Tuesday, April 30, 2013

National Poetry Month

Poetry is not part of most people's lives on an every day basis. I do not consider myself a poet but I write poetry -- that's because I take writing very seriously and believe it is, first an art and then a profession and, lastly, something almost anyone can enjoy and dabble in. I dabble, by my own definition.

I was shocked in a conversation yesterday when someone who often asks me to offer an opinion about his poetry told me he never reads fiction because it's merely escapism. Yes, he thinks he writes poetry although he has never read a book about poetics. What a strange relationship he has with poetry!  He does not read books of poetry but not only takes pleasure in producing his "poems" but annually prints them up into a little chapbook of his own making to share with friends and family.  How strange people are!  Poetry has some power that neither nonfiction prose nor fiction has. Most people have a favorite poem or a line or two of poetry that resonates in their lives, the word "magical" is almost appropriate. 

Years ago someone mentioned Rilke in a conversation. I had read a little of Rilke and didn't quite understand him.  So the friend gave me the following poem without giving me it's title.  I've returned to it often because I find resonance in various lines at various times. To me that is part of the definition of good poetry, something that offers information about life and the world in a way--with words arranged skillfully--that offers insight again and again and never becomes trite.

You see, I want a l 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 judgements.

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.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Tiny visitor

How odd that I've reached this advanced age and never paid attention to a real live snail before yesterday!  I've known about snails but rarely saw them anywhere. Yesterday, a warm, lovely Sunday, I sat down on my little patio with part of the Sunday paper and noticed a shiny white trail from the grass to the white doormat (it's a very small patio: one chair, one little table, one doormat and a bit of volunteer ivy).  Frankly I was a little mystified by that almost sparking white trail.  There at it's end was a tiny snail shell, no more than an inch tall or long.  No snail visible.

But as I read I glanced down now and then and saw him emerge, looking almost exactly like this photo.  For about ten minutes he slowly moved in meditative (it seemed) increments, perhaps it's just a matter of working up the energy after each heave for the next heave.  Eventually he moved off the mat and stopped moving, apparently totally fatigued.  He had left more trail.  In fact, he stayed there just at the edge of the mat the rest of the day. The last time I looked, about 6:00 in the evening, he was still there.  Sometime, after his long rest, he left making a parallel line back to the grass several inches from the line he made to come explore the barren wastes of concerte and polyester.  It must have been like a desert crossing for him.

When I get involved looking at something in the natural world like this, although my concentration is not intense, I think of Mary Oliver's poem "The Summer Day" and especially the words "I do know how to pay attention."  Here's the end of that poem:

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
Into the grass, how to stroll through the fields.
Which is what I have been doing all day.
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What is to rare as a really nice day in April?

April is a month of teasing weather here. By my count we had only four really lovely days -- yesterday and today are two of them.  I may have been mostly indoors a couple of others.  The first one of them was the best of all and I wrote a poem about it. 

(photo here is great-grandson nearly a year ago with the aged cat who did not make it through the winter.  There's talk of a trip to the ASPCA for another.)

Here is the poem I wrote for about fickle April.

               Aprill: Long Beach

Today's early-in-April sunshine
has a determined, adolescent strength--
Charles Atlas in his 98-pound weakling days.
The breeze ruffling the grass shakes its fists
like a freckle-faced sixth grade bully.
Far past my own adolescenece, I welcome
this youthful day in fickle April.
I drive to Long Beach and find it nearly empty.
I claim as my own this mile-long spit of land,
marsh gass and still brown tangles of thorny roses.
A flat-land farmer's daughter who didn't see
an ocean until I was twenty-three,
I feel young where I never was when young.

As I walk the damp sand, I peel off my jacket
and tie it around my waist; I push up my sleeves--
Come, Sun , pour your vitamin  D into me.
I see footprints in the sand--not sneaker prints--
bare, man-size  footprints--and paw prints too.
I look the length of the gently curved shore.
Who dared the chilly sand so early?
I do not see him--"Friday"--the native, I surmise.

