Author Archives: Nim

Monday’s Verse 4/16/2018

All:

Beer, poetry, puns, and basically I’m in heaven. Alert reader Kevin Sullivan of Medford, Mass., texted me on Saturday night to introduce Shakesbeer Brewing Company, creating craft ales brewed "as you like it." He indicated that each new variety would have its own sonnet; from the website I can find only quatrains of their 2 first samples, "Act One," and "The Tempest." I commend their mastery of meter! Alas, they are still 6 lines short.

What a rabbit hole I found, though… did you know that Southern Tier (popular in northwest PA, where I spend way too much time) brews a Sonnet Ale? Or that a Toronto brewpub calls itself Sonnet 43, after Elizabeth Barrett Browning? We’ve read that one here before. The greybeards among us will remember, in fact, that the very first MV poem, before the listserv was even called Monday’s Verse, celebrated a 20th Century English poem that balances the joys of malt vs. those of Milton.

But then I found a sonnet by a man named Beer, and I said, That’s our sonnet for today. John Beer, not to be confused with the British Literary Critic who died last year, has an MFA from Iowa and currently teaches at Portland State U. I like his poem here. But what I want to speak about stems from his "prison yard" reference. As you age and drink less, are you wondering what to do with all that leftover beer money? How about supporting a poetry-in-prisons workshop and book project? Mosey on over to the Poetry Asylum kickstarter page to learn more, and don’t be shy to plop down a 6-pack’s worth on literary arts for, and from, people most affected by our incarceration addiction. And enjoy your week! -ed

SONNETS TO MORPHEUS ["I know kung fu"]

I know kung fu.” It won’t bring back the world.

5:15 a.m.: I wake from another dream,

the same as every dream. A man builds a ship

in my chest. Each of the sailors

carries by her breast a picture of her sister.

The ship is not the image of a ship.

Beyond its sails there are no stars.

The water is only water because it’s black.

5:15 a.m. Perhaps you’ve seen me

practicing my moves in the empty prison yard

and wondered whether you were the dreamer

conjuring me into existence from the bare

desire to caress a phantom ship

and my death the death of your desire.

-2010

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Monday’s Verse 4/10/2018

Dear readers,

Alert reader Jamsheed Siyar asked last week, Why is April National Poetry Month? Is it something to do with April being the cruel(l)est month? I don’t know, I said. Is it perhaps maybe something to do with Chaucer’s pilgrims having set out in April, when sweet showers pierce the drought of March?

So I have 2 things for you today: 1) Can someone tell us the origin of Nat’l poetry month and, specifically, why it is April? Is there a reason for that at all?

2) With that in mind, I thought I’d play us some Chaucer (1343-1400) — but not "The Canterbury Tales," no, too on the nose. Instead, a brief excerpt from Book I of "Troilus & Criseyde," his epic poem of knightly love set against the backdrop of the Trojan War. And lo, there’s another April reference, right there in line 2! This section is the one that really introduces the 2 title characters. People complain about Middle English but come on, it’s no Beowulf. And really, once you read a few lines out loud, you’ll be able to hear the meaning of those strange words, archaic spellings, and shifty syntaxes.

I’ll point out, in conclusion, that Chaucer uses Rime Royal in this poem, a 7-line stanza structure that he introduced to English poetry. Each line is in iambic pentameter, and the rhyme scheme is A-B-A-B-B-C-C. Genius. It’s got a "wise old friend" gait to it. Enjoy! -ed.

from TROILUS AND CRISEYDE: Book I

And so bifel, whan comen was the tyme

Of Aperil, whan clothed is the mede

With newe grene, of lusty Veer the pryme,

And swote smellen floures white and rede,

In sondry wises shewed, as I rede,

The folk of Troie hir observaunces olde,

Palladiones feste for to holde.

