* Sharon Olds, newspapers & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Sharon Olds!

Just read through Olds’ latest book, Stag’s Leap, a powerful collection of poems – for which she recently was awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize – centering on the story of her divorce.

The poems take on the separation with the nerve and lyrical litheness that are characteristic of Olds.  (Also: at one point she parts the Red Sea – seriously: check that out!)

I chose the poem below because it embodies much of what I admire in her skill as a poet.  There is the opening up of a moment, the digging into the details in words that put the subject – in this case, handling the newspaper – right in your hands, words like mineral-odored and greyish speckle.  She does it all with a straightforward energy that takes you along for the ride, evoking every nuance of the emotion felt.

There is a great awe in her work – a sense of awe of the world, of being a part of it, and being able to put it into words.  Few can go to this place of awe like she does.

As an American poet, I feel indebted to Sharon Olds for how she manages to stay grounded while still taking flight.  I see her in line with Whitman as well as Elizabeth Bishop – all poets of finding and feeling exuberance where you don’t expect it.

*periodico*
*periodico*

On Reading a Newspaper for the First Time as an Adult – Sharon Olds

By evening, I am down to the last,
almost weightless, mineral-odored
pages of the morning paper, and as I am
letting fall what I have read,
and creasing what’s left lengthwise, the crackly
rustle and the feathery grease remind me that
what I am doing is what my then husband
did, that sitting waltz with the paper,
undressing its layers, blowsing it,
opening and closing its delicate bellows,
folding till only a single column is un-
taken in, a bone of print then
gnawed from the top down, until
the layers of the paper-wasp nest lay around him by the
couch in a greyish speckle dishevel.  I left him to it,
the closest I wanted to get to the news was to
start to sleep with him, slowly, while he was
reading, the clouds of printed words
gradually becoming bedsheets around us.
When he left me, I thought, If only I had read
the paper, 
and vowed, In two years,
I will have the Times delivered,
so here
I am, leaning back on the couch, in the smell of ink’s
oil, its molecules like chipped bits of
ammonites suspended in shale,
lead’s dust silvering me.
I have a finger, now, in the pie –
count me as a reader of the earth’s gossip.
I weep to feel how I love to be like
my guy.  I taste what he tastes each morning
without moving my lips.

***

Happy tasting!

Jose

* photo found here

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* Mary Oliver, William Blake & the friday influence

Blake Dying – Mary Oliver

He lay
with the pearl of his life under the pillow.

Space shone, cool and silvery,
in the empty cupboards

while he heard in the distance, he said,
the angels singing.

Now and again his white wrists
rose a little above the white sheet.

When death is about to happen
does the body grow heavier or lighter?

He felt himself growing heavier.
He felt himself growing lighter.

When a man says he hears angels singing,
he hears angels singing.

When a man says he hears angels singing,
he hears angels singing.

night startled by the lark - wiliam blake
night startled by the lark – wiliam blake

This week on the Influence: Mary Oliver!

I picked this poem up at work while shelving Mary Oliver’s latest book, A Thousand Mornings.  

The words stopped me as I shelved.  There is simplicity in this poem that is akin to still life painting – but a poet’s take on it.  A moment – a dying moment – as still life.

She conjures much with little.  From pearl to space to her choices in colors – all of it culminates into the hanging presence of Blake’s hearing angels singing. 

There’s not much to do once you get into this kind of moment in a poem but acknowledge it.

Blake’s relationship with the angels takes me back to being 18, sitting in Dana Levin’s Form and Theory class, her introducing a Blake poem, prefacing it by saying This guy saw angels in the trees!  

Being, again, 18, I was like – yes, of course, totally – eager to understand and see them too.

Seeing the angels in this poem is another lesson.  Oliver’s repetition in the last two couplets – their very emphasis on Blake’s words – drives home to me how all a poet can do is tell what they see, how they see it.  And all that’s needed to honor this seeing is to listen.

Happy listening!

Jose

* Donald Justice & the friday influence

The Assassination – Donald Justice

It begins again, the nocturnal pulse. 
It courses through the cables laid for it. 
It mounts to the chandeliers and beats there, hotly. 
We are too close. Too late, we would move back. 
We are involved with the surge. 

Now it bursts. Now it has been announced. 
Now it is being soaked up by newspapers. 
Now it is running through the streets. 
The crowd has it. The woman selling carnations 
And the man in the straw hat stand with it in their shoes. 

Here is the red marquee it sheltered under. 
Here is the ballroom, here 
The sadly various orchestra led 
By a single gesture. My arms open. 
It enters. Look, we are dancing.

(June 5, 1968)

***

*carnations*

This week on the Influence: Donald Justice.

Picked up the poem above from reading through John Drury’s Poetry Dictionary.   The assassination in the poem is that of Robert Kennedy’s in 1968.

