* special feature: Poet Lore magazine & a poem

123 years and running…

“I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your hand because life is short and you too are thirsty.”
—Adrienne Rich

This week on the Influence: Poet Lore!

One piece of advice that has helped me grow in spirit as a writer is to pick up and read through every contributor’s copy that comes my way, and seeing that as part of engaging with the community of writers I am (to use the direct and physical metaphor of pages in a magazine) bound to.  Doing this, I have come across some great poems and been able to reach out to fellow poets.

This month, I was proud to receive my copies of the latest issue of Poet Lore.

My first encounter with the magazine included work by Jim Daniels as well as Lucille Clifton’s last interview.  What moved me to submit, however, was the magazine’s overall format: a selection of poetry from various poets, then a larger/chapbook sized selection from a featured poet, then some essays and reviews at the end.  This format says much about the consideration and focus given to the poets and the work included.

This latest issue is a celebration of the female spirit that has driven forward both this country (the cover photo above is from a 1912 Suffrage Parade) and this magazine (PL was founded by Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke in 1889).

The quote above from Adrienne Rich opens up the selection of poetry that, when read through, flows smoothly through the many worlds the poets represent: from junkyards and classrooms in America to the Ganges in India.  The featured poet in this issue is Samiya Bashir, whose sonnet sequence enters and opens up the relationship between the legendary John Henry and his wife Polly Ann.

Overall, the editors have done an outstanding job of not only selecting poems for this issue but of ordering them into something that reads like a revelation.  The magazine feels like an awesome mix-tape.

To find out more about Poet Lore, click here.

And watch out for the birdies on your way to my own contribution to the magazine:

sweet n…not true to their name.

Jodido – Jose Angel Araguz

this word that for my mother lies

between cracked sun-hardened skin

and being all out of luck

 

this word a summary

of months tallied in gray hairs

where she wanted to be angry

but dusted old photos instead

 

this word her word

for me at twenty-two

going hungry and disappearing

before she can finish

describing what it is we share

 

she might as well be shouting my name

calling me out of my sleeping bag in the living room

to see her off

my six-year-old arms reaching high around

her black apron

the color worn

to the smoke it reeks of

her pen and pad snug in the pockets

curled against me

Sweet ‘N Low packets snapping

like the broken claps of leaves

when she would walk to the car

and thunder off

in the unanimous roar

of gravel

***

Happy gravelling!

J

* picture featured here.

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* w. s. merwin & the friday influence

Dusk in Winter – W. S. Merwin

The sun sets in the cold without friends
Without reproaches after all it has done for us
It goes down believing in nothing
When it has gone I hear the stream running after it
It has brought its flute it is a long way

***

 This week on the Influence: W. S. Merwin!

What I love about Merwin’s poem above is how he gets in so much into a few lines.  Not only the brevity but the subject matter.

We are told that the best novels throughout history deal namely with family/love relationships, that there is so much to said within those frames of humanity.  Equally, poems are said to be about either love, life, or death.

What the stock objects – rain, leaves turning colors, rivers flowing, waiting in line at a grocery store – serve are to open up something everyone can identify with while following along with the poet to see how it is they see it.

That personal take on things – whether it is evoked in turns of phrase or particular images and narrative – is the fingerprint on the poem, the echo of the soul passing through the words (through the world, through the reader), what it is that teaches and awes in a poem.  It is the hardest thing to achieve: singularity, an indelible presence.

Merwin’s work in translation (his Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems has been the standard for years) comes through here in the way he turns a sunset into a fable of sorts, works the images down into the emotions they evoke.  The starkness created by not having punctuation cues me in as a reader to engage with the poem, to follow the logic of the phrasing as it unfolds, each turn a little surprise along the way.

***

rains, yo

The rainy season has officially begun here in Eugene.  In honor, here’s one more by Merwin:

To the Rain – W. S. Merwin

You reach me out of the age of the air
clear
falling toward me
each one new
if any of you has a name
it is unknown

but waited for you here
that long
for you to fall through it knowing nothing

hem of the garment
do not wait
until I can love all that I am to know
for maybe that will never be

touch me this time
let me love what I cannot know
as the man born blind may love color
until all that he loves
fills him with color

***

Happy filling!

J

(photograph found on: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2008/sep/26/poster.poems.rain.poetry)

* Jaroslav Seifert & the friday influence

A startling metaphor is worth more
than a ring on one’s finger…

…In vain I snatched for ideas
and fiercely closed my eyes
in order to hear that first magic line.
But in the dark, instead of words,
I saw a woman’s smile and
wind-blown hair…

(from To be a Poet – Jaroslav Seifert)

***

This week on the Influence, Czech poet: Jaroslav Seifert.

Sometimes I do research for these blog posts, needling around the internet trying to find the birth dates of poets.  And sometimes I am surprised.

Such is my experience with Seifert – an almost shame of not having known about him, but an honor to know of his work now.

I believe that a poet’s journey is to always be writing closer and closer to themselves.  The hardest thing for a poet is to just write it down, not the idea of a poem but the poem itself.

Charles Bukowski pointed out once that he marveled at the way people will pour their hearts out writing long, intimate, fiery letters – then turn around to write a poem and feel the need to sound poetic.

This isn’t a rant – if anything, it is a self-indictment.  I know I only come close to what I’m talking about once a year, if I’m lucky.  Yet it is what one strives for page after page, word after word.

And I believe Seifert had something all his own going.

