Saturday, April 30, 2011

Last Day of National Poetry Month

"You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything.
The darkness that comes with every infinite fall
And the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing,
And are raised to the rank of prince
By the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what you love to see are the faces
That do work and feel thirst.

You love most of all those who need you
As they need a crowbar or a hoe.

You have not grown old, and it is not too late
To dive into your increasing depths
Where life calmly gives out its own secret."

This poem was given to me years ago by someone trying to convince me to read Rilke. He was successful. I don't know the name of this poem. The last stanza says very much what the Stanley Kunitz poem in the sidebar says. The depths of life hide much, much more.

On a slightly different subject: I saw a documentary yesterday called Boy Interrupted about a boy who showed signs of depression and/or bipolar disease as early as age five. He committed suicide at 15; his father's brother had had the same disease and killed himself at 21. It was a sensitive, probing film, there was a little talk of brain studies and almost none of genetics. The question that remains is about the depths of the mind and that so much is yet unknown despite the various "advances" -- the technological understanding.
Unlike Rilke's line, when life gives out it's secret it is not always "calm." Sometimes, for some people, despite how they are cared for by those around them, the secrets in the depths are too painful to bear and what sad excuses exist for medications are both inadequate and cruel.

I gave a ride home to an older gentleman who spoke of a grandson who committed suicide last winter, a promising, brilliant young man who had had no symptoms of mental distress that his family had seen. The grandfather, who is partly handicapped and live in an assisted living community, said he felt he was more deeply affected by the loss than the young man's mother. Perhaps, in a way he was, as he has fewer other distractions and a closer personal relationship with death. ... Negative notes on which to end a celebration of poetry but good poetry covers the spectrum and speaks to whatever comes up in the randomness of our experience as I have attempted to say with comments about the poems this whole month.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Penultimate day of National Poetry Month

A Note

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 follow a spark on the wind with our eyes,

and keep on not knowing
something important.

For this next to last day of the month a poem by one of my half dozen most, most favorite poets, Wislawa Szymborska. I was happy to see someone posted some new photos of her on Wikipedia -- or I should say different. This one probably shows a younger woman than the rather stiff one I've seen most often before. There are several now on the site and I enjoyed seeing them a few minutes ago.

I think I am going to make copies of this one to give to my writing class this morning. It is the last class of the spring semester and I wish I knew how to make a zine because I would put in a couple poems and some quotes about writing. I know it's only a matter of looking at a good tutorial and following the steps but I just haven't done it yet. Maybe over the summer I'll teach myself.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ming Bowl

Masterworks of Ming

Ming, Ming,
such a lovely
thing blue
and white

bowls and
basins glow
in museum

they would
be lovely
filled with
rice or

so nice
to dinner

or washing
a daughter

a small
of course
since it's
a small basin

first you
would put
one then

the other
end in.

Kay Ryan wrote this meditation on a precious ancient bowl. [The one in the picture is upside down to show the design.] Ryan's brief poems, laid out so thoughtfully, have a way of sticking in the mind so that when I see a Ming style bowl -- or maybe the real thing in a museum -- I will think of washing a small girl child in it.

National poetry month is nearly over. A lot of nice poems have come my way this month, and I've tried to spread some around. I read recently a lament, by a poet, that no one buys poetry books except poets -- I think that's mostly true. But of the many things people profess they love, lovers of poetry seem especially passionate. Although I think the writer must not know many of that male species called the sports addict. I think poetry loves cannot be compared to sports addicts, only contrasted.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Another Jane Hirschfield poem

For Horses, Horseflies

We know nothing of the lives of others.
Under the surface, what strange desires,
what rages, weaknesses, fears.

Sometimes it breaks into the daily paper
and we shake our heads in wonder --
"Who would behave in such a way?" we ask.

Unspoken the thought, "Let me not be tested."
Unspoken the thought, "Let me not be known."

Under the surface something that whispers,
"Anything can be done."

