Because I Do Not Hope…

I’ve been thinking about this poem a lot lately… T.S. Eliot is one of my all-time favorite poets.  And, while I love The Waste Land, my favorites poems by him are “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “Ash Wednesday.”

It’s “Ash Wednesday” that has been on my mind so much recently.  I can’t pinpoint exactly why, though have a few ideas on it that I won’t be sharing here.  In any case, the words are ringing in my ears and vibrating between my ribs.

(EDIT: …and apparently today is World Poetry Day, which I’m embarrassed to admit I did not know.  But I’m also highly amused that I managed to post a poem on World Poetry Day despite the fact that I DIDN’T know it.  So… Happy World Poetry Day!)

“Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot

I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of the day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jagged, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an aged shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

IV

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

VI

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Happy Singles Awareness Day

Good evening folks.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter may know this already, but in case you hadn’t heard yet: I, with my infinite clumsiness, managed to fall on my wood stairs and break my nose on sunday.  *sigh*  Yeah… Spent a few hours in the emergency room, only to be told by the doctor that there wasn’t much to be done except apply ice and take lots of pain medication.

As you might be able to imagine, I spent most of today trying to rest, while also trying to get some homework done.  I didn’t really have the energy to write much for the blog today, but I just saw this, and HAD to share it with you.

It’s a poem by the awesome social media guru Kristen Lamb, written ‘specially for all the single people who dread Valentine’s Day.  Let me tell you how much I enjoy Valentine’s Day: I’m single, have been for a few years, I traditionally wear black on Valentine’s Day just to be obnoxious, and this year I have a broken nose and two black eyes. Oh Joy.  So, yeah, this poem: brilliant.

Enjoy. And then go check out Kristen Lamb’s original post: here.

Twas the Night Before Valentines…by Kristen Lamb

Twas the night before Valentines, and all through the land

The poor single people were wringing their hands

Handcuffs were hung by the nighties with care

Near the lotions and chocolates and mint underwear.

A day made by Hallmark to sell lots of stuff

Pushing candies and kittens and kisses and fluff

A day that makes “Single” a social disease

Like bubonic or typhoid or chiggers or fleas

And that fat baby Cupid must be on the take

Paid in buckets of cash and red velvet cake.

Love songs are played on every damn station

As “mush” takes over our entire nation.

Now not that we’re jaded, us single-type folk

We’ve tried Facebook and Match, and Equally-Yoked

We’ve tried parks and clubs and churches and bars

And a handful resorted to wishing on stars.

Like most other people, we want company

Without drama or fighting or disharmony.

No Jerry Springer or Kardashian drama

We have no time for all of that trauma.

Maybe we’re picky, world-weary, or fussy

Because we won’t date any Joe Schmo or hussy.

We want someone good-looking, gentle and sweet.

Hey, just cuz we’re single doesn’t make us minced meat.

We don’t begrudge the romance of others

The passion of courtship, the heat between lovers.

Before you judge my singular state

Think back to the days when YOU had to date.

Tomorrow we’ll stand in the grocery store line

Behind the husband with a bottle of wine

And a “Get-Well” bouquet cuz he waited too late

To find the red roses to give to his mate.

Hallmark has trained you to scurry and dash

Into its stores with fistfuls of cash.

For stuffed little critters with a lap full of love

And boxes of chocolate morsels from Dove.

Singles won’t stand hours waiting to dine

On elf food with garnish and overpriced wine.

No chocolates with abnormal tropical middles

Or angst about thighs that may wiggle and jiggle.

No staying in bars desperately late

Trying to connect with a last-minute date.

So embrace your status and shout it out loud.

Yes, I am single! Single and Proud!

New Books Added to My TBR Pile

New Books Added to My TBR Pile

I got some new books in the mail today, that I ordered for Amazon.  Having a box of new books waiting for you on your doorstep at the end of a long day is one of these things that really lifts my spirits and makes me happy.  I never get tired of it.  And after a very long, brain-draining sort of day/week (and another such day awaiting me tomorrow), and after sitting in a traffic jam for 2 hrs, and not getting home until almost 8pm, and still needing to eat dinner, take a shower, etc etc etc…, it was REALLY nice to have these books waiting for me.  Here’s what I got:

I bought the Best New Poets 2011: 50 Poems from Emerging Writers because one of my friends and fellow graduate students is featured in it.  If you’re curious, her name is Janine Joseph, her poem featured in the anthology is called “Wreck,” and she is completely awesome.  I plan to get her to sign the book.  I fully expect her to be a huge famous poet some day (or at least as famous as poets get nowadays — speaking of, it’s so strange that poets were once practically the “rock stars” of American culture, and now only other poets and English majors know who they are).

