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Posts Tagged ‘National Poetry Month’

poem is between Picasso face and “Land of Morning Calm” flyer

 

The Rest

by Lawrence Raab

 

You’ve tried the rest.

You’ve waited long enough.

Everything catches up with you.

 

And you’re too old,

or too young.

Or you don’t have the money

 

or you don’t have the time.

Maybe you’re shy, and maybe

you’re just afraid.

 

How often have you heard it,

have you promised

yourself you’d try

 

something really different

if you had the chance?

Though you can’t help but wonder

 

if all those people

know what they’re doing, now

you’re saying it with them:

 

Eventually everything

catches up with us,

and it starts to show.

 

We’ve waited all our lives, or as long

as we can remember, whichever

is long enough.

 

 

I pinned Lawrence Raab’s “The Rest” on a bulletin board at my local post office. This poem depresses me, it feels heavy in spite of Raab’s expert light touch. But I’ve gotten Raab really wrong before, so I leave it to you. Hopeful or hopeless? Or am I asking the wrong question?

 

From a previous post:

Lawrence Raab was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1946. He went to Middlebury College and earned his masters from Syracuse. He’s taught at University of Michigan, American University, and these days at Williams College. He’s one numerous awards and grants and has published seven collections of poetry. This poem, “Marriage,” comes from his 1993 collection What We Don’t Know About Each Other.

 

Raab has also written screenplays and adapted Aristophanes’ The Birds for theater.

 

 

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It’s just-spring here in Michigan and each little green shoot is a jigger of encouragement. So is this poem, “Thank You” by Ross Gay, which I left in a pile of dead leaves at the end of a church parking lot.

 

Thank You
by Ross Gay
If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

 

Seasonally this poem is off—it’s set in late fall—but existential crises come year-round.

 

Ross Gay was born in 1974 in Youngstown, Ohio but grew up in Pennsylvania. He teaches at Indiana University and Drew University’s low-residency MFA program. He’s won many awards, among them a Cave Canem Workshop fellowship.

 

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File under Best Laid Plans. Nearly two years ago I resolved (publicly, unfortunately) to use up my stash of poems by posting several a week. Of course they’re still here. They’ve even grown in number. All the crinkled slips of paper stuffed in my Poem Elf bag like old underwear—I can’t bear to throw them out when they still hold shape, ratty though they are.

 

But a Thoughtful Reader (see comment at end of linked post) reminded me it’s National Poetry Month, and National Poetry Month is as good as a spring cleaning for a poem-hoarder. I’m re-upping my pledge to post poems with minimal commentary on as many days of the month as I can, here on the blog and on Twitter, in hopes of getting rid of most of them.

 

Let’s get on with it.

 

I poked a stick through Li Po’s “The Cold Clear Spring at Nanyang” along the banks of a not-entirely clear cold spring.

 

 

The Cold Clear Spring at Nanyang

by Li Po

 

A pity it is evening, yet

I do love the water of this spring

seeing how clear it is, how clean;

rays of sunset gleam on it,

lighting up its ripples, making it

one with those who travel

the roads; I turn and face

the moon; sing it a song, then

listen to the sound of the wind

amongst the pines.

 

Singing a song to the moon, I love that.

 

Li Po (701-762) was the most famous Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, also known as the Golden Age of Chinese Poetry.

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poem is on second shelf from the bottom, on top of "Sales Order" pad

poem is on second shelf from the bottom, on top of “Sales Order” pad

 

The Business Life

by David Ignatow

When someone hangs up, having said

to you, “Don’t come around again,”

and you have never heard the phone

bang down with such violence

nor the voice vibrate with such venom,

pick up your receiver gently and dial

again, get the same reply; and dial

again, until he threatens. You will

then get used to it, and be sick only

instead of shocked. You will live

then instead of die, have a pattern

to go by, familiar to your ear,

your senses and your dignity.

Image 1

 

This one is from my Twitter feed, so I’m not going to comment too much, except to explain the very sorry state of the paper this poem is printed on, the tears and crumples. I’ve carried “The Business Life” around in my purse for the better part of a year. Bad things happen to papers in my purse. And I can’t bear to throw out a poem, no matter how worn.

 

I left the poem in a lonely aisle of Office Depot, but it really belongs in a sales training program. Or a life training program, if I’m going to be gloomy about it.

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 3.18.00 PMA brief bio: David Ignatow (1914-1997) was the child of Russian immigrants. (Of course! That Russian fatalism is all over this poem.) He was born in Brooklyn, and after graduating from high school, worked as a bookbinder and newspaper reporter. Work being the subject of this poem and of many of his poems, it’s interesting to note how many different places Ignatow worked in his life to support his family: at a vegetable market, hospital, telegram office, paper company (hello, Michael Scott), and several universities.

 

I’ve liked this guy for a long time, and reading about his life, I like him even more. Think I’ll have to track down more poems of his to poem-elf.

 

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I found this poem last spring, just after the last forsythia bush had turned green. I had to wait a whole year for the next blooming, and then I found that the poem is absolutely right. No one does plant forsythia anymore. The forsythia I found was mostly on private property. Private property with overgrown yews and old landscaping.

 

I finally found a row of forsythia by the library, separating the parking lot from a busy highway:

 

poem is in bush

poem is in bush

 

and taped Alison Brackenbury’s “Schemes” to a branch:

Image

I love this little poem, but can’t figure out why it’s called “Schemes.” Any ideas?

