The Poem That’s Getting Me Through Midterms

In the heat of midterm season, I’m thinking about Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art. As I procrastinate and study and go to events and feel the pulse of life racing madly everyday, I think about how I can’t get yesterday back, or the day before that, or today will pass and so will tomorrow. The passage of time feels like a kind of destruction, a loss, a sacrifice that I must helplessly participate in. And Bishop’s poem encapsulates this anxiety so eloquently and ironically in a poem; she writes:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

It sneaks up on you, and it seems very profound in the beginning– initially, I thought the poem what about the burdens of materialism, or the issues with attaching yourself to human or tangible things (“door keys”, your “mother’s watch”, “three loved houses”). However, the poem progressively becomes more obsessive, spiraling into a chaotic frenzy of losing everything, of owning and loving and finding meaning in nothing:

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

To me, it becomes something of an existentialist plea for meaning– this author is saying, to some degree, whether she knows it or not, Nothing matters. And everything is fine, because nothing matters. And finally, she drops the huge bomb at us in the end, the absolute sarcastic remark that seems to be hiding a deep inner turmoil:

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

But this last paragraph reveals her true feelings. Bishop cares about what happens.

The poet can’t really fully will herself to believe that nothing matters because if she did, she wouldn’t be feeling anything– but she does feel something. It doesn’t matter that she uses a “joking voice, a gesture” she loves, or that she painfully admonishes herself to “(Write it!)”– screw that! She cares about what happens, and even if everything in her life is lost, if everything and everyone that she loves is destroyed, she is silently, quietly counteracting that by creating this poem— something she can control. I cannot help but feel like there is particular double weight to the word “art” here– something that helps her lose and destroy, perhaps, but more importantly, helps her create.

In the midst of academic frenzy and the crazy on-goings of everyday life, I’m sometimes forced to forfeit and run on autopilot– wake up, do the stuff, scrabble to bed to get my seven hours, and repeat. But I care about what happens, I put love and passion into the work that I do, and that’s what matters.

This poem is a shout into the void, as all poems are, but beautiful– a declaration that I was here. I existed. And I matter. And perhaps that’s something we need to remember this time of year.


(Read Bishop’s incredible poem here:

White Canvas, White Winter (A Poem)

Falling snowflakes grow into different shapes as they fall.

There’s something so beautiful about a pure white canvas

Ready to be filled

There are thousands of secrets hidden inside

Ready to be pulled.

Artists, like miners, use the brush as their tool

And uncover diamonds in every stroke

They pull out the secrets when they paint, draw, collage

And the world’s eyes open, every lady, every bloke.

They use big bowls

And dip their hands in deep

Paint the world with their fingers

So bright and beautiful as if you’re asleep.

And in the winter comes Earth’s own little canvas

A fresh coat of snow, glittering down

With each little blanket comes billions of chances

For artists to come

Work their magic

Rid the blackness.

So this winter don’t fret, don’t even worry

There may not be snow

It’s just not in a hurry

It’s coming just later so artists beware

Soon you’ll have canvases up to your curly nose hair

So happy Christmas Eve

And merry Christmas Day

I’m sorry it’s not a white one

But don’t fear.

It’s okay.

Jolly Old Nick will head down the chimney

And leave little art gifts

Full of colorful whimsy

And maybe you’ll get the best gift of all

Something new, something white, something beautiful and tall

Open up your canvas, brand new and white

Go mine some diamonds

Fill the world with delight.


Happy Christmas to everyone celebrating!

Thanksgiving Poem

Every year on Thanksgiving, my great aunt would read a poem her father read to her called The Turkey Gobbler. In honor of that tradition, here is a poem of all of the things I am grateful for (and you should be grateful for!) at The University of Michigan.

Thanksgiving day comes but once a year
And always it is filled with cheer
Unless of course we do forget
To say our thanks to the people we’ve met
So tell your family and tell your friends
How happy you are that your love never ends
Then look to the west and HAIL the Big House
Pizza House feta bread could please a Michigan mouse
Say thanks to the profs and all the GSIs
Shake your advisor’s hand as you say your goodbyes
Make sure your colors always bleed maize and blue
And take a big sip of some Ann Arbor brew
Then head to the Diag and skip over the M
Say thanks to the squirrels as they scurry to the Den
Take a walk by the Huron
Meet your friends in the Ugli
Sneak some food out the dining halls
Quote JFK smugly
The law quad is perfect for some quality pictures
At Charley’s you’ll surely find some top notch mixtures
So gather your blue books and your number 2 pencils
The Union’s got you covered for fun UMix late night specials
Check the tea out at Wisdom
And down at Tea Haus
Try the coffee at Amer’s
And Espresso Royale
Be jolly at Pumpkin
For a nice stout or pale ale
Run around the Arb
And pet the dogs at finals
Paint the rock at night
Play your hipster rock vinyls
Do trivia at Brown Jug
Or maybe someplace else
Find some chalk at Mash
Hunt fairy doors
Look for elves
Work hard all day
Then play hard at night
Dance ’til the morning
Skeeps, Rick’s, and Necto dim the light
Have an egg on your Frita
Walk barefoot in the fountain
Find your painting at UMMA
Trek off to North like it’s a mountain
Grab a book at the Dude, or maybe at Dawn Treader
Literati has coffee
And typewriters with letters
Act chic in the Ross garden still sunny in winter
Toast mason jars at Dom’s when the sun is a squinter
Spend a dollar on Ground Cover and help someone out
But check out The Daily for news without doubt
Remember orientation as you don your cap and gown
Think of it gratefully and don’t you dare frown
Theres another thing you really must do
And if you don’t, this day you’ll rue
Take hold of your tassle and move it side to side
While you’re at it tell Schlissel he’s a really great guy
The last thing to do is maybe most important
Remember the block ][v][
And say hello victors
Do the right thing
Shout Harbaugh’s name
As we all come together to cheer for this thing we call
the game, the game, the game
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Beat OSU!

Missing Noah’s Ark: an ekphrastic poem adapted from the painting “The Flood”

I go under.

Water rushing into my ears,

bubbling out of my nose,

eye sockets overflowing with its saltiness

my body sinks


As the black dye pinned to my skin

for the past 43 years

seeps off

dissipating into


creating a dark, hazy atmosphere

above my heavy head

My body, feather-light, floats lower,


I become the black

clunky dye,

drifting higher,


to the surface then


I am lies

contorted truths of passion and empathy for our family’s downfall.

I am greed

thirsting, devouring, licking clean all the wealth of my life.

I am anger

slapping, spitting, singeing, done to those I know best.

Tunneling down

ricocheting against the green waters,

I become numb to my senses.

I see cloaked darkness,

hearing the grain of dust fall in,

tasting the liquid that consumes my molecular structure.

I hit a wall.

I think my back feels

the splintered wood of a boat.

-Erika Bell