Saturday, April 28, 2012

New Dog : Poem In Your Post

"New Dog"(excerpt from "Atlantis")

Jimi and Tony
can't keep Dino,
their cocker spaniel;
Tony's too sick,
the daily walks
more pressure
than pleasure,
one more obligation
that can't be met.

And though we already
have a dog, Wally
wants to adopt,
wants something small
and golden to sleep
next to him and
lick his face.
He's paralyzed now
from the waist down,

whatever's ruining him
moving upward, and
we don't know
how much longer
he'll be able to pet
a dog. How many men
want another attachment,
just as they're
leaving the world?

Wally sits up nights
and says, I'd like
some lizards, a talking bird,
some fish. A little rat.

So after I drive
to Jimi and Tony's
in the Village and they
meet me at the door and say,
We can't go through with it,

we can't give up our dog,
I drive to the shelter
-- just to look -- and there
is Beau: bounding and
practically boundless,
one brass concatenation
of tongue and tail,
unmediated energy,
too big, wild,

perfect. He not only
licks Wally's face
but bathes every
irreplaceable inch
of his head, and though
Wally can no longer
feed himself he can lift
his hand, and bring it
to rest on the rough gilt

flanks when they are,
for a moment, still.
I have never seen a touch
so deliberate.
It isn't about grasping;
the hand itself seems
almost blurred now,
softened, though
tentative only

because so much will
must be summoned,
such attention brought
to the work -- which is all
he is now, this gesture
toward the restless splendor,
the unruly, the golden,
the animal, the new.

                   - Mark Doty

Beautiful and unexpected. I admire how the title absolutely captures the catalyst for the poem, yet the center is Wally, not Beau. Poignant and weighty, really, the final opening here, and yet Doty's tone is never sentimental, but rather quietly, profoundly celebratory.

How have the non-humans in your life revealed human truths or traits or triumphs to you?

Share a poem or a link to your poem-friendly blog with us today and spread the poem-love every weekend with a Poem In Your Post.


p.s.  Mark Doty is one of those contemporary masters of the transcendent quotidian in language that's cleanly accessible.  If you would like to sample more of his work, try his web site or his page on  You might also admire his brilliant long-form essay Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy or his gorgeous memoir Dog Years.  Even if you are not "an animal person", it will move you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Day the World Ends by Ethan Coen: Review

Have you ever read a book that, more than anything else, sparked insane curiosity about the author?

If not, take a gander at lauded writer-director Ethan Coen's newest poetry collection The Day the World Ends.  You might be surprised by the persona this collection appears to convey, and I guarantee you'll be intrigued.

It's possibly inevitable that when reading any poet's anthology, we'll be tempted to infer much (too much) about the character of the poet.  After all, this is perhaps the most intimate genre, and - at least in my experience - it often reveals more about the psyche of the poet than he or she may even apprehend.

And, trust me, this book will tweak your curiosity in that regard.  I mean, we think we know the guy somewhat: Fargo, Raising Arizona (my personal favorite), Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, True Grit, and No Country For Old Men are modern American classics, no?  He wrote them, right?  So we can infer much about his tastes and interests via these films, can't we?

Really though, not so much.  Perhaps.

Ethan Coen.
Simply by viewing the Coen brothers' most popular cinematic offerings, you might assume that this writer isn't afraid to dirty his hands in the baser aspects of human nature.  And you'd be spot-on correct.

But all you'd have to do is read this collection to come to new conclusions.  Juxtaposing the pastoral with the profane, here, Ethan Coen offers a much more intimately personal vision than any character-driven film could provide. 

Yet any conclusions we readers might come to may be all wrong.  As I read through this collection, I vacillated between feeling that I was encountering a somewhat puerile and slightly self-obsessed ego and that I was being duped, manipulated by a trickster masquerading as that mind.  Was Ethan Coen having a go at me or was this really his thinking, his parsing of the world in words?

Either way though, I did feel intrigued.  And, for the moments I was reading his poems, be they ever so bawdy limericks or poignant free verse reflections on the fleeting nature of inspiration, I also felt diverted and occasionally charmed, especially by his less metrical, less forced-rhyme-y, and - for this reader - more earnest offerings.

If you're a fan of the Coen brothers' films, then this collection of poems will certainly provide a new perspective on a brilliant cinematic mind.  Sample the poems at The Day the World Ends page on Amazon. or on scrbd.

