Thursday, April 30, 2009

Also, this.

There's a decent guy, and a friend of mine, missing. Have no idea what I'm supposed to do, other than email my congressman, which I've done. And post about it here.

The last poem of poetry month 2009

My years-ago teacher, Allen Grossman, won the Bollingen Prize this year. His most recent book, Descartes' Loneliness is heartbreaking, in part because it's clear it will be the last book of an incredible career of the mind. I know no one smarter about what poetry does, how it works--if you haven't read it, check out his "Summa Lyrica," which is published as the second section of The Sighted Singer (JHU Press). It's a dense read, but richly rewarding. Grossman is dwindling quickly in Alzheimer's now. I am influenced by him every day.

"The Caedmon Room"

Upstairs, one floor below the Opera House
on top of the building, was the Caedmon room –
a library of sorts. The Caedmon room
was empty of readers most of the time.
When the last reader left and closed the door,
I locked it and moved in for life. Right now,
I am writing this in the Caedmon room.
Caedmon was an illiterate, 7th century
British peasant to whom one night a lady
appeared in a dream. She said to him, speaking
in her own language, “Caedmon! Sing me something!”
And he did just that. What he sang, in his
own language, was consequential – because
he did not learn the art of poetry
from men, but from God. For that reason,
he could not compose a trivial poem,
but what is right and fitting for a lady
who wants a song. These are the words he sang:
“Now praise the empty sky where no words are.”
This was Caedmon’s song. Caedmon’s voice is sweet.
In the Caedmon room shelves groan under the
weight of eloquent blank pages, histories
of a sweet world in which we are not found.
Caedmon turned each page, page after page
until the last page – on which was written:
“To the one who conquers, I give the morning star.”

--Allen Grossman

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rate this, butthead.

Dear Disgruntled Grad Student—

I was sorry to discover, in my packet of course evaluations today, that you hated my class. And, it’s clear, hated me. I’m especially sorry to learn that you felt I was unresponsive to student concerns and unavailable to provide guidance—and a bit surprised, since every time I handed back a paper, or handed out a paper assignment, I urged you to come and visit with me in my office. Indeed, beyond my regular office hours, I was usually in my office on class days from morning until after sunset, and on the days when I wasn’t on campus, I checked my email frequently, responding as soon as my responsibilities would allow to all queries.

I understand that you felt that I only gave comments “after grades, which wasn’t very helpful”….but I’m not quite sure when I would have had the opportunity to give comments before I had work to comment on. And while it’s true that I spend more time assessing papers after they’ve been turned in than I can during a brief office visit in which you float a vaguely-defined impulse of an idea for your paper, I did try to explain to you what might be problematic as you proceeded on your course of research.

You seem to be particularly angry about the grades you received on your papers. I can only say, without apologizing, that I made clear in the case of every assignment that I expected only two things: make an argumentative claim and prove it. All my comments on all your papers indicated the ways in which you failed to do one or both of those things. I don’t have allegiance to a particular theoretical school; I don’t care whether I agree with your ideas; it’s all about your argument. That is, after all, what you will be measured by if you choose to pursue this profession.

Finally, as to your complaint that the course didn’t feel like a grad class but rather like “An undergrad course on steroids,” I sincerely wonder what you felt the course didn’t ask of you: you did a long research paper, a conference paper, read a massive amount of primary material and a significant amount of secondary material, and had to teach two sessions of the class. If (and this is the only cause I can come up with for your complaint) you’re upset that I talked a lot during the course of our class meetings, I would remind you that your class was unusually quiet, shy, recalcitrant, and if I didn’t fill up the air, no one did.

Ordinarily, DGS, I would read your evaluation with a smirk, knowing in advance that you were going to let me have it (your paper grades predicted that response) and then move on with my life, thinking of your comments from time to time as I think of all the ones that haunt me, the single poor remarks in an otherwise well-received class: with some regret, and with soul-searching, but in perspective. But because your class was so small, your comments and the accompanying bubble-number scores really screwed up my course average, and pushed me well below my usual threshold. So to you I say, since you wouldn’t go to my office to talk at length about what you could have done to improve your experience in the class, since you refused to tell me to my face what issues you were having with the class as it progressed, you can go to hell. Where, I have no doubt, you will find things to complain about.

