Thursday, February 28, 2013

Quote of the Day



The purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it.


 theoretical physicist and cosmologist


Meaningful Love

- John Ashbery

What the bad news was
became apparent too late
for us to do anything good about it.

I was offered no urgent dreaming,
didn't need a name or anything.
Everything was taken care of.

In the medium-size city of my awareness
voles are building colossi.
The blue room is over there.

He put out no feelers.
The day was all as one to him.
Some days he never leaves his room
and those are the best days,
by far.

There were morose gardens farther down the slope,
anthills that looked like they belonged there.
The sausages were undercooked,
the wine too cold, the bread molten.
Who said to bring sweaters?
The climate's not that dependable.

The Atlantic crawled slowly to the left
pinning a message on the unbound golden hair of sleeping maidens,
a ruse for next time,

where fire and water are rampant in the streets,
the gate closed—no visitors today
or any evident heartbeat.

I got rid of the book of fairy tales,
pawned my old car, bought a ticket to the funhouse,
found myself back here at six o'clock,
pondering "possible side effects."

There was no harm in loving then,
no certain good either. But love was loving servants
or bosses. No straight road issuing from it.
Leaves around the door are penciled losses.
Twenty years to fix it.
Asters bloom one way or another.


From Where Shall I Wander: New Poems. Copyright 2005 by John Ashbery.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Secret Smiles

After I shared these tiny (31/2 inch) sweet hearts with one of my book blogger friends who is still counting snow flakes, Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays, it occurred to me that there might be others in need of cheering.

These are the first blooms in my yard every year and they grow in a place where only I, the gardener, ever see them.

They are my secret smiles, and now they can be yours too.

three tiny yellow daffodils

Oh. oh. I feel a poem coming on . . .

Daffodils
   - William Wordsworth

I wander'd lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Lovers of the Poor

- Gwendolyn Brooks

arrive. The Ladies from the Ladies' Betterment League
Arrive in the afternoon, the late light slanting
In diluted gold bars across the boulevard brag
Of proud, seamed faces with mercy and murder hinting
Here, there, interrupting, all deep and debonair,
The pink paint on the innocence of fear;
Walk in a gingerly manner up the hall.
Cutting with knives served by their softest care,
Served by their love, so barbarously fair.
Whose mothers taught: You'd better not be cruel!
You had better not throw stones upon the wrens!
Herein they kiss and coddle and assault
Anew and dearly in the innocence
With which they baffle nature. Who are full,
Sleek, tender-clad, fit, fiftyish, a-glow, all
Sweetly abortive, hinting at fat fruit,
Judge it high time that fiftyish fingers felt
Beneath the lovelier planes of enterprise.
To resurrect. To moisten with milky chill.
To be a random hitching post or plush.
To be, for wet eyes, random and handy hem.
Their guild is giving money to the poor.
The worthy poor. The very very worthy
And beautiful poor. Perhaps just not too swarthy?
Perhaps just not too dirty nor too dim
Nor--passionate. In truth, what they could wish
Is--something less than derelict or dull.
Not staunch enough to stab, though, gaze for gaze!
God shield them sharply from the beggar-bold!
The noxious needy ones whose battle's bald
Nonetheless for being voiceless, hits one down.
But it's all so bad! and entirely too much for them.
The stench; the urine, cabbage, and dead beans,
Dead porridges of assorted dusty grains,
The old smoke, heavy diapers, and, they're told,
Something called chitterlings. The darkness. Drawn
Darkness, or dirty light. The soil that stirs.
The soil that looks the soil of centuries.
And for that matter the general oldness. Old
Wood. Old marble. Old tile. Old old old.
Note homekind Oldness! Not Lake Forest, Glencoe.
Nothing is sturdy, nothing is majestic,
There is no quiet drama, no rubbed glaze, no
Unkillable infirmity of such
A tasteful turn as lately they have left,
Glencoe, Lake Forest, and to which their cars
Must presently restore them. When they're done
With dullards and distortions of this fistic
Patience of the poor and put-upon.
They've never seen such a make-do-ness as
Newspaper rugs before! In this, this "flat,"
Their hostess is gathering up the oozed, the rich
Rugs of the morning (tattered! the bespattered . . . ),
Readies to spread clean rugs for afternoon.
Here is a scene for you. The Ladies look,
In horror, behind a substantial citizeness
Whose trains clank out across her swollen heart.
Who, arms akimbo, almost fills a door.
All tumbling children, quilts dragged to the floor
And tortured thereover, potato peelings, soft-
Eyed kitten, hunched-up, haggard, to-be-hurt.
Their League is allotting largesse to the Lost.
But to put their clean, their pretty money, to put
Their money collected from delicate rose-fingers
Tipped with their hundred flawless rose-nails seems . . .
They own Spode, Lowestoft, candelabra,
Mantels, and hostess gowns, and sunburst clocks,
Turtle soup, Chippendale, red satin "hangings,"
Aubussons and Hattie Carnegie. They Winter
In Palm Beach; cross the Water in June; attend,
When suitable, the nice Art Institute;
Buy the right books in the best bindings; saunter
On Michigan, Easter mornings, in sun or wind.
Oh Squalor! This sick four-story hulk, this fibre
With fissures everywhere! Why, what are bringings
Of loathe-love largesse? What shall peril hungers
So old old, what shall flatter the desolate?
Tin can, blocked fire escape and chitterling
etching of poor in Victorian era begging in the street
And swaggering seeking youth and the puzzled wreckage
Of the middle passage, and urine and stale shames
And, again, the porridges of the underslung
And children children children. Heavens! That
Was a rat, surely, off there, in the shadows? Long
And long-tailed? Gray? The Ladies from the Ladies'
Betterment League agree it will be better
To achieve the outer air that rights and steadies,
To hie to a house that does not holler, to ring
Bells elsetime, better presently to cater
To no more Possibilities, to get
Away. Perhaps the money can be posted.
Perhaps they two may choose another Slum!
Some serious sooty half-unhappy home!--
Where loathe-lover likelier may be invested.
Keeping their scented bodies in the center
Of the hall as they walk down the hysterical hall,
They allow their lovely skirts to graze no wall,
Are off at what they manage of a canter,
And, resuming all the clues of what they were,
Try to avoid inhaling the laden air.

