* leaving with cavafy

One Night – C. P. Cavafy

The room was cheap and sordid,
hidden above the suspect taverna.
From the window you could see the alley,
dirty and narrow. From below
came the voices of workmen
playing cards, enjoying themselves.

And there on that common, humble bed
I had love’s body, had those intoxicating lips,
red and sensual,
red lips of such intoxication
that now as I write, after so many years,
in my lonely house, I’m drunk with passion again.

translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

Paul_Klee_My_Room_1896Continuing in the short lyric vein of last week’s post, the poem above handles several worlds in twelve quick lines. I’m moved by the pace of the poem. The first stanza sets the tone of the outside world, a world dark, “dirty and narrow.” Then the second stanza opens up the world of tryst and memory. If, as Jürgen Becker says, “The memory does not exist, you have to create them,” then Cavafy creates a memory of “intoxication” and “passion” that is as alive in the speaker’s present as it was in his past. This turning over of thought and confession makes of memory a talisman against a “lonely house.”

Thinking up possible poems to share this week I was suprised to find that I hadn’t shared any poems by Cavafy. To make up for that, I also share “Ithaca” below. Its incorporation of Homer’s Odyssey into an allegory for living with awareness (or, in another light, a reflection of the adage: Life is a journey, not a destination) ranks highly with me on a personal level. I read the poem first in my early twenties, at a time when I was headstrong on purpose. Poems like this one guided me toward slowing down.

Sangarius_Bridge._Drawing_01Cavafy’s poem also brings to mind Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” another poem incorporating the story of the Odyssey. The following lines from “Ulysses” compliment the spirit of the above short lyric in their human/emotional momentum:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.

Leaving Texas, and then learning to leave other places after that, I worried I carried little along with me inside. Poems like these showed me otherwise.

Ithaca – C. P. Cavafy

As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean.

translated by Daniel Mendelsohn

*

Happy Ithaca-ing!

José

 

* a meditation on brevity with paz, ritsos, & carruth

Writing – Octavio Paz

I draw these letters
as the day draws its images
and blows over them
and does not return

 

It’s suiting to begin this meditation on brevity with Paz who once said that he admired the short lyric for being the hardest kind of poem to write. Anyone who’s worked out a haiku or tanka in earnestness knows something of this difficulty. With haiku and tanka there are at least parameters, a spirit to leap after. Often, the short poem is a surprise, something arrived at when you intuit the right time to leave a poem alone.

 

Triplet – Yannis Ritsos

As he writes, without looking at the sea,
he feels his pencil trembling at the very tip –
it is the moment when the lighthouses light up.

 

I came across this gem from Ritsos in Stephen Dobyn’s illuminating book “Best Words, Best Order.” In it, Dobyns speaks of the nuanced work of the last line as a “metaphysical moment,” one that suggests “sympathetic affinities and a sensitivity to those affinities on the part of the poet.” The power of a short lyric can be felt when one is reading and feels something like “lighthouses light up” inside the mind.

 

haiku – Hayden Carruth

Hey Basho, you there!
I’m Carruth. Isn’t it great,
so distant like this?

 

Ultimately, what is at stake in the short lyric is what is at stake in any poem, the translating/transcribing of the human voice. In a longer poem, one can create an argument via imagery and metaphor, what’s being said accumulates like a wave to a crest. The short lyric is the echo of that argument, the sound of foam chisping on the shore. What is compelling about Carruth’s distance is not that Basho feels it, but the reader does.

* wavering *
* wavering *

Happy shoring!

Jose

* the 200th post: a cento

Well, it had to happen: we’ve reached the 200th post on this blog!

To celebrate, I decided to create a cento – a patchwork poem made by selecting lines from other people’s poems to create a singular poem (citing one’s sources, of course) – by going through all the posts published since I started this blog and selecting a line from every 10th post.

200 posts = 20 lines!

Eek!

* a mouse *
* a mouse *

Some finer points:

To stick strictly to the every 10th post guideline, I did find myself snatching a snippet or two from a post that had no poem in it. So a “line” was taken from a paragraph or two.

I’m happy to only end up in the piece a handful of times (and with good company, no less 🙂 ).

Also: I had a lot of fun putting this together. Blogging can feel like a mess sometimes, but the accumulative effect is fun. Approaching past posts for the archival potential was inspiring.

And then there’s all you good people who stop by, read, and comment! More than anything, I am humbled by the community this blog has put me in touch with. I started this off as a reader’s blog, and I’m happy to have a forum to share not only my own work but work that illuminates my world and that I hope illuminates yours. Thanks!