With love,
Dr. Girl

It occurs to me

that one of these days, when I'm famous, I should publish the collected Renaissance Girl poetry-month blogpoems as an anthology. I'd enjoy reading them over again... (But then, my biases are really what this project is all about, yes?)


Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite 'The boy stood on
the burning deck.' Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love's the burning boy.

--Elizabeth Bishop

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

from Letters to Wendy's, a series of unlineated poems written, over the course of a year or so, on Wendy's restaurant's comments cards.

September 5, 1996

Naturally I think about smashing the skulls and the ribcages of the other customers. They stand in line so smug--like they were safe, outside the desires of or for an other. It's as if, for them, there is no other's desire--as if desire was one thing, and was ours. Restraining myself is not dishonest. It's a way of maintaining a keen sense of the unforeseeable injuries which shall reunite us.

--Joe Wenderoth

Monday, April 27, 2009

Today's poem

Lord, I have left all and myself behind,
My state, my hopes, my strength, and present ease,
My unprovoked studies' sweet disease,
And touch of nature and engrafted kind,
Whose cleaving twist doth distant tempers bind,
And gentle sense of kindness that doth praise
The earnest judgments, others' wills to please:
All and myself I leave thy love to find.
O strike my heart with lightning from above,
That from one wound both fire and blood may spring,
Fire to transelement my soul to love,
And blood as oil to keep the fire burning,
That fire may draw forth blood, blood extend fire,
Desire possession, possession desire.

--William Alabaster

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A great day.

Spent this way: with Things 1 and 2; mostly, in bed; watching it precipitate or threaten to do so; reading book after book after book--I think somewhere around 50 in all. In celebration, one of my childhood faves:

"The Goops"

The Goops they lick their fingers.
The Goops they lick their knives.
They spill their broth on the tablecloth
And lead untidy lives.
The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I'm glad that I
Am not a Goop. Are you?

--Gillette Burgess

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lovely little thing.

Even in Kyoto--
hearing the cuckoo's cry--
I long for Kyoto.

--Matsuo Bashō

Friday, April 24, 2009

It doesn't ALWAYS have to be desolate, yearning.

This one has always tickled me.

"Very Like a Whale"

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for

Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and

Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,

Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to
go out of their way to say that it is like something else.

What does it mean when we are told

That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?

In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience

To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of

However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and
thus hinder longevity,

We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.

Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were
gleaming in purple and gold,

Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a
wolf on the fold?

In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy
there are great many things.

But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple
and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.

No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was
actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;

Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red
mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?

Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,
at the very most,

Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian
cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.

But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he
had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,

With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers
to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of
wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.

That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets,
from Homer to Tennyson;

They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,

And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket
after a winter storm.

Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of
snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical
blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm,

And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly

What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.

--Ogden Nash

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Correcting the gender inequity

that I described a few days ago, a good translation of a freaky psalm:

Psalm 58

And call ye this to utter what is just,
You that of justice hold the sovereign throne?
And call ye this to yield, O sons of dust,
To wronged brethren every man his own?
O no: it is your long malicious will
Now to the world to make by practice known,
With whose oppression you the balance fill,
Just to yourselves, indifferent else to none.

But what could they, who even in birth declined,
From truth and right to lies and injuries?
To show the venom of their cancered mind
The adder's image scarcely can suffice;
Nay scarce the aspic may with them contend,
On whom the charmer all in vain applies
His skilful'st spells: ay missing of his end,
While she self-deaf and unaffected lies.

Lord, crack their teeth; Lord, crush these lions' jaws,
So let them sink as water in the sand.
When deadly bow their aiming fury draws,
Shiver the shaft ere past the shooter's hand.
So make them melt as the dis-housed snail
Or as the embryo, whose vital band
Breaks ere it holds, and formless eyes do fail
To see the sun, though brought to lightful land.

