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Serving poetry with your pumpkin pie

November 24, 2009 | 11:50 am


Many of our Thanksgiving traditions are slightly twisted versions of what really happened. There wasn't any turkey served; the first one was probably in Texas, not Massachusetts; Pilgrims didn't dress in black or wear tall hats. But if our myths aren't really based in history, we might as well invent some new ones -- and, for example, bring poetry home for the holidays

The Poetry Foundation has collected 21 poems just right for Thanksgiving. There are those that celebrate fall -- "To Autumn" by John Keats, "The Garden of Proserpine" by Algernon Charles Swinburne -- but aren't particularly American. But there are also Americans like Robert Frost ("The Gift Outright") and Paul Laurence Dunbar ("Signs of the Times") if you'd rather keep your holiday poetry close to home.

Other poems are focused on food and its legacies: "Yam" by Bruce Guernsey, "Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo and "Butter" by Elizabeth Alexander, who read at Barack Obama's inauguration.

And there are a few that give thanks. Like Robert Herrick's "A Thanksgiving to God, for His House" the call-to-action "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" by James Weldon Johnson and "Thanksgiving" by Edgar Albert Guest, which begins:

Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Best time for reciting your Thanksgiving poem of choice: after the wine has been served yet before the food coma kicks in.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: "The First Thanksgiving," by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris