Posts Tagged ‘poem’

Photo: Amanda Barrows via Instagram | ccsf_p4p via Upworthy.
Amanda Barrows has placed a “poetry nightstand” in parks around San Francisco, including Alamo Square, left, and Golden Gate Park.

Here’s a good one for all my poet friends — actually, not just for poets, for everyone. Read about a park ranger in California who is getting all kinds of people involved in the art of poetry.

Sydney Page reports at the Washington Post, “In the middle of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, a park ranger carefully placed a wooden nightstand on the ground. She attached a sign she made:

“ ‘Take a poem, leave a poem.’

“Since the nightstand’s debut there last month, amateur poets have filled it with more than 100 handwritten poems.

“ ‘The wind graces this park / Like a breezy whisper / as sounds of longing / echo from the nearby piano,’ one parkgoer scribbled on a piece of lined paper that they then left in the nightstand.

“Amanda Barrows, who came up with the idea, was surprised that it worked and people followed her instructions. …

“During the pandemic, Barrows — who said she has always considered herself a writer — decided to try her hand at poetry and signed up for a workshop.

“ ‘I had a really beautiful time,’ said Barrows, who then enrolled in another poetry class at City College of San Francisco ‘to keep the inspiration flowing, and keep myself writing.’

“The culminating assignment for the class — which is called Poetry for the People and has been taught at the school since 1975 — is a field project. Students are asked to find a way to ‘bring poetry into the community.’ …

“It dawned on her that she could perhaps fuse together her two worlds — parks and poetry. A colleague offered up a weathered nightstand, which Barrows thought would be the perfect vessel for her project, as she could fill the drawer at the top with fresh paper and pens and add a box at the bottom for poems. To get the ball rolling, she asked her close friends to help her stock the drawer with their favorite poems for people to take. …

“Since she only had a single nightstand to work with, Barrows decided she would leave it in one park for four days before moving it to a new location. …

“ ‘I’m in the parks all the time, and I see the many different ways people utilize them,’ she said, explaining that she wanted her project to reach as many people as possible.

‘Every resident of San Francisco is within a 10-minute walk to a park.’ …

“ ‘I love to see different people’s handwriting, and for them to be sharing their personal words,’ she said. “ ‘Every day that I check it and I have had submissions, it feels like Christmas.’ …

“The instructors of the Poetry for the People class — which is free for San Francisco residents — said Barrows’s nightstand has fulfilled the primary purpose of the project, which is to bring poetry to the community in a creative way.

“The success of Barrows’s project reinforces that ‘people need poetry now,’ said Lauren Muller, who started teaching the class at CCSF in 2000. ‘It fills me with optimism.’

“Other students have come up with various creative concepts, such as writing chalk poetry on neighborhood sidewalks and distributing poems disguised as parking tickets.

“ ‘It’s thrilling to see the work that students are doing,’ said Muller, adding that she hopes others will be inspired to establish similar initiatives in their own communities. ‘My hope is that this will happen across city parks, in D.C. and elsewhere.’

“Tanea Lunsford Lynx, a guest instructor for the class, agreed. ‘It’s really special to see that Poetry for the People is the catalyst but that it has a much, much bigger life; it’s one of the best things we could hope for,’ she said, adding that she believes San Franciscans are gravitating toward Barrows’s project in particular, as it has an old-fashioned feel ‘in the context of hyper-tech central.’ …

“ ‘It really is a community project,’ Barrows said. ‘It belongs to all of us.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Covid Murals

Photos: John.

John was in Malden yesterday and saw the Covid murals on the bike path. He was stunned. I tried to find a descriptive article about them online but ended up having to copy lines of poems from the photos on Flickr. I hope I got all the punctuation right. Poets care about such things.

How soon we forget what it was like to be deep in the midst of this! When we thought protecting ourselves meant wiping down the groceries with bleach. When doctors and nurses were having to reuse masks and were sending out pleas for people to find old masks in their garage workshops and take them to emergency rooms. When there were few test kits and no vaccines. How soon we forget it was all about breath and breathing!

The memorial to lost lives in Malden features both art and written words. These are excerpts from the poems.

