Friday, December 30, 2011

Sonia Sachez is named as Philadelphia's poet laureate

It seems every big city and state is getting its own poet laureate these days. Philadelphia has just named Sonia Sanchez, a West Philadelphia resident as its new poet laureate.

According to the idea is to create a "powerful means of communication and artistic expression by creating a citywide position for poet laureate."

4 haiku by Sonia Sachez

(for Eugene Redmond)

Blue atom
poet transcribing
our flesh


your quicksilver
words waterfalling in
sweet confession


you have taken down
the morning turned it into
a roar of blackness


your poems…
butterflies fluttering down
to earth.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

On the death of Ruth Stone

Ruth Stone has died and I didn't know much about her when she was alive. Except that she was very old.

According to the BBC, her best-known work, including The Solution and Simplicity, came after she turned 70. In 2002, she won the National Book Award for Poetry, for In the Next Galaxy. She was 96 when she died.

Stone's second husband, poet Walter Stone, took his own life in 1959 - the year of her debut - leaving her to bring up three daughters.

Eta Carinae

The snow is coming straight down
Like heavy rain,
The crows protesting—
What do they know?
So the weather patterns change.
The crows, blue jays,
The soggy robins, the gold finches—
Dupes of the weather,
All deceived by the light.
The sun, wobbling and coughing
Along the dust belt;
The entire galaxy
Shuddering with Eta Carinae
Swollen to term.
The super-novae, like Christ,
Come to illuminate the ignorant,
Who can only swallow one another.


We pop into life the way
Particles pop in and out
Of the continuum.
We are a seething mass
Of probability.
And probably I love you.
The evil of larva
And the evil of stars
Is a formula for the future.
Some bodies can
Thrust their arms into
a flame and be instantly
cured of this world,
while others sicken.
Why think, little brother
Like the moon, spit out like
A broken tooth.
"Oh," groans the world.
The outer planets,
The fizzing sun, here we come
With our luggage.
Look at the clever things
We have made out of
A few building blocks—
O, fabulous continuum.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Boredom by Margaret Atwood

Tuesdays can be so dull. The week seems to stretch ahead with little hint of respite in our regimented lives. Wednesday is hump day - perhaps the worst - although one day we will be dead and in our last days we will probably give our right arm for a month of Wednesdays.

Still this circle of the week and the seasons can be claustrophobic. It can trap us in these ever decreasing circles like the rings inside a tree. Freedom is a relative concept, decreed by time, circumstance and wealth. Routine, once familiar and comforting, can also be our jailer.

And now we are trapped in our unbending ways, shuttered off in rooms and kept from the sun. Atwood's poem makes me think of the repetition of the saw and the hard and flat Canadian plains where there are no horizons. And God knows we need something to aim for.

Bored by Margaret Atwood

 All those times I was bored
out of my mind. Holding the log
while he sawed it. Holding
the string while he measured, boards,
distances between things, or pounded
stakes into the ground for rows and rows
of lettuces and beets, which I then (bored)
weeded. Or sat in the back
of the car, or sat still in boats,
sat, sat, while at the prow, stern, wheel
he drove, steered, paddled. It
wasn't even boredom, it was looking,
looking hard and up close at the small
details. Myopia. The worn gunwales,
the intricate twill of the seat
cover. The acid crumbs of loam, the granular
pink rock, its igneous veins, the sea-fans
of dry moss, the blackish and then the graying
bristles on the back of his neck.
Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
I would. The boring rhythm of doing
things over and over, carrying
the wood, drying
the dishes. Such minutiae. It's what
the animals spend most of their time at,
ferrying the sand, grain by grain, from their tunnels,
shuffling the leaves in their burrows. He pointed
such things out, and I would look
at the whorled texture of his square finger, earth under
the nail. Why do I remember it as sunnier
all the time then, although it more often
rained, and more birdsong?
I could hardly wait to get
the hell out of there to
anywhere else. Perhaps though
boredom is happier. It is for dogs or
groundhogs. Now I wouldn't be bored.
Now I would know too much.
Now I would know.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Verse of the Day - Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas is one of my favorite poets and Fern Hill is surely one of his best poems. Which makes it special.

Fern Hill is about childhood and youth and its exuberant verse runs like the imlpulses of the young until its bittersweet conclusion; "Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea."

It also echoes the estuaries and rolling green hills of  South Wales that Thomas made his own. You have to go there really to feel it and understand.

Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Anna Akhmatova and the victory of art over dictatorship

All our images from that time are gray and industrial - of seven year plans and cold intrigue in the Politburo; of weapons of war being paraded past a faceless leader in Red Square.
It's strange and unreal now to think of Russia in the 20th Century, of those totalitarian days when art, literature and religion were trampled under the jackboots of the paranoid Georgian.

But the land of Tolstoy and Chekhov wasn't going to give in easily to the plunder of its ideas and free expression, to the reduction of all that art and color onto one flat easel that bore the brutish features of Comrade Stalin. Even as the trains bore the dissidents north to the labor camps and salt mines of Siberia, as Collectivisation led to mass slaughter of the peasants and famine, so writers continued to write in the most uncompromising of places.

The life of Anna Akhmatova illustrates how art can triumph over oppression. The poet's first husband was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1921; her son and second husband were deported to the camps. And yet her popularity with the Russian people meant even the all powerful Russian leader did not risk imprisoning her.

In the days since Stalin's death there have been seen many imitators. The Romanian leader Nikolai Chauchesku  in 1989, although it appears he can still be friended on Facebook; Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006 and it appears the mob didn't wait for a formal execution in the case of Muammar Gaddafi.

So is this the end of the line for the dictators who paraded in dark glasses and outlandish uniforms while their people suffered. Probably not but it gives hope that art and freedom of expression will overcome in the darkest of places.

Everything is Plundered by Anna Akhmatova

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death's great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

By day, from the surrounding woods,
cherries blow summer into town;
at night the deep transparent skies
glitter with new galaxies.

And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses --
something not known to anyone at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Can poetry revive Modesto's Image

I'm always interested in the redemptive power of poetry and how it can breathe life into the most uninspiring of places. T.S. Eliot's bleak canvass was The Wasteland and Slyvia Plath wrote about the dark places in the mind.

