Archive for the ‘Poets’ Category

Before the ever-abrupt end of our shortest month, here’s a follow-up to my annual Valentine’s Day Poem Blitz.


First, a face, a living Valentine.




Meet Pam Woolway, Short Order Poet. Her poetry is made-to-order and on-the-spot, each poem inspired by a single word supplied by the customer. She types them on a diner-style guest check, the green kind with the carbon copy so she can keep one for herself. She sets up her old-fashioned typewriter (is there any other kind?) at various locations on the island of Kauai. You can link to her blog here to learn more about her project.


I met her in a cool shop in Kapa’a called Kiko where she works and where she gave me a gift of one of her laminated poems. I kept it in my pocket for a couple of days (which is how it got bent), hoping to find a good spot for it. Eventually I came across a dog crate, and there I left “The Dog.”


poem is on top of crate, set against the yellow towel


The poem is a sweet reminder of the goodness of dogs and what they bring to our lives. It also gives me a question to meditate on. Who or what is “up” for me?


The crate was on the side of the road at a scenic overlook for Wailua Falls. No dog was inside—maybe he went to take a gander at his surroundings.



The second addendum to my Valentine’s Day poem blitz isn’t a poem at all. It’s a quote from Ali Smith’s beautiful novel Autumn.


I placed it at the base of the Kuilau Ridge Trail in Kapaa.

poem is in right forefront of photo


How do you feel about the last sentence? (In the end, not much else matters.) I myself don’t agree with it, but the desire to be seen truly is one that grows in me each year more than the last.




Read Full Post »


I don’t know what this flower is, but it’s got a hearts-and-ashes coloration befitting today’s unusual dual-celebration (Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, in case you didn’t know).


One note before I get to my annual Valentine’s Day Poem Blitz: I usually include a range of poems for all different kinds of Valentines, but not this year. These are all romantic if not downright erotic. No poems for Galentines and Palentines, no poems for lovers of nature and animals, no Christina Rossetti I’m-going-to-jump-in-the-river-and-drown poems. In a few weeks I’ll put up a separate Love Hurts post, and if I dig up enough poems about platonic love, I’ll do a Friendship Poem Blitz as well.


On with the show.


At a construction site in downtown Hanalei, Kauai, I left “Song” by W.H. Auden on a handicapped parking sign.


I don’t think I’d have a place in this lighthearted litany of what a person will do to “keep his date with Love” . . . I’m more of a wait-till-I-finish-drying-the-dishes gal . . . but I salute the fevered ones who can leave a task undone to get to the fun business.



A grocery store Valentine display was a good spot to put “The Revelation” by Coventry Patmore. The poem is balanced on top of a bottle of wine called Cupcake.


Here, the essence of all romantic fantasies:

Love wakes men, once a lifetime each;

           They lift their heavy lids, and look 



As a counterpoint to Patmore’s idea of “once a lifetime each,”  I placed Susanna Styve’s  “Mother in Love at Sixty” outside the same grocery store in a cart.


Methinks she doth protest too much . . .



Here’s Hanalei’s bookstore. I set “The Love Cook” by Ron Padgett on top of a Chinese cookbook. An hour later when I came back it was gone.


The most romantic words in the world?

Let me cook you some dinner.



I stuck “To Helen About Her Hair” by Robinson Jeffers in the bristles of a brush in the personal care aisle of the Hanalei grocery store. The gentleman to the right is inexplicably studying women’s hygiene products, but at least he didn’t bat an eye at my elf-ing.


If hair care bores you, think about this the next time you drag a brush through your locks:

I bid you comb it carefully,

For my soul is caught there,

Wound in the web of it.



“Are You Tired of Me, My Darling?” is poised on top of a trashcan.


This poem could fit in the Love Hurts post just as well as it does here, depending on the beloved’s answer to the question posed.



“Toast” by Leonard Nathan is nestled in a big piece of driftwood on Hanalei Bay.


I love this toast to a stranger never seen:

Love, whoever you are,

your courage was my companion



And finally, I put Kenneth Rexroth’s “A Dialogue of Watching” at the base of this traditional statue outside a surf shop.


