National Poetry Month, Day 30: Plugs!

Well, folks, it’s been a great month.

A living room. Where one could, say, sit in the sun and read poetry.

A living room. Where one could, say, sit in the sun and read poetry.

I’m going to say out loud something I have mostly only said in my head: poetry is a dying art. I don’t always believe that, but more and more, I do. In this world of blogs, tweets, and texts, we all have lost our attention spans. And poetry, usually, requires us to sit with things for a bit. It’s a hard task, and I wonder how many of us will still be sitting down to read poetry in ten or twenty or thirty or a hundred years.

Doing this blog all month, I have realized a couple of things about myself. I used to be a very dedicated poet. I inhabited that basement room where poets live: we were off the grid, into something a little off-kilter, part of what felt like a secret world, because so few others were in the room with us. And I loved it. I wrote many, many poems, some of which got published, many of which did not. I didn’t have to miss poetry because it was my entire existence.

Then, in 2004, when I cut out and went to travel around the world with my now-hubs, B., my relationship to poetry changed. When we got back to the States I decided I was going to write very seriously for a year, so we got a cheap apartment, I took a part-time job, and I wrote. The trouble was that I couldn’t fill the time. For me poetry happened in little fits and starts; I’d write all morning some days, and on others, I’d write for ten minutes. Or not at all. There was all that time. It was only natural that after a while, I started to write prose, which for me is something you can chip away at all day, all week (or for seven long years).

But I realized that I lost something when I stopped writing poetry: I had stopped slowing down and sitting with things in the same way. And I missed it. I still miss it.

I’m pleased to report that my long break from poetry officially ended when I started the postcard poem project with Mike Dockins. It ended because now I have an imperative to write a poem every couple of weeks. It’s not the same as it used to be, but it’s something. And it’s all coming back to me: that necessity of being slow, of being careful, even of being kind of frivolous and capturing a moment or an emotion without dogging it to death (as I do when I write, say, an essay). And I realized that the world really does need poetry, for that very reason. Because it slows us down, because it exists outside of our crazy world. It gives us a unique challenge. There’s nothing else like poetry.

Which is all to say that I hope I’m wrong that poetry is dying out, and I have resolved to help in that cause. Here’s how you can help, too.

Support Poetry Daily! It’s a great site, with a poem a day, and while I have not yet been featured there, I hope someday I will be. They’re in their spring membership campaign, and you can donate here.

faith-meserveBuy books of poetry! You can buy mine here.

Support your local literary magazine!

Support your local poetry in the schools effort. California’s can be found here.

Read poetry to your kids! Some of my favorite kids’ books include everything by Shel Silverstein and Judith Viorst’s If I Were in Charge of the World.

Read poetry yourself. In addition to the many fine poets I featured this month, check out T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, H.D., Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Ashberry, Gary Snyder, Jorie Graham, Louise Glück, Adrienne Rich, Cathy Song, Carolyn Forche, Joy Harjo, Carolyn Kizer, Heather McHugh, Russel Edson, James Tate, Dara Wier, Ai, David Rivard, Tomaz Salamun, Wislawa Zymborska, Adam Zagajiewski, Margaret Atwood, Rita Dove, Tess Gallagher, Marie Howe, Deborah Digges, Mary Oliver, W.S. Merwin, Charles Olson, Cornelius Eady, Matthew Rohrer, Matthew Dickman, Michael Dickman, Joshua Beckman, Cate Marvin, Brenda Shaughnessy….the list goes on and on. Who are YOUR favorites?

Finally, good news for me! I got a poem accepted for publication recently. It’s forthcoming in the journal Rock & Sling. Stay tuned.

