Mister Poetry

for John Ciardi (1916-1986)

What toughened him wasn't being caught
between the Boston Irish & Italian toughs,

that his parents were immigrants, that his mother
couldn't read. Not that his father was dead

when John was three. Rather his mother's
anger-grief beaten with a strap across his back.

The police said: 'The freshest kid in Medford.'
' His older sisters scraped together

cash enough for college. Then came the war:
20 missions as an aerial gunner over Japan.

He taught at Harvard, translated Dante's work.
Gave the Commedia to a generation.

Thirty books of poetry, a trove of children's verse.
Guardian at the gate: Saturday Review.

[Read 600 poems a month, take 2.
Then fend off snarly letters from those denied]

Beat poets made him dyspeptic & he worried
women would make poetry too 'sissified.'

What he admired: a light approach to seriousness,
a muscular voice, 'incongruities' & passion.

Loyalty, paramount & humor. There’s nothing
wrong with sobriety in moderation.

In '65, I heard him read. Basso profundo.
Inspired! So young, I hadn’t heard of Dante yet.

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