O let their brood, a brood of springing thorns,
Be by untimely rooting overthrown,
Ere bushes waxed they push with pricking horns,
As fruits yet green are oft by tempest blown.
The good with gladness this revenge shall see,
And bathe his feet in blood of wicked one;
While all shall say: the just rewarded be;
There is a God that carves to each his own.

--Mary (Sidney) Herbert

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The problem with spring

Is that there's just too damned much to do outside. How does a yard get so utterly dilapidated over 5 months?--covered in a protective layer of snow, no less.

"Love Song (Smelt)"

When I say 'you' in my poems, I mean you.
I know it's weird: we barely met.
You must hear this all the time, being you.

That night we were at opposite ends of
the long table, after the pungent
Russian condiments, the carafes of tarragon vodka,

the chafing dishes full of boiled smelts
I was a little drunk: after you left,
I ate the last smelt off your dirty plate.

--Dan Chiasson

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Today's poem

I've noticed something odd as I've been thinking of poems to put up this year for Po Month: before 1900, I prefer male poets; after 1900, I prefer female. No categorical declarations here, just an acknowledgment of the bias that has emerged as I've posted poems.

Today, I excerpt from "Paradise Lost," because it's good for you. The invocation to Book Three, where Milton has to call upon divine inspiration again after his descent into Hell, kills me. I find it so desolate, and it slaps down all those critics who fault Milton for his arrogance and unerring self-confidence. It makes me weep almost every time I read it, and I feel filled with tenderness for this guy whose vast knowledge and effort doesn't result in assurance. How frustrating, and terrifying, and human.

from Paradise Lost

Hail holy light, ofspring of Heav'n first-born,
Or of th' Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam'd? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from Eternitie, dwelt then in thee, [ 5 ]
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
Or hear'st thou rather pure Ethereal stream,
Whose Fountain who shall tell? before the Sun,
Before the Heavens thou wert, and at the voice
Of God, as with a Mantle didst invest [ 10 ]
The rising world of waters dark and deep,
Won from the void and formless infinite.
Thee I re-visit now with bolder wing,
Escap't the Stygian Pool, though long detain'd
In that obscure sojourn, while in my flight [ 15 ]
Through utter and through middle darkness borne
With other notes then to th' Orphean Lyre
I sung of Chaos and Eternal Night,
Taught by the heav'nly Muse to venture down
The dark descent, and up to reascend, [ 20 ]
Though hard and rare: thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy sovran vital Lamp; but thou
Revisit'st not these eyes, that rowle in vain
To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
So thick a drop serene hath quencht thir Orbs, [ 25 ]
Or dim suffusion veild. Yet not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Cleer Spring, or shadie Grove, or Sunnie Hill,
Smit with the love of sacred Song; but chief
Thee Sion and the flowrie Brooks beneath [ 30 ]
That wash thy hallowd feet, and warbling flow,
Nightly I visit: nor somtimes forget
Those other two equal'd with me in Fate,
So were I equal'd with them in renown,
Blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides, [ 35 ]
And Tiresias and Phineus Prophets old.
Then feed on thoughts, that voluntarie move
Harmonious numbers; as the wakeful Bird
Sings darkling, and in shadiest Covert hid
Tunes her nocturnal Note. Thus with the Year [ 40 ]
Seasons return, but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of Ev'n or Morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or Summers Rose,
Or flocks, or heards, or human face divine;
But cloud in stead, and ever-during dark [ 45 ]
Surrounds me, from the chearful wayes of men
Cut off, and for the Book of knowledg fair
Presented with a Universal blanc
Of Nature's works to mee expung'd and ras'd,
And wisdome at one entrance quite shut out. [ 50 ]
So much the rather thou Celestial light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight. [ 55 ]

--John Milton

Monday, April 20, 2009


You think I'm going to out Neruda when I'm trying so hard to maintain my thin pseudonymity? People....

