A celebration of how poets distill their experience of country and culture into their work.
I included several poems below that have spoken to me — some of which are less well-known than others. There are so many poets whose work we don’t see on Instagram, on the shelves, or in the Westernized anthologies served up in schools. And it’s important to read those works, too. To that end, I’ve included some folks you may have read and others perhaps you haven’t discovered yet.
The poems below are literary photographs of a place or space, a culture, an era, or moment in time. They are of nature or cement, of resistance or calm. And all the nuances in between.
I urge you to explore the poets and the poems in-depth, as many of the poets below write of their own homelands — in all their glorious green, bloodshed, or wild weather.
Paris by Willa Cather
Pillared with pride, the city of delight
Sits like an empress by her silver Seine,
Heavy with jewels, all her splendid dower
Flashing upon her, won from shore and main
By shock of combat, sacked from town and tower.Poets.org
Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain by Li Po
The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,Poetry Foundation
until only the mountain remains.
Poem by Simin Behbahani
My homeland, I shall build you again
With bricks of my soul.
I shall raise your pillars again
With pieces of my boneBBC
Without Answers by Senzio Mazza
Angrily I shouted
From the top of Mt. Etna,
from St. Peter’s colonnade,
from Milan’s highest pinnacles,
and from Florence’s red dome.
But I did not get an answer.
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Byron
… and now, fair Italy!British Library
Thou art the garden of the world, the home
Of all Art yields, and Nature can decree:
Even in thy desert, what is like to thee?
Thy very weeds are beautiful, thy waste
More rich than other climes’ fertility;
Thy wreck a glory; and thy ruin graced
With an immaculate charm which cannot be defaced
To Go to Lvov by Adam Zagajewski
There was always too much of Lvov, no one couldPoetry Foundation
comprehend its boroughs, hear
the murmur of each stone scorched
by the sun, at night the Orthodox church’s silence was unlike
that of the cathedral, the Jesuits
baptized plants, leaf by leaf, but they grew,
grew so mindlessly, and joy hovered
everywhere, in hallways and in coffee mills
revolving by themselves, in blue
teapots, in starch, which was the first
formalist, in drops of rain and in the thorns
of roses. Frozen forsythia yellowed by the window.
Partition by Fatimah Asghar
…you’re muslim until you’re not a virgin. you’re pakistani until they start throwing acid. you’re muslim until it’s too dangerous. you’re safe until you’re alone. you’re american until the towers fall. until there’s a border on your back.Financial Times
The Beach at Sunset by Eloise Klein Healy
Art Deco palm trees sway their hula skirts
in perfect unison
against a backdrop of gorgeous blue,
and for you I would try it,
though I have always forbidden myself to write
poems about the beach at sunset.
All the clichés for it sputterPoetry Foundation
like the first generation of neon,
and what attracts me anyway
New Year, 1979 by Mishka Mojabber Mourani and Aida Yacoub Haddad
The most ethereal caress,HuffPost
A dawn, was given,
While sleepy West nuzzled to senseless East.
One city just then,
One battered, paranoid, schizophrenic city
Monsoon Poem by Tishani Doshi
Because suchPoetry Foundation
a big part of you seeks to understand
this kind of rain — so unlike your cold
rain, austere rain, get-me-the-hell-
out-of-here rain. Rain that can’t fathom
how to liberate camphor from the vaults
of the earth.
Going, Going by Philip Larkin
And that will be England goneYouTube
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres
Things That Fold by Karisma Price
Milvirtha Hendricks under the American
flag 5 days after Hurricane Katrina.
Her face from the crease
made in her
obituary photo as we use
the newspaper to eat crawfish.
The wrinkles in her forehead.
through a broken levee.Four Way Review