Cento for the 200th post

I must learn from the stars
To find out if I might love.
Under these, under our skies.
the colors of my living
will sometimes waft between my lashes
This unwelcome act of reducing
On those nights, the poet can say they tried, and did well.
to fall asleep
“I’m so tired of driving into the sky.”
I would like to step out of my heart
stumble, welcomed each day by
Horses down in the meadow, just a few degrees above snow.
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
selected to be
something imagined, not recalled?
rigid edges and all, and lines still show up
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
They slept just like the rest of us,
like sunken leaves in a pond,
quoted in the margins

***

Happy quoting!

Jose

p.s. Sources for the Cento:

  1. Evening on the Farm – Bert Meyers
  2. Brown Penny – WB Yeats
  3. Willow – Anna Akhmatova
  4. XIX (from The Wall) – Jose Angel Araguz
  5. An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert
  6. Onions – Jose Angel Araguz
  7. “on poetry readings” TFI post 2/15/13
  8. The Devil on His Wedding Night – Jose Angel Araguz
  9. “from the car: verse & such” TFI post 6/7/13
  10. Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke
  11. “Dog-eared” – Jose Angel Araguz
  12. On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee – Charles Wright
  13. Prosody 101 – Linda Pastan
  14. “quick post: CantoMundo news!” TFI post 3/19/14
  15. Epilogue – Robert Lowell
  16. If They Hand Your Remains to Your Sister in a Chinese Takeout Box — Jamaal May
  17. Sad Steps – Philip Larkin
  18. Going Home – Phoebe Tsang
  19. A Winter Night – Tomas Tranströmer
  20. Evening in Matamoros – Jose Angel Araguz

* stitching along with valerie wallace

I came across this week’s poem – “Winged” by Valerie Wallace – reading through the latest issue of Rust + Moth.

I was taken in by the Auden reference to the “old masters” from his poem Musee des Beaux Arts. I find the reference suiting since the impetus for Wallace’s poem comes from Alexander McQueen, whom I don’t know too much about except that his singular designs had him working with Bjork and Lady Gaga as well as designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress (more to the point: Alexander McQueen the person didn’t design Middleton’s wedding dress – because he was dead. His label did – more specifically Sarah Burton, the creative director since his death).

In Wallace’s poem, the corset in question is taken on both conceptually as well as visually in the structure of the poem. The couplets themselves work down the poem like stitches as the speaker goes further into breaking and fraying as much meaning from each word “Be/hold balsa ribbons” is an especially powerful revelatory reading moment.

Enjoy the poem below and check out the rest of the issue of Rust + Moth here.

* mid-flight *
* mid-flight *

Winged – Valerie Wallace

—Corset from the Alexander McQueen collection No. 13, spring/summer 1999

The old masters
got them wrong,

their locations, at
least. Not pinned

at the spine like a moth
or the bone blade spurt.

From the tiny bloom
of sternum I swept

over shoulders, fanned,
arc’d. Slit for heavy arms.

How on earth do you
expect to walk in them? Ha.

Be/hold balsa ribbons
planed, laced, bindings,

not for flight but descent.
How will you care for me,

keep me from fire.
It sings, you know,

Consecration.
Consolation,

a promise to be ever
sewn into the sun.

***

Happy sunning!

Jose

p.s. For more info on the McQueen piece go here.

And for more poems from Wallace’s Be/spoke project, go here.

* beyond mockery with philip larkin

Shared some of Philip Larkin’s work with students this week. I see him as a good example of playing content rebelliously while within formal structures.

In the poem below, one can see what I mean in these lines about the moon:

Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements!

There’s something beyond mockery going on here. He starts with an exaggerated phrase very much in the style of Renaissance poets (the title refers to a sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney), but by the time one reads “wolves of memory,” there’s a self-deprecating edge apparent to the pronouncements, which is also in keeping with the overall meditation of aging in the poem.

* lozenge of what now? *
* lozenge of what now? *

Sad Steps – Philip Larkin

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

Four o’clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There’s something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate—
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.

***

Happy undiminishing!

Jose

* My Writing Process Blog Tour!

Happy Monday, y’all!

I’ve been invited to participate in the My Writing Process: Blog Tour by poet extraordinaire, Lisa Ampleman. Here’s some info on Lisa:

Lisa Ampleman is the author of a book of poetry, Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), and a chapbook, I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State University Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, 32 Poems, Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Check out her site here.

The tour is focused on sharing a bit about our writing process. Here are my answers to the tour’s questions:

  • What are you working on?

Globally, I just put the finishing touches on two full-length poetry manuscripts. Each has taught me a bit more about learning the character of a project. A little more locally, I am trying some new things in regards to my daily writing, which tends to be form-focused.

