* Williams’ other plum poem & the friday influence

To a poor old woman – William Carlos Williams

munching a plum on   

the street a paper bag

of them in her hand

They taste good to her

They taste good   

to her. They taste

good to her

 

You can see it by

the way she gives herself

to the one half

sucked out in her hand

 

Comforted

a solace of ripe plums

seeming to fill the air

They taste good to her

***

This week on the Influence: William Carlos Williams.

Last Friday I spoke about my experience reading the Selected Poems of William Carlos Williams aloud and how it gave me a visceral understanding of his cadence and flavor of thinking.  “To a poor old woman” – which I refer to as “the other plum poem” – in  particular embodies some of what I was saying.

Here he takes a phrase made up of five words – They taste good to her – and not only repeats but has the whole second stanza made up of only these words.  Reading it aloud and following the line breaks, the experience of biting and biting into a plum is evoked through the repetition of these words.  It is as if he felt there were no other words suited to describe the experience.  Nothing was more evident to him than – They taste good to her.

plums, yo.

Here’s another one:

Between Walls – William Carlos Williams

the back wings
of the

hospital where
nothing

will grow lie
cinders

in which shine
the broken

pieces of a green
bottle 

Here, the attention to detail and the pacing take the reader right up to the shards of glass, right up to the gleam.

Williams is one of the great guides in poems.  I have taught his poems alongside those of haiku poets, using the juxtaposition to highlight the shared spirit between the images of Williams and the concentrated illumination of someone like Basho:

***

Awake at night —

The sound of the water jar

Cracking in the cold.

–Basho

***

Happy cracking!

J

p.s. check out my feature on the Tiger’s Eye blog: http://tigerseyepoet.blogspot.com/

* post-birthday-post (whoa.)

So.

Totally turned 30 this weekend.

Among the gifts my thoughtful amazing lady showered me with was a copy of Florence + The Machine’s “Ceremonials”.

We drove home from the Oregon coast during a small rainstorm, going around turns lined with green, under a gray sky, with this woman’s amazing voice raising hell up to heaven.

Also: Florence is a Virgo.  Like me.

Also x 2 = We spent my birthday afternoon in a town called Florence.

Cool.

Happy shaking!

J

p.s. Florence!

* Charles Wright & the friday influence

The Last Word – Charles Wright

I love to watch the swallows at sundown,
                                 swarming after invisible things to eat.
Were we so lucky,
A full gullet, and never having to look at what it is,
Sunshine all over our backs.

There are no words between my fingers
Populating the lost world.
Something, it now seems, has snapped them up
Into its speechlessness,
                                                  into its thick aphasia.

It’s got to be the Unredeemable Bird, come out
From the weight of the unbearable.
It flaps like a torn raincoat,
                                                first this side, then that side.
Words are its knot of breath,
                                                   language is what it lives on.

***

This week on the Influence: Charles Wright.

To get a little astrological for a moment, every poet I enjoy that falls under the Virgo sign shares a common experience in the reading of their work, namely that you must read a lot of it, really dunk in your head, before it truly becomes accessible.

This isn’t a matter of difficulty or obscurity in the poems.

Take William Carlos Williams, whose “This is just to say” and “The Red Wheelbarrow” are famously accessible and amazing.

I had enjoyed his poems for years but it wasn’t until I sat down with a copy of his selected poems and read it aloud cover to cover that I felt that I truly felt what he was doing in his poems.  About ten pages in I started to see the working of a mind, a sensibility and conviction about the world that played out in poems full of images and clear phrasing.

The true Carlito’s Way!

I have had a similar experience with the work of Charles Wright.

Every book I read of his takes me down into another level of where his poetic self lives.  It is a world of metaphysics, Li Po and other classical Chinese poets, the South, and, amongst various other things, a genuine understanding of the tenuous and precious hold we have on reality.

Also, he claims that he is the only Southerner he knows incapable of telling a story.  A true Virgo admission.

He recently did a book entitled “Sestets” where he funnels his poetic sensibilities down into six line poems that bang and spark.

In my notebook where I wrote down the above poem last December, I wrote: the shorter, more focused his work gets, the more I tune my ears to it.  Here something sensual leads to something that opens and expands in the mind.  I still feel that way.  Poetry like the sounding of a church bell, telling you the time, the sound expanding into time.

