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.

“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.

“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.

Sunday Saudade

Just a quick update . . .

Sorry for the dearth of posts. It’s been a rough week mentally. Here. Have some Bukowski:

Happy Birthday to one of my favorite authors and the writer whose work inspired my life-long love of British mysteries, Agatha Christie (September 15, 1890- January 12, 1976).

“On a branch | floating downriver | a cricket, singing.” ~ Kobayashi Issa (Trans. Jane Hirshfield)

Cover of A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons in Poems and Prints

Today’s Two for Tuesday features poems from the book A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons In Poems And Prints, by Stephen Addiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto (a PDF of which can be found here). I’ve been intent on the coming of autumn, but I decided yesterday that I need to appreciate the last days of summer, regardless of the flies.  I find that whenever am keenly focused on nature and in search of poems, I turn to Haiku, and admittedly, I am very fond of the frequent appearance of dragonflies in this type of verse.

Haiku is a traditional 13th century form of Japanese verse that depicts a moment in time, or as Cor van den Heuvel wrote in 1987, Haiku is the concise “essence of a moment keenly perceived in which Nature is linked to human nature.” When translated to English, the formal Haiku is supposed to be composed of three lines of verse, usually unrhymed, with five, seven and five syllables. These 17 syllables are akin to the original form of 17 mora, which is a unit of Japanese syllable weight; however, it has been pointed out that roughly 12, not 17 syllables in English are equivalent to the 17 On (phonetic units) of the Japanese Haiku, which only goes to show that strict adherence to form does not necessarily a Haiku make.

Mori Shunkei,” Red dragonfly and caterpillar on plant” (1820, wood block print)

Over time, poets have moved away from the strict 17 syllable and line count while focusing more on the economy of form. Importantly, to understand Haiku it should be viewed as more than a short poem, more than a pithy description. For a poem to be Haiku, it must encompass a sense of awareness, an eloquence of brevity. One other aspect of Haiku that should be noted is the use of kigo, which are words or phrases traditionally associated with seasons. I actually found a world database on kigo which contains fairly comprehensive discussions of the Japanese term and its use in Haiku.

The Poetry Foundation has a good description of Haiku that can be found here. A more detailed history of the form can be found on the site With Words, and the British Haiku Society site offers a breakdown of the western views and approaches to the form. Historically, there were four Japanese poets considered masters of the form, sometimes referred to as the Great Four: Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), Yosa Buson (1716-1784), Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), and Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Seventeenth-century Samurai poet Bashō is often classified as the greatest writer of  Haiku; to read more about him you can go here or here for a collection of his verse.

Because of the compact nature of Haiku, I am breaking my self-imposed Tuesday rule and featuring more than two; most of these come from the “Summer” section of the book, and I am including the page numbers on which each can be found. Enjoy.

More later. Peace.


After the thunderstorm
one tree catches the setting sun—
cicada voices

~ Shiki (p48)

Seen in the daylight
it has a red neck—
the firefly

~ Bashō (p48)

The warbler
amid the bamboo shoots
sings of old age

~ Bashō (p51)

The garden darkening
the night quieting—
peonies

~ Shirao (p52)

The coming of autumn
determined
by a red dragonfly

~ Shirao (p60)

The dragonfly
has died his body
autumn

~ Bakusui (p63)

The puppy
completely unaware that
autumn has come

~ Issa (p63)


Music by Rodrigo Rodriguez, “Hitomi (Eyes), composed by Horii Kojiro

“When I stand upright in the wind, | My bones turn to dark emeralds.” ~ James Wright, from “The Jewel”

American Poet James Wright

Two for Tuesday: James Wright

Tuesday afternoon, cloudy and cool, 71 degrees.

It’s starting to feel like fall, which is a bit unnerving. It seems that the seasons change rather quickly here on the ridge. I mentioned this a few months ago when Corey and I were wondering why we weren’t seeing all of the green of spring, and then less than a week later, we were surrounded by green: the trees were covered in leaves, and buds were blooming everywhere you looked. Now, we’re already seeing the leaves turn on certain trees, the birches, I think.

Once again, I wish that I had some extra cash so that I could work on refinishing cabinets and furniture, but of course, there is none of that, at least not yet. I wish that my other mother were still around as I desperately need to cover the couch in a fabric that is dog and goat proof, if such a thing exists. She was so good at that.

I had one of those dreams last night in which I was back at the middle school. I don’t know why I continue to dream about that place and the people in it. The kids I taught would all be grown with their own kids, or in jail, or dead. I know that sounds like a horrible thing to opine, but truly, I have no doubts that some of those kids are in jail, one in particular who scared the crap out of me, and he was only 12.

Anyway, I was back there looking for a book that I had donated by mistake. Weird, huh?

Today’s Two for Tuesday features works by Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet James Wright (December 13, 1927March 25, 1980), who was phenomenal; he could say so much about loneliness and isolation in very few words, and he was masterful in closing a poem. Wright, who was born in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, suffered from alcoholism and manic depression; he died as a result of tongue cancer.

Mari introduced me to Wright years ago, and “Lying in a Hammock” (below) remains one of my favorites and is surpassed in my mind only by “A Blessing.” I can relate deeply to the last line of “Hammock.” His posthumous book of collected works, Above the River (1992) is a prized possession that, thankfully, never made it into storage but always had a reserved spot on my desk. I remember exactly where I bought it: in a bookstore in Charlottesville, VA after having lunch; Corey, the boys, and I were in the mountains for a fall hike. When I finally find the box in which it was packed, it will be like Christmas all over again.

To see a good biography, go here or here. In the summer 1975 issue, he was featured in The Paris Review‘s “Art of Poetry (No. 19), in which Wright declared that “poetry can keep life itself alive.”


Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Northern Pike

All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making
under water,
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden’s blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.


Laura Marling, “What He Wrote”