Friday, July 9, 2010

Meet Our New Poet Laureate, W. S. Merwin

 W.S. Merwin has recently been named the country’s Poet Laureate, succeeding Kay Ryan. He’s 80-years-old and currently, lives in Hawaii. He attended Princeton University, where he studied with John Berryman and R. P. Blackmur, two high-profile poets in their own right. Later he and his wife became close friends with poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. During the course of his career, Merwin published over 20 books and has garnered numerous awards and critical acclaim.

In the poem below, “The Anniversary of My Death,” Merwin muses about the eventuality of death and then about what may occur in death itself. He passes his eventual death day every year. Then he describes the day of his death as the last day he will see earthly things or feel human emotions like being “Surprised at the earth/And the love of a woman/And the shamelessness of men.” He describes life and the things in it like being “in a strange garment.” It is as though, for the speaker, there is something always a bit foreign and perhaps uncomfortable in life— something always to become accustomed to.

Then after a long rain, a metaphor, perhaps, for the transition between life and death, he bows to the unknown that is death, and, I think the writing, in the poem and the poem itself is a bow or an act of homage to death.

Anyway those are my thoughts. Perhaps you have your own. If so, I’d love to hear them, or read them, as it were.

For the Anniversary of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Blues for Kim Addonizio

Sometimes I go looking for a poem to post, and sometimes they come looking for me. This poem by Amorak Huey knocked me over while I drowsily drank a cup of coffee and read emails. WOW. Now I am awake, at least, if not awakened.

Kim Addonizio is indeed a poet worthy of a love poem. Read one of my favorites in September 2007 of this blog.

Here's a glimmer of Huey's:  
just another word for mourning--

Do not pass go. Stop and read it now. You won't regret it.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Two Poem Friday

Wow. I missed the entire month of April, which is National Poetry Month. I have the resolve of a flea.

So here are two poems. I heard both on NPR during April although they apply to two differently-themed collections. The first is from an new anthology on loss and grief edited by Kevin Young entitled The Art of Losing. The title gets its name from Elizabeth Bishop's much anthologized poem (which consequently can be found somewhere on this blog) by the same name.

Unfortunately, I don't yet have the book so what is written here is not in the form the author intends. This may take away from the experience of reading it and, for that, I apologize, but I felt like it was so strong that it will resonate with people regardless. 

Written on the Due Date of a Son Never Born
  by David Wojahn

Echinacea, bee balm, aster, trumpet vine. I watch your mother bend to prune, water sluicing silver from the hose. Another morning you will never see. Summer solstice, dragonflies flare, the un-petaled rose. Six a.m., and already she's breaking down, hose flung to the sidewalk where it snakes and pulses in a steady, keening glitter, both hands to her face. That much I can give you of these hours. That much only, fists and blossom forged by salt, trellising your wounded helixes against our days. Tell us how to live for we are shades, facing, caged, the chastening sun. Our eyes are scorched and lidless. We cannot bear your light.


This next poem is a bit more redemptive.  It is an Emily Dickinson poem that is now anthologized in Poetry Speaks Who I Am: Poems of Discovery, Inspiration, Independence and Everything Else, edited by  Elise Paschen.

Hope Is the Thing With Feathers
by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

A Blog Deferred

So I've been woefully behind on blogging. Sorry to the seven of you faithful onlookers. I can't even say that am back per se. Life gets in the way, or so it goes.

This highly anthologized poem is by the great Langston Hughes. Enjoy.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Ineffable

Ah, how easy it can be for us to throw out our contentment for the dream of something better, more romantic, for the idea that there is another person in the world who understands you in a way that no one in your current life possibly can.

We search for that ineffable connection. Whole conversations pass between you without a word spoken. The fantasy of this other happiness makes you whole, makes you better because they bring out the best in you. They inspire you, make you write poetry. When you have a fight, it's really just passion, and it always ends in a flurry of tearing clothes and long clingy nights. And sometimes we even mistakenly believe the dream is real, and the reality that we once found comforting becomes suffocating.

But, like the character in Bilgere's poem, who is smart enough to see the fantasy through to its likely conclusion, all of these dreams are just illusions. Eventually everyone smiles with broccoli in their teeth, hams up a cold, gets a wart or bad gas or smells like onions. Even us.

The Ineffable
by George Bilgere

I'm sitting here reading the paper,
feeling warm and satisfied, basically content
with my life and all I have achieved.
Then I go up for a refill and suddenly realize
how much happier I could be with the barista.
Late thirties, hennaed hair, an ahnk
or something tattooed on her ankle,
a little silver ring in her nostril.
There's some mystery surrounding why she's here,
pouring coffee and toasting bagels at her age.
But there's a lot of torsion when she walks,
which is interesting. I can sense right away
how it would all work out between us.