***

Happy sounding!

J

* cinquain tributes

Image
Don Juan, himself.

Byron

Believed

You could make a

River from a writhing,

Overturned woman, her husband

Nearby.

***

Every once in a while I write something I call a cinquain tribute, a cinquain in which the last name of a poet is snuck in via acrostic – the first letter of each line.  I enjoy these because the nature of a cinquain – in its brevity and tanka-like feeling – lends itself well to paying personal tribute to the greats.

Here, we have Lord Byron and Keats.  They didn’t necessarily like each other.

Byron was a wealthy man of the world with a killer wit.  His famous epic “Don Juan” has the main character insisting that his name is pronounced “Ju-an” like “ruin”.

Keats, on the other hand, was a poor kid who studied to be a doctor while at the same time becoming one of the greatest poets in the English language.  He also knew how to box.

Lord Byron looked down on young Keats, as did most of the world, the latter’s genius not being fully acknowledged until his passing.  Bryon, however, was a literary celebrity in his own time.

Also: there may have been a time where I referred to myself as The Young Keats of the Streets.  I turn thirty this weekend, so no more of that.

Image
Towards the end, age 25.

Keats

Knowing

Even then that

A man was only a

Tome of possibility he

Still sang.

 

Happy singing!

J

* Stanley Kunitz & the friday influence

Touch Me – Stanley Kunitz

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
                          and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

***

This week on the Influence: Stanley Kunitz.

This poem teaches me something new each time I read it.  On my first couple of reads a few years ago, I marveled at how the sound of the crickets gets played out in the repetition: “Desire, desire, desire”, how one line can have a drive like a heartbeat.

Then there was the revelation that the first line of the poem is indeed from his younger “wild with love” years, his quoting himself acting out the ongoing double nature of the poet: there is the poet who wrote the poem then, and the poet who looks at it now.  Whether it is a span of days or years, the poet(s) keep changing.

***

I remember telling a class once that if I had to choose one poem to make a case for poetry this would probably be it.  Mind you the list of poems that would back up such a claim keeps being revised in my head daily.  Still, this poem is always on it.  A man working in the garden remembering his youth, getting lost in his thoughts in his garden, asking to be reminded not of what but who he is, not memories, but the man – I mean, there’s the heart of poetry.

Here’s a quote from the man himself * :

A poem has secrets that the poet knows nothing of. It takes on a life and a will of its own. It might have proceeded differently—towards catastrophe, resignation, terror, despair—and I still would have to claim it. Valéry said that poetry is a language within a language. It is also a language beyond language, a meta-medium—that is, metabolic, metaphoric, metamorphic. A poet’s collected work is his book of changes. The great meditations on death have a curious exaltation. I suppose it comes from the realization, even on the threshold, that one isn’t done with one’s changes.

This idea of change being the constant in life as in writing is what I admire most in Stanley Kunitz.  Valuing the life lived.  Poetry as the mythology of existence.

***

I posted this poem up once at a coffeeshop I worked at.  A regular asked me to read it to her on a break because she had forgotten her glasses.  After I was finished reading aloud, I turned to find that she had tears in her eyes.  I remained quiet, feeling that the moment had nothing to do with me, that I could say nothing because the poem had said so much.

***

Happy saying!

J

* http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3185/the-art-of-poetry-no-29-stanley-kunitz

* a little bit on process

Smile at them. You know you want to.

Just finished a batch of 200+ poems and am sorting through them with the help of my editor/first reader/manager/lady in order to see if there’s a book in there.

My process is simply to fill up a journal (those sleek/cliche Moleskines) and leave that journal alone for at least a year.  When I come back to it, Older Jose judges the misadventures of Younger Jose to no end.  Well, to some end.  Hopefully – poems!

What is significant about this recent batch is that I feel there is something special in them.  I can tell because of the very scientific proof of how I can’t stop smiling over some of them.  I believe I said recently that working on poems for hours on end feels kinda like plotting a world domination campaign.

Inner-world domination campaign, for sure.

Why do I share all this?

Because I can’t stop smiling.

Still.