And to the temple, in al hir beste wyse,

In general ther wente many a wight,

To herknen of Palladion the servyse;

And namely, so many a lusty knyght,

So many a lady fressh and mayden bright,

Ful wel arayed, both meste, mene, and leste,

Ye, bothe for the seson and the feste.

Among thise othere folk was Criseyda,

In widewes habit blak; but natheles,

Right as our firste lettre is now an A,

In beautee first so stood she, makeles;

Hire goodly lokyng gladed al the prees.

Nas nevere yet seyn thing to ben preysed derre,

Nor under cloude blak so bright a sterre

As was Criseyde, as folk seyde everichone

That hir bihelden in hir blake wede;

And yet she stood ful lowe and stille allone,

Byhynden other folk, in litel brede,

And neigh the dore, ay under shames drede,

Simple of atir and debonaire of chere,

With ful assured lokyng and manere.

This Troilus, as he was wont to gide

His yonge knyghtes, lad hem up and doun

In thilke large temple on every side,

Byholding ay the ladies of the town,

Now here, now there; for no devocioun

Hadde he to non, to reven hym his reste,

But gan to preise and lakken whom hym leste.

And in his walk ful faste he gan to wayten

If knyght or squyer of his compaignie

Gan for to syke, or lete his eighen baiten

On any womman that he koude espye;

He wolde smyle, and holden it folye,

And seye him thus, "God woot, she slepeth softe

For love of the, whan thou turnest ful ofte!"

Monday’s Verse 4/2/2018

Readers:

It’s amazing when the opening of National Poetry Month, Easter, April Fool’s Day, Passover, Persian New Year, and the Final Four all fall across the same stretch of 3-4 days, right? Everyone’s happy, right?

Elizabeth Acevedo ("Bet I have zeal code") is a slam champion, published poet, and novelist. You know how you can be a poetry slam champ? By majoring in performing arts as an undergrad, and getting an MFA in creative writing, as she did — both in and around DC. She’s also been a fellow at Cave Canem, the African American poetry collective based right here in Pittsburgh.

I have a few poems and other things in life that, if I take the shortest glance at them, I’ll burst into tears. Ms. Acevedo is talking about some of these things in her poem today. And if I’ve had a glass of wine with dinner, or without dinner, I’m right there with her on the insurance commercial. -ed.

YOU MEAN YOU DON’T WEEP AT THE NAIL SALON?

it’s the being alone, i think, the emails but not voices. dominicans be funny, the way we love to touch — every greeting a cheek kiss, a shoulder clap, a loud.

it gots to be my period, the bloating, the insurance commercial where the husband comes home after being deployed, the last of the gouda gone, the rejection letter, the acceptance letter, the empty inbox.

a dream, these days. to work at home is a privilege, i remind myself.

spend the whole fucking day flirting with screens. window, tv, computer, phone: eyes & eyes & eyes. the keys clicking, the ding of the 
microwave, the broadway soundtrack i share wine with in the evenings.

these are the answers, you feel me? & the impetus. the why. of when the manicurist holds my hand, making my nails a lilliputian abstract,

i close my fingers around hers, disrupting the polish, too tight i know then, too tight to hold a stranger, but she squeezes back & doesn’t let go & so finally i can.

-2018

Monday’s Verse 3/26/2018

Dear readers,

I’m not sure yet if Badr Shakir al Sayyab (1926-1964) is my kind of poet, but he’s my kind of guy. In his life, he was a teacher, a date-taster, a security guard for a road-paving company, a civil servant, and a poet. He died young of complications from ALS.

Sayyab was one of the most influential modern Arabic poets. His volume The Rain Song revolutionized the use of myth in a modern idiom, a strategy that can be seen below. He was an advocate and translator of T.S. Eliot, whose mythophilia he shared. Enjoy, and have a great week. -ed.

DAY HAS GONE

Day has gone.
See. Its wick has died
on a horizon glowing, fireless,
and here you sit, waiting
for Sindbad to return.
Behind you the sea cries out
in tempests, in thunder.
He will not return.
Haven’t you heard? The sea gods
have imprisoned him in a black castle,
in islands of blood, of oyster shells.
He will not return.
Day has gone
so go now, go.
He will not be back.

