Just try to resist the baby goat cuteness . . . I’m going to have to learn how to make goat pajamas if any are born in the winter . . .
“Chana Bloch’s poems whisper swiftly what has been in us since we began. They are telling, quick revelations of the creatures we are, creatures we may not ignore and must not distort.” ~ Richard Hugo
I decided to do today’s post about poet, translator and scholar Chana Bloch (March 15, 1940 (my mom’s birthday)-May 19, 2017), after coming upon one of her poems in a post that I wrote several years ago (March 23, 2013). Rereading this poem made me want to know more about Bloch, so I went on one of my online scavenging hunts.
In reading about Bloch I came upon a PDF entitled Patient Poets: Illness from Inside Out, by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre; published in 2017 by UC Berkeley as part of its Perspectives in Medical Humanities series, the publication deals with poetry written by patients in the face of illness. If you have the time, I recommend perusing this work as it is replete with works with which you may be unfamiliar, and at only 170 pages, it’s a fast read.
I always appreciate that serendipitous aspect of life that allows me to stumble upon poems akin to those that I tend to write: those that deal with illness, loss, and death. I was completely unfamiliar with McEntyre and this publication, and I found it when trying to track down the source of the titular quote about Bloch, so I spent an hour on a rabbit trail that proved to be very rewarding.
The following passage, which appears in the chapter entitled “Outrageous Intimacies,” describes a process I have undertaken more times than I can count: that of turning to composing in the immediate aftermath of hearing bad news, regardless of locale or access to writing materials. From the text:
We see a similar reflection on the enforced intimacies of diagnosis and surgery in a series of eight poems by Chana Bloch, collectively entitled “In the Land of the Body,” that chronicle her diagnosis and treatment for ovarian cancer (Bloch, 68). The poems, by a poet and writer whose diagnosis interrupted a thriving teaching career, were composed in the course of treatment, the first scribbled in the car immediately after learning she would have to have surgery. That was her moment of resolve to survive and write about it; that resolve, she said later in an interview, “would be like a thread I could hold on to.” She continued to write her way through the experience, jotting notes during clinical visits, collecting unfamiliar words, pressing the doctor for explanations she later translated into her own idiom.
To read more about Bloch, The Poetry Society of America features an Interview that Diane Bilyak conducted with Bloch, which can be found here; the Los Angeles Review of Books printed a nice feature in 2015, or you can take a look at her NYT obituary here.
Happy Birthday to F. Scott Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896-December 21, 1940)
Note: While I had the bones of this post done on Tuesday, it still needed some flesh, hence, the back posting . . .
Before the light was divided from darkness,
what was it like, that chaos?
a brilliant shadow? an absence
lit from within?
This is not a question. I’m tired of living
in the land of answers.
At school I’d wave my flag of five fingers,
pleased to produce
just what the teacher ordered.
I needed to get it right.
I knew a man whose first love
was numbers, how sane they are.
Feelings! he blurted, startling himself and me.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t have them.
My feelings know more than I do,
and what do they know?
He left me laughing and crying at the same time.
And what did he know without his feelings?
Four currencies, three fine wines,
two fountain pens, one blue, one black,
the capital of every poor country in the world.
for my father
You and I used to talk about
Lear and his girls
(I read it in school,
you saw it on the Yiddish stage
where the audience yelled:
Don’t believe them,
they’re rotten) —
that Jewish father and his
Now I’m here with the rest,
smelling the silences,
What will it look like?
Lost on the bed
without shoes, without lungs,
you won’t talk
except to the wall: I’m dying,
and to the nurse: Be
What does a daughter say
to the bones
that won’t answer —
Thank you to the nice man?
The last time
we went to the Bronx Zoo,
the elephants were smelly as ever,
all those warm Sundays,
the monkeys as lewd.
But they put the penguins
behind curved glass
with a radiant sky
painted on the far wall.
And all those birds
lined up with their backs to us
watching the wrong
Wordless Wednesdays . . .
Wednesday afternoon, cloudy and cooler, but humid, 80 degrees.
Happy Birthday to English critic, biographer, essayist, poet, and lexicographer Samuel Johnson (September 18, 1709-December 13, 1784)—noted aphorist, known for The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749), and A Dictionary of the English Language (1755).
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).
Two for Tuesday: Donald Justice
Tuesday afternoon, cloudy and less humid after the earlier showers, 84 degrees.
Yesterday was the birthday of American poet Donald Justice (August 12, 1925-August 6, 2004), who wrote one of my all-time favorite poems, “Men at Forty.” I would always try to include this one on the syllabus of any American Literature classes that I taught, and it was always the older students who liked it best. I suppose that it’s the kind of poem that is like fine wine, best savored with some years added. I realize that I’ve featured this poem before, several years ago (April 2011), but that’s the great things about controlling my content: I can repeat things that I love.
Justice’s poems have been called elegaic and controlled. What I like best about his poems are the powerful single lines, such as the one that I chose for the heading, or this closing line from his poem “About My Poems”:
—Now the long silence. Now the beginning again.
Or these beautiful closing lines from “Invitation to a Ghost,” an elegy that Justice wrote for his friend Henri Coulette:
Come back now and help me with these verses.
Whisper to me some beautiful secret that you remember from life.
You may not be as familiar with the Pulitzer Prize winning Justice as his writing was not flashy, like, say Bukowski, but he was incredibly influential to the genre, helping to shape the work of a generation of poets such as Rita Dove, Mark Strand, and Charles Wright via his association with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. You can find a more in-depth biography on Justice here at the Poetry Foundation or here at the Academy of American Poets.
Men at Forty
Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.
At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.
And deep in mirrors
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret
And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something
That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.
[This poem is not addressed to you]
This poem is not addressed to you.
You may come into it briefly,
But no one will find you here, no one.
You will have changed before the poem will.
Even while you sit there, unmovable,
You have begun to vanish. And it does not matter.
The poem will go on without you.
It has the spurious glamor of certain voids.
It is not sad, really, only empty.
Once perhaps it was sad, no one knows why.
It prefers to remember nothing.
Nostalgias were peeled from it long ago.
Your type of beauty has no place here.
Night is the sky over this poem.
It is too black for stars.
And do not look for any illumination.
You neither can nor should understand what it means.
Listen, it comes without guitar,
Neither in rags nor any purple fashion.
And there is nothing in it to comfort you.
Close your eyes, yawn. It will be over soon.
You will forget the poem, but not before
It has forgotten you. And it does not matter.
It has been most beautiful in its erasures.
O bleached mirrors! Oceans of the drowned!
Nor is one silence equal to another.
And it does not matter what you think.
This poem is not addressed to you.
Music by Lana Del Rey, “Old Money”
Sunday afternoon, more rain and mud, 72 degrees.
Inspiration: Fields and rivers; pigs and cows; object relations theory; Texas Hill Country; silence and solitude; Carl Jung; farming manuals; mystic traditions; conversations with my sister; dreams.
Writer’s block remedy: I remind myself that language isn’t my job. Writing a poem isn’t my job. My job is the human job of waiting and listening, and language is just what poets use—like wind chimes—to catch the sound of the larger, more essential thing. Wind chimes themselves are not the point. The point is the wind.”
~ Jenny George, from “Wilder Forms: Our Fourteenth Annual Look at Debut Poets” in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)
Say what you will about him, but I’ve missed this man.