In their own way a group of poets in California have attempted something almost as impressive; putting a positive spin on Modesto.

I have never been to Modesto, although I believe I skirted past a few strip malls on its western side. The Rough Guide said there was no reason to go there unless you wanted your car stolen.

The book More than Soil, More than Sky, is the work of 51 poets, according to the Modesto Bee.

It goes beyond crime and foreclosures to talk about the cycles of nature, although the cycle of offending is there too.

"Some write about rural life. Think almond trees and red-tailed hawks. Others talk about the city's urban nature. One poem looks at prostitution on Ninth Street, another remembers an 11-year-old boy shot and killed by police officers," the article states.

Sam Pierstorff, who teaches at Modesto Junior College, is one of the inspirations behind the book. It's interesting but I'm still not sure it will persuade me to get off the bypass.

The Drowning of Poetry by Sam Pierstorff

It looks as if murders of crows have nested
in the ceiling of Barnes and Noble and are now
peeing on the poetry section below.

Or maybe God himself is spitting
upon the paperback coffins of living poets
lost in dead languages.

But the clerk says it’s the broken air conditioner:
“It’s been dripping all day.”
The poetry section is soaked. A plastic trash bag

catches each drop with the sound of cracking quartz rocks
or a quick succession of letters depressed on a keyboard:
the sound of this poem or this line perhaps
if you could hear it being t–y-p-e-d.

And why not the Self-Help section or Audio Books?
Shouldn’t those aisles drown first?
Or Religion? Imagine the fanatics lined up for miles
to see a book cover with Jesus weeping real tears
or the miracle of shelves parted like the Red Sea.

The temperature tonight seems fine
in the crowded bookstore, but the air conditioner
has broken above Poetry where no one seems to visit.
Perhaps the section is lonely.
Perhaps the ceiling cries.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Verse of the Day - Mark R. Slaughter

It must be fall again. The leaves are about to fall and the evenings have a chill tinge to them. I have neglected this blog for some time but give it fleeting glances every now and again. Like the feeble and fleeting sun on the lake in fall.

Pirouetting Autumn by Mark R. Slaughter

The tree blushed - a rude blast of air
Betrayed a shapely bough.
My saddened heart aware
That Nature's clock was chiming,
I froze upon the twelfth
Clanging tone, caught alone,
Staring at a creaking door -

Left ajar for dancing, coloured Autumn,
Pirouetting in her leaves,
While agitated summer creatures
Backed away resignedly,
Sighing in protracted breves.
I turned; gave company;
We stood together, watching
Summer slowly blow away.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Verse of the Day - Adam Zajajewski


Yes folks, there are poets whose name begins with the letter z, a letter that's pronounced zee over here, although I prefer "zed"

Adam Zagajewski is not only the only poet I am familiar with with a 'z' surname, but he's the only Polish poet I am aware of. And this poem strikes a chrord with me because I need balance - work/life balance right now.

Balance by Adam Zagajewski

I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from a surfeit of happiness.

As we drew closer to our landing,
the vulnerable earth emerged among the clouds,
comic gardens forgotten by their owners,
pale grass plagued by winter and the wind.

I put my book down and for an instant felt
a perfect balance between waking and dreams.
But when the plane touched concrete, then
assiduously circled the airport's labryinth,

I once again knew nothing. The darkness
of daily wanderings resumed, the day's sweet darkness,
the darkness of the voice that counts and measures,
remembers and forgets.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Verse of the Day - Chase Twichell

I found this poem by chance but I rather like it. It makes me think of the quietly rotting interior, the lonely farmsteads we pass on a road to nowhere; it can only be America; a world unpruned and broken where love is folded away in a drawer.

These are lonely and sad images but there's something appealing about them in the same way as there's something appealing about solitude and giving up on our mainstream lives.

Inland by Chase Twichell

Above the blond prairies,

the sky is all color and water.
The future moves
from one part to another.

This is a note
in a tender sequence
that I call love,
trying to include you,
but it is not love.

It is music, or time.
To explain the pleasure I take
in loneliness, I speak of privacy,
but privacy is the house around it.
You could look inside,
as through a neighbor's window
at night, not as a spy
but curious and friendly.

You might think
it was a still life you saw.
Somewhere, the ocean
crashes back and forth
like so much broken glass,
but nothing breaks.
Against itself,
it is quite powerless.

Irises have rooted
all along the fence,
and the barbed berry-vines
gone haywire.

Unpruned and broken,
the abandoned orchard
reverts to the smaller,
harder fruits, wormy and tart.
In the stippled shade,
the fallen pears move
with the soft bodies of wasps,
and cows breathe in
the licorice silage.

It is silent
where the future is.
No longer needed there,
love is folded away in a drawer
like something newly washed.
In the window,
the color of the pears intensifies,
and the fern's sporadic dust
darkens the keys of the piano.

Clouds containing light
spill out my sadness.
They have no sadness of their own.

The timeless trash of the sea
means nothing to me—
its roaring descant,
its multiple concussions.
I love painting more than poetry.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering details are released.

Now yee haw, howdee and all that, you don't often associate cowboys with poetry - spitting on the earth and falling off the backs of bulls more like.

But I received a press release today for the 28th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering—the nation’s greatest celebration of the American West, its people, culture and tradition - which will take place January 30 to February 4, 2012, in Elko, Nevada.

"Every winter for the last 27 years, cowboys, ranchers, rural and urban people have traveled en masse to this small high desert community, to join with friends, family and others who care about the rural West. Together, they listen to poetry and music, learn about cowboy culture in the U.S. and around the world, experience great art, watch western films, learn a craft, and gather to eat, drink and swap stories," the release says.

 Ticket sales for the 28th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering begin on Tuesday, September 6, 2011. Members of the Western Folklife Center, which produces the event, can purchase tickets that day, while non-members can purchase tickets one month later, on Thursday, October 6.