"I'm Over the Moon"

I don't like what the moon is supposed to do.
Confuse me, ovulate me,

spoon-feed me longing. A kind of ancient
date-rape drug. So I'll howl at you, moon,

I'm angry. I'll take back the night. Using me to
swoon at your questionable light,

you had me chasing you,
the world's worst lover, over and over

hoping for a mirror, a whisper, insight.
But you disappear for nights on end

with all my erotic mysteries
and my entire unconscious mind.

How long do I try to get water from a stone?
It's like having a bad boyfriend in a good band.

Better off alone. I'm going to write hard
and fast into you moon, face-fucking.

Something you wouldn't understand.
You with no swampy sexual

promise but what we glue onto you.
That's not real. You have no begging

cunt. No panties ripped off and the crotch
sucked. No lacerating spasms

sending electrical sparks through the toes.
Stars have those.

What do you have? You're a tool, moon.
Now, noon. There's a hero.

The obvious sun, no bulls hit, the enemy
of poets and lovers, sleepers and creatures.

But my lovers have never been able to read
my mind. I've had to learn to be direct.

It's hard to learn that, hard to do.
The sun is worth ten of you.

You don't hold a candle
to that complexity, that solid craze.

Like an animal carcass on the road at night,
picked at by crows,

haunting walkers and drivers. Your face
regularly sliced up by the moving

frames of car windows. Your light is drawn,
quartered, your dreams are stolen.

You change shape and turn away,
letting night solve all night's problems alone.

--Brenda Shaughnessy

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A poem by my boyfriend.

"The Will"

Before I sigh my last gasp, let me breathe,
Great Love, some legacies ; I here bequeath
Mine eyes to Argus, if mine eyes can see ;
If they be blind, then, Love, I give them thee ;
My tongue to Fame ; to ambassadors mine ears ;
To women, or the sea, my tears ;
Thou, Love, hast taught me heretofore
By making me serve her who had twenty more,
That I should give to none, but such as had too much before.

My constancy I to the planets give ;
My truth to them who at the court do live ;
My ingenuity and openness,
To Jesuits ; to buffoons my pensiveness ;
My silence to any, who abroad hath been ;
My money to a Capuchin :
Thou, Love, taught'st me, by appointing me
To love there, where no love received can be,
Only to give to such as have an incapacity.

My faith I give to Roman Catholics ;
All my good works unto the Schismatics
Of Amsterdam ; my best civility
And courtship to an University ;
My modesty I give to soldiers bare ;
My patience let gamesters share :
Thou, Love, taught'st me, by making me
Love her that holds my love disparity,
Only to give to those that count my gifts indignity.

I give my reputation to those
Which were my friends ; mine industry to foes ;
To schoolmen I bequeath my doubtfulness ;
My sickness to physicians, or excess ;
To nature all that I in rhyme have writ ;
And to my company my wit :
Thou, Love, by making me adore
Her, who begot this love in me before,
Taught'st me to make, as though I gave, when I do but restore.

To him for whom the passing-bell next tolls,
I give my physic books ; my written rolls
Of moral counsels I to Bedlam give ;
My brazen medals unto them which live
In want of bread ; to them which pass among
All foreigners, mine English tongue :
Though, Love, by making me love one
Who thinks her friendship a fit portion
For younger lovers, dost my gifts thus disproportion.

Therefore I'll give no more, but I'll undo
The world by dying, because love dies too.
Then all your beauties will be no more worth
Than gold in mines, where none doth draw it forth ;
And all your graces no more use shall have,
Than a sun-dial in a grave :
Thou, Love, taught'st me by making me
Love her who doth neglect both me and thee,
To invent, and practise this one way, to annihilate all three.

--John Donne

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Something blue.

"Bad News Blues"

When Bad News comes to town, hold on to your heart.
When Bad News comes to town, the troubles start.
He’s a hit, marked with a bullet, climbing the chart.

His smile swings open like a pocketknife.
He smiles like he could slice right through a life.
Nobody’s daughter is safe. Nobody’s wife.

