* solituding with james schuyler

One of the most moving things about being a poet and sharing the work I do has been hearing feedback from people. I remember years ago after performing at a poetry slam, I had a woman come up to me and quote a line from one of the poems I’d read: “Why are men only honest during the slow songs?” Then she hugged me and said, That’s it, that’s exactly it.

Another time I was working at a coffee shop and had posted some poems (my own and by others) on the community board in celebration of National Poetry Month. It was a lovely surprise to hand off a latte to a young man as he smiled and said: “Solitude feels like fire sometimes.” Did you write that? That’s a good line.

My reaction in both situations was a mix of smiling and mumbling, eventually landing on a thank you.

In the three years of running this blog, I have been moved to similar moments of smiling and mumbling gratitude by comments made here, Facebook, Twitter, and email by those of you kind enough to read and reach out. While writing and reading may be solitary acts, there is a special kind of communion that happens in those moments of sharing lines and insights. Thank you for making me feel heard!

This week’s poem – “The Bluet” by James Schuyler – connects this type of communion via poetry with that available in the natural world. In those moments of reading a line and considering it, we read with the kind of attention and listening that “breaks/[us] up.”

* quaking *
* quaking *


The Bluet – James Schuyler

 And is it stamina
that unseasonably freaks
forth a bluet, a
Quaker lady, by
the lake? So small,
a drop of sky that
splashed and held,
four-petaled, creamy
in its throat. The woods
around were brown,
the air crisp as a
Carr’s table water
biscuit and smelt of
cider. There were frost
apples on the trees in
the field below the house.
The pond was still, then
broke into a ripple.
The hills, the leaves that
have not yet fallen
are deep and oriental
rug colors. Brown leaves
in the woods set off
gray trunks of trees.
But that bluet was
the focus of it all: last
spring, next spring, what
does it matter? Unexpected
as a tear when someone
reads a poem you wrote
for him: “It’s this line
here.” That bluet breaks
me up, tiny spring flower
late, late in dour October.
***
The countdown to the December 1st release of my full-length collection, Everything We Think We Hear, continues. Here is a link to my poem “Letter to Rainer Maria Rilke from NYC” published in The Acentos Review in 2010. It’s the piece where the “solitude” line quoted above appears.
Happy solituding!
José

* on the vine with denise levertov

Aware – Denise Levertov

When I found the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
whispers.
My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop
peacefully.

* uninvineted *
* uninvineted *

This week’s poem is by Denise Levertov, someone whose work I feel inspires the same kind of “cautious sunlight” approach to life and writing as is described above. Throughout the years, I’ve come back to her poems to learn again how to more inhabit my lines and line breaks. Note above the “abundance” of the third line, and how it scraps down to the one word “whispers.”

I have a friend who says that if you’re going to have one word stand alone on a line it better be the most important word in the poem. For me, “whispers” is a strong candidate for most important word, specifically because of what it means after I’ve read the poem and look at the words again. Structurally, my eye is drawn back to “whispers” and its two-syllable one line buddy “I liked.” The brevity of these two lines, how they are tucked into themselves much like the vine leaves of the poem, moves me to contemplate the whole poem further.

***

As I mentioned earlier this week, the release date for my upcoming collection, Everything We Think We Hear, is officially December 1st. I’ve got a couple of things in mind to share as we get closer to the date. Mas soon!

I’m also happy to announce that my chapbook The Divorce Suite will be published by Red Bird Chapbooks in 2016. More news on this project as it develops!

Happy vining!

José

* 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.

* taking flight with tranströmer

During my grad studies in NYC, I had the opportunity to go to a reading by Tomas Tranströmer. Sharon Olds and Robert Bly were chosen to present Tranströmer’s work, each reading a selection. Olds delivered his work in a fervent and direct manner, while Bly strode through the poems, pausing at times to exclaim over a line and asking us to listen, really listen.

The words I’ve chosen for each reader – fervent, direct and stride, listen – are key to my understanding of Tranströmer and his poems. There is definitely a passion behind the poems, an unabashed facing of what’s in the world. But his poems are also full of close, deep listening.

In the poem below, Tranströmer evokes the flight of a bird throughout his life, develops the transient flight of a bird to such a point that the bird becomes the constant and the self is seen as the one in transient flight. For me, poetry is much like this.

* right here there is no time *
* right here there is no time *

The Nightingale in Badelunda – Tomas Tranströmer *

 

In the green midnight at the nightingale’s northern limit. Heavy leaves hang in trance, the deaf cars race towards the neon-line. The nightingale’s voice rises without wavering to the side, it’s as penetrating as a cock-crow, but beautiful and free of vanity. I was in prison and it visited me. I was sick and it visited me. I didn’t notice it then, but I do now. Time streams down from the sun and the moon and into all the tick-tock-thankful clocks. But right here there is no time. Only the nightingale’s voice, the raw resonant notes that whet the night sky’s gleaming scythe.

***

Happy gleaming!