For horses, horseflies. For humans, shame.

Sometimes, says she, it breaks into the paper. I just read in today's paper about two girls who assaulted another girl [who they knew to be transgendered] in a MacDonald's restroom [saying she was a he and didn't belong there]. They beat the girl, dragged her into the restaurant and only stopped when an older woman intervened. I'm glad they were arrested for assault. Their actions are shameful and disgusting. Also shameful and disgusting -- of the patrons in the restaurant, none interceded for a while and immediately began filming the assault on his [or her] cell phone and immediately published it on the Internet.

The combination of video capable cell phones and immediate publication of those videos has made it difficult for many public incidents to go unrecorded. It has also made many people active users of society's violence for their own satisfactions -- they can then tell everyone they meet, "I'm the one that caught it on my cell and published it," no doubt feeling righteous and proud. Have we created a species of horseflies buzzing around public events who feel no shame?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011



Some men never think of it.
You did. You'd come along
And say you'd nearly brought me flowers
But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts --
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought
I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But,look, the flowers you nearly bought
Have lasted all this while.

This poem by Wendy Cope arrived in the mail yesterday. The note also told me that Wendy Cope was discussed as a candidate for Britain's poet laureate in 2009 but made a public statement that she would not accept because she believed the position ought to be discontinued. Her rhymes are so integral they make me smile.

I have almost totally discontinued buying cut flowers because of the idea of killing something for brief, selfish pleasure. As a moral stance this makes only limited sense. A great many people depend upon the flower industry for their livelihood and, of course, flowers are plants and not creatures with minds and feelings. Still I prefer potted plants and have, in vases, at the moment only pieces of plants, i.e., some pussy willows and some eucalyptus stems [for the scent]

I've just noticed that the shrub outside my window beside the forsythia is a pussy willow and I suspect it was planted there by someone sticking cut stalks into the ground. I think I may do that with the pussy willows I now have. On a morning after a rainy night I'm sure they could be shoved into the ground near the one already there ...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Poem

Three Lilies

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in
the morning. Psalm 30

Before dawn, under a thin moon disappearing
east, the planet Mercury, the messenger
and healer, came up vanishingly
into the blue beyond the garden where
three lilies at the bottom of the yard
arrayed white trumpets on iron stalks
under a slow, slow lightning from the sun.
I stood on a rotten step myself,
and smelled them from a hundred feet away.

This poem by Brooks Haxton was the one sent yesterday by Knopf which sends a poem a day during National Poetry Week to those who have signed up to receive them -- as I did three years ago. I love having poem arrive every morning. Many are new to me, many of the poets as well are ones I don't know. I believe they have sent this poem on a previous Easter. Although I don't celebrate Easter the poem, without even mentioning the day or celebration is perfect.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

First Birthday Party

A Little Tooth

Your baby grow a tooth, then two,
and four and five, then she want some meat
directly from the bone. It's all

over, she'll learn some words, she'll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter' tall.

Thomas Lux's summary of life as a parent is today's poem because yesterday we had a small birthday party for Phineas Cade and I thought at one point such a big name for such a little boy -- of course he's called Finn. Oh, did I mention he's my great-grandson...

I was thinking also at one point of the book I mentioned in the previous post about attention. Finn had no idea it was a party for him, even if there were some new toys. He moved from one curiosity to another: toy, fruit salad, the dog's toy, one grown-up to another, wrapping paper, green icing on a cupcake ... total attention until distracted. And the grown ups talked about this and that and watched the baby and his 4 year old cousin who needed not much watching but wanted attention too. Pictures were taken and I thought of a picture from his grandmother's first birthday party, which she now remembers only as that one old black and white picture. Lux's summary is every summary from tooth to tall.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Green in the marshes

The First Green of Spring

Out walking int he swamp picking cowslip, marsh marigold
this sweet first green of spring. Now sauteed in a pan melting
top a deeper green than ever alive, this green, this life,

harbinger of things to come. Now we sit at the t table munching
on this message from the dawn which says we and the world
are alive again today; and this is the world's birthday. And

even though we know we are growing old, we are dying, we
will never be young again, we also know we are right here
now, today, and my oh my, don't these greens taste good?