Programs at the 28th Gathering will focus on the southwestern United States, specifically Arizona and New Mexico—which are celebrating their centennials next year—and West Texas. The event will present poets and musicians from the region, as well as workshops and panel discussions focused on regional food, culture and agriculture. An exhibition of Southwest ranching culture featuring the photography of Kurt Markus and Jay Dusard will be on display in the Western Folklife Center’s Wiegand Gallery.

The 28th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will feature nearly 50 poets, musicians and musical groups from the U.S., Canada and Australia, performing on seven stages at four different venues. The line-up includes cowboy poets Baxter Black, Wally McRae, Paul Zarzyski, Waddie Mitchell, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Joel Nelson, Doris Daley and many others.

Have I heard of any of these fellas - nope. But I guess there must be a market for this kind of thing. This sure is a new take on the moon, that source of much poetic inspiration over the centuries. In saying that I'm left rather cold by that whole leathery bottomed cowboy love among the cactus kind of thing. Don't get me wrong: I thought Brokeback Mountain was a great movie and I'm all for homosexuality in the movies. But the love scenes certainly made me feel a bit queasy.

 See here for more details.

The Bucking Horse Moon by Paul Zarzyski

A kiss for luck, then we’d let ‘er buck—

I’d spur electric on adrenaline and lust.
She’d figure-8 those barrels
on her Crimson Missile sorrel—
we’d make the night air swirl with hair and dust.

At some sagebrushed wayside, 3 A.M.,
we’d water, grain, and ground-tie Missile.
Zip our sleeping bags together,
make love in any weather,
amid the cactus, rattlers, and thistle.

Seems the moon was always full for us—
its high-diving shadow kicking hard.
We’d play kid games on the big night sky,
she’d say that bronco’s Blue-Tail Fly,
and ain’t that ol’ J. T. spurrin’ off its stars?

We knew sweet youth’s no easy keeper.
It’s spent like winnings, all to soon.
So we’d revel every minute
in the music of our Buick
running smooth, two rodeoin’ lovers
cruising to another—
beneath Montana’s blue roan
bucking horse moon.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Verse of the Day - John Betjeman

John Betjeman was the poet laureate when I was growing up. He seemed like friendly old type; the sort you could while away a couple of hours in the pub with. His successor Ted Hughes was surely a better poet but less easy company.

I drove through Slough a couple of times when I was in England. It isn't as bad as in the 1930s when Betjeman wrote this poem. But nor is it the sort of place you linger in unless you are in the cast of The Office. I remember a strip of Polish shops, a nondescript industrial park and little more. It was was on the road to Windsor.

This poem seems to be a commentary on industrialisation as well as Slough and alienation from the natural world. And it's still relevant today because we all know people who daren't look up and see the stars but belch instead.

Slough by John Betjeman

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!

It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who'll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women's tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It's not their fault that they are mad,
They've tasted Hell.

It's not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It's not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren't look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Poetry on the streets of London

I have neglected this blog recently due to a trip to England. London may lack the romance of Paris but there's certainly poetry on these teeming streets; on the sides of the Tube and among the wacky performers at Covent Garden.

I'm not sure Londoners would be very interested in this poem or have a view on whether it's good or bad. True to my most random moments I plucked it out of mid air. The Internet is made for acts of wild and abandoned randomness. I highly recommend it.

However, the good folks of London are probably far too busy looting flat screen TVs to care.

London Baby by Mohammed Nashir

Who doesn’t miss London?
It is heaven on earth
Everything in one city
People bustling
No Crime
A life of phantom
Excellent Lyrics
Listen to this while I spit
London Baby
The hustle and bustle
The muscle and london’s Hollywood
Don’t miss it for one second
Never leave
Who wants to live in a boring small town
Live in London Baby
Not for the OAP
For the Messy
City People
Not for the faint of heart

Friday, August 5, 2011

Verse of the Day - Emily Dickinson

It's strange to think of Emily Dickinson writing about wild night because she shut herself away from society and never had any, to my knowledge.

There are few poets less likely to wake up with a hangover and have vague and half remembered images of the night before. And let's face is, most of us have had a few of those mornings.

But poetry embraces the spectrum. Dickinson was the antithesis of Lord Bryon. If you found yourself sitting next to her at a dinner party, chances are, you'd probably stab yourself with a sharp knife to be taken away by the paramedics.

But Dickinson and Lord Bryon are both great poets, sitting as they do at the opposing ends of the spectrum.

Wild Nights, Wild Nights by Emily Dickinson

Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –
To a heart in port –
Done with the compass –
Done with the chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor – Tonight –
In thee!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Verse of the Day - Walt Whitman

I'd like to think my soul came out at night like Walt Whitman's but to be honest after a night of writing dry legal content, I fear it's shrivelled up and died in a corner of this silent house.

Inspiration can be a fickle thing, flickering when you least expect it and draining away when you want to call upon it. Coffee can keep me going through midnight but it's a poor awakener of the soul. The reality is we move in the same places, drive the same highways and go through the same motions every day. The possibilities are out there spread across an indistict horizon that becomes more abstract everyday.

So do we stick to these designed roles? Do I walk everyday into the same wordless lunchrooms and see the same people cowered over their sandwiches? Or can we seized the abstract, do the unexpected and finally change who we are?

I'm not sure what this has to do with Whitman, but mainly I hate this poet and see him as overrated, not that I've had much time to study his work. He looks like a beardy old  bore, though, the type of guy who would harrangue you at the railway station when you are trying to read your book - so there.

A Clear Midnight by Walt Whitman

THIS is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,

Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou
lovest best.
Night, sleep, and the stars

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Verse of the Day - George Oppen

If It All Went up in Smoke by George Oppen

that smoke

would remain

the forever
savage country poem's light borrowed

light of the landscape and one's footprints praise
from distance

in the close
crowd all

that is strange the sources
the wells the poem begins

neither in word
nor meaning but the small

selves haunting
us in the stones and is less

always than that help me I am
of that people the grass

blades touch
and touch in their small

distances the poem

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Freeze Tag by Suzanne Vega

Ever heard a song that sounds like poety, until you look up the lyrics and they turn out to be prosaic? There are too many examples to mention

But I'd say Freeze Tag is something of an exception, as well as being a great song, at least to those of us who cling to the eighties as if the era was a long, lost religion. And during these long, listless and sweaty days it's pleasant to think of dark night and the sharp tang of snow under the brown trees.

