Author Archives: Nim

Monday’s Verse 4/1/2019

Dear readers,

back after a brief, unintentional hiatus; I hope you were reading poems anyway the whole time. A special April Fool’s shout-out to founding member Jim Breen, who celebrated a birthday over the weekend. He knows that April, far from being the cruellest month, is National Poetry Month, and should be celebrated by re-acquainting ourselves with all the American masters like Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979).

I looked for a poem incorporating something about Jim, and this is what I found. See if you can spot the somewhat comical buried treasure. Bishop, of course, is a fantastic rhymer, and that skill is on display in "Santos." I also like that she seems to carry on an internal, but audible, conversation with herself as she speaks the lines, as in that set-off, rhetorical question in line 3. I’m assuming, but don’t know, that Santos is a Greek island. Well, happy poetic voyages, and have a great week! -ed.

ARRIVAL AT SANTOS

Here is a coast; here is a harbor;

here, after a meager diet of horizon, is some scenery;

impractically shaped and—who knows?—self-pitying mountains,

sad and harsh beneath their frivolous greenery,

with a little church on top of one. And warehouses,

some of them painted a feeble pink, or blue,

and some tall, uncertain palms. Oh, tourist,

is this how this country is going to answer you

and your immodest demands for a different world,

and a better life, and complete comprehension

of both at last, and immediately,

after eighteen days of suspension?

Finish your breakfast. The tender is coming,

a strange and ancient craft, flying a strange and brillant rag.

So that’s the flag. I never saw it before.

I somehow never thought of there being a flag,

but of course there was, all along. And coins, I presume,

and paper money; they remain to be seen.

And gingerly now we climb down the ladder backward,

myself and a fellow passenger named Miss Breen,

descending into the midst of twenty-six freighters

waiting to be loaded with green coffee beans.

Please, boy, do be more careful with that boat hook!

Watch out! Oh! It has caught Miss Breen’s

skirt! There! Miss Breen is about seventy,

a retired police lieutenant, six feet tall,

with beautiful bright blue eyes and a kind expression.

Her home, when she is at home, is in Glens Fall

s, New York. There. We are settled.

The customs officials will speak English, we hope,

and leave us our bourbon and cigarettes.

Ports are necessities, like postage stamps, or soap,

but they seldom seem to care what impression they make,

or, like this, only attempt, since it does not matter,

the unassertive colors of soap, or postage stamps—

wasting away like the former, slipping the way the latter

do when we mail the letteres we wrote on the boat,

either because the glue here is very inferior

or because of the heat. We leave Santos at once;

we are driving to the interior.

-1952

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Monday’s Verse 3/4/2019

Hi everybody!

Briefly, James Merrill is a favorite and someone who’s been featured on MV many, many times before. I came across his name again, yesterday, because it was his birthday! 93 years ago, although he’s no longer with us (1926-1995).

Or is he? As we’ve discussed before, he was a ouija board nut, big fan of Yeats’ mystical poems/projects, and conducted many seances and automatic writing sessions. He definitely believed in spooks, and if spooks existed for him, why wouldn’t he be a spook for others? I mean, among spook believers, among which I am not.

I mention that because I think it’s what he’s getting at here in this short, recondite poem. The storm, the reeling candle, the ghostly passage… I couldn’t find a March poem from him, but April’s not too far away now, is it? -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.

Monday’s Verse 2/19/2019

Dear readers,

yesterday was the birthday of Audre Lorde (1934-1992), "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," in her own words. Inside and outside poetry, she affected this world she walked through. What strength! You might look at coal->diamond as a metaphor of same. -ed.

COAL

I

Is the total black, being spoken

From the earth’s inside.

There are many kinds of open.

How a diamond comes into a knot of flame

How a sound comes into a word, coloured

By who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open

Like a diamond on glass windows

Singing out within the crash of passing sun

Then there are words like stapled wagers

In a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—

And come whatever wills all chances

The stub remains

An ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.

Some words live in my throat

Breeding like adders. Others know sun

Seeking like gypsies over my tongue

To explode through my lips

Like young sparrows bursting from shell.

Some words

Bedevil me.

Love is a word another kind of open—

As a diamond comes into a knot of flame

I am black because I come from the earth’s inside

Take my word for jewel in your open light.

Monday’s Verse 2/11/2019

Readers:

Welcome to Valentine’s week! In lieu of a Thursday, 2/14 posting (though this forum did get its name from the "Thursday’s Verse" feature in my undergrad rag), we’ll just get you started off right, especially given the titular relevance of today’s featured poem.

Diane Wakoski (b. 1937) has been a vital voice in the ongoing conversation of American poetry for 50 years. For the past several decades she’s been teaching at MSU, where she is now Distinguished University Professor. She has said that when she began writing poetry in the 1950s (fully in the Beat mode), the New Criticism was ascendant in poetry analysis, and that she found it liberating. No longer did she have to compare herself with Wordsworth, or compete with Athena, King Arthur, and Oedipus as she created her voices. "I could invent Diane as a persona — there was no stigma to writing in first person. This was as liberating as free verse itself." And look at what she’s done with that voice and in that format (free verse).