He plays the odds. He needs just half a chance.
Sooner or later he’ll ask you to dance.
He gets his own way like an ambulance.

He’s got your number, and he dials direct.
He’s calling you long distance and collect.
You gasp—something is wrong, somebody’s wrecked.

He’s standing outside your door. It’s quarter to three.
You know he’s out there, and it’s quarter to three.
There is no knock. He’s got the skeleton key.

--A.E. Stallings

Friday, April 17, 2009

Something borrowed.

"Variations on a Text by Vallejo"

Me moriré en París con aguacero...

I will die in Miami in the sun,
On a day when the sun is very bright,
A day like the days I remember, a day like other days,
A day that nobody knows or remembers yet,
And the sun will be bright then on the dark glasses of strangers
And in the eyes of a few friends from my childhood
And of the surviving cousins by the graveside,
While the diggers, standing apart, in the still shade of the palms,
Rest on their shovels, and smoke,
Speaking in Spanish softly, out of respect.

I think it will be on a Sunday like today,
Except that the sun will be out, the rain will have stopped,
And the wind that today made all the little shrubs kneel down;
And I think it will be a Sunday because today,
When I took out this paper and began to write,
Never before had anything looked so blank,
My life, these words, the paper, the grey Sunday;
And my dog, quivering under a table because of the storm,
Looked up at me, not understanding,
And my son read on without speaking, and my wife slept.

Donald Justice is dead. One Sunday the sun came out,
It shone on the bay, it shone on the white buildings,
The cars moved down the street slowly as always, so many,
Some with their headlights on in spite of the sun,
And after a while the diggers with their shovels
Walked back to the graveside through the sunlight,
And one of them put his blade into the earth
To lift a few clods of dirt, the black marl of Miami,
And scattered the dirt, and spat,
Turning away abruptly, out of respect.

--Donald Justice

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Something new.


Not green as new weeds or crushed juniper,
but a toxic and unearthly green, meet
for inking angel-wings, made from copper sheets
treated with vapors of wine or vinegar,
left to oxidize for the calligrapher.
When it’s done, he’ll cover calf-skin with a fleet
of knotted beasts in caustic green that eats
the page and grieves the paleographer.
There’s copper in my brain, my heart of hearts;
in my blood, an essential mineral.
Too much is poison. Too much air imparts
sickness to the script—once begun, eternal,
its words forever grass in drought. Nor departs
my grief, green and corrosive as a gospel.

--Melissa Range

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Something old.

The Georgics 3.349-383
(Barbarians of the North)

It's different there, where Scythian tribes, where Lake Maeotis lies,
and tousled the Danube spins its golden sands,
where Rhodope bends stretching toward the central pole.
There penned in stalls they keep their herds, and no
green shows upon the steppe nor leaves in the trees,
but wide the earth slumps lumpen under mounds of snow
and mounts in deep ice seven cubits high.
Always winter, always the frosty wheezings of the northwind.
And the sun never dissipates the pale haze,
not when borne behind his steeds he steers for heaven's zenith, nor
when he splashes his breakneck chariot into Ocean's reddened scape.
Sudden ice crusts cluster upon the brisk beck
and soon the water hefts the iron-clad wheel on its back-
once ships, now bulky wagons welcoming.
Brass buckles everywhere, clothes freeze
upon the back, they chop with hatchets their liquid wine,
whole ponds into solid ice transform,
and the jagged icicle glazes upon the uncombed beard.
Meanwhile, no less, the sky entire is snowing:
the cattle perish, shrouded in frost
the bulls in their massive girth stock-still, and in a packed herd the deer
numb beneath the unaccustomed flurry and barely poke antler-tips out.
These the Scythians hunt not with hounds unleashed, nor any snares,
nor spooking with the red-feathered bogey,
but as they strive vainly to breast the mountain front
men butcher them with short-axes, hack them down
amid heavy bawlings, and with great whoops exultant bear them home.
The men themselves, in dug-out caves carefree and deep in earth
enjoy peace, rolling to the firepit whole elms,
heaped-up trunks, committing them to the blaze.
Here they spool out the night with play, and merry they pretend
cups of wine by barming sour service-berries.
Such is this race of men unbridled, Hyperborean, pitched
beneath the Bear's seven stars, buffeted by Rhipean easterlies,
their bodies bundled in the tawny pelts of beasts.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back to basics.

Insofar as anyone could ever dare to call this poem "basic."

Sonnet 55

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rime;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

--William Shakespeare

Monday, April 13, 2009

To make up for Berryman's long-windedness yesterday....

Mine by the right of the white election!
Mine by the royal seal!
Mine by the sign in the scarlet prison
Bars cannot conceal!

Mine, here in vision and in veto!
Mine, by the grave’s repeal
Titled, confirmed,—-delirious charter!
Mine, while the ages steal!

--Emily Dickinson

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A long one.

I know. I feel your beleaguered slouch. It's drawing on the end of the semester. But you don't have those giant stacks of papers to grade QUITE YET, or you've just returned from shaking your ass, or you're spending a meditative Easter night, enjoying the peace that is perfect in every way save for the lack of poetry. Whatever reason you can give yourself to justify a worthy expenditure of time, cling to it now. Tonight's poem is a long one, but (in my always humblish opinion) it's the poetic achievement of the 20th century. And possibly, of the 17th too.

It's John Berryman's "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet," and it's here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


"Hermit crab"

A drifter, or a permanent house-guest,
he scrabbles through the stones, and can even scale
the flaked palm-bark, towing along his latest
lodging, a cast-off periwinkle shell.
Isn’t he weighed down? Does his house not pinch?
The sea urchin, a distant relative,
must haul his spiny armor each slow inch
by tooth only — sometimes, it’s best to live
nowhere, and yet be anywhere at home.

That’s the riddle of his weird housekeeping
– does he remember how he wears each welcome
out in its turn, and turns himself out creeping
unbodied through the sand, grinding and rude,
and does he feel a kind of gratitude?

--Craig Arnold

Friday, April 10, 2009

A poem appropriate to the day

I was going to put up Donne's poem, but that seemed too obvious.


It is true: the thunderhead hoists its wet anvil aloft.
Swifts buckshot out before the downdraft.
The basin gasps, sage exhales, smelling of iron.

Westbound, the hightop two-lane wavers
under early-season heat, asphalt takes
the thinnest shine, first drops hiss.

My truck blows a white wake through roadside
weeds, radio snaps electrically. It is true.
But it is a horror. It is a viper fanged, this verb

that forward thrusts the moment eternal, nails
each thing to its present. Truer still
I should write the thunderhead converges, lifts, rides

the steep low, butts the front range, bunches like shoved
fabric, blisters, throws up lightning thirteen miles,
lets down rain in ribs, bubbles under the afternoon...

An endless poem of thunder. But who can dwell
with thunder? The moment’s span
would whelm the longest page, its magnitude

of too much weight for me. (The leader forks, drops,
attracts the charge from earthward, the molten air
expands, chills, slams shut, a riot of electrons...

But God, I love the verb. I verb impenitent,
luxuriant, altaring up truth for immortality, for
the pleasure of unlikeness, the prick

of unlikeness! O happy deformation,
spunky verb, I embrace you in my
degradation, my shoddy embodiment

making thunder endless: impossible: sublime.

--Kimberly Johnson

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I hate faculty meetings.

I fear I offended a colleague tonight--or, at least hir response LOOKED a lot like offense: rolled eyes, sharp snort of breath, pen thrown down on the table. I made a comment that I think could have been construed as dismissive, though it wasn't intended that way....I was merely trying to draw a distinction using hir own words, spoken years ago, to define one of the terms. I'd rather not think about this all night. My kids are visiting their grandparents on the opposite side of the country, Neruda is in his own faraway place, and the ass-end of the semester is crashing down. I have a slight cold and couldn't go see my prematurely newborn first nephew this week while the boys are gone, and haven't slept well for weeks. Too much traveling, too many commitments, no time to act on the intellectual momentum that came out of that scholarship workshop of a couple of weeks ago. (More on that later.) As writers, maybe we should remember that language is too unstable for us to let it give us much offense.