Terry E. Carter wrote a poem about his mother called “Ventilation.”

“She wouldn’t wear a mask.
“I couldn’t even ask. …
“Said her freedom meant more than anything —
“wasn’t gonna let the liberals win.”

Ten-year-old Elliana J. Shahan’s poem “Because of You” honors farmers, shopkeepers, postal workers, doctors, teachers, and all who kept the world running in the dark times.

Jessica Frazier Vasquez’s is poem about the beep beep beep of her dad’s ventilator showing he was at least still alive: “It tells me that you’re still fighting/Battling to come back.” At least for a while.

Sharon Briner Santillo’s poem noted how one never used to know what was going on behind a neighbor’s windows and how one may feel more connected now.

“I know you
“Your sorrowful heart
“Your beautiful resilience …
“I know you
“And you know me.”

There is another by Dina Stander called “Breath”: “May her memory be for a blessing.” And one by Denise Keating called “A Slow Goodbye” about her father, who had already been paralyzed by a stroke for 10 years.

“We hovered by the window
“Moths fluttering for your voice
“We went away.
“You slipped away.
“And now.
“We let you go.
“We didn’t want you to fight.
“But we still struggle
“To remember
“To breathe.

More at MaldenArts, here. Be sure to look at the Flickr pictures, here: you can zoom in to read the words. Most of the poems are not literary, but all are heartfelt.

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Talk about making delicious lemonade out of unwanted lemons! Here’s what two creative friends came up with during lockdown.

Sarah Buttenwieser writes at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “Like so many of us, artist Katy Schneider worried about how to face quarantine and its uncertainty. Rather than bake sourdough, she reached for a bunch of discarded 3-by-4-inch aluminum slides from Smith College, where she’s taught art for 30 years.

‘I knew I could repurpose the aluminum plates,’ Schneider says. ‘I knew I needed a project to get through quarantine. I like working on things that are the same size.’

“She decided to paint shoes each day. ‘I wanted to play with color and texture,’ she says. ‘These tiny paintings became an exercise to keep me in the studio.’

“After a few weeks, she shared the images with friends, inviting them to write stories or poems about the paintings. … Her most loyal respondent was musician, music teacher and songwriter Jim Armenti.

“ ‘Jim wrote about every single shoe painting,’ Schneider says. There were 40 paintings.

“Schneider moved on from shoes. She began to paint other things she found around her house, like ‘laundry in a laundry basket.’ … Meanwhile, she kept sending Armenti images.

“ ‘Jim continued to write a poem about each painting. It was like we became beholden to one another to complete this daily practice, which has become essential. As soon as I am in my basement sitting with my paints, I feel more relaxed. …

“ ‘Unlike portraiture, which I’ve done so much of, these paintings are of things I’ve never focused upon,’ Schneider says. ‘I feel no pressure to match my best work, because I don’t have best work of these objects; it’s all new discoveries. I’m creating these weirdly joyful images during an abysmal time. It’s energizing. I’m having fun with it.’ …

“Schneider enjoys the fact that the slide dividers worked to protect history — slides — and that she’s repurposing them to create an historical document.

“ ‘These images preserve this time in history, as the slides did before they were digitized,’ she reflects. ‘We are all going through this at once, but alone, and there’s something echoed in that from the tiny images, each divided by squares on the wall, as the dividers kept the slides from one another originally.’ …

“Armenti … loved ‘the solidity of the project right away. It was in my wheelhouse. I just like to do the thing — write the poem — much as I like live performance.’

“He doesn’t watch videos of his musical performances and he doesn’t like to return to the poems he’s written, either. Instead, he considers the poems ‘part of my day.’ …

“Before 8:30 a.m., he responds to email, completes chess moves, takes language lessons online — Spanish, Italian and Turkish — and writes a poem in response to Schneider’s daily painting.

“ ‘I think of her paintings as being of things that are overlooked,’ Armenti conjectures. ‘I like to let a narrative emerge from them, for them to take me on an emotional journey.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Concord Art.
Silver Linings: Paintings, Process and Poetryis an exhibit of Katy Schneider paintings and Jim Armenti poems. Visitors can see it at Concord Art until May 13, 2021. Covid safety rules are in force.