Freeze Tag by Suzanne Vega

We go to the playground
In the wintertime
The sun is fading fast
Upon the slides into the past
Upon the swings of indecision
In the wintertime

In the dimming diamonds
Scattering in the park
In the tickling
And the trembling
Of freeze tag
In the dark

We play that we're actors
On a movie screen
I will be Dietrich
And you can be Dean

You stand
With your hand
In your pocket
And lean against the wall
You will be Bogart
And I will be

And we can only say yes now
To the sky, to the street, to the night
Slow fade now to black
Play me one more game
Of chivalry
You and me
Do you see
where I've been hiding
In this hide-and-seek?

We go to the playground
In the wintertime
The sun is fading fast
Upon the slides into the past
Upon the swings of indecision
In the wintertime

We can only say yes now
To the sky, to the street, to the night
We can only say yes now
To the sky, to the street, to the night

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kinky sex with Ken and Barbie

I stumbled on this poem today and thought WTF? But, it's been a boring day dominated by dull meetings about ordinances. How better than to spice it up than with a poem about Ken, Barbie and sex.

I have no idea what's going on in this poem. Which is probably just as well.

Kinky by Denise Duhamel

They decide to exchange heads.

Barbie squeezes the small opening under her chin
over Ken's bulging neck socket. His wide jaw line jostles
atop his girlfriend's body, loosely,
like one of those novelty dogs
destined to gaze from the back windows of cars.
The two dolls chase each other around the orange Country Camper
unsure what they'll do when they're within touching distance.
Ken wants to feel Barbie's toes between his lips,
take off one of her legs and force his whole arm inside her.
With only the vaguest suggestion of genitals,
all the alluring qualities they possess as fashion dolls,
up until now, have done neither of them much good.
But suddenly Barbie is excited looking at her own body
under the weight of Ken's face. He is part circus freak,
part thwarted hermaphrodite. And she is imagining
she is somebody else—maybe somebody middle class and ordinary,
maybe another teenage model being caught in a scandal.

The night had begun with Barbie getting angry
at finding Ken's blow up doll, folded and stuffed
under the couch. He was defensive and ashamed, especially about
not having the breath to inflate her. But after a round
of pretend-tears, Barbie and Ken vowed to try
to make their relationship work. With their good memories
as sustaining as good food, they listened to late-night radio
talk shows, one featuring Doctor Ruth. When all else fails,
just hold each other, the small sex therapist crooned.
Barbie and Ken, on cue, groped in the dark,
their interchangeable skin glowing, the color of Band-Aids.
Then, they let themselves go— Soon Barbie was begging Ken
to try on her spandex miniskirt. She showed him how
to pivot as though he was on a runway. Ken begged
to tie Barbie onto his yellow surfboard and spin her
on the kitchen table until she grew dizzy. Anything,
anything, they both said to the other's requests,
their mirrored desires bubbling from the most unlikely places.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Poetry Society petitions are delivered in a red wheelbarrow

It seems Britain's Poetry Society has been rocked by a series of mystery resignations.

Sio what better was for members to deliver letters of concern than in a red wheel barrow, in the spirit of William Carlos Williams' famous poem.

Read more in the Guardian.

The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams

So much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Riders on the Storm

For me last night's storm wasn't so real. Just a series of low, menacing rumbles and flashes that turn the grass into a sheet of suddenly sodden and ghastly whiteness. And tonight's posting isn't original. It's the posting I made last night on Brits in the USA.

There are heavy clouds, rolling like ironclads over the estuary where the ironclads first fired in anger. I never really got used to American storms that can bring devastating winds and tornadoes that can rip apart lives.

Storm at home were more of a rarity. When I grew up they were a form of entertainment. We'd huddle by the window and watch them turn the sky purple and count the seconds between the flash and the rumble. Although there were tales of lightening strikes just as there were craggy old trees in the forest, bereft of all life, that bore testimony to the ferocity of the storm, it was all so distant from our window.

Here it's not so predictable. Two years ago a twister touched down near the house ripping down trees and power lines across the street and wiping out the village choked with antique shops a mile down the road. And I have a recurring dream that I toil across a landscape of beaten down cornfields, unremittingly flat and terrible where a black sky is painted over the drifting blue air.

Then I see it, the evil shaped funnel cloud, marching across the margins of a field, tearing aside trees like matchstick soldiers. Like the all seeing eye of Mordor it is wrapped up in its wicked intent and spies me isolated in a field. I usually wake as it veers in my direction.

This sense of foreboding is unfortunate because there's something exhilarating about storms, about the way they make the trees dance and suck the heaviness from the lead infused air. One night back in Wales when we were younger and more foolish we went out on a night of high winds when the sky was a screaming symphony full of razor edged clouds. Richard, Mark, Brian and myself walked along the banks of the Taff as the waters rose and trees snapped around us and the moon slipped in and out of the clouds like a reveller at a jig.

The howling wind and the falling trees infused us with a sense of delirium and and excitement. If we could duck and dive and dodge fast falling death and the fleet flowing river there was surely nothing we couldn't do. We were alone in the chaotic wilderness but we mastered the stormy night and walked into the early hours until we saw the shuttered tower of Llandaff Cathedral wrapped in the pale strands of dawn.

We could do anything but did we? Did we really write? Did any of us write? Instead we forgot about the storm and committed our lives to interminable meetings in airless offices, compliant executioners in the death of the human soul.

A Thunderstorm by Archibald Lampman

A moment the wild swallows like a flight
Of withered gust-caught leaves, serenely high,
Toss in the windrack up the muttering sky.
The leaves hang still. Above the weird twilight,
The hurrying centres of the storm unite
And spreading with huge trunk and rolling fringe,
Each wheeled upon its own tremendous hinge,
Tower darkening on. And now from heaven's height,
With the long roar of elm-trees swept and swayed,
And pelted waters, on the vanished plain
Plunges the blast. Behind the wild white flash
That splits abroad the pealing thunder-crash,
Over bleared fields and gardens disarrayed,
Column on column comes the drenching rain.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Verse of the Day by William Blake

After a day of too much sun and too much wine,and vines stretching to the distant blue hills, I thought I'd post a summer poem. But the strange thing about these summer days are the way they can leave me exhausted, wishing someone could hand me another weekend to get over this one.