Today of all days, let every lover say to the beloved

I have never known any

One more beautiful than you.


Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Celebrate love and spread it around.


Read Full Post »

poems are on car windshields all the way down the block



by W.S. Merwin



with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky

and say thank you

we are standing by the water thanking it

standing by the windows looking out

in our directions


back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you


over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the door

and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks we are saying thank you

in the faces of the officials and the rich

and of all who will never change

we go on saying thank you thank you


with the animals dying around us

taking our feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

thank you we are saying and waving

dark though it is



I had a few more left so I left “Thanks” on another street—


Who doesn’t believe in gratitude? Every religion and most women’s magazines instruct us to grateful. It’s the key to happiness, we’re told over and over. I myself love to be grateful and raised my kiddos to believe it’s the thank-you note, not cleanliness, that’s next to godliness.


But there are limits, as we see in W.S. Merwin’s “Thanks.” Does it make sense, he seems to ask, dark though it is and even with nobody listening to run around saying thanks, thank you, thanks so much. We begin to look like idiots. Because the rote “thank you” can be as empty as “thoughts and prayers” if there’s no accompanying action. Against Merwin’s litany of terrible events— illness, violence, death, injustice, ecological disaster, aging and memory loss—saying “thanks” seems anemic if not downright silly.


Someone else might read the poem differently, perhaps as an injunction to stay grateful no matter what. But given Merwin’s activism, I can’t read it any other way.


I left the poem in downtown Detroit, the same day the city learned it had not been a finalist for the Amazon headquarters. Thanks a lot!


Here’s a bio of Merwin from an earlier post:

W.S. Merwin was born in New York City in 1927. His father was a Presbyterian minister. He graduated from Princeton, and after a year of graduate study in Romance languages, traveled through Europe working as a translator and tutor to children from wealthy families. In 1976 he moved to Hawaii to study Zen Buddhism, eventually settling on an old pineapple plantation in Maui, where he still lives today with his third wife.


Merwin’s circle has included many luminaries of the poetry world—he was classmates with Galwell Kinell, pupil to John Berryman, and friend of James Wright, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.



He was an anti-war activist during the Vietnam War and donated the prize money from the Pulitzer he won to a draft resistance movement. He continues to work as an activist, these days focusing on saving the rainforests of Hawaii.


He’s won too many awards and honors to list. I’ll just mention he’s a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the 2010 Poet Laureate of the United States, and leave it at that.



Read Full Post »

I left a few poems in shitholes. Real, actual shitholes.


At Macy’s. Lip-imprinted toilet paper my own


Bladder Song

by Nathan Leonard


On a piece of toilet paper

Afloat in the unflushed piss,

The fully printed lips of a woman.


Nathan, cheer up! The sewer

Sends you a big red kiss.

Ah, nothing’s wasted, if it’s human.


And in a Starbuck’s bathroom—


by Molly Peacock


The smoky smell of menses—Ma always

left the bathroom door open—smote the hall

the way the elephant-house smell dazed

the crowd in the vestibule at the zoo, all

holding their noses yet pushing toward it.

The warm smell of kept blood and the tinny

smell of fresh blood would make any child quit

playing and wander in toward the skinny

feet, bulldog calves, and doe moose flanks planted

on either side of the porcelain bowl

below the blurry mons. The oxblood napkin landed

in the wastecan. The wise eyes of elephants roll

above their flanks, bellies and rag-tear ears

in a permeable enormity of smell’s

majesty and pungency; and benignity. Years

of months roll away what each month tells:

God, what animals we are, huge of haunch

bloody and wise in the stench of bosk.


I’ve always appreciated bathroom humor and bathroom stories. Yes, it’s juvenile, but maybe there’s more to it. Maybe what’s at the bottom of my fascination is this, from the penultimate line of Molly Peacock’s “Smell”—


God, what animals we are


I could go on, I could discuss how shitting is a unifying act, how everyone throughout human history from the beginning of time to now, from the powerful to the lowly, regardless of class, race, religion, sexual orientation, and occupation has to shit on a regular basis, has to see it and smell it and understand that it came from inside the body, how it belongs to each of us.


But I’ll end there. Enjoy the poems.


