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Thursday, December 22, 2011

2 from Wallace Stevens (Couldn't Wait for Sunday)

I think that, apart from the awesomeness of the poetry, T.E. Hulme remains my favorite poet because I know a greater portion of his work than any other poet.  If you know a thing about Hulme, you will know what a lame claim it is to know all the poetical works of the guy.  That he died when he was only 34 doesn't help me.  That said, I know practically nothing about Wallace Stevens.  First, I only just "discovered" him a couple days ago.  Second, he lived a long full life.  Third, he wrote a lot of poetry.

He is also the newest of my favorite authors (a list to which I haven't added a name in years).

Here are two of his poems (the first must be read aloud; the second is my new personal anthem (I've never had a personal anthem before -- this is very exciting)):

Bantams in Pine-Woods
Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
Of tan with henna hackles, halt!

Damned universal cock, as if the sun
Was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail.

Fat!  Fat!  Fat!  Fat!  I am the personal.
Your world is you.  I am my world.

You ten-foot poet among inchlings.  Fat!
Begone!  An inchling bristles in these pines,

Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,
And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.


The House Was Quiet
and the World Was Calm
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm.  The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

Wednesday for Kids XL -- Got a Hair Dryer?

Don't tell my daughter:

I've already opened and read her Christmas present.  

(I couldn't help it.)

Internet Searchers

I am a constant--neurotic, even--blogger stat checker (you know, how many people, who they are, where they're from, and how they get here--to the blog).  It's the "how they get here" bit that's led me to an issue I wouldn't have predicted when I started this thing last year.  

I use a lot of Roman numerals in my post titles (and for it maybe you've guessed where this little entry is going), and I learned that 30 (enter 30 into my little Google search bar above to see 'em all) is particularly problematic.  I'll just leave it at that.

For some reason it bothers me that people searching for that manage to end up here, on my blog.  Go figure.  As I'm putting up a new entry for Wednesday's for Kids today (yeah, yeah -- a day late -- big deal), and it would be post 31, I'm going to avoid the problem altogether and skip to forty.  


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Poetry XLIII -- Harper's Anthology Disappoints, So I Apologize with William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Willams
Here's the biggest problem with poetry (2-fold): Primarily, there's so (maybe even too) much of it, and this is only exacerbated by the fact that its very nature undermines its potential to deliver its payload to any save the very determined few.

I sat down eager to dig up a few good pieces and post them here for your enjoyment.  I'd just come in from the garage where I found Harper's Anthology: Poetry and sat down at the computer.  I haven't gone through this particular anthology before (kind of the point, really, for bringing it in -- and half the impetus for me doing Sunday Poetry in the first place), opened the front cover.  Here is what I found at the outset (minus, of course, publication details and reservations of rights, etcetera):

           “  Colleges … have their indispensible office—to teach elements.  But they can only highly serve us when they aim not to drill but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and by the concentrated fires set the hearts of their youth on flame.
                             —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Well, so far so good, I thought.  I like Emerson; and some of my favorite literary experiences were had via college collections.  It was the preface, following, that gave me cause to pause – and fear:

           “  Harper’s Anthology is a series of three volumes: Prose, Poetry, and an accompanying Manual of Instruction.  The last-named volume contains a brief statement of general ideas which underlie the collection as an educational instrument, together with some suggestions for its use in relation to composition.

From here I went on to the table of contents and became so depressed I hardly have the energy to type, much less find a poem to share. 

Not that the poems in the collection are bad, but because they are the very works—maybe even all of them—that create a problem with poetry, at least for students, even greater than the one I mentioned at the top: Poetry is boring.

I’m not saying poetry should pander to the lowest common denominator.  Not at all.  I’m all about the … er … exclusion of those who … uhm, never mind.  Anyway, I like a lot of these poems, even love some of them.  But I don’t see how the editors who penned the preface could be the same editors who honestly believed they were upholding the standard set by Emerson, of youthful hearts aflame.

So, all that said, I’m putting Harper’s back in the garage.  I’ll be right back with, hopefully, something … uhm … well, not better … more, let’s say, appealing to the modern, casual reader.