David Budbill

I didn't mean to post two poems on Thursday but did and so yesterday didn't post an additional one.

I am reading a book called Rapt by Winifred Gallagher which is about paying attention -- close, sometimes enraptured attention -- to things. That, of course, is what so many poets do, that is the point of the last line. Gallagher says studies suggest that as people get older they learn to pay closer attention to the things that make everyday life a pleasure -- partly because older people have passed the stage of high ambition that young people have, and also do not have the acute distraction of a full house of kids and and family concerns. This is, of course, a broad generalization, but I think there is truth in it -- at least if the person has avoided getting glued to the distractions of television and dependence upon media input for his/her stimulation.

The oldest member of my writing class often writes 400 word pieces that are very incisive with a few carefully observed details that are like shiny, but not glitzy, jewels perfectly capturing the attention. Yesterday it was mention of jonquils beside the mail box and I see them still. She has a poet's economy of narration.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Right Whales

Whales Weep Not!
by D. H. Lawrence

They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains
the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.

All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge
on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs.
The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers
there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of
the sea!

This is the beginning of a long poem by D.H. Lawrence -- Google surprises me so often. I had no idea Lawrence would have written about whales. I went looking for whale poems although I read two very fine ones last fall -- "The Wellfleet Whale" by Stanley Kunitz [a poem the class teacher, Steven Blooom thinks one of the great American poems -- and he may be right] and also a poem about a young whale, seen in the same Cape Cod Bay by Mark Doty. Both are long poems and need to be read whole.

I am thinking of whales because I am trying to feel their presence. Yesterday one news report said 30 had been spotted in the Atlantic off Cape Cod and then I think I heard that the number had been raised to 100. These whales seem to swim up this way each spring and probably then go on north along the Canadian coast. Right whales are seriously endangered, 100 would be a notable proportion of those believed to exist today.

To know they are somewhere out there feels to me as it must feel to live on the Kamakatcha Peninsula and know that the last Amur tigers are someplace out there in the forest. I don't know if it's a quirk of my imagination or if other people sometimes have an imaginative awareness of things they knew exist but cannot see.

Bobcats, Beetles, Owls

The time is early spring, dusk, Jane Hirschfield captures not just a moment or memory, a deeper meaning in what is momentary.

Bobcats, Beetles, Owls

We stood in the dark outside a door
and talked in the scent of jasmine.

Thee women standing at the foot of -- what?
One mountain of three lifetimes' lucks and losses,
the other actual and breathing above us in the dark.

The year's new leaves and grasses were resting all around us,
somewhere above us deer were sleeping.
Bobcats, beetles and owls were sleeping.

We spoke of neither mountain.
We breathed in the scene of jasmine between words
whose meaning didn't matter.
Only the murmur mattered going on.

It was night. Deer slept, and bobcats.
Our lives paused with us in the doorway, waiting.

About some poems I can say nothing except that I know what the poet is saying but cannot say it in different word.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Homing Geese

Mary Oliver, my favorite nature poet writes about the return of the Canadian geese:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air
are heading home again.
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.

I am waiting for our lawn full of geese to come home. Two have sporadically appeared but maybe they have settled somewhere semi-wild to raise a family. I don't know. This is such a day as Oliver describes, some sun and "clear pebbles of rain" -- a new way for me to look at the world in which I live, one of the wonderful gifts of a poet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


The Boston Marathon had a gorgeous day yesterday -- often not the case. The following poem was written about the NYC Marathon but the thoughts are the same.

They run
by the thousands
through canyons
over bridges
through the park.
News cameras look down from helicopters.
People look out tall windows
lean over high balconies
line the crowded streets.

