Category Archives: Poetry

Another one for nature and National Poetry Month

BuffaloSkullFullPhotoApril2018Cropped

A Buffalo Skull

No fine white bone-sheen now;
a hundred hard years
have worn it away, this stump
washed up on a bar
in the river, its horns
like broken roots,
its muzzle filled with sand
and the thin gray breath
of spider webs.  Once,
they covered the grasslands
like the shadows of clouds,
and now the river gives up
just one skull, a hive of bone
like a fallen wasp’s nest,
heavy, empty, and
full of the whine of the wind
and old thunder.

–Ted Kooser (American Poet — born in Ames, Iowa, 1939)  This poem is from One World at a Time, published 1985

TedKooserAmericanPoet                       TedKooserAmericanPoetPhoto4

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Poems – Earth Day 2018 (April 22)

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History

All night the wind
Yelled at the house,
The trees squeaked and hushed
But the wind would not.
All night the trees complained
And the rain rushed and rained.

Now in the cool
Morning the trees stand, tall,
Still and all composed—
Sun on their sunny pages.
Of the storm only the riled
Creek remembers; and rages.

–Thomas McGrath (American poet, 1916 – 1990)
This poem is from Selected Poems 1938 – 1988, pub. 1988

 

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Praising Spring

The day is taken by each thing and grows complete.
I go out and come in and go out again,
confused by a beauty that knows nothing of delay,
rushing like fire.  All things move faster
than time and make a stillness thereby.  My mind
leans back and smiles, having nothing to say.
Even at night I go out with a light and look
at the growing.  I kneel and look at one thing
at a time.  A white spider on a peony bud.
I have nothing to give, and make a poor servant,
but I can praise the spring.  Praise this wildness
that does not heed the hour.  The doe that does not
stop at dark but continues to grow all night long.
The beauty in every degree of flourishing.  Violets
lift to the rain and the brook gets louder than ever.
The old German farmer is asleep and the flowers go on
opening.  There are stars.  Mint grows high.  Leaves
bend in the sunlight as the rain begins to fall.

–Linda Gregg (American poet, born 1942)
This poem is from Alma: Poems, pub. 1985.

April is National Poetry Month!

It is the end of the first week of April 2018, and it is National Poetry Month in the U.S.  A contemporary American poet named Laurel Blossom (born 1943) is someone whose poetry I recently stumbled upon.  Among Ms. Blossom’s accomplishments is that she served fairly recently, from April 2015 – April 2017, as the Poet Laureate of the town of Edgefield, South Carolina (a Poet Laureate being a poet officially appointed by a government or conferring institution, typically expected to compose poems for special events and occasions).

Ms. Blossom’s books of poetry include Longevity (2015) and Degrees of Latitudes (2007).  Her collected books of poems are Wednesday: New and Collected Poems (2004), The Papers Said (1993), What’s Wrong (1987) and Any Minute (1979).  Additionally, her poems have appeared in a number of literary journals and in the anthologies 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day (2005), Lights, Camera, Poetry (1996) and Southern Poetry Review, Volume I: South Carolina (2007).

Glee Club
For Stan (1941 – 1976)

You are the tenor singing inside me,

making a silence beside the song,

calling it harmony, making a charm

to hang on my jingling bracelet of longing.

(originally published in Jasper: The World of Columbia (SC) Arts,March/April 2012).

The Papers Said

In Kenya they have two paved highways.
Commuters throw garbage out the windows to baboons
so used to being fed this way
they wait at intervals like pets or trashcans.
One day a man threw out an orange
he’d filled with chili powder just for the hell of it

to see what would happen (it
rolled in the red dust at the highway’s
edge) because the man hated those fucking baboons
or whatever the word is in Swahili, the way
they jerk off at the side of the road, or show their
disgusting red cans
to each other, and this one not especially orange

orange
got picked up by one of those fuckers, who pushed it
into his mouth and bit down.  The white man in the green car
on the liquid red highway
under the burning blue sky (or whatever the baboon
word is for hellfire) – the man in the green car went
his way.
Baboons scream as only baboons can.

The man felt merciful: no more living trashcans.
He forgave his wife.  As the sky turned the brilliant orange
of an African sunset, he drove home. It
gratified him to see the sides of the highway
deserted, the entire baboon
population he’d driven away.