[10 minutes later – and with Six American Poets: An Anthology in tow]

I grabbed it because I’m short on space and shorter on patience, and this book’s got William Carlos Williams in it, whom I love, and I plan to find a poem of his I haven’t yet read and present it here.

[30 minutes later – and I can’t post just one (dang! I love WCW!)]

Mezzo Forte
Take that, damn you; and that!
          And here’s a rose
     To make it right again!
          God knows
     I’m sorry, Grace; but then,
It’s not my fault if you will be a cat.

Short Poem 
You slapped my face
oh but so gently
I smiled
at the caress

Oh, black Persian cat!
Was not your life
already cursed with offspring?
We took you for rest to that old
Yankee farm, — so lonely
and with so many field mice
in the long grass —
and you return to us
in this condition — !

Oh, black Persian cat.

Complete Destruction
It was an icy day.
We buried that cat,
then took her box
and set match to it
in the back yard.
Those fleas that escaped
earth and fire
died by the cold.

Dance Russe
If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees, —
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
My shoulders, flanks, buttocks
Against the yellow drawn shades, —

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

I post the next poem, one of my favorites, only because it lends brilliant contrast to the one that  follows, that so perfectly follows in format:

From Spring and All
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Twenty sparrows

a scattered

Share and share

Saturday, December 17, 2011

See, here's the thing about symbols:

Christopher Hitchens is dead.  Facebook was alive with the news for, uhm, about a day: "The world is a lesser place without him," some said (though apparently not so lessened that the effects of his demise reverberate beyond several hours).  I'm not too chuffed, but mostly just because I know so little about him, not because I have any particular ax to grind.  However, his death, together with the typical convergence of events or things read that generally lead me to a post like this, have made me think about a few things.

Hitchens wrote a book:  God Is Not Great, in which he asserts his atheism and appears to attempt an undermining of religion.  Apart from the utter futility of such an endeavor (I'm not sure that even God could dissuade just the moderate zealotry (you know, without pressing his "Smite" button, and all); and besides, I mean, c'mon! -- did such an intelligent person as Hitchens really think he could successfully attack and undermine something so essentially illogical with carefully meted and tempered argument, or was he, so much more likely, just trying to sell copy?), he makes some interesting arguments, the vast majority of which I'm not interested in here.  One of his weaker assertions, however, is an attack on the anachronisms--the "ill-carpentered fictions"--of the Bible, which affords a starting point for my discussion.

Let me be the first to say, and despite my love for the Bible, that the tome is chock full of some of the strangest tails and details I've ever come across.  Hitchens thinks so, too (one of the very few upon which we agree).  The Pentateuch, for instance, holds Moses doing and saying some weird stuff--freaky weird, even.  What Hitchens doesn't seem to acknowledge (or, well, he does, but sites it as a further weakness (and I'm not fighting that claim right now)) is the effects of the passage time, one linguistic/cultural and the other human error/interference.  Anyone who studies the Bible will cheerfully acknowledge the dire effect of imperfect people working on or on behalf of the scriptures--the otherwise perfect Word (of course, for most of us, one of the great benefits of the Bible comes directly from the very effort involved in parsing Truth from among all the problems) --not all of whom had good intentions.  But even under the best circumstances, people, despite God's perfection, make mistakes (and those who believe and really think about it will allow that God even permits these mistakes), so many of whom appear in their efforts to forward God's word.  Bigger still, however, than the weakness of even the best-intentioned of men (and there were plenty of malingerers), is the effect of cultural development.  Anachronisms aside, to us today, there's an awful lot, especially from the earliest books of the great Library, that doesn't make much sense and/or contradicts itself.  This brings me to the next of the convergences and closer to my ultimate point.

Languages and cultures shift and change.  Don't believe me (and, crap if you don't, you're freaking obtuse!)?  Just read a week's worth of posts from The Language Log.  Without putting too fine a point on it (and we've talked about it before vis a vis translation) it is essentially impossible--or, at best, impractical--to manage perfect cross-cultural  or cross-language shifts: a translation.  The best we can manage, and we can manage pretty well, is interpretation (hence the art and skill of interpreters against the woeful ineptitude of things like Google Translate and Word's grammar check) --interpretation which requires a ladder into the ether of metalanguage, which we are definitely not going to broach today.  The point is we cannot--EVER--perfectly understand a person of a different language and culture.  Period.  Move this to an extremity of language and culture like that of freaking Moses, and ... well ....  Get the point?

