Monday, May 31, 2010

The Moment - Theodore Roethke

Another - check out the earlier ones here -  by one of most astonishing poetic voices in English of the 20th century, Theodore Roethke.  His poems shift the ground beneath how we see things: I always go away with images I never imagined possible.  In this one, he begins with complexity and ends with such simple words that say and mean so much....
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The Moment

We passed the ice of pain,
And came to a dark ravine,
And there we sang with the sea;
The wide, the bleak abyss
Shifted with our slow kiss.

Space struggled with time;
the gong of midnight struck
The naked absolute.
Sound, silence sang as one.

All flowed: without, within;
Body met body, we
Created what’s to be.

What else to say? –
We end in joy.

                                                                      Theodore Roethke - American

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Letter - Anthony Hecht

 There is a poem by Hecht (1923- 2004) whose imagery and power is so haunting that it should come with a warning label before reading.  A poet needs only one poem like "More Light! More Light!" (the title comes from Goethe's last words - and you've been forewarned!) to make his mark.  Hecht wrote in a long career with many poetry prizes, including a Pulitzer in 1967.  This one, aside from its effectiveness in creating a mood that lingers like a fog, also shows his command of form: one hardly notices the abcabc rhyming of the lines, but read it out loud and you'll hear the cadence.  That's genius
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                                        A  Letter

                  I have been wondering
         What you are thinking about, and by now suppose
                  It is certainly not me.
         But the crocus is up, and the lark, and the blundering
                  Blood knows what it knows.
   It talks to itself all night, like a sliding, moonlit sea.

                  Of course, it is talking of you.
   At dawn, where the ocean has netted its catch of lights,
                  The sun plants one lithe foot
   On that spill of mirrors, but the blood goes worming through
                  Its warm Arabian nights,
Naming your pounding name again in the dark heartroot.

                  Who shall, of course, be nameless.
   Anyway, I should want you to know I have done my best,
                  As I am sure you have, too.
   Others are bound to us, the gentle and blameless
                  Whose names are not confessed
In the ceaseless palaver.  My dearest, the clear and bottomless blue

                  Of those depths is all but blinding.
   You may remember that once you brought my boys
                  Two little woolly birds.
   Yesterday the older one asked for you upon finding
                  Your thrush among his toys.
And the tides welled about me, and I could find no words.

                  There is not much else to tell.
   One tries one’s best to continue as before,
                  Doing some little good.
   But I would have you know that all is not well
                  With a man dead set to ignore
The endless repetitions of his own murmurous blood.

                                                                                             Anthony Hecht - American 
  

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The First Of All My Dreams - e.e. cummings

Not a poem that I've seen anthologized often and one of few where there is capitalization in an e.e. cummings poem.  I believe it is a fairly early one.  The appeal to me is in the last line, though the entire poem speaks to the maelstrom of conflicting emotions within each of us during those early - there should be a special word for that period! - moments/days of courtship.  (And what has happened to courtship, in general??)  This one has innocence, happy uncertainty, and a wonderful denouement.
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The First Of All My Dreams

the first of all my dreams was of
a lover and his only love,
strolling slowly (mind in mind)
through some green mysterious land

until my second dream begins –
the sky wild with leaves; which dance
and dancing swoop (and swooping
                whirl
over a frightened boy and girl)

but that mere fury soon became
silence: in huger always whom
two tiny selves sleep (doll by doll)
motionless under magical

foreverfully falling snow.
And then this dreamer wept: and so
she quickly dreamed a dream of spring
- how you and I are blossoming.

                                                                                   e.e. cummings- American

Friday, May 28, 2010

Living In Sin - Adrienne Rich

Another by Adrienne Rich (bio info with earlier).  I love the line "By evening she was back in love again / though not so wholly...."  and how true it is that even the separation of just the working hours gives pause enough for reflecting - deluding? - ourselves that the bastard/bitch is a saint - though slightly soiled (and more so each day).  Or why retired couples sometimes find that, without that daily apartness, all the sins are magnified, sometimes beyond repair.  Yet, it does wear thin, especially if the man is as obtuse and self-involved as this one.  One pulls for the woman (girl? she seems young) to truly wake and leave, though we know she won't....
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Living In Sin

She had thought the studio would keep itself –
No dust upon the furniture of love.
Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,
The panes relieved of grime.  A plate of pears,
A piano with a Persian shawl, a cat
Stalking the picturesque, amusing mouse
Had been her vision when he pleaded “Come.”
Not that, at five, each separate stair would writhe
Under the milkman’s tramp; that morning light
So coldly would delineate the scraps
Of last night’s cheese and blank, sepulchral bottles;
That on the kitchen shelf among the saucers
A pair of beetle eyes would fix her own –
Envoy from some black village in the moldings….
Meanwhile her night’s companion, with a yawn,
Sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
Declared it out of tune, inspected, whistling,
A twelve hours’ beard, went out for cigarettes,
While she, contending with a woman’s demons,
Pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found
A fallen towel to dust the tabletop,
And wondered how it was a man could wake
From night to day and take the day for granted.
By evening she was back in love again,
Though not so wholly but throughout the night
She woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
Lke a relentless milkman up the stairs.

