22 October 2009

David Bromige

[from David Bromige's Desire: Selected Poems, 1963-1987, Dutton, 1989]

The Romance of the Automobile

It's dark. But there's a moon. You're lonely.
You've got me. You can't stay where you are.
You don't give me a thought, & climb inside
turn me on, & off we go,
me all around you, moving you
while you sit still, up & down
the ground I keep you lifted from,
across the distance that your friends call you.

Though I can't see
with these things much like eyes
I let you find the way.
Let you see what you might hit & miss.
Let you feel you're in control.
Let you make me go so fast
you can't control me quite as well,
or maybe not at all.
So I get you where you go.

And if it's where you planned,
I've sheltered you from what came down,
proved useful, helped save a life maybe,
unless someone like you got in our way.

You've felt a strength, obeying me
while free to think of things along the way.
An irritation or anxiety,
if something's wrong with me,
that is, if I need fixing.

And here we are. You can get out,
and stretch, as though to throw me off,
as though I were around you, yet
I'm evidently not. You've turned me off,
locked me up, pocketed the key
and left me in the dark.
You've got me where you want me.
As if I were a car.

Elizabeth Carothers Herron

[from Elizabeth Carothers Herron's In the Pockets of the Night, 1994]


Bring your ladder. We'll set up a sky,
a mountain in the house. Blue rain
will water the shag rug. Moonlight will spill
and slant through the window
so the bed is milk-white and warm and wet
and I'll have to swim in the covers
sleeping a dream of rainbow and steelhead
spawning. I'll hear the last

of summer whisper holy and familiar names:
coyote bush, sticky monkey flower,
gravenstein, blackberry,
salmon berry, tarweed, quince.
And behind the wind
the warm breath of Indian Summer
autumn on her heels, will puff a haze
of golden heat over the swimming bed, the soaked

shag. Whispers of zucchini squash and roses,
liquid amber turning her leaves with a sweet shudder
Whispers of longer nights and last fling holidays.
Whispers of blacktail buck huffing
around elusive does, and squirrels
stashing the seeds of cones high
in winter hollows. All this
when you cut out the wall and wait
before you put the window in! Your legs
will be rubbery with the rush of it,
the flood of it, the swell and sigh of what
we hardly hear inside. All this, if you
take your big saw and your hammer,
your catspaw and wedge, up the ladder
into my room.

20 October 2009

Taha Muhammad Ali

[from Taha Muhammad Ali's So What: New & Selected Poems, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin, 1971-2005], Copper Canyon, 2006]


Our traces have all been erased,
our impressions swept away —
and all the remains have been effaced . . .
there isn't a single sign
left to guide us
or show us a thing.
The age has grown old,
the days long,
and I, if not for the lock of your hair,
auburn as the nectar of carob,
and soft as the scent of silk
that was here before,
dozing like Arabian jasmine,
shimmering like the gleam of dawn,
pulsing like a star —
I, if not for that lock of camphor,
would not feel a thing
linking me
to this land.

This land is a traitor
and can't be trusted.
This land doesn't remember love.
This land is a whore
holding out a hand to the years,
as it manages a ballroom
on the harbor pier —
it laughs in every language
and bit by bit, with its hip,
feeds all who come to it.

This land denies,
cheats, and betrays us;
its dust can't bear us
and grumbles about us —
resents and detests us.
Its newcomers,
sailors, and usurpers,
uproot the backyard gardens,
burying the trees.

They keep us from looking too long
at the anemone blossom and cyclamen,
and won't allow us to touch the herbs,
the wild artichoke and chicory.

Our land makes love to the sailors
and strips naked before the newcomers;
it rests its head along the usurper's thigh,
is disgraced and defiled in its sundry accents;
there seems to be nothing that would bind it to us,
and I — if not for the lock of your hair,
auburn as the nectar of carob,
and soft as the scent of silk,
if not for the camphor,
if not for the musk and the sweet basil,
if not for the ambergris —
I would not know it,
and would not love it,
and would not go near it.