As it's Christmastime, cards and letters are starting to come in from family and friends.  In our house, we post these decoratively upon the cupboards of our kitchen.  Generally, the missives convey family news -- count on my dad to take a different tack (and I don't remember him ever being the one to scribe the annual letter for my folks; how things change!).  He talked about a conversation he and my mom had had regarding the interpretation of a word at the end of "Away in a Manger": "and fit us for heaven," the word fit, particularly, as it ... er ... fits in the line and within the song.  Unfortunately (for the issue at hand here, not the elegant point made by my father in his letter), fit is a pretty boring word, meaning essentially the same thing now as when the song was first published and even three hundred years before that.  The only difference in our uses of fit now as from before is a drop, inasmuch as Lewis Carroll did not mean, or at least did not only mean (most likely he meant both together) fit as a strong, sudden, uncontrollable physical reaction, but a canto: "The Hunting of the Snark, an Agony in Eight Fits."  This difference or change or shift or lack, or whatever you want to call it, in fit's etymology can still be sort of retrofit into the interpretation of the song, at least as a symbol.  And this is the point.

Symbols change just like words and language and culture.  (And I could write a book about this, but we're gonna keep it limited -- hopefully.  Besides, there are others far better qualified than me.)

There are all kinds of symbols, and you should get what I'm talking about by my saying that there are both universal symbols and one-use-only symbols.  The best source I can think of for any symbol--a specific symbol or type of symbol--is literature (go figure).  Authors and poets certainly use both, but the difference should be clear in, say, Catcher in the Rye, where Salinger applies a potentially universal symbol of a cliff and a very specific, one-use-only, symbol of a song lyric.  

(Want more symbols?  Dig out your freshman lit book from high school or even college.  I'd examine my own, but it's buried in the garage.  One in particular that I re-encountered recently is that of bells.  Consider their effect on faeries (or pixies -- you pick), but also in Longfellow's "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," Poe's "The Bells," and Tennyson's "Ring Out Wild Bells.")

Symbols like these, universal or not (another universal symbol, perhaps easier to see, is the black bird, used in both Through the Looking Glass and Tortilla Flat, among so many others), remain fixed, at least inasmuch as their value is fully encapsulated by the text of the book.  Regardless of cultural elements connected to the symbols or their cultural sources, the application of the symbols are self-contained.  Well, often.  Not always.  Consider Jane Eyre.  Early in the book, in the red room, there's the nastiness about the chimney.  With the exception of Santa Claus, we've largely lost our superstitions, and therefore associated symbolisms, of chimneys.

This brings me to my gripe.

It really bugs me when hyper-Christians get all bent out of shape about the "real meaning" of Christmas symbols (as distinguished from "the real meaning of Christmas," which is certainly not in dispute here; and the same goes for Easter): the Christmas tree, the yule log, Santa coming down the chimney, wreaths, poinsettias, and so on.  Easter eggs.  Generally, the hyper-Christians' gripes boil down to pagan rituals and druids and fertility rites and, somehow, the consumerism of the Holidays.  (If you're really ambitious, check out the symmetry between the development of our cultural symbols against the history of our English language.  Cool.)

(Are you offended by my coinage of "hyper-Christians"?  I apologize.  Anyway:)

Here's the thing: Sure, go through the histories--which interest me just as much as the next nerd--and, yeah, that's where a lot of this stuff got started.  But that's not what they mean anymore!  Things change!

Are you still scared of witches coming down your chimney?  I've never roasted a chestnut, but chestnuts are much closer to my cultural nostalgia associated with chimneys than hobgoblins.  (Actually, the majority of my  personal associations with chimneys involve me as a kid getting into a heckuva lot of trouble.)