The tide reaches, then resides reluctantly.
To my right, sun jewels flash on the water,
to my left, a wind-row of broken shells,
once stony homes to tiny globs of life.
I settle in a spot where I often pause to gaze on
the blue illusion we call horizon,
where sky and water only seem to meet
because we are small, our perspective limited
and they are vast, eternal.  Oh, yes,
I've considered that metaphor, but won't today.
Breezy fingers ruffle my hair inviting me to play.
Yes, April, child of early spring,
I will join your flirty game.
I pull off my sneakers and socks.
I'll make another pair of prints.
Perhaps I'll let the lapping water
lick my feet.

Friday, April 26, 2013

RED, Mark Rothko and his paintings

Red is the name of a play about abstract expressionist painter, Mark Rothko written by John Logan. This two man play has been done in London, New York and elsewhere.  I saw it last weekend enticed by an email that offered "pay what you will" tickets the next night at the near-by Cotuit Center for the Arts.  I have been there several times and, except for two recent plays in their black box theatre, have been disappointed to one degree or another.  But those two good experiences lifted my level of adventurousness.  The two were Singe's Riders of the Sea, well directed and with authentic sounding accents that greatly surprised me. The other was a one-man show about Richard Burbage who was Shakespeare's most important actor at his Globe theatre, expertly acted by a very good actor, an Equity member with NYC credits.  I am a theatre snob in many ways and was ready to be disappointed by Red. I was not.

 The  actor playing Rothko was not only very fine, he was so committed to the role he had shaved the front part of his hair to giving himself the receding hairstyle Rothko had -- and he was physically similar to Rothko. His co-actor, who played a young assistant, was well rehearsed and fluent in this very talky play. He had been in two one-acts of mine that were read early in March. The play script was brilliant and the staging and stage directing was the best I've seen here on Cape Cod, especially the centrally placed scene in which both Rothko and the assistant paint a large canvas with red primer in a beautifully choreographed duet of sweeping brushstrokes.  I was thrilled by the play and it's production and immediately told others to go see it.  So, I'm sure, did others in that early (2nd) performance for it's been a sell out since.

Rothko's paintings, in his mature style, were great rectangular areas of color - or, at the end of his life, of black.  His favorite color was obviously red.  I have seen several of them in museums and found them arresting, very powerful; they have depth and they have an aliveness that is difficult to describe. They finally became numinous objects, attempting a spirituality that Rothko was seeking.  Finally the de Menil family of Houston built a chapel in which to display several of the black paintings which, unfortunately, Rothko did not live to see. 

Wednesday another email told me that a documentary about him would be shown that evening so I went to see it too. I liked seeing many of the painting and hearing his daughter (especially, talk about his life and his presumed suicide -- his son questioned that determination). 

Having nothing to do with Rothko -- but it's metaphor is Shakespeare's "all the world's a stage" -- the poem I want to share today is by John Updike.

Perfection Wasted

And another regrettable thing about death
is the creasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market--
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one,
imitators and descendants aren't the same.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar

Daniel Klein is co-author, with Thomas Cathart, of a book about how jokes reflect philosophical tenets, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar.
Klein spoke to a room packed full of my -- and his -- contemporaries yesterday afternoon. He says the book was rejected 40 times before the 41st publisher saw its possibilities.  He told many jokes and they were all funny -- the academic jokes, the Jewish jokes, the rural jokes. The book sold very well and was translated into several other languages.

At the heart of his talk was his having come to the philosophy of Epictetus -- a calm acceptance of life that fits people of our generation. Enjoy what you have today. We (some, the lucky ones) have outgrown the striving to achieve, the drive of ambition, the needs of accumulation.  Those of us who have reached an epicurean frame of mind -- to a degree I consider myself one of them ... well, sort of -- are the happy ones.  As he pointed out, it involves a Buddhist-like acceptance of what is, and joy in the every day. 

A poem with some of this sense is one without a title (as usual) by ee cummings (I have changed two ampersands to "and" because blogger will not accept ampersands)

love is a place
and through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
and in this world of
yes live
(skillfuly curled)
all worlds.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Poets of a "certain" age

The poetry class I belong to at the Academy for Lifelong Learning at our community college has been running for at last five years -- certainly before I came to the Cape. I had not joined it because, first of all, I do not believe I know enough about poetic form to write poetry seriously and secondly, I thought they were a clique who mostly patted one another on the back and wrote the expected.  Actually both perceptions were correct but I've come to understand they are not nearly as important as I had thought. I am free to teach myself as much as I want to learn about writing poetry -- no one, of course, would try to discourage me. 

