29 September 2006

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

Old English Game Bantam

Strut the yard, cock, jut your head,
sway your bruiser’s body, snub
my fingers (wanting to trail your wingspread,
slalom your short back’s slope).

Parade, vainglorious red-scalloped one,
gold and black emperor of pullets,
the arch plume of your high-swept tail,
your dove-hued ruffles hiding secrets.

Tango toward me, Romeo, elongate your nape,
let my hands cup your belly,
graze the length of your birdscape.

Roll up your eyelids,
rock on toothpick pins, neck slack and beak unslung —
daft bird! You’re dazzled by a fool’s attention.

         -> next

Li-Young Lee

[from Li-Young Lee's Book of My Nights, 2001]

Praise Them

The birds don’t alter space.
They reveal it. The sky
never fills with any
leftover flying. They leave
nothing to trace. It is our own
astonishment collects
in chill air. Be glad.
They equal their due
moment never begging,
and enter ours
without parting day. See
how three birds in a winter tree
make the tree barer.
Two fly away, and new rooms
open in December.
Give up what you guessed
about a whirring heart, the little
beaks and claws, their constant hunger.
We’re the nervous ones.
If even one of our violent number
could be gentle
long enough that one of them
found it safe inside
our finally untroubled and untroubling gaze,
who wouldn’t hear
what singing completes us?

26 September 2006

Christine Garren

[from Christine Garren's Afterworld, 1993]

The Romantics

Save them from dreaming
though already, I can see, their diaries have been opened.
Already they carry lutes into the mandolin fields.
How can they not hear the ferrying beneath them,
Charon’s keel in the sand, the oar lifted?
I know the fields are too beautiful to stop them:
it is true, come to them once, the gold, the hot rushes,
and you are ruined. Look how the silos, the white dairy
vanish before them—the blacksmith stops hammering—
and still they believe.
What are they thinking, what are they waiting for
when they lean back, like gods in the grass,
with wine on their tongues,
their fingers drowsy with the fields’ bright clay?

Li-Young Lee

[from a Poetry Daily Prose Feature]

I think the narrative-lyric mode is basically one in which the audience is behind a curtain so the dialogue is with your own divinity, and the audience overhears it. When you're reading a poem, the feeling is always that you're overhearing somebody speak to himself, which is some bigger part of himself, or to some totality of himself, or herself, or to God. So what we're actually witnessing, for instance, in Lorca is his wrestling with duende and Emily Dickinson is wrestling with God and mortality, with Whitman it's God and America, but it's always an other thing – America, God, mortality, duende. It's always some demon, daimon, divine figure. It's a triaxial state of affairs: you have the poet, the poet's demon, and the audience as witness. I think it's only seldom that they're actually addressed. I think it's very seldom that I'm actually writing to an audience. I'm usually enacting my own demon.

25 September 2006

Pebble Lake Review

A poem of mine appears in the current issue of Pebble Lake Review.

Tess Gallagher

[from Tess Gallagher’s Dear Ghosts, 2006]

The Women of Auschwitz

were not treated so well as I.
I am haunted by their shorn heads,
their bodies more naked for this
as they stumble against each other
in those last black-and-white
moments of live footage.

Before she cuts the braid
Teresa twines the red ribbon
bordered with gold into my hair.
The scissors stutter against the thick
black hank of it, though for its part,
the hair is mute.

When it was done
to them they stood next to each other.
Maybe they leaned
into each other’s necks afterwards. Or
simply gazed back with the incredulity
of their night-blooming souls.

Something silences us.
Even the scissors, yawing at
the anchor rope, can’t find their sound.
They slip against years as if they were bone.
I recall an arm-thick rope I saw in China
made entirely of women’s hair, used to anchor
a ship during some ancient war
when hemp was scarce.

At last the blades come together
like the beak of a metallic stork,
delivering me into my new form.
The braid-end fresh and bloodless.
Preempting the inevitable,
Teresa uses the clippers to buzz off
the rest. Breath by plover-breath, hair
falls to my shoulders, onto the floor, onto
my feet, left bare for this occasion.

As the skull comes forward,
as the ghost ship
of the cranium, floating
in its newborn ferocity, forces through,
we are in no doubt: the helm
of death and the helm of life
are the same, each craving light.

She sweeps the clippings onto the dust pan
and casts them from the deck
into the forest. Then, as if startled awake,
scrambles down the bank
to retrieve them, for something live
attaches to her sense of hair, after
a lifetime cutting it.

