Your response to the Poetry Corner has been wonderful, and as a result, I’ve found real pleasure in searching out the poets and their works that will bring you back to the Library’s Online Book Club again and again.
Claude McKay arrived in the Big Apple from Jamaica, where he was born (in 1889) and where he wrote his first book of verse (in Jamaican dialect). Lola Ridge’s journey began in Dublin (in 1873), but almost immediately took her to New Zealand, then Australia, and then to New York, when she was in her thirties.
Mc Kay’s personal and poetic explorations were both political and spiritual, moving him from an interest in Communism to an eventual conversion to Catholicism.
A more committed radicalism drove Lola Ridge’s life and writing (she focused much of her writing on issues of race, class and gender, and was an advocate for women’s rights, gay rights and the rights of immigrants).
And yet, in the following two poems, it is as though Mc Kay and Ridge inhabit the same moment, the same breath of the soul.
Reading such beautiful verse makes it easier to believe that soon, it will be spring.
By Claude Mc Kay
I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul
About This Poem:
“I Know My Soul” was published in McKay’s book Harlem Shadows (Harcourt, Brace and company, 1922).
Lola Ridge, 1873
The earth is motionless
And poised in space …
A great bird resting in its flight
Between the alleys of the stars.
It is the wind’s hour off ….
The wind has nestled down among the corn ….
The two speak privately together,
Awaiting the whirr of wings.