Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fair Horicon - H. Marvin

Not placid Lake Leman,
Where I've late been straying;
Not gifted Pliny's
Wild tumultuous lake;
Not magiore round
Its islands playing;
More beauteous visions
In the mind awake
Than thou fair Horicon!
Whose waters bright,
And pure and holy,
Now first greet my sight.

This lovely poem is the essence of seeing Lake George for the first time.  It's a discovery unlike any other, and the lake's natural beauty washes any other anxieties (and any other lakes) from one's mind.  While I cannot speak for them being holy, the waters of Lake George are brighter and purer than any others I've known, and they are, to me, among the most wondrous waters in the world.

It's no surprise then, that there exists an entire book of poems about the lake.  Some are pedantic and cliche, but others, such as this one, capture the wonderful breathless rapture of gazing on the lake in the early morning.  The sun, cresting over the mighty mountains between which the lake lies, strikes the water, and they spring to life,surface aflame with morning's mists.  It's one of my favorite places on the planet, so if you see more posts relating to Lake George in the future, you will know why.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Pike - Theodore Roethke

The river turns,
Leaving a place for the eye to rest,
A furred, a rocky pool,
A bottom of water.

The crabs tilt and eat, leisurely,
And the small fish lie, without shadow, motionless,
Or drift lazily in and out of the weeds.
The bottom-stones shimmer back their irregular striations,
And the half-sunken branch bends away from the gazer's eye.

A scene for the self to abjure!-
And I lean, almost into the water,
My eye always beyond the surface reflection;
I lean, and love these manifold shapes,
Until, out from a dark cove,
From beyond the end of a mossy log,
With one sinuous ripple, then a rush,
A thrashing-up of the whole pool
The pike strikes.

I was fortunate enough to receive a collection of poems about fish as a gift, and this is one fairly well known poem from the collection.  The language of this poem captures the majesty and power of the fish as a creature, which I like.  Many poems focus on the observer, or the fisher, which is perfectly fine, but it is refreshing to enjoy a poem that savors the fish instead of savoring the fishing only.

From my personal experience, the pike is every bit as beautiful and savage as this poem makes it out to be.  Dormant, almost inert, until suddenly, action, and their sharp teeth find their mark.  They thrash, killing the victim with beautiful efficiency.  Absolutely wonderful.

Friday, July 29, 2011

London - William Blake

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every black'ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born Infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Doe - C.K. Williams

Near dusk, near a path, near a brook,
we stopped, I in disquiet and dismay
for the suffering of someone I loved,
the doe in her always incipient alarm.

All that moved was her pivoting ear
the reddening sun was shining through
transformed to a color I'd only seen
in a photo of a new child in a womb.

Nothing else stirred, not a leaf,
not the air, but she startled and bolted
away from me into the crackling brush.

The part of my pain which sometimes
releases me from it fled with her, the rest,
in the rake of the late light, stayed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cat - Chris Hart

The shuddering, vibrating
Warm lump
In my lap is a dear friend.

Rubbing headbutts, paws kneading,
Big cat
Shows me that he likes me.

Or at least that I feed him
And scratch his belly

When he flops over, asking
That I shower him with attention.

I'm okay with that.
Cats are the best cats.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sunburn - Chris Hart

Every movement brings upon me
A scorching sweep of fire.
It's as if I am enthralled
In my own funeral pyre.

Even with mighty SPF white kid,
Though I try, and try, and try,
I'm left with one lesson, one word, today,
Reapply, reapply, reapply.

Six Flags was great fun today, but seriously, my sunblock did nothing and now I'm a lobster and in burning pain.  Welp!  Lessons reminded: reapply.

Monday, July 25, 2011

On the Late Massacre in Piedmont - John Milton

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones.
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piemontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks.  Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To heaven.  Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O'er all th' Italian fields, where still doth sway
The triple tyrant, that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

[Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame] - William Shakespeare

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and, till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight:
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof; and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sonnet to Sleep - John Keats

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleas'd eyes, embower'd from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the Amen ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes:
Save me from curious conscience, that still hoards
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like the mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed casket of my soul.

