Stuff and Nonsense: poetry

Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts


Favorite Poems & Poets: Joy Harjo

When I was an undergrad, I was lucky enough to hear Joy Harjo speak at my college. I was so moved by her words and use of language that I immediately went out and bought three of her poetry collections. Her poems are beautiful yet cryptic and, reading them, I always feel I am skimming the bare surface of meaning.

Today I'm sharing excerpts from two poems. The first is "The Woman Hanging From The Thirteenth Floor Window," a poem from She Had Some Horses. It's about a woman contemplating her life -- should she break loose and fall or climb back up and reclaim herself? The second is "Perhaps the World Ends Here," from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky. It's, ostensibly, a poem about a kitchen table but is also a big ol' metaphor for life.
"The Woman Hanging From The Thirteenth Floor Window"

She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor
window. Her hands are pressed white against the
concrete moulding of the tenement building. She
hangs from the 13th floor window in east Chicago,
with a swirl of birds over her head. They could
be a halo, or a storm of glass waiting to crush her.

She thinks she will be set free.
Please click here to read the rest of the poem.
"Perhaps the World Ends Here"

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
My extract doesn’t start at the poem's beginning nor does it end at the poem's end. Click here to read it in full.

And here's a (longish) video of Joy Harjo talking at the 2013 Chicago Humanities Festival about her family and other things:


Favorite Poems & Poets: Judy Grahn

I discovered Judy Grahn waaaay back when I was a 90s-era college freshman, lurking in the library stacks, looking for something I couldn't begin to articulate. Like many people of that age and time, I was full of unfamiliar stirrings and oh-so-many FEELS but had no cultural, religious, or emotional frame to hang them on.

I was a bookish girl, you know. All my life, whenever I couldn't find the words to explain the world, books were there to help me. And I quite legitimately expected books would help me with the Big Queer Feels.

So I stumbled my way through reams of poetry and feminist essays until I found a version of myself and the world that felt "true." And Judy Grahn was a big part of that. First with her Another Mother Tongue and then, later, with her poetry.

In hindsight, it is clear I sometimes had no real understanding of what I read, but the words she chose ... the righteous tone of her arguments ... made me feel like I was part of something magnificent. That my feelings had a natural place in the universe and that the universe was not the narrow construct I feared it was.

So here's Ani Difranco (also a huge part of my coming to terms with all the Big Queer Feels) reading Grahn's "Detroit Annie, Hitchhiking" from The Work of a Common Woman. Happy National fucking Poetry Month, people.


The White Cat & The Monk: A Retelling of the Poem "Pangur Bán"

I first encountered Pangur Bán as a character in the animated film The Secret of Kells (just a lovely, lovely work more people should see), ended up googling a madly about the actual Book of Kells, Irish monasteries, illuminated manuscripts, and ... oh, just all sorts of things.

Eventually, this wandering about the internet led me to a sweet piece of marginalia called “Pangur Bán,” a lovely poem written by an Irish monk about his cat. There’s a whole Wikipedia entry for it, if you’re interested. So, when I saw Bogart and Smith’s The White Cat and The Monk on display in Children’s, it should come as no surprise that I immediately made away with it.

The White Cat and The Monk is a quiet and yet joyous little story suitable for readers of all ages. Smith’s serene watercolor and ink illustrations, in gentle shades of grey and brown with splashes of the palest, softest candlelight yellow (artfully broken up by a bold yet judicious use of gem colors on the manuscript pages), are well worth a second, third, even forth glance. It’s the kind of book I’d give both my (cat-loving) mother and my (cat-loving) college roommate’s (equally cat-loving) six-year-old son.

The White Cat & The Monk: A Retelling of the Poem "Pangur Bán" w/ text adapted by Jo Ellen Bogart & illus by Sydney Smith (Groundwood Books, 2016)


Seasonal Reads: Poems Bewitched & Haunted

Poems Bewitched and Haunted is a great seasonal collection, perfectly sized for carrying around and inflicting on other people around Halloween. The book is divided into eight sections covering everything from hags to humor. Poets include the obvious (Poe) and the unexpected (Homer). It’s unfortunate this collection isn’t available in audio as I found many of the poems were at their creepy best when read aloud. (Yes, I sat in my darkened living room and read poetry to my cats. Doesn't everyone?) Everyman Library also has two related works -- Poems Dead and Undead and Killer Verse: Poems of Murder and Mayhem -- I will need to check out!

Poems Bewitched and Haunted (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets) edited by John Hollander (Everyman’s Library, 2005)


"They went with songs to the battle ..."