                                                                               Adrienne Rich -  American


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Me To You - Alastair Reid

Probably the best-known Scottish literary figure alive outside Scotland, Alastair Reid (1926 -  ) moves easily between essays, translations (Neruda, in particular), poetry, children's books, and articles for The New Yorker.  While he's lived outside Scotland for much of his adult life, there is something - to me - very Scottish in his writing: a sober yet wistful tone that never gets maudlin but acknowledges both the beauty and hardness of life there, a Gaelic version of stoicism.  (Or, I am just projecting from first-hand observations of the Scottish character over three decades of regular trips!)   This poem has those elements, coming close (on one level) to evoking that Brazilian sensation of "saudade", a word without an English equivalent, that I once described as ".... a longing, not just for one's own home and family, but for the vibrancy, the soul and heart of a place and culture....".
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Me To You

Summer’s gone brown, and, with it,
our wanderings in the shires, our ways.
Look at us now.
A shuttered house drips in Moroccan rain.
A mill sits ghostly in the green of France.
Beaches are empty now of all but pebbles.
But still, at crossroads, in seignorial gardens,
we meet, sleep, wrangle, part, meet, part,
making  a lodging of the heart.

Now that the sea begins to dull with winter,
and I so far, and you so far
(and home farther than either),
write me a long letter,
as if from home.

                           Tell me about the snowfalls
at night, and tell me how we’d sit in firelight,
hearing dogs huff in sleep, hearing the geese
hiss in the barn, hearing the horse clop home.
Say how the waterfall sounds, and how the weeds
trail in the slithering river.
Write me about the weather.

Perhaps
a letter across water,
something like this, but better,
would almost takes us strangely
closer to home.

Write, and I’ll come.

                                                                    Alastair Reid -  Scottish

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Glass - Carolyn Kizer

Born in 1925, Kizer won the Pulitzer in 1984.  She's been very active in poetry circles, including starting a journal in the Northwest, and been the recipient of numerous awards.  I haven't read much by her - she has 8 books of poetry.  I like this one for its brevity and density, but particularly for its last line, which signifies so much in so few words and could be a poem all by itself.
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The Glass

Your body tolls the hour,
The hands spin round and round.
Your face, the focus of light,
Will burn me to the ground.

Losing ourselves in Love
Beneath this counterpane,
Unwinding from its womb
To the all-consuming now,

All day today I die,
I die eternally,
Losing myself in joy.       
By one touch you put out time.

                                                                     Carolyn Kizer - American

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Song - Stephen Spender

(This is the 3rd poem by Spender here - do read the earlier ones, especially "Daybreak", which is one of the most beautiful and gentle and loving poems I know.  Link to his bio is there.)   As befitting one of the leading 20th century English poets, one comes to expect a masterful command of language, like a lion-tamer putting very independent and willful beasts into their places and paces.  The imagery, the word-choices, the airiness of the tone in contrast to the heaviness of the subject is brilliant.  He captures the conflicting emotional states so well: the anger, the sense of betrayal (actual or supposed) the pain in having to imagine how/why it occurred.... Yet.. yet all of it ending with a lonely resignation/bewilderment which is not angry because he loves her still.  And she is a fool for not knowing itIf you haven't been there yet, I hope it's a place you never visit....
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 Song

Stranger, you who hide my love
         In the curved cheek of a smile
And sleep with her upon a tongue
         Of soft lies that beguile,
                  Your paradisal ecstasy
         Is justified is justified
By hunger of all beasts beneath
         The overhanging cloud
                  Who to snatch quick pleasures run
                  Before their momentary sun
Be eclipsed by death.

Lightly, lightly, from my sleep
         She stole, our vows of dew to break
Upon a day of melting rain
         Another love to take:
                  Her happy happy perfidy
         Was justified was justified
Since compulsive needs of sense
         Clamour to be satisfied
                  And she was never one to miss
                  Plausible happiness
Of a new experience.

I, who stand beneath a bitter
         Blasted tree, with the green life
Of summer joy cut from my side
         By that self-justifying knife,
                  In my exiled misery
         Were justified were justified
If upon two lives I preyed
         Or punished with my suicide,
                  Or murdered pity in my heart
                  Or two other lives did part
To make the world pay what I paid.

Oh, but supposing that I climb
         Alone to a high room of clouds
Up a ladder of the time
And lie upon a bed alone
         And tear a feather from a wing
And listen to the world below
And write round my high paper walls
         Anything and everything
Which I know and do not know!

                                                                     Stephen Spender - English

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Museum - Sandra Hochman

Sandra Hochman (1936 -  ) is of the same first-generation of feminist poets as Plath and Sexton, though the youngest of the three by a few years.  Unlike them, the pressures, expectations, and angst didn't lead to suicide but to a career that has included numerous awards (though not the most prestigious ones) and creative output in the form of novels, essays, journalistic pieces, and one amazing documentary film that may finally be distributed after sitting on the shelf for 30 years.  (Click here to read more about it and her.)  She hasn't published poetry since the early 80s, focusing instead on the other outlets.  This poem comes from the 1960s, the seminal decade of societal change.  Who of us has not walked through a museum with a love interest?  There's something heady and electric being surrounded by all that beauty on display, something that heightens how we feel, think, and behave toward the person with us.  It's catnip to our senses: it makes us try to be wittier, more observant and reflective, to show our soul out loud even as our thoughts are really about what we would really like to be doing with him/her, as the museum acts like an aphrodisiac..... And Hochman captures that common experience.  
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The Museum

In the feathery museum –

Marriage bonds like silky ribbons snap. You’re on
Your own. Over the staircase,
Over the widening stairs,

Climbing and entering.
We walk around –
I hear my clicking on the floor. We
stare at the statues – Imperial Chinese Ladies
Stuffed in glass cases smile behind white porcelain frowns –
Walking down hallways – classic vases
Robust under glass – miles away from Greece –
And bronze statues dancing – here are the Degas nudes –
You say they look like me – all twirling around
And we are walking down toward the Rembrandt room.

