Not Monday, but…

I will be rafting next week, so this post is for next Monday.  I saw this lovely lobster poem in Sean the Sharpener’s morning missive–poems about crustaceans. I had previously posted Nemerov’s wonderful lobster poem. Kay had an “s” on flamenco, which I ruthlessly and presumptuously removed. I hope she doesn’t mind. Also in Sean’s post was a link to a Robert Johnson tune,

I enjoy Robert Johnson’s music, but to me every tune of his seems the same, which I mentioned to Larry. “But that’s because when Alan Lomax recorded him, he only wanted him to play the blues,” said Larry. “He played all kinds of music, popular tunes, dance tunes, whatever people wanted, but that’s the only recording of him we have.”

He went on to tell me that when Lomax’s recording came out, in 1961 it had a huge influence on the Rolling Stones and other rock groups in England, which then came back across to influence American rock and roll. Robert Johnson was almost unknown when he died, and for decades after, but when that record came out his influence was huge.

“Too bad he’d already sold his soul at the crossroads and died,” I commented, referring to a legend about Johnson.

“Well, at least he attained an aristocratic place in hell,” was Larry’s quick response.

All this to bring you this little poem:

Crustacean Island

There could be an island paradise
where crustaceans prevail.
Click, click, go the lobsters
with their china mits and
articulated tails.
It would not be sad like whales
with their immense and patient sieving
and the sobering modesty
of their general way of living.
It would be an island blessed
with only cold-blooded residents
and no human angle.
It would echo with a thousand castanets
and no flamenco.

Kay Ryan
from Elephant Rocks


Poetry in Motion

One of the projects sponsored by Poetry Society of America is short poems posted in panels on NY subways. Larry caught a glimpse of this one, exiting the train:


Like peas in their
green canoe, like
beads strung
in a row, sit
drops of dew
along a blade
of grass.  But
unattached and
subject to their
weight they slip
if they accumulate. Continue reading “Poetry in Motion”

California’s got four

San Francisco’s fine,
You sure get lots of sun,
But I’m used to four seasons,
California’s got but one.
cc                               California, Bob Dylan

When I first came here, I thought Dylan was right about the seasons, though not so much about sunny San Francisco! In the over 40 years I’ve lived here, I’ve learned to appreciate the subtlety of the seasons: the parched summers when the hills bake from a golden beige to tired, brittle brown, the way the brown shades into blue as the rains come. Then the blue intensifies, slowly greening over the rainy winter, till one sudden day, like yesterday, you notice that the hills have turned a green to rival Ireland. For a week or ten days they are so green, you want to roll around in the grass–a mistake, as it’s full of prickles! I’ve had some serious misadventures based on those intoxicating hills. Then in another moment they turn from an unbearably luxuriant green to a yellow-green, to the gold of early summer, and the process starts over.   Continue reading “California’s got four”

Dreams of Kay Ryan

From time to time, poets make cameo appearances in my dreams. Last night it was Kay Ryan. We were at a party together, and I was trying to show her how to undress and change your outfit in the middle of a public space without anyone noticing.  The trick is to move very naturally, at an unhurried pace, and just keep interacting normally with the environment while you slip into something else. Unfortunately, I was wearing a starched shirt that crinkled like wrapping paper when it moved, which ruined the process. Kay was understanding.

I asked her if she ever felt trapped by her own style, if she ever got tired of writing “Kay Ryan poems.”  She didn’t seem to have a problem with that. I woke up with this poem:


How is it that
we recognize
with our sense
and with our eyes
that tall dogs,
short dogs,
fat and thin,
are all one species
from within?

Continue reading “Dreams of Kay Ryan”

Fashion in Poetry

Poets, like hemlines, go in and out of fashion. Poetic styles, too, have their day and then seem shopworn, archaic. For a long time, rhyme was out of style. Poets who rhymed with regularity, the whole cannon of them, were dismissed as too restricted. Free verse, experimental verse, anything but rhyme was in. But rhyme is seeping back. The simple pleasure of it has a charm that still holds. It may be slant rhyme–words that echo instead of chiming exactly; or internal rhyme that occurs in the middle of lines instead of at the ends; or simply irregular rhyming patterns, so the ear is tricked in its expectations.

One of the masters of the sly rhyme is Kay Ryan, who was recently US Poet Laureate. She writes small intricate poems, in which rhyme twists and turns around a point. They are compressed and original, and make you think. This poem especially pleases me, because it is about chickens–metaphorical ones, but chickens none the less:

Home to Roost

The chickens
are circing and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small–
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost–all
the same kind
at the same speed.

Kay Ryan

You can hear her read it, if you like. The rhyme here seems straightforward to the ear: day/way (internal), time/home (slant), and finally small/all and breeds/speed, traditional line-end rhyme.  The result is like a puzzle, and charms the ear. At the same time the message of the poem is compelling: you go bumbling along, doing one thing and then another, and then at some point, you see that you have made a certain kind of mistake over and over. Or at least, this is how I read it, and it resonates with me, a kind of soreness, a chagrin at my own actions.

Kay Ryan has a wonderful sense of humor, a dark wit, and a well-tuned poetic ear. Almost all her poems are short and accessible. Just now, she’s in fashion, though for a very long time she was not. Her newish selected poems, The Best of It, is the one I selected to take with me over the holidays–not too demanding, easy to pick up and dip into, and yet a book that makes you ponder.