All warm poetic thoughts to you,

Susie

National Poetry Month, Day 29: Mike Dockins

Today on the penultimate day of NPM I feature my good friend Mike Dockins, author of Slouching in the Path of a Comet (Sage Hill Press, 2007) and the forthcoming “Letter to So-and-So from Wherever” (C&R Press, due out, we hope, in January). Mike and I studied together in school and have kept in touch for many years. He favors letter poems (there exists a seven-page poem called “Letter to Meserve from Orgeval”), and together we’re in the midst of a postcard poem project: he writes me a poem on a postcard and mails it off; I read it, write a response, and mail one back. It’s been great fun, and stay tuned because there will be more news on that tomorrow!

For today, please enjoy “Splitting the Atom for Dummies.”

Splitting the Atom for Dummies

America the plum blossoms are falling.
—Allen Ginsberg

The atom cannot remember its baby-
hood, when it was whole. At a state fair,

west of someplace, a muscled barker
whomped it with a rubber mallet.

This was the atom’s bildungsroman:
it traveled the world, splitting itself

over islands, atolls, & fishing villages.
The atom learned Japanese, composed

lucid odes to harbors, to wings, to light—
little flashes of genius piloting down

through bright mornings, alighting
on bookshelves as thin, papery Buddhas.

(© Mike Dockins)

National Poetry Month, Day 28: Franz Wright

 

Always, since I discovered him in my last year of graduate school, Franz Wright’s poetry is with me. Even during one of the times when I’m not really reading much poetry, I pick his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book Walking to Martha’s Vineyard off the shelf occasionally and read “Fathers,” a terribly sad poem about Wright’s own father, poet James Wright, and about God, whom Franz Wright discovered somewhere along the way. My own faith is very nebulous, but for some reason when I read about God in Franz Wright’s work it feels incredibly powerful. I guess that’s the mark of an excellent writer–to be able to make non-believers into believers…or something.

Franz Wright’s life, as recorded in his poetry, has not been an easy one. There was alcoholism, homelessness, mental illness, and a great deal of other tragedy. Here is “Asking for my Younger Brother,” from Ill Lit. Enjoy.

ASKING FOR MY YOUNGER BROTHER

I never did find you.
I later heard how you’d wandered the streets
for weeks, washing dishes before you got fired;
taking occasional meals at the Salvation Army
with the other diagnosed. How on one particular night
you won four hundred dollars at cards:
how some men followed you and beat you up,
leaving you unconscious in an alley
where you were wakened by police
and arrested for vagrancy, for being tired
of getting beaten up at home.
I’d dreamed you were dead,
and started to cry.
I couldn’t exactly phone Dad.
I bought a pint of bourbon
and asked for you all afternoon in a blizzard.
In hell
Dante had words with the dead,
although
they had no bodies
and he could not touch them, nor they him.
A man behind the ticket counter
in the Greyhound terminal
pointed to one of the empty seats, where
someone who looked like me sometimes sat down
among the people waiting to depart.
I don’t know why I write this.
With it comes the irrepressible desire
to write nothing, to remember nothing;
there is even the desire
to walk out in some field and bury it
along with all my other so-called
poems, which help no one–
where each word will blur
into earth finally,
where the mind that voiced them
and the hand that took them down will.
So what. I left
the bus fare back
to Sacramento with this man,
and asked him
to give it to you.

Reno

(© Franz Wright, from Ill Lit: Selected and New Poems, Oberlin College Press, 1998)

 

 

National Poetry Month, Day 26: Dorothea Lasky

Boy holding book

Boy holding book

Today’s poem is by the talented Dorothea Lasky.

Dotty and I studied together briefly at UMass Amherst and she’s a love. Her book Awe (Wave Books, 2007) is beautiful and very compelling, and she’s published two more books, since. It’s nice to see someone, you know, making a successful go at this poetry life.

Here is “Love Poem,” which you can hear Dotty read via this link.

Enjoy!