For a while, he went out of his way
to be nice to his wife and children.  He let them
watch American
T.V., on the weekend he bought a six-pack of
orange pop, packed it
in the car and took them all for a drive along the highway.
Of course the baboons

were back; he expected that.  Baboon
Attacks, however, he did not expect, especially the way
it seemed to recognize the green car (uncanny,
the papers called it), hurled itself at the open window
when an orange
shape glistened briefly there, and ripped the man’s throat out.  Call it
whatever you like, poetic justice, but people aren’t safe
on the nation’s highways,

the papers said.

(originally published in the New York Quarterly #43, Fall 1990)

DegreesofLatitudeLaurelBlossomVersion2                           laurel-blossomVersion2

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The Poetry of Vietnam

Seeing the Ken Burns Vietnam War documentary film recently, I wondered afterwards about the poetic voice of the Vietnamese people.  It turns out a nearby library has an anthology created in 1975 entitled A Thousand Years of Vietnamese Poetry (edited by Nguyen Ngoc Bich).  I learned from this book that while the Vietnamese were influenced by Chinese culture, they were able to retain their own distinct culture.  Drawing often from Chinese allusions, plots and poetic forms, the Vietnamese poets were fully aware that their audience was Vietnamese and that their poetry must serve that audience.

To understand the poetry of Vietnam, and what is perhaps complicated from the standpoint of Western culture, is that historically Vietnamese poetry actually has a three language tradition.  The first written language was a version of Chinese called “Sino-Vietnamese,” and it was called this as it was the Chinese language read in a Vietnamese way.  This “Sino-Vietnamese” language was the primary means of literary expression until the end of the 13th century.

As Vietnamese poetry began to compete with Chinese literature and flourish, the Chinese called Vietnam Van Hien Chi Bang, the “Cultured State” in acknowledgement of their literary achievements.  When the language “Sino-Vietnamese, the country’s version of Chinese, slowly faded, a new language for poetry eventually evolved known as “chu nom.”  Sanctioned by the government of Vietnam in the 15th century as the country’s chief language, chu nom remained until the 20th century the principal language of Vietnamese poetry.

When Portuguese trade ships started arriving in Vietnam carrying Jesuit missionaries from France and elsewhere beginning as early as the 17th century, the Europeans began transcribing Vietnamese into a Romanized script/lettering.  Eventually, this Romanized alphabet in the 20th century, with the encouragement of the French, replaced chu nom.  This Romanized script, known as “quoc ngu,” then became the universal language or “National language” in Vietnam. Both chu nom and quoc ngu are actually systems for transcribing the same language – vernacular Vietnamese.

The following poems range from as early as the 12th century up to and including the 20th century.  In many instances these poems are translated by two scholar/translators, Nguyen Ngoc Bich and Burton Raffel.  Also, while most of these poems included here were written by men, some of them, where known as indicated, were written by women Vietnamese poets.

A NAP 
    by Khong Lo (died 1119)

Huge sky, great green mountains,
Small village of mulberries and smoke.
No one comes,
The ferryman sleeps –-
And wakes, at noon,
In a boatload of snow.

A WIFE’S LAMENT 

by Tran Nhan-tong (1258-1308)

She wakes, rolls up screens, watches flowers fall.
The oriole is silent, hating winter wind.
Beyond the western pavilion the sun slides down
And flowers lean toward the east.

SUMMER
by Tran Thanh-tong (1240-1290)

Shadows linger, even in the dim halls.
How cool at the north window: a scent of lotus.
The rain stops; green vegetables like a screen;
And three, five cicadas sing to disturb the evening sun.

THE STONE DOG 
     by Le Thanh-tong (1442-1497)

With a heavy paw he guards the frontier,
Squatting alone in the middle of the pass,
Paying no heed to the snow or frost,
Never asking for good food or payment.
Staring straight at the visitors’ faces,
He is above listening to their gossiping tongues.
With one mind he serves his lord.
A thousand-weight strong, he cannot be swayed.

THE TEMPLE OF FRAGRANCE
    by Ho Xuan Huong (a Vietnamese woman poet, late 18th century)

Who could have fashioned this marvel?
The mountain cracks into a wide, hollow cave.
Pious Buddhists struggle to set foot inside,
others gaze at it tirelessly.
Drippings form a sweet streamlet,
as sailors on incoming junks bend their heads.
City folk also flock to these springs and woods.
Clever, indeed, the Old Man in Heaven!

