Yeats on Politics

It’s so hard not to be consumed by politics, to feel I have to “DO SOMETHING.” And sometimes I do. But I love this poem by Yeats on the subject, almost 100 years ago when the war against fascism in Spain was raging:

Politics

How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politic,
Yet here’s a traveled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has both read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.

W. B. Yeats

 

Monday poem

Another poem from Poetry Daily:

Southern Cone

I wept with my grandmother when Reagan
was shot because that’s what she wanted.
At night, she’d tell me about a city built
by Evita for children in Buenos Aires, the city
of her first exile. Children went about
municipal duties in the small post office
and mini city hall to learn to be good citizens.
ln Argentina she sold bread pudding
and gave French and English lessons from her
home for money to buy shoes. She promised
we’d go someday, but we never did. She’d say
Peruvians were gossipy, Argentinians snobbish, but
Chileans were above reproach. A little bit migrant,
a little bit food insecurity, she was the brass bust
of JFK on her altar, the holy card of Saint Anthony
on her TV. She was her green card and the ebony cross
above her bed. The lilted yes when she answered
the phone, and the song she liked to hum about bells
and God that ended tirin-tin-tin-tirin-tin-tan: miles
and ages away from her story, she sang it.

Carmen Giménez Smith

From Be Recorder

 

 

Two days in Berkeley, mixed emotions

Yesterday at the Berkeley post office I was waiting in line for stamps. A long line, moving slowly, two working clerks. A clerk was free, and the man in front of me didn’t move up, so I tapped him lightly on the shoulder–something that seemed a perfectly normal thing to do at the time–to alert him that the clerk was free. The man was an older black man and he immediately turned and grabbed me and pushed me hard, yelling “Don’t you put your white hands on me, ” etc. No apology could mollify him; he was clearly at some hair trigger point, and my tap had been the trigger. The supervisor came out and after some time calmed him down somewhat, and we all went on with our morning, slightly shaken.

I realize we are now in a world in which it is not safe to tap someone on the shoulder; the shared assumptions of civility have eroded to the point where we don’t know what will offend, I lesson I’m glad I learned with someone who wasn’t carrying a gun!

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Monday poem

I heard Jane Hirshfield read this poem at a benefit for the beautiful Columbia Gorge.  I kept thinking of it every time I cooked something with carrots or onions, which is pretty often. So I asked and she graciously sent me a copy

As If Hearing Heavy Furniture Moved on the Floor Above Us

As things grow rarer, they enter the ranges of counting.

Remain this many Siberian tigers,
that many African elephants. Three hundred red-legged egrets.
We scrape from the world its tilt and meander of wonder
as if eating the last burned onions and carrots from a cast iron pan.
Closing eyes to taste better the char of ordinary sweetness.

Jane Hirshfield

You can heae her read at Dominican University on September 4, to support immigrant families.

A poem by Jericho Brown

This poem won the Lyric Poetry award from the Poetry Society of America two years ago. Hope you like it:

As a Human Being

There is the happiness you have
And the happiness you deserve.
They sit apart from one another
The way you and your mother
Sat on opposite ends of the sofa
After an ambulance came to take
Your father away.  Some good
Doctor will stitch him up, and
Soon an aunt will arrive to drive
Your mother to the hospital
Where she will settle next to him
Forever, as promised.  She holds
The arm of her seat as if she could
Fall, as if it is the only sturdy thing,
And it is since you’ve done what
You always wanted.  You fought
Your father and won, marred him.
He’ll have a scar he can see all
Because of you.  And your mother,
The only woman you ever cried for,
Must tend to it as a bride tends
To her vows, forsaking all others
No matter how sore the injury.
No matter how sore the injury
Has left you, you sit understanding
Yourself as a human being finally
Free now that nobody’s got to love you.

Jericho Brown

Your Monday vitamin

It’s been awhile since I posted a prose poem. This one, from Poetry Daily, caught my eye although we are still in the the long light days as summer wends to a close.