"Our Despised and Unhistoric West"

Taxidermy could make an animal less desirable than right before the bullet, but wanting is like that, reflective fruit. For instance, if you arrive at the Occidental Hotel without baggage, you must pay first. Where else is lack worth ponying up for, and does that place have such heaviness to its curtains? Above the sticky radio, in the dust the ceiling fan threshes, a calligraphic constellation: Oh Oh Oh. Miss Petticoats, her lace as fine as lead in a decanter, pines on the fainting couch that velvetly begets the posture and sound of pining, each carnivorous syllable as small as a chapel in a town near a town named Buffalo. So much ardor in this interior, and though the hotel hallways may be narrow and dark, they are nothing if not long.

--Cecily Parks

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In honor of Squatratomagico,

who gave me occasion to remember this poem.


The night is quiet
as a kettle drum
the bullfrog basses
tuning up. After
swimming, after sup-
per, a Tarzan movie,
dishes, a smoke. One
planet and I
wish. No need
of words. Just
you, or rather,
us. The stars tonight
in pale dark space
are clover flowers
in a lawn the expanding
universe in which
we love it is
our home. So many
galaxies and you my
bright particular,
my star, my sun, my
other self, my bet-
ter half, my one.

--James Schuyler

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Today's poem.

Because you KNOW how I dig the Renaissance references. Plus, the cadavers.

"The Flayed Man"
after Juan de Valverde’s 1560 anatomy text, Anatomia del corpo umano

He has flayed himself for our inspection, pressed
his knife through the dermis of his large right toe,
run its tip along the base of his foot, splitting left
from right, up the back of his calf and thigh, carefully,
the way a woman runs the seam of her stockings
up the midline of each leg, and slipped his muscled
and gelatinous body from its casing. As one slices
the skin from an apple in a long spiraling similitude,
he has kept, where possible, his ghostly likeness
intact. In one hand he holds it out to us, a testament
to what he’s done, and in the other he holds
the knife. Martyr for science, he stands, each muscle
overdeveloped, numbered for the anatomist’s study
as if it were possible to slit this human casing, slip
from one’s integument and go on living
in the delicate inner flesh. What then is beauty
when the skin has been shucked? A marbling of muscle
and fat, the patterning of veins and arteries, tenderness
of disease? Complicit, a participant in his own dissection,
the Flayed Man brandishes his life: without regard
for his soul, he offers this oblation, his own decorticated
corpus, to Medicine and Anatomy. For over a thousand
years, for fear that to dissect the body impedes
the soul’s chrysalis, its incorporeal unfurling, the study
of anatomy had virtually stopped, but now
the Flayed Man, his jaunty disregard, his terrible
theatrical privation, the outstretched offering
of his own skin as if to say, all this, I have done for you.

--Nadine Sabra Meyer

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gardening day

Thing 2 and I are spending this glorious sunny spring day digging up dirt, and putting down seeds. All the dead stuff from last year coming up (wanwood leafmeal) to air, fertilizing the new stuff. Which, naturally, made me think of today's poem.

"Spring and Fall"

to a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Today's poem

"Death by My Son"

Dominic and I are playing
with a bow and arrow in the backyard.

It's not a regular-sized bow,
but it's big enough. The sticker says

Not for children under 12 years of age.
I have ignored signs like this before.

He is doing well, considering
his initial frustration,

fingering the arrow to stay on the guide
while he pulls the string back.

We shoot to hell a cardboard box
on which I have drawn a picture of a kitty

using his street chalk (nothing against cats,
it's just that I can't really draw anything else.)

I show how you can shoot
way up into the air.

He is impressed, wants to do it.
But I grow bored

chasing his arrows,
find myself moving

firewood. He shoots one way up high,
says Look, Dad. I've lost sight of it.

