Monthly Archives: August 2015

Monday’s Verse 8/31/2015

Dear readers,

I really loved this short essay by the Chinese artist AI Wei Wei, which I found while seeking inspiration today. Did not know that he came from an artistic family: that his father was an accomplished poet who first studied in France, then began writing, then accepted Mao’s teachings and joined the party, then was determined an enemy by the party for publishing government criticism in the 1950s, then was sentenced to labor in a desert state for his crimes, and forbidden to write, then returned from exile and resumed writing, all before his death at the very old age of 86. His life seems like one of those where you consider the end and the start, and almost marvel that a single person could have witnessed (and in this case been an intimate part of) all the tumultuous events in between..

Today’s poem by Ai Qing (1910-1996) falls, I think, into the general category of "aubade," a hymn of praise to the dawn. I’m guessing that that’s a type that goes back to the classical poets, but I am certainly willing to be corrected or confirmed. Here, though, Ai switches the address: Rather than the poet saluting the dawn, the speaker in this poem is the dawn, heralding the poet to his duty.

Ai Wei Wei mentions in his essay that he read Whitman at an early age, thanks to his dad. Do you hear that egalitarian, universalizing spirit in these lines? -ed

PS: Since I found this on some random, unauthorized website, I do not have access to the Chinese original, nor to the translator’s identity. Apologies for the lack!

THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DAWN

For my sake,
Poet, arise.

And please tell them
That what they wait for is coming.

Tell them I have come, treading the dew,
Guided by the light of the last star.

I come out of the east,
From the sea of billowing waves.

I shall bring light to the world,
Carry warmth to humankind.

Poet, through the lips of a good man,
Please bring them the message.

Tell those whose eyes smart with longing,
Those distant cities and villages steeped in sorrow.

Let them welcome me,
The harbinger of day, messenger of light.

Open every window to welcome me,
Open all the gates to welcome me.

Please blow every whistle in welcome,
Sound every trumpet in welcome.

Let street-cleaners sweep the streets clean,
Let trucks come to remove the garbage,

Let the workers walk on the streets with big strides,
Let the trams pass the squares in splendid procession.

Let the villages wake up in the damp mist,
And open their gates to welcome me,

Let village women release their chicks from the coops,
Let the peasants bring out their cattle from the sheds.

Poet, announce to them through your passionate lips,
That I am coming from beyond the woods and mountains.

Let them sweep clean their threshing floors
And those always-dirty courtyards,

Let them open those windows pasted with coloured paper,
Let them open those doors pasted with spring couplets.

Please wake up those industrious women,
And those snoring men,

Let young lovers get up too,
And young girls fond of sleeping.

Wake up those mothers who are tired,
And the babies sleeping beside them.

Please wake up every one,
Even the invalid and the pregnant,

Even the infirm with age,
Those groaning in their beds,

Even those wounded in the just war,
And refugees from homes burnt by the enemy.

Please awaken all the miserable people,
I shall give them all comfort.

Please awaken all those who love life.
Workers, engineers and artists.

Let singers come singing to welcome me
With voices savouring of the grass and dew,

Let dancers come dancing to welcome me
Clad in the white mist of the morning.

Let all those who are healthy and beautiful awake,
Tell them that I am coming to knock on their windows.

You, poet, who are loyal to time,
Please bring humanity the news of comfort.

Let all people prepare to welcome me,
I shall come when the cock crows for the last time.

Let them look at the horizon with reverent eyes,
I shall give all those awaiting me the kindest light.

Poet, as night is nearly over, please tell them
That what they have been waiting for is coming.

1942 (first published 1979)

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Monday’s Verse 8/24/2015

Good morning, readers.

I have been meaning to remind everybody that you can follow Monday’s Verse on Twitter, @MondaysVerse. The weekly selections are also published simultaneously on our blog, mv37.wordpress.com. You can join wordpress and publish any responses there on the blog if you prefer. Tell your friends!

Today I’m sharing the 2nd poem that came from February 2, 2015’s New Yorker, accompanying Natalie Wise’s piece from last week. James Richardson (b. 1950) has degrees from Princeton and the University of Virginia, and has taught at a handful of equally prestigious schools. Publisher’s Weekly says that his poems manage to "view the world from intimately personal and omniscient vantage points at the same time." I would say that bifocal power is on display in today’s selection. He has a wealth of material to draw from, hence the anagram of his name, "James: so darn rich." Read this one straight through; the ending is very effective. -ed.

