suggesting via thomas lux

This week’s poem, “Empty Pitchforks” by Thomas Lux, does a great job of making suggestion a lyrical engine. Diving off the epigraph “There was poverty before money,” the poem begins an engaging game of evoking poverty and lack through the subjects it engages. In doing so, Lux is able to move poverty from abstraction to concrete reality.

pitchforksThe title phrase, empty pitchforks, begins this work by suggesting a specific image and meaning. To think of pitchforks alone is one thing; to have the added word “empty,” which implies its opposite and brings to mind the states of holding and lacking, is to have the image colored by suggestion. Through the quick work of juxtaposition, the tines of pitchforks become all the more sharply rendered (pun intended via “sharply,” btw).

This work of suggestion gains momentum as the poem continues, down to the action of the last line which drives home poverty as not only a material but spiritual dearth.

Empty Pitchforks – Thomas Lux

There was poverty before money.”

There was debtors’ prison before inmates,
there was hunger prefossil,

there was pain before a nervous system
to convey it to the brain, there existed

poverty before intelligence, or accountants,
before narration; there was bankruptcy aswirl

in nowhere, it was palpable
where nothing was palpable, there was repossession

in the gasses forming so many billion … ;
there was poverty—it had a tongue—in cooling

ash, in marl, and coming loam,
thirst in the few strands of hay slipping

between a pitchfork’s wide tines,
in the reptile and the first birds,

poverty aloof and no mystery like God
its maker; there was surely want

in one steamed and sagging onion,
there was poverty in the shard of bread

sopped in the final drop of gravy
you snatched from your brother’s mouth.

from New and Selected Poems: 1975-1995

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noting with marilyn hacker

One of the things to note about this week’s poem, “A Note Downriver” by Marilyn Hacker, is its use of Sapphic stanzas to evoke longing via nuanced meditations. A Sapphic stanza, named after the Greek love poet Sappho, consists of three lines of eleven syllables each (with stresses on the first, fifth, and tenth syllables) and a truncated fourth line of five syllables (stresses here on the first and fourth).

Through_the_wilds;_a_record_of_sport_and_adventure_in_the_forests_of_New_Hampshire_and_Maine_(1892)_(14586696278)In light of the complexity of this stanzaic structure, I can’t help but marvel at Hacker’s use of it here in a poem essentially about a hangover. The stress on the first syllable of each line adds a troubled conviction to the speaker’s voice; their ruminations come off in a controlled yet shaky manner. This shakiness is augmented by the form, leading to such lyrical utterances as: “I feel muggy-headed and convalescent, / barely push a pen across blue-lined paper.”

The leap in phrasing and logic here evoke a struggle beyond language. At the precipice of articulation, articulation feels hindered; “push” is echoed by the nearby “scowl” and the later “grouse” and “growl.” This reading of echoes is furthered by the ending metaphor of rivers speaking, literally having the last, troubled word.

A Note Downriver – Marilyn Hacker 

Afternoon of hangover Sunday morning
earned by drinking wine on an empty stomach
after I met Tom for a bomb on Broadway:
done worse; known better.

I feel muggy-headed and convalescent,
barely push a pen across blue-lined paper,
scowl at envelopes with another country’s
stamps, and your letter.

Hilltop house, a river to take you somewhere,
sandwiches at noon with a good companion:
summer’s ghost flicked ash from the front porch railing,
looked up, and listened.

I would grouse and growl at you if you called me.
I have made you chamomile tea and rye bread
toast, fixed us both orange juice laced with seltzer
similar mornings.

We’ll most likely live in each other’s houses
like I haunted yours last July, as long as
we hear rivers vacillate downstream. They say
“always”; say “never.”

from Winter Numbers: poems (W.W. Norton)

poetryamano project: february 2017

This week I’m sharing the second installment archiving my Instagram poetry project entitled @poetryamano (poetry by hand). This account focuses on sharing poems written by hand, either in longhand or more experimental forms such as erasures/blackout poems and found poems.

I’d like to give a quick thank you to Kenyatta JP García for giving @poetryamano a shout out here.

Below are the highlights from February 2017. Be sure to check out the first installment.

Stay tuned next week for more of the usual Influence happenings. For now, enjoy these forays into variations on the short lyric!

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In February, I had been coming back to rain and mirrors in my free writes. I always worry about retreading, but then some words and images are like worry stones, no?

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Translation: Alejandra Pizarnik’s poems are full of a tense intimacy, like each word could say everything, so we gotta be careful with them. The hardest line to translate here was the first, specifically the phrasing of “sin para qué, sin para quién,” which translates as “without a reason, and for no one,” sense-wise. But I like the whimsy of “what/whom” and feel it’s in keeping with Pizarnik’s overall punk vibe.

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True story. I was working on a poem when I came across a draft that had the quoted text above in the middle of some rough writing. The quote stuck with me for a few hours, yet I couldn’t remember the source. So I decided to go the haibun-like route of including this story of the quote while letting the quote shine in its own space. I like the result, despite the poem showing how flawed my own memory is – and again, that could be the point, no, that words last?

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Those fragments on the side are from a hematite ring that broke a month ago. Found out recently that these rings break for two reasons, the brittleness of the metal, and when they have absorbed too much negativity. Words work in the same way, able to hold what they can, until they can’t.

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Talismans: The absence of my father growing up comes in and out of my poems. It’s an influence like weather, which changes. He died when I was six, but left my life earlier. In response to my worries about writing too many poems about this absence, someone called it a talisman of sorts, something I carry in the presence of these words.

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Throwback to the original version of a line that made its way into my book, Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press). It got revised into: “Stay with me, love, the world is ours for the aching” which is recalled by the speaker of the newer poem as lines he used to say trying to be slick. True story.

poetryamano feb 2017 9

When you write poems in more than one language, you realize quickly how what you are really doing when you write is translating something yet spoken inside you into a shape and expression. Here, I like how the filter places a bit of light in the space between the two versions of the poem, light like a fingerprint itself.

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February brought my first attempts at erasures/blackout poems for the poetryamano project. My first attempts, like here, were done on my phone, using photo studio to mark out words. This one reads: “the real world / dwells in the / absorption of passion, / And / mirrors it” – From The English Renaissance of Art by Oscar Wilde.

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This last one of the month comes from a time when I’d walk around all poet-lonely, then go home and write poems about walking around being poet-lonely. We all went through that, right?

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Happy amano-ing!

José

 

poetry feature: Oka Bernard Osahon

This week’s poem is the first poetry feature drawn from submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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Often when I read a love poem, I find myself most invested in what the poem evokes in terms of connection and disconnection. Love poems aren’t love, but are expressions of the world around a love relationship, a world made up of inside jokes, shared intimacies and understanding. The reader of a love poem is privy to something akin to gossip and confession, and involved in an engaged listening.

pexels-photo-69004This week’s poem, “When We Are Too Tired to Fall in Love” by Oka Bernard Osahon, is a great example of a poem that makes the world around a relationship come alive for the reader. Line by line, the speaker of this poem engages the narrative of their relationship through imagery. Lines like “I felt the cold retraction / Beneath the glare of tossed hair as you carried the pages of your face away,” which moves from the visual “glare” to the tactile “pages” in its efforts to render a passing moment, run on an engine of imagery. Yet, the use of “pages” also implies change, and creates a sense of urgency.

The poem continues in lines that reach for similar turns of understanding. The use of imagery gives a sense of control in a poem that digs into the feeling of a relationship slipping out of one’s control, from connection to disconnection. Similar to “pages,” the use of the word “show” in the final line rings out beyond itself, reflecting on the relationship and the moment, as well as the fact of the poem itself.

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When We Are Too Tired to Fall in Love – Oka Bernard Osahon

We laughed without moving our lips –
Our eyes – signs of joy fading – crowfeet wrinkled gaze.
We taped our selves together within the ineffective hug of weathered arms
And our thoughts shivered between us like a ghost trying to stay alive.
Our feet carried us away from our shadows – excuses and regrets limping behind
And when you stumbled into me on the steps, I felt the cold retraction
Beneath the glare of tossed hair as you carried the pages of your face away.
We lost a moment, when we could have found a tiny piece of what was lost.

We are unraveling even as I speak,
Like a single thread off the warp and weft of the table cloth
That hold the old china your mother gave you.
We are bartering words for points and we have lost so much in this match.
There was meaning in our trading once – with loud voices and broken fragile things
But now the words are bland and though we have not grown carapaces,
We are too worn out to fight the hurt. So we sit on the couch – two distant halves
Watching a show that used to make us laugh.

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Oka Benard Osahon is creative writer, poet and fantasy novel addict from Benin, Edo State, Nigeria. He attained his B.A in English and Literary Studies at Delta State University, Abraka. His poetry can be found on Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, Praxis Magazine Online, Spillwords and Visual Verse. He was one of the winners of the Praxis Magazine Online 2016 Anthology Contest as well as the winner of the June 2017 Edition of the Brigitte Poirson Poetry Contest. He lives and works in Abuja where he writes at night after work. He can be reached at Twitter: @serveaze

artificing with denise levertov

Poems have a way of changing the things around us, allowing us to reconcile with and reimagine them at the same time. In this week’s poem, “The Wedding Ring” by Denise Levertov, a wedding ring goes from being listed among forgotten things in a basket to being seen for what else it could become. Along the way, the speaker goes into what the ring has meant up to this point.

metal-ring-1152237_960_720What occurs in this mix of looking backward and forward is an evocation of the personal meaning of the wedding ring; this evocation isolates the ring, and allows for an imaginative distance. The “artificer” imagined towards the end who is able to re-work the ring strikes me as a metaphor for the poet. In poems, we work “simple gifts” out of the materials of a fleeting existence.

The Wedding Ring – Denise Levertov
My wedding-ring lies in a basket
as if at the bottom of a well.
Nothing will come to fish it back up
and onto my finger again.
                                      It lies
among keys to abandoned houses,
nails waiting to be needed and hammered
into some wall,
telephone numbers with no names attached,
idle paperclips.
                      It can’t be given away
for fear of bringing ill-luck
                      It can’t be sold
for the marriage was good in its own
time, though that time is gone.
                      Could some artificer
beat into it bright stones, transform it
into a dazzling circlet no one could take
for solemn betrothal or to make promises
living will not let them keep? Change it
into a simple gift I could give in friendship?

inspired by richard wilbur

The Beautiful Changes – Richard Wilbur

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

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I remember first reading this poem by Richard Wilbur and just holding my breath: those last lines speaking sundering “things and things’ selves for a second finding,” speak to what I see as the crucial gift of lyric poetry. How, for example, even the word beautiful, a word poets in general are wary of, is reclaimed, refreshed in this poem, made a thing in motion. This is what Wilbur means.

Richard Wilbur’s recent passing has me thinking again on his work, on the poems that mattered to me as I read his books. A great formal sensibility and nuance. He, alongisde WH Auden, Donald Justice, and Rhina P. Espaillat, inspired me to go inside forms and find a pulse. Moving a person to go and write, that is one of the greatest compliments to a poet, and one of the greatest gifts the reading of poetry has to offer.

Below is my own poem inspired after my first reading of Wilbur’s poem years ago. I don’t know if I give anything back or refresh the word beautiful. This poem came in one of my seasonal sprees of bad sonnets. I do know that I wrote it at a time where the friendship invoked was one of the few things keeping me going. Which is another way friendship works, even at a distance. Engaging in the creative space of poetry writing brings one in communion with others who have taken the time to catch something of how the world “changes.”
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The Beautiful Poems – José Angel Araguz
My friend set down to write the beautiful poems,
Set himself against lightning storms,
Against crowded rooms and bars where men belong
To each other and hold in an almost fist
Small shots of pain. In such a room, I lost him,
And he went on and became one among faces to remember.
The years have gone and I have yet to write
Much of anything myself; still, each night
I chase ghosts until the sky is an ember
And cracks, until I find myself thinking of him,
What he might be writing for the lovers who kissed
His eyes to visions. Tell me, is there no drink strong
Enough to unbolt proud hearts where only silence roams?
Tell me, are these the beautiful poems?

blues, song, & sea: amiri baraka

The distance between the list poem and the ode varies. A list poem, for one, implies attention, if not praise. Yet, the act of listing is the act of making space and placing importance on a subject. Odes, which are made up of mainly attention and praise, also create an empathic space for readers. Whenever I begin to see a list occurring in a poem, I take it as a cue to listen/watch closely: something is being paid attention to in an engaged manner.

In this week’s poem, “Legacy” by Amiri Baraka, what is listed is a series of actions: sleeping, growling, stumbling, frowning, etc. There is a momentum generated in this listing of actions that embodies the tortured tone of the speaker. I call it a “tortured tone” but not a passive one; what this list of actions brings attention to is the act of evocation made possible by song. This speaker goes on to tell us that “(the old songs / lead you to believe)” in the sea. To expand on this logic: Songs, which exist on the air, can create hope, illusion, feelings, etc. out of the very air that holds them.

This poem is dedicated to “Blues People,” and what these people mean to the speaker can be felt through this listing and attention to action. This list itself becomes like the sea, existing in motion as long as the poem is read.

Legacy – Amiri Baraka

(For Blues People)

In the south, sleeping against
the drugstore, growling under
the trucks and stoves, stumbling
through and over the cluttered eyes
of early mysterious night. Frowning
drunk waving moving a hand or lash.
Dancing kneeling reaching out, letting
a hand rest in shadows. Squatting
to drink or pee. Stretching to climb
pulling themselves onto horses near
where there was sea (the old songs
lead you to believe). Riding out
from this town, to another, where
it is also black. Down a road
where people are asleep. Towards
the moon or the shadows of houses.
Towards the songs’ pretended sea.

from Black Magic (Bobbs-Merrill, 1969)