Secondly, many in the group have been coming for several years, they feel free to show up when they can whether or not they have officially enrolled. Much of what is written is the expected, but much is thoughtful writing that they would not do otherwise, an opportunity to express themselves as best they can in a warm and supportive atmosphere.  The "clique-ishness" may be a little true, but I feel a real warmth among these people.  Several are over 80, or nearing that mark, but they have valuable insights, reminiscences, philosophical ponderings.  I've found it a pleasure to be among people attempting to put their feelings and ideas into a poetic form.  My inner snob has been squashed and I may have written one or two poems in the semester that I am proud of.

But today I want to quote a poem by Wendy Cope which I find a good one for a day when it has been cold and rainy without a glimpse of the sun.

The Orange

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange --
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave--
They got quarters an I had a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy
As ordinary things often do
just lately.  The shopping, a walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment  It's new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I 'm glad I exist.

Monday, April 22, 2013


The great bare tree I look directly at as I type, is softening, filling out, a little like a young woman in the third month of pregnancy.  But this tree has undergone this transformation for maybe 50 years, soon it will be a mass of green and I will not see the sky between it's branches.

Not everyone  has what I consider an appropriate appreciation of trees.  A couple of day ago I was walking in a suburb and noticed a graceful dogwood tree in flower. "How beautiful!" I said. The man who happened to be walking beside me said, "Yes but it will be ordinary soon."  He said that!!! 

Outside my bedroom window is a generally nondescript forsythia. It fills the window with gold, especially early in the morning.  The gold will give way to green leaves in a couple of week. But for now, King Midas has touched that bush by my window.  And he has touched forsythia all over town, in ones and twos or in whole hedges.  "How beautiful!" 

I saw a movie years ago called simply Himalaya -- independent, small, French. It took place in a town high in the mountains of northwestern  Nepal, above the tree line. There a lama drew a tree on  stone, with another stone for a pen. His little brother asked what it was.  "A tree. I have never seen one, nor have you."  It was a stylized tree, but had the essence of "tree".  The people of that desolate village over 12,000 feet high, gathered salt and took bags of it to trade at an Indiana village to the south, much lower.  Lama and boy accompanied the traders - there they saw trees.  The high point, or me at least, of the movie.

 The folllowing poem "Lost" by David Wagoner is one I should that friend.

Stand still.  The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost.  Whevere you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes.  Listen.  It anwers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back  again, saying Here.
No two trrees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
It what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost.  Stand still.  The forest knows
Where you are.  You must let it find you.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Quiet reflection

I'm a bit overwhelmed with the past week, perhaps with the past few weeks which, in a way culminated with my great-grandson's third birthday party yesterday, a small family dinner, bringing the huge public events and several nice and satisfying personal events into some kind of harmony and balance. 

All of April I have been reading a lot of poetry and sharing it with people around me. Spring is here in all its fickleness: rain yesterday, sun today, flowers opening, trees greening.  I'm not entirely sure about the title of this poem by J.D. McClatchy, "Resignation" but his thoughts seems complex and yet simple.  Peaceful -- I need that this week.

Here the oak and silver-breasted birches
Stand in their sweet familiarity
While underground, as in a black mirror,
They have concealed their tangled grievances,
Identical to the branching calm above
But there ensnared, each with the others' hold
On what gives life to which is brutal enough.
Still, in the air, none tries to keep company
Or change its fortune  They seem to lean
On the light, unconcerned with what the world
Makes of their decencies , and will not show
A jealous purchase on their length of days.
 To never having been loved as they wanted
Or deserved, to anyone's sudden infatuation
Gouged into their sides, to all they are forced
To shelter and to hide, they have resigned themselves.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Collective Sigh of Relief

Now that the Marathon bombers have been identified, and the manhunt has ended, this corner of the country -- and probably most of America -- feels a collective sigh of relief.  Oh, this is not the whole story, much more will be told, revealed, analyzed, conjectured and invented.  That's the way the news works these days.  Still we have a sense of completion and a bit of awe for the massive efforts of the law officers, a sense of relief knowing that the medical services so immediately reacted to the many injuries and a strong feeling of hope that those who were hurt, those who were traumatized, will recover in time. 