I am holding nothing back.
Besides hair, I will lose toenails, fingernails,
eyelashes and a breast to the ministrations
of medicine. First you must make
the form,
Setouchi-san tells me, explaining
why the heads of Buddhist nuns are shaved.
The shape is choosing me, simplifying,
shaving me down to essentials,
and I go with it. Those women
of Auschwitz who couldn’t choose—
Meanwhile the war plays out
in desert cities, the news shorn of images
of death and dismemberment.

I make visible the bare altar
of the skull.
Time is deepened. Space
more intimate than
I guessed. I run my hand over
the birth-moment I attend sixty years
after. I didn’t know the women
would be so tender. Teresa takes my
photograph in Buddha Alcove, as if to prove
the passage has been safe. Holly, Jill, Dorothy,
Alice, Suzie, Chana, Debra, Molly and Hiromi offer flowers
and a hummingbird pendant, letting me know
they are with me. My sister
is there and Rijl.

I feel strangely gentled, glimpsing
myself in the mirror, the artifact
of a country’s lost humility.
My moon-smile, strange and far,
refuses to belong to the cruelties
of ongoing war. I am like a madwoman
who has been caught eating pearls—softly radiant,
about to illuminate a vast savanna, ready
to work a miracle with everything left to her.

24 September 2006

Elaine Scarry

[from Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, 1985]

Belief is the act of imagining. It is what the act of imagining is called when the object created is credited with more reality (and all that is entailed in greater “realness,” more power, more authority) than oneself. It is when the object created is in fact described as though it instead created you. It ceases to be the “offspring” of the human being and becomes the thing from which the human being himself sprung forth. It is in this act that Isaac yields against all phenomenal assessment to Abraham, that Abraham yields to God, and that the reader yields to the narrative: it is not simply the willingness to give one’s interior to something outside oneself but the willingness to become the created offspring of the thing in whose presence one now stands, as Isaac at that moment is not the many things Isaac is but only Isaac-son-of-Abraham, as again Abraham the patriarch, Abraham the husband, Abraham the father of Isaac, Abraham the father of the twelve tribes of Israel all now converge into Abraham-the-created-offspring-of-God, and as the reader in his or her many capacities ceases to be the many things that he or she is and becomes in the stunned and exhausted silence of Genesis 22:1-19 the created offspring of the text, and of this text and of the many stories through which the framework of belief is set in place.

22 September 2006

Elizabeth Bishop via Alice Quinn

I resisted Alice Quinn's new book of previously unpublished Bishop, frowned and shoved it up on the shelf next to the rest of the Bishop, refused to take it down, until yesterday when I opened it and found it actually contains more Bishop. (Imagine having more Bishop!( (If you love Bishop as I do.) Much facsimile. Poetry and prose.

This from the appendix:

Writing poetry is an unnatural act. It takes great skill to make it seem natural. Most of the poet’s energies are really directed towards this goal: to convince himself (perhaps, with luck, eventually some readers) that what he’s up to and what he’s saying is really an inevitable, only natural way of behaving under the circumstances.

21 September 2006

Elizabeth Bishop

[from Elizabeth Bishop’s Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments, edited and annotated by Alice Quinn, 2006]

Key West, Washington, D.C., Yaddo, Nova Scotia

Prose = land transportation
Music = sea transportation
Poetry = air transportation (in its present state)

It is hard to get heavy objects up into the air; a strong desire to do so is necessary, and a strong driving force to keep them aloft.

Some poets sit in airplanes on the ground, raising their arms, sure that they’re flying.

Some poems ascend for a period of time, then come down again; we have a great many stranded planes.

20 September 2006

palindromic consonance

I'm not to first to notice this technique; I think Kenneth Burke named it in an essay somewhere.

The word stifle has four consonants: s, t, f, and l, and they appear in that order.

A poet might write stifle and shortly thereafter write lifts or lofts, words that use stifle's consonants in reverse order: l, f, t, and s.

A poet might shuffle the consonants: floats; or leave one out: futile.

Sometimes words do it internally: turret goes round and round.

Can you hear the echoes made?

19 September 2006

Louise Bogan

[from Louise Bogan’s Body of This Death, 1923]


I had come to the house, in a cave of trees,
Facing a sheer sky.
Everything moved, — a bell hung ready to strike,
Sun and reflection wheeled by.

When the bare eyes were before me
And the hissing hair,
Held up at a window, seen through a door.
The stiff bald eyes, the serpents on the forehead
Formed in the air.

