Aldon Hynes's blog

One Favorite Poem

I'm taking a HarvardX MOOC course on the poetry of Walt Whitman. Getting going, we have been asked to introduce ourselves. As part of the introduction we've been asked to list our favorite poem. There is no way I can narrow it down to one or two poems, so here is what I wrote:

Hi. My name is Aldon and I’m from Connecticut. I’m taking this class for a few different reasons. One is simply that I’m interested in always learning new things. I’m interested in how learning takes place online. And, I’m interested in Poetry, in 19th century America and Walt Whitman.

In terms of favorite poems, I’m going to break the rules, because I just can’t narrow things down to a few. Growing up in New England, I was exposed to Robert Frost early on and he was one of my earliest favorite poets. Stopping by Woods… Two Roads Diverged… In fifth grade, I had to memorize a poem, and it was John Masefield’s Sea Fever, which also remains a favorite of mine today. e.e. cummings was another poet I liked early on. domenic has a doll… anyone lived in a pretty how town….

It was probably in High School that I first encountered William Carlos Williams and So Much Depends Upon and The Great Figure became favorites. Later I wandered into the poetry of H.D. and many of her poems became favorites, such as Sea Rose.

When I studied the bagpipes, I immersed myself in Scottish culture and developed a love for the works of Robert Burns. My Heart’s in the Highlands… My Love is like a Red Red Rose… To a Louse …

I spent a bit of time reading Richard Brautigan in high school, but don’t remember many of them. The Winos on Potrero Hill comes to mind.

In college, I had the opportunity to hear some great poets. Nikki Giovanni, Ego Tripping remains a favorite. I can’t remember if Maya Angelou spoke at my college, but Still I Rise became a favorite poem of mine. We also had Denise Levertov speak. She read, A Tree Telling of Orpheus. It was the most magical experience I ever had listening to poetry, and many of her poems have become favorites.

The flip side of this was hearing Allen Ginsberg read Howl. I had read it many times and held it in deep reverence. In my mind it sounded ponderous as if it should be read by James Earl Jones. Ginsberg sounded nothing like James Earl Jones.

After college I binged on Keats and Blake. Yeats became a favorite, especially Lake Isle of Innisfree. I read a bit of T.S. Eliot in an adult Christian Education class in New York City, and still come back to the Four Quartets and The Wasteland.

Many of these poets became what I read to my children when they were young, along with Wordsworth’s Daffodils, and Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.

These days, I watch videos of poets reading. I like Sarah Kay’s If I Should Have a Daughter. I like Billy Collins Forgetgfulness and Richard Blanco’s One Today.

If I spent more time, other important poems would come to me as well, but I’ve already gone well beyond the one favorite poem.

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Remembering Charlie and Mohammed

I remember Charlie. For a while back in junior high school, he was my best friend. We were an unlikely pair. I think his father was a sociology professor, or something like that at the college. Charlie was incredibly bright and didn’t have many friends. I lived on the outskirts of town and didn’t have many friends either. My father, also very bright, was an outcast conservative ideologue. He spoke disparagingly about Charlie’s dad, calling him a Marxist.

I learned about Marxism from Charlie, but more importantly, I learned the word “lampoon”. Charlie was a master at lampooning people. His comments were funny and thought provoking.

That was, of course, until the day he turned his lampoons against me. I was devastated. His words hit to the core, for he knew my faults and my frailties. It was the last time I spoke to him.

A few weeks later, he lampooned the junior high school’s track star, Mohammed. Mohammed was one of the few black kids in town and everyone loved him. He had an older brother that was always in trouble with the law. After one incident, Charlie turned his wit to Mohammed. Where I had just turned away broken hearted, Mohammed lashed back and beat the crap out of Charlie. Mohammed was expelled and Charlie was hospitalized.

Everyone felt sorry for Charlie as he recuperated in the hospital. They turned against Mohammed and the family ended up moving out of town. I felt sorry for both of them.