from: Selected Poems. Copyright 1999.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Here Are Some More Teddy Bears. Does It Help?

'cuz Mondays can be unbearable!

two teddy bears having a picnic in the garden with bright butterflies

Thirsty?

close up of head on a glass of dark beer

Unemployed Reporter Porter


created by
John Campbell







From the label:

Porter style beers were first popularized in the nineteenth century by merchant sailors and manual dock laborers. . .  Unemployed Reporter is crafted in the same tradition, honoring a profession likewise doomed to decline and irrelevance.

For this new class of expendables, we've included chocolate and roasted barley malts that are as dark and bitter as the future of American journalism, and a high alcohol content designed to numb the pain of a slow, inexorable march toward obsolescence.

While Unemployed Reporter is especially delicious as a breakfast beer, it's still smooth enough to be enjoyed all day, every day. And let's be honest: what else do you have going on?

GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) The Surgeon General says women shouldn't drink alcohol during pregnancy, but between Gawker and the Huffington Post, hasn't the act of procreation itself become a moral liability? (2) Drinking alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car, but it's not like you have to wake up and drive to work tomorrow so fuck it.

- as quoted by: Michael Hamad.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Did You Know that Sartre Has a Blog?


Courtesy of:
                                                                                                           The New Yorker


Le Blog de Jean-Paul Sartre


Saturday, 11 July, 1959: 2:07 A.M.

I am awake and alone at 2 A.M.

There must be a God. There cannot be a God.

I will start a blog.


Sunday, 12 July, 1959: 9:55 A.M.

An angry crow mocked me this morning. I couldn’t finish my croissant, and fled the café in despair.

The crow descended on the croissant, squawking fiercely. Perhaps this was its plan.

Perhaps there is no plan.


Thursday, 16 July, 1959: 7:45 P.M.

When S. returned this afternoon I asked her where she had been, and she said she had been in the
street.

“Perhaps,” I said, “that explains why you look ‘rue’-ful.”

Her blank stare only reinforced for me the futility of existence.