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Photo: Charles-Foix Hospital.
At “l’Orbe,” a hospital for the elderly in a suburb of Paris, some patients are getting visits from delightful strangers. Remote visits are offered worldwide.

What a great initiative this is! Free and in many languages. Maybe a poetry-loving Farsi-speaker who misses her family would like me to send her one of these poetic “consultations” sometime when she’s not too busy with work. I need to check.

Laura Cappelle reports at the New York Times, ” ‘I am calling you for a poetic consultation,” said a warm voice on the telephone. ‘It all starts with a very simple question: How are you?’

“Since March [2020], almost 15,000 people around the world have received a call like this. These conversations with actors, who offer a one-on-one chat before reading a poem selected for the recipient, started as a lockdown initiative by a prominent Paris playhouse, the Théâtre de la Ville, in order to keep its artists working while stages remained dark.

“It’s free: Anyone can sign up for a time slot, or make a gift of a call to someone. The exchange generally starts with simple questions about the recipient’s life, then ranges in any direction; after 20 to 25 minutes, the actor introduces the poem.

“As coronavirus restrictions in France stretch on, the program has become such a hit that the Théâtre de la Ville now offers consultations in 23 languages, including Farsi, its latest addition. It has also been expanded to encompass different subjects and formats: Since December, the actors have held consultations at a hospital and at emergency shelters run by the city of Paris.

“When Johanna White, the comedian who called me, asked how I was doing, I answered honestly. We may tell white lies to reassure loved ones, but there is no reason to skirt the truth with a kind stranger. White and I shared our pandemic coping strategies and talked about the ways in which theater has adapted in the past year.

“And then White picked my poem: ‘Incantation,’ by the Polish-American poet Czeslaw Milosz. ‘Human reason is beautiful and invincible,’ she began after a pause. …

“When I hung up the phone, I felt a little lighter. White, who has a rich, deep voice, was adept at putting an audience of one at ease, and Milosz’s words held hope.

“ ‘Through the phone it can be intimate, because generally you’re isolated,’ White, a trilingual voice actor, said in an interview the next day.

“She estimates that in the past year, she has talked to between 400 and 500 people, from places including Wisconsin, Los Angeles, Chile and Niger. A man based in Beirut told her about local riots in which he had lost half of a hand; from Mexico, an 85-year-old woman shared her grief about being separated from her 92-year-old lover by pandemic-mandated rules.

“Consultations involve a great deal of improvisation, White said, including choosing a poem for a person you’ve only just met. ‘Each of us has our own method,’ she added. ‘I file them by emotions, by feelings.’

“For the director of the Théâtre de la Ville, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, the idea of individual consultations with actors didn’t come out of the blue. In 2002, when he was at the helm of the northern French theater La Comédie, in Reims, he initiated in-person sessions at a local bar. …

“Other institutions have taken an interest in the program’s popularity. The Théâtre de la Ville has partnered with a handful of European playhouses [to] expand its roster of actors. Additionally, Demarcy-Mota and his team are in the process of holding phone training sessions with around 100 actors from nine African countries, including Benin and Mali, so theaters there can replicate the program.

“Demarcy-Mota acknowledged that the consultation format didn’t suit all stage actors. ‘Some were scared. You’re no longer performing while someone else watches: Instead, you’re in the position of listening to someone.’ It involves a degree of psychology, White said, but ‘we’re not psychologists.’ …

“The Théâtre de la Ville also brought back in-person consultations this winter in partnership with public institutions. The Charles-Foix hospital in Ivry-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb, was the first to allow performers to come for conversations with staff members and patients. …

“For some residents, especially those with dementia, the performances were adapted: Instead of asking questions, Kontou sang to them directly, in a transparent mask so they could see her mouth. Still, the music inspired interaction. At one point, a 97-year-old woman, Simone Gouffe, almost rose from her wheelchair and started singing, her voice powerful despite her slight frame.” More at the New York Times, here.

Photo: Artisanal Paper
A classic poem that could be read to you by a French actor doing a poetry “consultation.”