Your braid
is the only thing
linking me, like a noose, to this whore.


19 October 2009

Charles Olson

[from Charles Olson's The Maximus Poems, University of California, 1983]

"at the boundary of the mighty world" H. (T) 620 foll.

                    Now Called Gravel Hill -- dogs eat

                    Gravelly hill 'father' Pelops otherwise known as
Mud Face founder of
Dogtown. That sort of 'reason': leave things alone.
As it is there isn't a single thing isn't an opportunity
for some 'alert' person, including practically everybody
by the 'greed', that, they are 'alive', therefore. Etc.
That, in fact, there are 'conditions'. Gravelly Hill
or any sort of situation for improvement, when
the Earth was properly regarded as a 'garden
tenement messuage orchard and if this is nostalgia
let you take a breath of April showers
let's us reason how is the dampness in your
nasal passage -- but I have had lunch
in this 'pasture' (B. Ellery to
                    George Girdler Smith
                          1799, for
                            £ 150)

'the town'
sitting there like
the Memphite lord of
all Creation

with my back -- with Dogtown
over the Crown of
gravelly hill

It is not bad
to be pissed off

where there is any
condition imposed, by whomever, no matter how close

quid pro quo
get out. Gravelly Hill says
leave me be, I am contingent, the end of the world
is the borders
of my being

I can even tell you
where I run out; and you can find
out. I lie here
so many feet up
from the end of an old creek
which used to run off
the Otter ponds. There is a bridge
of old heavy slab stones
still crossing the creek on
the 'Back Road' about three rods
from where I do end northerly, and from my Crown
you may observe, in fact Jeremiah Millett's
generous pasture
which, in fact, in the first 'house'
(of Dogtown) is a part of the slide of
my back, to the East: it isn't so decisive
how one thing does end
and another begin to be very obviously dull about it
I should like to take the time to be dull
there is obviously much to be done and the fire department
rushed up here one day -- they called it
Bull Field in the newspaper -- when just that
side of me I am talking about,
which belonged to Jeremiah Millett
and rises up rather sharply
-- it became Mr Pulsifer's and then,
1799, the property of the town
of Gloucester -- was burned off.
My point is, the end of myself,
happens, on the east side (Erechthonios)
to be the beginning of another set
of circumstance. The road,
which has gone aroundme, swings
just beyond where Jeremiah Millett had his house
and there's a big rock about ends my being,
properly, swings
to the northeast, and makes its way
generally staying northeast in direction
to Dogtown's Square or the rear of
William Smallman's
house where rocks pile up
darkness, in a cleft in the earth
made of a perfect pavement
                    Dogtown Square
of rocks alone March, the holy month
                     (the holy month,
of nothing but black granite turned
every piece,
downward, to darkness,
to chill and darkness. From which the height above it even
in such a fearful congery
with a dominant rock like a small mountain
above the Hellmouth the back of Smallmans is
that this source and end of the way from the town into
the woods is only -- as I am the beginning, and Gaia's
child -- katavothra. Here you enter
darkness. Far away from me, to the northeast,
and higher than I, you enter
the Mount,
which looks merry,
and you go up into it
feels the very same as the corner
where the rocks all are
even smoking a cigarette on the mount
nothing around you, not even the sky
relieves the pressure of this declivity
which is so rich and packed.
It is Hell's mouth
where Dogtown ends
(on the lower
of two roads into
the woods.
I am the beginning
on this side
nearest the town
and it -- this paved hole in the earth
is the end (boundary

17 October 2009

Paul Guest

[from Paul Guest's Notes for My Body Double, University of Nebraska, 2007]

At Last

All day I wanted, I ached, to tell
you of the rabbit dead in the road
and how the whole day I marked
time with its evisceration —
if at first I had touched its flank
or its sleek ears tucked back,
I would have taken the last measure
of its warmth. The ghost
of its abortive bound would be near.
And later when its torso
began to show, when its pelt was peeled
and its innards unspooled,
I didn't grieve. Flies had come
and in their noise, in their work,
they glittered. The flesh
seemed to sink with the sun
and I thought to tell you
that night at the door,
taking whatever you held
into my arms, at last I've kept
vigil over something,
over ruin, come see, come see, come see.