READ ON . . . 
OR DON'T READ ON . . .


existentialist cartoon with empty boxes. get it?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dreams

- Langston Hughes

night blue sky glimpsed through snow covered trees

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.



from: The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Copyright 1994.
 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Were the 'Good Old Days' Really as Good as We Remember Them to Be?




Daughters, 1900

- Marilyn Nelson

Five daughters, in the slant light on the porch,
are bickering. The eldest has come home
with new truths she can hardly wait to teach.

She lectures them: the younger daughters search
the sky, elbow each others' ribs, and groan.
Five daughters, in the slant light on the porch

and blue-sprigged dresses, like a stand of birch
saplings whose leaves are going yellow-brown
with new truths. They can hardly wait to teach,

themselves, to be called "Ma'am," to march
high-heeled across the hanging bridge to town.
Five daughters. In the slant light on the porch

Pomp lowers his paper for a while, to watch
the beauties he's begotten with his Ann:
these new truths they can hardly wait to teach.

The eldest sniffs, "A lady doesn't scratch."
The third snorts back, "Knock, knock: nobody home."
The fourth concedes, "Well, maybe not in church. . ."
Five daughters in the slant light on the porch.



from The Homeplace. Copyright 1990.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Reminder To Take Some Time . . . Find Some Flowers To Smell . . .


one large yellow ocher rose

Quote of the Day


Never take a mean advantage of anyone in any transaction, and never be hard upon people who are in your power.

- Charles Dickens, via. Brain Pickings.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Quilts

- Nikki Giovanni

(for Sally Sellers)

Like a fading piece of cloth
I am a failure

No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter
My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able
To hold the hot and cold

I wish for those first days
When just woven I could keep water
From seeping through
Repelled stains with the tightness of my weave
Dazzled the sunlight with my
Reflection

I grow old though pleased with my memories
The tasks I can no longer complete
Are balanced by the love of the tasks gone past

I offer no apology only
this plea:

When I am frayed and strained and drizzle at the end
Please someone cut a square and put me in a quilt
That I might keep some child warm

And some old person with no one else to talk to
Will hear my whispers

And cuddle
near


from: the Visual Verse Project.
Photo: detail of "I'm Not Sorry" quilt.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When I Read This I Thought, "How Does She Know Me?" . . . . . After I Stopped Laughing, That is.


ruby slippers on legs with black and white striped stockings sticking out from under a house

The Rebel
- Mari Evans

When I
die
I'm sure
I will have a
BIg Funeral ...

Curiosity
seekers ...
coming to see
if I
am really
Dead ...
or just
trying to make
Trouble ...



BOOK REVIEWS. Sort Of.


Ariel - Sylvia Plath   

Mine is the "restored edition" published by Plath's daughter Frieda Hughes. There has been a great deal of controversy over which is the better (or more righteous) version, this or the original published by husband Ted Hughes.

Let me go on record as saying, "I don't care."

As I said, I don't care about the controversy, but I did think about what I might do were I to make the decision to take my own life. I would purposely leave my writing in a state which captures me as I see myself, to give others a glimpse of my interior world.

Perhaps this is not the most polished representation of Plath's work, but it is certainly a snapshot of an immense talent at time of turbulence and change. She was at both her weakest and her strongest. Frieda feels that when her mother died leaving this unfinished manuscript, she was "caught in the act of revenge."

It is a haunting and powerful work.

The Swarm
clip art black and yellow bumble bee

Somebody is shooting at something in our town --
A dull pom, pom in the Sunday street.
Jealousy can open the blood,
It can make black roses.
Who are they shooting at?

It is you the knives are out for
At Waterloo, Waterloo, Napoleon,
The hump of Elba on your short back,
And the snow, marshaling its brilliant cutlery
Mass after mass, saying Shh!

Shh! These are chess people you play with,
Still figures of ivory.
The mud squirms with throats,
Stepping stones for French bootsoles.
The gilt and pink domes of Russia melt and float off

In the furnace of greed. Clouds, clouds.
So the swarm balls and deserts
Seventy feet up, in a black pine tree.
It must be shot down. Pom! Pom!
So dumb it thinks bullets are thunder.

It thinks they are the voice of God
Condoning the beak, the claw, the grin of the dog
Yellow-haunched, a pack-dog,
Grinning over its bone of ivory
Like the pack, the pack, like everybody.