CROSSING THE NGANG PASS 
    by The Lady of Thanh Quan (a Vietnamese woman poet, mid 19th century)

The sun sets just as I reach the Ngang Pass,
Where plants jostle with rocks, flowers with leaves.
Below the hill, woodcutters bend under their loads,
Scattered market stalls dot the river bank.
The moorhen calls: Remember, remember your land!
The partridge cries: Only the sky, hills and streams.
And myself?  Communing, talking with myself!

ETERNAL STRUGGLE
    by Tru Vu (born circa 1940)

Light stretches out its hand filled with light
to smash into the face of darkness.
Darkness loses a slice of its body
equivalent to the hand of light.

Darkness stretches out its hand filled with darkness
to smash into the face of light.
Light acquires a portion
equivalent to the hand of darkness.

Between these, man progresses, transfixed.

OUR SON’S PROFESSION
     by Ha Thi Thao (born circa 1940)

you ask what our son’s profession should be
I say teach him to paint
so he can sketch maps of Vietnam
where the hate we’re creating will be blotted out
teach him to cut the barbed wire
that pierces the festering waist of our land
teach him medicine
so he can heal the clotted wounds of the past
last teach him the land’s language
of acid fields and saline waters
then you can burn all the rest of the books
I’ll spread my thin arms to hide the fire
as for the ashes just sweep them aside
with the years of bleeding and weeping
let our son remake this land
let him complete the circle
whose diameter now is the river of shame
you and I will stand north and south
and watch over our young boy as he sleeps.

TWENTY YEARS
     by Do Tan (born circa 1940)

The girl grew up to become a woman
the boy grew up to become a man
man met woman in the forbidden wood
their child was the gift of spring.

The spring child joined the revolution
the revolution was a ravening cannibal
man’s portion was exile, prison, bullets,
with sun, roses, and a blood-reeking flag.

The woman weeps for the girl that was
the man weeps for the boy that was
their child sleeps the eternal sleep in the earth
the spring hangs its head and sighs.

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Paterson, Poetry & William Carlos Williams

Directed by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and featuring actors Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani, “Paterson” is a quiet lyrical movie about day-to-day life and work and poetry and art.  There is in the film, between the characters, some discussion concerning the New Jersey poet, William Carlos Williams, who wrote the poem entitled “Paterson.”  This poem “Paterson” was initially published as an 85 line poem in 1927, and Williams later expanded it into a five volume work.

“Poet, artist, and practicing physician of Rutherford, New Jersey, William Carlos Williams wrote poetry that was experimental in form, ranging from imagism to objectivism, with great originality of idiom and human vitality. Credited with changing and directing American poetry toward a new metric and language, he also wrote a large number of short stories and novels. Paterson (1946–58), about the New Jersey city of that name, was his epic and places him with Ezra Pound (his friend) of the Cantos as one of the great shapers of the long poem in this century.”

(from “About the Author,” two Google “Books” webpages – years cited as 1969 and 2004)

The Hunter

In the flashes and black shadows
of July
the days, locked in each other’s arms,
seem still
so that squirrels and colored birds
go about at ease over
the branches and through the air.

Where will a shoulder split or
a forehead open and victory be?

Nowhere.
Both sides grow older.

And you may be sure
not one leaf will lift itself
from the ground
and become fast to a twig again.

–William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) from Collected Earlier Poems, pub. 1938

SourGrapesWCW        TheEarlierCollectedPoems           Paterson

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
firetruck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

–William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) from Sour Grapes: A Book of Poems, pub. 1921

428px-Charles_Demuth_-_Figure_5.png    “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold,” painting by Charles Demuth, 1928
(owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)

 

 

 

Robert Creeley — a poet

RobertCreeleyPoetApril2017

On this, the day after the final day of National Poetry Month (April 2017), a poet who wore more than one hat (in that he was affiliated with more than one group of American poets in the 20th century) is Robert Creeley (1926 – 2005).  He was considered among the Beat poets in the 1960s to be a contemporary, and prior to this, when he was a teacher at Black Mountain College when it existed in the 1950s in North Carolina, he was regarded as one of the “Black Mountain Poets.”  Later in the 1980s, and until his death in 2005, Creeley forged his own way, breaking away from the solely spare style he’d been known for, while still creating a distinctive style.  He is also considered influential in shifting poetry from depending on history and tradition as being sources of poetic inspiration and giving instead the ongoing experiences of a person’s life more significance.

