essential way, the song becomes you.

And the louder the volume, the greater the effect…..

… the most efficient tool for

hammering the heart back together was the decibel.


 Today, like a de-tuned radio picking up

the distant echo of the big bang,

I can still hear the noise of all that dead love.


…I think it only right and proper that

it sounds like a scream.

Will StorrWill Storr

Will Storr is an award-winning journalist and critically acclaimed author. His work has appeared in The Times, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, The Independent, The Sunday Times, GQ, The Sydney Morning Herald (Good Weekend), The Weekend Australian and Vanity Fair. 

More information @ Will Storr’s website

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200px-LangstonHughe_25This poem is extraordinary because it connects us across cultures, across eras and across oceans to the poet. The poet is Langston Hughes (1902 – 67). He has Native American, Black American, Scottish and Jewish ancestry. So  he had plenty to write about. IThis poem , however, connects us all to our shared humanity.

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 overstorm

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

Man-Gone-Down-       This poem can be found in Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas. #mce_temp_url#  The protagonist in the book has one black and one white parent and has two poets influencing    his narration of his life: T. S. Eliot and Langston Hughes.

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This poem stands up and shouts ‘poetry counts’. Poetry can achieve meaning in places where prose gets carried away with its own verbosity. Perhaps, I’m doing that now. Poetry captures the essence of things. This poem distills an entire life  into 6 lines. 

She sat in the back row of life
Her face obscured in photographs
Refusing offers to shine.school pic

Finally, she was the star
The day they came to bury her–
But no body was there.

Joyce Freedman

Joyce Freedman 1

   Joyce Freedman is an Aussie poet whose poems have been published in Quadrant magazine among others.

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Poempig has been reading 10 poems to change your life by Roger Housden (Hodder Mobius 2003). The first poem is The Journey by Mary Oliver. #mce_temp_url#  This poem is the most magical poem to read if you are going through a transition in life. It is as Roger Housden says ‘a mirror in which you can see a reflection of your own story’. Just to show poetry can be found embbeded intext, here is an extract of Roger Housden’s commentary on ‘The Journey’.

It (is) that moment when you dare

to take your heart in your own hands10 poems Correction

and walk through an invisible wall

into a new life.

Roger Housden.

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When talking recently to a school parent group I was asked ‘How do you make your child resilient?’. I had no immediate answer. After some thought I did stumble on an answer, of sorts. If your child is to become resilient then you must be a resilient parent. You cannot solve all of their problems.  Sometimes, they have to deal with their biggest problems by themselves. You can offer support but you cannot live their lives for them. My daughter had to face her inner monsters herself. She did. And she does today. The next two posts offer insights into the heart-crushing challenge of becoming a resilient parent. 

When my daughter was 12 years old

she slipped silently, imperceptibly at first, into anorexia.

‘The Days are Forgetting me’ she scribbled on a note pad.

They were.Me pic Correction

And each day she slipped further away from me.

I felt I was watching her walk slowly, deeper and deeper into the still waters of a lonely lake, while I was sealed off from her behind a wall of Perspex, banging, yelling, pressing my face against the glass,

unable to get through to her.

Fear electrified my every thought.

I was her mother. I had to feed her.

Meanwhile, psychologists, psychiatrists and doctors could name the condition.

They could pop her into a diagnostic box.

None could open the lid.

My turning point in understanding this affliction

– this chameleon viper that disappears and returns

to strike in different forms –

was realising I could not control this carnivorous monster consuming my daughter alive.

I could not eat for her. 

It was her monster.

She had to take the stand, she had to turn on it and fight.

Who else could?

Kerry Cue

This is an edited extract from Forgotten Wisdom by Kerry Cue   #mce_temp_url#

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