The bees have got so far. Seventy feet high!
Russia, Poland and Germany!
The mild hills, the same old magenta
Fields shrunk to a penny
Spun into a river, the river crossed.

The bees argue, in their black ball,
A flying hedgehog, all prickles.
The man with gray hands stands under the honeycomb
Of their dream, the hived station
Where trains, faithful to their steel arcs,

Leave and arrive, and there is no end to the country.
Pom! Pom! They fall
Dismembered, to a tod of ivy.
So much for the charioteers, the outriders, the Grand Army!
A red tatter, Napoleon!

The last badge of victory.
The swarm is knocked into a cocked straw hat.
Elba, Elba, bleb on the sea!
The white busts of marshals, admirals, generals
Worming themselves into niches.

How instructive this is!
The dumb, banded bodies
Walking the plank draped with Mother France's upholstery
Into a new mausoleum,
An ivory palace, a crotch pine.

The man with gray hands smiles --
The smile of a man of business, intensely practical.
They are not hands at all
But asbestos receptacles.
Pom! Pom! 'They would have killed me.'

Stings big as drawing pins!
It seems bees have a notion of honor,
A black intractable mind.
Napoleon is pleased, he is pleased with everything.
O Europe! O ton of honey!

Monday, February 18, 2013

I Ran Out of Kilts. Will a Teddy Bear Do?

Cuz Mondays are Unbearable.

four teddy bears and a rose covered tea pot with two cups against an orange flowered pillow

BOOK REVIEWS. Sort Of.


The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary - Gilliver, Marshall, & Weiner, ed.

Question: Can a book be boring, dry, and intriguing at the same time?

Answer: Yes.

It was hard to keep myself reading, but there were some interesting snippets and word studies. In short, I feel educated, but I didn't really enjoy it.

Kind of like Grad school.

A Study in Sherlock - Various  

Many different approaches were taken by the authors in this anthology. In my opinion, most succeed wonderfully, some are OK, and a few fell flat.

Over all, I enjoyed this trip through the many possibilities of Sherlock.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

my brothers

- Haki Madhubuti     

five African American women, in brightly colored dresses, dancing with their hands in the airmy brothers i will not tell you
who to love or not love
i will only say to you
that
Black women have not been
loved enough.

i will say to you
that
we are at war & that
Black men in america are
being removed from the
earth
like loose sand in a wind storm
and that the women Black are
three to each of us.


no
my brothers i will not tell you
who to love or not love
but
i will make you aware of our
self hating and hurting ways.
make you aware of whose bellies
you dropped from.
i will glue your ears to those images
you reflect which are not being
loved.


Painting: Freedom Dance.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

You Know, With All the Hoopla About Who Can and Can't Get Married, It's Best to Remember . . .



The saint remembered on St Valentine's Day was a priest who was martyred for performing marriages the Emperor had outlawed.

Just sayin'.

For a little V history 


I thought about posting one of my two most favoritest love poems, She Walks in Beauty, by George Gordon Byron and How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43), by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, for my Sweety in honor of Valentine's Day. (How predictable am I!)  But I decided to go in a different direction. (Sorry, Sweety)(Oh, and thanks to poets.org for the poem links!)

Lord Alfred Douglas was many things: poet, writer, and editor, as well as the intimate friend* of Oscar Wilde. Although the name and story of this controversial poet may not be familiar to you, at the end of this poem is a phrase that has made its way into the lexicon of of the English speaking world.

Two Loves
- Lord Alfred Douglas

I dreamed I stood upon a little hill,
And at my feet there lay a ground, that seemed
Like a waste garden, flowering at its will
With buds and blossoms. There were pools that dreamed
Black and unruffled; there were white lilies
A few, and crocuses, and violets
Purple or pale, snake-like fritillaries
Scarce seen for the rank grass, and through green nets

Blue eyes of shy peryenche winked in the sun.
And there were curious flowers, before unknown,
Flowers that were stained with moonlight, or with shades
Of Nature's willful moods; and here a one
That had drunk in the transitory tone
Of one brief moment in a sunset; blades

