Monday, February 28, 2011

Verse of the Day - Andrew Motion

I interviewed Andrew Motion, once. I didn't know much about him before the publisher sent me a book of his poems but I was immediately hooked. Ice manages to capture both the inhospitability and inhumanity  of Arctic seas as well as the sense of adventure that drives explorers due north.

Ice by Andrew Motion

When friends no longer remembered,
the reasons we set forth,
I switched between nanny and tartar
driving us on north.

Will you imagine a human hand
welded by ice to wood?
And skin when they chip it off?
I don’t think you should.

By day the appalling loose beauty
of prowling floes:
lions’ heads, dragons, crucifix-wrecks,
and a thing like a blown rose.

By night the seething hiss
of killers cruising past -
the silence after each fountain-jet,
and our hearts aghast.

Of our journey home and the rest
there is nothing more to say.
I have lived and not yet died.
I have sailed in the Scotia Sea.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Hobo poet reaches the end of the line

A hobo poet known as "Iowa Blackie" has died at the age of 62, the Chicago Tribune has reported.

Officials with the New Hampton Police Department say the hobo, whose real name was Richard Gage, was found dead in his home in New Hampton on Thursday. He was 62.

Here's one of Blackie's poems.

Please Give Me A Railroading Job by Iowa Blackie

I here and now make an appeal
For a good job of railroading
Out on that rumbling rolling steel
Or if need be even loading

Give me a chance and I will work
At that about which I know best
My duties not ever to shirk
And stand up proper to the test

While lacking a record of such
Assuredly I know my stuff
By with such things keeping in touch
And kept at it when thing got tough

What things I do not know I will
Be studying until I do
Attain what ever needed skill
At what I am expected to

All I ask is an even chance
For proving by abilities
Whatever need be to enhance
Much greater opportunities

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On the Life and Death of Louis Papillon

Have you ever visited a cemetery and wondered about the people who lie beneath the ground? They are just meaningless names to us and yet behind these names were lives, loves, strife and, ultimately death.

I didn't look too closely one sunlit evening in Vezelay, France, at the moss encrusted grave of Louis Papillon in the beautiful silence of an overgrown graveyard behind the cathedral.

Only later when I viewed the photograph did I realize Papillion had only lived from 1884 to 1885, and Augustin, who appears to have been his twin, only lived to be six-years-old.

Such tragedy hidden in this overgrown verdant paradise of gently chiming bells, wild flowers, candle lit restaurants and bottles of Burgundy, is almost too hard to bear if you think too hard about it, as is the weight of history.

In the year Papillon flew away like his butterfly namesake, France donated the Staute of Liberty to the United States. Still I will never know the full details of the tragedy that engulfed Louis and Augustin Papillon. Countless seasons have eroded their memory as steadily as the grass has grown around their tomb.

As my family deals with the loss of my father-in-law, this obscure tragedy makes it all slightly easier to bear. Jack may have been taken too soon, but at least he had the chance to live.

Which is more than you can say for the poor infant buried in a fragrant French cemetery.

Finding a poem to commemorate death is an almost impossible task because there are so many. But one of my favorites is this poem by Mary Frye because there is definance and there is hope.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Mary Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Verse of the Day - Philip Larkin

Cut Grass by Philip Larkin

Cut grass lies frail:
Brief is the breath
Mown stalks exhale.
Long, long the death

It dies in the white hours
Of young-leafed June
With chestnut flowers,
With hedges snowlike strewn,

White lilac bowed,
Lost lanes of Queen Anne's lace,
And that high-builded cloud
Moving at summer's pace.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Poetry of Revolt

If you think poetry is all about wandering through flowers of daffodils reciting verse, think again.

According to an article by Elliott Colla, the Chair of the Department of  Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, there was much poetry in the revolution that overthrew the regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

He says poetry had played a prominent role in these events.

"The slogans the protesters are chanting are couplets — and they are as loud as they are sharp. The diwan of this revolt began to be written as soon as Ben Ali fled Tunis, in pithy lines like “Yâ Mubârak! Yâ Mubârak! Is-Sa‘ûdiyya fi-ntizârak!,” (“Mubarak, O Mubarak, Saudi Arabia awaits!”)," he writes.

"In the streets themselves, there are scores of other verses, ranging from the caustic “Shurtat Masr, yâ shurtat Masr, intû ba’aytû kilâb al-’asr” (“Egypt’s Police, Egypt’s Police, You’ve become nothing but Palace dogs”), to the defiant “Idrab idrab yâ Habîb, mahma tadrab mish hansîb!” (“Hit us, beat us, O Habib [al-Adly, now-former minister of the Interior], hit all you want — we’re not going to leave!”)."

"I wandered lonely as a cloud," it certainly isn't.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Verse of the Day - Christina Rossetti

Finding an appropriate poem for Valentine's Day that's not over mushy and sentimental is always a challenge. But you can seldom go wrong with Christina Rossetti, far less mawkish than her foppish brother.

Echo by Christina Rossetti

Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the sparkling silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.
O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again though cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Verse of the Day - Edmund Spenser

There are few poets who manage to capture the idea of perfect but lost love as the Elizabethans who wrote sonnets back in the 16th century. Edmund Spenser was born into a lower class family but this didn't stop him becoming one of the preeminant poets of his age.

When the Queen's treasurer balked at paying him for his verse on one occasion he wrote to the Queen in the form of a verse. He appears to have survived the Elizabethan era with his head firmly attached to his neck.

Edmund Spenser - Sonnet 75

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay
A mortal thing so to immortalize,
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eek my name be wiped out likewise.
Not so (quoth I), let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name.
Where whenas Death shall all the world subdue,
Out love shall live, and later life renew.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Verse of the Day - Dylan Thomas

I find this poem apt and it's one of Thomas' most powerful, even though I would not agree that the night is gentle or that the raging can ever make much difference.

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.