April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #20

Not many of my own words today, and besides, today’s poem is by Sharon Olds, and how could I possibly compete with that?


Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.

Poem-a-Day

Sharon Olds, in her poems across the decades, has carried us through many of her life’s passages, as well as those of her growing children — their milestones are both part of her story and then not, as she sees them emerge into their own separate narratives. Today’s poem ushers us thoughtfully into graduation season, with its partings that are also new beginnings.

To share the Poem-a-Day experience, pass along this link.

                   

High School Senior

For seventeen years, her breath in the house
at night, puff, puff, like summer
cumulus above her bed,
and her scalp smelling of apricots
— this being who had formed within me,
squatted like a wide-eyed tree-frog in the night,
like an eohippus she had come out of history
slowly, through me, into the daylight,
I had the daily sight of her,
like food or air she was there, like a mother.
I say “college,” but I feel as if I cannot tell
the difference between her leaving for college
and our parting forever — I try to see
this apartment without her, without her pure
depth of feeling, without her creek-brown
hair, her daedal hands with their tapered
fingers, her pupils brown as the mourning cloak’s
wing, but I can’t. Seventeen years
ago, in this room, she moved inside me,
I looked at the river, I could not imagine
my life with her. I gazed across the street,
And saw, in the icy winter sun,
a column of steam rush up away from the earth.
There are creatures whose children float away
at birth, and those who throat-feed their young for
weeks and never see them again. My daughter
is free and she is in me — no, my love
of her is in me, moving in my heart,
changing chambers, like something poured
from hand to hand, to be weighed and then reweighed.

~ Sharon Olds

                   

Music by Linda Rondstadt, “Long, Long Time” (best copy I could find)

April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #15

Backpost.

Tax day. Taxes have been slaying me, which hasn’t helped with the whole issue of life in general. I had planned to stop backposting these Knopf Poem-A-Day entries, but this particular one by Tracy K. Smith is too, too beautiful to forego, and I need a permanent record of sorts somewhere, at least until I can buy the book.


Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.

Poem-a-Day

The poet Tracy K. Smith (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her 2011 collection Life on Mars) tells a rich coming-of-age story in her new memoir and first book of prose, Ordinary Light. The youngest of five children, raised in suburban California by Alabama-born, African-American parents, Smith in this book looks back at herself as a growing girl: at her dawning understanding of her parents’ youth, so different from her own, during the Civil Rights movement; at her mother’s devout Christianity, which allows her to accept her cancer diagnosis as part of God’s plan; at the pain of losing her mother too early; at her first moments of independence at Harvard and her desire to become a writer. In this passage, we meet Smith in the college library, where she makes a connection between her mother’s faith and language, and her development as a poet.

To share the Poem-a-Day experience, pass along this link.

                   

From Ordinary Light:

My mother’s language was always the language of the soul. But it grew clearer, more telegraphic, once the cancer began to accelerate her sense that she was on her way elsewhere. So much of the time, living with such knowledge, her mind must have been tuned to the idea of what awaited her: I go to prepare a place for you. If it were not so, I would have told you. In some strange way, the return to the soul state might simply be the answer to the prayer that sits behind every prayer: Deliver me. Is there another dialect of the soul, a way it speaks in those who don’t possess the vocabulary of belief? A way it stirs and surges as if to say Here I am, something we don’t hear but that we feel and, feeling, know.

I liked to sit in the leather armchairs facing the tall windows in Lamont Library. The windows looked out onto Mass Ave. at the intersection of Quincy Street, and when I’d glance up from my page, I’d see people I knew and people I didn’t know moving back and forth along the axes of their lives. The reading room silence would obliterate all the outside traffic noises, and the daylight would baptize the pedestrians, it seemed to me, in a kind of transparent splendor, as if for the few moments they appeared in frame, they were resplendent in the inviolable promise we were all of us born into. It didn’t matter if they were in a rush or a daze, if they coughed into their fists or if smoke streamed from their mouths. Each wore, for an instant if not more, a mantle of eminent belonging, as if the moment that held them was not a mistake, as if they were not lost or alone or under a heap of insurmountable dread. Here I am, something in them seemed to be saying to the pavement, the fallen leaves, to no one in particular.