Of grass that in an hundred springs had been
Slowly but exquisitely nurtured by the stars,
And watered with the scented dew long cupped
In lilies, that for rays of sun had seen
Only God's glory, for never a sunrise mars
The luminous air of Heaven. Beyond, abrupt,
A grey stone wall. o'ergrown with velvet moss
Uprose; and gazing I stood long, all mazed

To see a place so strange, so sweet, so fair.
And as I stood and marvelled, lo! across
The garden came a youth; one hand he raised
To shield him from the sun, his wind-tossed hair
Was twined with flowers, and in his hand he bore
A purple bunch of bursting grapes, his eyes

Were clear as crystal, naked all was he,
White as the snow on pathless mountains frore,
Red were his lips as red wine-spilith that dyes
A marble floor, his brow chalcedony.
And he came near me, with his lips uncurled
And kind, and caught my hand and kissed my mouth,
And gave me grapes to eat, and said, 'Sweet friend,
Come I will show thee shadows of the world

And images of life. See from the South
Comes the pale pageant that hath never an end.'
And lo! within the garden of my dream
I saw two walking on a shining plain
Of golden light. The one did joyous seem
And fair and blooming, and a sweet refrain

Came from his lips; he sang of pretty maids
And joyous love of comely girl and boy,
His eyes were bright, and 'mid the dancing blades
Of golden grass his feet did trip for joy;
And in his hand he held an ivory lute
With strings of gold that were as maidens' hair,
And sang with voice as tuneful as a flute,
And round his neck three chains of roses were.

But he that was his comrade walked aside;
He was full sad and sweet, and his large eyes
Were strange with wondrous brightness, staring wide
With gazing; and he sighed with many sighs
That moved me, and his cheeks were wan and white
Like pallid lilies, and his lips were red
Like poppies, and his hands he clenched tight,
And yet again unclenched, and his head

Was wreathed with moon-flowers pale as lips of death.
A purple robe he wore, o'erwrought in gold
With the device of a great snake, whose breath
Was fiery flame: which when I did behold
I fell a-weeping, and I cried, 'Sweet youth,
Tell me why, sad and sighing, thou dost rove

These pleasent realms? I pray thee speak me sooth
What is thy name?' He said, 'My name is Love.'
Then straight the first did turn himself to me
And cried, 'He lieth, for his name is Shame,
But I am Love, and I was wont to be
Alone in this fair garden, till he came
Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.'

Then sighing, said the other, 'Have thy will,
I am the love that dare not speak its name.'


* 'Intimate friend' is how timid folks say 'lover.' (teehee)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"That’s Just the Way We’re Made."


We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title:

We are citizens.

It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe.

It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations;

that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others;

and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.
 
- President Obama,
from: The State of the Union Address, 2/12/13.

 

Look! Stars!



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

AMEN!


So let’s set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors.

The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.

Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.

- President Obama,
from: The State of the Union Address, 2/12/13.


The Idea of Ancestry

drawing of the silhouette of a man in front of a tree with many branches
- Etheridge Knight  

1
Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews. They stare
across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know
their dark eyes, they know mine. I know their style,
they know mine. I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.

I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins. I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece
(she sends me letters in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).

I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle. The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say). He's discussed each year
when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in
the clan, he is an empty space. My father's mother, who is 93
and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody's birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him. There is no
place in her Bible for "whereabouts unknown."
 
2

Each fall the graves of my grandfathers call me, the brown
hills and red gullies of mississippi send out their electric
messages, galvanizing my genes. Last yr / like a salmon quitting
the cold ocean-leaping and bucking up his birth stream / I
hitchhiked my way from LA with 16 caps in my pocket and a
monkey on my back. And I almost kicked it with the kinfolks.
I walked barefooted in my grandmother's backyard / I smelled the old
land and the woods / I sipped cornwhiskey from fruit jars with the men /
I flirted with the women / I had a ball till the caps ran out
and my habit came down. That night I looked at my grandmother
and split / my guts were screaming for junk / but I was almost
contented / I had almost caught up with me.
(The next day in Memphis I cracked a croaker's crib for a fix.)

