poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poets, poetry, and the po-biz (with 8-string stuff)
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Category — Poetry

Maxine Kumin, 6/6/1925—2/6/2014

I was very lucky, back in the 1970’s, to be able to work with Ms Kumin in workshops arranged by Sena Jeter Naslund at the University of Louisville. She had a tremendous influence on me at the time, and I’ve never stopped reading her work.

I’ve always particularly loved her book The Retrieval System. When I learned of her death I immediately thought of that book’s title poem and, especially, “The Excrement Poem,” which ends 

 

I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and the next.
However much we stain the world, spatter

it with out leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down
trundling off today’s last barrow-full
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

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February 8, 2014   3 Comments

What else have I been missing?

via the always thought-provoking and entertaining Arts & Letters Daily, I just read “‘An Imp with brains’: The forgotten genius of Charlotte Mew”, written by Julia Copus, at The New Statesman.

I’d forgotten Charlotte Mew myself, though after reading a bit I did recall some of her work, and before finishing the article I was off to Amazon to buy a used library edition of her Collected Poetry and Prose. I got the only one, so there’s no useful link, but there are available copies (including a Kindle edition) of her Selected Poems and print only editions of her Collected Poems and Selected Prose. But it wasn’t just the generous quotes from Mew’s poetry that brought out my debit card—Ms Copus writes wonderful, insightful prose, so I looked her up as well, and after finding this poem and discovering she’s been short-listed for the T. S. Eliot Prize, I ordered the Kindle edition of The World’s Two Smallest Humans, her latest book.

Maybe I should stop reading Arts & Letters Daily before I go broke.

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June 14, 2013   No Comments

Poem Accepted at Big River Poetry Review

The online journal Big River Poetry Review, which also issues occasional printed volumes of all poetry accepted since the last print volume, has accepted my sonnet “A Little Grace.” Hoopla!

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May 31, 2013   4 Comments

Does Greatness Require Difficulty?

If what one means is that there is always difficult work to do in preparation for doing great work in some field and, sometimes, even more difficulty in the production of some particular great work in that field, I’m on board.

But in a fine essay at The London Review of Books , “Is Wagner bad for us?,” Nicholas Spice says this near the end:

The compression of information characteristic of much great music, the speed at which it passes, the bewildering density and delicacy of its over-determination, makes it difficult in the way that poetry is difficult. Like poetry, music deflects our gaze. It is an elusive medium which we grasp only partially through an endless process of interpretation.”

I know that’s meant as a compliment to poetry, but I’m glad for that “much” immediately before “great music,’ and I’d be very glad for a similar qualifier applied to “poetry.”

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March 28, 2013   7 Comments

Your Cat Is Making You Crazy

I got the idea from this article in The Atlantic a few months ago. I probably won’t keep the title.

Crazy Cats

So here’s the deal – T. gondii needs a cat
To reproduce, but it can live in us
And many other mammals — say, a rat.
Now rats, of course, don’t much like dear Puss.
But we do. And we make a lot of trash
Which rats do like, so what’s a rat to do?
Being small, most are cautious. The rash
Are cat food, and have fewer children, too.

Now what’s a parasite to do? Make male
Rats brave, and sexy to the females, which
Will bear infected kitty chow, and cats
Who eat it share with us, and when we ail,
T. gondii plays with us — guys get the itch
To drive too fast, and gals heat up like cats.

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November 11, 2012   5 Comments

Another Kind of Ghazanelle

In a 2002 letter to Lynx (unfortunately I can’t link to Lynx, only to specific instances of its pieces), Khizra Aslam describes the form she devised and provides a link to her own ghazanelle in Lynx. It’s the third poem as you scroll down the page.