Just because the symbol itself--the physical thing--persists, and entirely by tradition only (a thing much more rigid than whatever that tradition might have stemmed from (consider how many people go to church on Christmas and Easter not because they believe anything in particular--or particularly strongly--but just because that's what you do on Christmas and Easter)) doesn't mean that it's wrong to hold onto that thing!  It doesn't always matter what something means, but that it means something at all.  Think about it: what do the Christmas tree and the presents and the cookies and the fireplace and the wreath, and whatever else, mean--symbolize--for you?

See?  Right there--that internal meaning.  That is what Christmas is all about.  And if you happen to be Christian, it might mean that much more.  And not by compromise between the traditional symbols and the Bible stories, but because symbols change--we change--people change, and what we become--what and who we are--is what is most important.  You might be surprised, but examine yourself against the symbols in your life.  Those symbols probably define you (not you by them, but they as representations of who you are), not because the symbols might have meant something different to someone else sometime across the ages, but because of what it means to you and you alone.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Poetry XLII -- Never the Same Twice :: Lisel Mueller

“  When I am asked
    how I began writing poems,
    I talk about the indifference of nature.  ”

Alone, these words are fantastic.  Right?  Brilliant.  Sure.  Genius?  …

(See?  I’ve got this thing with “genius,” going back, as far as I can tell, to the day I learned my dad prayed that none of his kids would be one.  (Dad:  prayer answered.)  I guess I bring it up again because there seems to be this indelible connection between the definition—at least in practice—of genius and that of art—art being, or any work thereof, as difficult to define as genius is to identify or, maybe more so, explain.)

…  But it’s the rest of the poem that brings this thing really around to make a glorious connection I didn’t anticipate.  Perhaps it’s this convergence—or the millions just like it that happen all over the world all the time—that drew me in and bubbled up that word—“genius”—again from its little locker back there.

Here’s the poem:

When I am Asked
by Lisel Mueller – Pulitzer Prize winner, 1996

When I am asked
how I began writing poems,
I talk about the indifference of nature.

It was soon after my mother died,
a brilliant June day,
everything blooming.

I sat on a gray stone bench
in a lovingly planted garden,
but the day lilies were as deaf
as the ears of drunken sleepers
and the roses curved inward.
Nothing was black or unbroken
and not a leaf fell
and the sun blared endless commercials
for summer holidays.

I sat on a gray stone bench
ringed with the ingenue faces
of pink and white impatiens
and placed my grief
in the mouth of language,
the only thing that would grieve with me.

It’s those last three lines, right? —that metaphysical power of words—particularly for those who know how, even a little, to really use them?

So I picked out the book, Mueller’s Alive Together, just an hour or so ago from a box of my books I picked out from a mountain of them out in my garage.  (I think this is the benefit of having sold all my bookshelves: I can’t just pick out all the same old books because I have no idea where they are.)  This is another of the books I inherited back at the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy from my predecessor.  Unlike the others, this one is full of that teacher's annotations.  Normally, this would bother me, particularly as I’m generally so averse to writing in books that it took me three-quarters of a semester before I started highlighting my law books.

Anyway, by way of the poem above, the experience of reading by way of another reader’s reading, and an interesting thing I heard at church this morning—remarkably apropos—I think I’m a step closer to understanding the confluence of genius in art (if nowhere else).

Hugh Nibley, a once religious studies and linguistics professor at Brigham Young University, was the source of the quotation that caught my attention.  I don’t have the quotation in front of me, nor have I found it online, but here’s the gist of it:  That scripture isn’t the words before us, penned by the prophets, but the experience of reading those words.

That’s pretty big, particularly religiously—well, if you’re one who happens to read scripture, anyway—but nearly as much so for the reader of literature, the viewer of art, and, most approachably, the listener of music.  When I’m trying to pin down why it is I think a certain work, or a certain artist, is genius, it usually begins with not the substance of the art itself, but the ineffable experience that blooms or emerges or ka-pows right there in that intangible space somewhere between my senses and the work.  Even afterward, trying to rationalize it, trying to objectify it, remove that emotional response, I can never separate myself from that initial experience, which brings me to the next of the poems from Mueller:

A Farewell, A Welcome
               After the lunar landings
Good-bye pale cold inconstant
tease, you never existed
therefore we had to invent you

