birding with Edward Hirsch

This week’s poem – “Branch Library” by Edward Hirsch – takes me back to being a kid getting dropped off at the Greenwood Library in Corpus Christi, Texas (an experience I recently wrote a short essay about). Those early experiences of wandering stacks are with me in some small part to this day as I walk around a library or bookstore.

bird-sketch-1517679561sj1Along with this personal connection, Hirsch’s poem moves me for the way it braids together a variety of wordplay. From the play on “branch” as both the specific locale of the title to the poem’s riffing on bird language, there is a purposeful cleverness at work. What this levity does for the poem is give it an imaginative momentum that keeps over-seriousness and sentimentality from taking over by bringing them together directly. The earnest love of books and language meets the bird imagery and metaphor to evoke the exhilaration of the speaker’s younger self.

Through this braiding and inventiveness, Hirsch’s poem takes the reader along for the search for a younger self, a search that is a wonder in itself.

Branch Library – Edward Hirsch

I wish I could find that skinny, long-beaked boy
who perched in the branches of the old branch library.

He spent the Sabbath flying between the wobbly stacks
and the flimsy wooden tables on the second floor,

pecking at nuts, nesting in broken spines, scratching
notes under his own corner patch of sky.

I’d give anything to find that birdy boy again
bursting out into the dusky blue afternoon

with his satchel of scrawls and scribbles,
radiating heat, singing with joy.

from Special Orders (Knopf 2008)

* special feature: Poet Lore magazine & a poem

123 years and running…

“I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your hand because life is short and you too are thirsty.”
—Adrienne Rich

This week on the Influence: Poet Lore!

One piece of advice that has helped me grow in spirit as a writer is to pick up and read through every contributor’s copy that comes my way, and seeing that as part of engaging with the community of writers I am (to use the direct and physical metaphor of pages in a magazine) bound to.  Doing this, I have come across some great poems and been able to reach out to fellow poets.

This month, I was proud to receive my copies of the latest issue of Poet Lore.

My first encounter with the magazine included work by Jim Daniels as well as Lucille Clifton’s last interview.  What moved me to submit, however, was the magazine’s overall format: a selection of poetry from various poets, then a larger/chapbook sized selection from a featured poet, then some essays and reviews at the end.  This format says much about the consideration and focus given to the poets and the work included.

This latest issue is a celebration of the female spirit that has driven forward both this country (the cover photo above is from a 1912 Suffrage Parade) and this magazine (PL was founded by Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke in 1889).

The quote above from Adrienne Rich opens up the selection of poetry that, when read through, flows smoothly through the many worlds the poets represent: from junkyards and classrooms in America to the Ganges in India.  The featured poet in this issue is Samiya Bashir, whose sonnet sequence enters and opens up the relationship between the legendary John Henry and his wife Polly Ann.

Overall, the editors have done an outstanding job of not only selecting poems for this issue but of ordering them into something that reads like a revelation.  The magazine feels like an awesome mix-tape.

To find out more about Poet Lore, click here.

And watch out for the birdies on your way to my own contribution to the magazine:

sweet n…not true to their name.

Jodido – Jose Angel Araguz

this word that for my mother lies

between cracked sun-hardened skin

and being all out of luck

 

this word a summary

of months tallied in gray hairs

where she wanted to be angry

but dusted old photos instead

 

this word her word

for me at twenty-two

going hungry and disappearing

before she can finish

describing what it is we share

 

she might as well be shouting my name

calling me out of my sleeping bag in the living room

to see her off

my six-year-old arms reaching high around

her black apron

the color worn

to the smoke it reeks of

her pen and pad snug in the pockets

curled against me

Sweet ‘N Low packets snapping

like the broken claps of leaves

when she would walk to the car

and thunder off

in the unanimous roar

of gravel

***

Happy gravelling!

J

* picture featured here.

* Fanny Howe & the friday influence

(poem from Robeson Street) – Fanny Howe

Pushing children in plaid & silver prams

us mothers were dumpy,

                                           hunched in the damp

 

and our redlipped infants

   sucked on their strange fingers

      eyes stung by the gunny-strong

           grass on the hills

 

I wanted to sit near sweet water, not salt

in the fuzz of extreme weather,

           but we’re not here to

 

Like women who love the Lord on hills

what for what for,  we cawed outside

   as in bare trees, too plain to see

 

***

I have spent the past few weeks smitten and humbled by the work of Fanny Howe.  This poem holds much of what I find fascinating in her work.

There is the touch of William Carlos Williams in the phrasing of the line “us mothers were dumpy” – some of that American language he prized so much.

Then there’s her way with the line, as in “but we’re not here to” – the way the phrasing cuts off the sentence at just the point where it has its meaning complete as well as visually plays out the concept of “we’re not here”.

In this poem about disappearance of sense of self, those last two lines swallow the people in the poem and turn them into birds – all of it done in careful phrasing.  I turn the last two lines here over and over in my head to watch the meanings gleam and hold.

***

birds, yo.

***

Happy gleaming!

J

* 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