Monthly Archives: February 2008

Monday’s Verse 2-25-08

Literati,

Billy Collins has been called many things. Easy. Pretty. Playful. Glib. Sensitive. Funny but cloying. But you know my first wife was called all those things, too, and we got on pretty well. So I give the former Poet Laureate the benefit of the doubt. And it should be said–I’ve taught the man, and seen the man talk, and he speaks well to beginning poetry students. Not an insignificant thing.

Recently though I came across this new one that struck me as one of his most accomplished pieces. Collins is perfect for our forum because he does lyric poetry and very little else. He tends to talk about the real world but not in that nature poet kind of way. He eschews big moments, big technique, and big words. There’s a lot of “peace” in his poems, providing for many people what they actually seek from poetry. And every once in a while there’s a koan-esque element to a poem that provides a neat wrapping for his theme, without robbing it of its mystery. Never has he accomplished that feat as gracefully as he does here, I submit. Underneath all this IS a big idea about history and time, and Collins craftily does use traditional techniques to push his ideas forward. Examples? -ed.

THE FUTURE

When I finally arrive there—
and it will take many days and nights—
I would like to believe others will be waiting
and might even want to know how it was.

So I will reminisce about a particular sky
or a woman in a white bathrobe
or the time I visited a narrow strait
where a famous naval battle had taken place.

Then I will spread out on a table
a large map of my world
and explain to the people of the future
in their pale garments what it was like—

how mountains rose between the valleys
and this was called geography,
how boats loaded with cargo plied the rivers
and this was known as commerce,

how the people from this pink area
crossed over into this light-green area
and set fires and killed whoever they found
and this was called history—

and they will listen, mild-eyed and silent,
as more of them arrive to join the circle
like ripples moving toward,
not away from, a stone tossed into a pond.

-2008

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Monday’s Verse 2-18-08

Dear readers,

 

OK some people felt kicked in the heart last week by Ms. Wakoski, but then some felt their hearts kick-started. In any case, today we’re getting in the way-back machine and reading some traditional love poetry. Real traditional. 

 

Because I am a nerd, I came across an article on the semicolon in a current subway placard and was utterly fascinated. The lifelong civil servant who wrote the compound sentence–like me a literary M.A. and dilettante–is getting mad props for throwing down such august punctuation in an informational spot for train schedules. Now we all know that the semicolon’s chief use is to connect two independent clauses that have no conjunction between them; in poetry there are additional purposes such as rhythm and emphatic end-rhyme. Apparently Ben Jonson was an early popularizer of this elegant device in the English language. So I ask you, what’s he doing with it here? Two additional notes: this poem is old as heck, so reading 2 or 3 times just for meaning may be necessary. But it’s short, and sweet. Also, I’ve appended a brief bio of the man since we haven’t studied him much in this forum.

 

Happy president’s day and second half of the worst month ever,

 

-ed.

 

PS: “The Alchemist” is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on stage.

 

 

BENJAMIN JONSON: (born June 11?, 1572, London, Eng. — died Aug. 6, 1637, London) British playwright, poet, and critic. After learning stagecraft as a strolling player, he wrote plays for Philip Henslowe‘s theatres. In 1598 his comedy Every Man in His Humour established his reputation. He wrote several masques for the court of James I and created the “antimasque” to precede the masque proper. His classic plays Volpone (1605 – 06), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614) use satire to expose the follies and vices of his age, attacking greed, charlatanism, and religious hypocrisy as well as mocking the fools who fall victim to them. Regarded as the era’s leading dramatist after William Shakespeare, Jonson influenced later playwrights, notably in the dramatic characterization of Restoration comedies. He was also a lyric poet whose works include two famous elegies for his son and daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

HIS EXCUSE FOR LOVING

 

 

 

Let it not your wonder move, 

Less your laughter, that I love.

Though I now write fifty years,

I have had, and have, my peers.

Poets, though divine, are men;

Some have loved as old again.

And it is not always face, 

Clothes, or fortune gives the grace,

Or the feature, or the youth;

But the language and the truth, 

With the ardor and the passion, 

Gives the lover weight and fashion.

If you then would hear the story,

First, prepare you to be sorry 

That you never knew till now

Either whom to love or how;

But be glad as soon with me

When you hear that this is she

Of whose beauty it was sung,

She shall make the old man young,

Keep the middle age at stay,

And let nothing hide decay,

Till she be the reason why

All the world for love may die.



Monday’s Verse 2-11-08

Greetings, earthlings.


Diane Wakoski. Who is she? All I know is that, like my dad, she was born in 1937. And like my dad, has had a terrific impact on my life. But unlike my dad, solely through my experience with a singe poem of hers, a poem we’ve been running to celebrate Valentine’s Day in this forum since at least 2001, a poem I’ve called among the best I’ve ever read. It’s a Monday morning and this shit is heavy, so sit back, finish your sudoku, get that 2nd cup of coffee and a handful of Kleenex, and let’s go to town. In years past I’ve said a thing or two about how/why this poem works on me (and recommended reading it aloud), but for now I think I’ll demur and let the tyros have their hearts broken alla prima, and perhaps let the veterans say their piece. Peace? Happy Valentine’s Day. ~mjl






BLUE MONDAY



Blue and the heaps of beads poured into her breasts
and clacking together in her elbows;
blue of the silk
that covers lily-town at night;
blue of her teeth
that bite cold toast
and shatter on the streets;
blue of the dyed flower petals with gold stamens
hanging like tongues
over the fence of her dress
at the opera/opals clasped under her lips
and the moon breaking over her head a
gush of blood-red lizards.