               Good-bye crooked little man
               huntress who sleeps alone
               dear pastor, shepherd of the stars
               who tucked us in               Good-bye

Good riddance phony prop
con man moon
who tap-danced with June
to the tender surrender
of love from above

Good-bye decanter of magic liquids
fortuneteller par excellence
seduce  incubus medicine man
exiles’ sanity       love’s sealed lips
womb that nourished the monstrous child
and the sweet ripe grain Good-bye
               We trade you in as we traded
               the evil eye for the virus
               the rose seat of affections
               for the indispensbile pump
we say good-bye as we said good-bye
to angels in nightgowns                 to Grandfather God

Good-bye forever Edam and Gorgonzola
cantaloupe in the sky
night watchman, one-eyed loner
wolves nevertheless
Aae programmed to howl             Good-bye
               forbidden lover good-bye
               sleepwalkers will wander
               with outstretched arms for no reason
               while you continue routinely
               to husband the seal, prevail
               in the fix of infant strabismus
good-bye ripe ovum        women will spill their blood
in spite of you now          lunatics wave good-bye
accepting despair by another name

Welcome new world to the brave old words
peace    Hope     Justice
truth Everylasting             welcome
ash-colored playground of children
happy in air bags
never to touch is never to miss it

Scarface hellow we’ve got you covered
welcome untouchable     outlaw
with an alias in every country
salvos and roses               you are home
our footprints stamp you mortal


I was going to put up one more of her poems (this one inspired by Martin Gardner, no less!), but I think I’ll leave it here.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mickey's Christmas Carol

Last time I posted one of these ("Mickey and the Beanstalk" -- scroll to the end of the post if you want to watch the movie), my motives were literary.  This time, just nostalgia.  Please enjoy:

(As much as anything, the snow this morning and the end of finals finally kicked me into the Christmas spirit -- that and Angie read the kids the Disney storybook of this last night.)

Carl Bloch: Genius

I can't remember my first exposure to a Carl Bloch painting.  My church makes regular use of his religious works (most the Christ-centered one), and has done so since long before I was born.  I do, however, recall with poignancy the first time I saw one of his originals.

I was a poor undergrad at BYU in Provo, Utah.  The university's museum of art had managed to take on loan "Healing at the Pool of Bethesda," which in print, of course, I had seen before.  It was a winter day.  I believe I was dawdling--or, really, and likely more appropriately, "pottering and doddering," to borrow from Fitzgerald--before a steel band rehearsal in the arts center (so it would have been a Friday), and I wandered a moment into the museum.  I wasn't aware of the museum's temporary acquisition of a Bloch, nor did I have any reasonable expectation what his "real-life" paintings were even like, and so I wasn't at all prepared for what happened next.  I walked in, turned a corner, and there it was.  I remember my full arrest; I couldn't move.  I was shocked--stunned.  My eyes widened, and goosebumps crawled like fire ants up and down my arms and neck.

Like I said: I'd seen the painting before.  I'd always appreciated the painting.  Being one who, at the time, was anticipating a career in illustration, I prided myself (and with only, in retrospect, the slightest justification) on my general ability to recognize and appreciate the finer of the painterly works.  But this....  This was staggering!  (And now I will stop gushing.)

Since then, I've recognized Bloch as a genius.  (While I don't think anyone will doubt that he is, the assertion does raise an interesting tangent:  is it that those whom I'd admire also happen frequently to be geniuses, or is it that because I admire them, I think they're geniuses?)  So when I came across a new observation--or new to me, anyway--I was amazed, of course, at the brilliance of Bloch, but also that maybe I was actually right in the first place, that this guy's a genius.

In an article in an LDS magazine, The Ensign, by David Frischnecht, "The Condescension of Jesus Christ," (pdf with images here) the newness was revealed to me, and it's simple.  And I will let the art speak for itself.  The paintings in question are Bloch's iterations of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, respectively, below.  Look at the two pictures.  Imagine them one overlaying the other, particularly with the forms of Christ superimposing each other.  Notice the posture arms, the feet, the curve of the spine.