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Photo: TracyRittmueller.com

Poet Tracy Rittmueller is a friend I connected with through blogging. We almost met in person when she was living in Rhode Island, but she moved home to Minnesota after her husband developed a mild cognitive impairment that is associated with non-Alzheimer dementia.

I’m telling you that so you will understand the origins of her resonant poem about a broken cup. It seems to start with her husband’s impairment and spread outward into other lives and ways of understanding. Here it is in part.

What Is There About Us Always
by Tracy Rittmueller

“You gave me a teacup, terra-cotta inside, outside
sun-washed like some villas in Italy.
“It pleased me, as it pleases me when
every morning you wake early
“to prepare my tea, even now when you cannot remember
the day, washing dishes I knocked my teacup
“against the faucet. My teacup. I gathered
ochre shards, trashed them on the day’s spent tea
“leaves, said nothing. Finding those fragments
you spoke one word. Oh. Rinsed them,
“dried them, glued them together. …

“Sometimes I worry your tenuous
“memory will fracture our companionship.
But I know who you are, always the one
“who salvaged those wrecked remnants—
my heart—to restore that broken vessel—me.”

Read the whole poem here.

About her life these days, Tracy writes, “I am greatly supported by a monastery of Benedictine women, who have basically adopted us. They have over 200 Sisters, whose average age is 83. They have so much experience with this, and model for me how to care for [him] with compassion and respect, while making sure I’m not sacrificing my health or my life to do it. Plus, they all understand what’s happening with him, and very skillfully befriend him so that I’m not his sole sense of safety and love in this world. We’re content and live together with a great amount of love and serenity, and I’m very, very grateful. …

“I’m clearing every unnecessary thing out of my life, a process that I’m still going through, moving toward an ever more simple and quiet life, because that’s what suits my personality, temperament, and my physical/mental/spiritual health needs. I suppose from the outside it might look like I’ve gone hermit, but I am richly supported by the Sisters and associates circling around the monastery, where I find more intelligent, kind, wise, eccentric-interesting, and helpful people than I can keep up with, and by my community of weirdly wonderful poet-friends. And, as this pandemic is teaching us, there are myriad ways to connect without leaving one’s house.”

Read one of Tracy’s recent articles on poetry. You might also like to check out a blog post she wrote at GoodReads.

Photo: Spinningpots.com

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No one gets to avoid death, but whether death occurs in war or in peace, some happen too soon and too cruelly for the survivors. Let’s do what we can to prevent untimely loss.

This poem is by Wilfred Owen, who died young in World War I.

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

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Photo: Erin Clark for the Boston Globe
Lucy Wisson hugged her son, Giani DiTrapani, in their Port Huron home. Giani, a junior at Michigan State University, had always shared his mom’s political beliefs. Then in fall 2017, he went to college.

A recent Boston Globe story by Liz Goodwin (here) about how politics is both dividing — and not dividing — families spoke to a growing preoccupation of mine. Even the Dalai Lama tweets about it: how do we find common ground and things to love about people who think very differently from us? Next to climate change and inequality, that may be the biggest challenge of our time.

What struck me most in reading about the religious, politically conservative young man who went off to college and began to think differently from his mother was the mother’s tolerance and ability to change enough to stay close to him. I thought, Wow, I really don’t agree with all her views, but I do see that there are things about which she has an open mind.

We can always learn.

The Lothlorien elf Haldir in the Fellowship of the Ring says, “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but there is still much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps greater.” Now there’s a thought to ponder! That love in times of darkness grows more powerful.

So here’s a poem to help us all remember that we really do know how to appreciate things about people who are not like us.

Small Kindnesses
~ a poem by Danusha Lameris ~

“I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
“down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
“to let you by. Or how strangers still say ‘bless you’
“when someone sneezes, a leftover
“from the Bubonic plague. ‘Don’t die,’ we are saying.
“And sometimes, when you spill lemons
“from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
“pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
“We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
“and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
“at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
“to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
“and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
“We have so little of each other, now. So far
“from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
“What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
“fleeting temples we make together when we say, ‘Here,
“have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead — you first,’ ‘I like your hat.’ ”

Oh, my, oh, my! Bless all poets!

