* moon tidings via kathleen jamie

First, a bit of news: the new issue of RHINO Poetry is available for purchase! Check out my poem “Joe” – selected for the 2015 Editor’s Prize – here as well as selections of other fine work in issue here. Thank you to everyone at RHINO for their support!

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This weekend brings with it a total lunar eclipse which is being reported to be the shortest lunar eclipse of this century. In honor of its brevity, here’s the shortest poem I have about the moon:

Moon – Jose Angel Araguz

A widow turning over in her sleep.

 

* blushing moon *
* blushing moon *

Working on a recent manuscript recently, I got called out about the moon: It’s always the moon! And it’s true, I do try to hang too much on it. It’s hard not to. From Li Po getting drunk underneath it and Sir Philip Sidney’s “sad steps” to Philip Larkin’s “lozenge of love” and this week’s poem, the moon keeps being sought after with interest and fascination.

…like a coin we spend, only to find again (sorry couldn’t help it 🙂 ).

This week’s poem – “Moon” by Kathleen Jamie – put the moon on my mind again when I read it earlier this week. It does what I work hard to do when talking about the moon, which is bring it into conversation with the personal in a new way.

Jamie’s poem was featured in The Best American Poetry Blog series “Introducing Scottish poets” curated by Robyn Marsack – find out more about her work and others here.

Moon – Kathleen Jamie

Last night, when the moon
slipped into my attic-room
as an oblong of light,
I sensed she’d come to commiserate.

It was August. She travelled
with a small valise
of darkness, and the first few stars
returning to the northern sky,

and my room, it seemed,
had missed her. She pretended
an interest in the bookcase
while other objects

stirred, as in a rockpool,
with unexpected life:
strings of beads in their green bowl gleamed,
the paper-crowded desk;

the books, too, appeared inclined
to open and confess.
Being sure the moon
harboured some intention,

I waited; watched for an age
her cool glaze shift
first toward a flower sketch
pinned on the far wall

then glide to recline
along the pinewood floor
before I’d had enough. Moon,
I said, we’re both scarred now.

Are they quite beyond you,
the simple words of love? Say them.
You are not my mother;
with my mother, I waited unto death.

 from The Overhaul  (Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2015)

***

Happy mooning!

Jose

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* rivers, Jim Harrison & you

In a life properly lived, you’re a river. You touch things lightly or deeply; you move along because life herself moves, and you can’t stop it; you can’t figure out a banal game plan applicable to all situations; you just have to go with the “beingness” of life, as Rilke would have it.

Jim Harrison

*ain't life Rio Grande*
*ain’t life Rio Grande*

Jim Harrison is one of my gurus.  His work opens me up every time I return to it.  There is a directness to his writing, a feeling of having whittled one’s self down to the essential.  Being a poet of rivers myself, his words above are kindred.

He may also be the closest we have to that other great poet of rivers, Li Po, who, legend has it, died embracing the moon – at least the reflection of it he saw one night on the face of a river.

In the following poem, from his book Saving Daylight, Jim takes us a littler further down the river, to where we may have been all along.

Water – Jim Harrison

Before I was born I was water.
I thought of this sitting on a blue
chair surrounded by pink, red, white
hollyhocks in the yard in front
of my green studio.  There are conclusions
to be drawn but I can’t do it anymore.
Born man, child man, singing  man,
dancing man, loving man, old man,
dying man.  This is a round river
and we are her fish who become water.

***

Happy watering!

Jose

* Charles Wright & the friday influence

The Last Word – Charles Wright

I love to watch the swallows at sundown,
                                 swarming after invisible things to eat.
Were we so lucky,
A full gullet, and never having to look at what it is,
Sunshine all over our backs.

There are no words between my fingers
Populating the lost world.
Something, it now seems, has snapped them up
Into its speechlessness,
                                                  into its thick aphasia.

It’s got to be the Unredeemable Bird, come out
From the weight of the unbearable.
It flaps like a torn raincoat,
                                                first this side, then that side.
Words are its knot of breath,
                                                   language is what it lives on.

***

This week on the Influence: Charles Wright.

To get a little astrological for a moment, every poet I enjoy that falls under the Virgo sign shares a common experience in the reading of their work, namely that you must read a lot of it, really dunk in your head, before it truly becomes accessible.

