Monthly Archives: November 2016

Monday’s Verse 11/29/2016

Dear readers,

The theme, as always, is repetition. A long-time reader reminded me that–though we just read a poem by him–it is time for a re-read of William Butler Yeats’s "The Second Coming." And my old friend Seamus Deane–in his 1997 book, Strange Country–reminds us that "The Second Coming" was supposedly written about the Russian Revolution of 1917. Deane gives a marvelous reading of this most famous poem in his chapter on "Boredom and Apocalypse," and what follows is only my attempt at a summary. Deane is fitting the poem to a broad historical statement about the culture, politics, and development of modern (mostly 20th century, in this chapter) Ireland, with competing strains of nationalism and anti-colonialism as the backdrop. It’s a dense, theory-laden investigation, and yet he puts the most elemental poetry-unpacking tools to splendid use along the way.

Repetition, for example. In this poem about historical apocalypse, concerned with both ending and beginning, the first 11 lines produce an overabundance of repeated words: turn/turning, falcon/falconer, loosed, the second coming, surely, at hand. In addition, the definite article "the" is deployed 11 times, implying a knowingness shared between reader and speaker. What are "the" worst and "the" ceremony and "the" widening gyre? We know from the surrounding poems in the volume Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921). From the collision of opposites in a grand, universal, omni-temporal struggle, burst demonic forces; forces that Yeats’s readers had already seen in the first World War, the Easter Rising, and the Russian Revolution–not to mention the Book of Revelation.

But the Second Coming is not the rebirth of Jesus at all. Instead, it is bestial, clearly catastrophic. The "rough beast" is also vague, as the second stanza favors "a" over "the." A "vast image," it bursts into the poem as the second stanza (which should have been 6 lines) metastasizes into a sonnet all its own. And yet the horrible vision heralds a birth, destruction the compensatory price for the emergence of transcendent energies into the physical world.

"Can the Bestial find a Bethlehem in which it can be born again as the demonic? Can the mob be born again as a people, as a nation? That would truly be a second coming. It became known as fascism… The coming of that civilization is always a second coming, a return, and is also always coming, always revealing itself, in a second, in a series of repeated lightning flashes. Any time now it will happen; that is the temporality of Yeats’s work; and it will happen now because it has happened before; that is his chronology." -ed.

THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

-1919

Monday’s Verse, Nov.28, 2016

Dear readers,

Thanks for bearing with me as I rely more on notes than on words — well, perhaps equally — the past couple weeks. It’s just that words fail and I kind of can’t deal, and I’m not yet up to the task of turning to poetry for wisdom or solace — never mind trying to make this forum a source of it. But it will be there.

Meantime, I’ve just turned to music. A fair amount of the wordless kind, along with Curtis Mayfield, more Curtis Mayfield, and Curtis Mayfield on repeat. Finally made it out for some live action on Friday night with my sweetheart, and we saw Ted Leo play a solo set on Pittsburgh’s south side. It was a much-needed tonic (chased by a much-needed cider). His politically-charged verses got me through a good chunk of the mid-2000’s, so enjoy this one from 2004’s Shake the Sheets, which I may as well dedicate to my good friend and MV reader Mia, who works every day in the bowels of the U.S. immigration system, defending the rights of detainees facing deportation in New York City. I feel like she heard the emphatic chorus of this song before it was even written (apparently there is a video of this song out there…). -ed.

ME AND MIA

As I was walking through a life one morning
The sun was out, the air was warm but oh, I was cold,
And though I must have looked a half a person,
To tell the tale in my own version,
It was only then that I felt whole.

Do you believe in something beautiful?
Then, get up and be it
Fighting for the smallest goal:
To get a little self-control.
I know how hard you try.
I see it in your eyes.
Call your friends, ’cause we’ve forgotten
What it’s like to eat what’s rotten,
And what’s eating you alive,
Might help you to survive.

We went on, as we were on a mission,
Latest in a Grand Tradition.
Oh, what did we find?
It was Ego who was flying the banner,
Me and Mia, Ann and Ana, oh,
We’d been unkind.

Do you believe in something beautiful?
Then, get up and be it
Fighting for the smallest goal:
To get a little self-control.
I see it in your eyes,
I see it in your spine,
But call your friends, ’cause we’ve forgotten
What it’s like to eat what’s rotten
And what’s eating you alive,
Might help you to survive

Even the nights that could get better.
And even the days aren’t all that bad.
And after a week of fighting,
As more and more it seems the right thing

Do you believe in something beautiful?
Then get up and be it
Fighting for the smallest goal:
To gain a little self-control
Won’t anybody here just let you disappear?
Not doctors, nor your mom nor dad,
But me and Mia, Ann and Ana
Know how hard you try,
Don’t you see it in my eyes?