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Photo: Amherst College
Amherst College holds the original of the only currently authenticated photograph of poet Emily Dickinson, a daguerreotype.

A follower of this blog is Romanian and has a blog with a feature I hadn’t seen before. When you click on an individual post, you get a drop-down menu on the right for choosing any language you want the post translated into. I have used English, of course, but I’ve also tried French and Esperanto.

This got me thinking about Google Translate, a terrific service but imperfect. And I thought, What if we played a game of Telephone with Google Translate? You remember Telephone, I’m sure. A group of people sit in a circle, and the first person whispers a phrase in the ear of the second, the second whispers it in the ear of the third, and so on. When you get to the end, the phrase is usually mangled in an interesting way. and everybody laughs about what they thought they heard. (I had fun playing Telephone with an ESL class last year. You can just imagine!)

For my experiment, I decided to use a bit of poetry by Emily Dickinson and translate it into different languages and back into English between languages. I stopped when I got a translation that was kooky enough for my taste.

Let me know if you can think of other ways to play the Google Translate game.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all

“Esperanza” es la cosa con plumas –
Que se posa en el alma
Y canta la melodía sin las palabras –
Y nunca se detiene – en absoluto (Spanish)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul
And sing the melody without the words –
And it never stops – at all

“Hope” est la chose avec des plumes –
Qui se perche dans l’âme
Et chante la mélodie sans les mots –
Et ça ne s’arrête jamais – du tout (French)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
Who perches in the soul
And sing the melody without the words –
And it never stops – at all

“Hopp” är saken med fjädrar –
Vem perches i själen
Och sjunga melodin utan orden –
Och det slutar aldrig – alls (Swedish)

“Jump” is the case with feathers –
Who perches in the soul
And sing the melody without words –
And it never ends – at all

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Today’s bonus is a wonderful poem by Alexa Selph that appeared on the Poetry Foundation website. Asakiyume sent it to me.

Market Forecast
By Alexa Selph

“Adjectives continue
“their downward spiral,
“with adverbs likely to follow.

“Wisdom, grace, and beauty
“can be had three for a dollar,
“as they head for a recession.

“Diaphanous, filigree,
pearlescent, and love
“are now available
“at wholesale prices.

“Verbs are still blue-chip investments,
“but not many are willing to sell. …”

Please read the whole, delicious thing here.

“Alexa Selph, a freelance editor in Atlanta,” says the Poetry Foundation website, “teaches a class called ‘The Pleasure of Reading Poetry’ as part of the adult education program at Emory University. She has contributed poems to Georgia State University Review, Habersham Review, and Blue Mesa.”


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Photo: eGuide Travel
The highlands of Papua, New Guinea, are among the isolated places that linguists search for speakers of dying languages.

I’ve blogged before about linguists and others who are trying to preserve languages spoken by only a few people. The belief is that there is intrinsic value in such endangered languages and that they are key to understanding cultures. Recently I saw that one group is focusing on a particular manifestation of rare languages — their poems.

Fiona Macdonald writes at the BBC about the Endangered Poetry Project.

” ‘They fly to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea and there they take a bus for three days and then they hike over a mountain and then they take a canoe and then they get to this little bay with 300 people,’ ” she reports, quoting Mandana Seyfeddinipur, head of the Endangered Languages Archive at London’s SOAS [School of Oriental and African Studies]. …

” They are ‘PhD students of 25 with a digital camera, a digital audio recorder and solar panels.’ …

“ ‘They live with the communities for months at a time, and develop social relationships, and talk to them and record them, and then they come back and they give me this SD card. … ‘The only record that we have of this language is in this tiny SD card.’ …

“The newly launched Endangered Poetry Project aims to tackle [language] loss at another level. ‘Languages are dying out at an astonishing rate: a language is being lost every two weeks,’ says the National Poetry Librarian Chris McCabe. ‘And each of those languages has a poetic tradition of some sort.’ …

“The project has issued a call-out to members of the public, asking for poems written in an endangered or vulnerable language. ‘In the first week, we’ve had over a dozen submissions in about 10 languages,’ says McCabe. ‘That includes poems in Breton, and poems in a dialect of Breton called Vannes. We’ve had a poem in Alsatian, and the Sardinian dialect Logudorese. We’re interested in these variations in language in different places as well, which can often be markedly different from the established language. …