I often find myself returning to Keats, and I think it's due to the lush beauty of his imagery.  I know of no better description of sleep.  Instead of boring myself with details, I'm going to let the poem do most of the speaking. I'd only like to add that the twinge of mortality the dying Keats added to the poem's ending with, "And seal the hushed casket of my soul" makes me shiver every time.  It's lovely and chilling.

As a side note, Keats makes me feel crushingly unaccomplished.  Dead by 25, and forever remembered as one of the greatest poets writing in the English language.  Amazing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I - James Joyce

Strings in the earth and air
Make music sweet;
Strings by the river where
The willows meet.

There's music along the river
For Love wanders there,
Pale flowers on his mantle,
Dark leaves on his hair.

All softly playing,
With head to the music bent,
And fingers straying
Upon an instrument.

This poem, the first in Joyce's "Chamber Music" collection, is a wonderfully musical poem.  Being the first poem in a collection which, from the very title, is linked to music, its lyricism is unsurprising.  What I find most amazing, however, is the wealth of ways in which that lyricism may be interpreted.

I present for you, the Luciano Berio setting of Joyce's "Chamber Music."

I very much enjoy this setting, for it maintains an element of lyricism and melody while I feel, effectively exploring the somewhat melancholic depiction of love as an introverted, shy musician by a river.  Pale flowers, dark leaves, this imagery, along with the depiction of Love as "bent" and somewhat absorbed in his music, leaves the impression that Joyce was feeling the sting of Love, rather than its balm.  Berio conveys this through the texture and intervalic qualities of his work, though, this being a poetry blog, I will avoid an extensive discussion of musical techniques.  That, and I do not want to do all the work of analysis on this piece at the moment.  I most certainly will be doing an in depth analysis of this poem in the coming months, but that will be for my own project of setting the entirety of "Chamber Music" to music in the form of a song cycle.

So all my blathering aside, enjoy the beautiful music and ponder the text, much as I imagine Joyce's image of Love would.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Pizza the Size of the Sun - Jack Prelutsky

I'm making a pizza the size of the sun,
a pizza that's sure to weigh more than a ton,
a pizza too massive to pick up and toss,
a pizza resplendent with oceans of sauce.

I'm topping my pizza with mountains of cheese,
with acres of peppers, pimentos, and peas,
with mushrooms, tomatoes, and sausage galore,
with every last olive they had at the store.

My pizza is sure to be one of a kind,
my pizza will leave other pizzas behind,
my pizza will be a delectable treat,
that all who love pizza are welcome to eat.

The oven is hot, I believe it will take
a year and a half for my pizza to bake.
I can hardly wait til my pizza is done,
my wonderful pizza the size of the sun.

It's fun to look back on a poem from childhood, particularly when it's as delightfully imaginative as this.  It conveys a sense of playful scope, and is just fun to read out loud.  Really, I only wanted to post this because I'm a pizza delivery guy this summer.  I was trying to think of a poem to write about pizza, but nothing I came up with was any good.  Thankfully, my good friend reminded me that this poem exists!  I owe her one for saving me some considerable shame, as whatever poem I wrote about pizza would no doubt be dreadful.

So always remember the little kid in you, with starry eyed enthusiasm for the wondrous dream of making a pizza pie the size of the sun :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

London, 1802 - William Wordsworth

Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness.  We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful goodliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Wordsworth, here, falls into the trap that every generation fall into at some point: assuming that the present is a diseased state that needs curing from an older, lost, generation.  This is a trend in music, art, and social thought that has been present in every generation, and will be present in every generation.  Musicians once condemned the use of the tritone, and today, it is trite and overused.  Essentially, London is 1802 was not a cesspool of stagnation in the arts and virtues as Wordsworth claims.  The existence of men like Wordsworth, Coleridge, and others is proof enough of that.

