31 January 2007

Jean Valentine

[from Jean Valentine's Growing Darkness, Growing Light, 1997]


My whole life I was swimming listening
beside the daylight world like a dolphin beside a boat

— no, swallowed up, young, like Jonah,
sitting like Jonah in the red room
behind that curving smile from the other side

but kept, not spat out,
kept, for love,

not for anything I did, or had,
I had nothing but our inside-
outside smile-skin . . .
my paper and pen . . .

but I was made for this: listening:
“Lightness wouldn’t last if it wasn’t used up on the lyre.”

16th century

Thomas Campion

     See how the morning smiles
     On her bright Eastern hills
     And with soft steps beguiles
     Them that lie slumbering still.
The music-loving birds are come
     From cliffs and rocks unknown,
To see the trees and briars bloom
     That late were overflown.

Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
     And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
     And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
     Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s Nectar sup,
     I would not change for thine.
I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
     Not so much honoring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
     It could not withered be.
But thou thereon did’st only breathe,
     And sent it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
     Not of itself, but thee.

27 January 2007

William Dunbar

[William Dunbar, 15th-16th century, Scotland]

In Praise of Women

Now of women this I say for me,
Of earthly things none may better be;
They should have worship and great honoring
Of men, above all other earthly thing;
Right great dishonour upon himself he takes
In word or deed who ever women faults;
Since that of women coming all are we,
Women are women and so will end and die.
Woe come to the fruit would put the tree to naught,
And woe come to him right so that says aught
Of womanhood that may be any lack
Or such great shame upon him for to take.
They us conceived with pain, and by them fed
Within their breasts there we be bound to bed;
Great pain and woe, and mourning marvelous,
Into their birth they suffer sore for us;
Then meat and drink to feed us get we none,
But that we suck out of their breasts harm.
They are the comfort that we all have here,
There may no man be till us half so dear;
They are our very nest of nourishing;
In lack of them who can say any thing,
That foul his nest he flees, and for that
Exiled he should be of all good company;
There should no wise man give audience,
To such one without intelligence.
Christ to his father he had not one man;
So what worship women should have then.
That Son is Lord, that Son is King of kings,
In heaven and earth his majesty ay rings.
So She has borne him in her holiness,
And he is well and ground of all goodness,
All women of us should have honoring,
Service and love, above all other thing.

25 January 2007

Jean Valentine

[from Jean Valentine’s Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems 1965-2003]


       People pray to each other. The way I say “you” to someone else,
       respectfully, intimately, desperately. The way someone says
       “you” to me, hopefully, expectantly, intensely . . .

             — Huub Oosterhuis

You     who I don’t know     I don’t know how to talk to you

— What is it like for you there?

Here . . . well, wanting solitude; and talk; friendship —
The uses of solitude. To imagine; to hear.
Learning braille. To imagine other solitudes.
But they will not be mine;
to wait, in the quiet; not to scatter the voices —

What are you afraid of?

What will happen. All this leaving. And meetings, yes. But death.
What happens when you die?

“. . . not scatter the voices,”

Drown out. Not make a house, out of my own words. To be quiet in
another throat; other eyes; listen for what it is like there. What
word. What silence. Allowing. Uncertain: to drift, in the
restlessness . . . Repose. To run like water —

What is it like there, right now?

Listen: the crowding of the street; the room. Everyone hunches in
against the crowding; holding their breath: against dread.

What do you dread?

What happens when you die?

What do you dread, in this room, now?

Not listening. Now. Not watching. Safe inside my own skin.
To die, not having listened. Not having asked . . . To have scattered

Yes I know: the thread you have to keep finding, over again, to
follow it back to life; I know. Impossible, sometimes.

22 January 2007

Kevin Young

[from Kevin Young's jelly roll: a blues, 2003]


I love making
love most just

after — adrift —
the cries & sometime

tears over, our strong
swimming done —

sheet wreck —
mattress a life-

boat, listing —

from Boogaloo

. . . And the dog, listless,
lays down with

That thud you love,

from Pastorale

. . . A weathervane
offering wind and N E W S


I know now who
I am writing this to

& it ain’t you

Afraid it’s me
I cannot leave

alone well enough —

a sparrow striking again
again his own reflection

18 January 2007

The Seafarer

[from Richard Hamer's translation of The Seafarer, a poem from the Exeter Book, a tenth century collection of Old English poetry]

The Seafarer

. . . He knows not,
Who lives most easily on land, how I
Have spent my winter on the ice-cold sea,
Wretched and anxious, in the paths of exile,
Lacking dear friends, hung round by icicles,
While hail flew past in showers. There heard I nothing
But the resounding sea, the ice-cold waves.
Sometimes I made the song of the wild swan
My pleasure, or the gannet’s call, the cries
Of curlews for the missing mirth of men.
The singing gull instead of mead in hall.
Storms beat the rocky cliffs, and icy-winged
The tern replied, the horn-beaked eagle shrieked. . . .