I have been reading and writing  poetry and decided to add a very light one today for a well deserved smile.  This is by Doreen Zimmerman and is called "A Page from the Diary of Einstein's Mistress"

He talks in his sleep
as mass. He's 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.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sometimes I'm amazed

It's easy to live in a caccoon - in fact, I think most people do.  We talk to family and friends, we listen to the news we like, read the papers we like and don't get outside our comfort zone very often. Sometimes I think my comfort zone is wider than that of some although that probably only means I am more interested in more ideas and places than most people I know.  But, I have my own strong opinions and prefer to talk to people who mostly have the same political orientation.

So I do not delve into opinions about the Boston marathon bombing much but I'm a little shocked that the subject has come up seldom in the last few days.  A friend attuned to international terrorism told me rather early on he thinks this was a domestic event, a disgruntled or "crazy" person. He had good reasons to say that and more or less convinced me.  I've just heard of another kind of "crazy" group who say the whole thing was done by our government as was the fertilizer plant explosion. I cannot imagine what twisted logic would  make anyone think such a thing.  I would criticize the government for various reasons (like the current gun legislation fiasco) but such anti-government sentiment appalls me.

My own reaction was to decide to read a poem I wrote over four years ago about the New York City marathon which I was always acutely aware of because I frequently  saw individuals and teams training. To me people running for the joy of running has an archetypical sense -- didn't we all do that as children, just to see how fast we could go?   I read the poem in my poetry class this week although I'd written a cheery one about the coming of spring.  I was the only person, among over 20 contemporaries who had been moved enough by the bombing to address the subject - that surprised me.  They are all sensitive, thoughtful people, but living in their own caccoons.

The Marathon

They run
        By the thousands
        Through the canyons
        Over the bridges
       Through the  park.
       News cameras took down from helicopters.
       People look out tall windows
        Lean over high balconies
        Line the crowded streets.
They run
        Like the bison once ran over the Badlands
        The wildebeast still run through the savannahs
         Fabled lemmings run over cliff into the eas
        Heroes ran the mountains in ancient Attica.
As they run
        Many thousand feet pound softly
        Their breathing is a mass sigh 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 or two or three or a few
       for months, years.  They leave
       behind home, wife, husband, children.
       Silece is enough for many,
      So 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 an paid and stayed the course.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In bed -- not asleep

I don't know what was going on last night.  I wasn't consciously worrying about the Boston bombing although the injuries deeply horrified me, and I know well that in other cities similar bombings are far more frequent and the world's in bad shape.

The oddity is that some nights I'm very happy to settle into bed and I fall asleep quickly, wake up, possibly long enough to glance at the red LED clock and fall back to sleep once again.  Last night was becoming irritating enough I got up and took a valarian  -- possibly for the first time in a couple of years.  I tend to think a placebo effect sets in quickly.  If so, that's fine.  I get to sleep. 

Today's poem is about the nights when my bed and I are on better terms with one another. It is by Meridith Holmes

In Praise of My Bed

At last I can be with you!
The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labor of being fully human,
working my opposable thumb,
talking and walking upright.
Now I hae unclasped
unzipped, stepped out of.
Husked, soft, a be-er only,
I do nothing, but poiknt
my barefeet into your
clean smoothness
feel your quiet strength
the whole length of my body.
I close my eyes, hear myself
moan, so grateful  to be held this way.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wonderful and horrible

Life brings sudden delights and sudden horrors -- it did yesterday.  I went to the news on my homepage and read about the 15,000 seals that have come ashore from the chilly waters around Cape Cod to bask in early sunshine on the sandy beachers of the National Seashore.  15,000!  Imagine!  All those animals lying closer than summer tourists, enjoying warmth, not fighting for territory, not annoying one another, each finding a comfortable place among the many and enjoying just the kind of peaceful sensations I enjoy in the sun. 

