April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #25

Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.

Poem-a-Day

 A poem from the 2009 collection Wheeling Motel, by Pulitzer-prize winner Franz Wright, a poet of extreme reverence and, at the same time, irreverence.

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

                   

Kyrie

Around midnight he took the oxycodone
and listened to Arvo Pärt’s “I Am the True Vine”

over and over, the snow falling harder now.
He switched off the light and sat without dread

of the coming hours, quietly singing along;
he smoked any number of cigarettes without thinking

once about the horrifying consequence;
he was legibly told what to say and he wrote

with mounting excitement and pleasure,
and sent friendly e-mails to everyone, Lord

I had such a good time and I don’t regret anything —
What happened to the prayer that goes like that?

~ Franz Wright

                   

Music by Arvo Pärt, “I Am the True Vine”

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.


 

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 #14

Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.

Poem-a-Day

Edward Hirsch lost his son twenty-two-year-old son, Gabriel, in 2011. His most recent book is the frank elegy of a father who wants to see his son’s death clearly but also to narrate his life, in all its vivid and vexing detail, before it is rubbed dim by memory. Gabriel is one long poem, but the ten tercets on each page also make for individual shorter poems, allowing pauses for breath as the page turns or an image stops time for a moment. In this section, Hirsch ponders the difficulty of telling the story at all, given the “Lord of Misadventure” that was Gabriel.

                   

From the storybook of bluster
And bad judgment
From the annals of loneliness

From the history of kids he met
On the street in special programs
It was dangerous to stay in Amherst

Lord of Misadventure
I’m scared of rounding him up
And turning him into a story

God of Scribbles and Erasures
I hope he shines through
Like a Giacometti portrait

I keep scraping the canvas
And painting him over again
But he keeps slipping away

He was like a spider
Preyed on by other spiders
And older insects

Sweet venom
His arrivals were swift
And his departures sudden

I couldn’t understand how
He lifted the shower door
Right off its hinges

When Gabriel cooked
The flames rose too high
And the fire alarm sounded

When the fire alarm sounded
He tore it off the wall
And left the wires dangling

~ Edward Hirsch

April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #13

Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.

Poem-a-Day

D. Nurkse is a poet of childhood’s existential moments — which inform adult understanding, if we can still hear that music, or recall, as the poet does, the sway of those long-ago thoughts.


Under the Porch

Lucky peeled the wings
from a fly
and gave them to me,
as Father once trusted me
with the tiny screws
when he fixed his glasses.
But in my cupped hands
they disappeared.
It was a miracle.
We looked everywhere.
The fly buzzed —
how could it still buzz? —
much louder than before.
At last we reconciled ourselves
and knelt with great compassion
and watched as it moved
in an almost line,
then an almost circle,
there in the crawl space
under the huge brushes
rigid with shellac:
and we were rapt
as if we’d found
the way out of loneliness.

~ Dennis Nurkse

April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #9

Backpost. I know that I published this particular poem-a-day, as well as a few others, but they seem to have disappeared . . . At least, I think that I know . . .


Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.

Poem-a-Day

Lucie Brock-Broido is no stranger to darkness, particularly darkness of the interior variety; but in her recent collection Stay, Illusion she often reveals the struggle to embrace what is exterior — the “visible world” she pulls toward in this poem, with her characteristic playfulness in the face of sorrow, and wry self-understanding.

                   

Dear Shadows,

If it gets any darker in here no one will ever be able to see again, like cats

With their eyes sewn shut at birth.

I could barely stand to write what I just wrote just now.

On the heavy walnut table — numbles for roasting on a truss of fire,

The loin, a spit, an iron moving in a fit of blood.

Here, sit in the lap of me and purr.

Once in the imagination’s feckless luck, in the excelsior of living wild, I wore a pinafore

Of linsey-woolsey cloth — knowing he was too shy to unbutton it in back.

Miss Stein would never, not in this life, appear unto my vex of work.

What is not ever said you can’t take back.

Goats slaughtered young would have made the softest gloves for him, his hands.

Pronouns are not to be trifled with, possessive ones or otherwise.

(Mine is a gazelle, of course.)

I am of a fine mind to worship the visible world, the woo and pitch and sign of it.

And all that would be buried in the drama of my going on.

~ Lucie Brock-Broido