Nathan Leonard (1924-2007) was born in California, served in the army and went to UC Berkley on the GI Bill. He earned a PhD in 1961 and taught rhetoric until he retired in his 70’s.


I had never heard of Leonard, but he seems to have been a big deal in the literary world. He won many awards including the Guggenheim and was widely published in magazines like the New Yorker, Harpers and The Atlantic. I was interested to learn that he collaborated with Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz and that he translated Polish poets Anna Swir and Aleksander Wat—“Bladder Song” has an Eastern European sensibility to my mind, that touch of dark humor and that effect of speaking from the heart without being maudlin.


Relevant to the poem I’ve posted, Poetry Foundation quotes Leonard as follows:


“Every poet has one or two compulsive themes. One of mine is how to make things fit together that don’t but should; the other is getting down far enough below a surface to see if something is still worth praising. Over the years and without self-consciously trying, I have moved closer and closer to the human voice in my verse. But I have also tried to keep a quality in it—for lack of a better word I call it eloquence—that makes it more than conversation. My hope is to be clear, true, and good listening.”


Leonard and his wife Carol had three children. He died of complications of Alzheimer’s.


Poet, biographer, essayist, fiction writer, memoirist, and performer, Molly Peacock is one of those artists whose creativity can’t be contained in any one pursuit.


She was born in Buffalo, New York in 1947 to a working class family. Her father was an alcoholic and her home life was turbulent. Early influences include her mother, an avid reader; her grandmother, a farmer, who sent her poems in the mail cut out from the newspaper; and an encouraging seventh grade teacher. The first in her family to go to college, Peacock graduated from SUNY at Binghamton and earned her Masters degree at Johns Hopkins. She taught for eleven years in a Quaker middle school before becoming a full-time poet.


She has served as poet-in-residence at many universities, published eight books of poetry, won numerous awards, wrote and performed a one-woman off-Broadway show, and was president of the Poetry Society of America. Her longtime interest in making poetry accessible to a wider audience led her to start the Best Canadian Poetry series, write a book on how to read poetry and start a poetry circle (that’s actually the title of the book), and co-create the Poetry in Motion project, which places poems in subways and buses.


Peacock lives in Toronto with her husband, a James Joyce scholar and her one-time high school boyfriend. She returns to New York to teach a seminar at the 92nd Y. She also works with aspiring poets and memoirist apprentice-style, one-on-one, and is known as a generous teacher.



Read Full Post »



by William Earnest Henley


Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.



“Invictus” is one of those poems that’s familiar even if you’ve never read it. Maybe you’ve heard of the title (which inspired, among other things, a movie about Nelson Mandela, a men’s fragrance, a CrossFit workout, and Prince Harry’s sporting competition for wounded veterans). Certain phrases from the poem have wide circulation—master of my fate, captain of my soul, bloody but unbowed, clutch of circumstance—and whole lines have shown up everywhere from a Winston Churchill speech to a scene from Casablanca to a Lana Del Ray song. You probably even know the poet without knowing the poet (more on that later). So it’s good to see the whole of “Invictus” and understand why it’s had such broad appeal over centuries and continents.


As for me, the appeal is limited. I don’t love this poem, but I can’t help but feel roused after reading it. It’s a veritable shot of adrenaline to those on their last legs. Which is actually where the poem came from. From someone on his last leg.


At age twelve poet William Earnest Henley (1849-1903) had a leg amputated because of tuberculosis of the bone. In his early twenties doctors wanted to amputate his other leg. But Henley sought out the famous surgeon Joseph Lister (pioneer in preventative medicine, eponym of Listerine) who used antiseptic techniques to save Henley’s remaining limb. While recovering in the hospital for three years, Henley wrote “Invictus,” Latin for “unconquered.”


Henley was a magazine editor, critic, playwright and poet. He’s often called the Samuel Johnson of the Victorian era, so striking his influence. The circle of writers he published and befriended included Robert Louise Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells and W.B. Yeats.