In the Winter in Fairbanks, Even the Light Comes Late to Class

On Monday in December the sun rises at 10:40. Red sky. Black clouds.Among all the slouched backs, curved necks, and notebook-scrawling hands,only one student notices, a girl, the one writing about the room in whichher mother died. She says, I have never seen a sunrise like that, and twenty-eightother heads look up from their pens and notebooks. I had never and willnever again read a description of a hospital bed like the one she was writingat that moment. Years later,,he will email to ask if I have that piece she wroteabout her mother, and I will have to tell her I don’t. But this morning, neitherof us can foresee this future small grief. So I stop class while all twenty-nineline up at the windows to watch the light. Fifty-eight eyes open out ontosnow, the parking lot, the shovel-scraped sidewalk, red brake lights, dullfrosted stop signs. Red sky and burnt clouds. This morning, deep winter,sunrise comes, hours late, long after the tardy bell and without excuse.

Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, from You Are No Longer in Trouble

Darwin Comes to Town

I just finished this book, Darwin Comes to Town by Menno Shilthuizen, about adaptation and evolution in urban environments, which seemed somewhat hopeful. It’s a discussion about how quickly certain species change to thrive in cities. Stories include the hawksbeard dandelion, which evolved to produce heavier seeds so their little parachutes would keep them in the island of green instead of floating off onto asphalt and how crows learn to throw heavy-shelled walnuts into intersections, wait for cars to run over them and then when the light changes, run out to grab the walnut meat after the cars crush the shells.

But most encouraging was his chapter on the way cites are cooperating globally to understand and improve urban environments. He notes that cities all over the word have similar soil compositions, microbes, insect, bird, and plant life. So “cities as far apart as 2,500 miles share about half their birds, while the avifaunas of natural areas that distant are almost completely different.” The author states that “cities worldwide are beginning to exchange information and undertake concerted action.”

Given the pace at which the natural world is disappearing, at least it’s heartening to know that there are many groups working on innovative ways to make urban spaces more habitable for plants and animals, including humans. My only quibble with the book is the often anthropomorphic language of the anecdotes. Still, worth a read.

A short rant against poetry contests

Almost every day, a new solicitation for a poetry contest pops into my inbox. I have read articles and heard rumors about their transparency or lack of transparency. But even if all entries are read blind, and the awards are based solely on what the appointed judges fell is the best work (or the best of the screened entries provided to them), I am writing this very short rant against the whole dynamic of the poetry contest.

At this  point there is almost a contest every day–some days multiple contests. Entry fees go from $15-40 per contest. In fact, the raison d’être of the contest is to fund the offering organization, a journal, a publisher, whatever. Some organizations run multiple contests a year, a continuous income stream. Each of these contests must have a winner regardless of the quality of the submissions, producing a glut of meaningless winners of contests, and allowing the organization to keep publishing.

This glut of fundraisers masquerading as contests seems opposed to the very spirit in which poetry should be written. I have entered and won or been a finalist in contests in the past, and with this little note plan to opt out in the future. Let my poetry stand or fall based on my own taste and the pleasure of those who read or hear it.

Monday Poem

I went to an event to support poetry in the jails of Santa Cruz County on Saturday. Ellen Bass read this poem, which knocked me out, Her new book, for which this is the title poem, will be coming out this spring:

Indigo

As I’m walking on West Cliff Drive, a man runs
toward me pushing one of those jogging strollers
with shock absorbers so the baby can keep sleeping,
which this baby is. I can just get a glimpse
of its almost translucent eyelids. The father is young,
a jungle of indigo and carnelian tattooed
from knuckle to jaw, leafy vines and blossoms,
saints and symbols. Thick wooden plugs pierce
his lobes and his sunglasses testify
to the radiance haloed around him. I’m so jealous.
As I often am. It’s a kind of obsession.
I want him to have been my child’s father.
I want to have married a man who wanted
to be in a body, who wanted to live in it so much
that he marked it up like a book, underlining,
highlighting, writing in the margins, I was here.
Not like my dead ex-husband, who was always
fighting against the flesh, who sat for hours
on his zafu chanting om and then went out
and broke his hand punching the car.

Continue reading “Monday Poem”