Monthly Archives: April 2014

April 28, 2014


It’s national poetry month, and we’re running out of month! I regret not taking a moment to celebrate our month sooner. We’ve been down this road before, with our TS Eliots and our Geoffrey Chaucers and our nature poetry and our Edmund Spensers and our Pieces of April. But as I browsed poems via a word search today, I read all — or, too be fair, parts of all — these nature poems that really didn’t speak to me. You know the ones: a litany of flora and fauna blooming before the poet’s eyes, all described in either microscopic detail or with their scientific names. Blech, blecchh, and double-bleccchhh. Give me skyscrapers, cell phones, and dog poop. Wait, there is such a poem? God bless you, Alicia Ostriker (b. 1937), and dog bless your recent spring poem that touched my spiny, pessimistic heart. I also want to say that while her poem employs the pathetic fallacy, I like her pathetic fallacy way more than I like any other nature poem’s pathetic fallacy.
Somehow I know we’ve read work by this poet before, but I can’t seem to find her in the archives. She’s a New Yorker who decided to go to college in Boston, and grad school in Madison, WI. The awards and teaching posts are almost too numerous to mention, but she’s now retired from her professorship at Rutgers. As to the form of today’s poem, you may be elucidated by her own thoughts on coming to free verse: “All poets have their chosen ancestors and affinities. As an American poet I see myself in the line of Whitman, Williams, and Ginsberg, those great enablers of the inclusive democratic impulse, the corollary of which is formal openness. As a student I wrote in traditional closed forms, as did they—before they discovered the joy and meaning of open forms. To write in open forms is to improvise.” Enjoy April, for now. -ed.
The optimists among us
taking heart because it is spring
skip along
attending their meetings
signing their e-mail petitions
marching with their satiric signs
singing their we shall overcome songs
posting their pungent twitters and blogs
believing in a better world
for no good reason
I envy them
said the old woman

The seasons go round they
go round and around
said the tulip
dancing among her friends
in their brown bed in the sun
in the April breeze
under a maple canopy
that was also dancing
only with greater motions
casting greater shadows
and the grass
hardly stirring

What a concerto
of good stinks said the dog
trotting along Riverside Drive
in the early spring afternoon
sniffing this way and that
how gratifying the cellos of the river
the tubas of the traffic
the trombones
of the leafing elms with the legato
of my rivals’ piss at their feet
and the leftover meat and grease
singing along in all the wastebaskets

April 21, 2014 (Patriots Day)


I’m anxious to see who won the Boston marathon in about an hour or so here. I stumbled on today’s piece, which is an essay, rather haphazardly–The Huffington Post had a short article featuring 5 poets discussing their choice for most beautiful word in the English language. I’d never heard of a single one of the poets! But I was most drawn to the answer of Idra Novey, a faculty member at Princeton and respected translator, who chose “ever,” in part because it can mean once, it can mean always, it can speak to a shared history, and it’s often emphatic and emotional. “It’s a reason for writing poetry.” So I looked to Ms. Novey’s bio, but I couldn’t find much, not even a birth date (her publishing history would peg her as youngish). As I browsed, though, I found this short essay,
which can serve as our own commemoration of last year’s tragedy at the Boston marathon. It’s not much longer than some of the poems we run, so I encourage you to take a look. There’s a certain naivete to the first paragraph, which strikes me as even more intense just one year out from its writing.
 … and just for fun I’ll print below the poem and translation credits of the piece she uses as her springboard. -ed.
Any CaseIt could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Closer. Farther away.
It happened, but not to you.

You survived because you were first.
You survived because you were last.
Because alone. Because the others.
Because on the left. Because on the right.
Because it was raining. Because it was sunny.
Because a shadow fell.

Luckily there was a forest.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A frame, a turn, an inch, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the water.

Thanks to, thus, in spite of, and yet.
What would have happened if a hand, a leg,
One step, a hair away?

So you are here? Straight from that moment still suspended?
The net’s mesh was tight, but you? through the mesh?
I can’t stop wondering at it, can’t be silent enough.
How quickly your heart is beating in me.

[ Translated from the Polish by Grazyna Drabik and Sharon Olds ]

April 7, 2014


When I met a guy this weekend who actually owns a Ducati motorcycle, I knew it was time for more Frederick Seidel on Monday’s Verse. Seidel (b. 1936) is that well-educated New Yorker (by way of St. Louis) who writes about sex, wine, women, motorcycles, and sex. Here’s a pretty, rhymed lyric about none of those things. I think buried inside the is a fleeting thought about about working a limestone quarry on Robben Island for 27 years did to Nelson Mandela’s eyesight. -ed.
So the sun is shining blindingly but I can sort of see.
It’s like looking at Mandela’s moral beauty.
The dying leaves are sizzling on the trees
In a shirtsleeves summer breeze.

But daylight saving is over.
And gaveling the courtroom to order with a four-leaf clover
Is over. And it’s altogether November.
And the Pellegrino bubbles rise to the surface and dismember.