I bought a YA historical fiction called My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson, which I bought pretty much on a whim.  It’s about the treatment of Eskimo and Native American tribes and the children sent to “white” Catholic boarding schools to essentially be brainwashed.  This novel takes place mainly in the 1960s, but this kind of thing had been going on since at least the 1800s, and continued until late into the 1960s or early 1970s.  It sounds like a really fascinating book, on a subject area I don’t know a LOT about, but am very interested in.

Next: I FINALLY got around to ordering a book I’ve been meaning to buy for about a year now.  It’s called Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins, it’s by Emma Donoghue (now known as the author of Room), and it’s collection of re-imaginings of fairy tales (which, as I’ve mentioned a few times by now, I absolutely LOVE).  I cannot wait to sink my teeth into this book (possible literally… ^_^).

And last, I bought The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.  I cannot tell you how many amazing reviews I’ve read of this book!  I cannot tell you how amazing this book sounds to me!  I also cannot tell you how hard it was to get a hold of.  I got a couple Barnes & Noble gift cards for Christmas, and planned to buy this book with one of those gift cards.  But I went to TWO Barnes & Noble bookstores, and neither had this book.  So I finally just caved and ordered it on Amazon instead (yet another example of why brick and mortar bookstores are going to continue to suffer despite my own willingness to continue supporting them).  I absolutely cannot WAIT to read this book (though I will probably HAVE to wait, at least a month of two).

The Literalists of the Imagination

Saturday is the last day of April, which makes this my last National Poetry Month-themed post.  So, here are a couple poems about poetry.  It’s always fascinating to see how many poets write poems that examine, discuss, and sometimes defend the art and impulse of writing poetry.

“Poetry” – Marianne Moore 

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond 

all this fiddle. 

Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one 

discovers in 

it after all, a place for the genuine. 

Hands that can grasp, eyes 

that can dilate, hair that can rise 

if it must, these things are important not because a 

/ 

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because 

they are 

useful. When they become so derivative as to become 

unintelligible, 

the same thing may be said for all of us, that we 

do not admire what 

we cannot understand: the bat 

holding on upside down or in quest of something to 

/ 

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless 

wolf under 

a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse 

that feels a flea, the base- 

ball fan, the statistician– 

nor is it valid 

to discriminate against “business documents and 

/ 

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make 

a distinction 

however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the 

result is not poetry, 

nor till the poets among us can be 

“literalists of 

the imagination”–above 

insolence and triviality and can present 

/ 

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” 

shall we have 

it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, 

the raw material of poetry in 

all its rawness and 

that which is on the other hand 

genuine, you are interested in poetry.

/

“Anyone Can Write a Poem” – Bradley Paul 

I am arguing with an idiot online. 

He says anybody can write a poem. 

I say some people are afraid to speak.

I say some people are ashamed to speak. 

If they said the pronoun “I” 

they would find themselves floating 

in the black Atlantic 

and a woman would swim by, completely 

dry, in a rose chiffon shirt, 

until the ashamed person says her name

and the woman becomes wet and drowns 

and her face turns to flayed ragged pulp, 

white in the black water. 

He says that he’d still write 

even if someone cut off both his hands. 

As if it were the hands that make a poem, 

I say. I say what if someone cut out 

whatever brain or gut or loin or heart 

that lets you say hey, over here, listen, 

I have something to tell you all, 

I’m different. 

As an example I mention my mother 

who loved that I write poems

and am such a wonderful genius. 

And then I delete the comment 

because my mother wanted no part of this or any 

argument, because “Who am I 

to say whatever?” 

Once on a grade school form 

I entered her job as hairwasher. 

She saw the form and was embarrassed and mad. 

“You should have put receptionist.” 

But she didn’t change it. 

The last word she ever said was No. 

And now here she is in my poem, 

so proud of her idiot son, 

who presumes to speak for a woman 

who wants to tell him to shut up, but can’t.

/

And now, to wrap up the week and the month, here are a few interesting links worth taking a look at.  A few are related to poetry, a few are about writing in general.

