jim harrison remembered

David – Jim Harrison

He is young.  The father is dead.
Outside, a cold November night,
the mourner’s cars are parked upon the lawn;
beneath the porch light three
brothers talk to three sons
and shiver without knowing it.
His mind’s all black thickets
and blood; he knows
flesh slips quietly off the bone,
he knows no last looks,
that among the profusion of flowers
the lid is closed to hide
what no one could bear –
that metal rends the flesh,
he knows beneath the white pointed
creatures, stars,
that in the distant talk of brothers,
the father is dead.

jim harrison

The unanswered question is why a poet transforms experience, not so much to make it understandable, but to make it yield its aesthetic possibilities
— Jim Harrison

This is one of the quotes I carry with me from notebook to notebook as a reminder of why I write and what’s at stake. Pushing words to not just describe but to evoke life for others is a worthy endeavor, and one that the late Jim Harrison worked at book after book.

The poem above is a good example of what is meant in the quote. The poem describes one person’s experience of grief after a death. Yet, rather than being elegy, the poem gathers its human details (parked cars; shivering) and sets them against memories that keep edging in on the person grieving. The calm juxtaposed against the violence is where the son lives now, and is part of the new world without the father.

Another example of this kind of transformation of human details into aesthetic possibility is found in the following poem by Ted Kooser. Kooser and Harrison were friends and co-authored the book Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry. The poem below, which does a great job of turning over a human moment of grief for what it can further say about living, shows Kooser to be also working at the worthy endeavor Harrison will be remembered for.

Mourners – Ted Kooser

After the funeral, the mourners gather
under the rustling churchyard maples
and talk softly, like clusters of leaves.
White shirt cuffs and collars flash in the shade:
highlights on deep green water.
They came this afternoon to say goodbye,
but now they keep saying hello and hello,
peering into each other’s faces,
slow to let go of each other’s hands.

*

Happy handing!

José

p.s. For more Jim Harrison, check out these previous posts, one featuring a poem, and another featuring some notes on his novel The English Major.

* layers via michael s. harper & basho

 

Village Blues – Michael S. Harper

The birds flit
in the blue palms,
the can workers wait,
the man hangs
twenty feet above;
he must come down;
they wait for the priest.
The flies ride on the carcass,
which sways like a cork in a circle.
The easter light pulls hims west.
The priest comes, a man
sunken with rum,
his face sandpapered
into a rough of split
and broken capillaries.
His duty is cutting
down the fruit
of this quiet village
and he staggers slowly, coming.

12th_century_Greek_Warrior_Fustanella

Sgraffito, I learned recently, is a technique used in both wall decor and ceramics in which contrasting colors are layered across a surface, only to be then scratched into so as to reveal parts of the underlying layer. The result is an image made of a specific depth and texture.

This week’s poem – “Village Blues” by Michael S. Harper – performs via language in a way similar to sgraffito. Harper writes of a hanged man’s body by choosing to write about the life going on around it. In describing the birds, workers, even the flies at the scene, Harper layers the daily lives of the village over the dead body, and thus makes the presence of the lost life all the more felt. The description of the priest, too, as he “staggers slowly, coming” to the body, becomes imbued with the unspoken. Through indirect association, everything in the village “sways” along to the village’s “blues.”

These thoughts also bring to mind the following haiku by Basho, where the layered images give way to something deeper:

On the white poppy,
a butterfly’s torn wing
is a keepsake

*

Happy winging!

José

* a meditation on brevity with paz, ritsos, & carruth

Writing – Octavio Paz

I draw these letters
as the day draws its images
and blows over them
and does not return

 

It’s suiting to begin this meditation on brevity with Paz who once said that he admired the short lyric for being the hardest kind of poem to write. Anyone who’s worked out a haiku or tanka in earnestness knows something of this difficulty. With haiku and tanka there are at least parameters, a spirit to leap after. Often, the short poem is a surprise, something arrived at when you intuit the right time to leave a poem alone.

 

Triplet – Yannis Ritsos

As he writes, without looking at the sea,
he feels his pencil trembling at the very tip –
it is the moment when the lighthouses light up.

 

I came across this gem from Ritsos in Stephen Dobyn’s illuminating book “Best Words, Best Order.” In it, Dobyns speaks of the nuanced work of the last line as a “metaphysical moment,” one that suggests “sympathetic affinities and a sensitivity to those affinities on the part of the poet.” The power of a short lyric can be felt when one is reading and feels something like “lighthouses light up” inside the mind.

 

haiku – Hayden Carruth

Hey Basho, you there!
I’m Carruth. Isn’t it great,
so distant like this?

 

Ultimately, what is at stake in the short lyric is what is at stake in any poem, the translating/transcribing of the human voice. In a longer poem, one can create an argument via imagery and metaphor, what’s being said accumulates like a wave to a crest. The short lyric is the echo of that argument, the sound of foam chisping on the shore. What is compelling about Carruth’s distance is not that Basho feels it, but the reader does.

* wavering *
* wavering *

Happy shoring!