In the cuff of the wind
white petals sloughed
from the branches of the gnarled dogwood,
the tree I was taught
Christ's cross was cut from.
If once I believed
in so much holy ruin,
there was none to be found there.
And this was right.
In the matted entrails
of the slaughtered,
whoever thought to know the future
in the slick, wet coils
never saw me keeping watch
in the failing light
for the dead to vanish and you to appear.

11 October 2009

H. D.

[from H. D.'s Collected Poems, 1912-1944, New Directions, 1986]

Hermes of the Ways

The hard sand breaks,
and the grains of it
are clear as wine.

Far off over the leagues of it,
the wind,
playing on the wide shore,
piles little ridges,
and the great waves
break over it.

But more than the many-foamed ways
of the sea,
I know him
of the triple path-ways,
who awaits.

facing three ways,
welcoming wayfarers,
he whom the sea-orchard
shelters from the west,
from the east
weathers sea-wind;
fronts the great dunes.

Wind rushes
over the dunes,
and the coarse, salt-crusted grass

it whips round my ankles!


Small is
this white stream,
flowing below ground
from the poplar-shaded hill,
but the water is sweet.

Apples on the small trees
are hard,
too small,
too late ripened
by a desperate sun
that struggles through sea-mist.

The boughs of the trees
are twisted
by many bafflings;
twisted are
the small-leafed boughs.

But the shadow of them
is not the shadow of the mast head
nor of the torn sails.

Hermes, Hermes,
the great sea foamed,
gnashed its teeth about me;
but you have waited,
where sea-grass tangles with

10 October 2009

Robert Bly

[from Robert Bly's My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy, Harper Collins, 2005]

Hiding in a Drop of Water

It is early morning, and death has forgotten us for
A while. Darkness owns the house, but I am alive.
I am ready to praise all the great musicians.

Whatever happens to me will also happen to you.
Surely you must have realized this from hearing
The way the strings cry out no matter who hits them.

From the great oak trees in the yard in October,
Leaves fall for hours each day. Every night
A thousand wrinkled faces look up at the stars.

Still we know that at any second the soul can stand
Up and start across the desert, as when Rabia ended up
Riding on a resurrected donkey toward the Meeting.

It is this reaching toward the Kaaba that keeps us glad.
It is this way of hiding inside a drop of water
That lets the hidden face become visible to everyone.

Gautama said that when the Great Ferris Wheel
Stops turning, you will still be way up
There, swinging in your seat and laughing.

09 October 2009

Eknath Easwaran

[from Eknath Easwaran's The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, Volume 3: To Love Is to Know Me, Nilgiri, 1988]

Living in separateness means being dominated by private urges, trying to have our own way and do only what we like, unable to see what cries out to be done for the welfare of the world around us. When this darkness becomes deep enough, we can't see which direction to go; we will always be losing our way, never coming out at all. When we decide to say no to private, personal urges, we start to enter a world of light where the path is clear. We know where we are going, and we can travel safely and surely.

03 October 2009

Barbara Guest

[from Barbara Guest's Collected Poems, ed. Hadley Haden Guest, Wesleyan, 2008]

Cape Canaveral

Fixed in my new wig
the green grass side
                hanging down
I impart to my silences

Climate cannot impair
                neither the gray clouds nor the black waters
the change in my hair.

Covered with straw or alabaster
I'm inured against weather.
The vixen's glare, the tear on the flesh
covered continent where the snake
withers happily and the nude deer
antler glitters, neither shares
my rifled ocean growth
                polar and spare.