Charles Bernstein’s “Against National Poetry Month As Such”

“Forgetting the Words” from the blog Cross-Ties by xties

“Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me That Writing Your First Novel is Terrifying?” from Occupation: Writer by carrie m

“Book Review of Giveaway: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” from Jess Witkin’s Happiness Project

One final note: I will most likely not have internet access next week, so I can’t promise that I’ll be able to get my scheduled posts up.  On top of that, next wed I’m going to an Arcade Fire concert, and next fri is my birthday.  So even if I get a hold of wifi, I might not get posts up in time.  Just to warn you…

Angels, Love, and Old Men: A Quick Review of ‘Heavy Lead Birdsong’

In honor of National Poetry Month, I have tried to offer readers a few options for poetry that I believe is worth reading.  Obviously, this is a very subjective kind of thing, but I have tried to suggest poets who I admire, who are interesting and touching, and who may be somewhat accessible for the general reader who is perhaps not ready or not interested in more complex, dense poetry.

The poets I have mentioned so far (Stephen Vincent Benet, Adrienne Rich, and Hugo Williams, along with a couple others in passing) are all older, established, well-known, well-loved poets.  However, today I would like to suggest one of the U.S.’s new poets – a poet who will, I believe, one day be as well-known and well-loved as the others I’ve discussed.

His name is Ryler Dustin, and his book of poetry, published in 2008, is Heavy Lead Birdsong.

In favor of full disclosure, I should tell you that I know Ryler.  He is a student in the MFA Creative Writing program at University of Houston, where I was in the MA Literature program (and will soon be in the PhD program).  We have taken a few classes together, and know each other enough to say ‘hi’ in hallways and on facebook occasionally, but we are not, strictly speaking, “friends.”  Nor did Ryler ask me to promote his book in anyway (I don’t think I ever even told him I BOUGHT his book).  Therefore, this recommendation is based purely on my belief that Ryler Dustin is a fantastic poet who is worthy of your attention.

Heavy Lead Birdsong is about many things – love, family, religion, death, desperation, the things we leave behind and the things we hope to leave behind when we’re gone, art and beauty.  It is at its essence a song cycle to life – every part of it, the beautiful and the ugly.  Ryler moves effortlessly from the joyous, to the elegiac, to the whimsical, to the hilarious, and back again.  He manages to speak from his specific life experiences, while simultaneously speaking from a place that is recognizable (sometimes painfully so) to everyone.

The poems of this collection contain deep, often heavy, layered metaphors.  Yet the overall effect of these poems is one of openness, straight-forwardness, and clarity.  Ryler does not try to obfuscate or over-complicate.  He does not simplify what is rightly complex, but neither does he turn the simple things into a tangle of dense, cerebral language games.

I am not stating it too strongly to say that Ryler is one of those poets I wish to God I could be – he speaks of things that I feel, that I too have experienced, but he relates them in ways I could never hope to.

I think providing a few examples from the collection may be the best way to win you over, however.  So I’m going to hand the rest of this blog over to Ryler’s poetry.  Two of my favorite poems from this collection are too long to quote in full here, unfortunately.  “Blackbirds” is about angels; the narrator states:

“If I ever decided to believe in angels,

I’d believe in street wanderers

watching us from alleyways

and the sides of greasy dumpsters,

They’d communicate with each other

through the curling graffiti

that most of us assume is the work of some gang

They’d be fighting with shadows like schizophrenics.

They’d be sending us desperate blessings

from barrel-fire séances…”

And in “My Old Man,” the narrator tries to keep control of the old man ‘love’ that’s inside him:

“I took away his typewriter because the keys

     kept me up all night.

But now he scratches poems on the inside of my tongue.

     I don’t know how he gets up there.

He writes poems to strangers

     just to fuck with me.

He’s more like a leprechaun than a cupid.

     He falls in love with buildings.

     He falls in love with what people leave behind them:

         new hairpins and old architecture and apple cores.

     He hoards apples in my chest

         and now my chest is full of apples.

                My chest is growing into a tree…”

Finally, here is one whole poem for you.  The second-to-last poem in the collection, and one of several “birdsong” poems.

“Oak and Sunlight Birdsong”

When they cut me open,

they’ll find whole novels I swallowed too fast

so I could go back to playing video games.

They’ll find too many mirrors,

some filled with my face,

some with the reflections of strange birds,

most of them filled with the faces of girls

who have deep circles under their eyes.

/

Maybe because of my mother, overworked women

have always looked beautiful to me.

/

Inside the back bedroom of my spine,

they’ll find a lopsided movie projector

replaying a game of tag in a trailer park.

/

In my skull they’ll find a chair

by a sunlit window

and a bottle of spilt win

pooling like a black eye.