Sick to death of my dependence,
Fighting food to find transcendence.
Fighting to survive.
More dead, but more alive.
Cigarettes and speed to live,
And sleeping pills to feel forgiven.
All that you contrive,
And all that you’re deprived.

All the bourgeois social angels
Telling you you’ve got to change.
Don’t have any idea.
They’ll never see so clear.
But don’t forget what it really means to
Hunger strike,
When you don’t really need to
Some are dying for the cause, but that don’t make it yours.
And even the nights, they could get better.

Monday’s Verse 11/21/2016

Monday’s Verse 11/21/2016

Monday’s Verse 11/14/2016

SICK OF YOU

I was up in the morning with the TV blarin’
Brush my teeth sittin’ watchin’ the news
All the beaches were closed the ocean was a red sea
But there was no one there to part in two
There was no fresh salad because there’s hypos in the cabbage
Staten island disappeared at noon
And they say the Midwest is in great distress
And NASA blew up the moon

The ozone layer has no ozone anymore
And you’re gonna leave me for the guy next door?
I’m sick of you
I’m sick of you

They arrested the mayor for an illegal favor
Sold the Empire State to japan
And Oliver North married William Secord
And gave birth to a little Tehran
And the Ayatollah bought a nuclear warship
If he dies he wants to go out in style
And there’s nothing to eat that don’t carry the stink
Of some human waste dumped in the Nile

Well one thing is certainly true
No one here knows what to do
And I’m sick of you
I’m sick of you

The radio said there were 400 dead
In some small town in Arkansas
Some whacked out trucker drove into a nuclear reactor
And killed everybody he saw
Now he’s on Morton Downey and he’s glowing and shining
Doctors say this is a medical advance
They say the bad makes the good and there’s something to be learned
In every human experience

Well I know one thing that really is true
This here’s a zoo and the keeper ain’t you
And I’m sick of it
I’m sick of you

They ordained the Trumps and then he got the mumps
And died being treated at Mt. Sinai
And my best friend Bill died from a poison pill
Some wired doctor prescribed for stress
My arms and legs are shrunk the food all has lumps
They discovered some animal no one’s ever seen
It was an inside trader eating a rubber tire
After running over Rudy Giuliani

They say the President’s dead but no one can find his head
It’s been missing now for weeks
But no one noticed it he had seemed so fit
I’m sick of it!

I’m sick of you
I’m so sick of you
Bye, bye, bye

Lou Reed, 1989

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oav0ZCiVeO4

Monday’s Verse 11/8/2016

Dear readers,

While in Chicago last month, I was also very fortunate to catch up with some roommates and close friends from my very first days in college, among them some founding MV members.Colleen Shean took the photo (and we were foolish not to get an entire group shot!) of your editor, Mark Engel, Jim Breen, and member-for-a-day Javier Porras, outside a great korean bbq spot on Chicago’s north side. I enjoyed the company more than the spicy pork bulgogi, and that’s saying something. Thanks friends!

On a few occasions, we’ve read poems on this forum that are more properly known as, or first existed as, songs. John Lee Hooker, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Elvis Costello were some of the offenders, and I’d be surprised if there isn’t a Dylan cut in among them somewhere. But I can’t remember if there is. In any case, while we were away, the old man was awarded a Nobel prize in literature. Some commentators have taken issue with that choice. Their arguments have been pretty vacuous if you ask me, and kind of boil down to, I’m mad that songwriter Bob Dylan got this award, when there are so many other deserving "literary figures" worldwide who deserve it. People said the same thing about Dario Fo a few years back.

I liked the choice. And the tie-in to Mark, Jim, Javier, and Colleen, is that from approximately 1990-1994, you’d be hard pressed to get anything other than Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, or Neil Young on the turntable or jukebox, if I was anywhere nearby. My apologies about that.

Here’s an example of his writing that uses some standard poetic tools, and some typical Dylan devices. Slant rhyme, a short refrain, verses of varying length to suit the emotional need, and a perspective-shifting twist of the refrain on the final run-through. This piece was recorded in late 1963 for his 1964 album "The Times They Are A-Changin," and it was ripped quite directly from the headlines. This is a true story that occurred in 1963, in Baltimore. For me, it’s hard to get through those last 2 verses, whether listening or reading, without becoming emotionally involved. And for me, it’s also entirely timely. We often remind each other on this list that it’s very effective to read the poem out loud. In this case, there are several audio versions readily available, starting on youtube. Check it out if you need 5 minutes to take your mind off election madness, and have a great week. -ed.

The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears

-1964