They run
like once the bison ran over the Badlands
the wildebeast still run through the savanahs
fabled lemmings run over cliffs into the sea
heroes ran the mountains in ancient Attica.

As they run
many thousand feet pound softly
their breathing is a mass sign in a city
accustomed to sirens' screams.
The crowds' cheers drift softly to the sky,
Newscasters' chatter circles the globe.

They have been running
Alone or in packs of two or three or a few
for months, years. They leave
behind home, wife, husband, children.
Silence is enough for many,
Some search for "the zone."

They run
to win, or beat a record, or follow heroes,
to prove something, "because it's there,"
"to do it once,"
to be, this one day, lost in the herd,
part of something big and beautiful
massive and magnificent
independent individuals
who trained and paid and stayed the course.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A book addict - yours truly

I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
Dr. Seuss

I can read in red. I can read in blue.
I can read in pickle color too.
I can read in bed, and in purple. and in brown.
I can read in a circle and upside down!
I can read with my left eye. I can read with my right.
I can read Mississippi with my eyes shut tight!

There are so many things you can learn about.
But…you'll miss the best things
If you keep your eyes shut.
The more that you read, the more things you will know
The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.

If you read with your eyes shut you're likely to find
That the place where you're going is far, far behind
SO…that's why I tell you to keep your eyes wide.
Keep them wide open…at least on one side.

Yes, a bit of Dr. Seuss this morning. I love books. I've never regretted spending money for books -- except when I inadvertently bought one I already had. I'm sad that so many Borders Bookstores are going out of business, including the one near me which I enjoyed. It's been gradually closing for several weeks. I bought several books at 40% off a few weeks ago. [Two of which I've already read.] Yesterday as I was going to a grocery store I noticed the "Last Days 90% off" sign. There'll be nothing worth getting, I thought. But somehow my car turned itself into their parking lot and my feet went walking into the vast, nearly empty space with sparse shelves of books in one corner.

To condense an hour of browsing -- I'm a good browser whether in a bookstore, a department store, the Goodwill Store -- I had an armful of books, hardbacks and paper backs, some by authors I love like Oliver Sacks, Ian McEwan, John McPhee, Terry Tempest Williams. I had Dinaw Mengestu's new book [I loved his first book]. I had a book by Tony Hiss [I remembered a positive review] and I had seven other books that intrigued me -- a dozen in all. Heaven knows I don't need more books, I've got plenty to read ... but 90% off! For the dozen books I paid a $24 and change. The sales slip said at the bottom [I love the ones that do this!] "You saved $206.42". I'm still smiling. Which will I read first? What about the ones I had thought I might read next? Oh my, what a wonderful problem.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gerard Manley Hopkins praises Spring


Nothing is so beautiful as Spring --
When weeds in wheels, shoots long and lovely and lush
Thrush's eggs look like little heavens, and thrush
Though the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
the ear, it strikes like lightening to hear him sing.
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue, that blue is all in a rush
With richness. The lambs have too their fling.

What is all this juice, this joy?

Hopkins' rich use of language, and in this case the end rhymes, always amaze me.

The photo above is "my" forsythia, the one outside my bedroom window whose buds I watched waiting for a couple of weeks. These are not particularly graceful or pretty flowers up close. But from across the lawn -- and they have burst into color in many lawns these last few days -- they are a gobs of gold brightening days, like this one, when the sky is very low and an unbroken covering of gray.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Salamander watching

I have been reading a lot of poetry this month, often looking for poems short enough to post here. Of the shorter ones, very often I find they are thoughtful descriptions of a moment, something seen or noticed. I suppose this kind of poem has a category name but I don't know what it is. I think it's the kind of poem most often written by people who write occasional poems as I mostly write -- we just don't want to forget something we observed, sometimes just what it looked or felt like, sometimes the lesson it seem to embody. I've been writing a sort of poem [sort of because I don't know if they are poems or just thoughts and observations] each evening this month. Usually they are this sort of thing, mostly a way to find a few words to relate a small bit of the day.