This yr there is a gray stone wall damming my stream, and when
the falling leaves stir my genes, I pace my cell or flop on my bunk
and stare at 47 black faces across the space. I am all of them,
they are all of me, I am me, they are thee, and I have no children
to float in the space between.


from: The Essential Etheridge Knight. Copyright 1986.
Photo source.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Kilt Monday!

Because let's face it, Mondays are hard rough difficult. 


BOOK REVIEWS. Sort Of.

The Book of American Negro Poetry - James Weldon Johnson  

The poets in this book span the time between the two World Wars and the era known as the Harlem Renaissance. If you don't like rhyming poetry, then you might not enjoy this book.

I, however, found that race hatred and its fruits, wrapped up in majestic verse, creates a terrible beauty that refuses to be ignored. Fear, anger, sorrow, hope, and pride all mingle in these worthwhile pages, and I came away educated and humbled.

Dunbar
- Anne Spencer  

AH, how poets sing and die!
Make one song and Heaven takes it;
Have one heart and Beauty breaks it;
Chatterton, Shelley, Keats and I—
Ah, how poets sing and die!

The Moon is Always Female - Marge Piercy  

All of the poems are personal, connecting the speaker with her life, her world, and her self. And many of them brought up my own memories and feelings.

Some poetry I read and find that I like it. Other poetry Crawls inside of me and makes camp. Many of the poems in this book are in the latter category. 

You've probably figured out by now that I love this book.

My Mother's Novel

Married academic woman ten
years younger holding that microphone
like a bazooka, forgive
me that I do some number of things
that you fantasize but frame
impossible. Understand:
I am my mother's daughter,
a small woman of large longings.

Energy hurled through her
confined and fierce as in a wind
tunnel. Born to a mean
harried poverty crosshatched
by spidery fears and fitfully
lit by the explosions
of politics, she married her way
at length into the solid working class:
a box of house, a car she could
not drive, a TV set kept turned 
to the blare of football,
terrifying power tools, used wall
to wallcarpeting protected
by scatter rugs.

Out of backyard posies
permitted to fringe
the proud hankey lawn
her imagination hummed
and made honey,
occasionally exploding
in mad queen swarms.

I am her only novel.
The plot is melodramatic,
hot lovers leap out of
thickets it makes you cry
a lot, in between the revolutionary
heroics and making good
home-cooked soup.
Understand: I am my mother's
novel daughter: I
Have my duty to perform.

The Trouble With Poetry - Billy Collins    

Billy Collins makes me smile; sometimes he makes me think; but always he leaves me glad I read his poetry.

In keeping with his wry sense of humor, he begins this particular book with a thought about those of us who didn't write the book.
I wonder how you are going to feel 
when you find out 
that I wrote this instead of you,
My absolute favorite piece reminds me of the poetry writing class I took in college. Allusion was the big thing, and although my peers wrote some beautiful poetry, some was so thick with allusion that  I felt I needed a pick and shovel just to read it. And reading poetry became a chore rather than the pleasure it has always been for me. Do you think Billy has ever had that thought?
The Introduction

I don’t think this next poem
needs any introduction-
it’s best to let the work speak for itself.

Maybe I should just mention
that whenever I use the word five,
I’m referring to that group of Russian composers
who came to be known as “The Five,”
Balakirev, Moussorgsky, Borodin – that crowd.

Oh-and Hypsicles was a Greek astronomer.
He did something with the circle.

That’s about it, but for the record,
“Grimké” is Angelina Emily Grimké, the abolitionist.
“Imroz” is that little island near the Dardanelles.
‘Monad”-well, you all know what a monad is.

There could be a little problem
with mastaba, which is one of those Egyptian
above-ground sepulchers, sort of brick and limestone.

And you’re all familiar with helminthology?
It’s the science of worms.

Oh, and you will recall that Phoebe Mozee
is the real name of Annie Oakley.

Other than that, everything should be obvious.
Wagga Wagga is in New South Wales.
Rhyolite is that soft volcanic rock.
What else?
Yes, meranti is a type of timber, in tropical Asia I think,
and Rahway is just Rahway, New Jersey.

The rest of the poem should be clear.
I’ll just read it and let it speak for itself.

It’s about the time I went picking wild strawberries.

It’s called “Picking Wild Strawberries.”