Then I clicked and found "Breaking News" -- it might have been called "heart breaking news" -- about the bombs at the Boston Marathon.  All terrorism is an evil; it is aimed at the innocent in order to tell all of us we are not safe.  Terrorism at an athletic event, one with thousands of people who have spent years preparing just to run -- to run, as humans always have and many of us have almost forgotten -- to push themselves to their physical edge but not to fight, outwit, out maneuver others, most do not even strive to win, simply to do their best -- that is a perversity of evil.  And the injuries to the innocents, mostly spectators ... I am wordless.

Today's poetry is an exerpt, not specifically related to these thoughts but, to me, comforting. It is by Robert Bly:

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 15, 2013

Happy Surprise

After a painful experience at a college production of Kiss Me, Kate on Friday night, I hoped, but not with much conviction, that the "pay what you will" come-on for a new production at a community theatre might be better.  The college production had plenty of enthusiasm and some very bad singing - really murdering Cole Porter's wonderful, witty score. I am not  fan of musicals anyway but felt I needed to support one of the cast members, an older student making his first stage appearance.

The community theater has disappointed me several times also but the my most previous visit was a wonderful one-man show that was New York quality.  The new production, Red, a play by John Logan that got it's start at the fine Donmar Warehouse Theatre in London, was entirely unknown to me.  So I went.  Hurray! A fine, fine performance by an actor playing the painter Mark Rothko and his counterpart, a younger man playing a studio assistant.  Script, acting, set, even occasional music was all fine, very fine. Theatre can be wonderful -- which is why the not-wonderful attempts are so wrenching to sit through. Oh, I know all about great actors getting their starts somewhere, yes, yes, yes.  But those performances are best attended by doting parents and siblings.

Only after painting in other styles did Rothko find his brilliant expression in the mostly red paintings that are so quietly and intensely moving.  The play emphasized his aspirations more than his struggles; his intellectuality and self-absorption. 

Today's poem is by another GREAT, the late Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish Nobel Prize poet.


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 squeee inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A gift of poems

I belong to a group which swaps all kinds of things, crafted items, post cards, sometimes poems. A couple years ago in a swap of poems a young woman I really did not know - it's an online group - send me a entire little book of poems she had copied from I know not where, all in her neat and legible printing.  Nearly all the poems and poets were unknown to me.  I have the little book in my OPP folder (Other People's Poetry) and I open it only once in a while. I've just been reading through it again.  Sometimes a gift, even a very casual one, gives and continues to give so much pleasure.

Here is a nice little poem that does that thing I envy poets being able to do: capture the wonderfulness of a single moment.  (My own impulse is to go on and one about a thing.) It's incredibly hard to just said something and capture what I suppose some would call a zen moment.  The poet here is Richard Jones.

White Towels

I have been studying the difference
between solitude and loneliness,
telling the story of my life
to the clean white towels taken warm
      from the dryer.
I carry them through the house
as though they were my children
asleep in my arms.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Whale, Luna in Nootka Sound

The Whale, a simple name for a documentary that is simple in story line and complex in feelings and thoughts it raises. A two year old orca was somehow separated from its pod and remained alone in Nootka Bay in the complex of islands off Vancouver, Canada. Soon it became clear to the people in the area that the whale they called Luna (although it was male) was seeking companionship from people.  People loved petting Luna who never hurt anyone. The local tribe of First People's believed Luna to be a reincarnation of a recently deceased elder  The Canadian Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries got involved--creating a bureaucratic confusion. It's a painful story of people not knowing how to interact with a wild animal who very clearly wants to interact with them. I found the movie very thought provoking, moving, beautiful and painful. Most of us are prone to beleive animals can related to us profoundly; this movie  seems to prove it just as it proves that bureaucracies are incapable of dealing intelligently with animals.

Today's poem is a so-so one I wrote a while ago and recently read when my poetry group read at an assisted living complex -- because I thought it would be understood even if people were not paying very much attention.

