Wednesday, April 30, 2008
A Kumquat for John Keats
by Tony Harrison
Today I found the right fruit for my prime,
not orange, not tangelo, and not lime,
nor moon-like globes of grapefruit that now hang
outside our bedroom, nor tart lemon's tang
(though last year full of bile and self-defeat
I wanted to believe no life was sweet)
nor the tangible sunshine of the tangerine,
and no incongruous citrus ever seen
at greengrocers' in Newcastle or Leeds
mis-spelt by the spuds and mud-caked swedes,
a fruit an older poet might substitute
for the grape John Keats thought fit to be Joy's fruit,
when, two years before he died, he tried to write
how Melancholy dwelled inside Delight,
and if he'd known the citrus that I mean
that's not orange, lemon, lime, or tangerine,
I'm pretty sure that Keats, though he had heard
'of candied apple, quince and plum and gourd'
instead of 'grape against the palate fine'
would have, if he'd known it, plumped for mine,
this Eastern citrus scarcely cherry size
he'd bite just once and then apostrophize
and pen one stanza how the fruit had all
the qualities of fruit before the Fall,
but in the next few lines be forced to write
how Eve's apple tasted at the second bite,
and if John Keats had only lived to be,
because of extra years, in need like me,
at 42 he'd help me celebrate
that Micanopy kumquat that I ate
whole, straight off the tree, sweet pulp and sour skin—
or was it sweet outside, and sour within?
For however many kumquats that I eat
I'm not sure if it's flesh or rind that's sweet,
and being a man of doubt at life's mid-way
I'd offer Keats some kumquats and I'd say:
You'll find that one part's sweet and one part's tart:
say where the sweetness or the sourness start.
I find I can't, as if one couldn't say
exactly where the night became the day,
which makes for me the kumquat taken whole
best fruit, and metaphor, to fit the soul
of one in Florida at 42 with Keats
crunching kumquats, thinking, as he eats
the flesh, the juice, the pith, the pips, the peel,
that this is how a full life ought to feel,
its perishable relish prick the tongue,
when the man who savours life 's no longer young,
the fruits that were his futures far behind.
Then it's the kumquat fruit expresses best
how days have darkness round them like a rind,
life has a skin of death that keeps its zest.
History, a life, the heart, the brain
flow to the taste buds and flow back again.
That decade or more past Keats's span
makes me an older not a wiser man,
who knows that it's too late for dying young,
but since youth leaves some sweetnesses unsung,
he's granted days and kumquats to express
Man's Being ripened by his Nothingness.
And it isn't just the gap of sixteen years,
a bigger crop of terrors, hopes and fears,
but a century of history on this earth
between John Keats's death and my own birth—
years like an open crater, gory, grim,
with bloody bubbles leering at the rim;
a thing no bigger than an urn explodes
and ravishes all silence, and all odes,
Flora asphyxiated by foul air
unknown to either Keats or Lemprière,
dehydrated Naiads, Dryad amputees
dragging themselves through slagscapes with no trees,
a shirt of Nessus fire that gnaws and eats
children half the age of dying Keats . . .
Now were you twenty five or six years old
when that fevered brow at last grew cold?
I've got no books to hand to check the dates.
My grudging but glad spirit celebrates
that all I've got to hand 's the kumquats, John,
the fruit I'd love to have your verdict on,
but dead men don't eat kumquats, or drink wine,
they shiver in the arms of Proserpine,
not warm in bed beside their Fanny Brawne,
nor watch her pick ripe grapefruit in the dawn
as I did, waking, when I saw her twist,
with one deft movement of a sunburnt wrist,
the moon, that feebly lit our last night's walk
past alligator swampland, off its stalk.
I thought of moon-juice juleps when I saw,
as if I'd never seen the moon before,
the planet glow among the fruit, and its pale light
make each citrus on the tree its satellite.