Here is Hayden Carruth's "Forty-Five"

When I was forty-five I lay for
springtime water, and and watched
the salamanders coupling, how they drifted lazily
their little hands floating before them,
aimlessly in and out of the shadows, fifteen
or twenty of them, and suddenly two
would dart together and clasp
one another belly to belly
the way we do, tender and vigorous, and then
would let go and drift away
at peace, lazily,
in the green pool that was their world
and for a while was mine.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Secret Life

Contrary to the picture -- thee's no pictures to llustrate keeping secrets -- today's poem by Stephen Dunn is about keeping them.

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 child.
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 the government said you can protect
one thig, all else is ours.
When you write late at night
it's like a small fire
in a clearly, 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 you'll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing,
a secret life is thatimportnat.

Why this poem today? Because it says something briefly that none of the pop psychology books even touch on as far as I know. And because I found myself talking to a seat mate on an hour-long bus ride, to and fro. Talking and making choices how much to say, how much to ask as one always does with a congenial stranger you might run into in the future ... by which time the name will be forgotten but not the face and not the few facts offered each to the other.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Emily Dickinson

One of Emily Dickinson's more positive poems.

I shall keep singing!
Birds will pass me
On their way to Yellower Climes --
each -- with a Robin's expectation --
I -- with my Redbreast --
and my Rhymes.

Late -- when I take my place in summer --
but -- I shall bring a fuller tune --
Vespers -- are sweeter than Matins -- Signore --
Morning -- only the seed of Noon.

Sometimes I am amazed at very simple events that, given what our American lifestyle is like, step outside the stereotypical patterns. Eating dinner with daughter and son-in-law last night, we talked of, and read poetry as we ate the delicious chicken pot pie. It started with "You are old, Father William," went onto a couple others from an anthology and then to "Dover Beach" and then moved on to more every day concerns. Surely this sort of thing occurred at some dinner tables last night. But how many? How few?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rainy Morning

Poem About Morning

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
Am attitude toward 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?

But the clock goes off, if you have a dog
It wags, if you get up now you'll be less
Late. Life is some kind of loathsome hag
Who is forever threatening to turn beautiful.
Now she gives you a quick toothpaste kiss
And puts a glass of cold cranberry juice,
Like a big fake garnet, in your hand.
Cranberry juice! You're lucky, on the whole,
But there is a great deal about it you don't understand.

This poem by William Meredith captures a feeling I think is familiar to a lot of people, but not specifically to me. I especially like being surprised at the end [the italics are his] from the cranberry juice onward.

It is one of those mornings when I awoke thinking, Was that thunder and lightening?" It was. And the swish on the window was rain and wind. Maybe it will be like this all day. Fine. I have plenty to keep me indoors.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I awoke to this beautiful sunrise last week but the last few days I've looked out at a misty, foggy, scene, romantic as the sunrise but in a different mood entirely. Maybe a cliche, but I immediately remember one of the first poems I memorized in the early eons of my life. Carl Sandburg's poem that perhaps others use as a touchstone for foggy days as well.


The fog comes
in on little cat feet.

It sits lovely
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
then it moves away.

Forgive me if I've misremembered any part of it. I think we all live our lives with certain metaphors we picked up from poetry and have forgotten both poem and poet but forever remember the metaphor.

Monday, April 11, 2011


She's Eve (a walking poem)

Shrouded in black,
she hops after
the dark seeds
encased in apple flesh.
She stands and caws
one foot gripping
apple skin.
Her beak pokes,
bring up
a sweet offering.
Awkward effort
to retrieve
the pebbles
at the core.
Black tear drops
she has never shed.

by Mario Milosevic

Even inside, through the windows I hear them from trees across the road, sometimes across two roads. Lately I've heard mostly one refrain, "caw-caw-caw" but right now as I write, they repeat many, many more caws. I don't think they count but it must be a code, five caws is a different message than the usual three. I suspect the rhythm too has meaning, how quickly one follows the other, maybe even in terms of nano-seconds. In every country I've ever traveled to I've seen and heard them. Yes, this morning they are saying more than usual, I hear different tones of voice right now, different rhythm, different patterns. Morning is a busy time for crows.

