Sunday, February 26, 2012

Poem In Your Post: To Stammering

To Stammering

Where did you come from, lamentable quality?
Before I had a life you were about to ruin my life.
The mystery of this stays with me.
“Don’t brood about things,” my elders said.
I hadn’t any other experience of enemies from inside.
They were all from outside–big boys
Who cursed me and hit me; motorists; falling trees.
All these you were as bad as, yet inside. When I spoke, you were
I could avoid you by singing or acting.
I acted in school plays but was no good at singing.
Immediately after the play you were there again.
You ruined the cast party.
You were not a sign of confidence.
You were not a sign of manliness.
You were stronger than good luck and bad; you survived them
You were slowly edged out of my throat by psychoanalysis
You who had been brought in, it seems, like a hired thug
To beat up both sides and distract them
From the main issue: oedipal love. You were horrible!
Tell them, now that you’re back in your thug country,
That you don’t have to be so rough next time you’re called in
But can be milder and have the same effect–unhappiness and

§  Kenneth Koch

This rhetorical stance is one that Koch used more than once, if I recall correctly, this talking to qualities or past history personified.  I’d like to try my hand at this stance some day, brainstorm times and personal traits that have yet to be fully explored and then speak to them directly.  My hunch here is that unexpected conclusions would arise naturally and much that lies buried in the grey would gently lighten into morning.  Certainly, fearlessness in the face of the past and one’s flaws would be required, as would plenty of time and space to let words percolate upon the page.  You’d have to be feeling strong to try it.  Or desperate for solace, perhaps. 

At any rate, Koch’s accessible yet insightful poems rarely fail to intrigue me, and I hope that this one will offer a point of reflection on the idiosyncrasies, flaws, or failings that signal it’s time to reflect on matters we’d rather let lie.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Books on fire: A disaster strikes Casa What She Read

...but it'll be OK, because it's only a hypothetical brought to you by those fabulous tricksters as The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday blog hop.

If I had but a backpack and three minutes to gather up my heart's gold, I'd grab my guitar, my newly adopted pooch CJ, a few trinkets of personal significance, and my top ten must-save books:

1.  Kitten Nell by Dick Bruna.  I've had this book my whole life, and my whole life has pretty much paralleled hers.  A collector's item, but more of a talisman and a guide.

2.  My high school copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.  Apparently, I swiped it from school, as the library stamp's still on the front page.  The cover has long since separated from its fellows and walked its own way, but my penciled margin notes add nostalgic value to this most gorgeous of literary coming-of-age novels.

3.  Desiderata, an illustrated book of the classic Max Ehrmann poem given to me for high school graduation by my thoughtful godmother.  Every line still rings true, and the spot-on taste-telling of her gesture still moves me.

4.  Georgia O'Keeffe's letters, with panels from her show at the National Gallery from the 80's.  To read the iconic American painter's most intimate correspondence with her friends is indeed inspiration enough for a lifetime.  And then the paintings.  Well, it just doesn't get any better than this.

5.  A collectible edition of Salmon Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  One of my favorite books for young people, oft-recommended here, and also an allegory about freedom of speech. 

6.  Go, Dog, Go by Philip D. Eastman and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl.  Both traveled with me from childhood as well.  Clearly, sentiment will rule the flames.

7.  My hefty edition of The Riverside Shakespeare from back in the day.  A perfectly-chosen present from my high school boyfriend, and one I still refer to regularly, with relish and a warmly nostalgic smile.  It's his birthday today, and I hope he knows how much this book and his goodness meant to me.

8.  The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu, translation by Jane English, with apt black-and-white photos supporting poetic text in both English and lovely Chinese character calligraphy.

9.  A quick armful of sheet music/tab books for guitar and vocals. 

10.  My very own fourth grade illustrated sci-fi novella, Miss Pickle in Outer Space.  An early masterwork.  How could I let it go?


p.s.  I'll be hopping along, but I'd love to know your top-of-the-line single pick.  What would you save, if you could save only only one?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Poem In Your Post: Two for Van Helsing


unveil themselves in dark.
They hang, each a jagged,

silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright
as polished knives. They swim

the muddled air and keen
like supersonic babies, the sound

we imagine empty wombs might make
in women who can’t fill them up.

A clasp, a scratch, a sigh.
They drink fruit dry.

And wheel, against feverish light flung hard
upon their faces,

in circles that nauseate.
Imagine one at breast or neck,

Patterning a name in driblets of iodine
that spatter your skin stars.

They flutter, shake like mystics.
They materialize. Revelatory

as a stranger’s underthings found tossed
upon the marital bed, you tremble

even at the thought. Asleep,
you tear your fingers

and search the sheets all night.

-          Paisley Rekdal 

The Bat 

By day the bat is cousin to the mouse.
He likes the attic of an aging house.

His fingers make a hat about his head.
His pulse beat is so slow we think him dead.

He loops in crazy figures half the night
Among the trees that face the corner light.

But when he brushes up against a screen,
We are afraid of what our eyes have seen:

For something is amiss or out of place
When mice with wings can wear a human face.

-          Theodore Roethke

I’ve been finishing Bram Stoker’s Dracula this week, and so I offer here two takes on the winged ones so prominently featured therein.  Personally, I like bats – big or small, in my backyard at dusk or in a zoo-space at noon.  Stoker’s novel could, of course, attitude-adjust just about anyone toward fear, but I hope it won’t.

Have you read any poems lately that reveal our human prejudices (for good or ill) through the use of animals as objects for thought-exercise? 

Share one with us in the comments, or in your own post linked here.

Not up for communing with our winged, feathered, finned, and furred friends this week?  Post any poem you dare…


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Poem In Your Post: Improvisation on Lines by Isaac the Blind

Improvisation on Lines by Isaac the Blind    

Only by sucking, not by knowing,
can the subtle essence be conveyed—
sap of the word and the world's flowing

that raises the scent of the almond blossoming,
and yellows the bulbul in the olive's jade.
Only by sucking, not by knowing.

The grass and oxalis by the pines growing
are luminous in us—petal and blade—
as sap of the word and the world's flowing;

a flicker rising from embers glowing;
light trapped in the tree's sweet braid
of what it was sucking. Not by knowing

is the amber honey of persimmon drawn in.
An anemone piercing the clover persuades me—
sap of the word and the world is flowing

across separation, through wisdom's bestowing,
and in that persuasion choices are made:
But only by sucking, not by knowing
that sap of the word through the world is flowing.

-           Peter Cole 

I’ve grown fascinated with the incantatory powers of the villanelle lately.  How meaning shifts and slides through its cadences and sonorities, how images collage and morph and nudge each other as they cascade down toward its final couplet. 

I like the surprise of this one’s ideas and that first slightly uncomfortable line that then repeats into familiarity and clarity.  What do you think of Cole’s offering here, his exploration of how words and sensory experience interact?

I’m also in a springtime mood, and this one seems to complement the blissful intensity of this warm, clear morning in the Pacific Northwest…

What are you reading or writing, poetry-wise, this week?  Share it with us in the comments or by link to your post.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Never Again Would Birds' Song Be The Same : Poem In Your Post

Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be the Same 

He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds' song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came.

-          Robert Frost

Yesterday felt like spring around here: 70 degrees, sunny, with plenty of chirping and soaring in the air as well.

I recalled this old favorite of mine.  May it herald longer, warmer days for all and an abundance of varied, new winged ones this season.

Which poems did this week conjure up in your life?  Share them here or link to your own poem-in-your-post...

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