I'm grateful to its publishers, the Broadway Paperbacks imprint of Crown Publishing, for offering me a copy to review.


My action:  One reminder from Mr. Coen's collection?  A poem can be about anything, no matter how mundane or conventionally unlovely.  So while I'm home sick today, in the few moments I'm lucid, I'm planning to visually scan each room I'm in and then gently plumb my memory for at least fifty new poem-prompts about quotidian or unlikely topics.  Then I'll try exploring a few, just for the puzzle-ish fun of it.  Possibly when I am possessed of wider mental bandwidth, though.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Gods Are Not Large (Poem In Your Post)

But perhaps
the heart
does not want
to be understood.
Your shadow
falls on its pond
and the small fish
hurry away.
They have
their own lives
which they love.

And if to you
it is anger,
to them
it is simply life:
their mouths
open and close,
their gills,
they are fed,
they breathe.

The gods
are not large
outside us.
They are the fish
going on
with their own

         - Jane Hirschfield

Thank you, Ms. Hirschfield, for so consistently creating poems that feel easy yet resonate more with each reading.  Zen you is, Ms.

For more about Jane Hirschfield, try The Poetry Foundation's page (scroll to the bottom for three more poems).  For more of her words, images, and ideas, try's Hirschfield page.

And for a lovely, brief interview with another marvelous poem at the end, try this:

MFB this fair weekend,

p.s.  Share a poem elegant in its simplicity?  Post and offer up your link in the comments or paste the whole poem there...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Casabianca: Poem In Your Post

Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite `The boy stood on
the burning deck.' Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love's the burning boy. 

                         - Elizabeth Bishop

I stumbled upon this poem while listening to Howard Norman's novel What Is Left The Daughter.  Bishop's fast becoming one of my favorite poets, and her puzzle-play with sense-shifting repetition seems one of her hallmark traits.  

As we caper through National Poetry Month in the U.S., I'm issuing a throw-down to all you novelists out there: take Norman's lead and weave a few stellar poems into your prose.  You know you want to, so just do it.

And you, the (perhaps) not-a-novelist reading this:  Can you recommend a book that deftly uses a poem (or three) to refine its themes and/or illuminate its characters?  


Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Rune, Interminable

Low above the moss
a sprig of scarlet berries
soon eaten or blackened
tells time.

            Go to a wedding
            as to a funeral:
            bury the loss.

            Go to a funeral
            as to a wedding:
            marry the loss.

            Go to a coming
            as to a going:

            Time is winter-green.
            Seeds keep time.
            Time, so kept, carries us
            across to no-time where

            no time is lost.

                          - Marie Ponsot

During the month of April, Knopf emails out a poem each day, each by a different featured author.  This has been an exciting way for me to sample new poets and to sneak a glance into the new works of old favorites. 

This particular poem is a sample from the most recent collection, Easy, by venerable poet-professor Marie Ponsot who is now in her 80's.  Knopf's author page offers background on her life and work, plus samples from Easy, while (my favorite site to troll for new American poets) offers additional biographical and critical information about her, plus more of her poems and links to external resources too.

I'm happy to have rediscovered her work today, and trust that you will be too.


BONUS:  Here's another of Ponsot's poems, this one offered for Easter last year by Knopf:


The rose, for all its behavior,
is smaller than the lifelove it stands for,
only briefly brightening,
and even its odor
only a metaphor.
Or so we suppose
just as we suppose the savior
we employ or see next door
is only some hired man

Friday, April 6, 2012

Poets Picking Poets

For National Poetry Month in the United States, I'm striving to read one book of poems each week and then offer a brief review here to pique your interest in the genre.

First up:  the eclectic, contemporary collection put out by McSweeney's, Poets Picking Poets.  And it's rather exactly what the title implies:

The editor of the anthology, Dominic Luxford, picked "ten poets, one poem by each.  Next, each poet chose a poem of their own and a favorite work by another poet.  Those ten new poets then picked ten more, and those ten picked ten more, and so on, until we had fifty poets, one hundred poems, an almighty treasure."

Among those gathered here you'll find well known writers such as Mark Doty, Mary Karr, Charles Simic, Jane Hirschfield, Michael Ondaatje, and C.D. Wright.  Lesser known to me but intriguing all the same were the prose poems of James Tate and Michael Burkard or the celebrants of modern life, Harryette Mullen and Mary Ruefle.

