Thursday, September 26, 2013

Occasional Poetry

By Kenneth A O'Shaughnessy

Have you ever heard about an event and said to yourself, “Someone should commemorate this with a poem”? Poems written for the specific occasions are, appropriately enough, called “Occasional Poetry”. An occasional poem we should all be familiar with in America is The Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key.

Key originally titled his poem “Defense of Fort McHenry”. He had watched the battle from a boat offshore, and, as night fell, there was no way to tell who was winning, but he could see the storm flag still flying by bomb-light. In the morning, the full-sized American flag had been raised, and Key was inspired to write the poem that has become our national anthem.

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sometimes poets are asked to commemorate events, especially presidential inaugurations. In this case, the poem is written prior to the expected event. These include Robert Frost for John F. Kennedy, Maya Angelou for Bill Clinton, and Elizabeth Alexander for Barack Obama:

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

I will leave you today with an occasional poem I wrote upon seeing the destruction by tornadoes in Oklahoma this year.

Where is God in the whirlwind
Howling its windy wendy wrath
On the places of OK people
Opening arms to the open sky
Shouting to an unseen Heaven
Help us, or we are swept away

Perhaps God was not in the whirlwind
Even though He is everywhere else
And perhaps His wrath doesn't burn
Children who hear His still small voice
Echoing in their now silent ears

How do we go from faith to faith
Over the objection of nature's course
Praying to the Spirit that guides
Every wind of storm and breath

Jesus Christ! How senseless destruction
Overwhelms us when innocence dies
You know that feeling firsthand, too

Where else is there to go from this
Except to the God in our image

I see God today in Oklahomans

Occasional poems can be written for political events, personal milestones like births and deaths, holidays, and even every day occurrences. What occasions inspire you to write?

Kenneth A O'Shaughnessy is a freelance writer and poet living in the upstate of South Carolina with his wife and four children. To find his daily poetry entries, log onto:

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