A tall, muscular man with a red bushy beard and big personality, Henley was surprisingly agile on his wooden leg and cane. And here’s how you might know him: he was the inspiration for the most famous pirate of all time, Long John Silver from Treasure Island. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to Henley, “I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver … the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.” …


His only child, Margaret Emma, lives on in literature as well. She used to call J.M. Barrie her “fwendy-wendy,” and so the character of Wendy in Peter Pan was born. Margaret Emma died of meningitis at age five.


Henley died of complications of tuberculosis at age fifty-three.


I left “Invictus” in a co-working site in Detroit. No one took it down for a few days and as far as I know it’s still there. Maybe the poem will inspire confidence in a beleaguered entrepreneur wandering the halls.


And for you readers, I hope as much.


Be it personal, political, or meteorological, whatever place of wrath and tears you’ve lived through this past year, whatever bludgeoning of chance you’ve faced, here you are, in 2018, unconquered, invictus.


Happy New Year.

Read Full Post »

poem is on Christmas tree


A Drink of Water

by Seamus Heaney


She came every morning to draw water

Like an old bat staggering up the field:

The pump’s whooping cough, the bucket’s clatter

And slow diminuendo as it filled,

Announced her. I recall

Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel

Of the brimming bucket, and the treble

Creak of her voice like the pump’s handle.

Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable

It fell back through her window and would lie

Into the water set out on the table.

Where I have dipped to drink again, to be

Faithful to the admonishment on her cup,

Remember the Giver fading off the lip.



I’m in a hurry this Christmas Eve—egg casseroles to make, flowers to arrange, napkins to be ironed—so forgive this hasty post.


Remember the Giver. I’m taking this line from Heaney’s beautiful poem out of context, but bear with me. I’m sending out that line to all those receiving gifts over the holidays.


This time of year we focus on giving, and unless we’re little kids, teenagers, or needy adults, we enjoy giving more than receiving. Especially because gifts can be a let-down, not matching our expectations. We don’t hear a lot on how to receive a gift. I myself have been an ungracious receiver at times. But I’ve come to view receiving as an art form, and when done properly, as a spiritual duty, a moment of grace that allows the giver to experience his or her own goodness.


“A Drink of Water” must have been an important poem to Heaney, because it was one of two poems he chose to represent his lifetime achievement at an awards dinner. This from a Guardian article about his selection:

Heaney said it was “about receiving a gift and being enjoined to ‘remember the giver'”, something he said he would always do when remembering that evening.

“The old lady in the poem was a neighbour, a crone, as she might have been described, who lived on her own, down the fields from us,” he said. “To us kids she had a certain witch-like aura, but in the poem she becomes more like a muse offering the cup of poetry to the child incertus.”


Merry Christmas to those celebrating! Happy Hanukkah a little late, and Happy Holidays to all!


Remember the Giver.


Read Full Post »

poem is on bottom post



by Ljubomir Simovic


Didn’t I say last night it will snow?


What else would there be but snow?

I no longer wait for the rustle of wings,

or some dove to make my heart leap

and shine its light on me.


Snow has hatched in every den and lair

putting out every fire.

The snow: our key and lock.

I woke in my bed as if in another world,

as if in a drift of snow.

The three hills were all white.


I put on my cold boots, made a fire,

cut three rashers of bacon into the skillet

by the window where’s starting to snow again.

The bacon sizzles. I break an egg.

In the room the shadows of jackdaws fly to and fro


I rejoice because of the egg.



Last night I took a walk in the snow. The empty streets of my subdivision were quiet and lit with Christmas lights. All is calm all is bright, I sang in my head. Like Simovic I felt “as if in another world.” At least six inches had already collected, and snow was still coming down in blusters when I reached my friend’s house to leave this poem on her side porch. I hoped she’d wake up today to find it, although I don’t have a lot of confidence in the stickiness of scotch tape under snowy conditions.


This poem captures so well the surprise of waking up to snow. How is it that Eastern Europeans can speak so openly from the heart without sounding mawkish and overly-sentimental? I love that quality in poetry.


I’m sure it’s an even better poem in the original Serbian.


Ljubomir Simovic was born in Serbia in 1935. He seems to be a writer-of-all-trades, a poet, a playwright, a television writer and short story writer. That’s as much as I can find out about him because all the info I found wasn’t written in English.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »