Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ending where I begunne...


After reading John Berryman’s 63rd Dream Song

Dogs pass no laws against you and knock not they your daughters up and do not to Manhattan go with your last two hundred dollars so, in general,

Dogs are A-OK with me. It’s people should be neutered and kept off the grass. People

And cats. People—like cats—are mean and always breeding and make your teeth hurt.

Plus, they’re sneaky—which is a lousy, fucking rotten thing to be.

No dog caught dead would sneaking be

And anyone says otherwise is a bullshit,

Cat-loving liar. A dog can’t

Lie, by the way—and a cat can’t tell the truth and people, at least the ones I’ve known,

Can’t tell the difference. That’s why I

Live alone—one of the reasons—with

My two dogs, that and because no one

Else will have me.

---Jay Hopler

Happy Poetry Month, everyone.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A heartbreaker

Cherry Blossoms Blowing In Wet, Blowing Snow

In all the farewells in all the airports in all the profane dawns.

In the Fiat with no documents on the road to Madrid. At the

Corrida. In the Lope de Vega, the Annalena, the Jerome. In time

past, time lost, time yet to pass. In poetry. In watery deserts, on

arid seas, between desserts and seas. In sickness and in health. In

pain and in the celebration of pain. In the delivery room. In the

garden. In the hammock under the aspen. In all the emergencies. In

the waterfall. In toleration. In retaliation. In rhyme. Among cherry

blossoms blowing in wet, blowing snow, weren’t we something?

--James Galvin

(The lineation here got screwed up in the conversion to HTML, but the sense is there.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Another long one tonight,

too long to post here. So look here instead, and enjoy the snarly grandeur of Joshua Bell.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spring and its attendant prognostications.

Courtesy Vergil (Georgics 1.187-203)

Take note when in the woods many a walnut tree

pranks herself in blossom, droops her fragrant branches.

If nuts flourish, grain will follow,

and great threshing come with great heats.

But if shade thrives, an extravagance of leaves,

for naught your threshing-floor will thresh stalks thick with chaff.

I’ve known many sowers to minister to seeds,

to sprinkle with saltpeter, steep in black oil-dregs,

that beans might plump within the pod’s deceptive bulk,

and, though the fire be small, hastily stew.

I’ve seen seeds long chosen and attended with much labor

still degenerate if human sinew culled not

the fattest out by hand each year. So by decree

all things incline to worse, and foundering backslide, back

like one whose oar can scarcely thrust his skiff upstream;

if perchance he slack his arms, sternward

the coursing water drags him down the rapids.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Conferencing again

With RSA fresh in my mind, I realize (or re-realize) that there are some conferences that I just enjoy more than others, because the atmosphere seems truly collegial, with folks gathered in mutual interest and with mutual care for one another's work. These tend to be smaller conferences, like the one I'm writing from now. Probably 50 or 60 people here, if that, but all of them interested in having conversations that will improve/ advance/ stimulate good work among all parties rather than in showing off or posturing or some academic version of social climbing. Does it make me a bad academic that I prefer these smaller, less showboaty comings together?


Today's poem, a section of Eunoia, by Christian Bok:

Lightning blinks, striking things in its midst with blinding light. Whirlwinds whirl; driftwinds drift. Spindrift is spinning in thrilling whirligigs. Which blind spirit is whining in this whistling din? Is it this grim lich, which is writhing in its pit, lifting its lid with whitish limbs, rising, vivific, with ill will in its mind, victimizing kids timid with fright? If it is – which blind witch is midwifing its misbirth, binding this hissing djinni with witching spiritism? Is it this thin, sickish girl, twisting in fits, whilst writing things in spirit-writing? If it isn’t – it is I; it is I...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mo Po Again.

The Lushness of It

It’s not that the octopus wouldn’t love you—
not that it wouldn’t reach for you
with each of its tapering arms:

you’d be as good as anyone, I think,
to an octopus. But the creatures of the sea,
like the sea, don’t think

about themselves, or you. Keep on floating there,
cradled, unable to burn. Abandon
yourself to the sway, the ruffled eddies, abandon

your heavy legs to the floating meadows
of seaweed and feel
the bloom of phytoplankton, spindrift, sea-
spray, barnacles. In the dark benthic realm, the slippery neckton glide over
the abyssal plains: as you float, feel
that upwelling of cold, deep water touch
the skin stretched over
your spine. Feel
fished for and slapped. No, it’s not that the octopus
wouldn’t love you. If it touched,

if it tasted you, each of its three
hearts would turn red.

Will theologians of any confession refute me?
Not the bluecap salmon. Not its dotted head.

---Mary Szybist

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Churchy Nutter, for Mouse (Neophyte)

Preparatory Meditation 1.1

What Love is this of thine, that Cannot bee
In thine Infinity, O Lord, Confinde,
Unless it in thy very Person see,
Infinity, and Finity Conjoyn'd?
What hath thy Godhead, as not satisfide
Marri'de our Manhood, making it its Bride?

Oh, Matchless Love! filling Heaven to the brim!
O're running it: all running o're beside
This World! Nay Overflowing Hell; wherein
For thine Elect, there rose a mighty Tide!
That there our Veans might through thy Person bleed,
To quench those flames, that else would on us feed.

Oh! that thy Love might overflow my Heart!
To fire the same with Love: for Love I would.
But oh! my streight'ned Breast! my Lifeless Sparke!
My Fireless Flame! What Chilly Love, and Cold?
In measure small! In Manner Chilly! See.
Lord blow the Coal: Thy Love Enflame in mee.

---Edward Taylor

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mo Po.

A Sort of a Song

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
– through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

---William Carlos Williams

Monday, April 21, 2008

Not enough poems out there from a sheep's perspective.

Dream Song 28:  Snow Line

It was wet & white & swift and where I am
we don't know. It was dark and then
it isn't.
I wish the barker would come. There seems to be to eat
nothing. I am usually tired.
I'm alone too.

If only the strange one with so few legs would come,
I'd say my prayers out of my mouth, as usual.
Where are his notes I loved?
There may be horribles; it's hard to tell.
The barker nips me but somehow I feel
he too is on my side.

I'm too alone. I see no end. If we could all
run, even that would be better. I am hungry.
The sun is not hot.
It's not a good position I am in.
If I had to do the whole thing over again
I wouldn't.

---John Berryman

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Late April: snow forcast today, again, can you believe it!?

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

--Robert Hayden

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Another poetry post, because when you're in grading hell, nothing else worth discussing happens.

My Great Great Etc. Uncle Patrick Henry

There's a fortune to be made in just about everything

in this country, somebody's father had to invent

everything--baby food, tractors, rat poisoning.

My family's obviously done nothing since the beginning

of time. They invented poverty and bad taste

and getting by and taking it from the boss.

O my mother goes around chewing her nails and

spitting them in a jar: You shouldn't be ashamed

of yourself she says, think of your family.

My family I say what have they ever done but
paint by numbers the most absurd and disgusting scenes 
of plastic squalor and human degradation.

Well then think of your great great etc. Uncle

Patrick Henry.

---James Tate

Friday, April 18, 2008

A poem about writing poetry. (But aren't they all?)

The Sandpiper

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

--Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

--Elizabeth Bishop

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Beyond compare

Things I cooked today for my awesome devotional lyric class, to whom I must bid farewell as the term ends and they--most of them, anyway--graduate:

Thai beet soup
tofu larb
cucumber and red pepper salad with sesame and rice-wine vinegar
keffir lime cookies

I would tell you how good it was, but I learn from Donne that I must not try.

Elegy 8: The Comparison

As the sweet sweat of roses in a still,
As that which from chafed musk cat's pores doth trill,
As the almighty balm of th' early east,
Such are the sweat drops of my mistress' breast,
And on her neck her skin such lustre sets,
They seem no sweat drops, but pearl carcanets.
Rank sweaty froth thy mistress' brow defiles,
Like spermatic issue of ripe menstruous boils,
Or like the scum, which, by need's lawless law
Enforced, Sanserra's starved men did draw
From parboiled shoes, and boots, and all the rest
Which were with any sovereign fatness blessed,
And like vile lying stones in saffroned tin,
Or warts, or weals, they hang upon her skin.
Round as the world's her head, on every side,
Like to the fatal ball which fell on Ide,
Or that whereof God had such jealousy,
As, for the ravishing thereof we die.
Thy head is like a rough-hewn statue of jet,
Where marks for eyes, nose, mouth, are yet scarce set;
Like the first Chaos, or flat seeming face
Of Cynthia, when th' earth's shadows her embrace.
Like Proserpine's white beauty-keeping chest,
Or Jove's best fortune's urn, is her fair breast.
Thine's like worm-eaten trunks, clothed in seal's skin,
Or grave, that's dust without, and stink within.
And like that slender stalk, at whose end stands
The woodbine quivering, are her arms and hands.
Like rough-barked elmboughs, or the russet skin
Of men late scourged for madness, or for sin,
Like sun-parched quarters on the city gate,
Such is thy tanned skin's lamentable state.
And like a bunch of ragged carrots stand
The short swoll'n fingers of thy gouty hand.
Then like the chemic's masculine equal fire,
Which in the limbeck's warm womb doth inspire
Into th' earth's worthless dirt a soul of gold,
Such cherishing heat her best loved part doth hold.
Thine's like the dread mouth of a fired gun,
Or like hot liquid metals newly run
Into clay moulds, or like to that Etna
Where round about the grass is burnt away.
Are not your kisses then as filthy, and more,
As a worm sucking an envenomed sore?
Doth not thy feareful hand in feeling quake,
As one which gathering flowers, still fears a snake?
Is not your last act harsh, and violent,
As when a plough a stony ground doth rent?
So kiss good turtles, so devoutly nice
Are priests in handling reverent sacrifice,
And such in searching wounds the surgeon is
As we, when we embrace, or touch, or kiss.
Leave her, and I will leave comparing thus,
She, and comparisons are odious.

---John Donne

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Po-Month Hump Day


`In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in
political terms' - Thomas Mann

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here's a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there's a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

W. B. Yeats

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Today's poem, by Matthea Harvey, is fantastic, but a little too long to post on this blog. So I'll link to it instead: do yourself a favor and click here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A bit of a downer, but in the lovely way.

On My First Son

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.

---Ben Jonson

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Haiku time!

Even in Kyoto
when I hear the cuckoo
I long for Kyoto.


Saturday, April 12, 2008


Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophel and Stella

Sonnet XLV

Stella oft sees the very face of woe
Painted in my beclouded stormy face,
But cannot skill to pity my disgrace,
Not though thereof the cause herself she know;
Yet hearing late a fable, which did show
Of lovers never known a grievous case,
Pity thereof gat in her breast such place
That, from that sea derived, tears' spring did flow.
Alas, if fancy, drawn by imaged things,
Though false, yet with free scope, more grace doth breed
Than servant's wrack, where new doubts honor brings;
Then think, my dear, that you in me do read
Of lovers' ruin some sad tragedy.
I am not I; pity the tale of me.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Blues and more blues

Can you think of anything funnier than this?:
being roused from grading by noise from the
room where the kids are supposed to be asleep,
way past bedtime, and, upon investigation,
finding them, one earphone apiece, hooked up
to their mother's iPod and singing "Folsom
Prison Blues" at the top of their lungs...

Two little voices, aged 7 and 3, belting out

But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowin', I hang my head and cry

And following Johnny Cash's voice all the way down
to the depths of regret:

But I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free
But that train keeps rollin', and that's what
(big grave finish)



I am lazy, the laziest
girl in the world. I sleep during
the day when I want to, 'til
my face is creased and swollen,
'til my lips are dry and hot. I
eat as I please: cookies and milk
after lunch, butter and sour cream
on my baked potato, foods that
slothful people eat, that turn
yellow and opaque beneath the skin.
Sometimes come dinnertime Sunday
I am still in my nightgown, the one
with the lace trim listing because
I have not mended it. Many days
I do not exercise, only
consider it, then rub my curdy
belly and lie down. Even
my poems are lazy. I use
syllabics instead of iambs,
prefer slant to the gong of full rhyme,
write briefly while others go
for pages. And yesterday,
for example, I did not work at all!
I got in my car and I drove
to factory outlet stores, purchased
stockings and panties and socks
with my father's money.

To think, in childhood I missed only
one day of school per year. I went
to ballet class four days a week
at four-forty-five and on
Saturdays, beginning always
with plie, ending with curtsy.
To think, I knew only industry,
the industry of my race
and of immigrants, the radio
tuned always to the station
that said, Line up your summer
job months in advance. Work hard
and do not shame your family,
who worked hard to give you what you have.
There is no sin but sloth. Burn
to a wick and keep moving.

