Monthly Archives: February 2010

Monday’s Verse, Feb. 22, 2010

Remember that SNL digital short Lazy Monday? That was so funny. And it’s today–I’m printing two LINKS, for crissakes, not even bothering with my usual cut-and-paste job. And y’all realize that I don’t even write my own intros, right? I have a team of trained dolphins pull eras, literary terms, and pop culture references out of a jar, just like the writers of “The Family Guy.”

Anywho, intrepid member Jonelle Lonergan of Somerbridge, MA, is once again running the Boston marathon (her 5th). Running the Boston marathon means training in the dead of winter, running through slush and snow for almost all of one’s training miles, and, since New England averages 4.5 hours of daylight during the winter, often running in the dark. Let me be very clear that MV does not condone or encourage this kind of activity. But, we do support charity, and Jonelle is raising money for the Dana Farber “run for the cure” team with her efforts. This is a cancer research fund. If you’d like to donate, please visit her blog. If you can’t donate, take a second to enjoy her unique blend of disillusionment and deadpan:

Second, a couple weeks ago long-time reader Adam Sleper of Chicago, IL, sent me a link to the following poetry column in Slate by Robert Pinsky, dedicated to love poems–but love poems that implicitly or explicitly acknowledge that love is “often messy, difficult, contorted, disturbing, and out of control.” If you want to get your poetry fix today, do read the column (about 3 web pages) and the lyric poems that accompany it. Pinsky has a wonderful way of talking about poetry for folks like us–for sympathetic non-experts. He’s an accomplished poet, critic, and translator himself, and I miss the frequent readings of his own and others’ work on NPR and PBS of his poet laureate days. For those for whom an annual reading of “Blue Monday” does not suffice, then:

Enjoy your week,

Monday’s Verse, Feb. 15, 2010

Welcome to Monday’s Verse’s annual Valentine’s Day edition, when we celebrate the work of Diane Wakoski, b. 8/3/37. Ms. Wakoski teaches creative writing at Michigan State; she has published numerous volumes of poetry, and one collection of critical essays. Her early work was considered to be part of the short-lived “deep image” school of American poetry, where image and symbol interact in an often stylized and dramatic way. Resonances within the poem itself tend to produce a “sense” of what the poem is doing, as opposed to meaning that stems from narrative, rhyme, or emotional appeal. That seems to be particularly the case in “Blue Monday,” one of the best poems I’ve ever read, in its skillful use of repetition.

Critics have written of Ms. Wakoski’s use of archetype, fantastic images, personae, and a deeply personal mythology, and I think those elements are here, too. Nebulous terrors take the form of sharks swimming in an unlikely place. Love is a banker. Dreamy images of blue trains and blue herons conjure mystery, even as they are among the most sensible of her images. More importantly, here’s what MV readers have had to say about the poem:

“well this makes me want to throw myself into oncoming traffic on valentine’s day…this one is deep.”

“mrs. wakoski rolls repetition down the page in a way that pulls you down with it.  this is nicer left on paper, i think.  it would depend who was reading it for me to so willingly trail after their voice as i do her lines.  i was always taught not to follow strangers, especially ones bearing candy or poetry.  shady folks, so i’m told.”

“Absolutely beautiful. I especially like:

blue of her teeth
that bite cold toast
and shatter on the streets

“That is depressing. This is the first time I’ve read this one. Does the poem change point of view after the first block, or is the narrator talking about different people?”

“I love this poem! The imagery is so poignant. Depressing? I guess so but so true of Mondays when one is fixated on finding love. When we want love it does seem cold and distant–alienating.”

Without further ado, happy Monday. -ed.


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.


Monday’s Verse, Feb. 8 or 9, 2010


I was buried under 21 inches of snow for yesterday and could not reach my computer. I kept reciting Stevens’s “The Snow Man” at the top of my lungs, but no one could hear me. Later, in the evening, I stopped by some woods.