I was taking a poetry workshop, my third so far at Harvard. In it, I had discovered that sitting down with an idea and letting it unfold in words and sounds offered me not just pleasure but an indescribable comfort. I wanted to write the kind of poetry that people read and remembered, that they lived by — the kinds of lines that I carried with me from moment to moment on a given day without even having chosen to. Back out of all this now too much for us, said Robert Frost, and when I heard his words in my ears, they gave weight and purpose to my footsteps, to the breath going in and out of my lungs; they gave me terms with which to consider bits and pieces of the things I otherwise didn’t know how to acknowledge. Frost’s voice telling me to retreat (at least that’s part of what I heard in that line, hovering in space on its own, apart from the rest of the poem or even the rest of its sentence) emboldened me to admit that, yes, I was overwhelmed. My mother’s cancer overwhelmed me. Her death, waiting out there in the distance, overwhelmed me. So did the loneliness I still sometimes felt, even amid the chatter and bustle of friends and classes.

Perhaps without realizing it, I, like my mother long before she belonged to me, had been seeking something. I was searching. Not for any one thing in particular, and not as a result of a single glaring lack, but seeking — searching — nonetheless.

Poetry met my particular sense of need. Writing a poem, I sometimes felt like I was building a house from scratch, raising the walls, hanging the doors, laying out the rooms. It felt at times like backbreaking work. Other times, it seemed that what I was trying to evoke or encounter in a poem was already alive somewhere and that my job was merely to listen. The language of each of the poetry workshops I’d taken was built upon the assumption that there really was something else at play. My teachers talked about our poems as if they were sentient beings with plans and wishes of their own, wishes it was up to us to carry into language. “Your poem seems to be leading you in one direction, but you insist upon going in another.” Or, “Try and cut out all this noise so you can hear what the poem is trying to tell you.” It sounded quite nearly mystical, like we were playing at divination, but it also rang true. Wasn’t it strange that a poem, written in my vocabulary and as a result of my own thoughts or observations, could, when it was finished, manage to show me something I hadn’t already known? Sometimes, when I tried very hard to listen to what the poem I was writing was trying to tell me, I felt the way I imagined godly people felt when they were trying to discern God’s will. “Write this,” the poem would sometimes consent to say, and I’d revel in a joy to rival the saints’ that Poetry — this mysterious presence I talked about and professed belief in — might truly be real.

Often, that spring, I found myself sitting in a reading room window with a book I ought to have been reading for class, but I also always had a black sketchbook into which I’d begun writing lines of my own. Sometimes, I wrote the same stanza over and over until something was unlocked and I could move forward. Once or twice, I’d stopped mid-poem, altogether stumped, and started a letter to myself in which I’d describe whatever it was I was having trouble getting into language: What does it mean to slog through the weight of the everyday, to wake to anxiety, to spend the day straining to hear what they must be saying now that you’re out of earshot, to have to put on the boots, though you’re tired, always tired, and just keep going? Sometimes all of the watching and listening and waiting finally gave way to a poem:

The Ordinary Life

To rise early, reconsider, rise again later
to papers and the news. To smoke a few if time
permits and, second-guessing the weather,

dress. Another day of what we bring to it-
matters unfinished from days before,

regret over matters we’ve finished poorly.
Just once you’d like to start out early,
free from memory and lighter for it.
Like Adam, on that first day: alone

but cheerful, no fear of the maker,
anything his for the naming; nothing
to shrink from, nothing to shirk,

no lot to carry that wasn’t by choice.
And at night, no voice to keep him awake,
no hurry to rise, no hurry not to.

April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #1

Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.

Poem-a-Day

Welcome to Poetry Month — and, while we’re at it, to the 100th anniversary of the Knopf publishing imprint. In 1925, when the house was not yet in its teen years, the work of the young poet Langston Hughes was introduced to editor Blanche Knopf through the writer, photographer, and Harlem Renaissance enthusiast Carl Van Vechten. Hughes’s first book, The Weary Blues, was published by Knopf in 1926. This year, we’ve reissued that groundbreaking volume. Hughes was only in his twenties, but already knew he had something important to say — he “manages remarkably to take Whitman’s American ‘I’ and write himself into it,” says the poet Kevin Young, in a new foreword to the collection which appears alongside Van Vechten’s original introduction. This commemorative Weary Blues edition happily appears at the same time as the long-awaited Selected Letters of Langston Hughes, assiduously edited and contextualized by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel, in order to give us a virtual “life in letters.”

