Friday, April 30, 2010

Last day of April - National Poetry Month

I just finished reading Philip Dacey's The Paramour of the Moving Air. I like most of his very accessible poems which are mostly about familiar American landscape and topics. But included was the following: "Notes of an Ancient Chinese Poet", different from anything I've posted but fascinatingly cross-cultural.

1 When a new emperor
comes to power,
certain old poems quietly
revise themselves.

2. Shave the head
of your poem
lest it like what it sees
too much.

3. Who can write a poem about
blossoms falling in the wind
and mean only
blossoms falling in the wind?

4. Listen to the voice
of each dead poet as if
it were yours.
It is.

5. To say your poems by heart
is to know how a migratory
bird feels flying home.

6. Outside, the wind.
What poem can compete?
The one that strips
away dead thoughts.

7. Tea leaves
in hot water,
words steeped
in silence.

8, Snow on the mountain,
flowers in the valley,
one landscape.
Compose the poem
with icy detachment,
with simple heart.

9. You must learn
to pull the poem
up over your face
as you die.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Brahms and Clara Schumann

A few years ago I read a long biography of Clara Schumann and have been in awe of how she handled a complex life and concertized, had eight children, a husband and son who went mad [whatever that meant back then] and wrote much music and many, many letters.

I've only just found this poem by Lisel Mueller called Romantics, Johannes Brhams and Clara Schumann

The modern biographers worry
"how far it went." their tender-friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers as
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone's eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among the late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them
leaving us nothing to overhear.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Secret Life

A Secret Life

Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don't say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby.
Or you've just made love
and feel you'd rather have been
in a dark booth where your partner
was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
you're brilliant. The secret life
begins early, is kept alive
by all that's unpopular
in you, all that you know
a Baptist, say, or some other
accountant would object to.
It becomes what you'd most protect
if government said you can protect
one thing, all else is ours.
When you write late at night
it's like a small fire
in a clearing. it's what
radiates and what can hurt
if you get too close to it.
It's why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,
the one who'll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing.
A secret life that is important.

This poem is by Steven Dunn and the Brassai photograph is the picture that is today's page in the calendar I keep on the breakfast table which has a different treasure from the Metropolitan Museum of Art each day -- often paintings but also objects, photos, sculptures. I thought there was a nice congruence between the photo and the poem.

Some part of my mind -- probably everyone's minds -- loves noticing congruences, and I suppose many cone together when fine poets are writing and pen images that surprise and make unexpected sense I am thinking of such a thought yesterday: Monday I saw a DVD of Lohengrin Monday, a brilliant production from the Met with the evil Orutrude wearing read, including having flaming red hair [contrasted, of course, to the white clad Elsa and Lohengrin and everybody else in black. Yesterday I saw an excerpt from Orson Wells' MacBeth and immediately -- even though it was B/W only saw Lady M. as very much like Orutrude. That Lohengrin, by the way, had a powerful mythological effect. I was really enchanted, having only heard the music but never seen any production.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How's your conscience?

In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn't know shat scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they'd claim their hands were clean.

A jackal doesn't understand remorse.
Lions and lice don't waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they're right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weight a ton,
in every other way they're light.

On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

People who have been reading this month's poems will recognize the style by now -- Wislawa Szymborska.

Today's newspaper tells me this is the 15th anniversary of the Columbine shootings and also the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting. It says that every day 35 people in the U.S. are killed with guns. How many killers actually are capable of remorse? How do people acquire consciences? Is there a point in early childhood when a conscience can either be nourished or killed? I believe the answer to the last question is yes. How? That's a question I can't answer which needs thought and research.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Poetry under the door

I often feel hardly anyone reads poetry -- then I'm surprised. A poem was slipped under my door yesterday afternoon from what seems an unlikely source. My neighbor, a retired nurse, to whom I'd mentioned the play I saw last week about Auden, had saved a print out of an email since Sept. 13, 2001. The message was simply "this is being distributed by the U.S.state arts agencies" [obviously in response to 9/11] and it touched her so much, apparently, that she saved it and even remembered it was Auden. This is a very nice lady who bakes cookies and gardens and reads best sellers. Here's the poem.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


The local news says that nearly 100 right whales have been counted in local waters, two being a mother and calf. This is wonderful -- better than wonderful because right whales are seriously endangered. There are thought to be fewer than 400 alive -- so a quarter of the world's population are not far out there. It seems some of their favorite munchies grow around here. So you'll pardon me if I print only a small silly poem -- I don't have time this morning to do more serious research for a leviathan poem although I'm sure there must be a few.

