Anything But Poetry

By Loretta

I had determined I would not write about poetry again this year, even though National Poetry Month is coming up April 1st.  People hear it from me all the time, so I thought I would do something different, something fun.  I played around with a few ideas, some subjects I enjoy and hoped others might enjoy, too.  But, as much as I enjoy all those things, my mind kept wandering back to poetry.  It seems when I can’t get my head wrapped around anything else, I can always read poetry.  Old, contemporary, known, unknown : it doesn’t matter.

So here I am again, back at National Poetry Month.  Last year, I shared one poem with you, Patricia Goedicke’s Lost.  This year, I am going to share a song.  Yes, the music you listen to all day is poetry.  Some songwriters are considered by many to be great poets and have published books of their poems.  Leonard Cohen (whose music I don’t enjoy, but whose lyrics I love) has several books of poetry to his credit, including Stranger Music .  Jewel also published a book of her poetry called A Night Without Armor .  And there are many others. The poem I’ve chosen this year is from one of my favorite musicians, Marc Cohn.  The song title is Ellis Island.

I was driving down Ninth Avenue
As the sky was getting dark
Didn’t have nothin’ else to do
So I kept on riding to Battery Park
I stepped out in the damp and misty night
As the fog was rolling in
Man said, “Last boat leaving tonight
Is the boat for Ellis Island”

As my feet touched solid ground
I felt a chill run down my spine
I could almost hear the sound
of thousands pushing through the lines
Mothers and bewildered wives
that sailed across the raging sea
Others running for their lives
to the land of opportunity
Down on Ellis Island

“What is this strange paradise?”
They must’ve wondered through their cries and moans
After all they’ve sacrificed
Their faith, their families, friends and homes
Then on the Inspection Stairs
They were counted out or counted in
Frozen while the inspectors stared
Down on Ellis Island

Now me I only stumbled in
Just to wander around that empty hall
Where someone else’s fate had been
Decided in no time at all
And cases filled with hats and clothes
And the belongings of those who journeyed far
They’re strange reminders I suppose
Of where we’re from and who we are

But as the boat pulled off the shore
I could see the fog was lifting
And lights I never seen before
Were shining down on Ellis Island
Shining down on Ellis Island

Ellis Island

Unfortunately, Cohn doesn’t allow his music to wander about without a chaperone, so I can’t find a video of this one.  I wish you could hear it; it’s such a beautiful song.  (You can find it on his Burning the Daze album.)

When we think of poetry, we often forget that music is a large part of it, an everyday part.  So when you celebrate National Poetry Month, remember to celebrate your music!

6 thoughts on “Anything But Poetry

  1. Loretta,
    Wow this really touched a place in my heart.
    My grandmother came through Ellis Island and did so many others. But I was not aware of this song / poetry
    Thank you for sharing.


  2. Powerful stuff, Loretta.

    I wish there were greater emphasis on poetry in American society. It seems to have been flensed from our lives.

    I’ve heard people make the case for rap being modern poetry, but it seems like pretty weak — too facile, too transient.

    I’ll have to check out Cohn. Thanks for the tip!


  3. Hi Luke, I’m sorry flensed has been flensed from our society. I had to look it up! 😀 I am not a fan of rap, but I can understand it being considered poetry by those who love it. Art is subjective in all its forms. What I consider poetry (or art) would be ridiculed by some, no doubt. Cohn is sort of folk/pop/whatever. If you find an example (!), I hope you enjoy it.


  4. Thanks, Loretta, for a new look at poetry. I love music, but don’t always think of the songs I know as poetry. You helped me remember that they are!


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