Love Poem

The rain whistled.
.
A taxi brought me to your apartment building
And there I stood.
.
I had dreamed a dream
Of us in a bedroom.
The light shining upon us in white sheets.
.
You were singing me a song of your sailing days
And in the dream
I reached deep in you and pulled out a cardinal
Which in bright red
Flew out the window.
.
Sometimes when we talk
On the phone, I think to myself
That the deep perfect of your soul
Is what draws me to you.
But still what soul is perfect?
All souls are misshapen and off-colored.
Morning comes within a soul
And makes it obey another law
In which all souls are snowflakes.
.
Once at a funeral, a man had died
And with the prayers said, his soul flew up in a hurry
Like it had been let out of something awful.
It was strangely colored, that soul.
And it was a funny shape and a funny temperature.
As it blew away, all of us looking felt the cold.
(© Dorothea Lasky, from Awe)

National Poetry Month, Day 25: Langston Hughes

When Sue Wears Red

When Susanna Jones wears red
her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.
Come with a blast of trumphets, Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.
Blow trumphets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like a pain.
Sweet silver trumphets, Jesus!

© Langston Hughes

National Poetry Month, Day 24: Jane Kenyon & Donald Hall

Last night I read a lot of sad poems. I love sadness. It’s not an emotion I fear, and maybe for that reason my favorite poems are often about loss, death, and grief (I have a major “thing” for break-up songs, too). And I got to thinking about one of the saddest poetry stories out there: poet Jane Kenyon, who died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 47 and left behind her husband, poet Donald Hall. The story is sad for many reasons; one, because Donald Hall himself had had cancer, and shortly after he learned he would survive Jane Kenyon became ill and died quite quickly; and also because of his famous book Without (Mariner Books, 1998), which is one of the finest books of poetry I’ve ever read and which has become something of a primer about grief. After she died, Jane Kenyon’s book Otherwise was published, and to read the two side-by-side–well, I recommend it.

So for today, I wanted to post a poem by Jane Kenyon, written, one assumes, when Donald Hall was sick; after, one by Donald Hall, written after Jane Kenyon died. To me, the two poems speak to one another beautifully. Enjoy.

Afternoon at MacDowell

On a windy summer day the well-dressed

trustees occupy the first row

under the yellow and white striped canopy.

Their drive for capital is over,

and for a while this refuge is secure.

.

Thin after your second surgery, you wear

the gray summer suit we bought eight

years ago for momentous occasions

in warm weather. My hands rest in my lap,

under the fine cotton shawl embroidered

with mirrors that we bargained for last fall

in Bombay, unaware of your sickness.

.

The legs of our chairs poke holes

in the lawn. The sun goes in and out

of the grand clouds, making the air alive

with golden light, and then, as if heaven’s

spirits had fallen, everything’s somber again.

.

After music and poetry we walk to the car.

I believe in the miracles of art, but what

prodigy will keep you safe beside me,

fumbling with the radio while you drive

to find late innings of a Red Sox game?

(© Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems, Graywolf Press, 2005)

—-

The Gallery

Back home from the grave,

behind my desk I made

a gallery of Janes:

at twenty-four, with long

straight hair sitting

beside me in my Piitsburgh

Pirate suit; standing

recessive in shadow

wearing her nearsighted

glasses, Kearsarge behind us;

stretched out glamorous

in her bathing suit

at Key West; foxy

and beautiful at forty-five;

embracing me last year;

front page of the Sunday

Concord Monitor

in color with the headline:

POET JANE KENYON DIES

AT HER HOME IN WILMOT.

(© Donald Hall, from Without, Mariner Books, 1998)

 