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Praise Song for the Day

- Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration (The first one)

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need
. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.


Copyright © 2009.

Friday, February 8, 2013

America

- Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.


Copyright 1922.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Weary Blues

 - Langston Hughes

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway . . .
He did a lazy sway . . .
musical notes swirling around a treble clefTo the tune o' those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man's soul.
O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
"Ain't got nobody in all this world,
Ain't got nobody but ma self.
I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
And put ma troubles on the shelf."

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
"I got the Weary Blues
And I can't be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can't be satisfied—
I ain't happy no mo'
And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.

from: The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

February* is Known As the Most Depessing of Months, So I Guess it's the Right Month for This Topic.

Love and heartbreak are topics addressed by nearly every poet who ever drew breath, in some way or another, at some point in her writing career. For some, they are the only topics ever broached. (I'm talking to you, Romantic poets.)

But what of hate? Who writes of hatred? (aside from mournful, petulant adolescents, that is) And why might someone write of hatred when there are so many more palatable subjects to cover?

Let's be honest. Sometimes it just feels right. Like the action hero who gets the bad guy by contravening every one of his constitutional, civil, and human rights (and beating him to a bloody pulp). We don't really want it to happen, but damn, it feels good to vent. It gives us a way (venting, not beating) to deal with the frustrations we encounter in our own daily lives and our worries about the future.

In that spirit, I offer James Stephens' take on the subject.

Hate

My enemy came nigh,
And I
Stared fiercely in his face.
My lips went writhing back in a grimace,
And stern I watched him with a narrow eye.
Then, as I turned away, my enemy,
That bitter heart and savage, said to me:
"Some day, when this is past,
When all the arrows that we have are cast,
We may ask one another why we hate,
And fail to find a story to relate.
It may seem then to us a mystery
That we should hate each other."

Thus said he,
And did not turn away,
Waiting to hear what I might have to say,
But I fled quickly, fearing had I stayed
I might have kissed him as I would a maid.


*So is every other month. It just depends upon the source!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Far Too Much of This Powerful Piece is Still Prevalent Today,

I found this beautiful paean to democracy
 on Poets.org.
Dear George Bush
- Kristin Prevallet

I am writing this letter just to inform you that the tide is turning.
It is a fickle tide,
one that has the presence of mind
to alter its course.
You may remember how just a year ago
many believed you to be illegitimate
(you still are).
Those were the days when your
slips of the tongue
were circulated as comic relief
when in reality
they weren't very funny.
After all, they revealed
your true feelings
like the clown with the innocent face
who sneers under his smile
while handing out glasses of water
laced with arsenic.
You're a prophet, George Bush,
every dangling modifier
and stumbling qualification
were just your way of telling the truth,
like how you accidentally predicted on
Dec. 18, 2000, during your first trip to Washington, DC as President-Elect:

"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier. . .
just as long as I'm the dictator. . ."

I understand why the majority of Americans
think any mocking of your character is unpatriotic,
and I understand the importance of patriotism
when there is a need to rally a country
into a nationalist collective identity
that forcibly sends a message to the rest of the world
(including our allies)
that nobody messes with the U.S.A.,
a war cry that echoes out and incites
all the two-Lexus SUV families
and those who believe they too will someday own one
(in other words, not all of us)
to shout in the spirit of the moment:
"Bin Laden: nowhere to run, nowhere to hide!"
and "Red, White and Blue: these colors will not run!"
Great slogans, actually.

They've worked.

I've overheard some astute political commentary
just listening to people on the street.
"They should execute him publicly
and live on TV just like they do over in those countries,"
and "Look around the world. You see
that there are only two choices: Capitalism or corruption."
From my standpoint, there are some logical problems
with these heartfelt opinions
(the former makes the ranter into the thing he most hates,
and the latter obviously did not lose his life savings when
Enron executives pocketed over a billion dollars
before the stock tumbled).

I am one of many
who does not believe that these good people,
and they are good people,
represent the viewpoints of the citizens of the U.S.A.
I know you hate that word, citizen.
And that this is not a new thing.
The principals of democracy are threatened by the big game
you're playing with those energy corporations:
they contribute to your campaign,
you put them on your cabinet
to set environmental policy--
did you really think we wouldn't care?

