Two for Tuesday: Mary Szybist


“I had the happy idea to polish the reflecting glass and say
hello to my own blue soul. Hello, blue soul. Hello.” ~ Mary Szybist, from “Happy Ideas”

Tuesday afternoon, cloudy, 32 degrees.

Today’s Two for Tuesday features poems by American poet Mary Szybist, winner of a Pushcart Prize in 2012; among her other awards are the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry, the 2003 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books and the 2004 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. She is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and the Witter Bynner Foundation. Szybist teaches at Lewis & Clark College

You can read more about her in interviews with The Paris Review and with UVA Magazine. In July of this year Szybist was named the 2019 laureate of The George W. Hunt, S.J., Prize for Journalism, Arts & Letters for outstanding work in the category of Poetry.


The Troubadours Etc.

Just for this evening, let’s not mock them.
Not their curtsies or cross-garters
or ever-recurring pepper trees in their gardens
promising, promising.

At least they had ideas about love.

All day we’ve driven past cornfields, past cows poking their heads
through metal contraptions to eat.
We’ve followed West 84, and what else?
Irrigation sprinklers fly past us, huge wooden spools in the fields,
lounging sheep, telephone wires,
yellowing flowering shrubs.

Before us, above us, the clouds swell, layers of them,
the violet underneath of clouds.
Every idea I have is nostalgia. Look up:
there is the sky that passenger pigeons darkened and filled—
darkened for days, eclipsing sun, eclipsing all other sound
with the thunder of their wings.
After a while, it must have seemed that they followed
not instinct or pattern but only
one another.

When they stopped, Audubon observed,
they broke the limbs of stout trees by the weight of the numbers.

And when we stop we’ll follow—what?
Our hearts?

The Puritans thought that we are granted the ability to love
only through miracle,
but the troubadours knew how to burn themselves through,
how to make themselves shrines to their own longing.
The spectacular was never behind them.

Think of days of those scarlet-breasted, blue-winged birds above you.
Think of me in the garden, humming
quietly to myself in my blue dress,
a blue darker than the sky above us, a blue dark enough for storms,
though cloudless.

At what point is something gone completely?
The last of the sunlight is disappearing
even as it swells—

Just for this evening, won’t you put me before you
until I’m far enough away you can
believe in me?

Then try, try to come closer—
my wonderful and less than.

*********

On Wanting to Tell [ ] about a Girl Eating Fish Eyes

—how her loose curls float
above each silver fish as she leans in
to pluck its eyes—

You died just hours ago.
Not suddenly, no. You’d been dying so long
nothing looked like itself: from your window,
fishermen swirled sequins;
fishnets entangled the moon.

Now the dark rain
looks like dark rain. Only the wine
shimmers with candlelight. I refill the glasses
and we raise a toast to you
as so and so’s daughter—elfin, jittery as a sparrow—
slides into another lap
to eat another pair of slippery eyes
with her soft fingers, fingers rosier each time,
for being chewed a little.

If only I could go to you, revive you.
You must be a little alive still.
I’d like to put this girl in your lap.
She’s almost feverishly warm and she weighs
hardly anything. I want to show you how
she relishes each eye, to show you
her greed for them.

She is placing one on her tongue,
bright as a polished coin—

What do they taste like? I ask.
Twisting in my lap, she leans back
sleepily. They taste like eyes, she says.

“We are right at the start, do you see. As though before everything. With a thousand and one dreams behind us and no act.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from “Notes on the Melody of Things” (Section I)

I began this post Sunday afternoon, and then my computer decided to act up again. All of the script errors are back, and now whenever I do a search, half of the results page is blank. I’ve scanned for malware, and the scan says that everything is fine, but obviously, everything is not fine. I am so weary—these recurring computer issues always seem to rear their ugly head precisely at the moment in which I have decided to post, that exact moment in which I am finally ready to sit here and just let the words pour forth.

The fates conspire against me.


Sunday afternoon, partly cloudy, 43 degrees.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “Notes on the Melody of Things” in 1898, when he was only twenty-two years old, but the piece was not published in his lifetime. Many of the same ideas from “Notes” appeared in another essay, “The Value of theMonologue.” I have chosen to share just a few of my favorite passages, but you can find the full text here.

III. That occurs to me: when I observe: that we still always paint people against a gold background, like the Italian Primitives. People stand before something indefinite—sometimes gold, sometimes gray. Sometimes they stand in the light, and often with an unfathomable darkness behind them.