We stare at those eyes. At the impossible mouths
Almost about to speak and tell me some secret:
You say, “They are all close to death” – no, closer to sleep,
All of the portraits just about to snooze.
I want to lie down with you,
Discovering your limbs softly with my hands
As though you were also
A trip through an unknown museum –
In a long sleep of teeth and lips
I would kiss you so many times
As you come to life in my arms.

                                                                                        Sandra Hochman - American

Sunday, May 23, 2010

V - Catullus

Catullus (maybe 84 B.C. to 55 B.C.) is possibly one of the great lyric poets of antiquity.  Colloquial and earthy, he's as accessible (once translated!) as  a poet can getHis surviving body of work isn't huge, but there is enough to get a sense of him and his talent.  I've read that he is tough to translate, precisely because his language is so every-day.  One piece of trivia: he used a word for kiss (basium) that was ".... not known to have been used before in writing: it became the common word for kiss in most European languages".  In this poem, he is teasing others about "bookkeeping" the number of kisses between lovers.
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V 

So let’s live - really live! – for love and loving,
honey! Guff of the grumpy old harrumph!-ers
- what’s it worth? Is it even worth a penny?
Suns go under and bubble bright as ever
up but – smothered, our little light, the night’s one
sudden plunge – and oblivion forever.
Kiss me! kiss me a thousand times! A hundred!
Now a thousand again! Another hundred!
Don’t stop yet. Add a thousand. And a hundred.
So. Then post, sitting pretty on our millions,
sums that none – we the least – make head or tail of.
Don’t let’s know, even us. Or evil eyes might
glitter green, over such a spell of kisses.
                                                                                                  Catullus - Roman

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reconciliation - Goethe

 Few in history, particularly literary history, become so well known that just their last name is enough as an identifier.  Goethe (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832) is one of those.  (Napoleon told him when they met that he had read "The Sorrows of Young Werther" - the novel that, early-on, made Goethe's reputation - seven (7) times!) Goethe is to German letters what Victor Hugo was to French: a definer of national character.  His poetry has a lyricism and rhyming that is difficult to translate, partly because of German syntax and grammar.  I have never been fond of his poetry, but  that's personal taste, although I do admire how he lived his life: fully and passionately.  At age 74, he fell madly in love with  18 (!) year-old Ulrike von Levetzow (photo here), followed her from one city to another, proposed through a friend, was turned down and wrote his most personal love poem, "Marienbad Elegy" (click here for full text - it's long), proving again the adage that "there is no fool, like an old fool".... (She lived until 1899 and died at the age of 95.)  This poem, in the aftermath, is an exhortation to recovery after a heart-break. 
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Reconciliation
                                                                transl. from German by John Frederick Nims

Passion, and then the anguish. And with whom
To soothe you, heavy heart that lost so much?
Love’s hour escaped, unstoppered like perfume?
The loveliest – all for nothing – within touch?
Cloudy the mind; mere muddle all it tries.
And the great world adrift before the eyes.

Then music to the fore like angels swarming,
A million tones in galaxy. We surrender
All of our inner fort to forces storming
- Irresistibly overrun with splendor.
The eye goes damp: in longings past tomorrow
We guess at the infinite worth of song and sorrow.

And so the heart, disburdened, in a flash
Knows: I endure, and beat, and pound with pleasure!
Gives itself over utterly, in rash
Thanks for the windfall, life. No common treasure.
Yearns: could it only last! – our feeling of
Fortune on fortune doubled, song and love.

                                                                                           J. Wolfgang von Goethe - German

Friday, May 21, 2010

Modes of Pleasure, II - Thom Gunn

(This is Gunn's second poem here.)  I've known this poem for over thirty years and I shudder every time I read it.  I once had it committed to memory, a sentinel and warning against becoming like the speaker.  It's an easy trap, in this day and age of "hooking up" (and, in my day, of "free love" pre-AIDS), to forget that while the hunt is exciting, it ends with something that does not survive it.....
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Modes of Pleasure II

Modes of Pleasure

New face, strange face, for my unrest.
I hunt our look, and lust marks time
Dark in his doubtful uniform,
Preparing once more for the test.

You do not know you are observed:
Apart, contained, you wait on chance,
Or seem to, till your callous glance
Meets mine, as callous and reserved.

And as it does we recognize
That sharing an anticipation
Amounts to a collaboration –
A warm game for a warmer prize.

Yet when I’ve had you once or twice
I may not want you any more:
A single night is plenty for
Every magnanimous device.

Why should that matter? Why pretend
Love must accompany erection?
This is a momentary affection,
A curiosity bound to end,

Which as good-humoured muscle may
Against the muscle try its strength
- Exhausted into sleep at length –
And will not last long into day.
                                                                    Thom Gunn - American

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Never Give All The Heart - W.B. Yeats

Another by Yeats (bio with first one), in sonnet form.  Good/great sonnets are such marvels of writing.  I've never managed to write even a mediocre one, as the structural and rhyming demands are, to me, like putting on a slightly-shrunk fitted-sheet on a bedI can pull, stretch and force the sheet over three corners but never the last one....
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Never Give All The Heart

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.
                                                                                      W. B. Yeats -  Irish

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Way - Robert Creeley

(Bio info with earlier poem by Creeley.)  I've always liked this one for its matter-of-factness and simplicity.  And something in me understands/connects with the idea "switch" in the second verse.  I have never been one to engage in locker-room talk, ie. my own version of "don't ask, don't tell", so the theme resonates.
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The Way

My love’s manners in bed
are not to be discussed by me,
as mine by her
I would not credit comment upon gracefully.