/

They’ll find a field beyond the window

and a book left fluttering on the sill.

/

They’ll never know if I left before finishing it,

or if I was just going back,

reading over all the parts in the story I loved.

It’s probably obvious by now that these are not the kinds of reviews you’d find in a literary journal, or even in a newspaper.  For one thing, in keeping with the brevity preferred in blogging, these “reviews” aren’t really long enough to do the books justice.  Second, I have tried to avoid all the usual sorts of philosophical and literary theory lingo one usually finds in a review, particularly because this blog is not really meant for an academic audience.  So, I worry that as “reviews” these posts have been somewhat useless.  However, I hope that my personal appreciation for these poets, and the inclusion of some of the poems from the collections, have done you some good.  In the end, I’m not trying to offer a critique, I am merely hoping more people will read the poets I love.

I hope this leads at least some of you to go and buy this book and support a young, new, hopeful, struggling poet who really deserves the chance.

“All Those Moments That Haunt Us”

Today, I would like to offer up one more of my own poems for your perusal.  I think this will be the last poem of my own that I post, at least for now.  I said at the beginning that I had 4 poems published a few years ago by my undergraduate fine arts journal.  I’ve decided that I would only post those poems because I have hopes on having a few of my others published in the future as well and many publications consider blog-posts as being “previously published” and therefore disqualified.  I know, some of you are saying, “but this will only make #3.  Where’s #4?”  Well, over the last couple years I’ve realized that #4 was NOT in fact ready for publication, and I sometimes wonder how it did get published in the journal.  So I’m not going to post that one.  Sorry.

That being said, this third and last poem of my own is definitely my favorite of the 4 that were published.  I’m very proud of this poem.  It was written in 2008.  I’ve actually written two different versions of this “story” – once in this poem, and once in an odd memoir-ish short prose piece (which uses much of the same imagery but also adds a lot in the way of context and explanation).  I may, at some point, post that as well if people are interested.  In the mean time, please enjoy this last poem and feel free to tell me what you think.  I enjoy feedback, even if its less-than-glowing feedback.

"North Bridge Night" by Fergus Ray Murray (CC)

“All Those Moments That Haunt Us”

–  for my brother

It’s midnight and we’re walking again.

The mottled clouds are flowering

into petals etched with gray and black;

the dark sky is showering us in

shards of glass that slice your skin

and pound heavy on my bowing back.

/

Like hunters, we are stalking –

(sleep is an elusive thing we chase to our beds) –

denying to ourselves that memory chases us instead.

/

So we stroll down the side of the road.

We wave at cars passing by.

We talk and laugh and sing and wonder why

our voices come back to us from the

darkness – bouncing off invisible walls.

/

I’m content with this:

my hands stuffed low in jean pockets,

my long stride, the dark pressed against my side

to hold some things in, to keep others out.

But you are always hungry;

you cannot silence your ravenous shout.

/

You are eating the green glow, red glare,

of stoplights; drinking up the sounds

of sirens; swallowing rain-hung trees

and chunks of pavement whole –

trying to feed your starved, distended soul.

/

The boundaries of your skin are splitting,

and I want to wrap you in white ribbon,

force the calm back into your bones, beg you

to understand that exploding does no good.

/

You should know, you’ve exploded before –

often enough to have learned to ignore

the building pressure within your bones and veins.

You’ll learn, I whisper, you’ll learn to keep still.

But you stare at me, and refuse to believe

I have ever known that slow burn, that restless chill –

that electric-organ screeching high-high C

in your arctic, tv-static brain.

/

So I turn the pressure valve loose by singing:

laughing, you join in and the steam is releasing,

you’re drowning out the screeching in your head,

gathering up your flayed and worn-out skin,

and screaming at the empty sky instead.

/

But what of all those moments that haunt us?

No amount of singing or screaming ever

chases them away – those beer-bottle ghosts

wreathed in cigarette smoke, those moments

filled with the thunder of clenching throats

and the pounding clamor of a mother’s tears.

/

What are we to make of them, my brother?

What are we to do with all that silent pain?

Awake, asleep, or dreaming, they chase us.

And we run.  Every night.  At midnight.  In the rain.