I'm awed, and I invite your thoughts.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Poetry XLI -- Chimney-Sweeps

As most of you know, I am now in law school.  While I embrace the material (and it is, truthfully, remarkably exciting and engaging stuff), I definitely miss my regular indulgence in the otherwise finer literatures of fiction and poetry.  And what with the extraordinary quantity of reading I’m doing, and that just simply to keep afloat, I feared I’d never—at least for these next three years—be able to, well, take to calmer, more artistic waters.  It turns out my fear is only mostly affirmed; while I certainly don’t have time to read much else of anything save the Law, such studies recall with not inconsiderable frequency the general, essentially mundane, but overall poignant, concerns and citizenry that inspire pretty much everything any great author has ever treated.  Property Law has done it now, and with significance, twice (I mentioned it over at my other blog, should you care to look).  Wednesday, it recalled, though less directly even than Kafka, William Blake.

A London chimney-sweep, whose title, we’re lead to assume from the judge’s opinion and holding, was superior in the boy than as to any previous owner (save, of course, the mythical first owner who never appears in such cases), found a jeweled brooch.  While the case further disregards the socio-political treatment and purview of the little dirty boys hired out, Dickensian-style, to the upper and middle classes of the citified home-owners, we do get a glimpse of it out from between the lines.

The boy takes the brooch to a local jeweler for appraisal.  The proprietor's apprentice, who answers his call, claims it worth but a pittance and takes the brooch, awarding the boy the “estimated” cash value.  The boy, however, doesn’t want the money; he wants the brooch, which, naturally, the apprentice refuses.  What I don’t get is what happens next.  Somehow, the chimney-sweep manages to hire a lawyer (and I suspect this speaks more of the tremendous range of class of legal service providers available in London than any likely, or even possible, condescension of the highbrow), and win a judgment from the court awarding him something like 65 pounds.  Those of you who know at least as much as the little bit I do about 19th century money in England should get the significance of this.  What you may not get is the true earth-shaking-ness that this award was landed by a chimney-sweep!

Perhaps Blake can give an indication.

If you’re unfamiliar with Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience (essentially parallel pieces exploring the differences in life and the examination thereof as dependent upon Reader's perspective, that of innocence or experience, or the given situation in life, chiefly by age, which is, of course, always some point along the continuum between either innocence or experience), I highly recommend you read them—a lightning fast read, even if you take the time to get what he’s doing.  I’m not going to get into it all here, but at least be aware that Blake understood, and with the aforementioned Dickensian perceptivity, what life meant to a chimney-sweep boy: something as black and hopeless as the soot they’re coated in.  Oh, and the mortality rate was staggering!  Yeah, and they were kept in small herds by pimps who often beat and abused them.  (Okay, I’ll stop.  Enjoy the poetry.  They, are, I think, some of the very finest there are, and certainly among my favorites.)

The Chimney-Sweeper
by William Blake
from Songs of Innocence
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved: so I said,
“Hush, Tom! Never mind it, for when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”

And so he was quiet; and that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, —
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.

And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father, and never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.


The Chimney-Sweeper
by William Blake
from Songs of Experience
A little black thing among the snow,
Crying! ‘weep! weep!’ in notes of woe!
‘Where are they father and mother? Say! —
“They are both gone up to the church to pray.

‘Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smiled among the winter’s snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

‘And because I am happy and dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and His priest the king,
Who made up a heaven of our misery.’


Once enough, you think?  Read them again.  Examine the poetic conventions that hold them together.  Look at how they compare, one to the other.  How do they fit within their respective collections, “Innocence” and “Experience”?  Who is Blake’s audience—is it multifaceted?  What is he saying to those who read?  Are the chimney-sweepers part of that audience? 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Poetry XL -- "The Third Coast," 1979

There is no more sure-fire way to ensure the "datedness" of a book than subtitling it, in part, with the word "contemporary," in this case, "Contemporary Michigan Poetry," another book, very much like You've Been Told, from a couple weeks ago, that I have (didn't buy, but inherited) but haven't read.  So, today, I will peruse the collection and, in real time, randomly choose three poems.  Here they are, contemporary or not, in all the glory (your thoughts are welcome):