Each evening when I reach to draw the blind
stars seem the light zest squeezed through night's black rind;
the night's peeled fruit the sun, juiced of its rays,
first stains, then streaks, then floods the world with days,
days, when the very sunlight made me weep,
days, spent like the nights in deep, drugged sleep,
days in Newcastle by my daughter's bed,
wondering if she, or I, weren't better dead,
days in Leeds, grey days, my first dark suit,
my mother's wreaths stacked next to Christmas fruit,
and days, like this in Micanopy. Days!
As strong sun burns away the dawn's grey haze
I pick a kumquat and the branches spray
cold dew in my face to start the day.
The dawn's molasses make the citrus gleam
still in the orchards of the groves of dream.
The limes, like Galway after weeks of rain,
glow with a greenness that is close to pain,
the dew-cooled surfaces of fruit that spent
all last night flaming in the firmament.
The new day dawns. O days! My spirit greets
the kumquat with the spirit of John Keats.
O kumquat, comfort for not dying young,
both sweet and bitter, bless the poet's tongue!
I burst the whole fruit chilled by morning dew
against my palate. Fine, for 42!
I search for buzzards as the air grows clear
and see them ride fresh thermals overhead.
Their bleak cries were the first sound I could hear
when I stepped at the start of sunrise out of doors,
and a noise like last night's bedsprings on our bed
from Mr Fowler sharpening farmers' saws.
from Tony Harrison, Selected Poems. New York: Random House, 1987
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
"Astronomers Detect Water in Distant Galaxy, Suggest Life May Be Present Throughout Universe"
–San Francisco Chronicle April 3, 1994
by Joel Brouwer
Whether a thimbleful frozen hard as a tooth
or a boiling lagoon they don't say.
Because it doesn't matter. A single drop
or an ocean makes the same implication,
namely: maybe. Maybe we're not alone
in this universe, friends. Maybe bathtubs
up there, bougainvillea and thunderheads.
And maybe (why not?) they've got it
good up there: no mumps, no smashed china
on the kitchen floor, no rubber checks
to the gas company, no Kalashnikovs . . .
Beleaguered skeptics everywhere, you may begin
dreaming now. Of wars fought with peonies,
or glasses of milk. Of every belly filled each day
with dish after succulent dish. Of law books
one sentence long: "Be nice." But maybe this
is too much to hope. Perhaps
they're just protozoa up there, wiggling
blind in a sullen puddle. Let's rocket there quick
and help them avoid our mistakes,
snatch the stone from their first murderer's hand,
inoculate them for plague and smallpox,
burn their Oppenheimer's notes. In a few million years
they could be perfect, with our help,
and then we could go live there too, simply,
in cabañas along the ocean, eating mangoes
and staring out at the deep blue water, wondering
when somewhere out there the first shark
will feel its first tooth
rise like a dagger from its jaw.
from Exactly What Happened. Purdue University Press, 1999.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
by Louie Skipper
I remember the great composers,
their heads, those simple mutes,
on the slave block of my weekly piano lesson.
Half a century ago, I came to nothing.
Mrs. Riley, patient as a nurse,
sat beside me on the bench as I made the piano suffer,
the eyes of Mozart straight ahead,
Nevertheless it was he alone who swallowed back
such monstrous violence,
his arm folded invisibly in rage and song,
then, once I was gone, raising his fingers above the keys,
threw the rest of his life before the silent room.
From the upcoming book, It Was the Orange Persimmon of the Sun, Settlement House, January 2009.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
by Brandon McLeod
Deep resonance within me
the high stiff tone of a pipe
respire and gravity loses its hold
and I am released
Rocketing to the edge of the universe
I feel the swell within me
the soft vocals, tertiary,
almost obliterate my rush.
closing my eyes,
the pulsing, pulsing
saturates my mind.
Benevolent and wild
you take me over the edge,
and when you break
the silence within me
Friday, April 25, 2008
Modulations: Sharp Voices and Soft Voices Sounded Together
by Sue Walker
Who is to say
Mozart was not a starling
who dreamed he was a poet,
tune on the tips of his fingers,
a foolish wag who fought for words
the color of sky,
the shape of clouds
light as a wafer issued by a priest
who understood wind
was breath, was ballad,
was twelve mortal men,
prisoners who were hawk and raven,
eagle and crow, woodpecker,
sapsucker, each constructing
a Piano Concerto in G Major
while the earth itself listened:
tseee tseee tseee,
and maestro’s pen scratching
Whenn ich daran gedenke
O lessert schenke
Thursday, April 24, 2008
by Robert Penn Warren
I saw the hawk ride updraft in the sunset over Wyoming.