I was introduced to Robert Creeley by a friend who gave me a miniature book about him entitled “Robert Creeley Autobiography.”  It turns out this small book is a reprint of Creely’s autobiography that appears in the resource “Contemporary Authors, Autobiography Series,” Volume 10 published in 1989.

I would like to read more of this poet – he is considered fairly prolific and also wrote prose and essays as well.

OLD STORY

Like kid on float
of ice block sinking
in pond the field had made
from winter’s melting snow

so wisdom accumulated
to disintegrate 
in conduits of brain
in neural circuits faded

while gloomy muscles shrank
mind padded the paths
its thought had wrought
its habits had created

till like kid afloat
on ice block broken
on or inside the thing it stood
or was forsaken.

–Robert Creeley, 1994

Mary Norbert Korte, a woman poet

 dance in a loving ring
(for Hilary Ayer Fowler)

Stop
and pattern becomes
feet like drops of
purposive water
their plash deliberate tone
to accompany their each
measure

Stop
and edge becomes
sharply rounded leading
what is the after of our
going before
not bound to arms but
mastered

Stop
and song becomes
sings itself through figure
of arms and feet
so lastly we know
with delight overtaking caught
movement

the dance of realised pattern
on the live edge
of fitting song.

–Sister Mary Norbert Korte, 1965  (this poem appears in the anthology 31 New American Poets, pub. 1968)

Eddie Mae the Cook
Dreamed Sister Mary Ran
Off with Allen Ginsberg

The halls long dark hard
enough to have survived
the ’06 Quake where survival
was measured by the sound of
Mother Superior’s Rosary Beads
she dreamed
the cooks dreamed the other nuns
dreamed impossible dreams of silver
visions pelagic noises in the
groaning night
Dreaming was a mission she could not
renounce night as a place to see
all freedoms looming ahead
like a sweet dragon like
a cross with its circling tail

She ran away in everybody’s dreams
calling out like a booming flame
running running into the lines
of bards & lions lovers & birds
running with her arms out wide
into the bright flapping dark

(A true story about a dream really dreamed by the cook at the
St. Rose Convent after Sister Mary Norbert Korte attended the
Berkeley Poetry Conference)

–Mary Norbert Korte, 1988

MaryNorbertKorteYoungWoman                                                     MaryNKorte.jpg
Born in 1934 in the San Francisco Bay area, Mary Norbert Korte was from a strong Catholic
family.  This devout upbringing led Korte to enter the convent after graduating high school
in 1952.  As a nun she furthered her education, earning a Master’s degree in the specialized
field of Silver Latin.

In 1965, Korte awakened to another calling when she attended the Berkeley Poetry
Conference and heard readings by poets Robert Creely, Jack Spice, Charles Olson, Robert
Duncan, Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsburg.  She discovered she felt as at home among the
Beat writers as she did in the convent.  Within a few short years Korte left the convent as
her passion for writing and political activism grew.

Korte was one of the original Poet/Teachers for the California Poets in the Schools
program.  Twenty years ago, in the mid 1990s, she stopped teaching in the Schools
program and shifted her energies into environmental concerns by becoming the
Environmental Director for Coyote Valley Tribe in northern California.  To support herself
Korte began teaching at a California Indian reservation.

Regarded as one of the few women of the Beat Generation, Korte’s publications include Beginning of Lines (1968), Hymn To the Gentle Sun (1967), and Mammals of Delight (1978.)  Among the anthologies that include Korte’s poems are Remember Our Fire:
Poetry by Women
 (1969), 31 New American Poets (1968) and Poems Read in the Spirit of Peace & Gladness (1966).  Today she lives quietly and writes extensively in the Redwood Forest in Mendocino County.

HymntotheGentleSunPoetry                 31NewAmericanPoets                      ThrowingFirecracksOuttheWindowWhenMyExHusbandDrivesByMNK

 

Mary Norbert Korte’s biographical information is taken from the following web page:
http://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/4729

 

 

 

A snowy night…

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

— Robert Frost (American poet, 1874-1963)   Published in the collection New Hampshire (1923).  This volume of Frost’s poems is a Pulitzer-prize winning collection.