We'd get a loft in the artsy part of town,
and I can see how we'd look shopping together
at our favorite organic market
on a snowy winter Saturday,
snowflakes in our hair,
our arms full of leeks and shiitake mushrooms.
We would do tai chi in the park.
She'd be one of the few people
who actually "gets" my poetry
which I'd read to her in bed.
And I can see us making love, by candlelight,
Struggling to find words for the ineffable.
We never dreamed it could be like this.

And it would all be great, for many months,
until one day, unable to help myself,
I'd say something about that nostril ring.
Like, do you really need to wear that tonight
at Sarah and Mike's house, Sarah and Mike being
pediatricians who intimidate me slightly
with their patrician cool, and serious money.
And she would give me a look,
a certain lifting of the eyebrows
I can see she's capable of, and right there
that would be the end of the ineffable.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Winnie the Wonder Dog

With the new year comes a new puppy! Winnie, the newest member of our little family is brimming with rascalidity. I have no doubt that she is fully aware of the power her cuteness has over us and that she wields said power without mercy or remorse. Her ears flop when she runs and her haunches are so for away from her muzzle that they seem to move entirely independently. Winnie is a diva dog--demanding, rebellious and completely irresistible. So, here is one for the Winster.

Nelson, My Dog

by Gary Soto

Like the cat he scratches the flea camping in fur.
Unlike the cat he delights in water up to his ears.
He frolics. He catches a crooked stick –
On his back he naps with legs straight up in the air.
Nelson shudders awake. He responds to love
From head to tail. In happiness
His front legs march in place
And his back legs spark when they push off.
On a leash he knows his geography.
For your sake he looks both ways before crossing,
He sniffs at the sight of a poodle trimmed like a hedge,
And he trots the street with you second in command.
In the park, he ponders a squirrel attached to a tree
And he shovels a paper cup on his nose.
He sweeps after himself with his tail,
And there is no hand that doesn't deserve a lick.
Note this now, my friends:
Nelson can account the heritage of heroic dogs:
One, canines lead the blind,
Two, they enter fire to rescue the child and the child's toy,
Three, they swim for the drowning,
Four, they spring at the thief,
Five, they paddle ponds for the ball that got away,
Six, for the elderly they walk side by side to the very end,
Seven, they search for bones but stop when called,
Eight, they bring mud to all parties,
Nine, they poke among the ruins of a burnt house,
Ten, they forgive what you dish out on a plate.

Nelson is a companion, this much we know,
And if he were a movie star, he would do his own stunts –
O, how he would fly, climb the pant legs of a scoundrel
And stand tall rafting on white-water rivers!
He has befriended the kingdom of animals:
He once ran with wolves but admittedly not very far,
He stepped two paces into a cave and peeked at the bear,
He sheltered a kitten,
He righted the turtle pedaling its stumps on its back,
Under the wheeling stars he caravanned with the mule,
He steered sheep over a hill,
He wisely let the skunk pass,
He growled at the long-bearded miser,
He joined ducks quacking with laughter,
Once he leaped at a pheasant but later whined from guilt.

Nelson's black nose is a compass in the wilds.
He knows nature. He has spied spires of summer smoke,
He circled cold campfires,
He howled at a gopher and scratched at the moon,
He doctored his wounds with his tongue,
He has pawed a star of blood left in snow.
He regards the fireplace, the embers like blinking cats,
This too we know about Nelson.
True, he is sometimes tied to parking meters
And sometimes wears the cone of shame from the vet's office.
But again, he is happiness.
He presents his belly for a friendly scratch.
If you call him, he will drop his tennis ball,
Look up, and come running,
This muddy friend for life. When you bring your nose
To his nose for something like a kiss,
You can find yourself in his eyes.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Have a Scary Christmas?

Hey, sometimes it feels more like you have to survive Christmas than anything. Plus, I know you've all read everything there is to read about gratitude, good will, family and the Christmas spirit, so why not have a little fun?

The Jingle Bells

Hear the jingle bells!
Hear them jingle!
How they jingle!
How they jangle!
And see the madman in the red suit!
Who is coming!
He sees you!
With wide wild eyes.
He wants you!
He sees you when you sleep!
He knows what mad dances
The reindeer make!
How they twirl and touch their antlers!
How their blood is stirred
By the madman they call Claus!
How merry they are
As they drink your blood and say,
"Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a good night!"
You are their daughter!
My love!

