two by Barry Spacks

In an interview with Grace Cavalieri, Kay Ryan talks about a certain “chill” and restraint she feels is necessary to writing:

I sometimes compare the chill to say, if you put an ice cube on your hand, your hand – your skin would turn pink when you took the ice cube away, and you’d see that your skin was pink where you’d had that ice, because your blood is all sent to where the chill was. So that if you have a somewhat chilly surface in work, it brings the reader’s blood to that place.

I’ve been fascinated by this quote for years now. I admire what it honors about language, its ability to have an effect, to draw meaning to itself, and how, even with restraint, language remains as intimate as ice on skin.

I also enjoy what Ryan’s words make me think about in regards to writing about personal material. In a way, a writer is always negotiating how much of their personal life they put into their work; and because even writers are humans, and as humans things are messy, never strictly one way or another, language remains fluid, directed rather controlled by how we use it.

treesI’m always fascinated by this idea of personal and creative negotiation and how it plays out across a poet’s work. This week, I’m sharing two poems by Barry Spacks. Both poems stood out to me in my reading of his book Spacks Street: New & Selected Poems, enough to write them out in my notebook. What fascinates me looking back at these two poems specifically is how different yet connected they are.

“Poem” is as enigmatic as its title in terms of what it is about, working as an ars poetica almost, a meditation on the fluidity of language. “At 35,” on the other hand, delves into specifics, ideas of age, fatherhood and son-hood. Where these two poems connect is in their haunted tone. Whether contemplating the abstract or the personal, these poems by Spacks are charged with intimate lyrical sensibility.

*

Poem – Barry Spacks

Will it come again like this?
Will we ever get it right?
It is always as it is,
And it passes.

Never as it was,
Yet always somehow bright,
Always somehow sweet
In its changes.

We will never get it right.
It will come, but not like this.
It is always as it is,
And it changes.

*

At 35 – Barry Spacks

Father, what would you make of me? I wear your face.
I hear my cough and think the worms have sent you home.
Here at my table in my insubstantial house,
your myth of hope,
the piece of man you left,
I live your death
stroke for stroke.

There are no vows you did not keep I will not break.
I leave no darkness unacknowledged for your sake.
You are the school I teach. The course I take.
I move toward age, and you become my son.
Along the path ahead
you lift aside
the branches.

*

To learn about the work of Barry Spacks go here.

* new post for the CR blog!

William Carlos Williams Selected Poems ND
The true Carlito’s Way!

Just a quick post to share my latest installment of “What’s Poetry Got to Do with It?” over at the Cincinnati Review blog.

In this post I do a short survey of three Virgo poets: Charles Wright, Kay Ryan, and William Carlos Williams. Could be that working on this CR post last week is what had me with Williams on my mind for last week’s Influence.

Enjoy!

José

* short lyrics: (pre)spring mix

As I am on the road – in Corpus Christi, Texas promoting Everything We Think We Hear to be exact – I thought I would do a short, fun post of some seasonal short lyrics. Could be that the winters in Cincinnati are tough that I’ve got spring on my mind already.

I’d like to say a special thanks to everyone who made it out to my readings this week. Thank you for braving a rather stormy week in Corpus Christi. A very special thanks as well to Alan Berecka and Tom Murphy for the opportunity to read at Del Mar College and TAMUCC, respectively.

Below are poems by Kay Ryan, Issa, Izumi Shikibu, and Edward Thomas. The Shikibu tanka is an old favorite of mine. I ran into it almost ten years ago in an essay by its translator, poet Jane Hirshfield. In writing about doing the translations for her book The Ink Dark Moon, Hirshfield’s essay broke down how in five lines Shikibu is able to present an image of enlightment (“moonlight”) reaching through to even the most materially impoverished life (“ruined house”).

Enjoy!

***

Spring – Kay Ryan

It would be
good to shrug
out of winter
as cicadas do:
look: a crisp
freestanding you
and you walking
off, soft as
new.

*
*
*

    The snow is melting
and the village is flooded

    with children.

Issa*
*
*
*
Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks

of this ruined house.

Izumi Shikibu**
*
*
*
The Cherry Trees – Edward Thomas
***
The cherry trees bend over and are shedding
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.
*
*
Weeping-cherry-tree-arlington-cemetery-dc_-_Virginia_-_ForestWander.jpg
*
Happy (pre)springing!
*
*
José
*
*
*translated by Robert Hass
**translated by Jane Hirshfield & Mariko Aratani

* salvaging with kay ryan

Salvage – Kay Ryan

The wreck
is a fact.
The worst
has happened.
The salvage trucks
back in and
the salvage men
begin to sort
and stack,
whistling as
they work.
Thanks be
to god—again—
for extractable elements
which are not
carriers of pain,
for this periodic
table at which
the self-taught
salvagers disassemble
the unthinkable
to the unthought.