I avoided sleep for years,
up at night replaying
evening news stories about
nearby jailbreaks, fat people
who ate fried chicken and woke up
dead. In sleep I am looking
for poems in the shape of open
V's of birds flying in formation,
or open arms saying, I forgive you, all.

---Elizabeth Alexander

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I'm enjoying these poems-for-poetry's-sake posts!

Death by Water (section IV of The Waste Land)

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cries of gulls, and deep sea swell
and the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passes the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

--T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Today's poem

A Sympathy, A Welcome

Feel for your bad fall how could I fail,
poor Paul, who had it so good.
I can offer you only: this world like a knife.
Yet you'll get to know your mother
and humourless as you do look you will laugh
and all the others
will NOT be fierce to you, and loverhood
will swing your soul like a broken bell
deep in a forsaken wood, poor Paul,
whose wild bad father loves you well.

---John Berryman

Monday, April 7, 2008

Today's poem (is even cooler if you read it as a devotional lyric)

Emily Dickinson

543 (1862)

I fear a Man of frugal Speech-
I fear a Silent Man-
Haranguer-I can overtake-
Or Babbler-entertain

But he who weigheth-While the Rest
Expend their furthest pound-
Of this-I am wary-
I fear that He is Grand-

Sunday, April 6, 2008

RSA report

First, today’s poem, by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

As king fishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves - goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is--
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

I missed a few days. No internet connectivity at RSA, and therefore no poem-a-day. I’ll try to get back on that game.


In my view, RSA is the most boring of conferences in my field. At no other conference are folks so deadly serious, so committed to academic showing-off and social climbing, so dedicated to black or charcoal gray suits and subdued color schemes.

Having said that, my panel’s session was actually pretty lively—attentive and engaged audience, smart papers from my panel-mates (a FANTASTIC ONE by a UNC-CH grad student), and a near-brawl afterward about Milton’s misogyny (or lack thereof, as I contended). It was truly helpful, since the paper I delivered is in its very infancy, and I was glad to realize how my argument opened up (or failed to) into larger issues.

The high points:

- getting to know El Teorico Alto, a colleague in another department with some overlapping interests

- meeting another nearby colleague, not yet pseudonymed

- eating here (corn tortillas soaked in ancho pepper salsa and layered with carrots, potatoes, wild mushrooms, and cotija, topped with a watercress salad!) and of course here with Miss K (too many items consumed to list individually, but the buratta cheese deserves special genuflection)

- watching Once on the plane. Very cute. The opening scene with the brother probably my fave: very Irish.

The low points:

- spending Thursday at a walk-in clinic after my sinus-infected eardrum ruptured on the flight to Chicago

- not being able to smell for Thursday and most of Friday, and the attendant fear of not being able to taste my long-awaited feasts (FYI, I did recover the olfactory function, just in time, thanks to hardcore antibiotics)

- no internet connectivity, which meant that I returned home to 120 emails.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Poetry month: day 2

The Man Who Wouldn't Plant Willow Trees

Willows are messy trees. Hair in their eyes,
They weep like women after too much wine
And not enough love. They litter a lawn with leaves
Like the butts of regrets smoked down to the filter.

They are always out of kilter. Thirsty as drunks,
They'll sink into a sewer with their roots.
They have no pride. There's never enough sorrow.
A breeze threatens and they shake with sobs.

Willows are slobs, and must be cleaned up after.
They'll bust up pipes just looking for a drink.
Their fingers tremble, but make wicked switches.
They claim they are sorry, but they whisper it.

--A.E. Stallings

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Poetry and pleasure.

To observe National Poetry Month, I've decided to post a poem a day (I hope) all through April. No commentary, no analysis, no screed about arguments or poetics or whatever. Just pleasure in the words that got me into this gig in the first place.

In the Garden

And the sky!
Nooned with the steadfast blue enthusiasm
Of an empty nursery.

Crooked lizards grassed in yellow shade.

The grass was lizarding,
Green and on a rampage.

Shade tenacious in the crook of a bent stem.

Noon. This noon—
Skyed, blue and full of hum, full of bloom.
The grass was lizarding.

--Jay Hopler, from Green Squall

RSA, anyone?

I'm heading out Thursday for a weekend in balmy Chicago. You may remember that I've been counting the days until I could eat here, again, which would make the trip worthwhile even without the heady days spent listening to papers on the Renaissance. If anyone's going and wants to meet up, I'd be delighted to drop all pretense that this is a serious professional trip....