C.K. Williams, American poet

The Doe

Near dusk, near a path, near a brook,
we stopped, I in disquiet and dismay
for the suffering of someone I loved,
the doe in her always incipient alarm.

All that moved was her pivoting ear
the reddening sun shining through
transformed to a color I’d only seen
on a photo of a child in a womb.

Nothing else stirred, not a leaf,
not the air, but she startled and bolted
away from me into the crackling brush.

The part of my pain which sometimes
releases me from it fled with her, the rest,
in the rake of the late light, stayed.

–C.K. Williams (1936-2015) from The Singing: Poems (published 2003)

American poet, Charles Kenneth (C.K.) Williams won several awards for his writing including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2000, the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1987 and the National Book Award in 2003 for his poetry collection The Singing.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Williams began to have his poetry recognized in the late 1960s.  While his writing at that time focused on more political topics, his style and voice was well received among other poets.  Eventually Williams went on to teach at Princeton University from 1996 until his death in 2015. 

“This is the wisdom of art, the knowledge that beauty
perhaps is the one undeniably unique attribute of the human.”
― C.K. Williams

 

Beryl Markham (1902 – 1986)

“We swung over the hills and over the town and back again, and I saw how a man can be master of a craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know — that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it.”

–Beryl Markham, West with the Night

It was the 1942 memoir of Beryl Markham, entitled West with the Night, when it was re-published in the early 1980s, that brought new attention to this female aviator.  She is known for being the first person to fly solo against the head winds over the North Atlantic from England to Cape Breton, Canada in 1936.

Born in 1902 in England, at age four Beryl moved to Kenya (at that time British East Africa) with her father who was in the business of raising race horses.  While her mother and older brother initially accompanied the family, the pioneering life in Africa was grueling, and her mother returned to England after a year taking Beryl’s brother with her.

Growing up in Africa, Beryl’s her first language was Swahili and her formal education inconsistent.  Africa is where she felt most at home, however, and it is where she returned to settle later in her life. 

In Kenya, in her late teens, she established herself as the first woman professionally licensed horse trainer after her father went bankrupt and moved to Peru.  At that time Beryl was also married off to a local neighbor 10 years her senior; the marriage ended a few years later. She went on to marry and divorce two more times in her life and to have a son who was raised by her 2nd husband’s family in England.

Eventually, after carving a niche as a respected horse trainer, she befriends other expatriate settlers living in Kenya, among them Karen Blixen (aka the writer, Isak Dinesen), Bror Blixen and the aviator, Denys Finch Hatton.  It is Finch Hatton who encouraged Beryl to take up flying, and in her late twenties she became one of the few licensed commercial pilots in Africa. She took assignments to carry the mail to outposts as well as carry other goods and passengers.

When Beryl accepted the challenge to be the first person to go from East to West across the North Atlantic she knew that the weather would be difficult.  She took off from southern England on September 4, 1936 and flew for 20 hours when, racked by the icing of the plane’s fuel tank vents, the plane crash landed in a bog in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  Fortunately, Beryl was not seriously injured.

After the publication in 1942 of her memoir, West with the Night, Beryl worked during World War II with the Civil Air Patrol, flying as lookout along the California coast. Finally, it was in 1952, after living in the U.S. for a number of years, that she returned to Kenya, resuming her work as a horse trainer. When her memoir West with the Night was re-discovered and published again in the early 1980s, a new group of readers were provided a glimpse into this woman’s life.

Acknowledging Gordon Parks

It was from the films of photojournalist, filmmaker, novelist and composer Gordon Parks that many people first heard of this man and his work. His late 60s/early 70s movies such as “The Learning Tree” (based on his autobiographical novel), “Shaft” (now a modern classic) and “Leadbelly” that made him the first African American movie director to make films funded by a Hollywood studio.

Preceding his foray into film making, Parks had a solid reputation as a photographer/photojournalist working initially in fashion photography and eventually for Life Magazine.  Born in rural Kansas in 1912 and the youngest of 15 children, Gordon Parks was a self-taught photographer.  It was while working as a waiter on the train line between Chicago and Seattle in the 1930s that he became drawn to the photos he saw in magazines produced by the Farm Security Administration (FSA).  Many of these photographs depicted the poverty of the depression, and these photos were of a world that Parks, himself, knew well. Purchasing his first camera set Parks on a path that included, eventually, winning a fellowship that brought him to Washington, DC.

Parks work with Life Magazine began in 1948 when the magazine had just started. In those early years, he was the only Black photographer on the magazine staff.  Parks brought to people’s awareness the reality of youth gang wars in Harlem and, also, in 1961, the plight of the desperately poor families in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, specifically a young boy there named Flavio. Parks worked at Life Magazine until 1972.

After Parks’ venture into directing Hollywood films, by the mid 1970s he was again making photographs for Ebony and other magazines. He blended into his work the politics of the time including photographs of the Black Panthers and the nation of Islam. Parks also continued to write, comprising memoirs entitled Voice in the Mirror, Choice of Weapons and A Hungry Heart.