I also wonder if Wordsworth allowed his idolization of Milton to interfere with the reality of who Milton was.  Truly, Milton's voice was as the sea, but laying the lowliest duties on his heart?  Folly.  Milton was the most hated man in Europe after he wrote to justify Cromwell's regicide.  Milton himself thought himself on a heavenly duty to write Paradise Lost, in the later years of his life.  He was also a fairly terrible father, and not exactly the most caring husband.  He could be self-absorbed to the point of making his daughters resent him completely.  Claiming that this man would restore virtue to England is an overstatement.  I do not like when hero worship overcomes our faculties of reason, as Wordsworth seems to let himself do.

It's symptomatic of a larger problem still at play today.  People are quick to say that the inventions of the past are to be forever unsurpassed.  Even among things so trivial as pop music, people claim that we're in a period of stagnation, and can't match the greats of yesteryear.  Untrue.  What we remember from the past's musical output is always what is best, not is what most popular.  The most popular music of today is not what will be remembered in 40 years.  People need to stop and remind themselves that every single generation has considered itself on the precipice of moral degradation and creative bankruptcy.  And yet, here we are.  We've yet to ever come close to hitting that point.  People are more polite today than ever before.  There is virtually no chance that you will be spat at during an argument nowadays.  In Wordsworth's day that was a fairly common sight.

I post this poem in hopes that you will consider that things are not so bad.  We are not in need of Milton to return, for he has never left us.  His writings are as enduring today as they ever have been.  As are Wordsworth's.  For all that I criticized the content of the poem, the language itself is inspirational and beautiful.  I just think Wordsworth got caught up in a righteous fervor, as we all may from time to time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beatlemania - Chris Hart

Girl, act naturally.
Every little thing,
Crying, waiting, hoping,
Let it be, little child.

Loving you, real love,
That means a lot.
From me to you, don't ever change.

You like me too much, woman.
It's only love?  It's all too much.
Another girl can't buy me love,
How do you do it?

I call your name.
No reply.  Misery.
Oh! Darling, slow down,
Because chains come together,
Hold me tight.

I lost my little girl.
I need you.
I, me, mine,
I feel...fine.


P.S. I love you

Thinking of Demetri Martin's beer bottle poem, I wanted to try my own "found" poetry.  Rather than a beer bottle, or a book cover, I decided to limit myself to the titles of Beatles songs.  The resulting poem is a bit clunky, but overall, tells a neat little story of a man forsaken by his love.

Unsurprisingly, I noticed that the majority of the titles were love themed, so this forced me into a similar theme for the poem.  I could have tried to break away from that, but it felt wrong to fight the flow of narrative logic in this case.  I was free with punctuation, which allowed me to color some of the titles in ways other than their original context, which I felt was necessary.

My main worry with this poem was that the song titles would feel too obvious, and stick out too much, which is why I tried to avoid terse statements.  The fourth and fifth stanzas are riddled with unfortunately short passages, though I think they still work.  By that late stage in the poem, the tone is set firmly enough that the inherent novelty of song titles being the means of composition do not jump out so much as they might have earlier in the poem.  I also was able to use a strategic rhyme at the end of the poem, as I lauded Seamus Heaney for doing in "Mid-Term Break" and I think it's rather nice.  I couldn't resist tagging "P.S. I love you" on to the end.  I'm pleased that I managed to subvert the phrase "P.S. I Love You" from its original peppy, happy tone to a grueling, agonizing admission.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ropartz Piece in Eb Minor - Chris Hart

When Keats wrote, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever"
I do not think he had a trombone in mind.
That's alright, I forgive him.

A golden glint of movement, sliding
Into sound, pure rose-brass sound,
Baubles of delight, suspended in air.

Forever a joy, liquid gold from my horn
Fills me with the glow of eternal satisfaction,
The satisfaction of knowing

There can be beauty, enveloping
Warming beauty, that, sounding, gloriously sounding,
Fills the air, and for a short while, is reality.

Looking through a book of Keats I had lying nearby, I read the famous first line of his "Endymion" and was struck by the sentiment that beauty is always a joy.  I agree, and tried to think of beautiful things to write about.  It was then that I realized that I was already listening to something that will forever be a joy: a favorite trombone piece of mine, Guy Ropartz's "Piece in Eb Minor for Trombone and Piano."