It's going to land on his head.
I yell at him, Run!

But he's not listening to me.
I run toward him. The arrow finds

my crown, my skull.
I am dying slowly,

dizzily walking toward the house,
slurring, Get Mommy.

He asks if I'm okay-—I am, I manage.
So he gets another arrow, aims at my heart, shoots.

--Frank Giampietro

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Poetry month day 4

"Ash Grove of Ash"

Shriver, shadow, shade for good and ill,
you bend divulging branches. You stand clear
with narrow waist, clean-shirted. You nod, hearing.
You shelter me, too. You gather crossed blond quills
of saplings into fists, binding their violent
crouch and spring. You bathe taut knots, embalmer.
Now cool prevails on your pale green leaves, and calm
steeps your roots, quenching their crooked silence.
I see you are not mine, but reservoir
beneath the grove, distiller of rot, bog, bracken,
broken trees, the clear-cut past, its dying
brush that scudded like cut hair at your drying
channels, your wandering arms — come back, come back,
my root voice creaks of thirst, like a long shut door.

--Julie Sheehan

Friday, April 3, 2009

Conference blogging, abbreviated version

Delivered Herbert paper, which I'd finished during the 25-minute flight from Detour City to Conference City. It turned out to pursue a completely different--some might say "opposite"--argument to the abstract featured in the program. It's still pretty loose, but I think I delivered with aforementioned verve, and projected if I were completely confident in its points. Plus, I wore these (which I only mention because LisaB. asked).

And in honor of the paper and the text of its primary interest, I give you today's poem:

"The Agonie"

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.

Who would know Sinne, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruell food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquour sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.

--George Herbert

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April Fool!

See how nutty a fool I am? I'm celebrating April 1 a day late (or so, depending on your time zone)! My plan was to post a poem a day during April, since folks seemed to dig that last year, but I'm traveling right now and my location last night had no internet connection. Tonight, I planned to do a little conference-blogging, but between my appearance in the middle of the country last night and my destination at this conference, there was some airplane trouble, and I'm being put up at a hotel in an unanticipated destination. April Fools' on me, yes?

Updates: in case you're wondering, I did write the Herbert paper for tomorrow's presentation on the plane tonight. I have one sentence left. I hope to write it on my replacement flight early tomorrow morning. It feels to me like it's stuck together with gum and hope, but I can deliver it with verve and that may look like authority. That's my big plan, anyway.

Two poems, then, today, to make up for the one I missed last night. Last year on the way to RSA at around this time, I read this first poem, and it colluded with my rough patch of life right then, and I started sobbing uncontrollably on the airplane, trying to smash my face into the window so that no one would notice. My seatmates didn't ask for a recitation. (FYI: The speaker is God.)



My great happiness
is the sound your voice makes
calling to me even in despair; my sorrow
that I cannot answer you
in speech you accept as mine.

You have no faith in your own language.
So you invest
authority in signs
you cannot read with any accuracy.

And yet your voice reaches me always.
And I answer constantly,
my anger passing
as winter passes. My tenderness
should be apparent to you
in the breeze of summer evening
and in the words that become
your own response.

--Louise Gluck

And here's yesterday's poem--just to be clear which one I consider to be "first."

"Feast of the Ascension, 2004. Planting Hibiscus"

From being to being an idea, nothing comes through that intact.
Look at the garden: dew-swooned and with fat blooms swollen,
With shade leaf-laced beneath the lemon trees —

It is hard to believe beauty is the new ugliness.
But it must be, why else would so many of my contemporaries mock it so?

I guess it is true what they say —
That once a man falls he never again puts faith in the ground
On which he walks.

Putting faith in the ground — , is that what I am doing?
Is that what these blooms have been trying to tell me?
Is that what all their swooning
Has been about?

The shade grows long. The shade grows long
Upon the lawns and the fat green leaves of these lemon trees
Are still in the early evening.

I could be buried here. That is,
I am — . I am buried.

--Jay Hopler