Anyway, that’s why the tardiness. Up this week is an English poet named Glyn Maxwell, who is almost Muldoonian in his work–he can write explosively formal poems, has a good vocabulary, has at least a dash of wit, and also writes criticism and screenplays and long-form verse and opera libretti and all that kind of jazz. A poetic polymath, in other words–super annoying. He has published several volumes of poetry, and did a graduate degree at Boston U. and taught at Amherst for a while. It may have taken him a few months to land the teaching gig, perhaps the inspiration for this selection. Can anyone else out there relate to this??? And by the way, one would probably have to go back as far as Longfellow to find a poem in which the word “Massachusetts” appears 6 times, right?

Stay warm,



I died and I tried haunting Massachusetts.
Had I died inexplicably, bizarrely?
I begged their pardon: No. Had I not lived
in a Gothic homestead, never trod the stairs
of turrets? I tried haunting Massachusetts.

I died and I applied in my best suit.
Ahem, they didn’t even cough. They made
that sound: ahem. Did I not have a costume?
Was my love doomed, was she a chambermaid,
an heiress? I roamed all of Massachusetts

in search of work. Was I accused unjustly
in a witch-trial? Or justly? They sat forward,
interested. Er, no. Car-accident.
They sat back. But I died in Massachusetts.
They nodded, they could see my application.

And in what areas of Massachusetts
would I be sighted if I did indeed
return? I reeled off various dear suburbs,
a seafood restaurant, a Barnes and Noble;
Fenway. In that suit? Somebody sniggered.

I died and I do not haunt Massachusetts.
You haven’t seen me. I was ushered out
politely. I was told of openings
in Illinois. I headed for South Station,
not a care in the world. Nobody stopped me.

Monday’s Verse, the cruellest month, 2010

Welcome to February, the cruellest month.

The title of this installment is AT A LOSS.

Why? Because I considered what Leah and Scott and others had to say, read a couple dictionaries, hunted around for poems, and then J.D. SALINGER UP AND DIES. My speakers have, in short, been blown on 9 billion irony ohms–and I still can’t get the input jack disconnected.

But I’ll say this: irony is broad, and I think it’s broad enough to encompass most meanings raised here. The common anti-Alanis argument goes something like this: That’s not ironic, that just sucks (valid); or, That’s not ironic, that’s just unexpected (slightly less valid). Why is the latter statement slightly less valid? Because I tend to agree with Scott that, “Whenever the reality is the opposite of what you reasonably expect… I think that’s a simple definition that works enough of the time without getting too pedantic.” Also note that Scott sounds like a gross lawyer with the phrase “reasonably expect,” WTF.

Yeah yeah yeah, that is not irony strictly defined, nor is it literary irony. But literary irony itself has so many subgroups–bathos, sarcasm, dramatic irony, romantic irony, formal irony, dialectical irony (aka “Socratic”), catachresis, situational irony, meiosis/litotes, parody, sarcasm–that to say it’s a certain technique with a certain definition seems to smack of, as Scott says, pedantry. And we’d never want to do that. And I feel like Leah is right on, too: irony can be thought of as merely the gap between what is said and what actually happens (reading/speech), or between what one expects to happen, and actually happens (events). These are both workable ways to think about irony in real life, as opposed to irony in written work. In written work, while I’d still want a broad definition, I tend to think of irony more as a sense of distance–some distance between what is actually said and what is really meant. This can happen–as the above list suggests–on any number of levels (though sarcasm is usually the clearest example). But the literary definition is never gonna hold up in real life, I suppose because there’s less at stake on the level of WORDS, and when the unexpected happens, or the expected happens in an unexpected way, that seems like a good enough translation of the literary concept to qualify as irony. Do I also feel good when I notice that the translation is not precise? Yes.

The only thing that really bugs me is when coincidence is confused for irony. A coincidence is a coincidence–and proves only itself. Now let’s read some poetry.

Put yourself in the wayback machine and consider the following 3 stanzas by John Donne (1573-1631), which make up a pretty typical 17th-century poem about trying to get laid. How many instances of irony can you find? Is there a finer sub-group of irony that you might apply? Would you call Donne’s use of irony a technique, or more of a mood/approach? Most importantly, does considering irony add to your reading of the poem? Feel free to incorporate Salinger in your responses… -ed.


Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deny’st me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than we would do.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met,
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that, self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st and say’st that thou
Find’st not thyself, nor me the weaker now;
‘Tis true, then learn how false fears be:
Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.