Off Leash

The dogs walk the people
on Sunday morning at the beach,
in the off seson when the locals
don't have to share sand
and surf with summer guests.
Off leash freedom intoxicates
the dogs.  They prance and dance,
and race along the sand
and into marsh grass.
Tirelessly they retrieve and recycle
sticks, Frisbees, old tennis balls,
even when thrown awkwardly far and wide
into the grass or the outgoing tide
Then the dogs rememer they are not alone.
The owe their owners for their Iams and bones.
They try, in their wordless say,
to train the trainers--
no silly tricks like heel, beg, stay.
They teach by example:
sniff deeply of the shore's delectible scents
play with others after sniffing to read
their hormonal state, unprejudiced
by size, shape, color, pedigree or breed.
By example, they teach observance of rules,
coming with a bound and a bounce
when called, submitting to the leash
when a chary child or frightened old biddy
cowers in ignorant timidity.
What doltish students people are!
Years of work by ever patient pets
hasn't changed human habits yet.
People merely nod to one another,
they plod ddully beside the wondrous sea
and ignore the chaseable gulls.
They daydream away the sweetest breeze.
Without tails to wag,
humans can't publicy express
emotions from simple gladness
to soul-deep happiness.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Desire or hate?

The poems I post each day are in celebration of National Poetry Month.  We all know there are national this-and-that months for all sorts of things and those who care about those things celebrate--or don't celebrate--those months. Obviously I'm among the minor few who care about poetry.  In fact, I see National Poetry month as a time to indulge in a basic trait--I'm an evangelistic missonary by impulse.  When something seems very wonderful to me, I want to convert the world and share my excitement and delight.

Evangelists, as most of us know, can be so narrow in their views they make others cringe.  I hope not to be like that but I do foist poems upon various and sundry during the month of April. But I an happy to discover new poems or new readings of well known poems. At a lecture Wednesday, Frost's "Fire and Ice" was briefly discussed. I've known this poem most of my life. In all the ecological end-world talk about global "warming"  or climate instability, as I've heard it called, I think, now and then, that the world will have little ice left so it will end in fire.  Although I don't really take the poem that literally, I admit I hadn't thought the obvious interpretation which the speaker mentioned as if everyone read it as being about desire (fire) and hate (ice). Well .... duh!  Where was my brain?  So simple a poem, so obvious, right there, spelled out for all to see.  Why did I retain my adolescent idea that this was really about the end of the world when it is about human emotions?


Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

I  went to  lecture yesterday about poetry.  I know the lecturer, a very respected and well liked retired professor of everything from Chaucer to modern poetry.  He is a very good reader of poetry -- one of the best I've heard.  The topic was  "Does Poetry Matter?"  He didn't really address the subject, he clearly believes poetry matters are great deal.  He did what he does best, which is analyze a poem in a way that makes it both more accessible and more magical to the listener - that is a wonderful talent.

Of course the well of poems to draw from is almost endless so, inevitably I was introduced to a couple of poems I had not come across before -- as well as the one I feel I've known forever, Frost's "Fire and Ice".  Here is the ending section  of James Wright's "Two Hangovers"

In a pine tree,
A few yards away from my window sill,
A brilliant blue jay is springing up and down, up and down,
On a branch.
I laugh, as I see him abandon himself
To entire delight, for he knows as well as I do
That the branch will not break.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Oldest Friends

Yesterday I had lunch with several people in my poetry class.  One mentioned weekly meeting with "my oldest friend, from the first grade."  A little later another mentioned a recent trip when he visited a college friend and had a very enjoyable talk as both are now retired from the same profession. I hear more and more people reconnecting with friends from much earlier in their life. The reconnection is a kind of assurance, I think. But, too, as in the poem I came across I discover that "Look!" moment. I feel the facades, the pretenses we used to live the middle part of our lives have been worn away by the years and we have "turned into ourselves" -- those selves are the ones the first grade friend, or college friend, knew before we went separate ways, so now we recognize one another and are validated by being recognized as who we really are by those old friends.