What Size Are You?

"I am big," said the monkey.
"I am small," said the snail.
"I am tiny," said the spider.
"I am huge," said the whale.

"We are big," said the childen.
"We are bigger than the snail.
We are bigger than the spider.
But we're smaller than the whale."

by Avelyn Davidson

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Very short poem

What a fresh faced, sweet young man. Most of us know a bearded older man who's been around, well, quite a bit. I've been reading several D.H. Lawrence poems, most have an acid turn and not many are read today. Here's a very short one, but it has some of the [sorry for the pun] fire we expect from Lawrence.


You, you don't know me.
When have your knees ever nipped me
like fire-tongs a life coal
for a minute?

Friday, April 23, 2010

This Be the Verse

Title of the post is the title of the poem -- I've begun to feel things are a little cozy here so --

This Be the Verse by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
They may not mean to but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had,
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn,
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern,
And half at one another's throats.

Men hands on misery to man,
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

This is ringing bells with me today because I just saw a documentary about Mike Tyson. Like many other highly successful young black men [and vastly more unsuccessful, often incarcerated ones] both his family and society had fucked him up big time.

Alan Bennett, The Habit of Art

Poem of the day will be delayed until a later hour. I cannot get Alan Bennett's play The Habit of Art, out of my mind. I believe it is one of the most layered plays I have ever seen [or read]. I will not say it's as deep or long lasting as Shakespeare but it is at least as complex and masterfully done. [The play within the play refers to Caliban and plays on The Tempest.] Several stories are interwoven, several themes played out, and so much about the theatre as a profession is revealed, along with wonderful moments of easy humor, there is even, for humor and to emphasize the randomness and inexplicability of life, an unexplained appearance of a man dressed as a Cossack in winter garb who comes in and sits down, never speaks a word -- what an image! Discussions of art, aging, lust [for boys], long term relationships, all come and go, along with demonstrations of the actor's ego and it's brave, frightened, needy, bullying, vulnerable make-up shown along side Benjamin Britian's need for truth from an old friend who will not kowtow to his fame. I could go on and on -- as with any accomplished piece of art I encounter, be it a play, a novel, a painting, a fine quilt [see my other blog about Nancy Crow], I am enriched by thinking about it and looking at how a brilliant person made something full of meaning and gave me and all his/her audience a wonderful gift. The habit of making art is, as this play shows, a necessity for some but it does not elevate their lives or make them better than they are. As in the play, no one becomes better than they are, but all struggle and sometimes succeed in being very fine.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

W.H. Auden

I discovered, just in time, that the National Theatre of London has begun doing live broadcasts. I caught their 4th, The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett, with Michael Gambon playing W.H Auden. What a total treat for someone who has known the theatre and it's backstage personality tizzies. The play takes place in a rehearsal hall with not only actors but playwright, stage manager, and many others. The story within the story is of a late-in-life meeting of Auden and Benjamin Britain [which I think was fictional]. What a rich script! Not for everyone, far more enjoyable for those of us who know and love the backstage/rehearsal process. Michael Gambon as W.H. Auden was magnificent as a ruined old man [none of Auden's famous wrinkles except when a mask maker brings an unacceptable mask]. People who have trouble with homosexuality would not care for this play -- their loss. Only one woman in the cast, a very strong stage manager who is brilliant. These airings of National Theater productions will continue for another season and maybe much more -- the first in the fall will be a Hamlet. Rejoicing for the technology that makes this and the Met. Opera simulcasts possible.

Here is a short-ish Auden poem [he was a MOST verbose sort of writer and human being]

The Lonely Betters

As I listened from a beach chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and bird.

