* living, dreaming & apples

Between living and dreaming
there is a third thing.
Guess it.

— Antonio Machado

I look at this quote and see much of the poetic craft summed up in it.

There is the living of everyday life – work, chores, relationships, food, tying your shoelaces – all the things that make up routine, the background to who we are.

Then there’s dreaming – both the idealizing of the future as well as the literal act of what is seen when we sleep.  The unspoken times.

Between these two things – the background and the unspoken – we do our best to do the guessing that Machado encourages.

*manzananza*
*manzananza*

In the poem below, Jay Leeming takes an everyday thing – in this case, an apple – and pushes it into dream.  The image of the apple’s core as a “little room” is a guess towards what the act of eating an apple suggests beyond the everyday.  You get the usual connotations of Adam and Eve, the Fall – but there’s something more to it.

The turn for me here is at the end, how the poem leaves you with enough image to keep on talking inside of you.  Just watch what happens when you get to the powerful compound word “tear-shaped.”

Apple – Jay Leeming **

Sometimes when eating an apple
I bite too far
and open the little room
the lovers have prepared,
and the seeds fall
onto the kitchen floor
and I see
that they are tear-shaped.

***

Happy appling!

Jose

p.s.  Jay Leeming is also the editor of Rowboat: Poetry in Translation, a great journal you can find out more about here.

* photo found here.

** published in the book Dynamite on a China Plate, The Backwaters Press.

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* cynicism via Adam Levine & Philip Larkin

This show changed my life.  I was a cynic.  It brought back the joy…
(Adam Levine)

*at cynics not-so-anonymous*
*at cynics not-so-anonymous*

This week on the Influence: Philip Larkin!

FIRST, though, a confession: I watch The Voice.  There I said it.

Sharing this information in a public forum is tough.  Indeed, admitting what T.V. shows one indulges in can be as nerve-wracking and potentially embarrassing as…uhm, I don’t know – writing poetry.

Growing up in Texas, some of my homeboys back in the day didn’t take kindly to my versifying ways (I say it this way because it wouldn’t be polite of me to share exactly what they said of my ambitions to be a poet).

And yet I forged on – not out of any well-thought out conviction that I had been born with a direct line to the Muse – I forged on out of a sheer inability to do anything else but forge on.

It is this reflex, this connection that cannot be denied, that gets me to the page each day.  This reflex has its roots down where everything I enjoy resonates – from what I eat to what I read – and, yes, what I watch on T.V.

What moves me about Adam Levine’s words above is that simple admission: that he was a cynic.  One spends years entrenched in an art and risks slowly growing competitive and desensitized, unwilling to see beyond the niche one works out of.  One must seek ways to push beyond such limits, experiences that bring back the joy of what you do, that bring you back to why you do it.

Nothing beats finding a new writer you enjoy – someone who raises the temperature in the room you’re in, that has you smiling despite yourself as you read each incredible, engrossing word.

Afterwards, you judge.  You gauge how good it is against what you see as better.  You go back to your page to catch up, to outdo.  But for awhile there, you simply read.

Watching Adam Levine & co. listen to music and talk about it passionately has taught me a lot about humility and generosity.

Across the Street

Philip Larkin, too, has been a model for humility.

His poem “This Be the Verse” is infamous for its bitterness and warning against ever becoming a parent.  He HATED this poem being what most people recalled when his name was brought up.  While being popular, he felt it also made him seem less serious.  People often miss when the bitterness gives way.  He was a man of strong opinions – who knew what he liked – and it is that strength and nerve that guided the many illuminating and well-crafted poems he left us.

Here’s another poem about “mum and dad.”  I love how it leaves you at that moment of not understanding something fully but feeling it.

Ultimately, what we like is what we feel.

***

Coming – Philip Larkin

On longer evenings,
Light, chill and yellow,
Bathes the serene
Foreheads of houses.
A thrush sings,
Laurel-surrounded
In the deep bare garden,
It’s fresh-peeled voice
Astonishing the brickwork.
It will be spring soon,
It will be spring soon –
And I, whose childhood
Is a forgotten boredom,
Feel like a child
Who comes on a scene
Of adult reconciling
And can understand nothing
But the unusual laughter,
And starts to be happy.