This is a dead scene forever now.
Nothing will ever stir.
The end will never brighten it more than this,
Nor the rain blur.

The water will always fall, and will not fall,
And the tipped bell make no sound.
The grass will always be growing for hay
Deep on the ground.

And I shall stand here like a shadow
Under the great balanced day,
My eyes on the yellow dust, that was lifting in the wind,
And does not drift away.

18 September 2006

17 September 2006

Sarah Orne Jewett

[from Sarah Orne Jewett's story, "William's Wedding," from The Country of Pointed Firs and Other Stories]

. . . the first salt wind from the east, the first sight of a lighthouse set boldly on its outer rock, the flash of a gull, the waiting processing of seaward-bound firs on an island, made me feel solid and definite again, instead of a poor, incoherent being. Life was resumed, and anxious living blew away as if it had not been. I could not breathe deep enough or long enough. It was a return to happiness.

14 September 2006

Galway Kinnell

[from Czeslaw Milosz’s A Book of Luminous Things, 1996.


On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity they sank down
into the mud; they faded down
into it and lay still; and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.

13 September 2006

W. S. Merwin

[from W. S. Merwin’s Writings to an Unfinished Accompaniment, 1973]

The Current

For a long time some of us
lie in the marshes like dark coats
forgetting that we are water

dust gathers all day on our closed lids
weeds grow up through us

but the eels keep trying to tell us
writing over and over in our mud
our heavenly names

and through us a thin cold current
never sleeps

its glassy feet move on until they find stones

then cloud fish call to it again
your heart is safe with us

bright fish flock to it again touch it
with their mouths say yes
have vanished

yes and black flukes wave to it
from the Lethe of the whales

A Door

This is a place where a door might be
here where I am standing
in the light outside all of the walls

there would be a shadow here
all day long
and a door into it
where now there is me

and somebody would come and knock
on this air
long after I have gone
and there in front of me a life
would open

12 September 2006

Pattiann Rogers

[from Pattiann Rogers's Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems, 1994]

Without Violence

That cat who comes during sleep, quiet
On his cushioned claws, without violence,
Who enters the house with a low warm rattle
In his throat; that cat who has been said
To crawl into a baby’s crib without brushing
The bars, to knit his paws on the pale
Flannel of the infant’s nightdress, to settle
In sleep chin to chin with the dear one
And softly steal the child’s breath
Without malice, as easily as pulling
A silk scarf completely through a gold ring;

The same cat who has been known to nudge
Through castle doors, to part tent flaps,
To creep to the breasts of brave men,
Ease between their blankets, to stretch
Full length on the satin bodices of lovely
Women, to nuzzle their cheeks with his great
Feline mane; it was that cat who leaped last night
Through the west window of father’s bedroom,
Who chose to knead his night’s rest on my father’s
Shoulder, who slept well, breathing deeply,
Leaving just before dawn to saunter toward
The north, his magnificent tail and rump
Swaying with a listless and gorgeous grace.

11 September 2006

Elaine Scarry

[from Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain, 1985.

When war is described as turning in its final stage on the element of morale (separable from injuring), what is drawn is a model of war constructed along the lines in the following narrative. A dispute arises between two populations. In order to determine a winner, they agree to have a contest. They could have either an extravagant three-year-long song contest or instead a three-year-long war. They choose the second because, though each would allow the designation of a winner and a loser, injuring—unlike singing—will carry the power of its own enforcement. But after moving through three autumns, three winters, three springs, and two summers during which they butcher one another (if the word is ugly, the acts it represents are far uglier) they begin to approach the third summer, and they realize that not only will injuring not carry the power of its own enforcement but it will not even make possible the distinction between the winner and the loser: despite fluctuations, the body count on each side tends to approximate that on the other side, and thus to continually re-establish the equality of the two sides rather than to expose their inequality. Thus here, at the end of war, at the very place where the exceptional virtue or the exceptional contribution of injuring was to have occurred (and for the sake of which injuring was chosen over any alternative), it is suddenly necessary to make arrangements for the insertion of the song contest into the overarching frame of war. Like an architectural detail from one period appropriated into the building of another period, it becomes the portal through which the final exit out of war will occur. This is the equivalent of the morale argument: the acceptance of the brutalities of war with the eleventh-hour insertion of the chess match or tennis match or talent contest contracted down into the period immediately preceding its ending; the abbreviated contest does not displace or provide a subsititute for the injuries, for thousands of injuries have by this time already occurred and will continue to occur in the final weeks; it instead substitutes for the single element that was thought to necessitate and hence justify the injuring. The fragile song contest (which no one precisely saw, though everywhere here and there it is said voices were heard) is like a small jewel placed down in the midst of a three-year massacre and relied on to perform the very work for the sake of which its own activity had been originally rejected.