Eyes open
       spinning pockets
for the glass harpoons
       lying under my lids
       icy as summers

Nose ridges
       where the glaciers melt
into my autumnal winter-fed cheek
hiding its shudder in this kelp
                cracked as the air.

01 October 2009

Jed Rasula

[from Jed Rasula's The American Poetry Wax Museum, National Council of Teachers of English, 1996]

the attenuated lyric personalism that is the dominant workshop mode has constricted the range of expression and blotted out the diversity of ethnopoetic traditions. John Koethe's analysis is astute: "Writing programs are not usually 'schools,'" he points out. But, "[i]n the absence of explicitly articulated theoretical principles regarding the nature and purpose of poetry, they inculcate, by default, a poetics of the 'individual voice' that valorizes authenticity and fidelity to its origins in prepoetic experience or emotion." In other words, ethnic diversity at the applicant and trainee level does not automatically translate into poetic diversity. So the writing programs have become a safe haven, a refuge from the sociocultural perplexities signified by "theory" and "postmodernism" (not to mention "late capitalism"), promoting a return to the now paradoxically reassuring anxieties of self-doubt.

Lucia Perillo

[from Lucia Perillo's Inseminating the Elephant, Copper Canyon, 2009]

Snowstorm with Inmates and Dogs

The prison kennel's tin roof howls
while the dogs romp outside through the flakes.
The inmates trained a dog to lift my legs --
for months they rolled the concrete floor
in wheelchairs, simulating.

Through a window I watch them cartwheel now,
gray sweatpants rising against the whitened hill
traversed by wire asterisks and coils.
At first I feared they pitied me,
the way I flinched at the building's smell.

Now the tin roof howls, the lights go off
to the sound of locking doors. Go on, breathe --
no way the machinery of my lungs
is going to plow the county road.
Didn't I try to run over a guy,

spurned love being the kindling stick that rubbed
against his IOUs? Easy to land here,
anyone could -- though I think laughter
would elude me, no matter what the weather.
Compared to calculating how far to the road.

My instructions were: Accept no notes or photographs,
and restrict the conversation to such topics as
how to teach the dog to nudge
the light switch with his nose.

Now the women let their snowballs fly -- as if
the past were a simple matter that could splat and melt.
Only my red dog turns his head
toward the pines beyond the final fence
before the generator chugs to life.

poets who have won the MacArthur

[my thanks to Emily Lloyd for this list]

Despite my raging joy that Heather McHugh has won half a million dollars, I deplore prize giving of all kinds because of the implied value judgments, politics, social bias, cultural pressure, category exclusions, etc.

Below is a chronological list of poets who have won the MacArthur.

How many of these poets have you heard of? How many have you read? How many have taught you things you value? What do your answers say about your position in or out of the poetry mainstream? What poets are not on the list who would be on your list? What is your response to the enthronement of poets (or anyone) in this fashion?

I highly recommend Jed Rasula's The American Poetry Wax Museum for a fascinating contrarian view of the poetry policy makers of the 20th century.

Poets who have won the MacArthur:

A.R. Ammons
Joseph Brodsky
Derek Walcott
Robert Penn Warren
Brad Leithauser
A.K. Ramanujan
Robert Hass
Charles Simic
Galway Kinnell
John Ashbery
Daryl Hine
Jay Wright
Douglas Crase
Richard Kenney
Mark Strand
May Swenson
Allen Grossman
Jorie Graham
John Hollander
Alice Fulton
Eleanor Wilner
Amy Clampitt
Irving Feldman
Thom Gunn
Ann Lauterbach
Jim Powell
Adrienne Rich
Sandra Cisneros
Richard Howard
Thylias Moss
Susan Stewart
Linda Bierds
Edward Hirsch
Ishmael Reed
Campbell McGrath
Anne Carson
Lucia Perillo
C.D. Wright
Peter Cole
Heather McHugh