* fitting in with Edward Arlington Robinson

Octave XI – Edward Arlington Robinson

STILL through the dusk of dead, blank-legended,
And unremunerative years we search
To get where life begins, and still we groan
Because we do not find the living spark
Where no spark ever was; and thus we die,
Still searching, like poor old astronomers
Who totter off to bed and go to sleep,
To dream of untriangulated stars.

* I hate being that guy *
* I hate being that guy *

I’ve been dipping my head into the work of E. A. Robinson again.  He was a contemporary (and at times considered a rival of) Robert Frost.  He led a pretty bleak life: in his twenties, drinking and money problems had him kinda lost.

He eventually found a patron/friend/savior in the form of President Theodore Roosevelt, who, after becoming aware of his work, set him up with steady work hoping to keep him writing.  And it did.

I love this story because of what it says about not fitting in.  After reading him long enough, I’ve become convinced that some part of him was aware of not fitting in, and put it to work in his poems.

What I love about the octave above is the use (a successful use) of the words “unremunerative” and “untriangulated” – how the long words draw attention to themselves, almost seem not to fit in.  But they do, both in rhythm and sense: triangulated stars are those close enough to be measured.  The phrase “untriangulated stars” refers to those stars too distant to be measured.

That, to me, is the beauty of not fitting in: sometimes it comes in a way that is moving and encouraging.

Happy (not) fitting in!


* baring it all with Dorianne Laux

So: remember all that paper that was under my desk two weeks ago that I cleared out just last week?

Well, now there’ s this:

* here there be manuscripts *
* here there be manuscripts *

I handed this over to Ani earlier this week.

I’ve been busy working on a few different projects since school let out, hermitted away at my desk, coming away excited each night, talking her ear off about this concept or that change.  It’s a terrifying stack: the soul in a ream of paper.

This week’s poem by Dorianne Laux deals with all manner of nakedness.  What stands out is how the nakedness pointed out by the poet is the nakedness that is apparent in a straightforward sense, something of the inner being exposed through the particulars of its outer being.

Sharing the stack of papers visually – and literally, with a reader – carries with it similar feelings of nakedness.

The Nakedness of Things – Dorianne Laux *

There is nothing more naked
than a cactus, its green skin
exposed, the enlarged
pores from which each
spiny hair sprouts. Nothing
so naked as a wave
lifting its frothy dress
to show off one glassy
blue thigh. The pliers
spreads its legs, sheathed
in red rubber stockings,
displays its shiny
metal crotch, cold
to the touch. A dab
of kerosene behind
an ear of glowing coal
and it splays open, twisting
in a pit, like the frayed
wilderness of sex. Nothing
naked as the rain, dragging
its fingers over
the mountain’s bare
breasts or music
undressing itself
in the air. Look,
it’s everywhere, the world
undone, naked
as the day it was born.


Happy nakeding!


* (originally published in Raleigh Review)

* the unignorable with Aimee Nezhukumatathil

* unignoring one another *
* unignoring one another *

Some things are unignorable.

For example, moths seem to be unignorable in my writing.  They’ve crept in and out of my poems for years now.  Experiencing moth season in Albuquerque, New Mexico only increased the fascination.

The bumbling after direction and light – yeah, I get that.

They are a symbol of fragility and persistence for me.  In this way, they are all that more human to me.

Human fragility and persistence are also unignorable.  Reading the poem below by Aimee Nezhukumatathil brought this lesson home.  While the world of the poem is a dark one, the lyric never loses sight of the human factor.  Through the final image, the fragility and persistence of the moth is made kindred to human predicament and struggle.  This poem itself was unignorable.


Two Moths – Aimee Nezhukumatathil* 

Some girls        on the other side of this planet

will never know        the loveliness

of   walking      in a crepe silk sari.      Instead,

they will spend        their days                          on their backs

for a parade               of   men           who could be       their uncles

in another life.         These girls memorize

each slight wobble                  of   fan blade as it cuts

through the stale       tea air and auto-rickshaw

exhaust,        thick as egg curry.

Men         shove greasy rupees        at the door

for one hour         in a room

with a twelve-year-old.                One hour —               One hour —

One hour.            And if   she cries afterward,

her older sister       will cover it up.         Will rim

the waterline             of   her eyes                 with kohl pencil

until it looks like                        two silk moths

have stopped      to rest       on her exquisite     face.