Yet I ride by the margin of that lake in
the wood, the castle,
and the excitement of strongholds;
and have a small boy’s notion of doing good.

Oh well, I will say here,
knowing each man,
let you find a good wife too,
and love her as hard as you can.

                                                                                           Robert Creeley - American

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

To........ - Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore (1779 - 1852) - Irish-born and popularizer of Irish melodies, he lived in London most of his adult life.  (He wrote the lyrics for "The Last Rose of Summer".)  As a poet, composer, and satirist, he was a man of many talents and widely-known for being an ardent  Irish nationalist, though later accused of not doing enough and being false to the cause.  In his personal life, five of his children died before him.  He was also severely criticized for burning Byron's autobiography at the behest of Byron's sister and others, who feared its candor.  The language in this one is striking for sounding like it could have been written last week.
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To……

When I loved you, I can’t but allow
  I had many an exquisite minute;
But the scorn that I feel for you now
  Hath even more luxury in it!

Thus, whether we’re on or we’re off,
  Some witchery seems to await you;
To love you is pleasant enough,
  But oh! ‘tis delicious to hate you!

                                                                                       Thomas Moore- Irish

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chop-Cherry - Robert Herrick

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) -  Poet, Vicar, and admirer of Ben Jonson, he wrote over 1200 short poems along with his reputation-making lyrical poems (Hesperides).   "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.." is the first line of possibly his best known short one.  This one always brings a chuckle, both for its truth and its wit across almost four centuries.  (It's just slightly bawdy.)
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Chop-Cherry

Thou gav’st me leave to kiss,
   Thou gav’st me leave to woo;
Thou mad’st me think, by this
   And that, thou lov’st me too.

But I shall ne’er forget
   How, for to make the merry
Thou mad’st me chop, but yet
   Another snapp’d the cherry.

                                                                   Robert Herrick - English

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Upon the Death of Sir Albert Morton’s Wife - Sir Henry Wotton

 Sir Henry Wotton  (1568 - 1639) was an English writer and diplomat.  His life had many twists and turns, and though well-educated, it was not until his later years that he was free of financial worry.  (At one point, he declined the ambassadorship to either France or Spain because the personal cost would have impoverished him.  He chose instead to be Ambassador to Venice.)  There is no requirement that a poem be long in order to say express something meaningful.  This one - and a couple of others that will be here - are pefect examples.  Spousal love and loyalty are often given short shrift in love poetry - not much romance in a relationship that's "settled" - yet, perhaps even more so in this age of so many divorces,  they have their place and should be better appreciated....   As a bonus ("But wait!  There's more!" ), I am also including one of his best known poems, "The Character of A Happy Life".  Though the language sounds stilted to our modern ears, the observations are ageless (and accurate): we could do worse than heed them.
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Upon the Death of Sir Albert Morton’s Wife

He first deceased: she for a little tried
To live without him, liked it not, and died.

                                                                                  Sir Henry Wotton - English

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The Character of a Happy Life

How happy is he born or taught,
That serveth not another's will;
Whose armour is his honest thought,
And simple truth his highest skill;

Whose passions not his masters are;
Whose soul is still prepar'd for death
Untied unto the world with care
Of princes' grace or vulgar breath;

Who envies none whom chance doth raise,
Or vice; who never understood
The deepest wounds are given by praise,
By rule of state, but not of good;

Who hath his life from rumours freed;
Whose conscience is his strong retreat;
Whose state can neither flatterers feed,
Nor ruins make accusers great;

Who God doth late and early pray,
More of his grace than goods to send,
And entertains the harmless day
With a well-chosen book or friend.

This man is free from servile bands
Of hope to rise or fear to fall;
Lord of himself, though not of lands;
And having nothing, yet hath all.
                                                                                   Sir Henry Wotton - English

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Since there's no help, come, let us kiss and part - Michael Drayton

 Drayton (1563 - 1631) was a contemporary of Shakespeare, Donne, Ben Jonson and, by accounts, acquainted with at least two of them, as well as other literary figures in the London of that era.  He never married, wrote poetry that, while lauded by critics, is also conceded as being dense and less-than popular with the general public.  He is supposed to have loved his patron's daughter, to whom he dedicated some work.  This sonnet, written in 1619, stands out as being both accessible and "modern" to our ears.  It also hits the perfect note in describing that ambivalence and uncertainty lovers feel about something being perhaps possibly maybe over.....or not.
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Since there’s no help, come, let us kiss and part,
Nay, I have done: you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly, I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And, when we meet at any time again,
Be it not see in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes,
Now if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life, thou might’st him yet recover.

                                                                                             Michael Drayton - English

Friday, May 14, 2010

Paris - My Troy - Harrison Tao

 It had never been my intention to have any of my own poems here for a simple reason: no reader should think that I considered anything of mine as good as any of the ones I would select.  I've broken that rule a couple of times already, mainly from being lazy while trying to keep to my self-imposed rule of one-posting-a-day.  