Frank Huyler

[Frank Huyler, published by The Atlantic Monthly, 08/95]

Moving the Hive

The queens sleeps in my palm
through the forest.

Her workers are dark ribbons
that follow us

asking one thing.

They are black wool
covering my hands.

I wear them as a field
wears dust in the dry summer.

I wear them as the river
wears its speed.

Their wings—
I hear them as a house

closed for the season
hears its last voice.

When I release her
and she stumbles

to the new cells
it is the future

I lock her in, another
meadow where again

bees fall like fire
on the exposed flowers.

10 September 2006

Elaine Scarry

[from Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain, 1985]

There is no advantage to settling an international dispute by means of war rather than by a song contest or a chess game except that in the moment when the contestants step out of the song contest, it is immediately apparent that the outcome was arrived at by a series of rules that were agreed to and that can now be disagreed to, a series of rules whose force of reality cannot survive the end of the contest because that reality was brought about by human acts of participation and is dispelled when the participation ceases. The rules of war are equally arbitrary and again depend on convention, agreement, and participation; but the legitimacy of the outcome outlives the end of the contest because so many of its participants are frozen in a permanent act of participation: that is, the winning issue or ideology achieves for a time the force and status of material “fact” by the sheer material weight of the multitudes of damaged and opened human bodies.

09 September 2006

my poems on my blog

Two years ago I decided to start a blog because I wanted somewhere to publish my poems — my brand-new imitation poems that would never be published because they were workbook exercises. Soon I began blogging poems I’d written without training wheels. My best days were days I wrote poems. Soon I stopped writing fiction. Now I’m a poet.

But I mostly blog poems written by other poets. I’ve been afraid that if I blogged my own poems, I couldn’t submit my poems to literary journals — some journals say they won’t publish work that has already appeared online.

After a year of submitting poems to journals, I’ve seen 2 of my poems published online, 2 in a print anthology, and 5 more are forthcoming. Many more “finished” poems languish in my notebooks and in various editors’ in-baskets. The delays I’m experiencing between acceptance and print publication are six months to more than a year.

I’m not willing to wait that long. Next year I'll be 60. I have a few faithful readers, and I would like to find more.

So, I’m going to start blogging my poems again. If my decision keeps my poems out of journals, so be it.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Charles Olson

I'm reading "The Kingfishers" -- if you haven't, I recommend it, it's a multi-day read.

06 September 2006

John Berryman

[from John Berryman's 77 Dream Songs, 1964]


He lay in the middle of the world, and twitcht.
More Sparine for Pelides,
human (half) & down here as he is,
with probably insulting mail to open
and certainly unworthy words to hear
and his unforgivable memory.

—I seldom go to films. They are too exciting,
said the Honourable Possum.
—It takes me so long to read the ’paper,
said to me one day a novelist hot as a firecracker,
because I have to identify myself with everyone in it,
including the corpses, pal.’

Kierkegaard wanted a society, to refuse to read ’papers,
and that was not, friends, his worst idea.
Tiny Hardy, toward the end, refused to say anything,
a programme adopted early on by long Housman,
and Gottfried Benn
said:—We are using our own skins for wallpaper and we cannot win.

05 September 2006

Marianne Boruch

[from Marianne Boruch's essay "Heavy Lifting," featured this week by Poetry Daily and published in The American Poetry Review, September/October 2006]

Leonardo's notion that "the heaviest part will become the guide of the movement" . . . we feel for that weight as we write . . . After all, gravity is one of the three basic forces on earch, earth itself its center because . . . "the more mass a body has—the more particles of matter it contains—the stronger its aggregate attractive force would be. That's why," [chemist Robert Wolke] points out, "when you jump off a ladder, earth doesn't fall upward to meet you." This is maybe the best argument I've seen for work whose center of gravity, its focus, is the world and not the self. We know that ladder, after all. We've fallen off many a time. Because it's the mysterious huge other out there that pulls us to itself.

04 September 2006

William Butler Yeats

[from William Butler Yeats's The Wild Swans at Coole, 1919]

The Cat and the Moon

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.