XVI. Whether it be the singing of a lamp or the voice of a storm, whether it be the breath of an evening or the groan of the ocean — whatever surrounds you, a broad melody always wakes behind you, woven out of a thousand voices, where there is room for your own solo only here and there. To know when you need to join in: that is the secret of your solitude: just as the art of true interactions with others is to let yourself fall away from high words into a single common melody.

XX. In other cases, when there is no difficult, heavy pain to make people equally silent, one of them hears more of the powerful melody of the background, the other hears less. Many no longer hear it at all. They are like trees that have forgotten their roots and now think that the rustling of their branches is their power and their life. Many people don’t have time to hear it. They are impatient with every hour enveloping them. These poor, homeless people have lost the meaning of existence. They strike the keyboard of their days and play the same, monotonous, lost note over and over again.

XXI. If, then, we want to be initiates of life, we must keep two things in mind:

First, the great melody, in which things and scents, feelings and pasts, twilights and desires, all play their parts; —

and second: the individual voices which augment and complete this full chorus.

Today is the birthday of novelist and playwright Frances Hodgson Burnett (November 24, 1849 – October 29, 1924), author of one of the first books that I chose to read as a child, The Secret Garden (1911). I still have a very clear memory of the local library’s children’s section, the exact location of the stacks I used to spend countless hours perusing in search of books to read.

I also read her other well-known book The Little Princess (1905), which was turned into a movie with child actor Shirley Temple, but I much preferred a lesser known book The Lost Prince (1915). Even as a child, I had a propensity for finding an author and dedicating myself to reading as much of that author’s oeuvre as I could get my hands on. When you are an only child, books can be a reliable bulwark against loneliness, as they were for me.

More later. Peace.


Music by Ben Cocks, “So Cold”

If it’s Friday, it must mean leftovers . . .


“For we all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them.” ~ George Eliot, from Middlemarch

Friday afternoon, drizzle, 48 degrees.

Another week without much production on my part. I’ve spent over a week trying to coordinate the delivery of my next Aimovig shot, and the entire process has been unnecessarily tedious and difficult, talking with different reps each day, being told different things each day, being told delivery was scheduled only to find that it has not been scheduled.

As I’m getting this medication free, I probably should not complain, but what bothers me the most is that I have been unable to introduce this medicine into my system uninterrupted; it’s one of those things that needs consistency to work best, so because of the hiccup in delivery, I’m starting over.

Things like this tend to consume my attention, which means that everything else falls by the wayside, which, most especially, means posting (or not posting, as it were) with any regularity. Add to this the stress resulting from the omnipresent impeachment hearings, and my daily allotment of brain cells burns up far too quickly.

I know. I could not pay attention to the politics, and I could ignore the incompetence of the people giving me incorrect information, but you and I both know that I won’t.

Oh well . . . . . . Have some leftovers . . . . . . . . .

Today is the birthday of British writer George Eliot, pen name for Mary Ann Evans (November 22, 1819–December 22, 1880). You can read about her here.


Need this:

Yep.

image

This explains Japan’s love affair with all things Kit Kat related:

It never fails to happen . . .

image

Too true, that . . .

Took me a second . . .

Do I detect a bit of sarcasm?

The memes are vicious today:

And finally:

“I wobble on a drunken sea, crawling between pebbles and slow fish, never knowing if anyone will like any poem.” ~ Anne Sexton, Letter to unnamed Benedictine monk (1961)

Image result for The Hours movie

“I hoard books. They are people who do not leave.” ~ Anne Sexton, from a letter to unnamed Benedictine monk

Monday afternoon, partly cloudy, 59 degrees.

Corey is on his way home from Ohio after taking his mother back after her visit. I’m still having major problems in trying to write, technical issues coupled with brain focusing issues.  Sorry . . .

Birthdays of Note . . .

With all of the computer problems and other stuff, I’ve fallen woefully behind in my authors’ birthday notices, so I thought that I’d post a few here for now:

November 6 (this was a bad day for me):
Michael Cunningham (1952), author of The Hours, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. Also, a great movie (2002) with Meryl Streep, Julianna More, and Nicole Kidman, who won a best actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf.

November 9:
Anne Sexton (November 9, 1928-October 4, 1974), one of my favorite poets. More information here on The Poetry Foundation, and an interesting article entitled “The Poet and the Monk: An Anne Sexton Love Story,” found here on Lit Hub.

November 10:
Nail Gaiman (1960), English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, nonfiction, audio theater, and films. He has a very cool website here.