A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew.
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should be mated.

Not one of them was capable of lying.
There was not one which knew that it was dying.
Or could have with a rhythm or rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.

Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep.
Words are for those with promises to keep.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Special Birthday

I have been flummoxed all day, only part of it wondering what poem might be appropriate to post today. I couldn't find one that is appropriately celebratory but not sentimental and silly. I doubt one has been written on this occasion and I am certainly not up to the task, not today and probably never. How often do poets become great-grandmothers? So many of the female ones don't even have children. The male one -- well ... let's say it's not on their radar even if they are old enough. There is a poem by Grace Paley that is not specifically on this subject, beautifully celebratory but very personal to her and not applicable to me. So, finally I decided that Mary Oliver celebrates all kinds of life and in this one she not only receives and rejoices but gives, receives and rejoices. It seems appropriate by extension.

The Gift

I wanted to thank the mockingbird for the vigor of his song.
Every day hesang from teh rim of the field, while I picked
blueberries or just idled in the sun.
Every day he came fluttering by to show me, and why not,
the white blossoms in his wings.
So one day I went there with a machine, and played some songs
of Mahler.
The mockingbird stopped singing, he came close and seemed
to listen.
Now when I go down to the field, a little Mahler spills
through the sputters of his song.
How happy I am, lounging in the light, listening as the music
floats by.
And I give thanks also for my mind, the thought of giving
a gift.
And mostly I'm grateful that I take this world so seriously.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Szymborska poem

Today another poem by Wislawa Szymborska.

In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn't know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they'd claim their hands were clean.

A jackal doesn't understand remorse.
Lions and lice don't waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they're right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton
in every other way they're right.

On this third planet from the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ponsot poem -- and news gathering

Because I've committed to a poem a day in April, here is a short poem by Marie Ponsot that came from my daily Knopf mailings this month of poems.


No one

is here

right now.

To change the subject: the picture above is [I presume, somehow doctored] one that shows the amount of space junk floating around the earth. The picture has a certain beauty. The reality it represents is seriously awful. Plus I read in the paper a day or two ago that a second vast area of the Pacific has been found to be covered with floating junk, mostly plastic bottles and other kind of plastic debris. Many, many, many square miles of non-degradable junk simply throw into the sea. There are so many things I could say about human thoughtlessness, our pollution of the beautiful sea, the skies above us, our rivers, our air, our earth and the food that goes in and on it ... And very often other people's lives so that only a few feel with Marie Ponsot that bliss is aloneness.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Before she became the serenely severe recluse of our mental pictures, Emily Dickinson, as a younger woman wore her hair much more softly, but an expression far less serene and no less severe, perhaps even somewhat angry. Of the many, many wonders in her huge complete works most of us return to no more than 20 or 30 well known ones. No apologies for one of the best known, and simplest of her works, "Hope"

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sing 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 stranget sea,
Yes, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Another "Lot's Wife"

Wislawa Szymborska's is the longest of these poems. I like it best but I'm an avid Szymborska fan, the turns of her mind always fascinate me.

They say I looked back out of curiosity,
But I could have had other reasons.
I looked back mourning my silver bowl.
Carelessly, while tying my sandal strap.
So I wouldn't have to keep staring at the righteous nape
of my husband Lot's neck.
From the sudden conviction that if I dropped dead
he wouldn't so much as hesitate.
From the disobedience of the meek.
Checking for pursuers.
Struck by the silence, hoping God had changed his mind.
Our two daughters were already vanishing over the hilltop.
I felt age within me. Distance.
The futility of wandering. Torpor.
I looked back not knowing where to set my foot.
Serpents appeared on my path,
spiders, field mice, baby vultures.
They were neither good nor evil now -- every living thing
was simply creeping or hopping along in the mass panic.
I looked back in desolation.
In shame because we had stolen away.
Wanting to cry out, to go home.
Or only when a sudden gust of wind
unbound my hair and lifted up my robe.
It seemed to me that they were watching from the walls of Sodom
and bursting into thunderous laughter again and again.
I looked back in anger.
To savor their terrible fate.
I looked back for all the reasons given above.
I looked back involuntarily.
It was only a rock that turned underfoot, growling at me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lot's Wife, Akhmatova

Yesterday's poem inspired Jonas to post Katherine Kaufman's poem, "Lot's Wife" in the comments -- I urge anyone reading this to go back one post, click comments, and read it because we're on a roll. Kaufman was inspired by Akhmatova's poem which is below. Tomorrow I will post one of the same name by Wislawa Szymborska. Each has a different point of view. I think Lot's wife is a kind of litmus for women poems, I will research whether there are more, I think there might be.