In the language of the poem, I tried to capture what I feel is the essence of a trombone's romantic, expressive side: warm tone, liquid smoothness, and great emotive and expressive capability.  I wanted the reader to feel a warm glow, like being in a womb of golden liquid sound.  I love the feeling of playing the piece I had in mind, and I tried to convey that love in writing.  Enjoy!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

[Coolness-] - Yosa Buson

Coolness -
the sound of the bell
as it leaves the bell.

Even in translation, haiku provide images for contemplation.  Somewhat similar to the Imagist Pound poem I posted a few weeks ago, this poem brings up a single instant in time, unspecific, but somewhat universal.  Thinking in such physical terms about sound is refreshing.  Coolness, one might say.  I don't really have much to say, other than I encourage you to take at least ten minutes to mull this poem over, and examine it in your head.  Ponder it.  Repeat it to yourself.  Coolness.  It's a wonderful thing to contemplate.

Friday, July 15, 2011

On My First Son - Ben Jonson

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy:
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O could I lose all father now! for why
Will man lament the state he should envy,
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And, if no other misery, yet age?
Rest if soft peace, and asked, say, "Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry."
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.

They Flee From Me - Sir Thomas Wyatt

They flee from me, that sometime did me seek,
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them, gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild, and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be Fortune it hath been otherwise,
Twenty times better, but once in special,
In thin array, after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small.
And therewith all sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"

It was no dream, I lay broad waking.
But all is turned, thorough my gentleness,
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go, of her goodness,
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindely am served,
I fain would know what she hath deserved.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mid-Term Break - Seamus Heaney

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying-
He had always taken funerals in his stride-
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room.  Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks.  Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Last night, in my considerations of Robert Frost, and how his poetry does nothing for me, I wondered about the dimensions of his poetry.  Prominent among them was rhyme.  Here, I am reminded that a well placed rhyme can add weight and emotional impact to a poem.

The ending two lines, and the rhyme of clear and year, drives home the absence of the poet's younger sibling very strongly, making it impossible to escape the sad reality of his all too early death.  I love the way the Heaney substitutes details of physical aspects of the event for emotion.  It's a coping mechanism many employ (I know I like to be detail-oriented when I'm distraught) and it's conveyed in a very natural way.

In an earlier post, we saw death turned into a chair.  Here, death is a box, likened to a cot (a resting place), but really, death is in the details, for Heaney.  It's a coping mechanism that provides less long-time solace than turning one's dead into a chair, but is valuable in the short tern nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I must confess, I have no love for Frost's poems.  For whatever reason, their rhymes, imagery, and sentiments often fall flat to me.  I feel as the composers who abandoned tonality in music must have felt when the tonal system, even as expanded as it had become, held no artistic value for them.  I do not know why Frost's poems fall so dead to me.

I cannot deny that the scene is a lovely one, and one that I have myself taken before.  I have stopped on a snowy evening, and stood for a while, with no specific thoughts.  I was merely watching, much as Frost is.  And yet, I cannot enjoy the poetic sentiment he expresses.  It's the strangest feeling for me, as I know the exact feeling the poem describes, but bizarrely, this poem's delivery of it does not engender that feeling in me. It's not that I don't appreciate rhyme, because I think rhyme can be especially effective.

Perhaps it is just an age gap.  I know that in my own poetic attempts, any time I've tried to describe nature, it ends up sounding "nice" in the most damning sense of the word.  It sounds too sterile.  I can't capture the quiet contemplation of a snowy evening with stupid words like "quiet contemplation."  It just doesn't work for me and I don't know why.

What about you, reader?  Does Frost fall flat to you as well?  Or is there something in his easy lyricism and clean cut nature that speaks to you?

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Sketch - Chris Hart

Partially penciled lines
Outline leisure hours
Spent with friends
And pencils.

Rough edges, repeatedly rubbed
To shade and blur
Obscure half-finished ideas
Heroes and villains
Whose battles will have to wait.

But rather than unfinished
These sketches are
Potential embodied.
It's not too late for them
To be anything they want to be.