I am breaking it again, but for a good reason: to illustrate the comments about yesterday's poem by Wing Tek Lum.  The two poems (his and mine) follow the same idea: short snapshots along a relationship time-line.  Once you read both, you will see why his is the superior.  (Seeing that difference is important IF you care about knowing what makes one poem "better" than another.)  As for emotional "effectiveness", reading this poem is picking at my scar: reading his poem is picking at his scar.... Even now,  at this distance in Time, reading mine is difficult as it reanimates a "me" and a state of feeling that is now a bittersweet memory.  This was my first published poem (1995).
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Paris  –  my Troy
                                 for Helen
I

Lunch at Odeon, all a blur,
but not you ascending the stairs as if on air,
smile rounding to the balcony table:
afterwards so absorbed
my gouramis unfed for days.

II

On a bench at the Air and Space,
Brancusi’s Kiss for a template,
my skin singing from your embrace,
the watchers in the IMAX crowd
edging closer to thaw themselves.

III

Marie’s “Zee rroom is not rrehdee!”
casting us out to wander
those early hours in Paris,
but it led to that first café,
bread, cheese, and a walk on a quai.

January dusk on the Petit Pont,
gloveless hands cradling the Nikon,
my breath condensing on cold metal,
Notre Dame and you on the film inside:
the one serene, the other…hair redder than the sky.

The fish restaurant and that Gauloise
close enough to ashen your face:
we swore to be ready next time and bought
cheap cigars at a tabac shop,
talisman and revenge against foul Gauls.

Night and the Champs Elysee,
café sitters watching our play:
you asking me not to ask you
to marry me, and I not listening,
on one knee the next day at the d’Orsay.

IV

Last week, your moss-green coat
with folds in back like angels’ wings
strobed past on another woman:
my mid-speech words crickets
suddenly silenced,
even by a counterfeit.

Your slightest displacement of the air
shatters my peace one, ten, any thousand li away:
the least alteration in your heartbeat
resonates through all matter to vex mine.
You said: “I love you” first.
                                                                                           Harrison Tao - Chinese-American

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Urban Love Songs (after Tzu Yeh) - Wing Tek Lum

 Biographical information on Wing Tek Lum (1946 -  ) is limited.  He is from Hawaii, has degrees from Brown Univ. and Union Theological Seminary, works in the family's real estate business, and won literary prizes eighteen years apart.  The form of this poem is strikingly similar to the one I used in my first published poem.  (The anthology where I found this one was published in 1991 and my poem was written in 92-93 and published, if memory serves, in 94.Maybe it's something in the water....  Purely for "contrast and compare", I will make mine tomorrow's selection.  My brain tells me his poem is the superior: I feel no envy.    My heart says it does not matter: to share the source is a bonding sorrow.   The larghetto (2nd)  movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto # 27, to which I am listening, reminds me of that. 
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Urban Love Songs (after Tzu Yeh)

You stop to watch the Mandarin ducks.
The rest of us continue on to the flamingo lagoon.
I would like to ask what attracts you to them.
But my feet keep walking, I don’t look back.

                      *   *   *
From a piece of cloth I cut out a heart.
In the Laundromat it is washed and dried.
I can spend whole hours watching it toss and tumble.
I wonder if you feel the same way as I.

                     *   *   *
I wave as you enter; you take your seat smiling.
This same coffee shop now feels crowded.
We whisper to each other:
all eyes have noticed something’s changed.
 
                     *   *   *
I’ve bought a new phone and an answering machine
because I know you will be calling.
Here’s the number, which only you will have.
I plan to change the tape every hour on the hour.

                     *   *   *
Our friends are laughing.
They say we sit so close in your old Buick
it has become second nature for me
to exit on the same side as you.

                     *   *   *
Pinocchio’s back!
Let’s relive that night at the drive in
when I whispered that his nose was giving me ideas
and you got into my pants for the first time.

                     *   *   *
You drop the laundry off going to work.
I bring the bag back when I come home.
Neatly folded, your underthings are left on the bed
- I wish to respect certain cabinets as yours.

                     *   *   *
You shut the window rushing to your covers
complaining of the cold night.
I need fresh air, but am willing to compromise.
Let’s just pull up the sash halfway, okay?

                     *   *   *
We hunt for photos in my parents’ storeroom.
Look how young I was and full of dreams.
On the way out you brush against a cobweb.
Your flailing arms make me afraid.

                     *   *   *
A firetruck screams through my heart.
Douse the flames! Douse the flames!
I awake to find my pillow soaked with sweat.
For a moment I thought it was my tears.

                     *   *   *
You’ve stacked your boxes neatly by the door.
I find atop one Chinese poems I had bought for us.
Quietly I take the book out.
I resolve to tell you this after you have moved.

                     *   *   *
For my clogged sink I called a plumber.
When my cat got ill I took her to the vet.
My heart is broken
- I will not ask you to come to mend me.

                     *   *   *
Last night you made me so mad.
I’ve resolved never ever to speak to you again.
I regret having to put my foot down so.
I’m sending you a telegram to let you know.

                     *   *   *
One friend I know cut her hair short.
Another shaved his beard without regrets.
I would walk this city naked and bald
if ever I thought I could be free of you.

                     *   *   *
After you, I took up jogging.
I wore through my running shoes in no time.
One night I chucked them down into the trash chute.
See how trim I am these days!

                     *   *   *
Once I bought a single chrysanthemum on a stem.
We watched it blossom, red and full.
Those times now bring a smile to me
finding its brown petals as I sweep the floor.

                                                                                          Wing Tek Lum - Chinese-American

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

She - Theodore Roethke

 This is one of his more anthologized poems - and the second one in this blog - but that's not a reason to exclude it.   Comparing his imagery to, say Rod McKuen, is like comparing a Ferrari to  a Trabant: they both get you to a destination, but the rides are totally different.  Reading Roethke is always a joy to me because I can feel new pathways, new ways of seeing connections.  

