Out of the bosom of the Air.
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent and soft and slow
Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels
This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My favorite holiday song is actually a Hanukkah song called "Feast of Lights," a song we once sang in grade school in St. Louis and I've never forgotten it. The song is done, as someone described it, in a haunting minor key (reminding me of "Little Alter Boy" in that way). It recalls dark holiday nights and contains such a beautiful melody coupled with its quavering hope for humanity which is prone to hate "because it's human to." I find most generosity of spirit available in this song:
Feast of Lights
I remember Mama lighting the Menorah,
Then covering her head she'd start to pray.
When Papa finished reading from the Torah,
Mama, smiling down on me, would say:
May your days and nights
Be a feast of lights
The eternal flame, may it glow in you,
And the Holy One,
May He know in you only love.
May the light of peace
Shine and never cease
And the glow of wisdom illumine in you
May you never hate, though it's human to
May you know love.
May you go through life
With your head up to the sky
May you never walk in shame
In sight of the light of the One
Who has no name
This I wish for you.
May your days and nights
Be a feast of lights
Have a warmth for all of humanity
For without it, life is but vanity
May you have love.
May you have faith, and
May you have strength, and
May the Lord grant
Your life will have length
May it be sweet but strong
May your days and nights
Be a feast of lights
Your whole life long.
As sort of an anecdote for the hard, experimental poems in the American and Modern Poetry MOOC, I refreshed my palate with some genre forms. Along the Chisholm Trail by George Rhodes is an self-published book that has won quite a few indie awards last year. It's a big book of 131 pages, half of them are cowboy poetry based on the Chisholm Trail, half are miscellaneous poems about aging in modern times.
At first I expected this book to be somewhat reactionary as cowboy poetry can sometimes be. But Rhoades is a former journalist and teacher. His point of view was balanced and his poems on cowboy mythology somewhat grounded in reality. In some poems like "The Cowboy Way," he even questions modern ideas about cowboy self reliance.
I was particularly interested in his book because I'm working on my own set of cattle trail poems. Rhodes uses a consistent ballad form that might not appeal to everyone but his rhymes were pleasant and interesting and his endings had force to them. But strangely, the poems petered out a bit toward the end and the last poem, as a final poem, was a definite flatliner.
After the Hunt is the first book of poems I've read by poetry colleague Devin McGuire who I met last year while he was promoting an anthology from Encirle Publications. His more slender book of 30 pages is full of 1970s and 80s references that hit right at my age. The book deals with the themes of struggle: struggle in surviving loved ones, struggle in relationships, stuggle in weather, the struggle of waste and wastedness.
My favorite poem was "How to Kill a Fish" and in fact I really gravitated to the poems that mentioned fishing or hunting (although I am not a fisherman or hunter) even briefly. Hopefully we will continue to see more fish and game poems in forthcoming collections.
When feeling urgent,
you must slow down.
His explanation is particularly good. "A sense of urgency is a terrible illusion. [He's saying this and he has cancer.]
...When feeling like I will die if I don't have your approval, I need, more than ever, to die to my need for your approval."
Stop talking, stop thinking,
and there will e nothing you will not understand.
Originally, the word power meant able to be. In time, it was contracted to mean to be able. We suffer the difference.
And if there is nothing that expresses the spirit of this blog, it is this quote:
In a world that lives like a fist
mercy is no more than waking
with your hands open.
Enjoyed my latest issue of American Poet magazine, especially Danez Smith's new poems "mail" and "basic standards test." Really interested in his studies on the racial issues working in both gay sexuality and standardized testing. There's also a passionate and rational essay by Mark Wunderlich about the dangers of reading Sylvia Plath's poetry through her biography:
"What are we to make of criticism...by Terry Castle and others who examine and judge the poet for, among other things, having been sexually active as a younger woman? And why are we asked to consider what sort of mother she might have been....Do people really have opinions about the sort of father Ted Hughes might have been? I suspect they don't."
This reminds me that all poetry is ultimately political and people read into not only poetry but the lives of their poets with political ends.
I once had an argument with visiting Sarah Lawrence professor David Rivard about M.S. Merwin. He suggested I read him. I hated him. After taking the Modern & Contemporary Poetry MOOC and after reading the Merwin review by Edward Hirsh, I seem to be opening up on this guy. Oh, they innocence and passion of youth. What can I say? You find your books when you find your books. Not sooner. Not later. There's also a manuscript study on Robert Lowell's poem "Epilogue" that I enjoyed.
And a review in the back of David Trinidad's new book Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera made me go out and buy one of his older books, The Late Show because his poems on pop culture attracted me but I never watched Peyton Place so didn't feel this book would be a great place to start.
The Annual Review from the Scottish Poetry Library reminded me why I freakin love this organization so much. And no, I don't love them so much because my name sounds so Scottish (McCray) or because my maiden name (Ladd) sounded so Scottish either. I'm sure I'm yoked up with quite a bit of Scottish but my family pride and mythology doesn't venture far back past the New World.
No, I love them because they are so good at it. Their annual review even has style. I even read the damn annual review! I love them because they love the anonymous book sculptures. I love them because they produced pocket-sized anthologies of poetry for medical graduates with poems chosen to "provide emotional support to new doctors." One thankful doctor said, "just the thing to help doctors maintain and develop their humanity in the face of protocols and tickboxes."
They also had a program to connect poets to historians called the Ghost of War sessions.
I love them because they truly and creatively reach out beyond the bubble of typical poetry communities.