It rose from coniferous darkness, past gray jags
Of mercilessness, past whiteness, into the gloaming
Of dream-spectral light above the lazy purity of snow-snags.
There--west--were the Tetons. Snow-peaks would soon be
In dark profile to break constellations. Beyond what height
Hangs now the black speck? Beyond what range will gold eyes see
New ranges rise to mark a last scrawl of light?
Or, having tasted that atmosphere's thinness, does it
Hang motionless in dying vision before
It knows it will accept the mortal limit,
And swing into the great circular downwardness that will restore
The breath of earth? Of rock? Of rot? Of other such
Items, and the darkness of whatever dream we clutch?
From New and Selected Poems 1923-1985 by Robert Penn Warren, published by Random House. Copyright © 1985 by Robert Penn Warren.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun
by William Shakespeare
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Monday, April 21, 2008
where the music at
by Angela Jackson-Brown
hey ma – why you all the time sounding so angry
don’t you have some rhymes about
when a man fingered you up
getting you all saxed up
making you cry out jazz notes
to the tune of the yardbird
scratch, scratch, scratching your blues away
i swear to god, one man treat you bad and you
can’t hear the music no more
one man treat you bad and
you give him the power to play the rhythm
clean out of your soul
you need to ride the trane, girl,
and let some miles get between you
and him or whoever took your music away
you need to let them evil thoughts
spin up out of your mind
and get you dizzy over gillespie
so you can bebop your way back home again
you need to let your mind
be free so you can hear
rashied ali thumping
your drums, ma
bump twa, bump twa, bump twa
how you gonna let the rhythm reverberate
through your hips again
if you don’t let that earthy beat
call your name
put on some hendrix
and let some disharmonies
roll you back into a thelonious mood
come on, baby
write something with a hook
but with no words
scat yourself back into a happy mood
doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah
rhyme us something, just you and me,
that’s gonna make us both feel good tonight
Sunday, April 20, 2008
when i sing
by Robert Gray
when i sing
i often feel
like a rich old woman
with a priceless steinway
in her front parlor
that she’d never learned how to play
i possess an instrument on which
i can bang out brilliant flourishes
fleeting fragments of virtuosity
that can at times approach
the heights of placido or pavarotti
or more often those of tonic or toad
like the young guitarist
who can dazzle
with a few zeppelin riffs
but cannot play an entire song
and as i sit here in virtual quietness
serenaded by the arrhythmic
almost inaudible clicks of this keyboard
i have a similar feeling as a poet
i have stashed away
somewhere in the attic
in one of the countless
boxes of books notebooks
and other sorts of literary trinkets
an antique ticket
for the train to transcendence
but i could never use it
the bridge is out near simplon pass
broken long ago
whether by the winds of time
or nietzsche’s madman
i cannot be certain
but it is more likely that its abutments
and cross supports collapsed
under the weight of their own suppositions
or were gradually deconstructed
by internal contradictions
and faulty assumptions
and so we are left with the fragments
we can mimic the masterpieces
i have myself sung handel’s messiah
haydn’s creation and bach’s b minor mass
iambics often trickle off my tongue
i can only bang out fragments
on this keyboard
there is of course brief comfort
in attempts to imagine a stairway to heaven
but it is no different than the haunting rhythms
of the ocean or even the steps
of a fool in the rain
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Today's poem is to commemorate Lord Byron, who died on this day in 1824.
She Walks in Beauty
by George Gordon, Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Time Magazine held a vote and these are the 25 top-rated blogs on the web. Check 'em out.
Of Modern Poetry
by Wallace Stevens
The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice. It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
Then the theatre was changed
To something else. Its past was a souvenir.