” ‘You get a focus on place – in poems we’ve received from Sardinia, for example, there’s a focus on the mountain range there,’ says McCabe. ‘It shows you where people felt drawn to for inspiration in the landscape. Also, the style of a lot of Gaelic poems is very lyrical, and often uses repetition, a lot like a song. In that poetic tradition, you see how the division between poetry and music is quite slight – they often cross over between one and the other. The poetry tells us a lot about what kind of artistic experience people like, as well as what’s important in their geography.’ ”

Lots more here. Very interesting stuff.

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mariannemooresplash-1Ellen’s friend and colleague Heather Cass White has come out with a new edition of poetry by Marianne Moore, the quirky inventor of “turtle top” for a car design, among other, more significant literary adventures.

I once had the pleasure of hearing Marianne Moore read at Bryn Mawr College. She looked so much like my grandmother. My parents encouraged me to read her books, providing O, To Be a Dragon! for example. Random lines stuck with me, like this statement on poetry: “I, too, dislike it.”

On the website “FSGWork in Progress,” White writes thoughtfully about the challenges presented by her subject.

“In trying to sum up the experience of having spent the last ten years editing the poetry of Marianne Moore, most recently in the New Collected Poems, I think of a recent classroom interaction I had. Toward the end of a course on twentieth-century poetry, one of my students, clearly at the end of her patience with me, demanded to know why I kept asking them, ‘But what is a poem?’ It’s probably a measure of how deeply I feel that question that I hadn’t noticed I’d asked it even once before she pointed it out.

“I do know why I am stuck on it, however. Editing Moore’s work will deprive anyone of their certainty about what a poem actually is. All poetry editing raises a fundamental issue: Is a poem a specific ordering of words on a page? And if so, which page? The one the poet originally wrote, whether by hand or type; or the one that was first published; or the one that was last published?

“If all of those arrangements of words are identical, one may duck the question, but they rarely are. Typesetters and proofreaders make mistakes, and they also make corrections which poets find agreeable. Poets change their minds. Conventions of spelling and punctuation vary from house to house, and change over time. There are competing theories about how to handle such issues, and consensus views to guide practitioners, but the questions must always be confronted.

“At the risk of seeming to brag, I will claim that confronting these questions in Moore’s work is unusually torturous. Someone had to, though, because the final record Moore left of her own work — and the standard Moore edition for several decades — has been her mendaciously titled Complete Poems (1967). …

“Creating one, however, is tricky. Her lifelong practices of revising, reordering, and redacting her poems make a special kind of hash out of any attempt to be definitive. Certainly her revisions are the most spectacular problem. Moore didn’t just write poems, she rewrote them, often completely, often more than once. …

“Moore deserves careful editorial attention because she is, by any measure, a major poet. She was and is revered by her poet peers for her inventiveness, her fierce intelligence, her wit, and her moral vision. Her work is original, with an original’s perennial newness. In editing the New Complete Poems, I have done what editors do: devised a working set of procedures to present the poet I know and value. I have not, because I cannot, settled any questions about what her poetry is or may become. Original things always exceed definitive presentation and containment. Long may her poems confound us.” More here.

In one of the ESL classes where I volunteer, we have been reading Emily Dickinson. Time to suggest Moore to the teacher, I think. Women poets don’t get nearly the respect they deserve: it pains me to recall that as much as my father wanted me to know the work of these women, he told me there were no great female poets.

Update 8/5/17: Moore editor Heather Cass White made an appearance at the Island Bound Bookstore tonight. Her talk was super. The book sounded very accessible as well as more authoritative than previous editions. Reader, I bought it.

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It is not really spring yet although a weird February tried to fool us with several warm days before handing us back to single-digit temperatures.

There is a period in New England when the weather teeters back and forth between winter and spring — and inevitably brings to mind the e.e. cummings poem “[In Just-].” It’s a happy poem reminding one that as long as there are springs, there will always be excited children running outdoors to play, hollering back at someone in the house, “I don’t need a coat — it’s hot!”

