Monday, October 31, 2005

Pattian Rogers in Poetry

This poem by Pattiann Rogers is in the September issue of Poetry on pages 420-21. What a way to start the week, and on Halloween, no less--pondering the very quality of life and the boundaries of death, and questioning how human recognition of something affects or does not affect its significance. Here we go:

Address: the Archaens, One Cell Creatures

Although most are totally naked
and too scant for even the slightest
color and although they have no voice
that I've ever heard for cry or song, they are,
nevertheless, more than mirage, more
than hallucination, more than falsehood.

They have confronted sulfuric
boiling black sea bottoms and stayed,
held on under ten tons of polar ice,
established themselves in dense salts
and acids, survived eating metal ions.
They are more committed than oblivion,
more prolific than stars.

Far too ancient for scripture, each
one bears in its one cell one text--
the first whit of alpha, the first
jot of bearing, beneath the riling
sun the first nourishing of self.

Too lavish for saints, too trifling
for baptism, they have existed
throughout never gaining girth enough
to hold a firm hope of salvation.
Too meager in heart for compassion,
too lean for tears, less in substance
than sacrifice, not one has ever
carried a cross anywhere.

And not one of their trillions
has ever been given a tombstone.
I've never noticed a lessening
of light in the ceasing of any one
of them. They are more mutable
than mere breathing and vanishing,
more mysterious than resurrection,
too minimal for death.

Pattiann Rogers

Cool picture found here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tom Sleigh's "The Door"

Back in July I posted a beautiful poem called "The Hammock" by Tom Sleigh. Here is another one from the same book--The Dreamhouse--on pp 69-70. Garnet posted a photograph and a short poem which questions the function of perception, and I think this poem speaks to that idea.

The Door

Fifteen years in each other's heat
And you still picture me the single man
Living hand-to-mouth on my own heart...

And you, how do I see you? The question
Stinging, my eyes slide off yours.
Your poker-faced stare become another barrier--

It's as if who we thought we'd be to one another
Waits outside knocking on the door,
At first composed, then pounding so hard

The door no longer is an entrance in
But the one thing we must always keep closed.
And so we wonder what the face

Beyond the door looks like until it rears
Like mist in the steaming sun, that stranger's
Always shifting, spotlit glance egging us onward

To the verge of space where we sense love
As we've never known unstoppably expanding,
Billowing and towering through the clear deep noon...

--And yet those features burn off
In the heat and leave us still facing
The warped-shut door and what we know is true:

The sun shining impartially back in our eyes
With a light that we both love and half-despise;
Your face as it appears to me; mine as it seems to you.

Tom Sleigh

This poem reminds me of the sensibility in "The Hammock" in that it alludes to a moment of clear, expanded awareness. In "The Hammock," the awareness is a more universal feeling of awe and belonging and peace; in this poem, the awareness occurs between two people who long to see the reality of the other. The "door" of perception makes this nearly impossible--much of the human exprience is about recognizing and dealing with perception--but at times the face of the other "rears / Like a mist in the steaming sun." A sun-drenched mist is, however, bound to dissipate, just as the "features" of the other will "burn off / In the heat," abandoning the speaker to stare once again at the door.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Poetry Writing Month?

I'm a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't and then tries the short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.
                                          William Faulkner

This is an interesting quote, but I wonder if it is true. Writing a novel is hard. Last year I successfully completed the NaNoWriMo challenge, and now I am trying to decide if I should do it again this year. It is a serious commitment, although very rewarding. Anyone out there doing NaNo for the second time (or third, or whatever?)

I am also wondering, what about a poetry writing month? Suppose I challenge myself to write one poem a day for the month of October? By December, I would have thirty drafts of poems to revise. Even if only half of them turned into something good, that would be a lot. My own NaPoWriMo (apologies to Chris Baty.)

What do you poets think? Anyone up for some intense poetry writing? Or is it time for a month of novel writing?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Eric Beeny in 32 Poems

You would be doing yourself a favor if you get a copy of the current issue of 32 Poems. I keep going back to it and rereading. Great stuff.

This one is by Eric Beeny and is on page 14:

Graveyard Pharmaceuticals

the world is a bottle
of pills.

once night's cap is unscrewed,
the clouds must be

headstones become chewable
tablets, like
the kind commandments
were chiseled into.

Eric Beeny

A bottle of pills as a metaphor for the world at night--funny thing is, I read it first as the world at night as a metaphor for a bottle of pills, although the first line makes it clear that "the world" is the subject. The phrase "night's cap" is wonderful--the top lifted off of night, also the allusion to a "nightcap," the ritual of a final drink before bedtime.