In 2000 a retrospective exhibit of Parks life and work entitled “Half Past Autumn” included 200 of his photos spanning 50 years and toured 17 different cities.  At this juncture, the term “renaissance man” began to be attributed to Gordon Parks as a recognition of his many talents.  He died in March 2006 at age 93.

Washington Charwoman, 1942
Evening Wraps at Dawn, 1956
Family’s Day Begins, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1961
Flavio, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil , 1961
Department Store, Mobile, Alabama, 1956

Auld Lang Syne — a poem that became a song

Chorus
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wandered mony a weary fit
Sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’t i’ the burn,
Frae mornin’ sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

–Robert Burns, Scottish poet (1759 – 1796)

Autumn — the Yin and the Yang

Landscape

The field
of olive trees
opens and closes
like a fan.
Above the olive grove
there is a sunken sky
and a dark shower
of cold stars.
Bulrush and twilight tremble
at the edge of the river.
The grey air ripples.
The olive trees
are charged
with cries.
A flock
of captive birds,
shaking their very long
tail feathers in the gloom.

–Frederico Garcia Lorca, Spanish poet (1898-1936)

Fall Colors, Thatcher Woods, October 30, 2021.  Music “I Hear Voices” by Underbelly. Created by photographer, Donald Granger.

Again, the River…

Today, Oct 2nd, commemorates the signing by the U.S. Congress, in 1968, a law known as the National Wild and Scenic Rivers (WSR) Act.  Basically this law seeks: “to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.  This law is notable for safeguarding the special characters of these rivers, while also recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development.”

While not all parts of the Delaware River (that borders 4 different U.S. states including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware) are wild and scenic, this river does have parts of it that are captivating.  Additionally, to watch the river rise and fall after storms or during drought, and to observe the wildlife that call the river home, can be a source of fascination.  Looking westward, the sunsets, too, can offer a sense of awe.

Delaware River map

Delaware River, in early Sept 2021, after the remnants of Hurricane Ida

Delaware River at sunset, Oct 2, 2021

World Photography Day – August 19, 2021

In the evenings, while walking on a bridge over the nearby river, I often take photos of the same scene. There’s been many overcast days lately and the cloud cover dense.

Tonite, in time for this year’s World Photography Day, the river and the sky were more unusual, giving testament to Aristotle’s belief “in all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”

The Full Buck Moon, July 23, 2021

Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry any more
‘Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door
Think this through with me, let me know your mind
Woah-oh, what I want to know, is are you kind?

It’s a buck dancer’s choice my friend better take my advice
You know all the rules by now and the fire from the ice
Will you come with me won’t you come with me
Woah-oh, what I want to know, will you come with me?

Poem in Your Pocket Day — Emily and I

Emily and I

Together in her drafty attic
we write our letters to the world.
Her lamp sputters, the light poor.

In the frame of her window the sun’s last spreads over
Amherst’s houses.

She let me in when I bragged I was nobody
and now sends me downstairs
to scrounge more paper –
envelopes, she insists – envelopes.

I creep down the creaky stairs.
Try to silence the swinging kitchen door.

Everyone’s out but her pipe-smoking father
who won’t spend a penny on paper.
He doesn’t see my hand lift the wooden box
where he tosses the trash.

I sift out all the envelopes.
Take them up to Emily
and our fevered unfolding begins.

How she cringes when I make the tiniest tear.
This part takes time – the careful unhinging,
the smoothing.

She hands me a pen, an ink pot.
We go to work.

What I’ll remember most
is her shadow on the wall –
her hand, and the pen large, swift,

and her hair — not pulled tight,
but down, free — almost, I would say,
wild.

–Pamela Porter (from her book of poems “Likely Stories,” published 2019).

Poet and novelist, Ms. Porter was born in New Mexico and eventually emigrated to Canada.  She lives with her family in British Columbia and a menagerie of rescued horses, dogs and cats.

~ Earth Day, April 22, 2021 ~

To a Hummingbird

Now here, now there;
        E’er posed somewhere
In sensuous air.
         I only hear, I cannot see
The matchless wings that beareth thee.
         Are thou some frenzied poet’s thought;
That God embodied and forgot?

by Alexander Posey (1873-1908) (from: Song of the Oktahutche: Collected Poems)

Muscogee Creek poet, journalist, and humorist, Alexander Posey lived in what is now Oklahoma.  Born into a bicultural and bilingual family whose home was the Muscogee Nation, Posey was the son of an Irish-Scottish father and Creek mother.  He benefited from having a formal education, beginning in his adolescence, and grew up appreciating both Native American and Euro-American traditions.  In Posey’s poetry, the influence of the English and American romantics blends well with the Native American respect for nature, a belief in the wholistic relationship of all things and not imposing a division between the material and the spiritual.