This isn’t a matter of difficulty or obscurity in the poems.

Take William Carlos Williams, whose “This is just to say” and “The Red Wheelbarrow” are famously accessible and amazing.

I had enjoyed his poems for years but it wasn’t until I sat down with a copy of his selected poems and read it aloud cover to cover that I felt that I truly felt what he was doing in his poems.  About ten pages in I started to see the working of a mind, a sensibility and conviction about the world that played out in poems full of images and clear phrasing.

The true Carlito’s Way!

I have had a similar experience with the work of Charles Wright.

Every book I read of his takes me down into another level of where his poetic self lives.  It is a world of metaphysics, Li Po and other classical Chinese poets, the South, and, amongst various other things, a genuine understanding of the tenuous and precious hold we have on reality.

Also, he claims that he is the only Southerner he knows incapable of telling a story.  A true Virgo admission.

He recently did a book entitled “Sestets” where he funnels his poetic sensibilities down into six line poems that bang and spark.

In my notebook where I wrote down the above poem last December, I wrote: the shorter, more focused his work gets, the more I tune my ears to it.  Here something sensual leads to something that opens and expands in the mind.  I still feel that way.  Poetry like the sounding of a church bell, telling you the time, the sound expanding into time.

***

Happy sounding!

J

* Bukowski & the friday influence

the tragedy of the leaves – charles bukowski

I awakened to dryness and the ferns were dead,
the potted plants yellow as corn;
my woman was gone
and the empty bottles like bled corpses
surrounded me with their uselessness;
the sun was still good, though,
and my landlady’s note cracked in fine and
undemanding yellowness; what was needed now
was a good comedian, ancient style, a jester
with jokes upon absurd pain; pain is absurd
because it exists, nothing more;
I shaved carefully with an old razor
the man who had once been young and
said to have genius; but
that’s the tragedy of the leaves,
the dead ferns, the dead plants;
and I walked into a dark hall
where the landlady stood
execrating and final,
sending me to hell,
waving her fat, sweaty arms
and screaming
screaming for rent
because the world has failed us
both

***

This week on The Friday Influence: Charles Bukowski.

He is infamous for his drinking and love-is-hell approach to relationships.  I have mentioned his work in poetry workshops and seen eyes roll.  Whatever.  This man and his poems are the real deal.  Sure, he wrote a lot, and you have to wade through a lot to get to something like the above poem.  Still, in his poems and in his interviews, he displays a dedication and a love of writing that any fellow writer can identify with.

In the poem above, what moves me most is how Bukowski sets the scene with details, sets up a life and a feeling, and then sends all these things funneling down, concentrated into the angry, waving arms of a landlady, making her a symbol of how the world can fail real people.  Through pacing and reshuffling of images, Bukowski becomes the necessary jester for this poem and this life.

Note how my comments revolve on Bukowski and not the speaker.  The understanding in most poetry is that the speaker in a poem is separate from the actual poet.  Yet, every once in a while, you get a poet whose immediacy with the line and nerve in writing create a poetry that is visceral on the level of the personal.

I see a similar thing in the work of Billy Collins: both are poets that want to make you laugh and feel something.  When these are your aims, you risk that much more of who you are.  Bukowski once said: Genius may be writing a difficult thing in a simple manner.  Simplicity is often misunderstood.

You read about his life and learn early that he was the kind of guy who set up a persona in both his poems and real life.  He talked big.  But that’s because he had big things to say, things that came out if you stuck around long enough to let the blustering subside.

Bukowski carries on in the tradition of Chinese poet Li Po.  Both, through drinking and speaking clearly, illuminated the world:

Drinking AloneLi Po *

I take my wine jug out among the flowers
to drink alone, without friends.

I raise my cup to entice the moon.
That, and my shadow, makes us three.

But the moon doesn’t drink,
and my shadow silently follows.

I will travel with moon and shadow,
happy to the end of spring.

When I sing, the moon dances.
When I dance, my shadow dances, too.

We share life’s joys when sober.
Drunk, each goes a separate way.

Constant friends, although we wander,
we’ll meet again in the Milky Way.
***
Happy meeting!

J

* translated by Sam Hamill