The below poem is one we’ve read dozens of times, annually. It’s in free verse but also tightly structured. One of things I love about it is the leaps between outlandish, surreal images and very concrete, visceral imagery that ties the concerns of the emotions to the physicality of the human body. And of course we’ve talked before–probably annually–about its skilled use of repetition. One could almost say incantation. How have other readers’ relationships with this poem changed over the years? I’m sure I found it daunting at first, but comforting now. It’s an old friend I always treasure my time with, even if only every mid-February. Have a good week, -ed.

BLUE MONDAY

Blue of 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 softy 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 blue 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 paint 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.

-1969

Monday’s Verse 2/4/2019

Dear readers,

a while back on my (paltry) Twitter feed, I saw a poet who’s been featured here before claim a new form… I tucked it away for a future date, and today is the future. We read Jericho Brown’s "Trojan" in November, when it was brand-spanking new, prompting one Portland reader to respond, "That right there is a really good poem."

And the form he announced around that time is the "duplex." I was hoping we could engage in some literary reverse-engineering, and try to figure out the rubric. People have been contacting Mr. Brown asking for the rules, and he asks for their email via DM so he can send them… that’s an option, too, but… we can do this, right? There’s also a really cute message from a student saying Help!, I have a sonnet due tomorrow but I only have these rules for the duplex… to which Mr. Brown replies, Well, a duplex is a sonnet! So there’s at least a couple of our rules…

To me, at first glance, I’m seeing kind of a mash-up of villanelle & sonnet. Maybe seeing two side-by-side will help. Do you think the two below share the same street number? -ed.

DUPLEX

A poem is a gesture toward home.
It makes dark demands I call my own.

Memory makes demands darker than my own:
My last love drove a burgundy car.

My first love drove a burgundy car.
He was fast and awful, tall as my father.

Steadfast and awful, tall as my father
Hit hard as a hailstorm. He’d leave marks.

Light rain hits easy but leaves its own mark
Like the sound of a mother weeping again.

Like the sound of my mother weeping again.
No sound beating ends where it began.

None of the beaten end up how we began.
A poem is a gesture toward home.

DUPLEX (I begin with love)

I begin with love, hoping to end there.
I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.

I don’t want to leave a messy corpse
Full of medicines that turn in the sun.

Some of my medicines turn in the sun.
Some of us don’t need hell to be good.

Those who need least, need hell to be good.
What are the symptoms of your sickness?

Here is one symptom of my sickness:
Men who love me are men who miss me.

Men who leave me are men who miss me
In the dream where I am an island.

In the dream where I am an island,
I grow green with hope. I’d like to end there.

Monday’s Verse 1-28-2019

Dear readers,

when the reading public demands more, you give it to them. Back when we first read Mary Oliver’s bear poem in 2012, a reader wrote back saying,

"I am thinking about this and am unable to get past what I want to see in it-
Spring is a time of mania and death. The highest suicide rate is in April and most genocides have an anniversary date in April. The extended sunlight causes spring fever- ie mania. The bear rushing down the mountain and the dark imagery of its teeth might represent the wickedness that is released in the spring. I could go on and on- I have a theory that I keep notes on about seasonal affective disorder and mass murder…"

She then quickly followed up that email with, "or she is in the mood for rough sex with her partner:)?"

Last week, a NJ reader said, re: the spring imagery, "Anything Spring sounds so much better when read during a cold winter snap."

A Pittsburgh reader also wrote to me last week to say, as an addendum, "And, secondarily, as an opportunity to say that I like Wild Geese and have always liked Wild Geese!!! (aggressively/defensively, apparently) I like this one, too…" She meant the poem and book of poems by that title, not the dish or the Irish speaking nobles who fled Ulster in the late 17th century. And here it is!

As a note, I assume no one would mind getting those comments in their inbox, so seize the day my collaborators, and hit "reply all" when you can. I don’t want to be the sole conduit for keeping these conversations on a low simmer when you all react to one of the pieces. It’s the perfectly simple, "Hey, this hit me, too!" that encourages people to engage. -ed.

WILD GEESE

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

-2004

Monday’s Verse 1-22-2019

Dear readers,

Back in 2009 (good gravy, that’s 10 years ago), a new member joined up and immediately demanded I print some Mary Oliver (1935-2019). This is what I came up with, along with commentary that I didn’t really like the poem too much! I solicited reader input and only one person replied — to me only, so the rest of the group didn’t hear her thoughts on springtime mania. But now, with her recent death, I’ve seen encomiums to her wide-raging empathy on Twitter. Maybe some of you readers are fans, too, and will offer up your own eulogies today.

For myself, I like this poem much better than I did 10 years ago — aside from the last line. Have a good week, -ed.

SPRING

Somewhere
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

-1992