I noticed some old sketch books of mine sitting around, and flipped through them.  My favorite part of sketching is that if what I'm drawing isn't holding my attention, I can just leave it a wonderful, weird, wacky, unfinished things.  It's fun to look back through them.

I don't think I quite managed to capture that in the poem.  I wanted to reflect the uncertain lines of a sketch, and its somewhat aloof qualities.  I'm not so sure I did, but I tried.  I also wanted to reflect the bizarre attraction and majesty of an unfinished thing.  I'd write more, but I really want to sketch now.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

All of the Words on a Bottle of Rolling Rock Beer in a Different Order - Demetri Martin

Women, your ability to operate
extra tender
springs from birth.
Good machinery comes
as your contents
cause enjoyment.
Cash, beer, a car ...rock and rolling?
During "it", the general warning:
"We may risk pregnancy
according to old problems."
Your refund from the government
for alcoholic beverages?
Not OK.
Refund this premium, beer surgeon,
because premium beer impairs taste.
A drink - to the tribute of health, to the pale alcoholic.
Rolling, glass tanks of beverages rock this lined mountain.
Should the defects
of consumption
drive me ...
or you?
Latrobe, Latrobe COL, CT, DE, IA, MA, NY, VT, CA, MI

Comedian Demetri Martin took every word on a Rolling Rock bottle of beer, and re-arranged them (much as the title suggests) into this lovely, humorous poem.  While this is clearly a poem intended for comedic value, I think there's an art in its arrangement.

The obvious goal of the poem is to amuse, and it does so in a few ways.  First off, by even existing, this poem has shown that we can "find" poetry in unlikely places, such as a bottle of piss cheap beer.  One does not associate Rolling Rock with high art, much less even with good beer.  So in taking the words (usually completely ignored) on the bottle of a frankly undesirable beer, and rearranging them into something imitating (or, as I think, being) art, Martin has instilled the entire work with a comedic value.

Secondly, the actual words of the poem are humorous.  The nonsense speak of some passages almost imitates a drunken state of speech.  Other statements are coherent, and in being clear (which is at odds with the "Engrish" sound of the rest of the poem) are themselves funny.  "Your refund from the government for alcoholic beverages?  Not OK" is an example of a sentence that makes sense, and out of context, is somewhat puzzling, but in the context of this poem, is a bizarrely hilarious moment of clarity.

Really, I like this poem because it shows that poetic inspiration can come from anywhere.  The off kilter final feel of this poem only contributes to the charm of finding the words on a beer bottle.  It's also a true feat of creativity to compose a poem out of the limited vocabulary one finds on a beer bottle.

On Rediscovering An Old Calendar - Chris Hart

Old, forgotten calendars reveal
New insights about my former self.
Margin notes, furiously scrawled,
Remind me to remember things
Which I strangely did not write down.
That's one thing that hasn't changed,
My brilliant organization skills.

Flipping back in time
Through my old calendars
Is seeing all of my insecurities
Hopes and fears
Laid bare to the neat lines
Of a helpful schedule planner.

If only I could know
What my current calendar
Reflects about me.
All I know now
Is that I have work tomorrow:
It says so on the calendar.

This poem was half composed as a note on my phone, which I scrawled down after flipping through a few old planners I found in my room.  It's strange to look back on the things I thought were important enough to remind myself of.  I saw a lot of nervous energy in those entries, and a lot of un-vented aggression.  It's an interesting retrospective, so I tried to say something about that without disclosing the exact contents of past entries.

The notes on the calendars do not matter so much, for the sake of the poem, as the fact that there are notes on the calendar.  That I felt the need to remind myself of something gives me some insight into my state of mind.  I remember a friend telling me once that looking through her old diaries, if there were spans were she didn't write anything down, she knows that it was a time when she was deluding herself into thinking she didn't have anything to worry about.  The absence of entries showed her that things in that time period weren't peachy keen.  For me, it's somewhat opposite.  If I'm taking the time to write something down, it usually means that I have some sort of strong feeling that I am unsure of how to categorize.  And so, I neatly put it into a schedule.  Problem solved?  Not at all, but looking back, it seems I may have thought that way.