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“Don’t Think Twice” – Movies borrowing Bob Dylan songs and lyrics

Most of the literate world is aware at this point that songwriter musician Bob Dylan was recently awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.  For those who don’t follow the news regularly there was some concern in the days following the announcement that Mr. Dylan couldn’t be found because he hadn’t formally commented about receiving this honor.  Finally he did respond publicly saying that receiving the award was “amazing, incredible.  Whoever dreams about something like that?”  It’s been reported that Mr. Dylan won’t be attending the awards ceremony, however, in Sweden on December 10 as he has another commitment at this time.

In the aftermath of Bob Dylan being the recipient of this award, I was reminded about seeing earlier this autumn two recent film titles that are lines lifted from Bob Dylan songs.  It made me realize how much his music has permeated our cultural consciousness.  These very recent films are entitled “Complete Unknown” (2016) and “Don’t Think Twice” (2016).

I began to wonder how many movies have borrowed their titles from Dylan songs through the years.  Here is a list of some films (as well as a few TV series):

“Forever Young” (1992)

“Corrina, Corrina” (1994) (Dylan didn’t write this blues/country song – his cover of it is well known)

“Just Like a Woman” – Three movies with this title since the late 1960s: 1967, 1992 and 2012

“A Simple Twist of Fate” (1994)

“Like a Rolling Stone” (1994) – Japanese film

“If Not For You” (1995) – TV series that ran 8 episodes

“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (1997) – German film

“All Along the Watchtower” (1999) – TV series that ran 6 episodes

“Tangled Up in Blue” – Three different full length films have been made with this title.  Their respective years of release were 2004, 2009 and 2011.

“Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast” (2005)

“Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan” (2006)

“Blowin’ in the Wind” (2007)

“One Too Many Mornings” (2010)

“My Back Pages” (2011) – Japanese film

I’m actually leaving out innumerable short films and individual television episodes (from a wide range of TV series) whose titles also borrow from Dylan’s repertoire.

Epilogue

In spring 2016 Rolling Stone magazine published this list of the 100 best Bob Dylan songs. Here is the online link: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-bob-dylan-songs-20160524

And in providing some commentary in regard to these songs, writer/director Cameron Crowe states “Dylan’s stuff continues to inform every generation – it just lives and lives and lives…”

Two poems

Afternoon Sleep

I

I was descending from the mountains of sleep.

Asleep I had gazed east over a sunny field,

And sat on the running board of an old Model A.

I awoke happy, for I had dreamt of my wife,

And the loneliness hiding in grass and weeds

That lies near a man over thirty, and suddenly enters.

II

When Joe Sjolie grew tired, he sold his farm,

Even his bachelor rocker, and did not come back.

He left his dog behind in the cob shed.

The dog refused to take food from strangers.

III

I drove out to that farm when I awoke;

Alone on a hill, sheltered by trees.

The matted grass lay around the house.

When I climbed the porch, the door was open.

Inside were old abandoned books,

And instructions to Norwegian immigrants.

–Robert Bly, American poet, translator and editor, born 1926 (poem is from an early book of his poems,  Silence in the Snowy Fields, pub. 1962).  Bly was designated the first Poet Laureate of Minnesota, holding that position from 2008-2011.

Night and Sleep

At the time of night-prayer, as the sun slides down,
the route the senses walk on closes, the route to the invisible opens.

The angel of sleep then gathers and drives along the spirits;
just as the mountain keeper gathers his sheep on a slope.

And what amazing sights he offers to the descending sheep!
Cities with sparkling streets, hyacinth gardens, emerald pastures!

The spirit sees astounding beings, turtles turned to men,
men turned to angels, when sleep erases the banal.

I think one could say the spirit goes back to its old home;
it no longer remembers where it lives, and loses its fatigue.

It carries around in life so many griefs and loads
and trembles under their weight; they are gone; it is all well.

–Rumi (Jalal ad-din Muḥammad Rumi, 1207 – 1273), Persian poet & mystic – translated by Robert Bly

SilenceintheSnowyFieldsRobertBlyBookofPoems1962           RobertBlyPoetIllustration           ReadingRumiRobertBly&NaomiShihabNye

 

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