We offer here a poem from the book, followed by an excerpt of a letter from around the time of its publication, written by Langston to Van Vechten from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where Langston was studying, after having earlier spent a year at Columbia University in 1921-1922. He found Columbia “generally unfriendly,” as Rampersad and Roessel put it, and dropped out to pursue odd jobs. Before going to Lincoln, he had already begun to build a community in Harlem which would become central to his life. This letter is characteristically lively in its tone — breezy, warm, and alert to the ironies of the writer’s struggle — and in its references to people and culture of that moment: the Howard University professor Alain Locke; literary journals such as The Reviewer and Poetry (the former long gone but the latter still flourishing); patrons of the arts Elizabeth Sergeant, Mabel Dodge, and A’Lelia Walker (one of the richest black women in America in that period), and the Broadway production LuLu Belle, a Harlem street melodrama in which the white actress Lenore Ulric appeared in blackface.

 To share the Poem-a-Day experience, pass along this link.

                   

Disillusion

I would be simple again,
Simple and clean
Like the earth,
Like the rain,
Nor ever know,
Dark Harlem,
The wild laughter
Of your mirth
Nor the salt tears
Of your pain.
Be kind to me,
Oh, great dark city.
Let me forget.
I will not come
To you again.


Feb. 21, 1926
Lincoln University, Pa.

Dear Carl,

Because I wanted to have time to sit down and write you a decent letter, I haven’t written you at all. When I came back from New York I got in just in time to make a dinner engagement and from then on it was something every day and every night until I left. Negro History Week, with the demand for several readings, the public dinner at the “Y” in honor of Locke’s book and mine, the before leaving parties given by people who wouldn’t have looked at me before the red, yellow, and black cover of the Weary Blues hit them in the eye, teas and telephones, and letters! Golly, I’m glad to get away from Washington. […]

I hear The Reviewer is no longer being published, but if it is, I’m glad you’ve given them five of my Blues. I hope that leaves some for a try at Poetry. […]

I like the school out here immensely. We’re a community in ourselves. Rolling hills and trees and plenty of room. Life is crude, the dorms like barns but comfortable, food plain and solid, first bell at six-thirty, and nobody dresses up, — except Sunday. Other days old clothes and boots. The fellows are mostly strong young chaps from the South. They’ll never be “intellectuals,” — probably happier for not being, — but they have a good time. There are some exceptions, though. Several boys from Northern prep schools, two or three who have been in Europe, one who danced at the Club Alabam’. And then there are the ones who are going to be preachers. They’re having revival now. But nothing exciting, no shouting. No spirituals. You might find it amusing down here, tho, if you come. I room with the campus bootlegger. The first night I was here there was an all night party for a departing senior. So ribald did it become that the faculty heard about it and sent five Juniors “out in the world.” And are trying to find out who else was there. There is perhaps more freedom than at any other Negro school. The students do just about as they choose.

I think I’ll be in New York Friday. Of course, I want to come see you some time during the week-end, if you’ll let me. Miss Sergeant said something about my meeting Mable Dodge, too, and also this trip I am supposed to meet A’Lelia Walker. Last time she sent two books for me to autograph for her, but I didn’t get to see her. […]

I’m anxious to see “Lulu Belle.” Some of my poems were in the Herald Tribune last Sunday, I heard, but I didn’t see it out here. However a check came so they must a been there.

Sincerely,
Langston

“you can return to the scenes of a love, of a crime, of happiness, and of a fatal decision; the places are what remain, are what you can possess, are what is immortal. They become the tangible landscape of memory, the places that made you, and in some way you too become them. They are what you can possess and in the end what possesses you.” ~ Rebecca Solnit, from A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Emil Nolde Two Red Fish

“Two Red Fish” (nd)
by Emil Nolde


Two for Tuesday: Fate

Tuesday, early evening. Sunny, 50’s.

I’ve managed to pick up several new followers in the past few weeks, which made me comment to Corey that perhaps I should just leave this site alone and let it gather followers on its own . . . Anyway, welcome to all of the new people. I’m so glad that you’ve decided to visit. I hope I can find interesting things to offer you.