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March 6, 2012   No Comments

Old Work Newly Revised

We Are A Kind Of Map


A buzzer-beating three-point shot reveals
We’re born to know our truths about this world,
And so is everything: a fly conceals
Itself till it’s grown wings and they’ve unfurled;
A virus has the key for just that cell
Where it can multiply; that cell, dying,
Creates an army ready to repel
The sudden viral horde or die trying.
Of course that’s metaphor, but not a lie,
Not just a way of trying to impose
Some sense on senselessness, a useless “Why?”
We answer till we like what we suppose.
There’s something might be learned when we’re betrayed
Seeing the world with eyes the world has made.

Changes prompted by comments on a mail list – if I broke it, then I’m the one who broke it.

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February 16, 2012   6 Comments

A Ghazanelle

I found the form yesterday, browsing through Lew Turco‘s Book of Forms, and spent my Superbowl Sunday writing one. I’m not at all sure about the title.


No Joke

It used to be I’d wonder at her laughter —
I’d try to tease her secrets from that tone,

From how she’d turn away just moments after —
Or was that when I didn’t join her laughter?

Sometimes she laughed at something she alone
Could see, and something jagged in her tone

Would haunt my waking dreams for days thereafter,
Such a bitter mockery of laughter

That every laugh I heard, even my own,
Became infected by its mordant tone.

Now every night and every day hereafter
Forever will be crowded with her laughter,

My fascination with its broken tone,
The secrets buried in her teasing laughter.

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February 5, 2012   4 Comments

Breaking Lines

The January 30th issue of The New Yorker prints a poem (not available online to non-subscribers) called “Booty,” by Matthew Sweeney, which I rather liked on first reading. But when I listened to the recording of the author’s reading of the poem included in The New Yorker‘s iPad app’s presentation, things began to fall apart.

It’s a short poem, 20 lines averaging a little more than 4 words/line, and 10 of the lines are end-punctuated with either a comma or a period; the other 10 have only internal punctuation. When Sweeney reads, he pauses at each of the 10 line breaks with final punctuation. Of those line breaks without final punctuation, there are 6 which he doesn’t mark vocally at all, and 4 which he does mark with pauses every bit as long as those accompanying punctuated line breaks.

As it happens, those 4 all precede a prepositional phrase at the beginning of the next line. But so does one of the 6 unpunctuated line breaks without a pause, and there is one prepositional phrase internal to a line which does not receive a pause, so that’s not what’s happening.

On the page of The New Yorker, only 2 lines extend as much as 6 characters past any adjacent line, and those long lines have lots of the letter ‘i’. The right edge of the poem is genteelly ragged, with only line 2 having a whole word (“T-shirt”) beyond the lengths of its neighbors. Late in the poem, Sweeney breaks a line after “the”

so I slunk on, to the
market, where I half-lived,

and avoids a visually very short line, either “so I slunk on,” or “where I half-lived,” but he doesn’t read his line-breaks anyway, and, by the way, what’s with that comma after “on”? He’s also not concerned with syllables per line, which range from 4 to 7; he’s not counting words, which range from 2 to 6 per line; he certainly isn’t counting stresses, which range from 1 to 3 per line in his reading — just what is he doing?

It seems to me Sweeney wants his poem to sound a particular way, and so it does when he reads it; he wants it to look a particular way, and so it does when printed in an appropriate font. But either he doesn’t care how readers who haven’t heard him read the poem will read it to themselves, or he believes that his own sensibility is sufficiently representative of some more-or-less universal poetic sensibility that worthy readers will get it right by … well, somehow.

I guess I’m NOT a worthy reader.

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January 30, 2012   1 Comment

Nothing Left to Lose

With nothing left to lose, I’d be lost,
And so might you. When all you’ve loved is gone,
Nothing remains which might defray that cost.
With nothing left to lose, I’d be lost
Just like a losing lotto ticket tossed
Away when I have nothing left to pawn.
With nothing left to lose, I’d be lost –
And so might you, when all you’ve loved is gone.

———

I’m just recovering from a week of alternating nausea and dizziness. My brain is just starting to work again, or at least I hope so. Not at all sure the above is positive evidence.

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January 29, 2012   6 Comments