If you're looking for a whirlwind tour of some of the best and the brightest poets today, this inexpensive yet rich volume would be an excellent place to start.  You can get a look inside at or purchase it at the McSweeney's online store.

Stop by next weekend to read my favorite Jane Hirshfield poem.  It's not in the Poets Picking Poets collection, although two fine works by the Bay Area poet are anthologized therein.

Thanks to my brother who knows me well and gave me my copy of Poets Picking Poets for Christmas this year.

And hop back tomorrow for a short but characteristically fascinating Elizabeth Bishop poem that I encountered in Howard Norman's novel What Is Left The Daughter...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Peaceable Kingdom

Read it now.  Get it at Indiebound or your
local bookseller.

Or, Why I Adore Francine Prose.

There's her short fiction, this blogpost's title tome (and a recent read for me) being a stellar example.  Each story packs its own emotional epiphany or slantwise crack in the chink of our human armor.  Each boasts a core character whose perspective and persona will ring utterly new yet convincingly - if quirkily - real.  And each touches upon some non-human being - in short or at core - so that the collection's through-line is neither too limiting nor too eclectic (as in "Best Short Stories by Francine Prose: 1980-2000" or some such.  A title, by the way, which doesn't exist.).  I recommend these stories highly, and urge anyone who enjoys 'the thrill of the epiphany' - however subtle or quotidian - that characterizes this genre to give the collection a try.  In fact, I'll even mail you my copy if you like.  Just promise me you'll read it and I'll put you in the running.  (Let's make it a tax-day give-away, shall we, and close entries on April 15, 2012.)

And her novels, my favorite of which features a (not so much, really) repentant skinhead trying to make amends by working for an Elie Wiesel-esque humanitarian's international NGO, then falling in love with its fundraising guru.  Is the erstwhile violent racist truly A Changed Man or not?  And has the Holocaust victim-cum-celebrity-Nobel Laureate been a tad corrupted by fame?  To Prose's credit, this darkly comic novel packs suspense and plenty of insight in all those grey areas in which real humans perpetually live.  And she's not afraid to address taboo subjects or to craft fully imperfect characters.  I admire her guts in a world that seems to demand (check out reviews of any books with less-than-admirable protagonists on Goodreads or Amazon if you doubt me) that central characters be charming, attractive, and well-meaning at all times.*

And, last but certainly not least, I commend to you Ms. Prose's non-fiction, her oughta-feature-prominently- on-every-serious-writer's/reader's-shelf volume Reading Like A Writer.  How many times have I turned its pages?  Happily, I've lost count.  If you're looking to shift your perspective on prose, there's no better work to tweak your current habits into open-eyed clarity.  And her list of recommended reading in the appendix is worth the price of the book.

Bottom line:  if you like novels, you'll like Prose; if you like short fiction, you'll double-like Prose; and if you care about writing and reading, well then, if you haven't read Prose you'll be hopping right now to your local bookseller to find yourself Reading Like A Writer at last.


* Quick non-Prose aside:  Another stellar and all too infrequently read novel on similar themes is Dreamer by Charles Johnson, about an MLK look-alike with a seemingly murderous past who becomes the famed preacher/human rights advocate's body double.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Island Horse by Susan Hughes

What a fine historical fiction for all horse-loving girls age six (precocious readers) through eleven-ish.

Or, if you're an adult who grew up a fan of the Misty of Chincoteague books or The Black Stallion series, you'll spend a nostalgic hour or two immersed in Ms. Hughes's sure-footed prose and her winning ten-year-old heroine Ellie.

Bonus: You'll visit Sable Island (off the coast of Nova Scotia), shipwreck capital of the Atlantic, in the early 1800's.  Fascinating history pairs with a sweetly (and age appropriately) transparent coming-of-age story that was surprisingly diverting for me.

And if you know a young girl who loves horses and would be comfortable - or perhaps even eager - encountering a story that starts with Ellie's mother's death and takes our heroine on a journey of healing as she gradually opens to the possibilities of her new Sable Island home, then be sure to give this pitch-perfect novel by award-winner Susan Hughes a try.

Rating: Four hooves a-pacing (out of five) for young horse-lovers.

And I'm back in the saddle again!


p.s.  My action for this book: I researched Sable Island and also planned a trip out into our county's horse country to commune with a few of the locals. Perhaps I'll re-read Misty too, for our book group's return-to-childhood book focus next month.
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