I recently started going through all my boxes of junk in order to prepare for a garage sale and pare down. I found in a box of stationary some postcards I had collected when I lived in New York and in Los Angeles.
One is a postcard similar to the image on the left, a card I bought at the gorgeous and amazing Mark Twain House in Concord, Connecticut. Growing up in St. Louis, I have my own prejudices and partialities toward Mark Twain, but this museum in Concord is hands down my favorite writer's house. The postcard depicts the Paige Compositor, the prototype of the typewriter that Twain sunk all his money into. Although Twain wasn't a poet outright, this machine is a piece of poetic history in its own way.
I also found a postcard for The Poet's House in New York City back when it was located on Spring Street. The postcard was meant to remind me to visit the place and I never did. I'm keeping the postcard to remind me to visit them at their new location on River Terrace the next time I visit NYC. Be sure to stop by the next time you are a poetry tourist in the Big Apple.
I also found a postcard that was created in Los Angeles as a plea to then-Governor Gray Davis in an effort to express support for public arts funding and the naming of a new California poet laureate. The postcard was produced by Poets & Writers Magazine with the motto that "Arts are the Soul of California" and the picture side simply containing this quote:
"You will find poetry nowhere
unless you bring some of it
-- Joseph Jourbert
I used to keep this postcard on my fridge. Now I feel a bit blasé about it. Sometimes you find poetry already there, unexpected, sometimes even unwanted.
Recently finished American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language edited by Rankine and Spahr. And although the title is meaningless and uncreative (typical language poetry like), the book was an interesting but difficult study of 10 female language poets and their relationship, sometime antagonistic or conflicted relationship, to lyric poetry. Each section includes sample poems by the poet, their artistic statement (such as they believe in that...some did more than others) and a long essay explicating their work and contributions to poetic thought. The poets included are:
The essays deal with (mind) turns in poems, using space, associations, broken questions, mind failings, betweeness, abstractions, shifting syntax, fragmentation and the fallacies of reason, the typical things language poets grapple with.
The poets with asterisks are ones that were included in a recent MOOC (massive online open course) I participated in this fall, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry. I almost wish I had waited to read the book until after I had taken the course. I don't think I would have found it as slow-going. The MOOC discusses many of these topics but in a way more succinct and user-friendly way.
However, even without the class, my favorite sections were those on Jorie Graham who is more conflicted than dismissive of the lyric and Harryette Mullen who covers language poetry from a perspective of race and privileged literacies and whose poems felt the most young, modern and pop-culture inclusive.
For that last 10 weeks I've been taking my first MOOC, massive open online course on Modern American Poetry taught through the University of Pennsylvania by Al Filreis. The course starts with Whitman and Dickinson and moves through modernists like Williams, Stein and Pound, Communists poets, Harlem Renaissance poets, anti-modernists, the Beats, the New York School, language poets and conceptual poetries.
There were a few amazing things about this class:
I've been working this past year to get my head around more experimental and difficult poetries. Al Filreis took us through his version of the American poetry lineage and I actually really enjoyed almost everything we covered. Al is an open, friendly and challenging but cheerful teacher to take you through the world of mind-bending conceptual and meta poetries. This is his bag for the most part. If this isn't your bag, if you think poetry is the language of the Gods and the voice of humanity (which it can be but doesn't have to be all the time), please don't bother with this class. You'll only be a buzz-kill to about 34,900 people.
I didn't agree with everything he said, myself, and I hated the confusing way his online quizzes were worded, but his enthusiasm and help was invaluable and I came out of the class with poets to investigate further, including Whitman and Frank O'Hara who I've already read before and Susan Howe (I bought her My Emily Dickinson). The most mind-blowing piece we discussed was the final poem, Tracie Morris' performance piece Afrika(n) which was a mash-up commentary on pop culture, racial history and computer technology...all in one sentence!
Anyway, my take-aways from the class also included the following amazing things:
Our last essay was about conceptual Mesostic poetries and we were tasked with doing our own. Here is where my Cher and poetry blogs converge. I did a Sonny & Cher mesostic with song lyrics. Here's my post on Cher Scholar: I Found Some Blog about it: http://cherscholar.typepad.com/i_found_some_blog/2013/11/sonny-cher-mesostic.html.
Years ago a friend of my gave me a book called The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. We were going to read it together but we never did. I'm about 50 pages in now and each little section begins with an affirmation, many in verse. As I read the book, I'm compelled to share.
Here are the first few:
"The coming to consciousness is not a discovery of some new thing; it is a long and painful return to what has always been." -- Helen Luke
"What we reach for may be different, but what makes us reach is the same." -- Mark Nepo
"I learn, by going, where I have to go." -- Theodore Roehke
"The greedy one gathered all the cherries, while the simple one tasted all the cherries in one." M.N.
"We tend to make the thing in the way the way." M.N.
"The glassblower knows: while in the heat of beginning, any shape is possible. Once hardened, the only way to change is to break." M.N.
"If I had experienced different things, I would have different things to say." M. N.
Swear is divided into three parts: the first section contains political poems about the Occupy New Mexico/Occupy Wallstreet movement; the second section contains more general political poems; and the third section deals with Hip Hop and more personal poems. I particularly liked "Jamesetta" about Etta James and "Immortal Technique," a great poem about race.
Hakim also touches on issues in New Mexcio, the struggles of Genearation Y, the education system that fails poor kids. There's intimate heartache in his poems about poverty.
I have a degree
and only one
is coming in handy.
Bellamy is great with a calm, angry diatribe and his poems have forceful endings. And is as much a comment on America as "McDonald's apple pies."
Poets with Sexy Hair