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncountered:
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

~ excerpted from "For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon


Daffodils Are For Poetry

Of course, all the daffodils springing up everywhere put me in mind of poetry. There's the obvious one we all read in school -- Wordsworth's "Daffodils," of course:
I wander'd lonely as a cloud
  That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
  A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
  And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
  Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
But I 'm rather fond of A.A. Milne's "Daffodowndilly" from When We Were Very Young:
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
   She wore her greenest gown;

She turned to the south wind
   And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
   And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
   "Winter is dead."
And there's always good ol' A.E. Housman to cheer us with his "The Lent Lily:"
And since till girls go maying
  You find the primrose still,
And find the windflower playing
  With every wind at will,
  But not the daffodil,

Bring baskets now, and sally
  Upon the spring’s array,
And bear from hill and valley
  The daffodil away
  That dies on Easter day.
Although he must be using a shedload of poetic license, because I've never known daffodils to fade at Easter.


April Is For Poetry: On the Day of Nixon's Funeral

While we were admiring daffodils at a park this afternoon, I spotted some ferns all tightly furled and I remembered this poem by Ira Sadoff. Well, I didn't remember it was by Sadoff, but I remembered "embryonic / fiddleheads, fuzzy and curled" and Google worked its usual magic.

Furled Ferns

                                                                 You can see why
I'd want to bury this man whose blood would not circulate,

whose face was paralyzed, who should have died
in shame and solitude, without benefit of eulogy or twenty-one
gun salutes. I want to bury him in Southern California
with the Birchers and the Libertarians. I want to look out

my window and cheer the remaining cedars
that require swampy habitats to survive. To be done
with shame and rage this April afternoon, where embryonic
fiddleheads, fuzzy and curled and pale as wings,

have risen to meet me. After all, they say he was a scrappy man,
wily and sage, who served as Lucifer, scapegoat, scoundrel,
a receptacle for acrimony and rage — one human being
whose life I have no reverence for, which is why I'm singing now.
Extract from "On the Day of Nixon's Funeral" from Grazing by Ira Sadoff. Click here to read it in full.

Furled Ferns


April is for Poetry: A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman

To my knowledge, I’d never intentionally read any A.E. Housman so I was surprised that some of his poems were already familiar to me -- "1887 (I)" and "When I was one-and-twenty (XIII)" were both poems I had encountered before, though I couldn’t tell you where. In one of those chunkster Norton anthologies we used in college, perhaps? I want to blame it on Anne Shirley, but she can't be responsible for all the old-school poetry cluttering up my head!

A Shropshire Lad is a collection of sixty-three poems, many of which deal with death and/or the loss of love. A Shropshire Lad has a distinctly pastoral setting and features some rather beautiful language, but there's little sweetness or lightness to it:

I hoed and trenched and weeded,
And took the flowers to fair:
I brought them home unheeded;
The hue was not the wear.

So up and down I sow them
For lads like me to find,
When I shall lie below them,
A dead man out of mind.

Some seed the birds devour,
And some the season mars,
But here and there will flower
The solitary stars,

And fields will yearly bear them
As light-leaved spring comes on,
And luckless lads will wear them
When I am dead and gone.

Wadsworth’s “Daffodils” these aren't.

Unfortunately, there’s a certain numbing repetition to the collection, beautiful language or no, and I found my attention wandering at points: "Yes, youth is transitory. Yes, death is a sad business. I wonder if I should do some laundry? 'But here and there will flower / The solitary stars.' Oh, that’s a pretty image! What poem is this again?"

Now, of course, I didn’t actually read any of these poems, but listened to them on audio. I find it harder, now that I am years out of school, to seamlessly slide into a poem “just” by reading it, but audio books work really well for me. I have no idea if Samuel West's accent is properly Shropshire, but his voice and reading style suit the poems well. He reads easily, cleanly, and with conviction -- he doesn’t sound like he’s reading someone else’s poems so much as speaking from his own heart. Is it any wonder he was an Earphones Award Winners in 2011 for A Shropshire Lad?

I couldn't find any samples of West reading Housman to post here, but do want to share this reading by Diana Dors of "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now" (II).

A Shropshire Lad - Housman - read by Diana Dors by TheChrisGregory

A Shropshire Lad written by A.E. Housman & read by Samuel West (Naxos AudioBooks, 2011)


My Favorite Poems, Let Me Show You Them

April is National Poetry Month so I thought I would (randomly) share some of my favorite poems with you. I'm starting with a poem by Billy Collins as I've enjoyed his poetry ever since I heard him on A Prairie Home Companion. I own three of his poetry collections -- Sailing Alone Around the Room, The Trouble with Poetry, and Ballistics -- and plan to own a fourth, Horoscopes for the Dead, very soon. I think he's a great gateway poet for people who think they do not like poetry, because poetry is obscure, pretentious stuff fit only for bookish types. His poems are charming, witty, and very approachable. His sound recording, The Best Cigarette, is a good place to start.

Today, I'm sharing "The Country" from his collection, Nine Horses: Poems. I'm not sharing the full poem (copyright, y'know), but it's all in the video.
I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?

