“Poetry for the People” Celebrates National Poetry Month

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Over the last year, the Public i has put on a series of poetry workshops to promote more poetry in the Champaign-Urbana community. The project is culminating with this special issue of works by local poets in commemoration of National Poetry Month. Workshops were held by local poets Matt Murrey, Ruth Nicole Brown, Janice Harrington, and Oakland-based poet Lisa Marie Rollins. We want to thank Aaron Ammons of SPEAK Café for promoting our project and emceeing our final issue release/open mic party on April 30. We are grateful to Carol Inskeep at Urbana Free Library, Janice Harrington at Urbana’s Neighborhood Connections, and Amanda Raklovits at Douglass Library for hosting workshops. Thanks also go to artist Damian Duffy for our poster design. We are greatly appreciative to the City of Urbana Public Arts Commission for a grant to fund this project.

You Can’t Hang This on the Wall
By Elizabeth Barrette

Snowdrops sprout and bloom.
Sparrows mob the feeders.
Crocus, hyacinths, tulips, daffodils—
Peonies come late to the party.
Cardinals whistle in the wind.
Apricots open their pale umbrellas;
Pear blossoms smell yeasty-sweet.
Cherry trees give it up at last,
Their petals like tiny white kites.
Hawthorn dons her crown just as
Blackbirds come home from vacation.

These are the signs by which
I count my seasons, winter into spring.
This is my calendar.

My Dedication to Music
By Brittany Wilson

Melodies I hear as I drift up and away
Words that I write on a slate that was once
Pictures I paint on a canvas once clean
Notes in the air swim around as a sing
Rhythmic movements etched on the ground as I
Involuntary reflexes as I clap my hands
A smile that resembles the sun in the sky
In the worlds of John Legend, in the clouds, I’m
so high
As the melodies fade away my feet touch the
I’m not tired yet, I beg, one more round

So away I go as I close my eyes
Saying, “This is my jam” as I pretend to fly
Up in the air, no worries live here
Now I am the pilot, it is I who will steer
Living in bliss, ooh it feels so good
Who knew it’d be you who truly understood
Quarters and eighths, sixteenths and more
Thirty seconds and sixty-fourths so fast I get
I beg for you to stop so it comes to an end
Back to reality, pain is my friend

The Son Who Is Lost To Me

By Sharon Henson

Declared a biological impossibility,
you willed yourself into existence
and entered my world anyway,
already impatient and bored.

Sobered by parenting responsibilities,
I devoted myself to sharing with you
the best of myself:
positive outlook on life
strong faith in God
joy of reading and learning
time for fun and play
love of nature
appreciation for a simple life

But the mix wasn’t right.
What I offered wasn’t what you needed.
Each year the divide between us grew
until the day you crossed the river into

The rift remains.
It hangs between us when we speak to one
“You let me down,” it seems to say.
“God gave you the wrong mother,” I reply.

Coal Dreams
By Elizabeth Abraham

With up-raised glasses the two young men stare
out from the photograph, brown with age.
As they toast, their future is unknown, whereas
I see the image and hear the cage
groan as it lowers them into the mine.
They smile at me and I recall tales
of how they came to a new land lush
with harsh opportunity. Grandfather speaks
of two brothers, of thirty years of darkness
underground, heaving coal that fueled
their children’s dreams and mine.
He cradles his glass for a new toast.
I know his hard hands but not the brother lost,
yet feel the pain of drinking all alone.

Buho and Lucerito
(Owl and Little Star)

By Matt Nelson

And the one-eyed owl
Dances silent
With little star.

In the inky dark,
Drawn to the twinkling

The shadow of their waltz
Cast dense on the bareness
Of winter earth.

Little star glows and pulses,
Sparkling at the owl.
Enticing him to persist.

The owl’s deep chest
Fills with blood and glee
As his outsized wings cut
Brisk air…
Drifting as close to his friend
As he can…even if
He can never seem to soar high
Enough to touch.

There’ll Come a Day
By Conrad Wetzel

There’ll come a day when the hearts of all rejoice,
And altogether join with one great voice
One great song of one great good,
Peace and joy and brotherhood.
There’ll come a day when the hearts of all rejoice.

There’ll come a day when the wars on earth will cease,
And all shall work together building peace.
When our guns and bombs and spears
Will be buried with our fears.
There’ll come a day when the wars on earth will cease.

There’ll come a day when the wrongs of race will end,
And each shall honor each one as a friend.
Heart to heart and hand to hand,
In each city, in each land.
There’ll come a day when the wrongs of race will end.