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Nancy Drew

Ok. I LOVED Nancy Drew when I was young. I had a copy of the latest girl detective mystery with me at all times. I loved the original books and the more contemporary ones. Honestly, these books are what began my love affair with books in general. Plus, I also love poems with some moral conflict as this one seems to indicate in the end. Enjoy, Super Sleuths!

Nancy Drew
by Ron Koertge

Merely pretty, she made up for it with vim.
And she got to say things like, "But, gosh,
what if these plans should fall into the wrong
hands?" and it was pretty clear she didn't mean
plans for a party or a trip to the museum, but
something involving espionage and a Nazi or two.

In fact, the handsome exchange student turns
out to be a Fascist sympathizer. When he snatches
Nancy along with some blueprints, she knows he
has something more sinister in mind than kissing
her with his mouth open

Locked in the pantry of an abandoned farm house,
Nancy makes a radio out of a shoelace and a muffin.
Pretty soon the police show up, and everything's
hunky dory.

Nancy accepts their thanks, but she's subdued.
It's not like her to fall for a cad. Even as she plans
a short vacation to sort our her emotions she knows
there will be a suspicious waiter, a woman in a green
off the shoulder dress, and her very jittery husband.

Very well. But no more handsome boys like the last one:
the part in his hair that was sheer propulsion, that way
he had of lifting his eyes to hers over the custard,
those feelings that made her not want to be brave
confident and daring, polite, sensitive and caring.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Happy Anniversary To Us

Four years ago today, I made a very wise decision. One, that I have, perhaps, not always seen the wisdom in, but am very proud of today. I married a very wonderful man. Sometimes, I cannot believe the luck of it all.

On an Anniversary
by Donald Justice

On an Anniversary Thirty years and more go by
In the blinking of an eye,
And you are still the same
As when first you took my name.

Much the same blush now as then
Glimmers through the peach-pale skin.
Time (but as with a glove)
Lightly touches you, my love.

Stand with me a minute still
While night climbs our little hill.
Below, the lights of cars
Move, and overhead the stars.

The estranging years that come,
Come and go, and we are home.
Time joins us as a friend,
And the evening has no end.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Poetry In Motion

Saints pummel Pats to go 11-0. Be still my beating heart.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lydia Davis

Interesting little poem about how we define ourselves and how we are defined-- none of which can ever at any given time be completely true. Nonetheless, we go about our days assessing other people and giving worth to ourselves based on something like having a position at the university which is both revealing and superficial. As people, we are always sliding in and out of roles simultaneously, morphing between the truths of what it means to be you or me.

A Position at the University

by Lydia Davis

I think I know what sort of person I am. But then I think, But this stranger will imagine me quite otherwise when he or she hears this or that to my credit, for instance that I have a position at the university: the fact that I have a position at the university will appear to mean that I must be the sort of person who has a position at the university. But then I have to admit, with surprise, that, after all, it is true that I have a position at the university. And if it is true, then perhaps I really am the sort of person you imagine when you hear that a person has a position at the university. But, on the other hand, I know I am not the sort of person I imagine when I hear that a person has a position at the university. Then I see what the problem is: when others describe me this way, they appear to describe me completely, whereas in fact they do not describe me completely, and a complete description of me would include truths that seem quite incompatible with the fact that I have a position at the university.

For this poem and more go to the Poetry Foundation

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shelley Puhak

Shelley Puhak and I studied together for a summer in Italy. She was working on her MFA from the University of New Orleans and I was working on my MA. Although, we've lost touch as the years have gone by, she kept me kind of sane while I was there, and I have a great respect for her talent. So, I was very pleased to see that she's gotten a book of poems published-- some of which we discussed in our creative writing workshop. Stalin in Aruba is being well-received and can be purchased through Black Lawrence Press or Shelley's website: I have not received my own copy yet, but from what I gather and remember, many of these poems are dramatic monologues based (loosely?) on Russian history. I am including here a poem from the book which was first published in the Adirondack Review.
Support emerging poets, and buy the book!
What They Left Out of My Obituary:
Father Pritikin, Dead at 85
You've heard of me: when I was seventeen
I threw the perfect pass, seventy yards,
breaking the school record. Those present said
the pigskin arched into the sun, but I
saw nothing, only that same sun spinning spots
while my breath's smoke pawed the cold.
You wouldn't have heard I spent my twenty-first
in a Guatemalan hut, shivering with heat,
brown-skinned women crowding me, muttering padre,
padre, and forcing me to drink hot tea.
Or that at seven, I found my mother's razor
in the bathtub nook and slipped my thumb across
the blade. As blood spilled forth I knew
nothing but dead leaves crisping underfoot.
When I was conceived, it was winter. That spring
the snow never melted, just crusted into ice.
My mother toe-heeled, toe-heeled as belly swelled,
or did she run, hoping to slip, to jar me loose?
At fourteen, I found freckles, light and flat,
across the clavicle of a girl on the field
hockey team, constellations spilling across bare
shoulders while the trees pulsed green.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Kelly-Anne Riess