Of course I know that the 1st amendment was being threatened
long before you took office
and long before this current discussion of "homeland security"
terrified the people,
putting the country into a state of siege,
making it easier for you to control.

I remember the Republican National Convention
in Philadelphia, July 2000.
The police raided a warehouse
where protesters were making puppets
because the materials
chicken wire and cardboard
could have been used
to make bombs.
They destroyed the puppets
and put all of the protesters in jail
initially charging them
with the intent to incite riots
when in fact they were intending
to inspire people to participate in democracy.


I remember being corralled like cattle
at anti-globalization protests
and marching along wondering
what happened to freedom of assembly?

I remember racial profiling,
and how all of these other constitutional violations
have been used for centuries,
especially against the African-American community,
and that minority citizens and immigrants
have been subject to some of the grossest
infringements of civil liberties--
the two words that uphold the very power of democracy--
for a very long time.

And you hate that I know these things.
That I know about Unocal's
plan for a pipeline through Afghanistan
to reap oil from the yet untapped reserves in the Caspian Sea.
That I know about your family's immense profits
from doing business with the Bin Laden family,
which preserves the Saudi court.
That I know about how you hindered the FBI
from investigating the Bin Laden family's connections to terrorism
before the September attacks.
That I know about how between 1988 and 1999
Dick Cheney's company, Halliburton,
oversaw $23.8 million of business contracts
for the sale of oil-industry equipment and services to Iraq,
greatly helping Hussein maintain his grip on power.

Seems as if conflict of interest
is just a reality
that I'll have to learn to live with,
but you can be sure
that I'll never stop
looking for the big picture
and the larger context
because these days there is always
more going on than can be reported
on Fox News Channel upbeat
sound-bite news reports.

I know that in the U.S.A. Patriot Act
there are some implications
that good citizens should just keep their mouths shut,
and you think we will sit by
while gray-suited vigilantes
from your new private army
stop us on the street
and let you see our ID,
making the whole country
into one gigantic Palm Beach
where non-white citizens had to carry ID to prove that they
were indeed non-white citizens.
This practice was eventually made illegal in 1985,
but I can't help but see a connection
between this and the fact that in this same county
a phony list of felons
prohibited 45,000 people
(54% of whom were African-American)
from voting in the 2000 presidential election.

This makes me think
that your idea of security
will only be imposed
upon anyone who is either not white,
or, if white, not dressed in America's mandatory
Banana-Republic-Gap-Old-Navy individuality uniforms.

And I know that really
I don't know anything
about what is really
going on.
After all, I'm just an ordinary citizen.

I am telling you these things
because I want you to know
that I participate in democracy,
that I have conversations about politics
and get my sources from the independent press.
And I know that it is America
that grants me that freedom,
and so, yes,
I defend what is good about America.
And you?

If telling you these things is unpatriotic,
then poetry is unpatriotic,
and did I mention that I am a poet
paying attention to those winds,
those tides,
and all those other clichés that poets and statesmen use
to move the people to embrace one cause or another.
I am a writer of propaganda,
and here are some lines of my poetry:
Beware, the images of the future are crouching
in the shadows of grief,
welcome to the next century,
the tide is turning,
you are not the elected sovereign of the world,
you are not the king of freedom,
we will defend our rights to be citizens of the world,
you can't take that away,
you can't take that away.
Oh, no.
You
can't
take
that
away
from
me.

Sincerely,

Kirstin Prevallet

for Debunker Mentality, for Boog City and the 17th annual New Year's Day Marathon Reading, 2002.
St. Mark's Church, 2nd Avenue, New York City

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Her Voice Still Sounds in My Ears, Like a Clear, Sweet Bell Echoing Off the Mountains . . .


it was a dream
- Lucille Clifton

in which my greater self
rose up before me
accusing me of my life
with her extra finger
whirling in a gyre of rage
at what my days had come to.
what,
i pleaded with her, could i do,
oh what could i have done?
and she twisted her wild hair
and sparked her wild eyes
and screamed as long as
i could hear her
This. This. This.


from: The Book of Light. Copyright 1992.
Painting: The Widening Gyre, Artist: Emily Tellez.

Friday, February 1, 2013