On a windy summer day the well-dressed trustees occupy the first row under the yellow and white striped canopy. Their drive for capital is over, and for a while this refuge is secure. Thin after your second surgery, you wear the gray summer suit we bought eight years ago for momentous occasions in warm weather. My hands rest in my lap, under the fine cotton shawl embroidered with mirrors that we bargained for last fall in Bombay, unaware of your sickness. The legs of our chairs poke holes in the lawn. The sun goes in and out of the grand clouds, making the air alive with golden light, and then, as if heaven’s spirits had fallen, everything’s somber again. After music and poetry we walk to the car. I believe in the miracles of art, but what prodigy will keep you safe beside me, fumbling with the radio while you drive to find late innings of a Red Sox game? – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23334#sthash.40xupYWM.dpuf
On a windy summer day the well-dressed trustees occupy the first row under the yellow and white striped canopy. Their drive for capital is over, and for a while this refuge is secure. Thin after your second surgery, you wear the gray summer suit we bought eight years ago for momentous occasions in warm weather. My hands rest in my lap, under the fine cotton shawl embroidered with mirrors that we bargained for last fall in Bombay, unaware of your sickness. The legs of our chairs poke holes in the lawn. The sun goes in and out of the grand clouds, making the air alive with golden light, and then, as if heaven’s spirits had fallen, everything’s somber again. After music and poetry we walk to the car. I believe in the miracles of art, but what prodigy will keep you safe beside me, fumbling with the radio while you drive to find late innings of a Red Sox game? – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23334#sthash.40xupYWM.dpuf

National Poetry Month, Day 23: Shakespeare

A little bard–er, bird–told me it was Shakespeare’s birthday today, and I thought, perfect. Here is one of his most famous sonnets, 116, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds.” Enjoy!

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

(Easily accessible from many websites, as well as your neighborhood Norton Anthology of English Verse)

 

National Poetry Month, Day 22: Peter Gizzi

Edgar Poe

Winter’s the thing.
A place to lay one’s head.
To sleep at last

to sleep. Blue on flesh
in snow light,
iced boughs overhead.

This is a poem about breath,
brick, a piece of ink
in the distance.

Winter’s the thing
I miss. The font is still.
A fanfare of stone air.
© Peter Gizzi, from In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems, 1987-2001, Wesleyan University Press (taken from Poetry Daily, March 12, 2014)

National Poetry Month, Day 21: Crystal Williams

photo-11Hello!

It’s true; I spent a lovely Easter collecting eggs, eating a decadent brunch, and generally goofing off, and I did not post a poem. Mea culpa. I hope you all had a nice Sunday as well.

Today’s poem is by Crystal Williams, a great poet who teaches at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where I used to live.

Here it is. Enjoy!

From Lunatic, © Crystal Williams, Michigan State Press, 2002

From Lunatic, © Crystal Williams, Michigan State Press, 2002

National Poetry Month, Day 19: Kenneth Koch

My copy, still dog-eared from my wedding

My copy, still dog-eared from my wedding

 

Today’s poem is a favorite of mine. It’s the poem my brother read at my wedding, in fact. A good love poem is a difficult thing to do well–love, it turns out, is not unique, and often poems that are truly about love–and not about, say, the loss of love–can sound trite very quickly.

But Kenneth Koch’s “To You,” wow–“I am crazier than shirttails/In the wind, when you’re near” and “I think I am bicycling across an Africa of green and white fields/Always, to be near you….”

Via this link, you can hear this poem being read, and I advise listening, since, read aloud, this poem takes on an entirely new quality, very conversational, intimate, confessional. Enjoy.

To You
I love you as a sheriff searches for a walnut
That will solve a murder case unsolved for years
Because the murderer left it in the snow beside a window
Through which he saw her head, connecting with
Her shoulders by a neck, and laid a red
Roof in her heart. For this we live a thousand years;
For this we love, and we live because we love, we are not
Inside a bottle, thank goodness! I love you as a
Kid searches for a goat; I am crazier than shirttails
In the wind, when you’re near, a wind that blows from
The big blue sea, so shiny so deep and so unlike us;
I think I am bicycling across an Africa of green and white fields
Always, to be near you, even in my heart
When I’m awake, which swims, and also I believe that you
Are trustworthy as the sidewalk which leads me to
The place where I again think of you, a new
Harmony of thoughts! I love you as the sunlight leads the prow
Of a ship which sails
From Hartford to Miami, and I love you
Best at dawn, when even before I am awake the sun
Receives me in the questions which you always pose.
© Kenneth Koch, from Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions (Random House, 1987)