I regret that, in finishing this poem, that I didn't choose to adopt a rhyme scheme.  I find the result somewhat bland, without any interesting aural functions.  I tried to get by on an aloof tone, though I hardly think that cuts it for poetry.  I tried to keep the internal sounds of the line contrasting and fun to speak, though I don't know if I succeeded fully.  Maybe the central idea isn't strong enough to fit a strong formal structure.  Either way, it's an experiment, and success or failure, it can be nothing unless it's shared.

Friday, July 8, 2011

This Is Just To Say (and Parody) - William Carlos Williams and Brian McGackin

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

The above, one of the most famous William Carlos Williams poems, is a classic poem.  That's why, when my friend Andrew shared a brilliant parody of it with me (which is now probably my favorite parody poem of all time) I felt compelled to post the original and the parody.  And now, the parody:

I have finished
the beer
which was in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for Friday

Forgive me
this girl came over
so sweet
so hot

Apart from the great comedic value, the parody is a brilliant re-creation of the original, maintaining a lot of the same lines, even, while totally transforming the tone and meaning.  Absolutely fantastic.  Nothing too deep from me tonight, just an appreciation of some brilliant parody work.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

After a Death - Roo Borson

Seeing that there's no other way,
I turn his absence into a chair.
I can sit in it,
gaze out through the window.
I can do what I do best
and then go out into the world.
And I can return then with my useless love,
to rest,
because the chair is there.

An empty chair is my favorite image of the emotional aftermath of death.  An empty chair is such a devastating physical presence in the way it reminds us all of a loved one lost.  I remember in high school, after a friend's death, the awkward two days of an empty seat, before the seats were re-arranged.  The presence of that empty chair was too much for us all to take.

But as Borson shows us, the chair does not always have to be heartbreaking.  It can be therapeutic as well.  When Borson, tired, full of "useless love" returns, there is a chair upon which to rest.  It shows us that those we love are never truly gone from us.  They're still there to support us when we're tired, and to help us through the day.  Turning a loved one lost into an empty chair is part of the healing process of grief.  A lovely, painful, helpful image.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On Having Misidentified A Wild Flower

A thrush, because I'd been wrong,
Burst rightly into song
In a world not vague, not lonely,
Not governed by me only.

Continuing with more short form poetry, Richard Wilbur describes what happened in a moment that he mistakenly misidentified a wild flower.  Like last night's Pound, this poem conveys a specific moment of time and presents it as clearly as possible.  The difference between the two, I think, has to do with scale.  Pound's poem is content to be a somewhat enigmatic, foggy idealization of a moment, whereas Wilbur recognizes a larger world around him.

The thrush's song, as laughter at Wilbur's mistake, reminds Wilbur that this world is not just there for him.  This is not a self-absorbed moment, but one of those rare, wonderful moments that reminds us all of how very big the world is.  The line "not governed by me only" is my favorite, for it really drives home that feeling of being part of something larger.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In a Station of the Metro - Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Given the economy of words used in this poem, Pound creates a striking image of a place and moment: the Metro station.  The use of the word "these" in talking about the faces in the crowd indicates specificity.  The faces you imagine in the metro are not the faces Pound writes about.  He saves a moment he experienced, or imagined, and kept it to himself.  He likened them to "petals on a wet, black bough" giving us some idea, but not a full picture.  And yet, the scene is complete, for we know that a fuller scene exists.  We are simply not privy to it.

In discussing extremely short form poetry, there is little to say, at times.  And I think that is part of the point.  Pound presents a scene that we can picture, but never picture fully.  The beauty of the words themselves is enough to let us know that these little moments of life are meaningful, and carry weight beyond their apparent brevity.  So too does the poem.  Short form poetry, at its best, presents poems that are in structure and form their function.  There is no divide between the two, ideally, and that is presented perfectly here.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Marks - Linda Pastan

My husband gives me an A
for last night's supper,
an incomplete for my ironing,
a B plus in bed.
My son says I am average,
an average mother, but if
I put my mind to it
I could improve.
My daughter believes
in Pass/Fail and tells me
I pass.  Wait 'til they learn
I'm dropping out.