Quick Personal Update: My demon hunter WIP is still in progress.  It’s going slower than I had hoped, but any progress is better than none.  I’ve just finished Ch. 24 and I think I need 4-5 more chapters to reach the end (I hope).  In other news, I have officially accepted a Doctoral Teaching Fellowship at University of Houston, where I will begin my course work for a PhD in American Postmodern Literature in the Fall, while teaching Freshman Composition classes, as I did while working on my Master’s.  Right now, I’m The Master.  In five years’ time, I’ll expect people to start calling me The Doctor.  Just to warn you. :D  Finally, my birthday is two weeks from today, in case anyone wants to get me a present… (j/k, I swear!)

Also, Happy Easter to those who celebrate.  And to those who don’t: have a lovely weekend!

That’s all folks.

A Poetry Review: Billy’s Rain by Hugo Williams

Today, I have another suggestion for those interested in finding some new poets to read.  This time I’m talking about Billy’s Rain, a volume of poetry by British poet Hugo Williams.

Hugo Williams is one of those poets who is well-respected in England but is, sadly, not well known in the U.S.  I was introduced to him in a graduate-level course on Confessional and Post-Confessional Poetry, and I do not know much about him except what is written on Wikipedia (yes, I’m addicted to that site).  However, it is not necessary to know anything about him to understand why Billy’s Rain (1999), his 10th poetry publication, is so popular.

Billy’s Rain charts the course of a love affair, as remembered by the narrator after the fact, from beginning to end, and beyond to all the moments that remind the narrator of what used to be.  These poems deftly traces the joys, obsessions, evasions, surprises, unspoken lies, secret languages, and tiny telling moments of the relationship with tenderness, honesty, irony, and humor.  As William Scammel from Independent on Sunday states: “The charm lies in… the way a whole world is evoked – and lightly judged – by means of spotlit details… Nobody is more deft at summing up a world in a few glances” (from book back flap).  The first poem, “Silver Paper Men” begins to paint this world of “rudimentary gardens,” bridges and balustrades, and flowers that say “all there is to say about love / in their shiny black world.”  And the image of the world is continually built upon with a layering of details within each poem.

Billy’s Rain won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 1999.  I would also add that this volume is short, even for a poetry collection (only 54 pages), and the poems are straight-forward in a way that I think will appeal to those who are interested in reading poetry but do not have the time or patience to muddle through the more complicated, dense kinds of poetry.  This collection is, in short, accessible for the general reader – I believe.

The readers witness the first meeting of the lovers in “Sealink”:

On the boat, we foot passengers

were shuffled like a pack of cards

and thrown down in new combinations

all over the half-empty, off-season decks.

Children bumped into one another.

Parents looked for somewhere quite to sit

away from the video games.

Young couples ate enormous, nervous meals,

while single people roamed back and forth

between the restaurant and Duty Free.

/

As land came into sight, one asked another

‘Do you know the way back to the coach?

I think it’s on Whale Deck.’

A conversation begins with ‘May I sit

next to you? God it’s hot in here!

Do you mind if I open this window?’

We take off our coats, settle back, peel oranges.

Shall we speak in English or French?

Are we going on holiday? Or home?

Do we mind knowing each other’s name?

/

The moment when the relationship is irrevocably ended in “Nothing Stinted”:

We have taken up our positions

over a complicated board game

of coffee, cigarettes, wine

(nothing stinted for the occasion)

while she tells me with a certain sadness

how she’s got ‘muddled up’ with her boss.

/

I come out of my corner laughing, likeable,

full of stories about my trip.

I refill her glass for her.

Feigning concern for her welfare

and knowing her openness on the subject,

I ask about birth control.

What method are they using?

Are they being careful?

/

She leans towards me across the table.

‘Remember you used to tell me

men would always treat me badly if I let them?

Well, he doesn’t.  He treats me well.

You don’t have to worry about that.’

/

And it finally ends with the memories that continue to linger, long after the affair is over, in “Balcony Scene”:

The street light shorting on and off,

casting a balcony on my bedroom wall.

I seem to have wired it up

to my thoughts of you, your first-floor studio,

the ladder to your bed, car lights overhead.

/

I was climbing the ladder one night

when I caught the eye of a man

going past on the top of a bus

and for one moment became him

as he turned to look back at us.

I feel asleep after that, never dreaming

I would give it a second thought.

/

I see his face now, passing my window,

as I draw the curtains for the night,

the street light shorting on and off,

somehow refusing to blow.

I hope you have enjoyed these few short poems included here.  And if they appealed to you at all, I highly recommend taking a look at the whole collection.  And please, let me know what you think.

Poetry By Way of Apology, and Do Lyrics Count?