William Blake doesn't sum up summer in Virginia very well. I always associate him with those dark, satanic mills. But I'm a fan of most of his work and this poem makes me think of those temperamental summers in England;of those summer days I could never quite take for granted because rain could be sheeting across sodden fields the very next day.

To Summer by William Blake

O thou who passest thro' our valleys in

Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitched'st here thy goldent tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o'er the deep of heaven; beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys, on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are fam'd who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sylvia Plath's anger with her Daddy

This posting missed Father's Day, but it's still probably worth making because we surely need more than one token day a year to reflect on this issue of parenting.

Plath's poem Daddy is dark. It's probably one of the darkest mainstream poems of recent times. It goes to the dark heart of a poet who killed herself soon afterwards, not to mention the dark heart of Europe. It's crude but sophisticated in its language, and makes a passing swipe at Plath's husband, indicating Ted Hughes, who she was married to for seven years, reminded her of her dreaded father.

The vampire who said he was you/And drank my blood for a year/Seven years, if you want to know.

Robert Phillips writes in far more depth about this terrible poem.

"Finally the one way the poet was to achieve relief, to become an independent Self, was to kill her father’s memory, which, in "Daddy," she does by a metaphorical murder. Making him a Nazi and herself a Jew, she dramatizes the war in her soul. It is a terrible poem, full of blackness, and one of the most nakedly confessional poems ever written."

Although the poem hints at darkness less is known about Plath's relationship with her father Otto, who died when she was just eight-years-old.

But it's clear the poet's strong and conflicting emotions of love, hate, anger and grief at the loss of her father were to affect her for the rest of her life.

Daddy by Sylvia Plath

You do not do, you do not do

Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You--

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Verse of the Day - Oscar Wilde

Sonnet on Approaching Italy by Oscar Wilde

I reached the Alps: the soul within me burned,

Italia, my Italia, at thy name:
And when from out the mountain's heart I came
And saw the land for which my life had yearned,
I laughed as one who some great prize had earned:
And musing on the marvel of thy fame
I watched the day, till marked with wounds of flame
The turquoise sky to burnished gold was turned.
The pine-trees waved as waves a woman's hair,
And in the orchards every twining spray
Was breaking into flakes of blossoming foam:
But when I knew that far away at Rome
In evil bonds a second Peter lay,
I wept to see the land so very fair.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Philip Larkin and the Poetry of Lawnmowing

I stumbled on this fascinating article from the Guardian about how there's a surprising genre of poetry devoted to lawnmowing.

I have always thought of lawnmowing as a chore rather than an art form, so this was enlightening, espcially as a move beckons which will involve considerable time cutting grass.

"The poetry of lawnmowing, a surprisingly capacious subgenre of English literature running from Louis MacNeice to Andrew Motion, usually hones in on the touching futility of the ritual. The great lyricist of mowing the lawn is Philip Larkin, who mentions it throughout his poems and letters. "Have bought a new lawnmower ready for the spring offensive," he wrote to a friend in 1981. "Must get the flamethrower serviced, and invest in a few gallon drums of Weedol," writes Joe Moran.

Larkin certainly seems to have a thing about cut grass.

The Mower by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Verse of the Day - Robert Hayden

Full Moon by Robert Hayden

No longer throne of a goddess to whom we pray,

no longer the bubble house of childhood's
tumbling Mother Goose man,

The emphatic moon ascends--
the brilliant challenger of rocket experts,
the white hope of communications men.

Some I love who are dead
were watchers of the moon and knew its lore;
planted seeds, trimmed their hair,

Pierced their ears for gold hoop earrings
as it waxed or waned.
It shines tonight upon their graves.

And burned in the garden of Gethsemane,
its light made holy by the dazzling tears
with which it mingled.

And spread its radiance on the exile's path
of Him who was The Glorious One,
its light made holy by His holiness.

Already a mooted goal and tomorrow perhaps
an arms base, a livid sector,
the full moon dominates the dark.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Night of the moths

I'm thinking of moths now because I'm thinking of people, how they flicker close to the flight and swell with its warmth, how they charm and seduce and suddenly they are gone.

And one night if we leave all the windows open they may give us a glimpse. They may rap on the casement like the long dead Cathy at Heathcliffe's abode, they may show us some of their old fire before they vanish again to the periphery.

In a certain light moths can fool and deceive. They can light up like butterflies or fireflies lighting up the lonely path down the railway line. But when they are gone we are filled with a sense of unreality, as if a spectral presence has buzzed low over our tombs.

One night in Northumberland we left all the windows open and the electric lights on. Until the room was filled with the flittering of velvet wings. But our parents came in and killed the lights. They shut the windows and shooed away the moths - pesky creatures who feasted on clothes, they said.

But in a peverse way it was the best night of our lives.

Nobody told me then the moths ate on souls. And in the years that followed I have missed those nights of  transluscent wings.

Moths by Jennifer O'Grady

Adrift in the liberating, late light

of August, delicate, frivolous,
they make their way to my front porch
and flutter near the glassed-in bulb,
translucent as a thought suddenly
wondered aloud, illumining the air
that's thick with honeysuckle and dusk.
You and I are doing our best
at conversation, keeping it light, steering clear
of what we'd like to say.
You leave, and the night becomes
cluttered with moths, some tattered,
their dumbly curious filaments
startling against my cheek. How quickly,
instinctively, I brush them away.
Dazed, they cling to the outer darkness
like pale reminders of ourselves.
Others seem to want so desperately
to get inside. Months later, I'll find
the woolens, snug in their resting places,
full of missing pieces.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Verse of the Day - Dame Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell's verse is described as "startling and hypnotic" in a new article in the Gazette of Montreal. Yet a poet who was such a powerful part of the literary scene in the early 20th Century has been forgotten of late.