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Image

 

I was stepping out the door into a thunderstorm with a shoebox of poems when my husband asked where I was going.

 

“An errand for my blog,” I said.

 

He looked at the weather and looked at the poems bundled in a protective garbage bag and said, “Sometimes I think you’re a little crazy.”

 

Usually I don’t mind being called a little crazy.  It puts me in the good company of all the kooks and eccentrics I admire and enjoy.  Years ago I heard Irish writer Edna O’Brien explain herself this way:  “I’m not what you would call the sanest woman in the universe.  In fact I might have a little extra insanity.”  She wasn’t joking in the least.

 

But this time, “a little crazy” sounded less like “charming and creative” and more like “pointless and irrelevant.”

 

IMG_2283Sometimes I wonder why I do what I do. Why do I go out in the rain to a coffee shop to set up a display of give-away poems that will be moved by the management to a back corner where hardly anyone sees it?  Why do I slink around public parks or libraries waiting for people to leave so I can tape a poem to a bike rack or bench and take a picture?  Why do I go back to check if the poem is still there?  Why am I writing this post when I could draw in hundreds more viewers with pictures of my dog?

 

Maybe National Poetry Month has brought on this crisis of confidence.  With the National Poetry Foundation, teachers and bloggers all cheering Yes, poetry matters! so insistently that everyone suspects it doesn’t, a person several rungs down the poetry ladder, a person who doesn’t write poetry but writes about poetry, and not even writing about poetry for an academic audience who might possibly care but for a general audience who doesn’t, that person might feel a little sorry for herself.

 

after the snow

after the snow

It’s been a rotten April in Michigan, wet, cold and today actually snowing on the just-blossoming forsythia.  The month began badly with a gratuitously cruel op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the irrelevance of contemporary poetry.  Essayist Joseph Epstein, perhaps trying to reprise the uproar he caused twenty-five years ago with his essay “Who Killed Poetry,” wrote a follow-up piece on April Fool’s Day called “The Poetic Justice of April 1.”  Epstein writes that although he loves poetry, old poetry that is, poetry that’s already in the canon, poetry that’s been blessed by Harold Bloom I suppose, he finds more recent poetry worthy only of his considered contempt.  He writes,  “the biggest fools of all may well be those who believe that contemporary poetry matters in the least except to those who, against a high barbed-wire wall of national indifference, continue solemnly to churn it out.” Judging from the meager number of comments the essay generated, folks were just as indifferent to his rant.

 

Epstein is a great writer and he’s funny and smart, but here he underestimates the general public.   The searches on my blog offer a counter argument to his assertion of national indifference to contemporary poetry. Nearly every day someone is looking for a wedding poem or a children-leaving-home poem or a poem by Billy Collins.  Sometimes the search terms include a phrase from a poem and often those poems are contemporary.  Not everyone is looking for Yeats and Keats.  As poet Jane Hirshfield says (and I’ve quoted this in a past post, so forgive me for repeating it),

 

I think that in good times or bad times for poetry as a whole, people will always have periods in their lives when they turn to poetry. Dealing with grief or falling in love, people will look for a poem or perhaps write one in the attempt to sort through and understand their most powerful experiences. Or, for the occasions of large transition — a marriage or a funeral — they will ask someone to read a poem that marks and holds the feeling. One of the jobs of poets is to keep making those holding words available, so that when other people need them they will be there.”

 

And here’s another thing, Joseph Epstein.  This month my daughter sent me two poems given to her by two different young men, both graduating college seniors.  Granted the poems don’t exactly disprove Epstein’s thesis—one poem is actually a lyric and the other is by Emily Dickinson—but the fact that two guys cared enough about a poem to share it suggests that our yearning for meaning will always keep poetry, old or new, relevant.

 

The first friend, an engineering student, forwarded Lizzie part of a song by Rage Against the Machine called “Snakecharmer.”  I’m treating it as a poem because that’s the form he sent it in.  If he intended it to be experienced as a song, he would have sent a youtube video.  Here it is:

 

Father’s expectations,

soul soaked in, spit and urine

And you gotta make it where?

To a sanctuary that’s a fragile American hell

An empty dream

A selfish, horrific vision

Passed on like the deadliest of viruses

Crushing you and your naive profession

Have no illusions boy

Vomit all ideals and serve

Sleep and wake and serve

And don’t just think just wake and serve

 

I don’t understand the comma after soul soaked in but I love the incredulity of the question that follows:  And you gotta make it where?  The idea that the American dream is a deadly virus passed from father to son is a powerful one. For a college kid who doesn’t want to spend life in a cubicle, this poem is a rallying cry.

 

Her other friend had talked to her about trying to decide whether or not to become a priest. Perhaps by way of an answer, he sent her this:

 

Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church

by Emily Dickinson

 

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –

I keep it, staying at Home –

With a Bobolink for a Chorister –

And an Orchard, for a Dome –

 

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –

I, just wear my Wings –

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton – sings.

 

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –

I’m going, all along.

 

Here are two guys, neither one an English major or aspiring writer, finding solace and satisfaction in poetry. Both found poems that speak directly to their life decisions, their philosophies, and their dreams.  How do you get more relevant than that?

 

All of which is a timely reminder of why I keep writing this blog.  This is my fantasy:  waiting at the train station or rushing through the grocery store, someone chances upon a poem I’ve left behind, reads it, thinks about it, and steps back from the frantic surface of life long enough to discover the poem’s relevance, which was there all along, hidden among all the irrelevant things we call important.

 

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