Blue Monday. Monday at 3:00 and
Monday at 5. Monday at 7:30 and
Monday at 10:00. Monday passed under the rippling
California fountain. Monday alone
a shark in the cold blue waters.

                You are dead: wound round like a paisley shawl.
                I cannot shake you out of the sheets. Your name
                is still wedged in every corner of the sofa.

                Monday is the first of the week,
                and I think of you all week.
                I beg Monday not to come
                so that I will not think of you
                all week.

You paint my body blue. On the balcony
in the soft muddy night, you paint me
with bat wings and the crystal
the crystal
the crystal
the crystal in your arm cuts away
the night, folds back ebony whale skin
and my face, the blue of new rifles,
and my neck, the blue of Egypt,
and my breasts, the blue of sand,
and my arms, bass-blue,
and my stomach, arsenic;

there is electricity dripping from me like cream;
there is love dripping from me I cannot use--like acacia or
jacaranda--fallen blue and gold flowers, crushed into the street.

                Love passed me in a business suit
                and fedora.
                His glass cane, hollow and filled with
                sharks and whales. . .
                He wore black
                patent leather shoes
                and had a mustache. His hair was so black
                it was almost blue.

                "Love," I said.
                "I beg your pardon," he said.
                "Mr. Love," I said.
                "I beg your pardon," he said.

                So I saw there was no use bothering him on the street.

                Love passed me on the street in a blue
                business suit. He was a banker
                I could tell.

So blue trains rush by in my sleep.
Blue herons fly overhead.
Blue paints cracks in my
arteries and sends titanium
floating into my bones.
Blue liquid pours down
my poisoned throat and blue veins
rip open my breast. Blue daggers tip
and are juggled on my palms.
Blue death lives in my fingernails.

If I could sing one last song
with water bubbling through my lips
I would sing with my throat torn open,
the blue jugular spouting that black shadow pulse,
and on my lips
I would balance volcanic rock
emptied out of my veins. At last
my children strained out
of my body. At last my blood
solidified and tumbling into the ocean.
It is blue.
It is blue.
It is blue.

-1968

Monday’s Verse 2-4-08

Well my hat’s off to the New York Giant. Seriously, there hasn’t been as exciting a super bowl since Patriots-Rams, right? I tried to find something good to commemorate, and of course could not. What I did discover is that Hunter college, instead of watching the super bowl, hosted a poetry marathon featuring a bunch of local latino poets. Fish Vargas is one such poet. He’s kind of a slam guy, which means that this piece will probably lose something on the page. Here’s a video link:



I didn’t watch it yet, so don’t give me a hard time. Anyway, Fish was born in the Bronx, teaches middle school creative arts, and runs poetry workshops on Riker’s Island. The subject here makes up for the fact that we didn’t celebrate MLK in any meaningful way a couple Monday’s ago. Spoiler alert: enjambment everywhere. -ed.






The L.I.F.E Foundation of Emmett Till


(1)

about to teach in a circle, talk from the middle
young minds molded by yesterdays hate
waiting for tomorrows let down, They reluctantly oblige
Three days before we celebrate Kings legacy,

I question my students, Who is Emmett Till ?
Thirty three students and only one hand raises,
The enthusiastic answer, Till was killed for whistling
at a white women down south. Kanye West talked
about it in his song.

(II)

the voice in the middle speaks, become Emmett,
his age, life in front of you, segregated or otherwise
it is still your life, in your bed, your room, the back door
to your home is smashed under the cover of darkness
you are snatched.
 giggles stop. eyes close tighter

You were out in your town with friends. a compliment
in the form of a whistle was to blame. one, two, twelve men;
it doesn’t matter. they dragged you to the riverbank
beat you with sticks, kicked your face, what did you hear?
Your bones crushing beneath your skin? who did you see?
Ignorance fed violence,
 no laughter, my students become
Emmett’s neck wrapped in barbed wire. he wasn’t dead

thrown in the river. the bullet entering his face, didn’t kill him.
he lives today. an open casket and a face untouched. He is
your Diallo, your Bumpers and every facet of prejudice you face.
Your 86 lynchings called Suicide. James byrd was Emmett Till.
He was the 1981 Atlanta child murders. The rifle that killed
Medgar Evers. The reason you are here where you can write,
you can learn. Tell me who was Emmett Till?

Silence broken, like tills screams by the Tallahatchie river, breaking bones grinding
gurgling blood, snapping skin
Voices shoot across the room, He should be the reason
why we fight. That’s not right. I hope they caught them
and the killers get the same.
 I stop the class. The killers
were caught, aquitted by a jury 3 times.

I bet you they were all white,
this young man has fire on his back. anger,
a dark history running down his spine
Like an adamant sermon I scream at the top of my lungs, Who
was Emmett Till?
 The students, our future, the ones priority
doesn’t embrace, Emmett Till was my man Buggy who got lit,
Emmett Till was LaKeisha who got raped by her ex boyfriend,
Emmett Till are the metal detectors in our school, Emmett
Till was the black guy that was killed running from the white guys
in Bensonhurst, . Yusef Hawkins
 I say .

and from behind me, Emmett Till could have been
Martin Luther King.
 I am met by a face stretched with sadness,
eyes lost, he cries for a person he never met. I whisper,
Correct. we all fought the same fight and we will fight
for everything just, write it down.
Who was Emmett Till ?