The poet is Linda Pastan; the title is 25th High School Reunion

We come to hear the endings
of all the stories
in our anthology
of false sarts:
how the girl who seemed
as hard as nails
was hammered
into shape;
how the athletes ran
out of races;
how under the skin
our skulls rise
 to the surface
like rocks in the bed
of a drying stream.
Look! We have all
turned into

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Enjoying Spring

Bright and sunny, the water sparkling, a few people on the beach, a couple of them even walking barefoot.  Sometimes I think there are two kinds of people: those who know how to enjoy natural beauty and those who think it's an effort to go for a walk on a beautiful day.  I met a man as I walked who said, "How's it feel to be in paradise!" "Fabulous," I answered. 

Here is a prose poem by Jim Harison, who I mostly know as a most interesting novelist. He is a person--as I think most  poets are--who knows how to enjoy a nature.

Late Spring

Because of the late, cold wet spring the fruit of greenness is suddenly upon us so that in Montana you can throw yourself down just about anywhere on a green grassy bed, snooze on the riverbank and wake up to a yellow-rumped warbler flittering close to your head then sipping a little standing water from a moose track. Of course pitching yourself downward you first look for hidden rocks. Nothing in nature is exactly suited to us. Meanwhile everywhere cows are napping from overeating, and their frolicsome calves don’t remember anything except this bounty. And tonight the calves will stare at the full moon glistening off the mountain snow, both snow and moon white as their mother’s milk. This year the moisture has made the peonies outside my studio so heavy that they droopo to the ground and I think of my early love, Emily Bronte. The cruelty of our different ages kept us apart.  I tie and prop up the peonies to prolong their lives, just as I would have nursed Emily so she could see another spring.

Monday, April 8, 2013

If Bees are Few

Bees are becoming few.  That's a bigger problem for all of us than most might imagine.  Some of us don't even keep honey in our kitchens -- we have all those artificial sweeteners.  Honey is only the by-product of what bees do for us.  Last fall I saw a documentary film about hive collapse, including that almond tree growers in California were so desperate for bees to pollinate their trees they were having truck loads of hives of bees shipped from the East Coast!  Imagine that: 18-wheelers speeding down the thruways piled with softly buzing hives -- hundreds of them, thus millions of bees, all the way across the country.

In the past month I read a short article saying the shortage of bees remains a problem. Some scientists think they found a virus or bacteria that caused hive collapse but the article seemed to say that might not be the whole answer.  Possibly the answer rests in the general ecological collapse and bees (like the disappearing presence of frogs) is an indicator.  An enormous percent of our food - most fruit - needs bees to pollinate -- think about markets with no apples! Think, just think about bees. Practice your revery.

Today's poem is a little one by the wonderful Emily Dickenson who lived before this state of affairs was at all predictable.  How unthinkable that bees might be in short supply!

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
one clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
if bees are few.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Happy Birthday, Bill

 This pensive picture of an older man doesn't quite gibe with the image of a younger man walking the English fields on a spring day when a field of wind-blown daffodils lifts his poetic spirit and he writes the popular -- to the point of trite -- poem most of us learned ages and ages ago.  He was younger, as we all were, maybe he was even called  Bill or Billie although that seems extremely impolite -- after all that was a different time, long before we could comfortably have a poet laureate in the United States called Billie (Collins-- see yesterday's post).

It's a daffodil kind of day here -- although our daffodils aren't open yet.  The sun is very bright and spring promise is in the air.  As I imagine most people did, I read his Daffodils in school. I was enchanted because I had seen plenty of fields of wheat and growing corn waving in the breeze, even some hay fields liberally sprinkled with yellow mustard plant, I had never seen a field of flowers.  I was thrilled to see a sparse forest at Hampton Court completely under-carpeted with daffodils on a springtime vacation and immediately remembered the beginning of this poem. Later I saw fields of Texas blue bonnets and thought of this poem too. Even when we don't read much poetry, words arranged gracefully with meter have an almost magical way of staying in the memory.  Below is just the first two stanzas. 
The Daffodils
by William Wordsworth

I wandered 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 stretched in never-ending line
   Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Saturday, girls shopping at the mall

A great thing about National Poetry month for me is that I go through books I've read and find poems I wanted to come back to again.  Here's a short one from Billie Collins, Brooklynite, former Poet Laureate. 

AND I discovered in my writing class yesterday that one of my class went to school with "Billie" had a great crush on him but, alas, her best friend was the one he dated. My friend brought in a  poem of his and that sent me to the bookcase when I got home.