First off, my apologies for the lateness of this post.  I spent the day at a symposium on Feminist Pedagogies: Interdisciplinarity, Transnational Practices, and Production of Knowledge.  Two of my favorite things in academics are feminist theory and pedagogical theory, so I was really looking forward to the talks.  It was highly enjoyable, extremely enlightening and informative, and very very exhausting.  I am always amazed how tired I can get when essentially all I’m doing is sitting around listening to people talk.  But it is extremely mentally draining.

Anyway, I had hoped to get a post up last night, or early this morning.  But as you can see, neither of those things happened.  So, by way of apology I am offering up another one of my poems as a sacrifice, as well as one of my favorite poems by a brilliant poet.

First, here’s one of my poems.  I’m not going to go into any background on this one, except to say that it was written in 2007, and is one of the few I’ve written that is essentially the same from first draft to end result, except for a few words here or there.

“Death Wish”

angry screaming over pounding bass

guitars screeching through a million notes

that is how your life has always been

riding whining motorcycles

hair catching the wind in a golden net

fierce eyes gleaming silver in the sun

as you grin, playing chicken with Death

cling to your smiling nonchalance

wield your flashing knives and razor tongue

kneel and kiss their barren graves –

the family that you couldn’t keep –

and wonder why you never cry

but don’t tell a soul that you’re bleeding

search for answers in half-smoked cigarettes

and empty bottles of tequila

in the end, Life’s a vindictive bitch

and you laugh and dare her to prove you wrong

and as the jello shots and cigarettes

fade from your blood, and your sleek, fast bikes

weigh down your wings more than they set you free

you yearn more than ever to feel

the earth fall away beneath you

weep then at their bitter graves

for the first and only time

and smile for the taste of Death is sweet

a high cliff on the blue horizon

is attractive to a troubled soul

go ahead and jump…  I’ll bet you can fly

And now, a poem by a brilliant poet, one of my favorites.  I’ll tell you who it is after you read it (though some of you, no doubt, will know right away).

“Famous Blue Raincoat”

It’s four in the morning, the end of December

I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better

New York is cold but I like where I’m living

There’s music on Clinton street all through the evening

/

I hear that you’re building your little house

Deep in the desert

You’re living for nothing now

I hope you’re keeping some kind of record

/

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair

She said that you gave it to her

That night that you planned to go clear

Did you ever go clear?

/

Ah, the last time we saw you, you looked so much older

Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder

You’d been to the station to meet every train

And you came home without Lili Marlene

/

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life

And when she came back she was nobody’s wife

Well, I see you there with the rose in your teeth

One more thin gypsy thief

Well, I see Jane’s awake, she sends her regards

/

And what can I tell you, my brother, my killer

What can I possibly say?

I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you

I’m glad you stood in my way

/

If you ever come by here for Jane or for me

Well, your enemy is sleeping and his woman is free

Yes, and thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes

I thought it was there for good, so I never tried

/

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair

She said that you gave it to her

That night that you planned to go clear

So, yes, for those who knew and those who didn’t, this “poem” is actually a song by Leonard Cohen.  On top of the many albums he’s produced, he’s published books of poetry, which include many of his songs as well as poetry written strictly AS poetry.  As I mentioned once before, songs – at least SOME songs – definitely count as poetry.  Some of it is, in fact, extremely beautiful and powerful poetry.  And Leonard Cohen is an absolutely brilliant poet, whether he’s writing strict poetry or music.  I highly suggest going online and just looking at some of his other songs/poetry.  Everything he writes is gold.

So, do you think songs count as poetry?  What musicians/song-writers do think of as poets?  Any particular song/poems you’d like to share?

A Review: Adrienne Rich’s Tonight No Poetry Will Serve

Adrienne Rich is one of my favorite poets, though I did not discover her until my second year of college (shocking, I know!).  I found her a little late in the game, I admit, but I have done my upmost to catch up since then, and I have bought/borrowed/read 15 of her publications so far (that includes both her poetry and her essay collections).  She is not only a magnificent poet but a staunch supporter of all the arts, and an important activist for anti-war, civil rights, and feminist movements.  I admire her greatly not only as a writer but as a person.  Therefore, I would like to offer up a very quick review of her newest volume of poetry, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve.

To give just a little background: Adrienne Rich (b. 1929) had her first volume of poetry, A Change of World, published in 1951 when it was picked by W.H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.  She married Alfred Conrad in 1953 and had three sons.  In the ‘60s she joined anti-war, civil rights, and feminist activism.  During this time, she grew increasingly dissatisfied with her marriage.  She and her husband split in 1970, and in October of that year, her husband shot and killed himself.  A year later, Rich came out as a lesbian, and became one of America’s most vocal and prolific feminist activists and writers.