Happy mothing!


* published in Poetry November 2013

* the influence wrecking ball via Robinson Jeffers

To the Stone-cutters – Robinson Jeffers

Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you foredefeated
Challengers of oblivion
Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
The square-limbed Roman letters
Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain.  The poet as well
Builds his monument mockingly;
For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth die, the brave sun
Die blind and blacken to the heart:
Yet stones have stood for a thousand years,
and pained thoughts found
The honey of peace in old poems.

* a rocky poet *
* rockin’ poet *

If that don’t wake you up on a Friday morning I don’t know what will!

I’ve been wanting to do a post on Jeffers for a while.  He’s definitely been an influence.  I first got into his work back during my MFA – which resulted in my poor workshopmates being inundated with a Jose poem that was needlessly dark and unnecessarily long.

To keep it short, the influence wrecked me for a bit.

Which is the way it works sometimes.  So much of writing is born out of reading, and sometimes we walk away from things we read with only a glimpse of how the writer got there but fully convinced we can get there too.  I want to believe it’s a youthful hubris but I would be kidding myself.

To get back to Jeffers: he is famous for his longer works, but there is a lot of heart and insight in his shorter poems.  After getting over my initial impulse to take after his way with the line (and getting away from myself in the process), I spent some time with the shorter lyrics learning a thing or two about compression and conciseness.

The poem below is a rare note not only in its brevity but also in his use of another’s voice.

Cremation – Robinson Jeffers

It nearly cancels my fear of death, my dearest said,
When I think of cremation.  To rot in the earth
Is a loathsome end, but to roar up in flame – besides, I am used to it,
I have flamed with love or fury so often in my life,
No wonder my body is tired, no wonder it is dying.
We had great joy of my body.  Scatter the ashes.


Happy scattering!


* Phil Levine & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Philip Levine.

When I read the following poem to Ani she picked up on something I did not when I first read it four years earlier: that it takes place in Spain.  This makes sense seeing as Phil Levine has spent much time in Spain and written often on the poets who suffered and survived in the Spanish Civil War.

Having herself spent time there, Ani spoke of the place in the poem as if she had been there, the way one does in the light of experience.

This is the world…  Indeed!

What moves me still about the poem is the scope of human understanding, how much gets put into the poem, and yet it is only one man’s glimpse, as fleeting and unknowable even now.

the *photo* of time
the *photo* of time

The Music of Time – Philip Levine *

The young woman sewing

by the window hums a song

I don’t know; I hear only

a few bars, and when the trucks

barrel down the broken street

the music is lost.  Before the darkness

leaks from the shadows of

the great Cathedral, I see her

once more at work and later

hear in the sudden silence

of nightfall wordless music rising

from her room.  I put aside

my papers, wash, and dress

to eat at one of the seafood

places along the great avenues

near the port where later

the homeless will sleep.  Then I

walk for hours in the Barrio

Chino passing the open

doors of tiny bars and caves

from which the voices of old men

bark out the stale anthems

of love’s defeat.  “This is the world,”

I think, “this is what I came

in search of year’s ago.”  Now I

can go back to my single room,

I can lie awake in the dark

rehearsing all the trivial events

of the day ahead, a day that begins

when the sun clears the dark spires

of someone’s God, and I waken

in a flood of dust rising from

nowhere and from nowhere comes

the actual voice of someone else.


Happy nowhereing!


* from Phil Levine’s News of the World.

* William Meredith on the friday influence

This week’s poem is The Illiterate by William Meredith.

This one is a favorite.  I memorized it years ago and come back to it often.

The simplicity of both the subject matter and form is deceptive.  It is a sonnet but note how the rhymes work, how they envelope around the last syllables – man, hand, hand, man – playing out the story of the poem in the word choice itself.

The extended metaphor takes over after the first line and comes back in the turning over of words at the end of the poem.

I won’t say too much  more, seeing as this is a poem about what is left unsaid.


letter-proud *
letter-proud *

The Illiterate – William Meredith

Touching your goodness, I am like a man

Who turns a letter over in his hand

And you might think this was because the hand

was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man

Has never had a letter from anyone;

And now he is both afraid of what it means

And ashamed because he has no other means

To find out what it says than to ask someone.


His uncle could have left the farm to him,

Or his parents died before he sent them word,

Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.

Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.

What would you call his feeling for the words

That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?


Happy keeping!


* image found here.