ESSAY ON CLOUDS

Maybe a whale,
as Hamlet mused, or a camel or weasel,
more likely a hill,

or many hills (with clouds,
as with us, true singletons are rare).
Mostly we compare them

to silent things, sensing
that thunder is something else
that gets into thema stone, a god

and, as for what they want to say, aeromancy,
which presumed to interpret,
never caught on. After all,

clouds weren’t reliable predictors
even of rain, and if they had a message
for us, we guessed,

it would hardly be practical:
clouds are not about
about, showing instead

boundless detail without specificity.
Whales, sure (which might in turn be
blue clouds), but we don’t say

How very like a screwdriver,
or my house, or my uncle, or certainly
how unlike my uncle. For though a blend

of winds we don’t at our level
necessarily feel lends them
amazing motion, that’s not the same as

intention, so failure
is not in question. We wouldn’t say
That cloud is derivative, jejune,

disproportionate, strained, in the wrong place,
or (since they affirm nothing)
That cloud is wrong,

though truly they often bear down
on exactly the wrong momentthat overcast,
is it one cloud or ten thousand

that makes everything feel so gray
forever? From inside, of coursethink
of flying through one

a cloud has no shape. As with us: only
when someone looks hard, or we catch
our reflections, do we solidify as

whale
weasel
fool

and plummet. Large clouds can weigh
more than a 747, yet not one
has ever crashed, so admirably

do they spread their weight, a gift
it is not too much to hope
we could possess, since according to Porchia

we are clouds: If I were stone
and not cloud, my thoughts,
which are wind, would abandon me. O

miracle not miraculous! Everything
we know well
lightens and escapes us, and isn’t that

when we escape? So, just as
Old and Middle English clūd
meant rock or hill, but now

means cloud, really I mean
in exactly the same way that stone
got over being stone

and rose, we rise.

Monday’s Verse 8/17/2015

Readers,

Today’s poet does not have a list of publications or awards won. I assume it’s because she’s embarrassingly young. Not embarrassing for her, embarrassing for us oldsters who will never get a poem into the New Yorker. The January 26 edition had a couple nice poems, and this reverie by Natalie Wise was one of them. It’s a little cute, but pretty cool, too. You can listen to the poet reading it HERE. Oh, I guess 27 (doing the assuming-it’s-autobiographical math) isn’t so very young. Have a great week! -ed.

TELL US A STORY, GRANDMA

I wonder which ones I will remember:

That I loved my boyfriend’s best friend?

That I rode the lonely train to Boston?

That I could never hold myself together?

Maybe I should just tell them

Milk was $2.89 a gallon and bread was $3.29

And an iPhone was $200

In 2010, when I was 22.

-2015

Monday’s Verse 8/10/2015

"Greek and Roman lyrics, the English sonnet, those foundation stones of American poetry Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, ‘modern’ poets from T.S. Eliot to Anna Akhmatova to C.P. Cavafy to Pablo Neruda–all have added something to my knowledge of what is possible in poetry," said Jane Hirshfield (b. 1953) to Contemporary Authors. Add to that her translations of the earliest known poems be japanese women writers, which have surely left their mark as well. Hirshfield has been publishing poetry since 1973, has won numerous awards and fellowships, and taught at many universities and writers’ workshops. "My primary interest," she once said, "has always been the attempt to understand and and deepen experience by bringing it into words. Poetry, for me, is an instrument of investigation and a mode of perception…"

Check out the great use/fusion/confusion of words and images in this poem. Yes, images are made of words, but with her opening up of the letter H in the poem below, and with her incorporation of autocorrect, she wants to look at words as words, too–but they can’t help harmonizing with the images and emotions elsewhere in this short lyric. -ed.

HUSBAND

Some things can surprise you in both directions,
coming and going.

Like a stretch of single train track with shuntings over.

The auto-correct I don’t know how to stop
suggested, just now, "overwhelming,"
with shuntings overwhelming. Almost I took that.

Almost I took you as husband, love. Then you left me.

I took surprise for husband instead.

The Phoenician letter for "h," pronounced heth,
resembled at first
a slanting, three-ringed ladder.
Later it straightened, becoming a double-hung window.

Husband surprise, I climbed you, I climbed right out of you.

-2015

Monday’s Verse 8/3/2015

Greetings from the space-time continuum.

Edwin Morgan (1920-2010) was Glasgow’s first poet laureate and one of Scotland’s most beloved bards. He was a translator and essayist, wrote a libretto, and essayed all kinds of poetry: concrete poems, experimental verse, sonnets, homoerotic love poetry, and even… dare we say it? .. this one below sounds like science fiction! Enjoy -ed.

A HOME IN SPACE

Laid-back in orbit, they found their minds.
They found their minds were very clean and clear.
Clear crystals in swarms outside were their fireflies and larks.
Larks they were in lift-off, swallows in soaring.
Soaring metal is flight and nest together.
Together they must hatch.
Hatches let the welders out.
Out went the whitesuit riggers with frames as light as air.
Air was millions under lock and key.
Key-ins had computers wild on Saturday nights.
Nights, days, months, years they lived in space.
Space shone black in their eyes.
Eyes, hands, food-tubes, screens, lenses, keys were one.
One night – or day – or month – or year – they all –
all gathered at the panel and agreed –
agreed to cut communication with –
with the earth base – and it must be said they were –
were cool and clear as they dismantled the station and –
and gave their capsule such power that –
that they launched themselves outwards –
outwards in an impeccable trajectory, that band –
that band of tranquil defiers, not to plant any –
any home with roots but to keep a –
a voyaging generation voyaging, and as far –
as far as there would ever be a home in space –
space that needs time and time that needs life.

-1979