"[H]eadstones become chewable / tablets, like / the kind commandments / were chiseled into." "Chewable" brings to mind headstones that have been weather-beaten, and which are bound to disintegrate just like the bodies underneath them. They have words "chiseled into" them, like commandments--the birth and death dates are unchangeable, stated facts. Pills also have those little letters or numbers bevelled into them, identifying what they are.

The connection here between pills and death is striking to me. People take pharmaceuticals in an effort to live longer or in some way make their lives more manageable. But there is something about the necessity of the daily ritual of taking a pill that that reminds you of your own mortality.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Kimmy Beach at Greenboathouse Books

After the roundabout discussion Moose and I had over the complicated grammar in the previous Dickinson poem, I thought I'd post a contemporary, accessible poem. I like this for the commonality of the depicted experience (taking pictures with friends) with the creepy twist of being watched or shadowed by someone without knowing it. I found this poem in the archives of the Greeboathouse Books site. Check it out; there's some great stuff over there.

(who lurked for three days)

you appear blurred in the background
of photos taken before we knew you
your eyes on Brenda
she takes over the taverna
noisy tourists on all sides of us

I can make out your pressed white shirt
the dark moustache
Brenda's laugh holds you

here you watch us down
another bottle of Retsina
in this picture we pose for an American
holding my camera

over Brenda's right shoulder
just above the hand I have placed there
you lean in
watching with no expression

we don't meet you until three days later
you are in every photo
studying us from behind
and to the right

Kimmy Beach

Thursday, October 13, 2005

"As from the earth the light Balloon..."

I just returned from Albuquerque, where I visited with extended family. Saturday morning, we went to the International Balloon Fiesta and watched the Mass Ascension. This occurs early in the morning, when the balloons (about 750 of them) are filled with heated air, then untethered and lifted into the sky. For a few hours, the New Mexico horizon is dotted with balloons of all colors and shapes from all around the world. It is a beautiful sight.

I found this lovely poem by Emily Dickinson, which captures a little of the mystery of the ascension. By the way, thanks for all the kind words and good wishes I have been reading in the comments, along with some insightful poetry analysis.

As from the earth the light Balloon

As from the earth the light Balloon
Asks nothing but release --
Ascension that for which it was,
Its soaring Residence.
The spirit looks upon the Dust
That fastened it so long
With indignation,
As a Bird
Defrauded of its song.

Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Mark Strand's Dark Harbor

I just got a rejection in the mail for my latest batch of poems, which is a bit disappointing, but now at least they are free to be sent somewhere else.

A few days ago, I purchased a copy of Mark Strand's book Dark Harbor: A Poem, published in 1993 by Alfre A Knopf, Inc. It begins with a poem entitled "Proem," a poem that serves as a preface to the book. In it, the speaker sets off on a journey, confident of "the way" and his desire to follow it. He does not reach his destination, but that does not bother him. It is the journey itself that allows him to "breathe," to say to himself, "This is the life." Let's use this as encouragement to keep following our poetic paths, eschewing discouragement and negativity, and enjoying even the rejections that may often appear disguised as obstacles.


"This is my Main Street," he said as he started off
That morning, leaving the town to the others,
Entering the high-woods tipped in pink

By the rising sun but still dark where he walked.
"This is the way," he continued as he watched
For the great space that he felt sure

Would open before him, a stark sea over which
The turbulent sky would drop the shadowy shapes
Of its song, and he would move his arms

And begin to mark, almost as a painter would,
The passages of greater and lesser worth, the silken
Tropes and calls to this or that, coarsely conceived,

Echoing and blasting all around. He would whip them
Into shape. Everything would have an edge. The burning
Will of weather, blowing overhead, would be his muse.

"This is the life," he said, as he reached the first
Of many outer edges to the sea he sought, and he buttoned
His coat, and turned up his collar, and began to breathe.

Mark Strand

Monday, October 03, 2005

Jenny Browne in xconnect

Here's another one for you from xconnect: writers of the information age vol. 6. Pick up a copy of this book; there is such a great variey of poetry in there.

This one is on page 17, and is written by Jenny Brown:


Why not iron your dream
on a T-Shirt
or wrap your face
round a mug that steams, be seen
and heard?

Remember the big history book
with a picture of Alexis St. Martin,
the flap of his stomach lifted
by Doc Beaumont to show
how he digested the latest news
and his wife's potatoes.

Now I have a new recipe
I want to try but I need
a spring-form pan, I need
to remove the sides
of my own life, get a little
more visibility. I am whispering

my plan to the man sitting
next to me, but his ears
are pierced.

Jenny Browne

Stanley Kunitz states that one should end a poem with an image "and not explain it." Browne does exactly this. What is the power in using this technique? What do you think is the significance of a listener with pierced ears?