Enough. You have your crows too and I presume you sometimes listen.

I was delighted yesterday to hear from Ronni Barrett of Time Goes By, click my sidebar. On Ronni's left hand sidebar in a box you will see "The Elder Story Telling Place" -- click it and you will find a short story I sent in. It's not up yet [which is to say 7:50 am EST, but will be when Ronni gets to her blog today. I think it will be there all week but if not, it will be on the sidebar of that page. The name is "Intruder". I crave readers! This is my caw-caw-caw to you to come see.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Redwood trees

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm thing,
this clutter of soup pots and books ---

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

This poem by Jane Hirshfield came to mind a little while ago when reading an article in today's NYTimes about a group who are planting small sprouts of redwoods and sequoias. What a sense of patience of hope those people have. More power to them.

A short walk from where my daughter lives in Larkspur, California there is a house I've thopught I'd like to live in each time I've seen it, a redwood does grow beside it, and a wooden deck surrounds the tree. I'd love to sit on that deck with the tree as companion while I drink my coffee, read a book, wrote a poem.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Kay Ryan, poet

Great Thoughts

Great thoughts
do not nourish
small thoughts
as parents do children.

Like the eucalyptus
they make the soil
beneath them barren.

Standing in a
grove of them
is hideous.

This is a poem by the very concise thinker, Kay Ryan, who was poet laureate of the US 2008-10. I only discovered her a few months ago and love the preciseness of her poems --indeed of her thought process.

Yesterday, in the documentary film course we watched the Michael Moore film, Capitalism: A Love Story which I had not previously seen although I had seen the somewhat better, Inside Job -- both are about the debacle wrought by Wall Street and the rich, rich, rich repiles in that snake pit and their poisoning of American life and strangle hold on the American government.

The discussion afterwards, by that room full of 60+ people, some conservative and some liberal was maddening and painful to me. The "big thought" words: capitalism, democracy, socialism were used in knee jerk ways. The discussion was that barren patch of dust under the eucalyptus tree. I got up and left when a man said "we haven't had a good war since Roosevelt was president" and that's the reason we have our economic problems today. Actually I may be doing him a disservice but I was so flummoxed by the the utter inability of ordinary thoughtful and aware citizens to grasp the mess I had to leave. I knew ten or fifteen years ago I wouldn't be able to understand it when I transcribed an interview with a bank president in which he said "only about five people in the world can understand exactly how derivatives work."

Friday, April 8, 2011

Poetry reading

The life of a poet, or almost any write has it's tough times. This poem is by my favorite poet, Wislawa Szymborska

Poetry Reading

To be a boxer, or not to be
at all. O Muse, where are our teeming crowds?,
Twelve people in the room, eight seats to spare --
it's time to start this cultural affair.
Half came inside because it started raining,
the rest are relatives. O Muse.
In the front row, a sweet old man's soft snore:
He dreams his wife's alive again. What's more,
she's making him that tart she used to bake.
Aflame -- but carefully -- don't burn his cake!
We start to read. O Muse.

During the short story class I am taking, yesterday I attempted to explain why a young writer with her first book of short stories to sell had built, probably at her own expense, a beautiful website. I explained that writers are advised to do that even before they have a book to sell, and to be sure to get on Facebook and Twitter and have a blog. I explained the necessity of racking up some prizes from literary journals, and that those prizes are small potatoes financially, and actually have reading fees, so that is you are not a winner you are subsidizing the future of your competitors [and paying for the "name" judge who gets his/her "honorarium" for reading all those stories and choosing the winner and runners up.] All this is true for poets as well, if anything there are more poetry competitions in literary journals -- after all the poems are shorter and quicker to read and more can be put into one journal.