20151211_234610

What I love about the lyric above by Kay Ryan is how much complication it holds in its short lines. Between casual observation and straight fact, there are worlds living side by side. The “unthinkable” happens, then others get to “whistling as/they work.” Poems like these show the necessary work of poets and their asbestos gloves, able to hold volatile and conflicting materials via imagery and metaphor, and make from them a flash and foundation of understanding.

***

Ani and I have been going through our own process of “salvaging” what we can from the “unthinkable” for about a week now. Last Friday evening, round-the-clock construction began at the intersection near us. Above is a photo taken around midnight Saturday. That’s a spotlight lighting the way for the poor guys out there doing their job. There was a brief respite from Sunday night til Tuesday morning, when work started up again. By Tuesday afternoon, we had this scene:

20151216_172408

Count’em: that’s three heavy-duty machines moving around, rattling the apartment building, making us feel like dinosaurs are roving outside our window. This stage of construction is only from 8:30am til 5:30pm each day. At night, steel plates are lined up along the street which sound like thunder every time a car passes over them. THOSE we hear at night.

Each of us is coping as best we can. Ani’s begun coming up with stories about “Mr. Scoopy” and I keep wondering if these guys will get the holiday off next week. We’re told the work should be done by Christmas Eve. We’ll be in “salvaging” mode til then.

***

Speaking of things under construction, things have cleared up regarding my new book, Everything We Think We Hear. It is officially available on Amazon (again)!

I’ll keep bookending the Friday posts with book info throughout December. I’m happy to report that I have booked a few readings in my hometown Corpus Christi, TX in March. Also, I have some news about things coming up in Spring 2016. More details on all of this soon!

Happy salvaging!

Jose

* hoping with kay ryan

Crown – Kay Ryan

Too much rain
loosens trees.
In the hills giant oaks
fall upon their knees.
You can touch parts
you have no right to—
places only birds
should fly to.

* flight *
* flight *

As August comes to an end, I begin to reflect on the end of summer – or, rather, the ending of summer. Perhaps it takes being born in the summer to be sensitive to the days beginning to grow shorter, even by minutes. Or maybe that’s just a kind of idealistic hope of my own. My world’s been pretty rich this summer, good and bad. Through it all, I am happy to report hope keeps winning out, idealistic or otherwise.

Kay Ryan’s work has always struck me as full of a similar kind of hope. A kind of stubborn and willful hope played out in phrasing and what she terms “recombinant rhyme.” The poem above models this willfulness with grace; the poem below has a tone steeped in struggle. Enjoy!

A Certain Kind of Eden – Kay Ryan

It seems like you could, but
you can’t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It’s all too deep for that.
You’ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’re given
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
You even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens. But those things
keep growing where we put them—
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then a stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.

***

Happy kinding!

José

* Kay Ryan chills on the friday influence

Say Uncle – Kay Ryan

Every day

you say,

Just one

more try.

Then another

irrecoverable

day slips by.

You will

say ankle,

you will

say knuckle;

why won’t

you why

won’t you

say uncle?

***

This week on the Influence: Kay Ryan.

When I go back to this poem, I’m always taken in by the speed of it.  It is deceptive how short the poem is because of how much is in it – humor, rhyme, a certain emotional urgency that I can’t after years of reading the poem seem to find a source for.

It’s just there.

In the tight lines, in the way the word “irrecoverable” takes up its own line and damn you can feel the weight of loss in one word, one word long and wide like open arms.

When asked why she avoids the self-revealing emotions typically identified with contemporary poetry, she responded: If you put ice on your skin, your skin turns pink. Your body sends blood there. If you think about that in terms of writing, cool writing draws us, draws our heat. *

Words like ice.  Nice.

cubes…for now.

***

Here’s one more by Ryan:

Atlas – Kay Ryan

Extreme exertion

isolates a person

from help,

discovered Atlas.

Once a certain

shoulder-to-burden

ratio collapses,

there is so little

others can do:

they can’t

lend a hand

with Brazil

and not stand

on Peru.

***

Happy standing!

J

***


* great interview!  http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5889/the-art-of-poetry-no-94-kay-ryan