Saturday, June 25, 2016

Poetry Month, Day 25, Christopher Morley, "To the Little House"

Once again into the Funk and Wagnall's collection.

To the Little House

Dear little house, dear shabby street,
Dear books and beds and food to eat!
How feeble words are to express
The facets of your tenderness.

How white the sun comes through the pane!
In tinkling music drips the rain!
How burning bright the furnace glows!
What paths to shovel when it snows!

O dearly loved Long Island trains!
O well remembered joys and pains.
How near the housetops Beauty leans
Along that little street in Queens!

Let these poor rhymes abide for proof
Joy swells beneath a humble roof;
Heaven is not built of country seats
But little queer suburban streets!


Some delightful oddities in this collection, yes? I mean, first of all, it's interesting to see what the editors considered to be "the best poetry" - they clearly valued rhyme and tight structure. There are also lots of poems about domesticity and such - and some love poetry, true, but even the classical stuff (Plato and Homer feature) tend to be quiet little paeans to domestic bliss. Second, I don't know that I'd consider Queens suburban anymore - but, perhaps I am wrong? Ahhh, but it WAS suburban, in a certain sort of way, before the 1950s suburbanization began - this is a train based suburban setting, when the "urbs" were smaller, and when most of Long Island was still potato farms. Hmmm. I wonder if I can use this in a class? I bet I can!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Poetry Month, Day 24, Robert Francis (by way of Mother Crane), "Summons"

Today, we spent the day at the New York Faerie Festival, which runs all weekend (although we're only going for today). One of the regular performers is Mother Crane, who approaches visitors and reads them a random poem, which she then gives them (on a card). My poem today:


Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road.
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me.
See that I see. Talk to me till
I'm half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all.
Tell me the walking superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I'm not too hard persuaded.

Robert Francis

And now I have shared it with you, so it is your poem for today as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Poetry Month Day 23, Selections from _Swidden Fields_

So, a million years ago, when I was doing my first degree (BA English/History), I took a class on poetry writing, which was amazing. It was a once a week seminar, where 15 of us met, shared new poems (at least one a week, that was the rule), critiqued each others work, and generally dug deeply and drank fully of each others passion and such. Often, we met off campus, with food and sometimes alcohol. Occasionally, we would leave class (it was an evening class) and go to a bar. It was very very good, exactly the sort of thing everyone tells you college is going to be (except it mostly isn't. Except when it is, and when it is, it sort of makes the rest of it worth the effort). At the end of the semester, we printed a short chapbook to which each of us contributed a poem or two (it's got an ISBN, it counts as a publication credit!). Here are three or four selections from the chap book (not my offerings, other peoples.)

Des Davidge (Des was an older gentleman, somewhat of an anomaly in the class, which was mostly female and mostly younger - college seniors, not senior citizens. His poetry has a lot of nature imagery, and tends towards the narrative or descriptive, which is great.)

Harvest Journey

We climb to the top of the last load of the day
         swaying on that rutted road.

Our bodies mold a bed in rich fresh scent,
the sound of horses' hoofs and metal wheels
               muffled by the evening
you measure the soft white of your hand
          against my callused fingers.

     Seeded heads tickle along my spine
the smell of you mingling with the aroma of hay
                         soft and quiet
        I am full - only my eyes can speak.

Catherine Glass

More than Sex

The salty taste of your skin
Keeps me buoyant
Like a swimmer in the Dead Sea

(We were young, 18, 19, 20. Lots and lots of poems about sex, more or less)

Dianna Graham

wilderness notes

the skin of still-blind mice in winter
the eyelid's gloss

the freshborn flesh of tadpoles
irises flicking

a fiddlehead  cupped gently in my palm
     your body   naked
          furled upon my bed

(See? Also, we did a lot of playing with the position of text on the page; odd line breaks and spacing - and some of us thought we were e.e. cummings, you know?)

M (don't mock - my poems were published under the name Michael Delphinius - we were young and soooo pretentious! But the poetry was pretty good.)

Let us come to some conclusion

Let us come to some conclusion
something to cancel the crease of time
Let us seize the distance between cities
the dept separating silence and slumber
Let us carve the ceiling   paint it blue

              (let us create the sky anew).

Sarah Mayes (I seem to remember Sarah as the youngest of the group?)


my strand
    of hair
on your collar
    is a snake
           to strike

Carolyn Tilley (Carolyn is the only one of the group I've stayed in touch with - I knew her before the class. Carolyn was always a little crazy; I met her because she posted posters with a rant about Miss Piggy all over campus [she was a strong supporter of Miss Piggy, I seem to recall] and included her e-mail address. This was back when e-mail was still kinda new and exciting. A poet all the way down to her combat boots)


A hand on my shoulder
and one on my back...
I wish you wouldn't
but you seem earnest,
so I'll let it pass.