Jose

* congregating with tranströmer

Tomas Tranströmer’s recent passing has me reading back into his work. Always, I am taken in by the immediacy of his line.

In this week’s poem, “The Scattered Congregation,” this immediacy plays out in quick turns. Whether in nuanced phrase or illuminating flash of image, Tranströmer always makes me a believer. Makes me proud to be part of the “congregation.”

* flockgregation *
* poetgregation *

The Scattered Congregation – Tomas Tranströmer

I
We got ready and showed our home.
The visitor thought: you live well.
The slum must be inside you.

II
Inside the church, pillars and vaulting
white as plaster, like the cast
around the broken arm of faith.

III
Inside the church there’s a begging bowl
that slowly lifts from the floor
and floats along the pews.

IV
But the church bells have gone underground.
They’re hanging in the sewage pipes.
Whenever we take a step, they ring.

V
Nicodemus the sleepwalker is on his way
to the Address. Who’s got the Address?
Don’t know. But that’s where we are going.

***

Happy don’t knowing!

Jose

* (re)noting the hidden things via shin kyeong-nim

Not that anybody needs another reminder of what snow looks like, but here:

* cincisnowti *
* Cincisnowti *

There’s been plenty of the cold stuff these past few months.

Heading into March, I’m waiting for spring to arrive – yet I can’t help but type that and immediately note that I can’t exactly remember what it was like without snow. Not that “Oh, it’s been snowing so long, I can’t remember what it was like without it — ” but rather, there’s a rather elegiac habit of mind I encounter that has me always looking at the world with an emphasis on what isn’t there versus what is.

At times, this habit is powerful – in envisioning a way out of a problem, for example. But there are times that require a bit of restraint from thinking away from them.

This week’s poem by Korean poet Shin Kyeong-nim evokes a feeling  of what is missed in the turning/thinking away I experience. With each reading, the poem makes me see that life, as it gathers in the years behind us, becomes a series of turns, and that, while much is irretrievable, the experience is constant: what we will miss is in front of us long before we begin to be able to miss it.

The Baby – Shin Kyeong-nim

I.

Baby looks at the snow piling up outside the window;
signs it’s all lovely, all strange; waves a hand.
Like baby trees shaking baby leaves.
Baby knows all the hidden things:
why snow falls, and the lovely things the snowflakes whisper;
knows all – a perfectly contented still life.

II.

After a while, baby learns the word “Mum.”
This means he is forgetting the hidden things of the word “Mum.”
But he doesn’t realize.
Flowers, trees, stars.
With elation baby learns the words,
forgetting the hidden things in each.
And when he has forgotten all the hidden things,
baby is a full-fledged person.

III.

Thus when snow piles up like today,
he’ll fret from thoughts of a girl.
Walking the bank of the stream,
he will cry from nostalgia self-directed.

***
Happy self-directing!

Jose

p.s. Thank you to Daniel Paul Marshall for introducing me to this poem and poet.

* poem found in The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry.

* the 200th post: a cento

Well, it had to happen: we’ve reached the 200th post on this blog!

To celebrate, I decided to create a cento – a patchwork poem made by selecting lines from other people’s poems to create a singular poem (citing one’s sources, of course) – by going through all the posts published since I started this blog and selecting a line from every 10th post.

200 posts = 20 lines!

Eek!

* a mouse *
* a mouse *

Some finer points:

To stick strictly to the every 10th post guideline, I did find myself snatching a snippet or two from a post that had no poem in it. So a “line” was taken from a paragraph or two.

I’m happy to only end up in the piece a handful of times (and with good company, no less 🙂 ).

Also: I had a lot of fun putting this together. Blogging can feel like a mess sometimes, but the accumulative effect is fun. Approaching past posts for the archival potential was inspiring.

And then there’s all you good people who stop by, read, and comment! More than anything, I am humbled by the community this blog has put me in touch with. I started this off as a reader’s blog, and I’m happy to have a forum to share not only my own work but work that illuminates my world and that I hope illuminates yours. Thanks!

Cento for the 200th post

I must learn from the stars
To find out if I might love.
Under these, under our skies.
the colors of my living
will sometimes waft between my lashes
This unwelcome act of reducing
On those nights, the poet can say they tried, and did well.
to fall asleep
“I’m so tired of driving into the sky.”
I would like to step out of my heart
stumble, welcomed each day by
Horses down in the meadow, just a few degrees above snow.
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
selected to be
something imagined, not recalled?
rigid edges and all, and lines still show up
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
They slept just like the rest of us,
like sunken leaves in a pond,
quoted in the margins

***

Happy quoting!