The horizon – forests of swollen clouds, of thunder.
Their fruits breed death, breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Death rains down from them, breeds a handful of day’s ashes.
Their threatening colours spell fear and breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Day has gone.
Day has gone.

As though your left wrist,
as though your left arm were waving
behond his hour of death,
as if it were a lighthouse
on some shore, reserved for death,
a shore which dreams of ships
always in wait.
Day has gone.
If only time would stop, but no.
Time’s little steps are heard
even in the grave,
even by the stones.

Day has gone.
Day has gone.

The horizon – forests of swollen clouds, of thunder.
Their fruits breed death, breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Death rains down from them, breeds a handful of day’s ashes.
Their threatening colours spell fear and breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Day has gone.
Day has gone.

Sinbad could not ward off ruin
from your golden hair.
Your locks reached down and drank the brine.
The ocean salt turned gold to white,
and all your love letters are washed away,
the glitter of vows dissolved.
And here you sit waiting,
dazed, with whirling thoughts:
"He will come back. No, his ship has gone down headlong.
He will come back. No, the wailing winds have detained him.
O Sindbad, will you ever come back?
The time of my youth has almost run out.
Lilies have wilted in my cheeks.
So when will you come back?

Stretch out your hands –
The heart will use them to fashion its new world.
It will destroy the world of talons,
of frenzy and blood.
It will, if only for a while,
build its own universe.

Oh, when will you come back?
Will you know, I wonder, when daylight fades,
how much the fingers’ silence knows
about the flashes of the unseen
in life’s darkness?
Oh, let me have your fists.
They fall as snow falls,
no matter where I look,
as snow descends upon my palms
and falls headlong into my heart.
How often have I dreamed about those fists,
as two flowers growing by a stream
unfolding where my loneliness wanders, lost."
Day has gone.
And the ocean, empty, vast,
no singing save the roar of waves.
There appears only one sail
inebriated by the lashing winds.
Nothing flutters on the water’s face
except your waiting heart.
Day has gone
So go now, go.
Day has gone.

Trans. Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard

Monday’s Verse 3/12/2018

Dear readers,

some of you may have noticed a cool obituary-editorial effort last week in the New York Times, commemorating historical women who should have been, but never were, subjects of a NY Times obituary. The link to the project there introduces Qui Jin (1875-1907) better than and cut-and-past summary by me could, so I’ll say check it out.

Briefly, she was: the daughter of a government official, a wife in an arranged marriage, a poet, a teacher, a foreign student in Japan, a feminist journal founder/editor, a revolutionary, and a martyr. She was ultimately captured, tortured, and beheaded by imperial forces after her colleague assassinated a Manchu superior. Government soldiers killed the colleague, Xu Xilin, and attempted to wipe out his associates as well.

Unhappy in her marriage, she wrote these lines as she left to study in Japan, a trip that fuelled her revolutionary aspirations.I’m sorry I don’t have access to the original or translator info for this one… feel free to supplement in reply. Have a good week, -ed.

REGRETS: LINES WRITTEN EN ROUTE TO JAPAN

Sun and moon have no light left, earth is dark,
Our women’s world is sunk so deep, who can help us?
Jewelry sold to pay this trip across the seas,
Cut off from my family I leave my native land.
Unbinding my feet I clean out a thousand years of poison,
With heated heart arouse all women’s spirits.
Alas, this delicate kerchief here,
Is half stained with blood, and half with tears.

-1904

Monday’s Verse 3/5/2018

Dear readers,

Yesterday was the birthday of one of the great American Yeats inheritors, James Merrill (1926-1995). The entry at Poetry Foundation for Merrill explains a lot; you should go read it there than listen to my summary. But I will paste in one great quote about the way Merrill mined his own personal experience for poetic achievement: He believed, like in this Yeats quote, that "all that is personal soon rots; it must be packed in salt or ice." What a profound metaphor, and itself packed in incisive imagery. It says something understandable about the poetic process at the same time.