***

Happy starting!

Jose

* one year later & three chinese poets

[the lyric poet] always says “I” and sings us through the full chromatic scale of his passions and desires – (Nietzche)

*duly noted*
*duly noted*

Think what you will of Nietzche, he goes overlooked as a poet – and I don’t mean his actual poems but more the spirit with which he approached his writing.  Like the quote above shows, the big N had a way with the aphoristic insight, a lyric way of understanding the world that showed in everything he said.

It is in this spirit that I started this blog a year ago.

Along with having a place for people interested in my work to find me and connect, I wanted a forum with which to share some of what feeds me creatively with fellow readers and writers.

In the past year, I have shared not only poems I admire but other things as well (philosophy, songs, etc.) that have stirred me and made me think – always with an eye towards how it relates to poetry, the writing of it, the spirit of it.

I recently admitted to fellow poet and blog buddy Miriam Sagan that only now, a year later, have I begun to understand what an ever-evolving animal a blog can be.  The Influence has more and more come out of my notebooks, out of my thoughts on a given week.  This approach feels right.

This blog, ultimately, is a reader’s blog.  The enthusiasm that drives me to share is that of a reader, and what insights I stumble upon are due to reading well.  I hope to continue appealing to the reader in all of you.

Lyric poetry is often defined as short and personal.  In many ways, our very lives can be defined as such.  Reading is where these two worlds – where many worlds – meet.

*this, too, is reading*
*reading*

Here are three poems from Vikram Seth’s book Three Chinese Poets – translations from the work of Wang Wei, Li Bai, and Du Fu.  Each poem in its own way pays attention to the short and personal world we live in.

***

Birdsong Brook – Wang Wei

Idly I watch cassia flowers fall.
Still is the night, empty the hill in Spring.
Up comes the moon, startling the mountain birds.
Once in a while in the Spring brook they sing.

*

In the Quiet Night – Li Bai

The floor before my bed is bright:
Moonlight – like hoarfrost – in my room.
I lift my head and watch the moon.
I drop my head and think of home.

*

Thoughts While Travelling at Night – Du Fu

Light breeze on the fine grass.
I stand alone at the mast.

Stars lean on the vast wild plain.
Moon bobs in the Great River’s spate.

Letters have brought no fame.
Office?  Too old to obtain.

Drifting, what am I like?
A gull between earth and sky.

***

Happy drifiting!

Jose

* Linda Pastan, apples & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Linda Pastan!

What moves me about the lyric below is how it follows the turns of simple tone and lets the subtleties gleam.

What does that mean?

Peep the line: maybe the wind would wind itself – with its alliterative w’s, but also how the word wind turns over in meaning and pronunciations from noun to verb, seamlessly.

I’ve always marveled at Pastan’s way with the line.  Not every poem has to go for the jugular.  This one gets you at the sinew of mortality.

*manzanas*
*manzanas*

In the Orchard – Linda Pastan *

Why are these old, gnarled trees
so beautiful, while I am merely
old and gnarled?

If I had leaves, perhaps, or apples…
if I had bark instead
of this lined skin,

maybe the wind would wind itself
around my limbs
in its old sinuous dance.

I shall bite into an apple
and swallow the seeds.
I shall come back as a tree.

***

Happy appling!

Jose

p.s.  Be sure to check out the latest Stirring: a literary collection featuring work from past Influence feature Adeeba Talukder and a series of poems by yours truly.  Check out the work here.

* originally published in Plume.

** photo found here.

* quick post: a poem & list at Treehouse

Just a quick post to share the publication of my poem “The Devil on His Wedding Night” at Treehouse!  Read the poem here.

This is the first poem in my Devil series to be published – and actually the second I ever wrote in the series.

Treehouse’s slogan – online magazine for short, good writing – only hints at the insight and fun to be had on their site.  Along with poetry and prose, you will find the feature “This Week in Words” and the contributor’s series “5 things”.

See my contribution – 5 fictional characters that would make great poets here.

See you Friday!

Jose