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve (2011), Adrienne Rich’s 29th publication to date, is a stark, passionate-yet-controlled exploration of a society that has been, for better or worse, irrevocably changed in the 21st century.  The subject matter of this collection ranges far and wide, from her continued urgent focus on women’s issues to her reflections on war, from her relationship with language and poetry, to the complications of identity.  It encompasses, as the book jacket states: “partings and reconciliations, solidarities and ruptures, trust and betrayal, exposure and withdrawal.”  What it occasionally lacks in the musicality of Rich’s early works (which I occasionally miss, rightly or wrongly), it makes up for with its sharp, intense tone and its unblinking, unapologetic, honest, analyzing gaze.  The poetry retains the bite that Adrienne Rich has become known for.  And her poetry is, as ever, highly political – charged and daring in a way that few poets are (or were when she began, in any case, more poets dare to be political now than they ever used to).  Even after 29 publications and more than 50 years of writing, her commitment, intensity, and daring have never yet wavered.  And I believe they never will.

Below are two poems from Tonight No Poetry Will Serve:

“Tonight No Poetry Will Serve”:

Saw you walking barefoot

taking a long look

at the new moon’s eyelid

/

later spread

sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair

asleep but not oblivious

of the unslept unsleeping

elsewhere

/

Tonight I think

no poetry

will serve

/

Syntax of rendition:

/

verb pilots the plane

adverb modifies action

/

verb force-feeds noun

submerges the subject

noun is choking

verb    disgraced    goes on doing

/

now diagram the sentence

*****

“The Ballade of the Poverties”:

There’s the poverty of the cockroach kingdom and the rusted toilet bowl

The poverty of to steal food for the first time

The poverty of to mouth a penis for a paycheck

The poverty of sweet charity ladling

Soup for the poor who must always be there for that

There’s the poverty of theory poverty of the swollen belly shamed

Poverty of the diploma mill the ballot that goes nowhere

Princes of predation let me tell you

There are poverties and there are poverties

/

There’s the poverty of cheap luggage bursted open at immigration

The poverty of the turned head, the averted eyes

The poverty of bored sex of tormented sex

The poverty of the bounced check the poverty of the dumpster dive

The poverty of the pawned horn the poverty of the smashed reading glasses

The poverty pushing the sheeted gurney the poverty cleaning up the puke

The poverty of the pavement artist the poverty passed-out on pavement

Princes of finance you who have not lain there

There are poverties and there are poverties

/

There is the poverty of hand-to-mouth and door-to-door

And the poverty of stories patched-up to sell there

There’s the poverty of the child thumbing the Interstate

And the poverty of the bride enlisting for war

There’s the poverty of prescriptions who can afford

And the poverty of how would you ever end it

There is the poverty of stones fisted in pocket

And the poverty of the village bulldozed to rubble

Princes of weaponry who have not ever tasted war

There are poverties and there are poverties

/

There’s the poverty of wages wired for the funeral you

Can’t get to the poverty of the salary cut

There’s the poverty of human labor offered silently on the curb

The poverty of the no-contact prison visit

There’s the poverty of yard sale scrapings spread

And rejected the poverty of eviction, wedding bed out on street

Prince let me tell you who will never learn through words

There are poverties and there are poverties

/

You who travel by private jet like a housefly

Buzzing with the other flies of plundered poverties

Princes and courtiers who will never learn through words

Here’s a mirror you can look into: take it: it’s yours.

*****

It used to be that poetry was considered an inappropriate place to discuss something as practical and important politics, and vice-versa that politics was an unworthy topic for something as beautiful and important as poetry.  In the last few decades this stance of changed considerably, and now quite a few poets are willing, able, and even eager to take on the subject of politics in their poetry.  But when Adrienne Rich first got started, it was a daring, even crazy thing to do, at least for a woman poet.

How do you feel about the convergence of politics and poetry?  And, more specifically, how do you feel about Adrienne Rich’s poetry – either what you’ve read here, or what you’ve read elsewhere?

