* 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.

* w. s. merwin & the friday influence

Dusk in Winter – W. S. Merwin

The sun sets in the cold without friends
Without reproaches after all it has done for us
It goes down believing in nothing
When it has gone I hear the stream running after it
It has brought its flute it is a long way

***

 This week on the Influence: W. S. Merwin!

What I love about Merwin’s poem above is how he gets in so much into a few lines.  Not only the brevity but the subject matter.

We are told that the best novels throughout history deal namely with family/love relationships, that there is so much to said within those frames of humanity.  Equally, poems are said to be about either love, life, or death.

What the stock objects – rain, leaves turning colors, rivers flowing, waiting in line at a grocery store – serve are to open up something everyone can identify with while following along with the poet to see how it is they see it.

That personal take on things – whether it is evoked in turns of phrase or particular images and narrative – is the fingerprint on the poem, the echo of the soul passing through the words (through the world, through the reader), what it is that teaches and awes in a poem.  It is the hardest thing to achieve: singularity, an indelible presence.

Merwin’s work in translation (his Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems has been the standard for years) comes through here in the way he turns a sunset into a fable of sorts, works the images down into the emotions they evoke.  The starkness created by not having punctuation cues me in as a reader to engage with the poem, to follow the logic of the phrasing as it unfolds, each turn a little surprise along the way.

***

rains, yo

The rainy season has officially begun here in Eugene.  In honor, here’s one more by Merwin:

To the Rain – W. S. Merwin

You reach me out of the age of the air
clear
falling toward me
each one new
if any of you has a name
it is unknown

but waited for you here
that long
for you to fall through it knowing nothing

hem of the garment
do not wait
until I can love all that I am to know
for maybe that will never be

touch me this time
let me love what I cannot know
as the man born blind may love color
until all that he loves
fills him with color

***

Happy filling!

J

(photograph found on: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2008/sep/26/poster.poems.rain.poetry)

* 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

* out to sea on the friday influence

Sea-weed – D.H. Lawrence

Sea-weed sways and sways and swirls

as if swaying were its form of stillness;

and if it flushes against fierce rock

it slips over it as shadows do, without hurting itself.

***

seaweed, yo.

This week on the Influence: an explanation!

This past few days have been kind of rough in my world.  Nothing major, just life.

What that means for you kind readers is that I was not able to do my usual type of post this week.  Things should be back up and running next week, both blog-wise and life-wise.

Until then, enjoy these sea themed poems.

This next one by Greek poet George Seferis makes me hear things.

**

haiku – George Seferis

You write;

the ink lessened

the sea increases.

**

the increasing sea

And one from yours truly:

Correspondence – Jose Angel Araguz

Sin palabras

el mar viene y se va

viene y se va

*

Without words

the sea comes and goes

comes and goes

**

Happy coming and going!

J

* the Borges/Araguz haiku challenge & the friday influence

3 Haiku – Jorge Luis Borges *

They have said something to me,

the afternoon and the mountain.

Already, it is lost.

**

The antique sword

dreams of its battles.

Another is my dream.

**

Is it an empire

that light dying down

or a firefly?

**

luciernaga – much cooler word than firefly.


This week on the Influence – Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges has been a kind of spiritual/writing mentor for me the past couple of years.  He prided himself in being a better reader than writer, and prized the pleasure of reading above any fame and notoriety to be gained in the writing world.

In the introduction to a book of prose poems, he defended himself from those who would bicker over whether the pieces in the book were poems or not, that they were poems to him, some of which took their form in prose.

I took this as permission to take on the prose poem in my own fashion.  But more than that, it gave me permission to own my sense of what a poem is, that it could be many forms aspiring to one spirit.

Which is how I take on haiku.

You take on a form and keep writing until you have a relationship with it, until it is yours.  Whatever gets it out of you, gets you writing, gets it written.

My challenge today is more of an homage.  Here’s to Borges and getting it written.

***

3 Haiku – Jose Angel Araguz

shadow of a branch

across the page

writing

**

the tension

between two

buttons

**

down moon-paved roads

cold morning

walks

**

Happy walking!

J

* translation by Jose Angel Araguz (word to your Obra Poetica!).

* re-acquaintances & memory lane

I recently reconnected with an aunt of mine.