Well, I actually slept last night, real sleep, for the first time in five nights. Between the akathisia, the restless legs, and the switch-up on my meds, I’ve been a wreck.

I actually had some energy, so of course, I buzzed through the house cleaning everything I could before exhaustion took over. I just hate it when I sit in the rocking chair and see a layer of dust. Anyway, cleaner house, but still so much more to do, but as usual, I did too much my first day out of bed, so we’ll see how well I’m moving tomorrow. Pain sucks, can I just say?

Hope your Tuesday is going well.

More later. Peace.

Music by Other Lives, “Dust Bowl III”

                   

Emil Nolde Naked Woman and Red Flowers aka Semi-Nude 1938-1945

“Naked Woman and Red Flowers (semi-nude)(1938-45)
by Emil Nolde

Each Sound

Beginnings are brutal, like this accident
of stars colliding, mute explosions
of colorful gases, the mist and dust
that would become our bodies
hurling through black holes, rising,
muck ridden, from pits of tar and clay.
Back then it was easy to have teeth,
claw our way into the trees–it was
accepted, the monkeys loved us, sat
on their red asses clapping and laughing.
We’ve forgotten the luxury of dumbness,
how once we crouched naked on an outcrop
of rock, the moon huge and untouched
above us, speechless. Now we talk
about everything, incessantly,
our moans and grunts turned on a spit
into warm vowels and elegant consonants.
We say plethora, demitasse, ozone and love.
We think we know what each sound means.
There are times when something so joyous
or so horrible happens our only response
is an intake of breath, and then
we’re back at the truth of it,
that ball of life expanding
and exploding on impact, our heads,
our chests, filled with that first
unspeakable light.

~ Dorianne Laux

                   

Emil Nolde Saint in the Desert 1911

“Saint in the Desert” (1911)
by Emil NOlde

 

Pandora

September.
Second-year medical student.
An early patient interview
at the Massachusetts General Hospital
Routine hernia repair planned, not done.
Abdomen opened and closed.
Filled with disease, cancer.

The patient is fifty-six,
a workingman, Irish
I sit with him, notice
the St. Christopher medal
around his neck.
Can’t hurt, can it? he laughs.
I have become his friend.

I bring him a coloring book picture
that shows this thing, this unfamiliar
organ that melted beneath our hands
at dissection:
Pancreas.

Leaving his room, crying,
avoiding classmates,
I take the back stairs.
I find myself locked,
coatless in the courtyard outside.

~ Kelley Jean White

FYI: Poetry Month is Coming

 

I’m sharing this e-mail I received from Knopf reminding me of Poetry Month in April. If any of you are lucky enough to be near the NYC reading, it’s a great lineup.

Join us again this April for our poem-a-day celebration! As a subscriber on this list, you’ll be receiving a poem from Knopf in your inbox each day.

Now is a great time to share the poem-a-day experience with friends! To do so, pass along this link >>

Also, come out for a Knopf Poetry Reading in NYC next week, featuring Edward Hirsch, Sharon Olds, and Patrick Phillips, 6:30 pm on Tuesday the 17th. Details here.

For our friends in San Francisco, attend the Mechanics’ Institute Library Poetry Month kick-off event on April 1, where Knopf poet Jane Hirshfield will read from her work. Details here.

And to whet your appetite for Poem-a-Day, a poem by Jane Hirshfield, from The Beauty, published this month by Knopf:

Quartz ClockThe ideas of a physicist
can be turned into useful objects:
a rocket, a quartz clock,
a microwave oven for cooking.
The ideas of poems turn into only themselves,
as the hands of the clock do,
or the face of a person.
It changes, but only more into the person.


Two for Tuesday: Personal Histories

Gertrude Hermes The Cuckoo 1958 woodblock and linocut

“The Cuckoo” (1958, woodblock and linocut)
by Gertrude Hermes


“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” ~ William Stafford, as found on Writer’s Almanac

Tuesday evening. Clear and cold, 24 degrees.

Yes, I’m still here. Let’s just call February a wash, shall we? It was a horrible month for so many reasons, and yet this surprises me not at all because my Februaries are almost always horrible; this one just happened to be a record for physical and mental pain. My rebound migraine finally seems to be breaking—after four weeks. It’s a good thing Corey and I didn’t try to fit in a trip to Ohio in the past few weeks, as I would have been miserable company.