"Lot's Wife" by Anna Akhmatova [translated by StanleyKunitz and Max Hayward]

And the just man trailed God's shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restl late,you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughter blessed your marriage-bed.

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound ...
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concerns?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cities of the Plain, or Dessert

Today's poem is by Kathy Pollitt, "Cities of the Plain"

After he vaporized the pleasure gardens,
The temples of Luck and Mirrors, the striped
Tents of the fortune-tellers,
After he rained down sulfur
On the turquoise bathes, the peacock market,
The street of painted boys,
Obliterated the city, with all its people,
Down to the last stray cat and curious stink,
He missed them. Killing them
Made him want to kill them again --

How cleverly they escaped him,
Hiding in the corners and laughing
Just out of sight!

Being God, he wouldn't permit himself regrets.
There would be other cities, just as wicked.
But none like Sodom, none like Gomorrah.
Probably He has been angry ever since --
Angry and lonely.

Yes, it's a bit heavy handed of me to add a picture of the Las Vegas strip, but both gambling in general and the enormous waste of water resources in that dessert are horrible to me. I know Pollitt is forgiving of human needs and that pin prick to my puritanical attitude is part of the reason I like this poem.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Appreciation of out most basic possession

This morning's poem is "A Note" by Wislawa Szymborska, possibly my favorite poet of all.

Life is the only way
To get covered in leaves,
Catch your breath on the sand,
Rise on wings;

To be a dog,
Or stroke its warm fur.

Or tell pain
From everything it's not;

To squeeze inside events,
Dawdle in views,
To seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
To remember for a moment
A conversation held
With the lamp switched off;

And if only once
To stumble on a stone,
End up soaked in one downpour or another,

Mislay our keys in the grass;
And to follow a spark on the wind with our eyes;

And to keep on not knowing
Something important.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Brief excerpt

This brief excerpt from a poem by Robert Bly seems especially appropriate as spring is awakening the trees.

We did not come to remain whole.

We came to lose our leaves like the trees,

The trees that are broken

And start again, drawing up from the great roots.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Today's poem

Since romance is in the air, here's Doreen Zimmerman's poem "A Page from the Diary of Einstein's Mistress"

He talks in his sleep,
About mass. He's not even
Catholic. My Albert's
got a baby-machine, but
she don't love him like
I do. She pesters him to
comb his hair. I guess
she doesn't see what I see.
People say he's a genius.
They don't know
what a fool he is
for me. Best thing about Albert,
he's got a damn good
imagination. And he ain't
afraid to use it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Native American Music

I must interrupt this month of poem posts to write about Joseph Firecrow, a Native American flautist, a Cheyene who collaborated with Idaho composer, Jim Cockey, and the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra whose conductor is Jung-Ho Pak on a new piece of very programmatic music called "The Gift of the Elk". The ticket for this concert was a Christmas present, somewhat delayed in timing. Mr. Firecrow played three different flutes, sang short bits and drummed; he was a magnificent figure in a white fringed shirt. The music was accompanied by an overhead video/slide show of scenes in the Idaho, Wyoming area including, of course, elk as well as Native people, bison and landscapes. It was definitely not high-brow but the music was lovely and Mr. Firecrow had great presence as well as skill. This was a world premier. And it was an audience pleasure.

