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Forgotten

It’s odd how poetic reputations ebb and flow. Delmore Schwartz’ debut book, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, was a star in 1938 when he was 25, and certainly impressed me when I read it in the late 60’s.  The title story was thrilling, I still remember it. But now he is almost forgotten. I used to know this poem from that book by heart, but faltered when I tried to recite it the other day. It’s worth relearning.

Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day

Calmly we walk through this April’s day,
Metropolitan poetry here and there,
In the park sit pauper and rentier,
The screaming children, the motor-car
Fugitive about us, running away,
Between the worker and the millionaire
Number provides all distances,
It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
Many great dears are taken away,
What will become of you and me
(This is the school in which we learn…)
Besides the photo and the memory?
(…that time is the fire in which we burn.)

(This is the school in which we learn…)
What is the self amid this blaze?
What am I now that I was then
Which I shall suffer and act again,
The theodicy I wrote in my high school days
Restored all life from infancy,
The children shouting are bright as they run
(This is the school in which they learn…)
Ravished entirely in their passing play!
(…that time is the fire in which they burn.)

Continue reading “Forgotten”

after Louise Glück

Last week I posted a poem by Louise Glück, who won the Nobel Prize, but I wrote this homage long before that happened–earlier this year, really, thinking about the virus:

October

         after Louise Glück

Aren’t the days skimping
on light again,
mornings dark
and darker

doesn’t the time change soon,
shifting the scant light

doesn’t the chill in the air
intensify now

doesn’t it remind you
how everything slows
withers

doesn’t the garden
yield its last sweet tomato
its last cucumber

the basil turns brown
overnight, few eggs
in the nests

doesn’t it seem like this end
might be the end

Meryl Natchez

And the winner is…

Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize in literature this week, and I’m so pleased. I really admire her work. And each book is different. Here’s a sample, from Averno.

October (section 1)

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t Frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted

didn’t the night end, didn’t the melting ice flood the narrow gutters

wasn’t my body rescued, wasn’t it safe

didn’t the scar form, invisible above the injury

terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden harrowed and planted—

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense, in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted, didn’t vines climb the south wall

I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care what sound it makes

when was I silenced, when did it first seem pointless to describe that sound

what it sounds like can’t change what it is—

didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth safe when it was planted

didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested?

Derek Mahon

For those of you who follow such things, the Irish poet, Derek Mahon, died this week. He was 78.  I’ve posted a poem of his before (one that they included in his NY Times obituary, as it happens), but this one if also a favorite, though a very different tone.

Afterlives

(for James Simmons)

          1
I wake in a dark flat
To the soft roar of the world.
Pigeons neck on the white
Roofs as I draw the curtains
And look out over London
Rain-fresh in the morning light.
This is our element, the bright
Reason on which we rely
For the long-term solutions.
The orators yap, and guns
Go off in a back street;
But the faith doesn’t die
That in our time these things
Will amaze the literate children
In their non-sectarian schools
And the dark places be
Ablaze with love and poetry
When the power of good prevails.
What middle-class shits we are
To imagine for one second
That our privileged ideals
Are divine wisdom, and the dim
Forms that kneel at noon
In the city not ourselves.
          2
I am going home by sea
For the first time in years.
Somebody thumbs a guitar
On the dark deck, while a gull
Dreams at the masthead,
The moon-splashed waves exult.
At dawn the ship trembles, turns
In a wide arc to back
Shuddering up the grey lough
Past lightship and buoy,
Slipway and dry dock
Where a naked bulb burns;
And I step ashore in a fine rain
To a city so changed
By five years of war
I scarcely recognize
The places I grew up in,
The faces that try to explain.
But the hills are still the same
Grey-blue above Belfast.
Perhaps if I’d stayed behind
And lived it bomb by bomb
I might have grown up at last
And learnt what is meant by home.
Derek Mahon

From the Lithuanian

The Eastern European poets are often astonishing. Here’s one by a poet who recently died that I found odd and intriguing and kind of wonderful.

Archaeopteryx

you’re home. eating lentils. talking to your
loved one. you’re abroad. eating lentils. talking to
your loved one. you’re not yourself. you’ve been stolen.
you’re talking to your lentils. you’re not a knife, not cotton.
talking to your loved one. you forgot how to talk
and forgot how to hang in the closet. you forgot
the letter p in the receit. you’re talking to cotton.
it doesn’t answer. its life was not for you.
a lot. too much. although there is never too much.
you’re anywhere. eating lentils. talking to.
she doesn’t answer. she went everywhere you went.
she flew. when you fly—you can’t cry. you’re
talking to her. she doesn’t answer. but there were
two rooms. you didn’t know where. you went
anywhere. no one was drawing your loved one there.
just a manuscript in the bottom drawer of the desk.
and its feathers are petrified. along with two dozen
of its vertebrae. you told your loved one about this.
you ate lentils and it didn’t even rain. one hundred fifty
million years—just the blink of an eye. in your
manuscript. in the solnhofen schist.

Kęstutis Navakas
Translated from the Lithuanian by Rimas Uzgiris (from Poetry Daily)

I wonder what “you forgot /the letter p in the receit” was in Lithuanian?

A little late

Sorry this is late this week–busy with local and national activism, poetry had to wait. But this came in my email from the Writers’ Almanac this morning, and thought I’d share it. I found that George Bilgere also hosts a radio show.