All that may be about to change with a new biography about Dame Edith Sitwell, the Gazette reports.

Bells of Gray Crystal by Dame Edith Sitwell

Bells of gray crystal

Break on each bough--
The swans' breath will mist all
The cold airs now.
Like tall pagodas
Two people go,
Trail their long codas
Of talk through the snow.
Lonely are these
And lonely and I ....
The clouds, gray Chinese geese
Sleek through the sky.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Verse of the Day - Kenneth Rexrox

Gic to Hir by Kenneth Rexrox

It is late at night, cold and damp
The air is filled with tobacco smoke.
My brain is worried and tired.
I pick up the encyclopedia,
The volume GIC to HAR,
It seems I have read everything in it,
So many other nights like this.
I sit staring empty-headed at the article Grosbeak,
Listening to the long rattle and pound
Of freight cars and switch engines in the distance.
Suddenly I remember
Coming home from swimming
In Ten Mile Creek,
Over the long moraine in the early summer evening,
My hair wet, smelling of waterweeds and mud.
I remember a sycamore in front of a ruined farmhouse,
And instantly and clearly the revelation
Of a song of incredible purity and joy,
My first rose-breasted grosbeak,
Facing the low sun, his body
Suffused with light.
I was motionless and cold in the hot evening
Until he flew away, and I went on knowing
In my twelfth year one of the great things
Of my life had happened.
Thirty factories empty their refuse in the creek.
On the parched lawns are starlings, alien and aggressive.
And I am on the other side of the continent
Ten years in an unfriendly city.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The tragedy of Reetika Vazirani

I've only just discovered this poet and I was instantly drawn to her. Mysterious and attractive and with links to both India and Virginia, I found myself saddened by her premature death.

And how well she summed up England - "there is only wool and salt and snobs and foggy weather."

Of course it's impossible to know someone by a few biographical details and by reading a couple of poems. After five minutes more of research my cosy theories about Vazirani were lying in tatters on the floor.

On July 16, 2003 Vazirani took the life of her two-year-old son and her own at the home of a wealthy writer in a Maryland suburb. Their writs were slashed.

Suddenly my feeling of sadness for a talented writer who I assumed had died of cancer before her time, turned to something else altogether.

Independence by Reetika Vazirani

When I am nine, the British quit
India. Headmaster says, "The Great
Mutiny started it." We repeat,
The Great Mutiny of 1857
in our booming voices. Even
Akbar was Great, even Catherine,
Great! We titter over History. His back
turns: we see his pink spotty neck.

Sorry, the British leaving? we beg.
"This is hardly a joke or a quiz --
sit up and stay alert," he spits.
"It is about the trains and ships
you love and city names. As for me,
I'm old, I'll end in a library,
I began in trade." But you must stay,
we tell him. He lived here as we have lived

but longer. He says he was alive
in Calcutta in 1890. He didn't have
a rich father. A third son, he came with
the Tea Company: we saw a statement
in his office. The company built
the railroads to take the tea "home
to England" so that Darjeeling and Assam
could be sipped by everyone, us and them.

They sold our southern neighbor Ceylon,
silk, pepper, diamonds, cotton.
We make a trade of course. In England
there is only wool and salt and
snobs and foggy weather, Shakespeare.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Verse of the Day - Rita Dove

Adolescence II by Rita Dove

Although it is night, I sit in the bathroom, waiting.
Sweat prickles behind my knees, the baby-breasts are alert.
Venetian blinds slice up the moon; the tiles quiver in pale strips.

Then they come, the three seal men with eyes as round
As dinner plates and eyelashes like sharpened tines.
They bring the scent of licorice. One sits in the washbowl,

One on the bathtub edge; one leans against the door.
Can you feel it yet?" they whisper.
I don't know what to say, again. They chuckle,

Patting their sleek bodies with their hands.
"Well, maybe next time." And they rise,
Glittering like pools of ink under moonlight,

And vanish. I clutch at the ragged holes
They leave behind, here at the edge of darkness.
Night rests like a ball of fur on my tongue.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Verse of the Day - Paulann Petersen

Apparently Oregon has a poet laureate although, in the words of Michael Caine, not a lot of people know that. It was a a surprise to learn states as well as countries could have poet laureates, although I can't imagine the idea catching on in places like Alabama, for instance. I could be wrong.

According to this article by the Ashland Daily Tidings Paulann Petersen, Oregan's poet in residence, is friendly and approachable.

Which means she's probably nothing at all like the late and great British poet laureate Ted Hughes.

Why the World Isn't Flat by Paulann Petersen

Water would have no place
to travel. Rivers would have no beds.
Oceans, no ebb and go.
The stream you're beside
would have staggered and stymied
long ago. No fine rapids chatter.
Leafboats sailing along? Gone.
No downhill song
for former rain to croon.
No need for the fingerling trout
to make its swing-muscled
swim against the flow.

— Paulann Petersen from The Voluptuary, Lost Horse Press, 2010

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Alec Baldwin reads Edgar Allan Poe

The idea of Alec Baldwin reducing anyone to tears because of his reading of a poem, strikes me as implausible.

But singer Patti Smith said this was exactly what happened after she heard Baldwin's recital of Edgar Allan Poe's 'Annabel Lee.'

It's such a beautiful poem," Smith told AP at the event at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, where nine artists and celebrities were featured readers for Poetry & the Creative Mind, an event sponsored by the Academy of American Poets and in honor of April, National Poetry Month.

Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Verse of the Day - Eavan Boland

The Harbour by Eavan Boland

This harbour was made by art and force.
And called Kingstown and afterwards Dun Laoghaire.
And holds the sea behind its barrier
less than five miles from my house.

Lord be with us say the makers of a nation.
Lord look down say the builders of a harbour.
They came and cut a shape out of ocean
and left stone to close around their labour.

Officers and their wives promenaded
on this spot once and saw with their own eyes
the opulent horizon and obedient skies
which nine tenths of the law provided.