Drury places the poem in the chance poetry category.  In writing this poem, Justice wrote words on cards and picked them out at random as he wrote.

I sense some of the risk-taking of this practice in the “charged” words of the first stanza, and in the phrase “soaked up by newspapers” in the second.  It’s only a guess, but on my third reading of the poem, the phrase struck me as masterfully plucked from its context of what to do about a spill and given a new life in this poem.

I am moved by the menace and epic feel achieved in the indirect take on the subject.  Here you have a poem about a political misfortune that delves into the human aspect of it – how news travel into our lives.  I noted on each rereading of the poem how the word “it’ becomes sinister and carries the emotion of the poem to the end.  The end itself drives home a sense of mortality, of interrupted life.

On a lighter note: the carnations are brought to you courtesy of last week’s birthday celebration.

Bought them on the fly before dinner.

***

Also: I have two poems in Turn, an anthology of poems about seasons put out last month by Uttered Chaos Press.  Copies can be purchased on the Uttered Chaos website here OR on Amazon here.  Special thanks to UC editor Laura LeHew.

***

Happy uttering!

Jose

* a birthday poem

This week on the Influence: BIRTHDAY!

My girlfriend’s, Ani, in particular.

She is from the Pacific Northwest and is accustomed to cloudy, gray birthdays – a lovely scene at times made lovelier by the blooming of the local cherry blossoms.

This year she’s a bit bummed because they have yet to blossom – so I’m bringing them to her.

I am dedicating this post to her and posting a poem I wrote for her back in 2011 which features the aforementioned tardy blossoms.

With these words, may there always be flowers somewhere near you, my dear.

*BIRTHDAY*
*HAPPYBIRTHDAY*

For her birthday 030811

 

you have never needed me

you yourself

 

point out the cherry blossoms

that return in time

 

trembling pink and white

when you smile

 

days before

days after

***

Happy aftering!

Jose

* photo found here.

* Your guest is as good as mine…

Just a quick note to promote the latest issue of Stirring: A Literary Collection!

I served as Guest Editor for this issue and had the honor of reading through submissions.  Lots of good stuff.

Below is an example of some of the fine work to be found in this issue.

your nest is as good as - ok i'll stop...
your nest is as good as – ok i’ll stop…

Fontanelle – David Mohan

After your birth your head
lay in its nest,
a new laid egg.

It was flecked with hair
like straw. I felt
the crack beneath your skin.

At the centre
where the skull dipped,
the scalp went soft.

Each day 
we cradled the place
that smelt like sleep.

It had a name
like the first burst
of the source.

Out of the dark,
the stuff of birth,
you rested,

the wound
to your long quiet
beginning to seal.

***

Check out the rest here.

Special shout-out to Erin Elizabeth Smith for this opportunity!

Happy nesting!

Jose

* some words from W. H. Auden & the friday influence

“I will love you forever” swears the poet. I find this easy to swear to. “I will love you at 4:15 pm next Tuesday” – Is that still as easy? (Auden)

Can you make it?
Can you make it?

This week on the Influence: W. H. Auden.

Auden’s one of those guys I come back to in my thoughts, and whose words I butcher in conversation.

Like there’s the essay where he talks about how if you have a poet who writes because he believes strongly that he has something to say, let that poet become a politician, a journalist, or anything else because he doesn’t have a chance of becoming a poet.  But if you have a poet who is genuinely interested in putting one word next to another and seeing how they might affect each other, bleed into one another, then maybe – just maybe – that person might turn out to be a poet.

His writing – poems and essays – have been with me long enough to have become part of the layers of sedimentary rock that make up the floor holding up my writing self.  (As is evident, I am not so with the smarts as him!)

Usually the “some words” posts are made up of longer quotes, but I feel I have quoted, paraphrased, or said things shaped by the man enough throughout the Influence’s existence that I can do right by him best by simply admitting it.

His gift for aphorism is almost as great as Oscar Wilde’s.  But his distinction is how he will say a thing both sharp and true (Wilde seems to always be going for the kill).  Case in point:

In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.

He also has a sensibility about reading that makes him kindred with that other great reader, Jorge Luis Borges:

There are good books which are only for adults.
There are no good books which are only for children.

AND I keep finding more aptly said things – apt because with all the big moves going on in my life at the moment, I need to hear things like the following said:

You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at.

Amen.  That might be my mantra for the next few years.

*estrellas*
*estrellas*

The following poem exhibits much of the same bite and vulnerable spirit that rings through in the quotes above.  Enjoy.

The More Loving One – W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

 

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

 

Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.

 

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.

***

Happy timing!

Jose

p.s. PhD update: For those of you keeping up, I am happy to announce that me and mine are Cincinnati bound!