This poem always conjures up for me that opening shot in "The Sound of Music",  when Julie Andrews is on a hill-top meadow singing "The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Music".  She is so full of joy and exhilaration twirling, her arms and face to the sky.  This has that same euphoric joy and innocence.... and more.  Roethke's talent/genius is in seamlessly slipping in the sexual imagery without distracting from the overall "wholesomeness".   It's one of my favorite poems.
---------------------------------
She

I think the dead are tender. Shall we kiss? –
My lady laughs, delighting in what is.
If she but sighs, a bird puts out its tongue.
She makes space lonely with a lovely song.
She lilts a low soft language, and I hear
Down long sea-chambers of the inner ear.

We sing together; we sing mouth to mouth.
The garden is a river flowing south.
She cries out loud the soul’s own secret joy;
She dances, and the ground bears her away.
She knows the speech of light, and makes it plain
A lively thing can come to life again.

I feel her presence in the common day,
In that slow dark that widens every eye.
She moves as water moves, and comes to me,
Stayed by what was, and pulled by what would be.
                                                                                               Theodore Roethke - American

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Carnal Knowledge - Thom Gunn

Gunn (1929 -2004), as mentioned with his first poem here, has always dazzled me with a seemingly effortless ability to express his subjects while dressing them in the uniforms of a particular poetic style and/orform.  (I don't believe one has to be a writer of poetry to appreciate the difficulties involved, but it helps.)  This poem is a solid example: note the rhyming scheme used and then think about what it takes to convey what you want expressed using that scheme!  Makes my head spin: it's a world away in complexity and elegance from "moon, June, croon", country and western songs, and what often passes for poetry by people who write - but don't read - poetry (one of my pet peeves)....  His "love poems" - they are really more than that- are dark and, I believe, informed by the dynamics of his sexual orientation and community (gay).  There's an edge to them, a wedding of anger and sadness, and their truth about the range of unlovely emotions "love" can stir is harshReading his "take" on relationships and love -  including this one, but particularly Mementos I, which I'll include later - brings to mind that plea by a young fan of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson about Jackson's role in baseball's famous "Black Sox"game-fixing scandal: "Say it aint so, Joe!"..... Say it ain't so, Thom....
--------------------------------------------------------------
Carnal Knowledge

Even in bed I pose: desire may grow
More circumstantial and less circumspect
Each night, but an acute girl would suspect
That my self is not like my body, bare.
I wonder if you know, or, knowing, care?
You know I know you know I know you know.

I am not what I seem, believe me, so
For the magnanimous pagan I pretend
Substitute a forked creature as your friend.
When darkness lies without a roll or stir
Flaccid, you want a competent poseur.
I know you now I know you know I know.

Cackle you hen, and answer when I crow.
No need to grope: I’m still playing the same
Comical act inside the tragic game.
Yet things perhaps are simpler: could it be
A mere tear-jerker void of honesty?
You know I know you know I know you know.

Leave me. Within a minute I will stow
Your greedy mouth, but will not yet to grips.
‘There is a space between the breast and lips.’
Also a space between the thighs and head,
So great, we might as well not be in bed.
I know you know I know you know I know.

I hardly hope for happy thoughts, although
In a most happy sleeping time I dreamt
We did not hold each other in contempt.
Then lifting from my lids night’s penny weights
I saw that lack of love contaminates.
You know I know you know I know you know.

Abandon me to stammering, and go;
If you have tears, prepare to cry elsewhere –
I know of no emotion we can share.
Your intellectual protests are a bore
And even now I pose, so now go, for
I know you know.
                                                                                   Thom Gunn - American

Monday, May 10, 2010

Like Our Bodies' Imprint - Yehuda Amichai

(#6 here from Yehuda Amichai.)  It's obvious by now that I like his poetry.  A lot.  Read the others - just click on his name in the side-bar - and you'll begin to see why.  His poems get to the essence and the core with not one extra word.  Meeting him that one time and knowing a bit about his life and his writing, he looked to embody a line by Aeschylus:  "The reward of suffering is experience"And a lifetime supply of fodder for poems.  This one.... this one overwhelmed me on first reading and, even now, decades later, still stuns with its powerful imagery of negative space to show the fullness of what once was.
------------------------------
Like our bodies’ imprint
                                                         transl. by Assia Gutmann
Like our bodies’ imprint                                                                               
not a sign will remain that we were in this place.
The world closes behind us,
the sand straightens itself.

Dates are already in view
in which you no longer exist,
already a wind blows clouds
which will not rain on us both.

And your name is already on the passenger lists of ships
and in the registers of hotels
whose names alone
deaden the heart.

The three languages I know,
all the colors in which I see and dream:

None will help me.

                                                                                  Yehuda Amichai- Israeli

Sunday, May 9, 2010

New Year's Eve - D.H. Lawrence

So many of the poems thus far have had sleep-time, dreams, and dawn for settings that I felt it was time to choose one set to the evening hours before  sleep, when so much loving takes place.  And what better than one by D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930).... whose name is already synonymous with passion?  Lawrence is one of those slightly-larger-than-life characters, a fiercely independent thinker/writer (he declined joining the circle around Ezra Pound!), who is best known for one novel, though he wrote over a dozen in addition to collections of poetry and essays.  He lived away from England for many years after WW I because of public antipathy for his wife, who was German and rumored to have been for her homeland during the war.  Among the places he resided during this self-imposed exile was Santa Fe, NM, where literary groupies vied for his attentions.... Lawrence died in France at age 44.    I think of this poem as something that Mellors (Lady Chatterley's lover) could have written and tucked away: he was educated and well-read enough to do it.  In tone and content, it fits the passion (re)awakened by Connie...
------------------------------------------

New Year's Eve

There are only two things now,
The great black night scooped out
And this fireglow.