Here is the poem:

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




balloonMan whistles


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Every once in a while I feel the need to go back to this poem. This is how it ends:

Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

—Adam Zagajewski (Translated, from the Polish, by Clare Cavanagh.)
Published in the New Yorker, September 24, 2011

In 2011, Newsweek had an interesting piece on the author’s perspective.

“A week after the collapse of the Twin Towers,” wrote Matthew Kaminski, “The New Yorker ran Polish poet Adam Zagajewski’s ‘Try to Praise the Mutilated World’ on the final page of its special 9/11 issue. Written a year and a half before the attacks, the poem nevertheless quickly became the most memorable verse statement on the tragedy, and arguably the best-known poem of the last 10 years. …

“Now 66, Zagajewski is the leading poet of the Polish generation that followed Zbigniew Herbert, Czeslaw Milosz, and Wislawa Szymborska. Milosz called his cohorts ‘the poets of ruin,’ forced to grapple with Poland’s bloody 20th century. Zagajewski fits this description as well. He was an infant when his family was loaded onto cattle cars and deported from their home in Lwów [Lviv], to be relocated by Stalin to the Soviet Union. …

“Polish poets have long thought of themselves as national bards, called to engage with the harsh world around them. ‘Polish poetry is one of the marvels of 20th-century literature,’ wrote former U.S. poet laureate Charles Simic. …

“In Zagajewski’s poetry, cruelty mingles with humor, optimism, and a keen appreciation of nature. ‘Well, why not,’ he says. ‘You write a poem. You are alive. You don’t want to be a humorless person. I think that when you write poems you aspire to something whole that’s bigger than simply lament. In poetry I think you try to reconstruct what’s humanity. Humanity is always a mix of crying and laughing.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Wikimedia
Astronomical twilight as seen from a plane window.



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With no wish to detract from the joy that Italians take from their countryman’s spirit of adventure or the pride that Americans feel for positive developments that followed the First Encounter, it’s hard to deny that it wasn’t the best thing for the people already living here. So without beating a drum that isn’t mine to beat, I’ll just share a gentle poem by a major Native American poet, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. It’s a poem that is good for all people.

Eagle Poem by Joy Harjo

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

More at the Poetry Foundation.

Update June 21, 2019: Joy Harjo became the first Native American US Poet Laureate in 2019. Click here.

Photo: Wikipedia
Joy Harjo in 2012.

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Photo: Star Tribune
Ojibwe poet Jim Northrup

I have been trying to learn something about tribal cultures in the United States. I liked Spokane/Coeur d’Alene tribal member Sherman Alexie’s Thunder Boy (a charming picture book for young children) and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (an early, painful collection of short stories). Now I am reading some Native American poetry.

One poet, Jim Northrup, recently died. Here is a beautiful obit by Jana Hollingsworth in the Duluth News Tribune.

“Jim Northrup was a ‘tough man’ who taught his eldest sons to survive in the elements by living in a tepee on the Fond du Lac Reservation for several years, when money and jobs were scarce.

“But it was more than physical survival, said his son, Matthew, on Tuesday, the day after his father died from cancer-related complications. He taught them how to be strong in a world that didn’t treat everyone the same, he said, using humor — and education — as tools.

” ‘ “When you have really nothing else,” he said to me a lot, “you have your humor,” Matthew said. ” ‘When you grow up poor on the rez and when you grow up a lower class in society, you realize that.’

“Northrup, an award-winning writer of books, columns, plays and poetry — and a prominent member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa — died [in July]. He was 73.

“Northrup was a storyteller, known for his stark and honest writing about his experience as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam and his early years at a federal boarding school. He was funny and pointed in his writings about everyday life on the reservation, politics and change in Indian Country. He wrote as a way to heal himself from some of the trauma he experienced during the war, he said earlier this year.

” ‘I knew my poetry was being used in vets’ groups to help people open up (and) maybe even write their own poetry as part of their healing,’ he told the News Tribune in March. ‘It worked for me, so I hoped it helped (others).’ ”

More here, where you can hear Northrup read a poem in Ojibwe about passing along the culture. Read the whole obit. It’s really lovely. I hated to cut it.

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