Happy smiling,

J

* Louise Bogan, an update & the friday influence

Roman Fountain – Louise Bogan

Up from the bronze, I saw
Water without a flaw
Rush to its rest in air,
Reach to its rest, and fall.

Bronze of the blackest shade,
An element man-made,
Shaping upright the bare
Clear gouts of water in air.

O, as with arm and hammer,
Still it is good to strive
To beat out the image whole,
To echo the shout and stammer
When full-gushed waters, alive,
Strike on the fountain’s bowl
After the air of summer.

***

This week on the Influence: Louise Bogan.

This poem takes me in right away with its music: word choice plays out the water in its w’s and r’s, and the fountain later in the m’s.  The pacing also adds to the musical element.  Note the choice comma in the fourth line “Reach to its rest, and fall” which mimics the flow of the water.

The stanza structure also plays out the concept.  The first two stanzas have their symmetry, four lines each, rhyming couplets. Then there’s the drive and rush of the last stanza, its rhymes a bit more scattered, the form there hidden and changing as water does in a fountain.

All of these things come together to make the poem an experience with several layers.  Safe to say: they don’t, ahem, make them like this anymore.  Or enough.

This poem took on a new life for me after reading The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (a novel every poet would be charmed by).  In the book, the main character tells a story about how he read Bogan’s poem to a crowd and how the reading of it aloud really affected somebody, to the point that the person, not a regular reader of poetry, came up to him and asked about “that fountain poem”.

This scene makes me think about what poems have had that effect on my life, have hooked into me and taught me something.  It is my goal to write something that will have people asking about it later, something worth reading.

**

In other news, if you take a look up top you’ll see I have added an official page for my chapbook The Wall.  On it is ordering information, some very kind words from Naomi Shihab Nye, and a photo from the day I received my copies.  I got to pick up my copies straight from the printer.  They came in a white box very similar to a cake box.  Sadly, no cake.

**

Here’s one more by Bogan:

Solitary Observation Brought Back from a Sojourn in Hell – Louise Bogan

At midnight tears
Run in your ears.

***

Happy running,

J

* John Ashbery, the pit & the friday influence

Uptick – John Ashbery

We were sitting there, and

I made a joke about how

it doesn’t dovetail: time,

one minute running out

faster than the one in front

it catches up to.

That way, I said,

there can be no waste.

Waste is virtually eliminated.

 

To come back for a few hours to

the present subject, a painting,

looking like it was seen,

half turning around, slightly apprehensive,

but it has to pay attention

to what’s up ahead: a vision.

Therefore poetry dissolves in

brilliant moisture and reads us

to us.

A faint notion.  Too many words,

but precious.

***

This week on The Friday Influence: John Ashbery.

I continue to be stunned by what is in this poem, about time, about painting, vision, poetry.  How it all swirls on the many meanings of the word “precious” – valuable, sentimental, etc.  The conversational tone at the beginning gets the poem underway swiftly.  This intimacy tags you into the poem.  Ashbery handles heavy things lightly and gets you thinking before you catch yourself thinking.  A good poem by him can move the furniture around in the rooms of your mind.

Ashbery is one of those poets I come back to often, dip my head in to see what I can understand, and walk away when it gets to be beyond me.  He gets a bad rep for being difficult but I don’t think it is deserved.  There’s difficult for difficult’s sake.  Then there’s what you can’t help but write.  Ashbery’s best poems – and here  I mean the ones that have meant something to me as a poet/human being – show him to be always figuring something out, always trying to surprise himself (and the reader) with the poem.

Here’s a Charles Wright quote that I keep with me that taps into this idea:

The problem with all of us as we get older is that we begin writing as though we were somebody.  One should always write as if one were nobody…We should always write out of our ignorance and desire and ambition, never out of some sense of false well-being, some tinge of success.  There is no success in poetry, there is only the next inch, the next hand-hold out of the pit… *

I keep this quote with me because of the connection I feel with what it says, that feeling of writing poetry as a ongoing thing, a horizon you walk towards that grows a little farther the closer you get.  And so you keep walking, never fully arriving, never fully satisfied, but happy to be walking, wanting to see more.  There is always another poem to write.

Happy walking!

J

* Paris Review interview, The Art of Poetry No. 41