This fireglow, the core,
And we the two ripe pips
That are held in store.

Listen, the darkness rings
As it circulates round our fire.
Take off your things.

Your shoulder, your bruised throat!
Your breasts, your nakedness!
This fiery coat!

As the darkness flickers and dips,
As the firelight falls and leaps
From your feet to your lips!

                                                                             D.H. Lawrence - English

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Drinking Song - W.B. Yeats

What can one say about THE "name" in English-language literature (poetry, plays) of the last century, W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)?  Certainly more than I can (or will) here.  Without him, "modern" poetry in English and a revival in Celtic culture probably would not have occurred.  His plays, dealing mostly with Irish legends, were the chief reason for being awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature, but his important poetry, for which he is probably best known, came afterwards.  (Clicking here will take you to an online exhibition by the National Library of Ireland about his life and works.)  I've chosen this poem precisely because it is so unvarnished, undeniable, and easy to remember.   Be like a carpenter - "measure twice, cut once" - and choose wisely with whom you'll share the toast.   Use it more than once... and the listener will know.  And no amount of wine will remedy that. 
-------------------------------
A Drinking Song

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

                                                                      W. B. Yeats - Irish

Friday, May 7, 2010

September - Ted Hughes

Tragically, Ted Hughes (1930 - 1998), one of England's best poets of the last century, is known to many mostly as the husband of Sylvia Plath, the American poet who committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30.  The side-long glances and unspoken questions that surely follow loved ones of all suicides were amplified in his case by the admirers of Plath who blamed him for her death the year following his leaving her for the woman who would become his second wife.  (The fact that she too died by her own hand - after killing their daughter - probably didn't help.  His third marriage, however, lasted almost thirty years, until his own death.)  Reams have been written - mostly critical, as Hughes became a symbol of "male oppression" - about Hughes and Plath.  My two cents?  NO ONE on the outside knows all that goes on within a marriage relationship OR the mind of a suicide, so assigning blame - barring direct, incontrovertible evidence - should be avoided by anyone with compassion.  Sadly, these events in his personal life have often overshadowed his literary legacy.  Though a bit difficult, his poetry is very worth reading for its use of myths and animal imagery.  His children's books include "The Iron Man", which was later made into an animated film, "The Iron Giant" (1999), that bears seeing - I liked it.  This  poem is a bit of a departure from the poetic themes for which he is known.  It also comes from an earlier period in his career. (I chose this photo from many because it makes him look a bit like Hugh Hefner here.)
---------------------------------------------------------
September

We sit late, watching the dark slowly unfold:
No clock counts this.
When kisses are repeated and the arms hold
There is no telling where time is.

It is midsummer: the leaves hang big and still:
Behind the eye a star,
Under the silk of the wrist a sea, tell
Time is nowhere.

We stand; leaves have not timed the summer.
No clock now needs
Tell we have only what we remember:
Minutes uproaring with our heads

Like and unfortunate King’s and Queen’s
When the senseless mob rules;
And quietly the trees casting their crowns
Into the pools.
                                                                                            Ted Hughes - English

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Double Shame - Stephen Spender

Contrast Spender's earlier poem here with this one and it's hard to believe it comes from the same person.  "Daybreak" has such an airy and romantic tone, the words so lightly-seeming and spontaneous, like lines Fredrich March or Ronald Colman could have whispered to Jean Arthur in a 1930's film, while this one is so tightly (and beautifully) written, precise, and harshly true.  The closing lines are an accusation cast even as the last spadeful is thrown over the dead relationship.  It leaves no room for any self-deception about what transpired, which is what has always made this a powerful poem: how many of us have had the courage and honesty to face the truth in those lines?  (This is another that requires reading the lines as though they were long sentences, i.e. follow the punctuation marks and not the line breaks the first time.)
---------------------------------
The Double Shame

You must live though the time when everything hurts
When the space of the ripe, loaded afternoon
Expands to a landscape of white heat frozen
And trees are weighed down with hearts of stone
And green stares back where you stare alone,
And the walking eyes throw flinty comments,
And the words which carry most knives are the blind
Phrases searching to be kind.

Solid and usual objects are ghosts
The furniture carries cargoes of memory,
The staircase has corners which remember
As fire blows reddest in gusty embers,
And each empty dress cuts out an image
In fur and evening and summer and spring
of her who was different in each.

Pull down the blind and lie on the bed
And clasp the hour in the glass of one room
Against your mouth like a crystal doom.
Take up the book and stare at the letters
Hieroglyphs on sand and as meaningless –
Here birds crossed once and a foot once trod
In a mist where sight and sound are blurred.

The story of others who made their mistakes
And of one whose happiness pierced like a star
Eludes and evades between sentences
And the letters break into eyes which read
The story life writes now in your head
As though the characters sought for some clue
To their being transcendently living and dead
In your history, worse than theirs, but true.

Set in the mind of their poet, they compare
Their tragic sublime with your tawdry despair
And they have fingers which accuse
You of the double way of shame.
At first you did not love enough
And afterwards you loved too much
And you lacked the confidence to choose
And you have only yourself to blame.