Death and the Pineapple
Dan Gerber, pp 57-58
The fruit itself a giant pinecone
Texture of an apple     the taste
An apple flavored with pine
If I died I couldn’t eat pineapples
Couldn’t slice them with a large knife
Or say the word that conjures the taste
Pie-napple     pine-apple
Couldn’t run my hands
Down the rough sides
Or over the bushy top
Let its juice drizzle down my chin
Or wipe it away
With the back of my hand
Rub it in my hair     gargle it
Ponder the origin of its name
Throw it at a strange and beautiful
Woman on the rue Saint-Jacques
Imagine a trip to Hawaii

The pineapple
Is what we give up when we die
Along with strawberries     coffee and sun
The room hovers about me
One more skull
The trees around the house
The sky around the tree
The stars around the sky
How could I escape so many enclosures
What would I see
What tastes     what sins
And if existence exists in space
What space     I can’t imagine nothing

A house I once visited
Had a pineapple over the door
A pineapple over the newel post
A pineapple in the center of the table
Surely these people had lived
They said it was their family crest
My sign     my life
A galaxy of pineapples

I considered all the pineapples
Growing under the sun
And will enjoy the good of my labor
All the days of my pineapple
For there is a wicked man
Who prolongeth his pineapple
In his wickedness
And not a just man on earth
That doeth good and sinneth not

In the Winter of Tigers
Tom McKeown, p150
In the winter of tigers,
After the zoo closes, the sun
Smokes and thins out, seeds
Leap from an apple’s core,
Wheat whispers loudly
To the earth, to startled snow.

A crow plummets
Through the calm sky
Like a black parachute
That never opens.

In the middle of winter, the tigers
Walk up the snowy mountains
And spread out with the snow,
Until there is only snow and tigers,
And the memories of tigers,
Invisible against the snow.

At St. Mary’s for the Aged
Eve Shelnutt, p235
She thinks God wants a wife.
She would like to lie with Him.
Would He make her pretty,
Or take her as she is?
Where, around Him, do the arms go?

The jealous Sisters see her rise;
Their hands cross on the door.
She dies and, dead,
Is not denied.
The Sisters lifting bones
Are satisfied.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Poetry XXXIX -- Robert Ripley and Poetry (KAY RYAN)

I'm about to go back to school.  Again.  Third time's a charm.  I hope.  The preparations of which have made it near impossible to maintain my once-steady stream--or flooding river, really--of posts and commentaries and questions.  Be that as it may, and trying to think of something for today's installment of Sunday Poetry, I remembered a silly verse I once read in the original Ripley's Believe It or Not--something about school and the futility of studying.  I can't remember the exact verse, and as the book is buried in a box somewhere out in the garage, yet unpacked, I took to Google and the great gaping expanse of the www.  I did not find what I was looking for, as is often the case, and as is as often or even oftener the case, found something even better: a poem from a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection by a poet, former poet laureate Kay Ryan, inspired by Ripley's reported oddities.  Here is the title work:

The Jam Jar Lifeboat 
invented in 1831 by a man named Bateman who 
insisted it was unsinkable, sank the first time it was tested. 
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! 
It was quixotic to think
the cold grey North Atlantic
might be survived in a jam jar boat.
It is not enough that one of something
can be made to float with its lid sealed tight.
One rat might survive one night
on a single treadmill bottle
but even that would be a battle.
Bateman always hated how small truths
extrapolated so poorly. He came up with
really good small ones almost hourly.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

INVISIBLE CITIES XXXIV -- Chapter 5, ..... 1

(I know it's self-indulgence, but I can't help but think of T.E. Hulme's "Above the Dock," reading the Khan's description of the moon's progression in his dream.)
  1. If a person is, or may be[come], master of his/her domain, and if Kublai Khan's entire empire exists merely--or maybe just possibly--as words and dreams, mightn't any person gain leadership of grand empire?
  2. What of the notion that the Khan's empire is so huge and that it's impossible for him to ever visit all the cities?  Is this and Polo's descriptions anything like the famed tree that falls in a forest with no one to hear?
  3. Regarding the structure of the book, do the opening expositions to each chapter--the situation the Khan finds himself in--dictate the meme of Polo's coming descriptions?  (And any thoughts at all on how much time passes during or between each chapter?)


