Category Archives: Poets

“CHORUS”

“Chorus” from the Seamus Heaney play “The Cure at Troy:”

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.

This often quoted excerpt from a 1991 play by this Irish poet sounded to me vaguely familiar when I stumbled upon it recently. The play “The Cure at Troy” is Heaney’s retelling of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, the story of how Odysseus tricked Achilles’ son into joining the Greek forces at Troy towards the end of the Trojan War. A native of northern Ireland, poet Heaney (1939 – 2013) is said to have written “The Cure at Troy” as a parallel to the struggles that Northern Ireland has faced for self-determination.

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Cynthia in the Snow

It SHUSHES
It hushes
The loudness in the road.
It flitter-twitters,
And laughs away from me.
It laughs a lovely whiteness,
And whitely whirls away,
To be
Some otherwhere,
Still white as milk or shirts,
So beautiful it hurts.

by Gwendolyn Brooks.

From Bronzeville Boys and Girls by Gwendolyn Brooks, 1956. Brooks (1917-2000) is a 20th century African American poet.

The children’s literature magazine, Cricket, featured in January 2015 this poem
complete with a wintery illustration.

Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain

Contained within a book of poetry “The Poet’s Choice” (published 1962) that I recently bought at a used book sale, is a poem by Jamaican poet, Louis Simpson (1923 – 2012) entitled “Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain.”  Mr. Simpson came to the U.S. when he was 17 to attend college and remained here, eventually teaching at University of California, Berkeley and SUNY at Stony Brook.   He was very interested in understanding America, his adopted country, and his poems at times reflect an investigation into the myths that he believed this country tells itself.

Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain 

. . . life which does not give the preference to any other life, of any previous period, which therefore prefers its own existence . . .   — Ortega y Gasset

Neither on horseback nor seated,

But like himself, squarely on two feet,

The poet of death and lilacs

Loafs by the footpath.  Even the bronze looks alive

Where it is folded like cloth.  And he seems friendly.

 

“Where is the Mississippi panorama

And the girl who played the piano?

Where are you, Walt?

The Open Road goes to the used-parking lot.

 

“Where is the nation you promised?

These houses built of wood sustain

Colossal snows,

And the light above the street is sick to death.

 

“As for the people – see how they neglect you!

Only a poet pauses to read the inscription.”

 

“I am here,” he answered.

“It seems you have found me out.

Yet, did I not warn you that it was Myself

I advertised?  Were my words not sufficiently plain?

 

“I gave no prescriptions,

And those who have taken my moods for prophecies

Mistake the matter.”

Then, vastly amused—“Why do reproach me?

I freely confess I am wholly disreputable.

Yet I am happy, because you have found me out.”

 

A crocodile in wrinkled metal loafing . . .

 

Then all the realtors,

Pickpockets, salesmen, and the actors performing

Official scenarios,

Turned a deaf ear, for they had contracted

American dreams.

 

But the man who keeps a store on a lonely road,

And the housewife who knows she’s dumb,

And the earth, are relieved.

 

All that grave weight of America

Cancelled!  Like Greece and Rome.

The future in ruins!

The castles, the prisons, the cathedrals

Unbuilding, and roses

Blossoming from the stones that are not there . . .

 

The clouds are lifting from the high Sierras.

The Bay mists clearing;

And the angel in the gate, the flowering plum,

Dances like Italy, imagining red.

–published in Louis Simpson’s book of poems “At the End of the Open Road” (1963)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A film and a poem about AIDS

After recently seeing the now award-winning film “The Dallas Buyers Club” (with kudos to Matthew McConaughey for his best actor Oscar and to Jared Leto for his best supporting actor Oscar), it brought back memories of the years in the 1980s when the disease AIDS first emerged.   So much at that time was unknown about this frightening and then terminal illness that it was not only the general public who was mystified, the medical establishment was also in the dark.  News stories about the one drug, AZT, that seemed to ward off the disease for a time anyway, depicted the horrendous side effects that this medication inflicted on people who needed it.  There was also talk about how the U.S. FDA was too slow in releasing the results of the clinical trials for other AIDS medications.  This hampered terribly the availability of other approved medications in reaching the AIDS patients.  Much of this that went on back then is depicted in the real-life story of Texan Ron Woodroof that the film “The Dallas Buyers Club” is about.

Moving ahead to present time I wanted to feature, in honor of Women’s History Month, the poetry of the American woman poet, novelist and memoirist writer, May Sarton (1912-1995).  Contained with a collection of Ms. Sarton’s poetry I found this poem entitled “AIDS” written in the late 1980s.

AIDS, a poem by May Sarton

We are stretched to meet a new dimension
Of love, a more demanding range
Where despair and hope must intertwine.
How grow to meet it? Intention
Here can neither move nor change
The raw truth. Death is on the line.
It comes to separate and estrange
Lover from lover in some reckless design.
Where do we go from here?

Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear

Our world has never been more stark
Or more in peril.

It is very lonely now in the dark.
Lonely and sterile.
And yet in the simple turn of a head
Mercy lives. I heard it when someone said
“I must go now to a dying friend.
Every night at nine I tuck him into bed,
And give him a shot of morphine,” And added, “I go where I have never been.”
I saw he meant into a new discipline
He had not imagined before, and a new grace.

Every day now we meet face to face.
Every day now devotion is the test.
Through the long hours, the hard, caring nights
We are forging a new union. We are blest.
As closed hands open to each other
Closed lives open to strange tenderness.
We are learning the hard way how to mother.
Who says it is easy? But we have the power.
I watch the faces deepen all around me.
It is the time of change, the saving hour.
The word is not fear, the word we live,
But an old word suddenly made new,
As we learn it again, as we bring it alive:

Love. Love. Love. Love.

[1988]

 

 

For some he was way too left of center: LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka)

In the late 1980s I remember regularly watching on television a ½ hour arts program produced in Minneapolis, MN known as “Alive from Off Center.”  The program featured a wide range of artistic productions, not always in their entirety, that included the spoken word, music, dance and theatrical pieces of performance art.  I think of this arts program now when I recall Black poet, Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones), who ultimately proved to be way too left of center while functioning as the Poet Laureate of New Jersey.  Born and raised in Newark, NJ, Mr. Barack died last month at the age of 79.    It was after 9/11 when Baraka wrote what some consider an incendiary poem (entitled “Somebody Blew Up America”) about the events of that day that his title of Poet Laureate of NJ was taken away from him in 2004.   I offer here an earlier poem written in 1961 by Mr. Baraka (under his former name, LeRoi Jones) that depicts this man’s unique sensibility.

For Hettie

My wife is left-handed.

which implies a fierce de-

termination.  A complete other

worldliness.  IT’S WEIRD, BABY.

The way some folks

are always trying to be

different.  A sin & a shame.

But then, she’s been a bohemian

all of her life. . . black stockings

refusing to take orders.  I sit

patiently, trying to tell her

whats right.  TAKE THAT DAMN

PENCIL OUTTA THAT HAND.  YOU’RE

RITING BACKWARDS. & such. but

to no avail. & it shows

in her work. Left-handed coffee,

Left-handed eggs; when she comes

in at night. . . it’s her left hand

offered for me to kiss.  Damn.

& now her belly droops over the seat.

They say it’s a child. But

I ain’t quite so sure.

–LeRoi Jones (from: Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, Baraka’s first book of published poems, 1961)

Robert Creeley, American poet (1926-2005)

To the One in the Gray Coat

To the one in the gray coat,
sitting as though he were
asleep, were beyond these
involving actions, I will
address myself. Ole!

He will become conscious,
so, of the south. I have
called to mind for him,
have suggested by language,
a world of inner warmth,

a south of the spirit in
which he will be the one
who is not asleep, who
dozes in the completeness
of things which are warm,

in the sun, in the sun’s
completeness. And the coat
as remnant, to be left on
the bench. And he will
know this and will leave it.

Then, going, he will have
passed me, in chill air,
the disciple, to say more
of, to go on with these
signs of inadequate love.

from: The Charm: Early and Uncollected Poems (1968)

Walls

Walls are
relief in lifting
themselves. Let

you also
lift yourself,
selves, shelves.

from: The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975

Robert Creeley Autobiography

Sometime in the 1990s a friend of mine gave me a tiny book (4 inches x 2 ¾ inches) entitled Robert Creeley Autobiography (pub. 1990). On the cover was a photo of Mr. Creeley ostensibly taken by fellow poet, Allen Ginsburg.

RobertCreeleyAutobiography

I finally read this autobiography recently, and in today’s world I guess it would be called a memoir. Densely written, Robert Creeley meanders in the telling of his life story yet it is worth the reading.  Of significance I learned he had two traumatic things happen to him before the age of five: first he lost his left eye in a freak accident while riding in a car at age two, and secondly, his father died when Robert was four years old.  In a matter of fact somewhat stoic manner, the poet discusses how these two events shaped his life from then on. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Mr. Creeley eventually went on to live not only in other parts of New England in upstate New York, he also spent time in India, Burma, New Mexico, France, Spain and Finland. He studied at Harvard and later worked for a number of years as a professor at State University of New York, Buffalo and for a time at Brown University.

As a poet Robert Creeley is linked to a group of avant garde poets from the 1950s known as the Black Mountain poets.  This term stems from Black Mountain College, a progressive school of arts education and academia located in North Carolina that was instrumental in producing some of the more significant avant garde artists that flourished in the 1960s.  Creeley later befriended some of the beat writers and is sometimes affliated with this group of writers also.

              

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

~ 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

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