And frigates with thirty-six guns, cruising
the outer edges of influence, could idle
and enter here and catch the tide of
empire and arrogance and the Irish Sea rising

and rising through a century of storms
and cormorants and moonlight the whole length of this coast,
while an ocean forgot an empire and the armed
ships under it changed: to slime weed and cold salt and rust.

City of shadows and of the gradual
capitulations to the last invader
this is the final one: signed in water
and witnessed in granite and ugly bronze and gun-metal.

And by me. I am your citizen: composed of
your fictions, your compromise, I am
a part of your story and its outcome.
And ready to record its contradictions.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Great Poetry Wall of China

A memorial wall engraved with 20 poems selected by local experts was made public this week as China observed a catastrophic earthquake that rocked southwest China's Sichuan Province three years ago.

The wall, which will bear comparisons with the Great Wall of China but is somewhat smaller, measuring 2.28 meters high and 51.2 meters long,.

It can be found in the Chuanxindian Quake Ruins Park in Yinghua Township in Shifang City, one of the worst-hit areas in Sichuan, where the disaster left more than 80,000 dead or missing, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

The poems are said to express deep sympathy for the victims of an earhquake whose death tool dwarfs that of Japan's earthquake and tsunami this year.

Comparisons with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC are likely to be made.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Verse of the Day - Jack Prelutsky

Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens by Jack Prelutsky

Last night I dreamed of chickens,

there were chickens everywhere,
they were standing on my stomach,
they were nesting in my hair,
they were pecking at my pillow,
they were hopping on my head,
they were ruffling up their feathers
as they raced about my bed.

They were on the chairs and tables,
they were on the chandeliers,
they were roosting in the corners,
they were clucking in my ears,
there were chickens, chickens, chickens
for as far as I could see...
when I woke today, I noticed
there were eggs on top of me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Verse of the Day - Jim Harrison

Birds Again by Jim Harrison

A secret came a week ago though I already

knew it just beyond the bruised lips of consciousness.
The very alive souls of thirty-five hundred dead birds
are harbored in my body. It’s not uncomfortable.
I’m only temporary habitat for these not-quite-
weightless creatures. I offered a wordless invitation
and now they’re roosting within me, recalling
how I had watched them at night
in fall and spring passing across earth moons,
little clouds of black confetti, chattering and singing
on their way north or south. Now in my dreams
I see from the air the rumpled green and beige,
the watery face of earth as if they’re carrying
me rather than me carrying them. Next winter
I’ll release them near the estuary west of Alvarado
and south of Veracruz. I can see them perching
on undiscovered Olmec heads. We’ll say goodbye
and I’ll return my dreams to earth.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Verse of the Day - Edna St. Vincent Millay

Song Of A Second April by Edna St. Vincent Millay

April this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago,
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.

There rings a hammering all day,
And shingles lie about the doors;
In orchards near and far away
The grey wood-pecker taps and bores;
The men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.

The larger streams run still and deep,
Noisy and swift the small brooks run
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
Go up the hillside in the sun,
Pensively,—only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Poet and Translator David Ferry wins $100,000 prize

Poetry may not yet be as lucrative as golf and football but I've noted in recent weeks a few big awards out there.

And they don't come much bigger than the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement, which has just been awarded to translator and poet David Ferry, the New York Times reports.

Born in Orange, New Jersey in 1924, Ferry is an emeritus professor at Wellesley College. He still teaches at both Boston University and Suffolk University. He is midway through a translation of Virgil’s Aeneid and has his new collection of poems, “Bewilderment,” due out next year.

The Soldier by David Ferry

Saturday afternoon. The barracks is almost empty.

The soldiers are almost all on overnight pass.
There is only me, writing this letter to you,
And one other soldier, down at the end of the room,
And a spider, that hangs by the thread of his guts,
His tenacious and delicate guts, Swift's spider,
All self-regard, or else all privacy.
The dust drifts in the sunlight around him, as currents
Lie in lazy, drifting schools in the vast sea.
In his little sea the spider lowers himself
Out of his depth. He is his own diving bell,
Though he cannot see well. He observes no fish,
And sees no wonderful things. His unseeing guts
Are his only hold on the world outside himself.
I love you, and miss you, and I find you hard to imagine.
Down at the end of the room, the other soldier
Is getting ready, I guess, to go out on pass.
He is shining his boots. He sits on the edge of his bunk,
Private, submissive, and heedful of himself,
And, bending over himself, he is his own nest.
The slightest sound he makes is of his being.
He is his mother, and nest, wife, brother, and father.
His boots are bright already, yet still he rubs
And rubs till, brighter still, they are his mirror,
And in this mirror he observes, I guess,
His own submissiveness. He is far from home.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Verse of the Day - Octavio Paz

Last Dawn by Octavio Paz

Your hair is lost in the forest,

your feet touching mine.
Asleep you are bigger than the night,
but your dream fits within this room.
How much we are who are so little!
Outside a taxi passes
with its load of ghosts.
The river that runs by
is always
running back.
Will tomorrow be another day?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Verse of the Day - Sharon Esther Lampert

Sharon Esther Lampert rather modestly describes herself as the sexiest creative genuis of human history.

Sharon apparently holds a poetry world record of 120 words of rhyme from one family of rhyme. I found this on a discussion site and have no way of verifying its truth.

This poem about the Iraq War served to remind me just how this conflict has slipped from memory, given the considerable number of Middle Eastern conflicts lining up to take its place.

The poem is thought provoking albeit rather short on the mental word pictures I usually look for in poetry.

But right now there are far more important things to think about than blood on the sand; such as following Sharon on Twitter.

Sandstorm in Iraq by Sharon Esther Lampert

Dust is Blowing

Blood is Flowing
Dead are Worming
U.N. are Groaning
French are Moaning
Bush Gets Going
Protestors are Crowing
Osama bin Laden is Unknowing
Saddam is Forgoing
Muslims are Cheering and Jeering
Weapons of Mass Destruction are not Unfolding
Insurgents are Slowing
U. S. soldiers Keep Going
Democracy is Growing
Women are Showing
Elections are Easygoing
Freedom is Holding
Peace is Plateauing
U.S. deficit is Owing
Oil is Glowing
Memorials are Knowing: 2,100 Dead, 16,000 Wounded (11/2005).
When the Dust Settles down upon the Blood-soaked Earth where
Sacred American lives were Sacrificed and Slaughtered for Security:
Freedom from Terrorism:
Was the Iraq war fought for naught?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Verse of the Day - Robert Bly

The Cat in the Kitchen by Robert Bly

Have you heard about the boy who walked by
The black water? I won't say much more.
Let's wait a few years. It wanted to be entered.
Sometimes a man walks by a pond, and a hand
Reaches out and pulls him in.