But he who goes to sea must ever yearn.
The groves bear blossom, cities grow more bright,
The fields adorn themselves, the world speeds up;
Yet all this urges forth the eager spirit
Of him who then desires to travel far
On the sea-paths. Likewise the cuckoo calls
With boding voice, the harbinger of summer
Offers but bitter sorrow in the breast.
The man who’s blest with comfort does not know
What some then suffer who most widely travel
The paths of exile. Even now my heart
Journeys beyond its confines, and my thoughts
Over the sea, across the whale’s domain,
Travel afar the regions of the earth,
And then come back to me with greed and longing.
The cuckoo cries, incites the eager breast
On to the whale’s roads irresistibly,
Over the wide expanses of the sea,
Because the joys of God mean more to me
Than this dead transitory life on land.
That earthly wealth lasts to etermity
I don’t believe. . . .

Let us think where we have our real home,
And then consider how we may come thither;
And let us labor also, so that we
May pass into eternal blessedness. . . .

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

Spider Strand

In a single night
a garden spider flings her web
across our drive, from neat hedge
to the gutter above the garage.

We step outside
to find her blazoned against the orb.
Mike moves to ground her.

Eight legs in barber stripes
climb a strand, then hesitate —
she seems to measure us.

“Stop,” I say.
I hold Mike’s arm. I spin him around
to the orb of sun blazing.

Our spider rides her silk
back to the gutter, steadily reels it back
into the spinnerets
she spun an evening from.

         -> next

15 January 2007

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]


Ireland is green
and patterned with cows —
milk and beef,
handled and brindled.

Behind the cows
stand churners,
bottlers, stunners,
butchers, chefs.

I admire, I adore the cows.
A lady from Wisconsin complains,
"Why does she keep on saying cow?
She’s not a child."

         -> next

in englesh forto make a book

[from Michael Schmidt’s Lives of the Poets, 1998]

That’s a Renaissance notion: a final version of a poem. A poem was never finished. Like a cathedral it grew, bits were added or removed to make new space. Even as the poet dictated, scribes might add a bit or, when they grew tired and dozed, miss whole passages. Hovering over them was an ideal poem which the poet almost knew. But even he could change his mind: the poem he made one year might be out of date the next. Sir John [Gower] wrote his Confessio for King Richard [II]; when Richard proved unworthy, he made it over, adding an allegorical record of royal errors. Poems can die — or be killed by fire or neglect — unless the poet refashions and refreshes them. If he learns something new, he has to add it. The aim is to delight, but the purpose is to instruct. Delight without precept is pointless.

13 January 2007

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

Mind the Face

As morning’s tidal outflow drains the marsh
and raises muddy prints in water shine
the girl

exposes nape and throat.
A heron blunders up from grass
with a grating cry.

The ebbing marsh
mirrors a house, aligns what distance blurs.
She tilts a glass,

she wishes to grow small enough
to be missed.
When she asks him not to speak

he smiles. Her mind
proposes two eyes, a nose, a mouth.
She’s afraid

to love someone this much.

         -> next

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]


Before she learns mourning
a girl discovers black horses,

black bees, a blossom’s groin,
grackles and sunflower seeds.

A swollen moon, wafer-thin,
rises in a milk-blue sky.

The nature of water is to run.
Grass roots in mud.

The wafer forced between her lips
clings to the roof of her mouth

where she can’t taste
or say, at first, what happened.

Collared doves settle and gasp
while a nightingale learns singing.

[broadcast on The Countdown, miPOradio, February 2007]

         -> next

09 January 2007

Czeslaw Milosz

[from Czeslaw Milosz's Native Realm, 1968]

It does not matter how we name the basic opposition: heaviness and lightness; life taken as it is and life shaped anew; matter and spirit; walking on all fours and soaring in flight. What was my mutiny as an adolescent and then as a young man if not a refusal of that directionless existence of "hogs"? As a child I safeguarded myself against grownups by my passion for nature, my aquariums, my ornithological books. To grow up and destroy that elan which they, in their sobriety, disdained seemed awful. My almost unhealthy conviction that sexuality is evil may have had its source not only in the teachings of our Father Prefect but also in those moments when, as a child, I observed that it is precisely sexuality that makes fools of adults, weighing them down, depriving them of the capacity for disinterested enthusiasm.

My hero was the brave nineteenth-century naturalist, such an ardent collector of insects that on his wedding day he forgot about his beloved waiting at the church; he was discovered in his tails, high in the branches of a tree where he was just about to lower his top hat over a rare species of beetle; at this sight the bride-to-be fell fainting into her mother's arms and the enthusiast of knowledge remained a bachelor forever.

In choosing poetry later on, I remained loyal to the pledge I made to myself: that I would never be like them and succumb to the force of inertia. Through poetry, in other words, I wanted to save my childhood. But what fiery sword protects the artist? Only his faith in an objective value. For those who live passively, values melt away; they wane in the encounter with what is considered "real." Herein lies the secret of their impotent lives. And hence the traditional alliance between artists and revolutionaries. Because revolutionaries, with or without success, also search for objectively grounded values. They are saved by their violent "yes" or "no," by their upsetting the somnolent routine into which spiritual heaviness imprisons us. Their deed is equivalent to the creative act of an artist; it lifts them above themselves by demanding full surrender: no one puts words on paper or paint on canvas doubting; if one doubts, one does so five minutes later.

04 January 2007


Howard Junker of ZYZZYVA reports in his latest blog post:

At Barnes & Noble, publishers are charged for "shrinkage," that is, the copies that have not sold but have gone missing.

If that's not a good reason to boycott Barnes & Noble . . .