And here's a TED2012 talk by Collins:


Feeling Maudlin: I Got the Adrienne Rich Blues

The summer between by freshman and sophomore years of college, I took a class at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. It was called something like “Literature and the Sea” and we read, among other things, Moby Dick, Far Tortuga, Sailing Alone Around the World, and poems by James Merrill and Adrienne Rich.

I was an literature student and a lover of books ... I’d read my share of poetry and I’d been moved by many of them, but until I read Rich’s "Diving Into The Wreck," I never felt a poem was speaking directly to me. To the deepest, most isolated, most confused part of me. I knew that wreck. I knew the mermaid. I had read the book of myths.

As with, no doubt, many college students, I had been going through an intense period of inner upheaval and felt adrift in life. I didn’t know where I fit in the order of things or how to fit in or if I even wanted to fit. I felt like I was continually pushing against boundaries no-one else was bound by and I was full of a deep, miserable loneliness.

So, yes, "Diving Into The Wreck" could not have come at a better time -- a whole new way of seeing and being in the world opened up to me. Seriously, it is a profoundly beautiful poem that still makes my heart ache when I read it.

My extract doesn’t start at the poem's beginning nor does it end at the poem's end. Go here to read it (or listen to it!) in full.
There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

You can also hear Rich read her poem via SoundCloud:


"Blossom by blossom the spring begins."

Crocus Sieberi Tricolor
For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins. 
from "Atalanta in Calydon" by Algernon Charles Swinburne


"What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?"

Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest;
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored;
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before;
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye,
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

-- excerpted from "
The Pumpkin" by John Greenleaf Whittier


Dirge for Two Veterans

The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music;
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.

~ excerpted from "Dirge for Two Veterans" by Walt Whitman


Love to the Harvest Moon

Pumpkin Patch
I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
-- excerpted from "Theme in Yellow" by Carl Sandburg


"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
     Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
     And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

            -- excerpted from "To Autumn" by John Keats
Autumn in the Lake District, 2003


Poetry For Your Pocket

I'm a sucker for prettily-packaged books. Show me a book with French flaps, deckle edges, ribbon markers, and embossed or stamped jackets and I'm bound to lust after it. This is certainly true of Everyman Library's Pocket Poet series -- these perfectly elegant hand-sized volumes with their beautifully illustrated covers, gold embellishments, and woven silk ribbon markers pretty much make me swoon.

Currently, there are more than sixty volumes in this series covering everything from animal poems to Zen poetry. One of my favorite anthologies in this series is Love Speaks Its Name, a beautiful collection of gay and lesbian love poetry, which includes Amy Levy's "At a Dinner Party" and William Meredith's "Tree Marriage" -- two poems which move me very much.

Anyway, being in the mood for poetry, I brought Poems of the Sea and Garden Poems home from the library a few weeks ago:

Poems of the Sea (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets) Selected & Edited by J.D. McClatchy (Knopf, 2001)

Grouped around eleven headings ranging from "Sea Fever" to "Wrecks of the Sea" this collection is a good mix of classic and contemporary poetry. Much of it is familiar class-room stuff -- "The Wreck of the Hesperus", "Annabel Lee," "Dover Beach," among others -- but there are also some interesting and unexpected gems such as Merwin's "Leviathan."

Garden Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets) Selected & Edited by John Hollander (Knopf, 1996)

Laid out similar to Sea Poems, but around headings ranging from "Paradises" and "Gardens of Love" to "Ruined Gardens." Again, lots of familiar poems and poets, but also some surprises. Certainly, I didn't expect to see anything by Matthew Arnold in a collection of garden poems, but there he is with "Lines Written in Kensington Garden."


Happy Størmer-Heegner-Mills Anniversary

 I love you
   because the earth turns round the sun
   because the North wind blows north
   because the Pope is Catholic
     and most Rabbis Jewish
   because winters flow into springs
     and the air clears after a storm
   because only my love for you
     despite the charms of gravity
     keeps me from falling off this Earth
     into another dimension
I love you
   because it is the natural order of things

            ~ excerpt from "Resignation" by Nikki Giovanni


June Roses

And now the old world holds high holiday
And pranks herself in garments brave and gay;
June roses burst from folded buds of May;
The air is full of perfume and blithe birds' lay.

"The Dance of Death" 
Mrs. Jane [Goodwin] Austin 


Meaningless Versification

In Unseen Academicals, the goddess Pedestria inspires a chant based upon the poem "Brahma" by Emerson. Pedestria is in good company as this poem has spawned many parodies since its publication. Indeed, the New York Times called this poem "such an exquisite piece of meaningless versification, that no sooner is it read than the desire to parody it becomes irresistible" (November 12, 1857).
IF the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanish'd gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

"Brahma" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)