Poems for April 29: Meridel Le Sueur and Tom McGrath

Fierce for Change is a cinematic portrait of writer Meridel Le Sueur, whose works for over 60 years have been informed by her political history and beliefs, and colored by her connectedness to the midwestern land and environment. On this site you will find her NY Times obituary,  a link to four short essays byMeridel, and other relevant information. The form of this selection is prose.  But the lyrical use of language and the vivid imagery are extraordinary:

Cows and Horses Are Hungry
by Meridel Le Sueur

Publishing Information

Originally published in American Mercury (September, 1934). Republished in Ripening by Feminist Press (1980)

Ripening: Selected Work, 1927-1980


When you drive through the Middle West droughty country you try not to look at the thrusting out ribs of the horses and cows, but you get so you can’t see anything else but ribs, like hundreds of thousands of little beached hulks. It looks like the bones are rising right up out of the skin. Pretty soon, quite gradually, you begin to know that the farmer, under his rags, shows his ribs, too, and the farmer’s wife is as lean as his cows, and his children look tiny and hungry. . . .

read the rest of this essay here.


I Light Your Streets by Meridel Le Sueur

I am a crazy woman with a painted face
On the streets of Gallup
I invite men into my grave
for a little wine.
I am a painted grave
Owl woman     hooting for callers in the night.
Black bats over the sun sing to me
The horned toad sleeps in my thighs

Meridel Le Sueur reads at the opening of the Guild Complex, May 1989 (Nelson Peery at right, Lew Rosenbaum at left)

My grandmothers gave me songs to heal
But the white man buys me cheap without song
or word.
My dead children appear and I play with them.
Ridge of time in my grief –remembering
Who will claim the ruins?
and the graves?
the corn maiden violated
As the land?
I am a child in my eroded dust.
I remember feathers of the hummingbird
And the virgin corn laughing on the cob.
Maize defend me
Prairie wheel around me
I run beneath the guns
and the greedy eye
And hurricanes of white faces knife me.
But like fox and smoke I gleam among the thrushes
And light your streets.

from Ripening: Selected Work, 1927-1980 (Feminist Press)


Blues For The Old Revolutionary Woman by Thomas McGrath

for Mother Bloor
Mother Jones
Meridel Le Sueur

Tom McGrath

A tick of time that stones the heads of kings
And drops its pennies on a thousand eyes
Unreels the gaudy shroud of history
And transmutes all statistics into pain.

What is simple virtue can never be denied,
Explained, or canceled. Still, it is not
Enough to love a world that must be changed.
This was the earliest thing they learned.

Neither Weehawken Ferry nor a flower,
The world was love and work — we could become
Human. Across the cruel geography
Of strike and struggle, hitch-hiking, riding freights

They sought the boundaries of that possible world
Where statistical death can never cancel dream
And history is humanized. Their blazoning voyage
Points toward the Indies of our mortal wish.

from Selected Poems 1938-1988 (Copper Canyon, 1988)


by Thomas McGrath

How could I have come so far?

Selected Poems 1938-1988

(And always on such dark trails?)
I must have traveled by the light
Shining from the faces of all those I have loved.

from Selected Poems 1938-1988 (Copper Canyon, 1988)

[From the biographical material on the Poetry Foundation website:

For some fifty years, the late Thomas McGrath produced a prolific array of titles, encompassing poetry, novels, books for children, and several documentary film scripts, including uncredited work on the eloquent and exhilarating Smithsonian film about the history of flight, To Fly. But McGrath is primarily a poet, and although “important contemporary poets . . . proclaim him as a major voice in American poetry in the last three or four decades,” according to Frederick C. Stern in Southwest Review, McGrath‘s work has been critically neglected for years. “He’s one of those poets who should be known but isn’t, who is constantly being rediscovered as if he were some precocious teenager who just got into town,” declared Mark Vinz in North Dakota Quarterly. “If he’s been honored, even revered by a few, he’s also been ignored by most.” To quote Terrence Des Pres in TriQuarterly, “Thomas McGrath has been writing remarkable poems of every size and form for nearly fifty years. In American poetry he is as close to Whitman as anyone since Whitman himself, . . . read more and listen to audio recordings here. ]


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