This morning I was reading an article in the newest Poets and Writers Magazine about the book business. I can only moan, with Szymborska, O Muse! Writing is a joy as one sits alone with a pencil or laptop or whatever, when thoughts take surprising shape and characters begin to speak in their own voices ... but then ... O Muse!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lucille Clifton didn't need to diet

Homage to My Hips

These hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
pretty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved.
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magi hips.
I have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

Lucille Clifton was born in 1936 and died a little over a year ago. She wrote poems on various parts of female anatomy that had not been the subject of poetry before and rarely has been since. Dieting is a frequent topic on an internet site's forum called Over Fifty and Proud. We are a group glad to be over fifty - but very often admitting we are not pleased with our bodies, both the appearance and the aging of it's various parts. Clifton is a breath of clean, crisp air in the midst of our angst inspired by the slim, firm body fashion model siren song of the media. So why do I keep buying and eating fat free yogurt which I don't even like very much?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fickle Skies

From Robert Frost's Two Tramps in Mud Time

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
when the sun is out and the wind is still
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak
a cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
a wind comes off the frozen peak
and you're two months back in the middle of March.

Frost was, of course, a New Englander and he had it down pat. This is what we've been living with for most of a month now and it's got the whole of April to go. Fickleness is both tiring and irritating whether in weather or people. You don't know what coat or jacket to put on and if you forget your hat you'll want it badly. With fickle people you can't know what they'll say or do next and you can't rely on them to do what they say. The most famous example of a public opinion about fickleness is the Duke's aria in Rigoletto, the famous "la donna es mobile." This is usually translated, "woman is fickle." In fact, of course, it's the Duke who's so fickle. Some changeability adds spice to life -- including weather. Isn't the occasional snow storm lovely to look at? But it's too much when one follows another as it did this year for much of the country. Isn't a sudden summer thunder storm just the thing to add a bit of drama to the too sweet perfection of a summer day? But I'm downright tired of the changeable weather now, I long for warm spring days with golden forsythia and dancing tulips.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Song, by Adrienne Rich

National Poetry Month, for me, demands a diet rich in poems. This is simply called "Song" by Adrienne Rich.

You're wondering if I'm lonely:
Okay, then, yes, I'm lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived, and died in, lonely.

If I'm lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawn's first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep.

If I'm lonely
it's with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it's neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood with a gift for burning.

I was going to post the poem with no further comment today but as I've been typing it I realize it is an answer to a discussion in a class last week about aging in which was put forth the finding of various researchers that aging people do better longer if they are involved in a social network. I do not dispute that except the matter arose, what of people who are loners by nature? I fit in this category, I have not lead what's considered a loner life but I have lived lone more than half my life and like it. I travel alone [but often with a group of strangers] I like to go to cultural events alone, I like to walk alone, I treasure my aloneness. I think Adrienne Rich has defined "loneliness" for me -- and perhaps that is true for most of us who write or have pursued other artistic lives.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wild animals in the night

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake's poem has been quoted ad nauseum, especially this first stanza. What else could have come to my mind when I got up this morning having spent the night, early and late, dreaming of wild animals? They were African animals and I know tigers are not African but still... In the wee hours I awoke having had my head in the mouth of a leopard which sat on my back, it's clawed forelegs clasping my shoulders. Other people were nearby and I knew they would save me, I had a contained fear and somehow knew something was preventing the leopard [whose name was Ava -- don't ask how I knew, such is the logic of dreams] from piercing my skull. I awoke shortly after I heard a loud report of a gun which I knew killed Ava. I went peacefully back to sleep only to awake about 5:00 having dreamed of being in a lawn of a suburban house which was filled with wild African animals including a gorilla that I knew to be dangerous. There were others around also. I and one other person dashed to a house across the street from which we watched the animals wandering about. These are bare bones descriptions of both dreams. My dreams are usually full of visual details and these were. I had dreamed the latter scene recently - often dreams are such that I know they're recurrences.