You never know how your life would have gone if you made different choices. Things always only continue to go forward.

If I Gave Up
by Kelly-Anne Riess

I would have followed you
to Edmonton
found a job waitressing babysitting

even though I have three degrees
a temporary fix
while you finished school
near mountains where you climb

I wish I'd known you
when you didn't know what you wanted
then maybe you would've followed me to the Peg
I could never live in Manitoba you said
would feel bad if I gave up
anything for you
so you ended it

even so you couldn't stay away
visited me every summer
until she moved in

after graduation you went up north
how's that better than Winnipeg
you work 20 days on
fly down to her on days off
it could be me

"If I Gave Up" by Kelly-Anne Riess, from To End a Conversation. © Thistledown Press Ltd., 2008.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Your Catfish Friend

So, tomorrow night is a girls' night. The anticipation of girls' night, especially when the first cool fronts of fall have begun to blow through our cities is one of the few really childlike moments of stress-free (mostly stress-free) excitement that I have. In 2009, anyway. We will drink and eat and talk about everything from major works of literature to our long past, minor love affairs. Anyway, this one is for them. They know who they are.

Your Catfish Friend
by Richard Brautigan

If I were to live my life
in catfish forms
in scaffolds of skin and whiskers
at the bottom of a pond
and you were to come by
one evening
when the moon was shining
down into my dark home
and stand there at the edge
of my affection
and think, "It's beautiful
here by this pond. I wish
somebody loved me,"
I'd love you and be your catfish
friend and drive such lonely
thoughts from your mind
and suddenly you would be
at peace,
and ask yourself, "I wonder
if there are any catfish
in this pond? It seems like
a perfect place for them."

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Apart (Les Separes)

I found this little gem by Louis Simpson and Marceline Desbordes-Valmore today and it kind of spoke to me. Some of the language seems a bit overdone, but then there are some very nice moments in this poem too, so why not share? Here it is in both the original French and the English translation.

PS I hate you blogspot for always screwing up the formatting.

Apart (Les Séparés)

by Louis Simpson and Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

Do not write. I am sad, and want my light put out.
Summers in your absence are as dark as a room.
I have closed my arms again. They must do without.
To knock at my heart is like knocking at a tomb.
Do not write!

Do not write. Let us learn to die, as best we may.
Did I love you? Ask God. Ask yourself. Do you know?
To hear that you love me, when you are far away,
Is like hearing from heaven and never to go.
Do not write!

Do not write. I fear you. I fear to remember,
For memory holds the voice I have often heard.
To the one who cannot drink, do not show water,
The beloved one's picture in the handwritten word.
Do not write!

Do not write those gentle words that I dare not see,
It seems that your voice is spreading them on my heart,
Across your smile, on fire, they appear to me,
It seems that a kiss is printing them on my heart.
Do not write!

Les SéparésN'écris pas. Je suis triste, et je voudrais m'éteindre.
Les beaux étés sans toi, c'est la nuit sans flambeau.
J'ai refermé mes bras qui ne peuvent t'atteindre,
Et frapper à mon coeur, c'est frapper au tombeau.
N'écris pas!
N'écris pas. N'apprenons qu'à mourir à nous-mêmes.
Ne demande qu'à Dieu . . . qu'à toi, si je t'aimais!
Au fond de ton absence écouter que tu m'aimes,
C'est entendre le ciel sans y monter jamais.
N'écris pas!
N'écris pas. Je te crains; j'ai peur de ma mémoire;
Elle a gardé ta voix qui m'appelle souvent.
Ne montre pas l'eau vive à qui ne peut la boire.
Une chère écriture est un portrait vivant.
N'écris pas!
N'écris pas ces doux mots que je n'ose plus lire:
Il semble que ta voix les répand sur mon coeur;
Que je les vois brûler à travers ton sourire;
Il semble qu'un baiser les empreint sur mon coeur.
N'écris pas!

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