There’ll come a day when we gladly turn from greed,
And each shall seek to serve a neighbor’s need.
Share our silver and our gold,
Conquer hunger, want, and cold.
There’ll come a day when we gladly turn from greed.

There’ll come a day when the hearts of all rejoice,
And altogether join with one great voice
One great song of one great good,
Peace and joy and brotherhood.
There’ll come a day when the hearts of all rejoice.

The Bicyclist
By Matt Nelson

Mom rode at night.

On an old ten speed my
Dad bought off one of his drunk friends for
Five bucks.

Mom wanted to learn earlier but
Was too poor when she was younger to have a bike.

She would climb onto that rusty Schwinn
And would push off with a slight expel of
Pedaling with determination

For the few brief seconds she was upright
Grace and freedom surrounded her
Self-conscious frame.

She was most beautiful during those moments.

Her face beaming smiling
Doubt drowned out by the soft glow
Of the streetlight.

She would eventually fall down
After a few times circling the yard.
All of us laughing and clapping
Loving her for being so brave.
She would always laugh with us
Her embarrassment hidden under the bike that
Laid upon her body.

She rode that bike
Like this every night for one whole summer.
Mom never got better at staying upright
But it mattered so little…
Each night she would climb again and again onto
That old ten speed.

The wheels turning in time with her heart.

Miz Plantation
By Elizabeth Simpson

Miz Plantation had sweet tea and linen-
Let me tell you the rest:

Being told to give my baby to your darker breast.
Seeing my husband’s child coming from between your thighs.
Late at night hearing his grunts, and your cries—
What could I do? This was my test—
I chose to despise you.
What could I do? Not sympathize, because that leads to action and
What could I do?
White women were property, too.
The compromise?

I took myself, and tore her in two:
On one side was whiteness,
on the other was you.
Sister against sister, our ancient hearts: broken.
The song of our blood: divided.
Our wombs cut open.

I hated her for taking my man
though he took her
after she was bought—
do you see the plan?
He never gets caught.

My mothers chose their comfort against yours—
the soft of their skin against the sweat of your pores
That’s how it begins—
she set the course, and I followed it.
That’s what she fed me—
and I swallowed it.

Sister, we’ve been divided for four hundred years-
our stories, our blood, our pain, our tears—
It may take centuries to restore what’s been denied,
but now, it’s my turn to decide,
and I, putting the safety of whiteness aside,
choose you.

Problem Solved?
By Anne Ehrlich

when johnny looks at granpa’s watch he sees
not only numbers but a work of art
first sticks and stones to track the playful sun
which sometimes disappeared and then

The birds knew when to sing but when to plant
was what the peasant knew he had to know
and Kings and Emperors to plan their wars.
They had to find the key to read the skies.

And so great minds assumed the task to make
a frame of time with days and hours and
and seasons yea of years. Justinian.
So why did not the seasons match the frame?

Required; calibrations be revised!
And hence the cry—GO GO GREGORIAN!

A Sonnet
By Sandra Batzli

As history tells us time again
A tyrant’s quest for wealth and power
Will cause the people grief and pain
Destroy their lives from hour to hour.
Encircling round, they use their might
Ignoring cries to stop, to cease.
Amoeba-like beneath the light,
Engulfing all within their reach.
Do only wise men see man’s plight?
The greater battle to be won
Requires all to merge and fight
Without the need for sword or gun
To figure ways to heal our earth
Or lose our common home and berth.

From the Champaign County Juvenile
Detention Center (Names withheld)


Life is a journey
Take the right path
Learn, love and
Live each day like your last
Face your fears
Cause no tears
Make the right move
Win don’t lose
Do your bet
Worry less
Help others
Be nice
Show affection
Get through life

Then, Six Weeks Later…
By Tauby Shimkin

On Sunday, the day that Daddy was free,
For afternoon play before it got dark,
Like angel children, their father and me
Six rode in the car to Allerton park
In the light of September’s golden air
I’m with Lisa, the youngest, aged three
Hand in hand in dappled lane, not a care.
The others are playing where we can’t see.
I’d never known content in such measure
The moment caught as the camera’s prize
I wish I would have been told to treasure
The luminous glint in my daughter’s eyes
Fractured shards of time splinter in space.
Only in dreams do I now see her face.

Life is a Ocean

Life is a ocean you can go
The opposite way or follow the
You can either be up or down
Or always be negative and drownin’
I always try to be positive and
Stay afloat but there’s always
Someone in life who wants to
Sink your boat
I can chill with the crowd
of fish or the sharks and
Become someone’s dish
You can’t judge unless you
Been on the other side of
The sea so stop criticizing
And try to be me
So life is like a ocean I
Now choose the right path and
Go with the right motions

Chocolate Veggies
By Arola Oluwehinmi

Carrot, Cabbage and Cucumbers
Mom says they’ll make me grow
Snickers, M&Ms and Milky Way
Mom says they’ve got to go.