Mr Pak does imaginative programming. This concert began with William Grant Still's "From the Black Belt", which was comprised of seven short pieces, and ended with Dvorak's "From the New World" symphony. This was my first hearing of the Cape Cod Symphony and it was a very positive experience, in a very attractive school auditorium packed with people, a big orchestra, a dynamic conductor. With many years of deep involvement with a small city's orchestra in my background, I found this a very encouraging concert as well as good listening. The ethnic diversity is especially exciting in a part of the US where I find a lot of parochialism. I've found, so far, that theatre is pretty bad, art widely varied but mostly not good. But bookstores are good and I'm meeting lively and interesting people at the adult ed academy. Scales tip toward the positive and that's not counting ocean, beaches and neon-less downtowns of the villages.

April Inventory

Is April especially inspiring or am I just noticing the multiplicity of April poems because I'm looking for them? I've found another, too long to quote in its entireity but you get the idea from the first two and last two stanza [it's horrible, isn't it to chop up a poem? Apologies.] This is "April Inventory" by W.D. Snodgrass

The green catalpa tree has turned
All white, the cherry blossoms once more.
In one whole year I haven't learned
A blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.

The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every year,
Bloom gradually out of reach.
The pear tree lets its petals drop
Like dandruff on a tabletop.

. . .
While scholars speak authority
And wear their ulcers on their sleeves,
My eyes in spectacles shall see
These trees procure and spread their leaves.
There is a value underneath
The gold and silver in my teeth.

Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,
We shall afford our costly seasons;
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserve us, not for specialists.

I'm looking for and haven't found, and may have to write it myself, the poem about older women lamenting the beautiful young men who barely glance at them.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Language Problems

Somehow what worked for Jackson Pollock in painting doesn't work when I try to communicate to others. I think poet Richard Hemmings expressed [clearly!!] that problem in the following poem.

Language Problems (you know what I mean?)

Sometimes I try to speak, and hope you hear what I said or better yet,what I wanted to say, but I fear, you heard what you wanted me to say, or worse,
what you were afraid I meant. Perhaps I meant what I said, but wanted to be heard in a different way, and thought, that you would hear what I meant when I
said what I said. Or perhaps, I meant what I thought, and fooled you when I said something entirely different than what you thought I meant, or thought
Telepathy is better? Or, perhaps just silence is best.

Anybody else ever feel that way?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Delilah speaks

"Love Letter"

Dear Samson,
I put your hair
In a jar
By the pear tree
Near the well.
I been thinkin'
over what I done
And I still don't think
God gave you
All the strength
For you to kill
My people.

Love -- Delilah

This little poem by Carole C. Gregory is the first in a book I've long treasured called Women's Love Poetry. The picture is from the movie Samson and Delilah back in the days of my childhood when I believe I saw it in black and white [perhaps it's been given the color treatment since then]. Samson was Victor Mature and Delilah was Hedy Lammar. I thought I'd posted a couple of pretty heavy poems the last couple of days and we could use something lighter -- though the underlying thought is a matter very much alive in world politics today.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

April is the Cruelest Month

Discovery, better late than never! All I remember of Eliot's The Wasteland is the first line, and I blush to say that after all these years since college I had in mind that Ezra Pound wrote it. Finally I went to my Norton Anthology [I'm of the generation that thinks of reference books before I think of Wikipedia] and read the whole thing. Maybe now I understand ... maybe most of it. Anyway it is April and here is the first stanza of this very long, very worth revisiting masterpiece whatever your current age, however long ago you read it, or if you never have read it -- you can go to Wikipedia in a couple keystrokes.

April is the cruelest 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 colonade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour,
Bingar 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.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring, Edna St. Vincent Millay

The poem for the day is by Edna St. Vincent Millay. [Yes, yes, I know, a rhyme does not a poem make]. Since Edna M. was far from a sentimental person, when she wrote a poem called "Spring" she gave us something to chew on.

