Poetry Friday: “To Be of Use”and “Alone”

Join the Poetry Friday round up hosted by Catherine @ Reading To The Core


A lovely birthday present arrived today, sent by my ever thoughtful friend, Margaret Simon: The Woman in this Poem, selected by Georgia Heard. In her introduction, Georgia writes: “I chose poems specifically to speak to women about their lives and the many roles they play…I wanted to share with readers the voices of women poets of women poets as they spoke about our universal experiences.”   I’ve spent the better part of the evening leafing through and loving the poems in this anthology, feeling the spirit of shared experience and enjoying the collective wisdom of so many gifted poets.

I’d like to share two poems from this collection with our Poetry Friday collective.  The first one was new to me, and I loved it right away.

To be of use by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
And the second poem is one I read many years ago, and had tucked away somewhere in my memory.  Finding it in this collection was such a joy:

Alone by Maya Angelou

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

How lovely to have this collection of poems to carry around and enjoy. Thank you, Margaret!

13 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “To Be of Use”and “Alone”

  1. I received the book from Margaret for our winter swap. It is just beautiful, am reading a little bit every day, along with all the other reading. That final verse of Maya Angelou’s just pleases me. It’s the one that begins: “Now if you listen closely/I’ll tell you what I know/”. Happy Birthday one more time!

    • In one of those “small world” moments, I actually shared “To Be Of Use” yesterday with the middle school teachers at my school. I became familiar with the poem a while ago, when I was in Don Graves’ writing class at UNH. It was one of his favorites and quickly became my teaching mantra. I needed something to encourage my teachers, so I printed it out for them yesterday. I really need this book!

  2. I knew in my heart this was the right gift for you. I love going back to this collection over and over again. The poems are exquisite.

  3. How have I missed this book? Not for much longer–I’ll send myself an email reminder at the library to write up an order card! Thanks for sharing your birthday gift!

  4. Happy Birthday, fellow Aquarius? :0) Thanks for sharing these two provocative poems! I was lucky to get my copy signed in Sept. when I finally met Georgia in person. I love thinking of so many of us reading it now…

  5. Margaret is such a dear! Has anybody made a song out of “Alone”? It seems to beg to be sung. I love Piercy’s poem, too. It’s so satisfying. Thanks, Tara.

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