Monthly Archives: April 2013

On this final day of National Poetry Month, a poem…

There Came a Wind Like a Bugle

There came a wind like a bugle;
It quivered through the grass,
And a green chill upon the heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the windows and the doors
As from an emerald ghost;
The doom’s electric moccasin
That very instant passed.
On a strange mob of panting trees,
And fences fled away,
And rivers where the houses ran
The living looked that day.
The bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings whirled.
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the world!

–Emily Dickinson (American poet, 1830 – 1886)


Emily Dickinson’s home (The Homestead), Amherst, Massachusetts

Happy Arbor Day — April 26, 2013!

I’m not sure what it is with trees. Perhaps for people who live with oaks and elms and maples, their shade in the summer, their vibrant colors in the autumn, their announcement of rebirth in the spring and their bareness in winter, all of these changes mark our lives from year to year.

Sadly, the town where I spent part of my life (moving from being a pre-teen into a young adult), the elm trees that bordered our streets were later removed due to what is known as Dutch elm disease. This happened after my family left, and when I visited some years later, the town streets didn’t look the same. While it wasn’t completely barren, the removal of the trees took away a certain warmth and beauty. Maybe this is when I first realized the value of a tree.

Here’s to the elm tree in all its Midwestern glory.

For more information about the elm and its disappearance due to Dutch elm disease here is a recent article about the western town of Kalispell, Montana:
http://www.flatheadbeacon.com/articles/article/kalispells_shrinking_american_elm_population/30022

~ Poems for Earth Day ~

To commemorate Earth Day, April 22, 2013 two poems are featured here. Each of these just happen to be sonnets. The first one is written by New Orleans-born African American poet, Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935). Her first book of poems and short stories Violets and Other Tales was published in 1895.

The second sonnet is by Robert Pinsky, who was born in New Jersey in 1940 and served as Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 1997-2000. He is currently a professor of English and creative writing at Boston University.

Sonnet

I had no thought of violets of late,
The wild, shy kind that springs beneath your feet
In wistful April days, when lovers mate
And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.
The thought of violets meant florists’ shops,
And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;
And garish lights, and mincing little fops
And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine.
So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed,
I had forgot wide fields, and clear brown streams;
The perfect loveliness that God has made,—
Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams.
And now—unwittingly, you’ve made me dream
Of violets, and my soul’s forgotten gleam.

–Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Sonnet

Afternoon sun on her back,
calm irregular slap
of water against a dock.

Thin pines clamber
over the hill’s top
nothing to remember,

Only the same lake
that keeps making the same
sounds under her cheek

and flashing the same color.
No one to say her name,
no need, no one to praise her,

only the lake’s voice—over
and over, to keep it before her.

–Robert Pinsky from The Want Bone (1990)

“On the Road,” the 2012 film & the “On the Road” poet

I finally recently saw the film version of the Jack Kerouac novel On the Road. Considered an autobiographical novel, since its publication in 1957 it has become almost a treatise documenting the freewheeling lifestyle of people who lived outside the perimeter of mainstream middle America in the late 1940s/early 1950s. The story is narrated by the character, Sal Paradise (in real life Jack Kerouac,) an aspiring writer who develops a friendship with a hard drivin’, hard lovin’, hard drinkin’ man, Dean Moriarty (in real life Neal Cassady) and the sensitive homosexual poet, Carlo Marx (in real life Allen Ginsberg). As these people, during the course of the story, join up at various points, their escapades include driving feverishly across America or hanging out together in Denver, New York or San Francisco. For the most part these adventures comprise much of the narrative. Joining with them are other characters who also impact their lives and the novel as well.

The movie “On the Road,” it turns out in my opinion, is not as good as it could have been, and yet it could’ve been worse than what it is. Some of the adventures/travels, given considerable description in the novel, are not portrayed in detail in film, and I found that amiss. Other situations or characters, however, when seen on the big screen, actually made more sense to me than what I got while reading the book. The movie does seem to have a lot of sex, drugs and jazz (as one IMDB reviewer succinctly states) in it, and while the depiction of such is no longer shocking to today’s audience, there is a sense that the intensity of such a life cannot go on indefinitely.

Much has been written about the Beat movement including the poet Allen Ginsberg whose famous 1956 poem, “Howl” was the subject of the 2010 film starring James Franco as Ginsberg himself. Not to give too much away, there is scene in the “On the Road” film when Sal smiles as he receives a copy of the freshly published “Howl” written by his friend, Carlo Marx.

Howl (the beginning lines of this poem…)
by Allen Ginsberg (aka Carlo Marx in the novel and film On the Road)

For Carl Solomon

I.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and
saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy &
publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear,
burning their money in wastebaskets and listening
to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through
Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in
Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their
torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares,
alcohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and
lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson,
illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery
dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops,
storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon
blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree
vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn,
ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless
ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine
until the noise of wheels and children brought
them down shuddering mouth-wracked and
battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance
in the drear light of Zoo,…

See: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179381 for entire poem “Howl”

YoungAllenGinsberg<a

The Poet’s Wit

EdnaStVincentMillayApr2013
New England poet (Rockland, Maine) Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950) is someone whose almost Dorothy Parker-like wit and soulful depth can be quoted in bits and pieces with some satisfaction. With a complexity that moves beyond flippancy, her verse maneuvers itself in unexpected ways, sometimes leaving the reader in a quandary. I, for one, have been startled by Ms. Millay’s frankness and unexpected gravity as if she’s whimsical and chiding both at the same time.

Here are two poems of hers…

First Fig
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It will give a lovely light!

from A Few Figs From Thistles (1920)

Love is Not All

Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
and rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by need and moaning for release
or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

Also known as Sonnet XXX from
Fatal Interview (1931)
 

FewFigsfromThistlesApr2013

Poet as Translator — James Wright (1927-1980)

Ohio born poet, James Wright, is someone whose poetry I stumbled across a few years ago. Last year he was also one of the poets I blogged about here during April, National Poetry Month (including in that blog copies of his poems “Just Before a Thunder Shower” and “A Blessing”).

It is believed that Wright’s childhood, where he witnessed poverty and struggle in the factory town where he was born and raised, made him sensitive to social and political concerns often reflected in his writing. Wright also displayed the ability to depict profound human issues and emotions, modeling his work after writers Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, whom he admired.

What is interesting is that Wright is known as well for his translations (something I did not know until very recently) of German, Norwegian and Spanish poetry, to name a few. Here are two poems – one by Spanish poet, Juan Ramon Jimenez (1881-1958), and the other a Norweigan poem from circa 1000 whose writer is anonymous.

The Dawn Brings With It (from Eternidades by Juan Ramon Jimenez)

The dawn brings with it
that sadness of arriving, by train,
at a station that is not one’s own.
How disagreeable, those rumblings
of a new day that one knows cannot last long —
—Oh my life! —
Overhead, as the day breaks, a child is crying.

–James Wright

Two Spring Charms (fragments from the Norwegian)

1
Now it is late winter.

Years ago,
I walked through a spring wind
Bending green wheat
In a field near Trondhjem.

2
Black snow,
Like a strange sea creature,
Draws back into itself,
Restoring grass to earth.

–James Wright