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty if not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does this signify?
Not only underground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
is nothing,
an empty cup, a flight of uncarpetted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Laurence Olivier, Henry V film

In 1944 when Olivier, young and very handsome, made Henry V as a film, as inexpensively as possible [painted sets are obviously painted], he was cheering on England to once again send soldiers to France. I was a small girl in the Midwest and if I saw any movies it was probably Hopalong Cassidy or Gene Autry. What a discovery, like archeology, to see this film, actually half of this film, today in a Shakespeare on Film class. I haven't read Henry V for a long time. In a couple of weeks we will see the modern Kenneth Branagh version which I loved and still remember the trance of deep sadness I felt as I walked home after seeing a matinee. Our teacher says the two are diametrically opposed in their message about war -- this one inciting and glorifying war [an historical imperative at the time] and the other condemning wars of aggression. [One finds in Shakespeare what one wishes to prove.]

As I walked to the parking lot, thinking about this film as a "discovery", I felt very happy that I have reached this point in my life and continually have new experiences, continually learn new things, have new insights. I know I am not alone. Many people in the room, including an Englishman who had studied Henry V at age 15 and acted Hal at that age, had not realized the film was a contribution to the morale of English in the face of war. Others, Americans like myself, have never thought in broad historical terms about films and their uses. Learning things is one of life's greatest joys. How I wish everyone were open to continual learning and had the opportunities I have.

Nine Lives

"Nine Lives, by Dan Adams

Our cat like to
sleep in a box
filled with photos
and documents --
memories of my

Like the gangster
in the late
late movie --
my past is being ripped
and shredded --
destroyed forever.

he ate the head of
Father Burns --
tore the left arm
off Sister Anthony --
my elementary school

Nice kitty.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Another Monday morning

[One of my many dawn photos]

Poem for today: "Poem About Morning, by William Meredith {first stanza]

Whether it's sunny or not, it's sure
To be enormously complex --
Trees or streets outdoors, indoors whoever you share,
And yourself, thirsty, hungry, washing.
An attitude towards sex.
No wonder half of you wants to stay
With your head dark and wishing
Rather than take it all on again:
Weren't you duped yesterday?
Things are not orderly here, no matter what they say.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


The wild Canadian geese are back but saying wild seems wrong. They act very domestic for they are certainly at home on the lawn beyond my patio. Sometimes Joe, the handyman or general factotum here, decides to chase them away. He runs at them and they gabble at him and scuttle about without panic. It looks like a game. Sometimes Joe carries a quart bottle of water [maybe it's mixed with ammonia] to make them take him more seriously. They don't. They leave their dropping generously all over the grass which is not pretty but it dries rapidly and looks like so many long ashes from cigarettes. The green grass has shot up taller than the brown matt of old winter grass, here and there short dandelions button the whole lawn together, the myrtle along the edge of the building has purple flowers and the forsythia by my bedroom window is a fountain of golden blooms. Spring will come and go all this month changing often from golden to gray to golden again.

For a bit of poetry today, here are the first
and last lines of Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese" -- there's much more. I recommend hat ireading the whole thing.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the dessert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
. . .
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Today's poem

Today's poem is by Tess Gallagher called "I Stop Writing the Poem"

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Another poem

I become a proselytizing missionary during National Poetry Month because I so strongly believe that not enough people read poetry and that many would enjoy it if sufficiently exposed to it. So I plan to read Szymborska's "The Terrorist He is Watching" to my writing class, not because it has anything to do with today's discussion but because I mentioned it last week when a man wrote a brief dialog on an airplane with a terrorist and because I love introducing people to this wonderful poet. It's too long to post here. So I will post James K. Baxter's short poem, "High Country Weather"

Alone we are born
and die alone.
yet see the gold-red cirrus
over the snow-mountain shine.

Upon the upland road
ride easy, stranger,
surrender to the sky
your heart of anger.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. I will try to post a number of poems that are not ones most people have run into, at least not often. Today it's "Riding Lesson" by Henry Taylor.

I learned two things
from an early riding teacher.
He held a nervous filly
in one hand and gestured
with the other, saying: "Listen,
Keep one leg on one side,
the other leg on the other side,
and our mind in the middle."

He turned and mounted.
She took two steps, then left
the ground, I thought for good.
But she came down hard, humped
her back, swallowed her neck
and threw her rider as you would
throw a rock. He rose, brushed
his pants and caught hisG breath,
and said, "See that's the way
to do it. When you see
they're going to throw you, get off."