We only have another 26 days or so until National Poetry month. Here’s a teaser, a short one that Merrill wrote in the year of my own birth. Have a great week! -ed.

ANOTHER APRIL

The panes flash, tremble with your ghostly passage
Through them, an x-ray sheerness billowing, and I have risen
But cannot speak, remembering only that one was meant
To rise and not to speak. Young storm, this house is yours.
Let our eye darken, your rain come, the candle reeling
Deep in what still reflects control itself and me.
Daybreak’s great gray rust-veined irises humble and proud
Along your path will have laid their foreheads in the dust.

-1971

Monday’s Verse 2/20/2018

Dear readers,

I had a great day at the record store last weekend and came home, wallet not too much lighter, with a short stack of music ranging from 1796 right up to 2016. Later, on Sunday, I found myself listening to three of the more recent albums in a row (1978, 2008, 2016), and all of a sudden realized, wait, all these artists are also known as poets! And not only that , poets who’ve been read on Monday’s Verse: Bob Dylan, the Silver Jews (band leader David Berman has published several books of poetry; see MV 5/4/2015), and Jamila Woods. You may remember that Ms. Woods’ "Ghazal for White Hen Pantry" was one of my favorite poems of 2015. It was published in Poetry Magazine in December of that year; I think I discovered it a few months later. At some point, in 2017, I heard the DJ on a local station say that the track I’d just caught the last 20 seconds of was from an album by Jamila Woods, and I thought, that Jamila Woods? Indeed.

So when I saw it on brand-new vinyl (blinding white vinyl, no less), I had to give it a listen. I’ve only heard it once, but so far so good. Her writing chops show, and there are some great references, both lyrically and musically, to 80’s pop music. More importantly, it drove me back to her Poetry Foundation page, where I recalled that she runs poetry workshops for youth in Chicago and works in that city’s nonprofit sector. And found today’s poem. I love poems about music anyway–we’ve read so many of them over the years, and 2 weeks ago we had another–so this one seemed perfect given the writer and my circular route, via turntable, back to her poems. I didn’t even look up who Herb Kent is, I think I’ll let one of our Chicago readers (not to be confused with the Chicago Reader) reply all and enlighten us. Have a great week, -ed.

ODE TO HERB KENT

Your voice crawls across the dashboard of Grandma’s Dodge Dynasty on the way home from Lilydale First Baptist. You sing a cocktail of static and bass. Sound like you dressed to the nines: cowboy hat, fur coat & alligator boots. Sound like you lotion every tooth. You a walking discography, South Side griot, keeper of crackle & dust in the grooves. You fell in love with a handmade box of wires at 16 and been behind the booth ever since. From wbezto V103, you be the Coolest Gent, King of the Dusties. Your voice wafts down from the ceiling at the Hair Lab. You supply the beat for Kym to tap her comb to. Her brown fingers paint my scalp with white grease to the tunes of Al & Barry & Luther. Your voice: an inside-out yawn, the sizzle of hot iron on fresh perm, the song inside the blackest seashell washed up on a sidewalk in Bronzeville. You soundtrack the church picnic, trunk party, Cynthia’s 50th birthday bash, the car ride to school, choir, Checkers. Your voice stretch across our eardrums like Daddy asleep on the couch. Sound like Grandma’s sweet potato pie, sound like the cigarettes she hide in her purse for rough days. You showed us what our mommas’ mommas must’ve moved to. When the West Side rioted the day MLK died, you were audio salve to the burning city, people. Your voice a soft sermon soothing the masses, speaking coolly to flames, spinning black records across the airwaves, spreading the gospel of soul in a time of fire. Joycetta says she bruised her thumbs snappin’ to Marvin’s “Got to Give It Up” and I believe her.

-2015