One of the many great things about being a teacher, or English teachers, anyway, and especially for those working in old buildings, is book inheritance.  Pretty much every time a teacher changes classrooms, especially in the case of assuming the former classroom of a now-retired English teacher, is the mass of books left behind.  Sometimes hundreds.  Really.  Literally.  Over the last ten years, I have been the move-inner to the former space of three departed English teachers and have duly reaped the literary benefits.  (Of course, I assume that these teachers left behind only the books they didn't want to take home with them, but still, I've scooped up some pretty awesome windfalls.)

As all of my favorite books are boxed up in the garage, and as I used some of my less-favorite books as buffers in the stacking and packing before the drive eastward, which books are not in boxes, it is from this latter pile (quite, again, literally, I'm sorry to say) that I draw today's material: You've Just Been Told, by one Elizabeth Macklin, whose book has just been out in the garage, unprotected, alone, and (oh, I'm embarrassed) left on the concrete floor.

I've never read any of Macklin's poetry.  I kept the book because, honestly, it looked nice and, originally, I thought it might serve as potential inspiration for coming English students.  Well, that's out, so I probably ought to determine if the book's worth holding the space it takes.  I will randomly open the book three times--yes, in just the moment between right now and final typing of this sentence--and copy out the three poems I find there.

***and as I crack open the book, it literally crackles.
I don't think it was ever read, even by the former owner[s]***

The Lazy Girl Was Never Scolded
Then: New-painted ceilings shed light, in our place,
as if they were living, or holy/  That smell was early

spring, with the windows open.  Ambition was only
sleeping, or shortly to be awakened, and would not disappear

forever into compliant ambition.  One time, I sat down
on the steps of a ladder, holding a cup of black

coffee that nearly woke the world.  Paint was spread bright-
yellow into the corners.  Turpentine curled

from woodwork and settled.  I did not sit straighter.
A willow outside the window reeked in the sun of doing

nothing, up in its branches, its leaves whole stories,
all summer.  A long blond girl, dark in the backlight,

I seized what is nowadays made to seem
nearly nothing.

A qualifier of superlatives
How much of this
was misunderstanding--
how much was almost blindness?
We did math at the table

almost forever.  Or I "helped"
around you finicking chores.
I almost certainly thought
you couldn't see me.

You almost always said
yet again "You with me?"
I was certainly
angry with you.

Dear Old Dad (your almost ironical
nickname; y our invention), explain
our delay in getting the gist
of kindness.  I didn't see you almost

might've but couldn't;
you didn't tell me stories
about your childhood.
You were maybe afraid, almost.

And so, almost maybe, was I.
But beatings, chiggers in Texas,
butter borrowed on welfare
are almost laughable

after a lifetime,
fears of a planet
or angry passion
almost a memory.

Wholly unique (though yes we
have no degrees of uniqueness)
your almost irreconcilable

qualifying the present
and almost the past
by strict, strong, stronger
grammars of attention--

just when you're thinking 
of dying, you marry again,
quickly, almost ecstatic,
trusting at last your almost

perfect decision, your superlative.
Yet almost just as jealous
of each wife, child/children:
how our love is apportioned.

See? I'm almost
with you again.
I'm almost angry
with you again.

At 43, She Thinks What
to Name Her Children
Oh . . . Firstborn, Asher!--asher means "happy"--
because I am happy.  Carlyle, Joseph,
Robert and Richard, for family names:
namesakes all unspeakably loved, for all their flaws.

Jean, Margaret, Ila for girls,
to say they were loved, and will be loved.
All of them out of two originals--Margaret Jean,
Ila Margaret--not to be copied.

Or--she hopes, does she?--uncopied by me.
Because not wishing harm on a daughter?
Margaret, Jean, Ila, Margaret--all
speakable now, since now chosen.

Or else--can it be a name for a woman?--
the lastborn, Asher: no, possible Asher,
"Do what you can--I love you, Asher,"
because I'm alone but I am happy.
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