Oh, My God!

Not only in church
and nightly by their bedsides
do young girls pray these   days.

Wherever they go,
payer is woven into their talk
like a bright thread of awe.

Even at the pedestrian mall
outbursts of praise
spring unbidden from their glossy lips.

To this I reply that I'd rather hear the girls' "outbrusts of praise" than those the boys are more likely to exclaim.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Images in words

In the poetry class I'm taking, we don't talk very much about form.  All are older people, many of whom always had a longing to write poetry but did not -- or possibly wrote a little but hid it away or threw it out when cleaning. Now they come to class with poems of many sorts on many subjects, often predictable subjects (grandchildren, nature, memories)  Some are good, some so-so, but they are writing and it feels good.  I've been a serious reader and considerer of poetry most of my life, only occasionally writing something that I put in what looks like poetic form but which I rarely consider "real" poetry.  I especially appreciate approachable poems, like those of Ted Kooser, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver although I ponder more on "harder" poets.  The poem I want to share today is one in which Ted Kooser writes very understandably about a student but underlines his vision with a metaphor which is never stated. 


The green shell of his backpack makes him lean
into wave after wave or responsibility
and he swings his stiff arms and cupped hands

paddling ahead. He has extended his neck
to its full length, and his chin, hard as a beak
breaks the cold surf.  He's got his baseballl cap on

backward   as up he crawls, out of the froth
of a hangover and onto the sand of the future,
and lumbers, heavy with hope, into the library.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

There Comes a Time in Your LIfe ...

Among people with whom I correspond a theme recurs -- it's because so many of us are in our seventies.  Our friends are passing away, we too often have to go to memorial services or funerals.  Today's poem by Ted Kooser, a favorite poet of mine -- he's a Kansasan who was Poet Laureate and won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Delights and Shadows, from which this poem comes.


After the funeral, the mourners gather
under the rustling churchyard maples
and talk softly, like clusters of leaves.
White shirt cuffs and collars flash in the shade;
highlights on cheap green water.
They come this afternoon to say goodbye,
but now they keep saying hello and hello ,
peering into each other's faces,
slow to let go of each other's hands.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


I'm taking a course about the brain/mind - lots of .in depth information about structure and connections and all that -- a bit too theoretical. I read a lot about the subject and remember tidbits that may or may not be true. I suppose they're the parts I want to remember.  Sometimes I try my own one-person completely uncontrolled nonstatistical experiments.  One such bit of probably pseudo-science I read and remember is that smiles are at least a contagious in a crowded place as are yawns. Off and on I used to try it on the NYC subway -- get on, look around the car, smile at nothing in particular. Of course most people didn't actually look at me and see the smile, which, sometimes I tried to keep on as long as it could be sincere.  I can't say I proved anything even to myself except that it actually feels good to smile. But then I knew that.

Emily Dickenson, being a woman of a different time, and certainly not often among crowds of people (if ever?) wrote a little more thoughtfully about smiles in this short poem (#1391)

They might not need me -- yet they might --
I'll let my Heart be just in sight --
A smile so small as mine might be
Precisely their necessity --

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month.  I don't get much opportunity to talk about poetry except when I take the initiative -- and except in the poetry class I've been taking since the beginning of February -- which has been a bit like turning on a tap.  I've been writing poems quickly and easily, quite a variety -- it seems I have no style or voice or my own.  But this little kick in the pants impetus means I may have to  write until I do find my own way -- although, I'll admit I've always used the excuse of "I'm a Gemini and we are drawn this way and that -- fickle, flighty, some say" so don't expect me to be consistent.

'nuf said -- here is a poem I found in one of Garrison Keeler's anthologies.  I give it to my writing class -- they usually don't know whether to laugh or groan. It's by Lisa Colt.

My teacher says
You've got to stink first.

I tell her I don't have time to stink.
At 64 years old
I go directly to perfection
Or I go nowhere.

Perfecttion is nowhere,
she says, so stink.
Stink like a beginner
Stink like deaying flesh
And old blood.
She says,
I know a woman who's eighty-six
Last year she learned to dive.