“Nisei”: A Poem by Me; Plus, a few by a much better poet

So, I made this little promise on Wednesday’s blog that I would post one of my poems.  Pretty much as soon as I said that, I wanted to take it back.  As sensitive as I can occasionally be about my writing in general, I am far more paranoid about my poetry.  And this is for two reasons: 1) my poetry (like much, but not all) is extremely personal and mostly autobiographical; and 2) I’m just not that good at it.  I am not a brilliant fiction writer (yet…) by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel that I have some potential in that area that on the whole my fiction writing “isn’t bad.”  My poetry on the other hand… well…

Still, I have a few that are decent, at any rate.  In fact, I had four poems published by my undergraduate university literary journal, so I’m giving you one of those in order to get a feel for my audience.  This poem was written (and obsessively revised) between 2004-2007.  (Note: WordPress screwed up some of the spacing and line-placement, but oh well…)

Nisei

for Grandma

The old mahogany cuckoo clock chimes the hour.

Dawn.

The thin light filters in through thick curtains,

casting shadows on the walls.

I rock softly in Grandpa’s recliner,

my legs curled to my chest, my eyes closed.

Grandma is on the phone,

greeting her brother’s voice across

a million miles of wire – “moshi moshi…”

Her words, like puzzle pieces,

spread out wide before me.

She will not teach me Japanese:

Manzanar taught her the value of silence.

She has her back to me, facing the kitchen

as if her entire life were contained there –

a passive prisoner in a curtained cage.

When she hangs up, she will turn to me,

and pretend she’s surprised I am there,

though I am always sitting in the dim light,

listening.

She’ll smile at me, and her wrinkled face

will glow beneath a shock of

coal-black hair that still refuses to gray.

Her small black eyes will squint

beneath heavy eyelids,

and I will know that she is happy.

I can imagine her making California rolls

for lunch, because my brother begged her.

I’ll watch her cut the cold crab,

cucumber, avocado, seaweed,

and her hands, like spiders, will roll out rice.

Rice…

I can hear her walking in the kitchen,

still chattering in Japanese,

as her feet pad across linoleum floors –

feet an inch-thick with dry, hard calluses,

from working in rice paddies, to support her brothers,

when she should have been in medical school.

Suddenly, her history stretches out before me:

Manzanar and marriage,

her dead Daddy, her disappointment,

Hiroshima, children, that

placid, implacable smile –

all these pieces refuse to fit.

So I sit here in Grandpa’s chair,

and I let her voice wash over me.

The puzzle remains inscrutable.

In the tradition of poetry anthologies everywhere, here are a few footnotes that might be necessary:

1)     “Nisei” – a Japanese term meaning second generation; refers to the children of Japanese immigrants who were born in the new country.

2)     “moshi moshi” – a Japanese term that does not have a specific meaning but is the traditional term used when answering the phone.

3)     Manzanar – one of the ten U.S.-controlled internment camps Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in during WW II, located in California.

My grandmother was ten years old when she and her family were placed in Manzanar.  Four of her brothers and sisters died in Manzanar.  Her family was originally from Hiroshima and returned there after the war.  She was accepted to medical school at the age of 16 and returned to Los Angeles to begin college.  Then her father died from cancer, most likely caused by the radiation in Hiroshima, and she was forced to quit school and work to support her family.  She married my grandfather at the age of twenty.  She refused to teach her six children Japanese because she feared that it would mark them as it had marked her as child.  Thankfully, in the last few years this has changed.

Now, to wrap up, I would like to send you off to read a few other poems.  Because I mentioned him in one of the comments I responded to on the last blog post, I would like to start with Stephen Vincent Benet (1898-1943).  He is most well-known for his epic poem John Brown’s Body (which covers the history of the American Civil War) and his short stories “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and “By the Waters of Babylon” (which I first read in 10th grade, in one of the Prentice Hall Literature textbooks.  It is, I believe, the only thing by Benet still taught in schools.)  He is, sadly, not much regarded these days.  I’m not entirely sure why, though one MFA student I spoke too called him “melodramatic.”  But he is one of my favorites.  Here are a few of his better poems (in my humble opinion), which were published in his collection Young Adventure in 1918.

“Nos Immortales” which beautifully expresses what I believe are probably common thoughts on death.

“Winged Man” which is a poem about Icarus, one of my favorite Greek myths.

“The Quality of Courage” which is about exactly what it sounds like, though perhaps not in the way you might think.

I hope you enjoyed the poems – either mine or Benet’s, or (in my perfect little world) both.  I would love to hear any thoughts you have on either.  I swear I will not be offended if you didn’t like mine.  I am my own worse critic; you can’t possibly say anything I haven’t told myself a million times.  If you have any poets you’d like to share, please do so!  I read a lot, but there are far more poets than I can possibly discover on my own.  And others who read this might be interested as well.