It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage,
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one. The actor is
A metaphysician in the dark, twanging
An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly
Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend,
Beyond which it has no will to rise.
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
by Nikki Giovanni
poetry is motion graceful
as a fawn
gentle as a teardrop
strong like the eye
finding peace in a crowded room
we poets tend to think
our words are golden
though emotion speaks too
loudly to be defined
sometimes after midnight or just before
we sit typewriter in hand
pulling loneliness around us
forgetting our lovers or children
who are sleeping
ignoring the weary wariness
of our own logic
to compose a poem
no one understands it
it never says "love me" for poets are
it never says "accept me" for poems seek not
acceptance but controversy
it only says "i am" and therefore
I concede that you are too
a poem is pure energy
between the mind
of the poet and the ear of the reader
if it does not sing discard the ear
for poetry is song
if it does not delight discard
the heart for poetry is joy
if it does not inform then close
off the brain for it is dead
if it cannot heed the insistent message
that life is precious
which is all we poets
wrapped in our loneliness
are trying to say
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
In Memory of W. B. Yeats
by W. H. Auden
He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.
But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.
But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden.
Monday, April 14, 2008
This poem is by Ted Hughes and was found at: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/lic/newlibrary/poem.html
HEAR IT AGAIN
Fourteen centuries have learned,
A Serbian Prof's insanity,
Where any nation starts awake
For this one's dreams and that one's acts
Even the most misfitting child
Ted Hughes, July 1997
Today's poem is Walt Whitman’s famous elegy to Abraham Lincoln. Since it is very long, I have only included the first third or so of the poem (which many consider to be a poem in itself). A link to the entire poem can be found at the bottom if you are interested in continuing on.
from When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d
by Walt Whitman
WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
O powerful, western, fallen star!
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d! O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul!
In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle......and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.
In the swamp, in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.
Solitary, the thrush,
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.
Song of the bleeding throat!
Death’s outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would’st surely die.)
Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris;)
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing the endless grass;
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards;
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.
Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags, with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veil’d women, standing,
With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit—with the silent sea of faces, and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn;
With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where amid these you journey,
With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang;
Here! coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.
To continue, go to http://www.bartleby.com/142/192.html
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
A man and a woman
A man and a woman and a blackbird
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
Friday, April 11, 2008
How Far Would You Get Without the Devil
by Bruce Alford
…but his face
Deep scars of thunder had intrenched, and care
Sat on his faced cheek –Paradise Lost
See how the dragon comes
screaming. My brother’s eyes are red,
the color of Satan—I mean they’re red,
and I stand in the bathroom mirror,
with nothing but a towel around my waist,
appearing strange to myself.
And he’s yelling, you know loud, because he’s drunk.
He wears a baseball cap as black as his face.
Nappy hair sticks out from under the edges. Bozo.
His loose face swirls.
Man, I would die for Mama. You hear me, man.
He puts four calloused fingers against his shirt,
right over his heart,
right over an illustration of Curious George.
Can’t I have something for myself?
No listen. Listen.
Man, she pulled a gun on me—her son!
Her own flesh and blood.
Said I’ll kill your motherf***ing ass.
Man, she did this to her flesh and blood.
What’s wrong with Mama, man?
Let me tell you what she did. I gave her 400 dollars.
I had just given her 400 dollars,
and I’m back there in that room,
and the phone rings and I hear her:
‘He got his lazy black ass back there.
He ain’t done nothing for me’—
When I heard that, Man,
I broke down and cried. I cried just like a baby.
It doesn’t matter that I’m a professor, teacher, lecturer, poet.
I am a stranger to myself,
hard to recognize. I am
my brother’s hand, reaching.
I hear voices
over long distances,
ghosts come forth from their tombs:
two brothers watch the Road Runner and Bugs Bunny,
a pillow fight: a goose quill sticking out between the stitching.
He used to be a ladies’ man.
Cool Congo, smooth black skin, my beautiful brother.
What’s wrong with my mama?
Give me Answers.
Man, why she got to talk to me like that?