Music by Mazzy Star, “Into Dust” (featured previously in a 2012 post)


The Ambition Bird

So it has come to this —
insomnia at 3:15 A.M.,
the clock tolling its engine

like a frog following
a sundial yet having an electric
seizure at the quarter hour.

The business of words keeps me awake.
I am drinking cocoa,
the warm brown mama.

I would like a simple life
yet all night I am laying
poems away in a long box.

It is my immortality box,
my lay-away plan,
my coffin.

All night dark wings
flopping in my heart.
Each an ambition bird.

The bird wants to be dropped
from a high place like Tallahatchie Bridge.

He wants to light a kitchen match
and immolate himself.

He wants to fly into the hand of Michelangelo
and come out painted on a ceiling.

He wants to pierce the hornet’s nest
and come out with a long godhead.

He wants to take bread and wine
and bring forth a man happily floating in the Caribbean.

He wants to be pressed out like a key
so he can unlock the Magi.

He wants to take leave among strangers
passing out bits of his heart like hors d’oeuvres.

He wants to die changing his clothes
and bolt for the sun like a diamond.

He wants, I want.
Dear God, wouldn’t it be
good enough just to drink cocoa?

I must get a new bird
and a new immortality box.
There is folly enough inside this one.

~ Anne Sexton

“But our innocence goes awfully deep, and our discreditable secret is that we don’t know anything at all, and our horrid inner secret is that we don’t care that we don’t.” ~ Dylan Thomas, from a letter to his wife (November/December 1936)

Dylan Thomas in his favorite environment: a bar

My birthday began with the water-
…..Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
……..Above the farms and the white horses
…………….And I rose
………….In rainy autumn
….And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.” ~ Dylan Thomas, from “Poem in October”

Sunday evening, cloudy, 66 degrees.

Today is the birthday of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (October 27, 1914-November 9, 1953). The Poetry Foundation has a good biography and selection of his poems, or you can visit the official website, Discover Dylan Thomas, here.

I still remember the circumstances in which I read my first Thomas poem: I was an undergraduate, working in the newsroom, and one of the editors brought me a handwritten copy of his most famous poem (below) and asked me to type it as she wanted to give it to her father. I realize now what I was unable to fathom at that time, that her father must have been ill.

I remember being moved by the words as I typed them, so moved that in the ignorance of my youth I decided to write my own version. I know, right? Ah, the unfounded arrogance that only the young possess.

I showed that version to one of my writing professors, and she very kindly pointed out that perhaps there were some poems that should not be rewritten, or updated, or mangled by an overwrought young writer (she didn’t say the last part).

Yeh. It was that bad, but I digress . . .

Anyway, listening to Thomas’s deep, melodious voice read his own work enhances the impact of the words and phrasing of his poems. The wonder is that Thomas was able to retain his mellifluous speaking voice in spite of how much he drank and smoked, as opposed to, say, Charles Bukowski. whose voice was scratchy from booze and cigarettes.

More later. Peace.

Today is also the birthday of poet and writer Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932February 11, 1963), who I have featured here several times before.

Dylan Thomas reading his poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night”


Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

“Between narrow walls we walk: insanity on one side, & fat dullness on the other.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal entry (September ? 1840)

Illustration by Margaret C. Cook for a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass

Two for Tuesday: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller

Tuesday afternoon, sunny and very windy, 61 degrees.

Today I’m tackling two people as opposed to two poems or two passages, and in so doing, I realize fully that I am barely moving beyond the surface layer of two very complex individuals. It is not hard to find a plethora of books and essays about the life and works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803April 27, 1882), the so-called “Sage of Concord,” and while available research on Margaret Fuller (May 23, 1810July 19, 1850) has not been as prolific as that on Emerson, the last 40 years have seen a resurgence in interest on the feminist icon.

Fuller, a well-known name in Women’s Studies, died tragically at the age of only 40. However, Fuller was noted for her groundbreaking achievements, including being the first female American foreign correspondent, as well as the first female combat reporter, as well as being first woman to attend Emerson’s all-male Transcendental Club. In 2013 Judith Thurman reviewed Megan Marshall’s biography on Fuller in an article titled “An Unfinished Woman,” which you can find here.

I recently read an article on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova called “The Conflicted Love Letters of Emerson and Fuller.” Admittedly, I am not an Emersonian scholar, knowing only the basics—a la Wikipedia—about the American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet; the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century is often attributed to Emerson. I also know little about Emerson’s relationship with Fuller, who was once considered the “best read woman in America.” Fuller was a prominent female intellectual renowned for her literary criticism and feminist writing, most notable of which was her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1845, which advocated more independence for woman and broader lives beyond the traditional hearth and home.