Musial

WEDNESDAY SEPT. 19, 1949–Stan Musial put the redbirds closer to a pennant race. Musial made a slow start but now has a batting average above .330.
PHOTO BY FRANK JURKOSKI

My father once sold a Chevy
to Stan Musial, the story goes,
back in the fifties,
when the most coveted object
in the universe of third grade
was a Stan-the-Man baseball card.

No St. Louis honkytonk
or riverfront jazz club
could be more musical
than those three syllables
rising from the tongue of Jack Buck
in the dark mouths
of garages on our street,

where men like my father
stood in their shirt-sleeved exile,
cigarette in one hand, scotch
in the other, radio rising
and ebbing with the Cards.

If Jack Buck were to call
my father’s drinking that summer,
he would have said
he was swinging for the bleachers.
He was on a torrid pace.
In any case, the dealership was failing,
the marriage a heap of ash.

And knowing my father, I doubt
if the story is true,
although I love to imagine
that big, hayseed smile
flashing in the showroom, the salesmen
and mechanics looking on
from their nosebleed seats at the edge
of history, as my dark-suited dad
handed the keys to the Man,
and for an instant each man there
knew himself a part of something
suddenly immense,

as when,
in the old myths, a bored god
dresses up like one of us, and falls
through a summer thunderhead
to shock us from our daydream drabness
with heaven’s dazzle and razzmatazz.

George Bilgere

Wait

Seeing as we all seem to be in a semi-permanent mode of waiting: waiting for life to return to normal, for the pandemic to end, for the election, for the air to be breathable again, this seemed a good time for Galway Kinnell’s poem, “Wait.”

Wait

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Wait.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

Galway Kinnell

 

And  you can hear him read it. He has such a wonderful voice: click here

Wanda Coleman

Today’s sonnet is from a series called “American Sonnets” by Wanda Coleman, that was later echoed by Terrance Hayes. I’ll publish one of his next week.  (Photo credit: Susan Carpendale)

American Sonnet 5

rusted busted and dusted

the spurious chain of plebeian events
(aintjahmamaauntjemimaondapancakebox?)

which allows who to claim the largest number of homicides
the largest number of deaths by cancer the largest
number of institutionalized men the largest number of
single female heads of household the largest number of
crimes of possession the largest number of functionally
insane the largest number of consumers of dark rum

largely
preoccupied with perfecting plans of escape

see you later alligator
after while crocodile
after supper muthafucka

Wanda Coleman

Lynn Emanuel on Monday

I’ve posted poems by Lynn Emanuel twice before, but I can’t resist posting this one, which feels so appropriate at this moment when everything is so provisional. I was lucky to meet Lynn and her husband when Lynn came to read at Marin Poetry Center two years ago. Larry did a wonderful broadside of her poem, “Blond Bombshell.”  Lynn was generous enough to blurb my new book, which also endears me to her. And on top of all that, I love this poem:

My Life

Like Jonas by the fish was I received by it,
swung and swept in its dark waters,
driven to the deeps by it and beyond many rocks.

Without any touching of its teeth I tumbled into it
and without more struggle than a mote of dust
entering the door of a cathedral, so muckle were its jaws.

How heel over head was I hurled down

the broad road of its throat, stopped inside
its chest wide as a hall, and like Jonas I stood up

asking where the beast was and finding it nowhere,

there in grease and sorrow I built my bower.

 

Lynn Emanuel
The Nerve of It: Poems New and Selected

 

Crepe de Chine

I went to a poetry workshop online, and this was one of the poems discussed, by the incomparable Mark Doty.  You have it now, even though you didn’t go to the workshop! Sorry to be late with it…but this virus seems to eat time!

Crepe de Chine

These drugstore windows
—one frame in the mile-long film
of lit-up trash and nothing

fronting the avenue, what Balzac called
“the great poem of display”—
are a tableau of huge bottles

of perfume, unbuyable gallons of scent
for women enormous as the movie screens
of my childhood. Spiritual pharmaceuticals

in their deco bottles,
wide-shouldered, flared,
arrayed in their pastel skylines,

their chrome-topped tiers:
a little Manhattan of tinted alcohols.
Only reading their names

—Mme. Rochas, White Shoulders, Crepe de Chine—
and I’m hearing the suss of immense stockings,
whispery static of chiffon stoles

on powdered shoulders,
click of compacts, lisp and soft glide
of blush. And I’m thinking of my wig,
Continue reading “Crepe de Chine”

A poet I thought I didn’t much care for

A couple of years ago, I heard Anne Carson read at Stanford. I didn’t enjoy the reading or Autobiography of Red, and then never read anything else. But I came across this poem, which I like very much. I guess I’ll have to dig more deeply.

God’s Justice

In the beginning there were days set aside for various tasks.
On the day He was to create justice
God got involved in making a dragonfly

and lost track of time.
It was about two inches long
with turquoise dots all down its back like Lauren Bacall.

God watched it bend its tiny wire elbows
as it set about cleaning the transparent case of its head.
The eye globes mounted on the case

rotated this way and that
as it polished every angle.
Inside the case

which was glassy black like the windows of a downtown bank
God could see the machinery humming
and He watched the hum

travel all the way down turquoise dots
to the end of the tail and breathe off as light.
Its black wings vibrated in and out.

Anne Carson
from Glass, Irony and God (New Directions, 1995)