  • How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

I believe it’s a lifetime goal to have your work differ from that of others. Or, rather, that we should be pushing ourselves closer and closer to ourselves with each poem. If there’s anything I aim for consistently is vulnerability – whether that comes through rawness of content or pushing myself into a formal structure that makes me uncomfortable and staying with it. Something James Cummins says about writing sestinas applies here, that it is a process of humiliation and perseverance.

  • Why do you write what you do?

I write what comes. When I work on a poem, free write or several drafts in, I see my job primarily as a mover of words, of making choices and reading into the possibilities and consequences of those choices. I suppose it’s like an inner divining rod leading to fresh water 🙂

  • How does your writing process work?

Time is the biggest factor. There’s the time I put in daily, at least half an hour. Merwin describes his daily writing as a listening in to see what can be heard that day. There’s also the time I let pass after I finish a notebook. I’m working on poems at the moment whose first drafts were in 2012. The time away allows me to become a different writer than when I wrote it, to read more, learn more. Anything to help me see past myself.

***

* site-seeing *
* site-seeing *

Tune in a week from now and check out the responses from these fellow poets:

Miriam Sagan founded and directs the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College. Her most recent collection of poetry is SEVEN PLACES IN AMERICA: A Poetic Sojourn (Sherman Asher Publishing). She recently hung 24 hours of diary entries on a laundry line at Salem Art Works in upstate New York and this winter is headed to The Betsy Hotel in Miami to install a poem on sand. She has been in residence in national parks, sculpture gardens, and in a trailer with Center for Land Use Interpretation at the edge of a bombing range in Great Basin. She has been awarded the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and this year’s Gratitude Award from New Mexico Literary Arts. Check out her blog here.

***

Jeannine Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of four books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, and the upcoming The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Horror. Her web site is here.

***

Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua has read for Oregon Poetry Association, Windfall Reading Series, Isangmahal Arts Collective, NW Poets Concord, Talking Earth, PoetsWest, Brigadoon Books, Fault Lines and Word Lab in Manila, Philippines. He is published by Vena Cava, Word Laboratories, Mixer Publishing, Concord, and Paw Print Publishing. His most recent work appears in The Inflectionist Review and his three-poem poster to promote his first collection, Fawn Language, is featured in the 25th Anniversary Showcase at Poets House in New York City.Fawn Language is published by Tebot Bach of Huntington Beach, California. His blog is here.

* finding work with Rhina P. Espaillat

Last week I had the honor of participating in CantoMundo, a three-day retreat that develops, sustains, and supports a diverse community of Latina/o poets.

Being an introvert, I was a bit apprehensive of jumping into such a social gathering, my main concern being: What if they don’t like me? (I’m surprised by how much one remains in the sandbox no matter how old one gets).

* scared poet is scared *
* scared poet is scared *

Fortunately, the whole crew, including keynote speaker Sherwin Bitsui and Master Poets Lorna Dee Cervantes and Rafael Campo, were warm and welcoming. By the second night, this happened:

* scared poet is (a little less) scared *
* scared poet is (a little less) scared *

During Rafael Campo’s workshop, I was delighted to be introduced to the work of Rhina P. Espaillat.

The poem below belongs to the tradition of Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays,” a poem honoring the hard work of family. Espaillat’s masterful attention to the tension to be generated between narrative and measure really help drive home the heart of the poem.

The last two lines especially captivated me.

Both lines are five beats each, but note how much work the commas do: in the second to last line, three beats are held in place by a comma, then two more follow also held back, then the line break takes us into the next line where the first beat is reined in by another comma – all of this building tension (3-2/1-4 beat breakdown, respectively) allows the last phrase of the poem to really be sunk into while reading, the four beats driving home in rhythm what the words drive home in meaning.

**

“Find Work” – Rhina P. Espaillat

 

I tie my Hat — I crease my Shawl —
Life’s little duties do — precisely
As the very least
Were infinite — to me —

 

— Emily Dickinson, #443

 

My mother’s mother, widowed very young
of her first love, and of that love’s first fruit,
moved through her father’s farm , her country tongue
and country heart anaesthetized and mute
with labor. So her kind was taught to do —
“Find work,” she would reply to every grief —
and her one dictum, whether false or true,
tolled heavy with her passionate belief.
Widowed again, with children, in her prime,
she spoke so little it was hard to bear
so much composure, such a truce with time
spent in the lifelong practice of despair.
But I recall her floors, scrubbed white as bone,
her dishes, and how painfully they shone.

***

Happy finding!

Jose