A lean, a whisper, a wink...
You say I have the eyes of an actress,
I say, it takes one to know one.
You tell nice lies,
so I'll let it pass.

Has practice made you convincing?
Or is it thinking that you're the best -
the confidence of an artist?

I wonder at the years that brought you to me,
are you watching this or ... directing?


Ahhhh, the fruits of a mis-spent (or properly spent?) youth.

Poetry Month, Day 22, belated, Mike Timonin, "Goliath's Mother's Lament"

Ack! Yesterday was a little crazy, for reasons, but that's not an excuse. I even had a poem planned to share! Here it is, the response I wrote to Amal's poem from "yesterday." Obviously, I cannot review my own work, but here's the background - I'm working (slowly - so slowly that I'm not sure it counts as "working") on a cycle of poems based on the Old Testament; specifically, stories of people who didn't make it into The Book. So. Here's the backstory on Goliath. (Oh - I like to write narrative poetry, and I also like to write short, epigramatic poems. This is from the first sort!)


Goliath’s Mother’s Lament

I had a son once, you know,
Strong and big and brave – not so smart, but smart is overrated, I think.
I had a son once, and I thought he would live forever,
And he thought he would live forever,
And why not? He was strong, and big, and brave,
And all I had – surely Death would not dare to take him?
I had a son once, and when he was born the midwives said
“he will be strong, and big, and brave, and he will help on the farm,”
And they were right – he grew fast, and could lift two goats when he was just a boy,
He was strong, yes, but gentle:
the cows gave sweeter milk when he tended them, I swear.
He was gentle, yes, but not soft:
When the ox gored his father, my son carried the broken, bleeding body home to me,
And then he killed the ox as a death gift; but gently, one strike to its head:
He carried that body home, too.
I had a son once, strong and brave, big and gentle;
He would not fight with the other boys,
He was too big, he said,
But I saw him bruised and bleeding more than once,
Because he would not back away when someone smaller needed help.
I had a son once, so big and strong that, soon, he did not need to fight,
The sound of his footstep was enough,
The sight of the fist he used to kill the ox sufficed.
I had a son once,
So big and brave,
The men came with bronze armor and a sharp sword,
They said, “your son is big, and strong, and brave, and we need him,
He won’t have to fight – just the sight of him, like a bronze clad tower,
With a sword like God’s own scythe,
Our enemies will flee like insects when you light a lamp,”
And they took my son, so brave, so big, so strong,
And we were wrong,
Death dared to come – not at first, but in time,
Death came in the form of a small boy,
Death came in the form of a small sling,
Death came in the from of a small stone,
And who could carry that body home to me,
Broken and bleeding?
And who could make a death offering of that boy,
With one strike of the fist?
And who will gentle the sweet milk out of my cows now,
And lift the goats, two at a time, into to olive trees?

I had a son once, you know.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Poetry Month, Day 21, Amal El-Mohtar, "Day 11 - Blackberry Honey"

Administrative stuff: ChimeraCat notes that posting comments is complicated by the fact that the comment section is not secure. Sorry - I'm not sure if that's a thing I can fix? I'll look into it.

ChimeraCat also notes that zi doesn't usually like poetry. I think many of us feel that we don't like poetry - maybe it is something to do with the way we've been taught to analyze rather than enjoy poetry?

Yesterday, I posted a summer poem by a noted Arabic poet. That, naturally, made me think of my friend Amal, also an Arabic poet (also, Canadian). Long time readers of the blog will remember that I reviewed, extensively, her collection The Honey Month back in 2011 (newer readers, the series starts here, and runs for 28 days). This was, as the title suggests,the poem from day 11 of February 2010 (the project was 28 poems/short works of fiction written over the course of the month of February, accompanied/inspired by 28 different flavors of honey). This was my favorite poem from the collection (I think - I may have said differently back when - say, rather, this is my favorite from the collection right now).

My body is a knot of limbs
and I dream of Alexander
of a clean bright blade to slice
through the tangle of what is left.

They pulled me from the rubble
like a fabled sword; never
was Excalibur so tarnished, never
did dustier hands reach
for so shattered a hilt.

Blueberries washed the ash from my tongue
after they came; after the metal and the phosphor
that washed us all so red, so white. Perhaps
if we powdered our cheeks so every day
they would come to think us beautiful?
We might ornament their lawns, their homes
that once were ours, their swimming pools
and tourist traps, their cafes and museums.
Behold! The savage Philistine
undone by David's sling! See
how his mighty giant's body
is limned in our pale chalk!
The Americans would live it
buy a t-shirt to take home.

Yesterday I had daughters. Today
I have these berries on my tongue.

I am lucky, they say, to live; to have
blueberries and water, medicine for my wounds.
I am lucky, they say, to breathe
the air thick with stone
that was my house; safe in my lungs
who would think to take it?

