8 poems to start the decade with

Jan. 28, 2020, 9:14 p.m.

Hi, everyone, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood Navy veteran. If you’re reading this, you made it to 2020. Congratulations. Give yourself a big hug from me, and give me one if you see me walking around in my shoulder sling.

Anyway, I took a poetry class last quarter and was blown away. Since that pretty much makes me an expert now, and because I love y’all so much, I collected some of my favorite poems for us to kick off the quarter/year/decade. 

“won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton

First off, let’s stop and appreciate how amazing it is that we’re here. I’m here to write this, you’re here to read it and all the people are here who keep the internet and technology and the rest of the world running. One day, none of us will be, but let’s not think about that for now.

“If” by Rudyard Kipling

This one should really be called “Everything You Need To Be An Absolute Beast.” Kipling masterfully wraps stoicism, brashness, poise, courage, compassion and so much more in one bite-sized, memorable, manifesto on self-realization. Tape it to your mirror, wallpaper your phone with it, chant it in a Wiccan ritual. Whatever you do, make this poem part of your life.

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Regardless of your gender identity, I think we can all get behind Angelou’s declaration: “I am Phenomenal.” Each of us has an “inner mystery” that we can’t show or explain. When we live it and express it, people gravitate toward that and can’t explain why.

“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

With this gut-punch of a poem, Henley takes a bloody stand in the arena, reminding us to stand tall and stay true to ourselves in the face of adversity. 

“The World Has Need Of You” by Ellen Bass

I cannot get enough Ellen Bass. The last three lines of this piece in particular crash down on me every time. No spoilers, but the title says it all. 

“I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing” by Walt Whitman

Whitman is still growing on me, but this poem’s message is an important contrast to the rest. It reminds me that no matter how hard I work or what I accomplish, I’d be nothing without the people in my life. Let’s take a moment and send grateful vibes to everyone who’s been there for us.

“The Empty Glass” by Louise Glück

Fate, the universe, mythology. Where do we fit in? This poem is dense, longer than the rest and goes in too many directions to list out in full. I recommend reading it at least 17 times.

Lines for Winter by Mark Strand

This one is for those moments when everything has gone wrong and everyone has deserted us. It’s not a slap-on-the-back message of  “just believe you’re awesome,” but a gentle reminder to love yourself in your less awesome moments.

Happy New Everything, everyone.

Bonus: “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Contact Nestor Walters at waltersx ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Nestor was born in Bangladesh, raised in Greece, and served 10 years in the U.S. Navy. He studied math as an undergraduate, and now studies applied mathematics and oceans as a master's student at Stanford.

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