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Often, I leave tabs open on my browser as short term bookmarks, to remind me of things I found interesting or that I need to follow up on. Sometimes, I save them in a file that I come back to later. Sometimes I try to combine them into a blog post. Other times, I just eventually close them without comment.

One blog post I’ve been meaning to write a response to is Dean Landsman’s Those Year-End Recap Letters. I was struck by how it related to those year-end videos from Facebook that everyone complained about.


As I think about these web pages and others that are open, I try to find some thought or collection of thoughts that bring everything together, and this time, my mind wanders to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk about The danger of a single story

We all tell our year end stories in a way that makes it sound like we aren’t facing struggles. That is what we’ve been taught to do. Then, when someone starts talking about how they may have to confront struggles we don’t because of our skin color, too many of us all of a sudden can talk about our own struggles in an effort to deny that there might be such a thing as white privilege.

The challenge, it seems, is to look at life through many different lenses. Here’s a challenge: How do we look at the world through the eyes of a Native American offended by the name of a football team, The Redskins? How do we look at the world through the eyes of an Indian offended by the name of a beer, Gandhi Bot? How do we look at the world through the eyes of a Muslim offended by cartoons of the Prophet?

How do we respond?

Another set of tabs that I have open right now are related to Kirby Delauter. I first heard about Kirby Delauter from tis Vox article. Frederick County, Maryland, Councilman Kirby Delauter threatened a local paper with a law suit for using his name without his permission. The newspaper responded with brilliant editorial response. Be sure to pay attention to the first letter of each paragraph. It has taken off and become a popular hashtag and who knows what all else.

Councilman Delauter has since apologized. Yet thinking about it, as much as I found the editorial funny, it did remind me of those playground brawls where one kid keeps saying another kids name to annoy him or pick a fight.

What is the right amount of snark in an editorial or a cartoon? How do we find this balance by avoiding the dangers of a single story?

This gets me through a bunch of the tabs that I have open, but I have more which maybe need to become part of a subsequent blog post.

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Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future

The day started with a message from a friend starting chemotherapy and was soon followed by a message about another friend whose daughter had gone missing.

I shouldn’t really say that is how the day started. It started in a more prosaic manner. Putting the kettle on the burner, preparing the oatmeal, putting away the clean dishes, and taking a quick look at social media and various websites before heading off on my daily drive to work.

The messages of disease and distress came as my work day was getting started. Now, fourteen hours later, I am back at home, decompressing before heading off to bed.

Today was Epiphany. ‘Epiphany’ is a word I’ve always loved, from its use in various poems to its place in the liturgical calendar.

There had been a funeral a church today. A mother had lost her son way too early. I didn’t really know the mother or son, and didn’t make it to the funeral. Yet I made it to the Epiphany service at the end of the day.

I looked around to see familiar faces; people who serve in various ministries at church; people whose lives are different from mine, whose views about life are different from mine, but who share a common bond, of showing God’s love to the people around them.

I spend a lot of time talking with people about politics and religion. Lost in so many of these discussions is that focus on showing God’s love and compassion to those around us, no matter what their circumstances.

I looked around at the familiar faces; people I could count on and I knew that the story of Christmas and Epiphany was true, compassion had come into this world and would continue to triumph over disease, distress and everything that is so messed up around us.

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What I’m Thinking, 1/5/2015

I look through the standard websites to pull together thoughts for tonight. Nothing jumps out at me. Outside, the wind howls and the temperature drops. It reminds me of my drive to work this morning.

I was struck by the lighting and recorded my thoughts:

It was as if someone had put a highway
Through a Hudson River School painting.
The sunlight sideways striking
The brown and orange trees
Beneath the purple, blue, and gray sky.

I look at Various Hudson River School Paintings online. I read a little about the transcendentalists and drift off into Walt Whitman.

What can we take from these people into the twenty-first century?

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