The headache is still here, just not nearly as acute as before. The snow is supposed to melt tomorrow as the temperatures are supposed to hit the 60s. Of course on Thursday, we’re supposed to have freezing rain again. I have left the house twice in the past two weeks, once for the doctor, and once to make a trip to campus with Brett.

Cabin fever anyone?

                   

“Pine Branch” (1951)
by Eyvind Earle

The Phone Call

She calls Chicago, but no one
is home. The operator asks
for another number but still
no one answers. Together
they try twenty-one numbers,
and at each no one is ever home.
“Can I call Baltimore?” she asks.
She can, but she knows no one
in Baltimore, no one in
St Louis, Boston, Washington.
She imagines herself standing
before the glass wall high
over Lake Shore Drive, the cars
below fanning into the city.
East she can see all the way
to Gary and the great gray clouds
of exhaustion rolling over
the lake where her vision ends.
This is where her brother lives.
At such height there’s nothing,
no birds, no growing, no noise.
She leans her sweating forehead
against the cold glass, shudders,
and puts down the receiver.

~ William Stafford

                   

Igor Grabar Winter Rooks Nest 1904

“Winter Rook’s Nest” (1904)
by Igor Grabar

Solstice

Remember how the city looked from the harbor
in early evening: its brutal gaze
averted, its poised and certain countenance
wavering with lights?

Remember how we sat in swaybacked chairs
and marvelled at the brush fires
of dusk clear in the distance, the flames
scrawled across the skyline

like a signature while currents shifted
inside us? Ecstasy of fire—
works rising in midsummer, of fulvous sails
flashing in the heat

And orange life buoys bobbing on the water;
ecstasy of flares and secrets
and two bodies held aloft by desire…
judge us as you will,

but remember that we, too, lived once
in the fullness of a moment
before the darkness took its turn with us
and the night clamped shut.

~ Edward Hirsch

                   

Music by Dustin Kensrue, “This Good Night Is Still Everywhere”

“I began my life as I shall no doubt end it: amidst books.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre, from The Words: The Autobiography of Jean-Paul Sartre

Reading Bingo Card

Reading Bingo Card
Challenge: Post your results in the comments section, if you like.

How Well Do You Know The Opening Lines Of Famous Books?

Saturday evening. Partly cloudy and warmer, 50 degrees.

Yesterday for a while it felt like this migraine was finally going away completely . . . then I woke up this morning, and . . . you guessed it . . . headache BACK!

Another short one just to let you know that I’m still alive. I found this quiz on BuzzFeed, and I’m hoping the book lovers out there will enjoy it as much as I did. Try to ignore the misspelling of Anna Karenina and the fact that they have put the book titles in quotations instead of italics.

Here is a sample:

  • Emma, by Jane Austen
  • David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
  • Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Let me know how you did in the comments section.

                   

I am also including a bit from an essay by Dylan Thomas, called “Notes on the Art of Poetry.” Over the years, extracts from this essay have been melded into a poem of sorts, but I like it better in its original prose form (click here to read in its entirety). Thomas wrote the essay in 1951 in response to a query from a college student hoping to learn more about craft. Here is my selection:

. . . What I like to do is treat words as a craftsman does his wood or stone or what-have-you, to hew, carve, mould, coil, polish and plane them into patterns, sequences, sculptures, fugues of sound expressing some lyrical impulse, some spiritual doubt or conviction, some dimly-realised truth I must try to reach and realise.) . . . I read indiscriminately, and with my eyes hanging out. I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on in the world between the covers of books, such sand-storms and ice-blasts of words, such slashing of humbug, and humbug too, such staggering peace, such enormous laughter, such and so many blinding bright lights breaking across the just-awaking wits and splashing all over the pages in a million bits and pieces all of which were words, words, words, and each of which was alive forever in its own delight and glory and oddity of light.

. . . All that matters about poetry is the enjoyment of it, however tragic it may be. All that matters is the eternal movement behind it, the vast undercurrent of human grief, folly, pretension, exaltation, or ignorance, however unlofty the intention of the poem.

. . . You’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in.

More later. Peace.

                    

Music by Tom Odell, “Long Way Down”