I know I drink. I drink. I kick back a few beers.
But I’m 55 years old. You hear me?
And Mama’s got to be a little lenient.
I’ll do anything for Mama. I’m gone stick by Mama.
I’m gone stick by her side, but she takes.
She takes and I and I give so much of myself.
I neglected myself for Mama.
I can’t deal with this shit. People just don’t know.
Excuses. You can’t blame your past. Use it.
“In this magnificent piece, the poet transforms a painful experience into a strange beauty.”
You’re so cold.
Your iron body needs a brother’s heart to make it live.
Still, you have to die a little.
Go. Embrace him there.
This could kill me.
It’s the history that’s terrible.
Satan, Satan a fallen angel,
oh how fallen, how changed.
The Seminary Trees
for William Seth Adams
by Louie Skipper
What would they need to know,
preparing the last words
spoken against our kind
long before our common birth?
I wonder over the wisdom of oaks,
the slender sounds
urged by the greatest trees.
All my life I have looked up to them,
holding their hardness like cellars,
perfecting their dissatisfactions,
then, looking down,
I enter daily life
and take up my poverty of shadows
guided by the sun
the way the oaks are by the evening breeze.
What would it be
to speak with the trees
through some gift bestowed upon us,
these trees that are carving the wind’s instructions?
What would it be
to follow them
the way one might follow a scar
back into its wound,
and to hear,
shaped by their voices,
the call of our own names
transparent in their motions,
whipped right up from the ground?
What reply might we give the trees
looking up into them,
their shapes putting words in our mouths,
the inquiry of water oaks and sycamores,
their chronic darkness
rustling our human, our corrupt and lovely form?
From the upcoming book, It Was the Orange Persimmon of the Sun, Settlement House, January 2009.
The Scout Report today contains two exhibits that couldn't be more different, but are intimately connected as expressions of a cultural timeline of who/what can be represented and how: National Portrait Gallery's Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture and the Denver Art Museum's Inspiring Impressionism.
Hip Hop: "The lyricism and social consciousness of hip-hop music has been a source of inspiration for many artists working in photography, painting, film, and even contemporary multimedia projects."
Impressionism: "The exhibition explores the relationship between the Impressionists and the Old Masters that inspired them."
Thursday, April 10, 2008
by Rainer Maria Rilke
This laboring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.
And dying—to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day—
is like his anxious letting himself fall
into waters, which receive him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draw back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more
indifferent, he condescends to glide.
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Yet Do I Marvel
by Countee Cullen
I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
from My Soul's High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance. Copyright held by Ida M. Cullen.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
i wish that i were langston hughes
by Robert Gray
i wish that i were langston hughes
or even maya angelou
able to cry out for freedom
over the roofs of the world
from a position of surprising
and unaccustomed strength
but sadly i am not
for no matter how much
i read or think or discuss
no matter how enlightened i may feel
i can never fully understand
as a white poet
privileged if by nothing else
but my own whiteness
how the truth in their words
can see so well into the life of things
and so i am damned
by that same whiteness
always to be disadvantaged
i have always found
a fundamental difference
between white poetry
and black poetry
and i have always envied it
and while i am certainly
as guilty as anyone and
would never wish to oversimplify
it seems to me that white poetry
historically at any rate
has often tended to soar
on the ethereal wings
of imagination and philosophy
with a mission to explore
the deep and hidden meanings
of the heights of heaven
in order that poets might
as prophets or amanuenses
bring the mountaintop down
so that truth might come to be
within the reach of those
of us too blind or deaf
to write the zeitgeist of eternity
and so white poets have pontificated
throughout history on the wherefores
and whys of our existence
almost as if poets and poetry
had nothing else or better to do
african american poetry
on the other hand
has preferred to labor
with its hands in the earth
it has always done its work
in the everyday
at the dinner table
or through childhood remembrances
born out of minds too strewn
with petty cares
or while standing on
the grave of dreams
deferred from the earth’s inside
this voice of the subaltern
long subjected to the margins
has always preferred to work
down in the midst of things
where life happens
lifting truth up to the heavens
in an act of heavy praise
for there is power in pain
and strangled possibility
but there is also beauty
in the fact of blackness
just as there is poetry
in the song of a caged bird
or the lies of a mask
perhaps even more than
in the tortured thoughts
of an overly pensive prince
or an overwrought
yet while it is indeed a privilege
to ponder life’s mysteries
by deconstructing the semantics
of our social discourses
even in a vain hope that
by revealing and reversing
historical and hierarchical binaries
they might dry up or explode
it is a privilege wrought
with hidden costs and effects
that we are taught not to see
and while many might argue
that poetry should be above
the baseness of politics
and while there may well be
a richness to those arguments
there is also a whiteness
silently blinding us to the life of things
The Fugitive Poets of Fenway Park
-- Boston, MA, 1948
The Chilean secret police
for the poet Neruda: in the dark shafts
of mines, in the boxcars of railroad yards,
in the sewers of Santiago.