I don't usually relate my dreams and I'm not going to try to analyze this [in a blog, although I will in my head]. The wonderful thing is that they were not terrifying, not nightmares. I knew even at the end of the leopard dream I would be taken to a hospital and cared for. Whence this equanimity? I'll think on it. Maybe write a poem tonight.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Walking by the Bay

I should like to dwell where the deep blue sea
Rock'd to and fro as tranquilly,
As if it were willing the halcyon's nest
Should shelter through summer its beautiful guest.
When a plaining murmur like that of a song,
And a silvery line come the waves along:
Now bathing - now leaving the gentle shore,
Where shining sea-shells lay scattered o'er.

Poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon, 1802, 1838.

This is the beginning of a romantic poem by a woman who lived a short life. I never heard of her until I asked Google for poems about the seashore. I wrote one myself last night but it's raw and unworked. Kass left a comment here a couple days ago suggesting writing a poem a day during April, National Poetry Month. Two written, 29 to go. The last time I wrote a poem a day for a month I found in retrospect that only one was worth sharing. But that's not such bad odds, so I'll try it again.

Rachel and I are on a search for places we have not walked before -- when the weekend gives us a pretty afternoon and our schedules allow a couple of hours. Sandy Neck beach was not a new place but we had not walked up on and behind the dunes [strongly discouraged during the summer anyway for conservation reasons] into the scrubby, thorny wilderness behind them. A new landscape for me, a contained "wilderness" with hints of paths, some probably made by animals. The leafless shrubs and vines and roses had an open feeling they will not have six weeks from now. We were never far from the parking lot, the ocean, the entrance road but we could only see the sandy humps and dips and the tangles around our legs. A different kind of walk that I enjoyed very much, especially with an almost warm breeze and a beautiful sunny sky made friendly with whipped cream clouds -- after a week with several gray days, rain and even snow showers. Coming back, at last, to the rolling surf, the spotty sunshine made patches of water green amid other patches of many blues.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


A tiny bit of Emily Dickinson today:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

I'm thinking of success because I saw a very wonderful documentary about Luis Tiant -- father and son -- great, great pitchers. Yesterday was the opening day for the Boston Red Sox. I am not a sports fan although there was a spell when I watched a lot of NY Yankees games on TV -- keeping a male fan company of course. I had never heard of the Cuban father and son but I fell in love with both of them in this documentary. The father played in the Negro Leagues in the US in the '40s and '50s and experienced the worst of Jim Crow conditions which were far worse in the US than anything he had ever seen in Cuba.

The son fled the Cuban revolution with his father's blessing and moved quickly from minor leagues to big leagues, at his apex of success he was the most beloved pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. But sports success is a fickle thing, as he aged he was in effect cast aside. But made a come back from sheer grit and talent. And wonderfully, on a trip to Cuba, George McGovern met with Castro and won permission for father and mother to leave Cuba and join their son in Boston. They were elderly by then but had time to see Luis Junior play magnificently. At one season opening the father threw the first ball -- his form and pitch were magnificent -- like seeing an aging ballerina get up on her toes and do a perfect pirouette and arabesque. They were warm, sweet, sincere and beautiful people.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April is National Poetry Month

from e e cummings:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
Lady I swear by all flowers. Don't cry
-- the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

and Death I think is no parenthesis

This poem refers to many things on my mind today: it is April Fool's day. Spring is having a difficult birth this year [snow flurries yesterday] and I have just heard about the death of someone I knew and worked with at certain period in my life. Over the weekend I heard, too, of the end of a business I worked for some 25 years and talked with the owner about the distressing circumstances leading to closing the business. This poem that I haven't read for a few years was the one the poetry anthology I picked up opened to -- it seemed one of those moments of synchronicity that, when happy I like to call serendipity, and have no name for on a morning like this. I simply read a poet's thoughts and marvel at all that can be said in so few words.