On the surface, this is no big deal.  Except the nice lady in question is the last living blood relative I have connected with my father.  I mean, she might know his actual birthday.

The last time Pilar, my aunt, and I saw each other, my grandmother – mother to her and my father – had died.  I spent the day with her and her family going around the neighborhood collecting stories about him.

Then she handed me what photographs she had of him.  I had never seen these photos, never seen so much of my father.

We lost touch after that visit.  It’s been eight years.

Finding each other again is a big deal because my father’s side of the family is riddled with men who leave or go missing.

In honor of our re-acquaintance, I have decided to share a poem I wrote a little after my grandmother’s death.

The line about the whispers of tough gossip is Pilar wondering after her brother.

***

Two Years *

 

In a house with only a front and back door,

The rooms separated by bed sheets,

A television that only worked at night,

When it wasn’t windy,

When it didn’t rain,

And a crucifix above the kitchen sink,

My grandmother would fill bottles with water and sugar

And watch over me as I ate in my sleep,

My mouth chewing dreams that would never fill me up.

 

Eyes puddled with dark rings would look down,

Bags the color of beaten and bruised fruit;

Her hands, brown and thin with veins

Like cross hatched branches,

A tree named Augustina

Would hold me, pour water over me

In the same place she peeled potatoes.

 

I never knew her name til I was eight.

On the phone, there was more static than I knew words in Spanish.

There was a photograph, paper swollen and smooth,

Picture blurry and dull,

A smile the color of headlights at night.

 

What face did I make as she passed me around,

Miren Angel, look at my son’s boy,

My father, the fisherman

Who let his son grow up not knowing how to swim,

His footsteps on the whispers of tough gossip,

Like dust being swept across the floor,

No longer the imprint of a foot,

No longer there.

 

Tina, I have seen buildings fall and the morning grow gray with smoke,

I have seen deserts explode through the green eye of the television,

I have seen a man hit in the mouth with his own gun,

I have seen women scream because men with broken bottles in their hands

            Don’t know better or don’t care,

I have seen love in a bruised face,

A pair of heavy eyes,

Your eyes —

 

Skin crinkling like burning leaves —

 

And I wish the metaphors could stop,

I wish I was Jesus,

That when I laid my hand down

It meant more to me than words,

More to you than an unfamiliar tongue,

Sounds you can’t understand

Stretched out in scribbles, curled

Like hair on a newborn’s head.

***

Happy scribbling!

J

* an earlier version of this poem appeared in Glyph, the literary journal of the College of Santa Fe

* Kay Ryan chills on the friday influence

Say Uncle – Kay Ryan

Every day

you say,

Just one

more try.

Then another

irrecoverable

day slips by.

You will

say ankle,

you will

say knuckle;

why won’t

you why

won’t you

say uncle?

***

This week on the Influence: Kay Ryan.

When I go back to this poem, I’m always taken in by the speed of it.  It is deceptive how short the poem is because of how much is in it – humor, rhyme, a certain emotional urgency that I can’t after years of reading the poem seem to find a source for.

It’s just there.

In the tight lines, in the way the word “irrecoverable” takes up its own line and damn you can feel the weight of loss in one word, one word long and wide like open arms.

When asked why she avoids the self-revealing emotions typically identified with contemporary poetry, she responded: If you put ice on your skin, your skin turns pink. Your body sends blood there. If you think about that in terms of writing, cool writing draws us, draws our heat. *

Words like ice.  Nice.

cubes…for now.

***

Here’s one more by Ryan:

Atlas – Kay Ryan

Extreme exertion

isolates a person

from help,

discovered Atlas.

Once a certain

shoulder-to-burden

ratio collapses,

there is so little

others can do:

they can’t

lend a hand

with Brazil

and not stand

on Peru.

***

Happy standing!

J

***


* great interview!  http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5889/the-art-of-poetry-no-94-kay-ryan

* anagram haiku

I recently finished filling up a notebook.  Before shutting it away for a year or more, I thought I would share a few small things from it.  These short lyrics arrived out of something I call anagram haiku.  Please enjoy and perhaps try a few yourself.

***

the gods

run like dogs

through our lives

*

garbs

itself in brags

the cherry tree

*

Image
trees with swag

*

life

a brief

fiber

*

shape

is a phase:

ask the sky

***

Happy asking!

J

* 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!