The government intended to confiscate his mouth
and extract the poems one by one like bad teeth.
But the mines and boxcars and sewers were empty.
I know where he was.
Neruda was at Fenway Park,
burly and bearded in a flat black cap, hidden
in the kaleidescope of the bleachers.
He sat quietly, munching a hot dog
when Ted Williams walked to the crest of the diamond, slender as my
father remembers him, squinting at the pitcher, bat swaying in a
memory of trees.
The stroke was a pendulum of long muscle and wood,
Ted's face tilted up, the home run
zooming into the right field grandstand.
Then the crowd stood together, cheering
for this blasphemer of newsprint, the heretic
who would not tip his cap as he toed home plate
or grin like a war hero at the sportswriters
surrounding his locker for a quote.
The fugitive poet could not keep silent,
standing on his seat to declaim the ode
erupted in crowd-bewildering Spanish from his mouth:
"Praise Ted Williams, raising his sword
cut from the ash tree, the ball
a white planet glowing in the atmosphere
of the right field grandstand!
Praise the Wall rising
like a great green wave
from the green sea of the outfield!
Praise the hot dog, pink meat,
pork snouts, sawdust, mouse feces,
human hair, plugging our intestines,
yet baptized joyfully with mustard!
Praise the wobbling drunk, seasick beer
in hand, staring at the number on his ticket,
demanding my seat!"
Everyone gawked at the man standing
on his seat, bellowing poetry in Spanish.
Anonymous no longer,
Neruda saw the Chilean secret police
as they scrambled through the bleachers,
pointing and shouting, so the poet
jumped a guardrail to disappear
through a Fenway tunnel,
the black cap flying from his head
and spinning into centerfield.
This is true. I was there at Fenway
on August 7, 1948, even if I was born
exactly nine years later
when my father
almost named me Theodore.
Monday, April 07, 2008
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth
I WANDER'D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
by Sue Walker
How it was only one measure
but yet held two beats,
separate and apart,
and memory that hung in the night,
the slack face of a haunted moon.
If her name was Mick
or Carson, if the letters
were confused about making
nouns and verbs, if the sentences
were hard and calloused,
discord that rose up angry,
and a trombone took over
and denied the flute,
and bãy boong bãy boong came
out of the night like flashes
of lightening, if a storm
played across Georgia,
moved west, moved into Alabama,
without definition, the heart,
its four chambers wanting,
became rite of passage,
became the struggle to love.
by Marianne Moore
I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a
high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician--
nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents and
school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.
From The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Copyright © 1961 Marianne Moore, © renewed 1989 by Lawrence E. Brinn and Louise Crane, executors of the Estate of Marianne Moore.
Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou (her birthday)You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history's shame
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
From The Prologue of The Canterbury Tales
by Geoffrey Chaucer
Whan that Aprill with his its shoures soote
The droghte, dryness of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour,
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired into hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open yeeye
(so priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kow in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen them whan they were seeke.
For a modern version, go to http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/webcore/murphy/canterbury/
from The Wasteland
by T. S. Eliot
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
To continue, go to http://www.bartleby.com/201/1.html