This poem strikes me in two different senses:  Immediately, the poem is humorous and ironic.  The poet adopts the grading metaphor in talking about how she is sick and tired of being evaluated at all turns.  The idea is humorous, and it's a witty way to turn a situation around.  However, the last two lines strike me as being almost dark.  If life is graded, dropping out is suicide.

Could this poem be read as a suicide note?  Perhaps a journal entry of the disturbed?  Its tone seems almost too playful for that, but perhaps that last line is meant to be a turning point in tone.  I've certainly read the poem as quippy and ironic, but reading it as suicidal is also valid, I feel.

How do you feel about the portrayal of easy judgments like those portrayed in the poem?  Some may take something like, "A plus on that dinner, honey" as a compliment.  Is it degrading to be judged by others?  And can the poem be read as suicidal?  Let me know.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The New Colossus - Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A might woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.  From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome, her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips.  "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

For the 4th of July, I thought the poem gracing the inside of our very own Statue of Liberty appropriate.  It's the rejection of the old guard, the stuffy, exclusive, pompous continent from which we sought to break mentally.  And for a long time, we governed by this poem, more or less.  We were the refuge of the weary and those yearning to be free.

It's time to make good on those promises again, America.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer - John Keats

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific - and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise -
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Continuing last night's exploration of poetry that looks at other art, we have Keats, talking about the experience he had upon first opening George Chapman's translation of the Iliad.  The structure of the poem is two-fold:  The beginning lines set up a Homeric parallel between Keats and Odysseus, and the ending of the poem recreates the experience by comparing it to an experience of discovery.

In presenting himself as a lost wanderer, who experiences the joys of the world upon opening Chapman's translation, Keats is marking the journey between lost and found.  Once that transition happens, Keats' language suddenly explodes into the realm of the "loud and bold."  He compares the discovery to that of a new planet, which is a momentous and incredible thing to grasp.

The effect of all these comparisons is to express in poetry the wonder of discovering poetry that was previously inaccessible.  Poetry seems to be the right method of expressing this, as it is a joyful form, filled with discovery on the part of the reader.  Really, for me, this is just a breathtaking poem of revelatory joy.  It's like standing at the precipice of a mountain and surveying the incredible horizon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Museum Piece - Richard Wilbur

The good gray guardians of art
Patrol the halls on spongy shoes,
Impartially protective, though
Perhaps suspicious of Toulouse.

Here dozes one against the wall,
Disposed upon a funeral chair.
A Degas dancer pirouettes
Upon the parting of his hair.

See how she spins!  The grace is there,
But strain as well is plain to see.
Degas loved the two together.
Beauty joined to energy.

Edgar Degas purchased once
A fine El Greco, which he kept
Against the wall beside his bed
To hang his pants on while he slept.

The multiple layers of casual disregard for art present in this poem are, to me, its most interesting feature.  In the poem's present tense, we have the museum security guards, who are impartial to the treasures they guard. One dozes up against a chair, presumably also an art piece.  Right above his head spins a famous Degas painting.  Initial outrage at the guard's negligence and failure to appreciate the art right above his head is then superseded by the story about how Degas hung his pants on an El Greco painting.  What Wilbur presents is a cycle of people disregarding art that may have serious expressive power.  As Wilbur notes, the Degas under which the guard sleeps is full of energy, passion, and beauty.  But does that concern the guard?  Not so much.  However, this is nothing new, as Wilbur shows with the Degas anecdote.

What does this mean for those of us in the present?  Well, it makes me consider my desk, and how about it are stacked piles of books, many of them volumes of poetry.  Within each book on my desk are passages that could bring a heart of stone to tears, and yet, here they are, stacked haphazardly.  I, too, am no different than the guard, and in turn, Degas.  It's just how we are, it seems.  We can, on the one hand, appreciate beauty, and on the other, completely ignore it to suit our own needs.  Peculiar.