Check out the poem (after the significant image below), give it consideration.  More than anything, I hope you come across some joy in it as I did.

brooch-worthy, no?

An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert *

If you’re at your wits’ end concerning love
try falling in love again —
say, with the Queen of England.
Why not!
Her features are on every postage stamp
of that ancient kingdom.
But if you were to ask her
for a date in Hyde Park
you can bet that
you’d wait in vain.

If you’ve any sense at all
you’ll wisely tell yourself:
Why of course, I know:
it’s raining in Hyde Park today.

When he was in England
my son bought me in London’s Piccadilly
an elegant umbrella.
Whenever necessary
I now have above my head
my own small sky
which may be black
but in its tensioned wire spokes
God’s mercy may be flowing like
an electric current.

I open my umbrella even when it’s not raining,
as a canopy
over the volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets
I carry with me in my pocket.

But there are moments when I am frightened
even by the sparkling bouquet of the universe.
Outstripping its beauty
it threatens us with its infinity
and that is all too similar
to the sleep of death.
It also threatens us with the void and frostiness
of its thousands of stars
which at night delude us
with their gleam.

The one we have named Venus
is downright terrifying.
Its rocks are still on the boil
and like gigantic waves
mountains are rising up
and burning sulphur falls.

We always ask where hell is.
It is there!

But what use is a fragile umbrella
against the universe?
Besides, I don’t even carry it.
I have enough of a job
to walk along
clinging close to the ground
as a nocturnal moth in daytime
to the coarse bark of a tree.

All my life I have sought the paradise
that used to be here,
whose traces I have found
only on women’s lips
and in the curves of their skin
when it is warm with love.

All my life I have longed
for freedom.
At last I’ve discovered the door
that leads to it.
It is death.

Now that I’m old
some charming woman’s face
will sometimes waft between my lashes
and her smile will stir my blood.

Shyly I turn my head
and remember the Queen of England,
whose features are on every postage stamp
of that ancient kingdom.
God save the Queen!

Oh yes, I know quite well: 
it’s raining in Hyde Park today.

***

Happy saving!

J

* translation by Eswald Osers

* Beautiful & Pointless by David Orr – a quick review

Just finished reading David Orr’s lovely book: Beautiful & Pointless, a marvelous and sly book.

now to think of another title for my autobiography

Marvelous because Orr is able to navigate through the realm of contemporary poetry – both the writing of it and the living of it – in a charming and knowledgeable manner.

Sly because his essays have forced me to take a long, hard look at myself and my aspirations as a poet while making me chuckle.

Damn.

David Orr is the poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review.  I have been enjoying his columns for years now.

The biggest risk taken in this book is Orr’s breaking down of the mystique surrounding the business and writing of poetry while at the same time showing how the public and private realms are inseparable and *gasp* often beneficial to each other.

(*gasp* because I am a bit of a poet hermit in terms of the outside poetry world.  I mean, it’s scary.  They should send chocolate with rejection letters.)

The charm of the book is how, by breaking down the mystique, Orr makes a fair argument for how poetry is like sports or travel or any other activity that gives pleasure and meaning on an individual level, first and foremost.  By putting it in this context, poetry’s mystique – the revelations, the idiosyncratic fascinations, its intimate tones – is simply part of its appeal.  It is an art not for everyone, but no less worthwhile and valuable to people.

Overall, it is a reaffirming book and worth checking out.

Here’s a sample of why:

…much of life is devoted to things that in the don’t matter very much, except to us.  Time passes whether we like it or not, and its too-quick progress is measured out in private longings and solitary trivialities as much as in choices we might defend to a skeptical audience…I can’t tell you why you should bother to read poems, or to write them; I can only say that if you do choose to give your attention to poetry, as against all the other things you might turn to instead,  that choice can be meaningful.  There’s little grandeur in this, maybe, but out of such small, unnecessary devotions is the abundance of our lives sometimes made evident…

Check out more from David Orr at his website: http://davidorr.com/

Happy evidenting!

J

* e.e. cummings & the friday influence

(if there are any heavens… – e.e. cummings)

if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)

standing near my

(swaying over her
silent)
with eyes which are really petals and see

nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
hands
which whisper
This is my beloved my

(suddenly in sunlight

he will bow,

& the whole garden will bow)

***

This week on the Influence: e.e. cummings.

Or “lower-case cummings” as William Carlos Williams liked to refer to him as.

Mine may have been the last generation to go through an adolescent phase of writing all in lower case out of homage to Cummings.  Whether you did it for a year or just one poem, it happened – you went for the typographical thrill that he explored in his work.

What one discovers in this phase is that what comes off at first as easily imitable quirks of print are, in fact, part of a purposeful and powerful way with the line.  (but I was young – what did I know?)

In the poem above, I marvel at the way he works the use of parentheses both to carry out the argument in the poem as well as adding a visual layer to the poem, the parentheses something like petals in the lines.

There is also a lot of emotion played out in the move from longer and shorter lines.  The cut to parentheses mid-phrase hinges on something akin to doubt and nerve to say what must be said here.

Then there’s what isn’t said: both lines “standing near my” and later “This is my beloved my” cut off naming –  with different meanings each time, so that in the absence of a word – just as in the absence of a mother/beloved – more and more gets left unsaid.

Charles Bukowski has a poem in which he talks about how he likes to think of E. E. Cummings as a pool hustler – a suiting image, really, a man smooth at a game of high stakes.

((((((steeping))))))

Happy staking!

J