“Ask me what I think of you & me, — & I am put to confusion.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, from a letter to Margaret Fuller

The article led me to peruse some of Emerson’s journal entries, such as some from the 1840s in which he reacts to the paradoxical nature of his relationship with Fuller. One entry is quoted in the Brain Pickings’ article:

You would have me love you. What shall I love? Your body? The supposition disgusts you. What you have thought & said? Well, whilst you were thinking & saying them, but not now. I see no possibility of loving any thing but what now is, & is becoming; your courage, your enterprize, your budding affection, your opening thought, your prayer, I can love—but what else? (September 26, 1840)

More from  Emerson’s journal:

. . . When I write a letter to any one whom I love I have no lack of words or thoughts: I am wiser than myself & read my paper with the pleasure of one who receives a letter, but what I write to fill up the gaps of a chapter is hard & cold, is grammar & logic; there is no magic in it; I do not wish to see it again. Settle with yourself your accusations of me. If I do not please you, ask me not to please you, but please yourself. What you call my indolence, nature does not accuse; the twinkling leaves, the sailing fleets of waterflies, the deep sky like me well enough and know me for their own . . . You do not know me If my debts, as they threaten, should consume what money I have, I should live just as I do now. (October 7, 1840)

I do not give you my time, but I give you that which I have put my time into, namely my letter or my poem, the expression of my opinion, or better yet which in solitude I have learned to do. (October 1840)

For her part, Fuller opined regarding their relationship: more than friends, but exactly what, neither could discern:

We are to be much to one another. How often have I left you despairing and forlorn. How often have I said, this light will never understand my fire; this clear eye will never discern the law by which I am filling my circle; this simple force will never interpret my need to manifold being.

I think that what I and others find most relatable in their relationship is its very duality, the “emotional confusion” that abounded in their intimacy.


Music by Pomplamoose, featuring Sarah Dugas, “Sweet Dreams + Seven Nation Army”

“I hurt | therefore I exist” ~ Claribel Alegría, from “I am Mirror”

Poet Claribel Alegría (by Simon Hurst)

“Every time I name them
my dead are resurrected.” ~ Claribel Alegría, “Every time I name them” (Trans. Carolyn Forché)

Tuesday afternoon, foggy and cloudy, 61 degrees.

Today’s Two for Tuesday features Nicaraguan/Salvadoran poet, essayist, and journalist Claribel Alegría (May 12, 1924-January 25, 2018). Born Clara Isabel Alegría Vides in Nicaragua to physician father Daniel Alegría, her father opposed the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in 1924; the family was subsequently forced into exile in her mother’s home country of El Salvador while Claribel was still an infant. Her obituary in The Washington Post refers to her as “a leading poet of suffering and anguish.” She was best known in the U.S. for the bilingual edition of her volume of poetry, Flores del volcán/Flowers from the Volcano (1982), which was translated by the poet Carolyn Forché.

A 1953 portrait

Algería’s work combined the personal with the political by sometimes focusing on the violence that plagued both Nicaragua and El Salvador for decades. Poet Daisy Zamora said of Algería that she had “unfailingly spoken up for justice and liberty . . . becoming a voice for the voiceless and the dispossessed.” In 2006 Algería received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature for which he had been nominated by Zamora. In her acceptance remarks upon receiving the prize Algería stated the following:

The poet celebrates humankind, the universe, and the creator of the universe. It is impossible for one to remain indifferent to the turbulence that our planet and its inhabitants suffer through: war, hunger, earthquakes, misery, racism, violence, xenophobia, deforestation, AIDS, and childhood affliction, among others. In the region from which I come, Central America, we love poetry, and at times we use it to denounce what is happening around us. There are many fine testimonial poems. The poet, especially where I’m from, cannot and should not remain in an ivory tower.

You can read more about her life and substantial oeuvre here or in her New York Times obituary here. Poet Carolyn Forché interviewed Alegria in 1984, and a PDF can be found here.

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite science fiction writers, Frank Herbert (October 8, 1920-February 11, 1986), creator of the Dune series.


Rain

As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
Streaming
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
world
a voracious
world—abyss
ambush
whirlwind
spur
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.

[This is a night of shadows]

This is a night of shadows
of sword-memories
solitude overwhelms me.
No one awaits my arrival
with a kiss
or a rum
and a thousand questions.
Solitude echoes within me.
My heart wishes
to burst with rage
but it sprouts wings.