I ponder and begin to wonder
What about chocolate cauliflower and toffee
Vanilla broccoli, Reese’s green beans and Skittles
on a cob
Lettuce Ice cream and pepper popsicles
They’ll sure make grow
And no one has to know.

Ignore Other
By Eric Phetteplace

Gray beard gone brown
with dirt. Slack eyes/
strange skin. On hands
pool of without
pigment like Lake
Erie shape. Mouth
not visible;
soft gristles speak
—Spare change? Turn cheek.
You ever thought
“steal their wheelchair?”
You ever thought
“self same?” Birth stains
your slick shaved skull
tremens termite
in family tree
tremor in growth
rings. You know you
should sympathize
but somehow don’t.
It’s easier.
Choke the thin sprouts
under middle
class canopy.
Chew the burger
and trash the half
that’s left.

What Little Poems Are Made Of
By John Wason

Attention arrested.
Synapses engaged.
Emotion invested_
Rapture, and rage.

In throbbing tumescence,
The poet engorged;
From seminal essence
The poem is forged.

Billy, my Pigow
By Arola Oluwehinmi

I have a pigow named Billy.
He is part pig and part cow.
Billy is very, very silly.
He ate my brother’s shoe
And chased my sister’s dog Willy.

The other day we went to church
And left Billy on the porch.
Our neighbor screamed wow!
When she saw my pigow.

So Billy decided to show off
He let out a big puff
And blew down the neighbor’s shrub
Guess who had to clean up.

Now I give Billy smaller portions
To reduce his motions
He is still very, very silly
And that is the story of my pigow, Billy.

Staple of the community
By Carol Ammons

The entire body, radio, print, literacy
A vast project, a complete work
Where musicians, activist, artist
Churn out justice for the less,
We, Be, IMC
A staple of the community
Feeding the news, Through the veins of

Two Weeks, One Day

Saturday around 7:00 am
In my bed, im layin’ my momma
Starts yellin’ like a lion, she
Tells me to get up I said hell
Naw, and then came the
She pulled off my warm protection
Then that’s when I got to
Court ordered, charged with electricity
Realized there had to be changes
In my simplicity
See, it’s been two weeks
And one day, after this im only
Going one way, that way is up
I’m changing my ways, gonna
Do what’s right day and night
Because life is a fight so
Carefully pick and choose
Your battles
Pick the right path to travel
And on your way don’t bite
The hand that feeds you
‘cause that hand can point
The way to go, like my mother
Who removed the protection
I want, but in reality was the
Protection I needed, and I cut
It down so now I have time
To think about what imma do

Lilacs In Bloom

I see it.
Clear as
light upon water.
A tendril
of Blue smoke
in a sunbeam.

A moment.
A possibility.
A breach
in the Samsara
of the preta loka.

Where the love-less
the life-less drone
of the undead
cannot go.


By Durango Mendoza

on gusts
with gulls.
Plummet earth-
ward through lull
holes in the blue, to
smack the sparkling water-
points for fish and shoot back
sails pop like rifles, and the wind, feisty as a girl, plays gaily
with the heaving schooner’s probing mast, then rolls,
out-stretched, over the water, becalmed.

The Storm
By Jasmine T. Williams
Rain sounds
Thunder echos across the sky
The World trembles and holds its breath
Everything is flipped upside-down as Nature weeps for her
Terror stalls even the bravest heart
The scent of the end hangs heavy in the air
Silence thick as dirt clings to all who witness
Nothing is safe as destruction takes its iron fists and strucks
down man-kind

Just a Mattress
By Nneka J. Howell

Soft and pleasant as I rest my skull on the soft utters beneath me; teething on energy lost.

Buried upon the quilt are the sheets                holding my figure in place as I rest.
My black outline sinks into the shadows        in memory of my loving grandma.
When revealed, one see’s the stains;               once touched by her shaking hands-
wondering what caused her to spill                 such liquids on an unknown demand.
So even when I dress the bed,                           I picture me by her organs as I settle.
For this blessing once was hers;                       something to sooth her mind with.
Laying upon her presence even if                    she is far beyond the sky’s eyes.
I lay in memories of such disguise                   by no surprise, I close my blinds.
For this is not just a mattress,                          I feel her touch me with security-
wrapping me with wisdom and                        loving me with opportunity.

One day this mattress will distort, and when it does I will call it art!

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