I am lucky, they say, to sleep. To dream.
I lay my head where the Son of Man once did
and close my eyes. To think,
tomorrow I may yet wake
to better.

I cannot sleep.
The earth is knotted with screams.
I taste blueberries on my tongue
and dream of nothing.


This poem is explicitly political, which is made most clear when you understand that the Biblical Philistines are today's Palestinians. I've been preparing a lesson plan which addresses the status of Jews in Europe at the time of the French Revolution (yes, there's more to that story). Consequently, I am sympathetic to the ongoing need for some sort of Jewish homeland. However, I'm sure that there could have been a more equitable way of creating such a homeland. And that's as political as I'm going to get right here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Poetry Month, Day 20, Nizar Qabbani, "In the Summer"

In The Summer

In the summer I stretch out on the shore And think of you
Had I told the sea
What I felt for you,
It would have left its shores,
Its shells,
Its fish,
And followed me. 


Short, sweet, and to the point. Nizar Qabbani was a Syrian diplomat and poet, known for his short, sweet love poetry. If this poem is indicative of his work, I'll need to find more - the simplicity is delightful.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Poetry Month, Day 19, Poems about Fathers

So, I think the theme today is pretty self explanatory. It's Fathers' Day, so some poems about or involving fathers are in order.

On the Beach At Night, Walt Whitman

ON the beach, at night,
Stands a child, with her father,
Watching the east, the autumn sky.

Up through the darkness,
While ravening clouds, the burial clouds, in black masses spreading,
Lower, sullen and fast, athwart and down the sky,
Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east,
Ascends, large and calm, the lord-star Jupiter; 
And nigh at hand, only a very little above,
Swim the delicate brothers, the Pleiades. 

From the beach, the child, holding the hand of her father,
Those burial-clouds that lower, victorious, soon to devour all,
Watching, silently weeps.

Weep not, child,
Weep not, my darling,
With these kisses let me remove your tears; 
The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious,
They shall not long possess the sky- shall devour the stars only in
Jupiter shall emerge- be patient- watch again another night- the
Pleiades shall emerge,
They are immortal- all those stars, both silvery and golden, shall
shine out again, 
The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again- they
The vast immortal suns, and the long-enduring pensive moons, shall
again shine.

Then, dearest child, mournest thou only for Jupiter? 
Considerest thou alone the burial of the stars? 

Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding, I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,) 
Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,) 
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter, 30
Longer than sun, or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant brothers, the Pleiades. 


I'm not a huge Whitman fan - as Homer Simpson says, "Leaves of Grass, my ass!" - but I like the image here of a father and daughter on the beach at night, looking up at the stars and such. 


Father William, Lewis Carroll

'You are old, father William,' the young man said,
'And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head -
Do you think, at your age, it is right?'

'In my youth,' father William replied to his son,
'I feared it would injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.'

'You are old,' said the youth, 'as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door -
Pray, what is the reason of that?'

'In my youth,' said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
'I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment - one shilling the box -
Allow me to sell you a couple.'

'You are old,' said the youth, 'and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak -
Pray, how did you manage to do it?'

'In my youth,' said his father, 'I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.'

'You are old,' said the youth; one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose -
What made you so awfully clever?'

'I have answered three questions, and that is enough,'
Said his father; 'don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!'


From Alice in Wonderland, obviously. I'm a great fan of Alice and her adventures, and I particularly like Carroll's pastiches of popular educational poetry.


Father's Chore, Edgar Allen Guest

My Pa can hit his thumbnail with a hammer and keep still;
He can cut himself while shaving an' not swear;
If a ladder slips beneath him an' he gets a nasty spill
He can smile as though he really didn't care.
But the pan beneath the ice-box- when he goes to empty that- 
Then a sound-proof room the children have to hunt;
For we have a sad few minutes in our very pleasant flat
When the water in it splashes down his front.

My Pa believes his temper should be all the time controlled;
He doesn't rave at every little thing;
When his collar-button underneath the chiffonier has rolled
A snatch of merry ragtime he will sing.
But the pan beneath the ice box- when to empty that he goes- 
As he stoops to drag it out we hear a grunt;
From the kitchen comes a rumble, an' then everybody knows
That he splashed the water in it down his front.

Now the distance from the ice box to the sink's not very far- 
I'm sure it isn't over twenty feet- 
But though very short the journey, it is long enough for Pa
As he travels it disaster grim to meet.
And it's seldom that he makes it without accident, although
In the summer time it is his nightly stunt;
And he says a lot of language that no gentleman should know
When the water in it splashes down his front. 


We've seen some of Guest's poetry before. Apparently, fathers and fatherhood are some of his favorite topics, I've found seven or eight by him in this vein. I like this one.