Stephen Spender

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

i like my body when it is with your - e.e. cummings

This is possibly one of cummings' most anthologized poems.... which doesn't lessen it's joyfulness!    it's so sensual, suggestive yet "clean",  and just plain happy.   What more can one ask for?   I first read it as an inexperienced teenager titillated by the heady images.   Now, the appeal is in the strobe-like illumination of two lovers and how well it captures the complexity and the nuances.  Ahh....
------------------------------------
i like my body when it is with your
                                                                        
i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
I like your body. I like what it does,
I like its hows. I like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which I will
again and again and again
kiss, I like kissing this and that of you,
I like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh…. And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly I like the thrill

of under me you so quite new
                                                                           e.e. cummings - American

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lines Written on a Wall of Dongliu Village - Xin Qiji

Xin Qiji (1140-1207) was a soldier-statesman-poet during the southern Song Dynasty, when "China" was still beset by "barbarian" tribes from the north.  According to accounts, he gained and lost the emperor's favor several times as a strong proponent (and leader in the field) of military actions vs. appeasement of the invadersHe is considered one of the leading poets of the Song Dynasty.  (For more of his poems translated into English by various people, click here.)  The translator of this one is someone VERY interesting in his own right: a Chinese professor at Washington University in St. Louis who writes critically-acclaimed police-procedural novels - in English! - set in contemporary Chinahas translated English-language poets into Chinese, and writes poetry in both languages.  I've read some of his books and HIGHLY recommend them as being both good mystery stories and providing accurate insights into the conflicting forces in modern Chinese society.  (Click on his name below to go to his website.This poem's use of nature to set the stage for the back-story and that quality of longing and melancholy for something past that is (to me) very typical of Chinese love poetryJust the line about plucking a flower from the mirror as a simile for impossibility is worth the whole poem.  The poem would have been sung.  (Qingming Festival is in April and it's both a celebration of the beginning of Spring and the day for remembering the dead. Click on the name for a more detailed reading about the festival.)
-------------------------------------
Lines Written on a Wall of Dongliu Village

                                                                                transl. from Chinese by Qiu Xiaolong

Wild pear blossoms start falling again,
so soon, the Qingming festival over.
The cruel eastern wind, for no reason,
interrupts a traveler’s dream.
I awake, the brocade curtain
devastatingly cold. Once,
she held the drink to me
on the winding river bank,
and we bade farewell to each other
under a weeping willow tree
with my horse tethered to it.
Now, the pavilion deserted,
there is no trace of her,
only the swallows twittering about bygones.

She’s been seen, people say,
east of the bustling thoroughfare,
behind the curtain, still as graceful
as the new moon. Old regrets
run like the endless spring water. New griefs
pile up like the clouds over the mountains.
If we were going to meet again,
at a banquet, to tell her all this
would be impossible
as to pluck the flower from a mirror.
She would say, perhaps,
"How white your hair has grown!"
                                                                                              Xin Qiji - Chinese

Sunday, May 2, 2010

As we are so wonderfully done with each other - Kenneth Patchen

 (Patchen is already represented through another poem, so bio info is with that one.)   I don't know of another poem that captures, as well as this one, that sense of marvel and wonder that is the "after-glow"....
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
As we are so wonderfully done with each other

As we are so wonderfully done with each other
We can walk into our separate sleep
On floors of music where the milkwhite cloak of childhood
lies

Oh my love, my golden lark, my soft long doll
Your lips have splashed my house with print of flowers
My hands are crooked where they spilled over your dear
curving

It is good to be weary from that brilliant work
It is being God to feel your breathing under me

A waterglass on the bureau fills with morning…
Don’t let anyone in to wake us
                                                                                                         Kenneth Patchen - American

Saturday, May 1, 2010

To Celebrate My Body - Diane Wakoski



I know it was the dedication on the front-cover of her book "The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems" (see photo - click on it to enlarge to read) that attracted my attention to Diane Wakoski (1937- ) when I was in my 20s.  It was just so provocative and real.  The poems inside had the same kind of tone: strongly worded, fierce, "....the voice of a woman who is not afraid of depths..." (Anais Nin).  Frankly, they were a bit scary (back then), as I was yet unaccustomed to the range of voices, particularly female, that existed in poetry.  It was also the 1970s and the cultural impact of feminism, etc. was barely out of the boiling stage.  She was/is also someone with whom the critics had a hard time.  Some thought her poems were too focused on the self, while others appreciated her first-person voice and language.  I haven't kept up with her writing after that era, but I come back to that volume (and one other) whenever I want to be jolted.  The poem here is one of the shorter ones and a little "softer".  
---------------------------------------------------------------
To Celebrate My Body

where
you had only
to touch me
other had
to present a history
a bibliography,
a justification

but

no question
remains,
that a gift
easily given
lightly received
is wasted

no one can
touch me
the way
you can/ I should say
did

but

no question
remains
your touch
was not lightly
taken

and
my body
has spent
a lot of years
awakening

too long
in fact
to stop
the process

your touch
is
somewhere
across the ocean. My imagination
has never
been poor; but
cannot extend
to a life
where touching
comes only
in a letter

Celebrate
the word.
we
are both
poets;
taking the world
ultimately
seriously

but the word
can only
give life
if it acknowledges
the lips
the mouth that made it

the body
that pumped the
sounding air

where
you had only
to touch me
others had
to present a history
a bibliography,
a justification

the touch
comes first
remains
is the last thing you
remember
after you
turn
out
the light
at night.
                                                                      Diane Wakoski - American