There was no
Intention, exactly. The pond was lonely, or needed
Calcium, bones would do. What happened then?

It was a little like the night wind, which is soft,
And moves slowly, sighing like an old woman
In her kitchen late at night, moving pans
About, lighting a fire, making some food for the cat.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Caroline Kennedy and the Oprafication of poetry

Oprah Winfrey, with the help of guest editor Maria Shriver, recently unveiled O Magazine's first poetry issue in honor of National Poetry Month, the Huffington Post reported.

Poetry has always been made to seem kind of cultish," she told O, "but the truth is, everybody really loves it! It's much more mainstream than anyone thought," Shriver said.

The article also highlighted how Caroline Kennedy is drawing attention to poetry this month in with the release of her new book, "She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems," from Hyperion Books.
Kennedy has written several books, and edited two on poetry: "A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children" and "The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis."

Friday, April 8, 2011

Verse of the Day - Suheir Hammad

The Missing by Suheir Hammad

The way loss seeps
into neck hollows
and curls at temples
sits between front teeth
empty and waiting
for mourning to open
the way mourning stays
forever shadowing vision
shaping lives with memory
a drawer won't close
sleep elusive
smile illusive
the only real is grief
forever counting the days
minutes missing without knowing
so that one day
you find yourself
showering tears
missing that love
like sugar
aches teeth

Monday, April 4, 2011

Milton Keynes launches poetry competition for Will and Kate's wedding

Milton Keynes is hardly the dreaming spires of Oxford but the new town has come up with an interesting competition for National Poetry Month, namely to find a poet to pen nuptials for Will and Kate's Royal Wedding.

The mayor of Milton Keynes has asked residents to submit the nuptial verse, the Huffington Post reports.

 Milton Keynes is the home of the Newport Pagnell firm, a family business that is one of four producers of fine vellum parchment in the world, The firm is making the parchment for the official royal wedding certificate, and the winning poem will be printed on a sheet of that same remarkable parchment and presented as a wedding gift to the royal couple.

The Huffington Post also reveals a competition that offers the kind of cash your average impoverished poet could never dream of.

The first annual Montreal International Poetry Prize will award $50,000 for one winning poem. You don't need to be published to enter. You only need to have written a great poem.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Verse of the Day - TS Eliot

It's impossible to do justice to The Waste Land so I won't even try. Now we have arrived at April,the cruelest month, it certainly seems appropriate to post the poem, although whether I'll be able to post the whole thing is another matter entirely.

The Wasteland by TS Eliot

1 - The Burial of the Dead

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.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu.
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
'You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; 
'They called me the hyacinth girl.'
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, 
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od' und leer das Meer.

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying 'Stetson!
'You who were with me in the ships at Mylae! 
'That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
'Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
'Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
'Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,
'Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
'You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!'

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ezra Pound and the Lost Generation

So what are we to make of Ezra Pound today? He's a modernist who is rooted firmly in the past. He's of the lost generation, and his reputation is seemingly lost forever.

His tight and unadorned language helped shape the work of the likes of TS Eliot, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Robert Frost, but ultimately their stars shone brighter than his.

It seems Pound was even more lost than the other members of the Lost Generation who he influenced. The American living in Britain turned away from capitalism in disgust at the loss of life in the First World War only to embrace another killing machine, that of fascism and the anti semitism that swept Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. He remains a controversial figure today.

Still there's something simple and cleansing about this poem. It captures the mood of spring and April, a month Eliot was to describe as the cruelist month.

A Virginal by Ezra Pound

No, no! Go from me. I have left her lately.
I will not spoil my sheath with lesser brightness,
For my surrounding air hath a new lightness;
Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straitly
And left me cloaked as with a gauze of aether;
As with sweet leaves; as with subtle clearness.
Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness
To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her.
No, no! Go from me. I have still the flavour,
Soft as spring wind that's come from birchen bowers.
Green come the shoots, aye April in the branches,
As winter's wound with her sleight hand she staunches,
Hath of the trees a likeness of the savour:
As white their bark, so white this lady's hours.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Verse of the Day - Amy Lowell

Sea Shell by Amy Lowell

Sea Shell, Sea Shell,
Sing me a song, O Please!
A song of ships, and sailor men,
And parrots, and tropical trees,
Of islands lost in the Spanish Main
Which no man ever may find again,
Of fishes and corals under the waves,
And seahorses stabled in great green caves.
Sea Shell, Sea Shell,
Sing of the things you know so well.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Seamus Heaney wins Irish Times award

The award of the Irish Times' Poetry Now prize to Seamus Heaney led me to catch up some of the work of one of the few great poets who are still living.

I was familiar with Two Lorries, a pastoral tale that becomes embroiled in the tragedy of Northern Ireland. But I hadn't read much else of Heaney's work.

Blackberry-Picking, for instance, reminds me of those half remembered childhood days when we would be dragged into the Gloucestershire countryside, plastic bucket in hand, to grapple with unyielding briars.

There was something rewarding about toiling for a couple of hours on those autumn evenings, as twlight settled on the soft contours of the Gloucestershire hills.

Of course there was always the competition, for me to pick more blackberries than my sister. There were those muddy, dizzy and uncertain moments when we would reach too far to get the biggest blackberry in the hedgerow, that was always too high and out of reach.

Which is probably true of life. We'll only achieve the succulent rewards if we reach for the highest blackberry.

Then again it's hard sometimes to focus on reaching for the stars when it's a wet Sunday and there's rather a large cache of wine and beer that needs to be demolished down in the kitchen.

Blackberry-Picking by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.