Jose

p.s. Sources for the Cento:

  1. Evening on the Farm – Bert Meyers
  2. Brown Penny – WB Yeats
  3. Willow – Anna Akhmatova
  4. XIX (from The Wall) – Jose Angel Araguz
  5. An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert
  6. Onions – Jose Angel Araguz
  7. “on poetry readings” TFI post 2/15/13
  8. The Devil on His Wedding Night – Jose Angel Araguz
  9. “from the car: verse & such” TFI post 6/7/13
  10. Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke
  11. “Dog-eared” – Jose Angel Araguz
  12. On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee – Charles Wright
  13. Prosody 101 – Linda Pastan
  14. “quick post: CantoMundo news!” TFI post 3/19/14
  15. Epilogue – Robert Lowell
  16. If They Hand Your Remains to Your Sister in a Chinese Takeout Box — Jamaal May
  17. Sad Steps – Philip Larkin
  18. Going Home – Phoebe Tsang
  19. A Winter Night – Tomas Tranströmer
  20. Evening in Matamoros – Jose Angel Araguz

* stitching along with valerie wallace

I came across this week’s poem – “Winged” by Valerie Wallace – reading through the latest issue of Rust + Moth.

I was taken in by the Auden reference to the “old masters” from his poem Musee des Beaux Arts. I find the reference suiting since the impetus for Wallace’s poem comes from Alexander McQueen, whom I don’t know too much about except that his singular designs had him working with Bjork and Lady Gaga as well as designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress (more to the point: Alexander McQueen the person didn’t design Middleton’s wedding dress – because he was dead. His label did – more specifically Sarah Burton, the creative director since his death).

In Wallace’s poem, the corset in question is taken on both conceptually as well as visually in the structure of the poem. The couplets themselves work down the poem like stitches as the speaker goes further into breaking and fraying as much meaning from each word “Be/hold balsa ribbons” is an especially powerful revelatory reading moment.

Enjoy the poem below and check out the rest of the issue of Rust + Moth here.

* mid-flight *
* mid-flight *

Winged – Valerie Wallace

—Corset from the Alexander McQueen collection No. 13, spring/summer 1999

The old masters
got them wrong,

their locations, at
least. Not pinned

at the spine like a moth
or the bone blade spurt.

From the tiny bloom
of sternum I swept

over shoulders, fanned,
arc’d. Slit for heavy arms.

How on earth do you
expect to walk in them? Ha.

Be/hold balsa ribbons
planed, laced, bindings,

not for flight but descent.
How will you care for me,

keep me from fire.
It sings, you know,

Consecration.
Consolation,

a promise to be ever
sewn into the sun.

***

Happy sunning!

Jose

p.s. For more info on the McQueen piece go here.

And for more poems from Wallace’s Be/spoke project, go here.

* wintering with tomas tranströmer

We’ve had some steady days of clouds making their way over us. The early mornings have been looking something like this:

* greyer days *
* greyer days *

In my work, I’ve been working with repetition in some recent poems of mine, trying to incorporate repeating words and images conceptually. The poem below by Tomas Tranströmer is a good model for what I mean. Each time a word or image is repeated, it is reembodied and adds to the overall effect. It’s almost as if the first “blow” in the beginning of the poem sets the details of the poem in motion.

A Winter Night – Tomas Tranströmer

The storm put its mouth to the house
and blows to get a tone.
I toss and turn, my closed eyes
reading the storm’s text.

The child’s eyes grow wide in the dark
and the storm howls for him.
Both love the swinging lamps;
both are halfway towards speech.

The storm has the hands and wings of a child.
Far away, travellers run for cover.
The house feels its own constellation of nails
holding the walls together.

The night is calm in our rooms,
where the echoes of all footsteps rest
like sunken leaves in a pond,
but the night outside is wild.

A darker storm stands over the world.
It puts its mouth to our soul
and blows to get a tone. We are afraid
the storm will blow us empty.

***

Happy emptying!

Jose

* stepping into the river with mark strand

When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger … in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context. It has the voice of the poet written all over it, for one thing, but it also seems suddenly more alive… —Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, 1998

* mark strand *
* mark strand 1934 – 2014 *

What moves me most about the above quote is how clearly it states the power of a poem to color one’s view of the world. You can’t step in the same river twice, Heraclitus said (and Borges quoted religiously 🙂 ). Poetry, then, is a way to document what the second steps into the river – and the third, fourth, etc. – feel like. You leave a good poem different, not for any act of manipulation, but simply an act of listening and attention, words that apply to reading and prayer.

I was happy to share the following poem with my students this week. I told them one of the things I love about it is how Strand gets away with repeating “someone” and “something,” big no-no’s that I look for when I revise my own work. Usually “something” is not pointing to an ethereal wonderment, but at a lack of specificity. In Strand’s poem, the words become the very air of a party, and then the air of the universe.

From the Long Sad Party – Mark Strand

Someone was saying
something about shadows covering the field, about
how things pass, how one sleeps towards morning
and the morning goes.

Someone was saying
how the wind dies down but comes back,
how shells are the coffins of wind
but the weather continues.

It was a long night
and someone said something about the moon shedding its white
on the cold field, that there was nothing ahead
but more of the same.

Someone mentioned
a city she had been in before the war, a room with two candles
against a wall, someone dancing, someone watching.
We began to believe

the night would not end.
Someone was saying the music was over and no one had noticed.
Then someone said something about the planets, about the stars,
how small they were, how far away.

***

Happy planeting!

Jose