Jose

* trans. Robin Fulton, from Selected Poems, ed. Robert Hass

* lining up with charlotte mew

So, at one point during CantoMundo, this happened:

* this guy might be too happy *
* this guy might be too happy *

This image pretty much sums up my feelings this week in regards to the release of my new chapbook, Corpus Christi Octaves, and all the support people have shown both here on the blog as well as on Facebook and Twitter. To all of you who have sent warm wishes in one form or another, thank you for making this week pretty big for me.

Like that SMILE pictured above big 🙂

Working on a project like the octaves, so focused on creating tension within specific formal parameters, makes me quick to spot other eight-liners out there. This week’s poem “Sea Love” by Charlotte Mew holds its own lessons on compactness, diction, and fluidity of line.

Thomas Hardy considered Mew an incredible artist and, along with Housman, placed her in high esteem for her way with diction and feel for people. The music here is exceptional. The third line drags out in a wonderful, rocky contrast to the other contained lines. The sea like the lover cannot be reined in. The heart breaks on the “wind” at the end.

* make it mew *
* make it mew *

Sea Love – Charlotte Mew

Tide be runnin’ the great world over:

‘Twas only last Junemonth I mind that we

Was thinkin’ the toss and the call in the breast of the lover

So everlastin’ as the sea.

Here’s the same little fishes that sputter and swim,

Wi’ the moon’s old glim on the grey, wet sand;

An’ him no more to me nor me to him

Than the wind goin’ over my hand.

***

Happy going!

Jose

p.s. I’ve revamped both the Chapbooks tab & Audio tab – the latter with a link of my reading from Corpus Christi Octaves at The Poetry Loft! Special thanks to Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua for the opportunity! Check out the reading here.

* discoveries in the disparate & kenneth p. gurney

I remember reading that the semicolon is the most poetic of punctuation marks because of the way it holds two or more disparate things together, things that, under scrutiny, would not be thought of as usually being connected.

Which is what poems do: just replace “it” in the sentence above with “a poem” and finish the sentence: you’ll have a pretty succinct definition of the art.

This week’s poem “Selfish,” by friend and fellow poet Kenneth P. Gurney, charmed me in its ability to bring together so many disparate things – cookies (yum), tea (yum), Civil War figures (hmm), a clock (yum?), etc. – all within the context of a casual moment in a relationship.

What seals the charm for me is how the narrative leads us through various moments of knowing and not knowing, and ends with the speaker at a loss themselves for what the person they’re with finds “so funny.” We are left to wonder alongside the poet, which is how some of my favorite poems end.

* yum *
* yum *

Selfish – Kenneth P. Gurney

We bought Italian wedding cookies,
even though no one we knew
was getting married,
and some fragrant tea
the shop owner admitted he didn’t know
because the container
arrived without a label
and he couldn’t place the flavor.
You, out of politeness I think, asked,
Who was Patrick Cleburne?
And I told stories of the Irishman who served
in the Forty-First Regiment of Foot in the British army,
who emigrated to the United States
to settle in Helena, Arkansas,
then became one of the Confederacy’s
best fighting generals.
And the whole time I spoke,
I watched your eyes shift focus
from my lips, to my eyes,
to the divots on my right ear,
to the napkin that removed
white wedding cookie powder
from your fingers, to the tea,
to a hangnail on your right ring finger,
to the shop owner’s bird clock
that sounded sand hill cranes at eleven.
Before I got to Cleburne’s demise at Franklin
you laughed about something
that resided only in your head
and would not share what was so funny.

 

***

Happy not sharing!

Jose

* published in Decanto

* a more passionate saying with joel oppenheimer

I don’t revise much these days…except in the interest of a more passionate syntax

(Yeats)

These words by Yeats were said later in his life to poet John Berryman on their one and only meeting. The idea in them is fascinating, the great poet having gotten to a point where the technical matters got down to phrasing, which is saying.

a more passionate saying

This is something I aspire to in my own writing, but also in my own reading. Weekly, I strive to find things that stop me for one reason or another.

In this week’s poem “Leave It To Me Blues” by Joel Oppenheimer, he goes about his particular saying through straightforward language and a lyric subtlety that disarms as much as surprises.

* blushing moon *
* this week’s round and round *

Leave It To Me Blues – Joel Oppenheimer

from the heart of a flower
a stalk emerges; in each fruit
there are seeds. we turn our
backs on each other so often,
we destroy any community of
interest. yet our hearts are
seeded with love and care sticks
out of our ears. but there is no
bridge unless it is the wind which
whistles our bare house, tearing
the slipcovers apart and constantly
removing the tablecloth covering
it (the table) like a shroud (the
shroud of what the table could mean,
if only we were hungry enough to
care), and we cut ourselves off
because we discovered each man is
an island, detached. man, the
mainland is flipped over the moon.
all i have to depend on is effort,
and the moon goes round and round
in the evening sky. my sons will
make it if they ever reach age,
but how to take care i dont know.
it doesn’t get better. on the other
hand, even with answers, where
would we be, out in the cold, with
an old torn blanket, and no one
around us to cry

***

Happy arounding!

Jose

*poem found in the anthology A Controversy of Poets.

* rockin’ with Zbigniew Herbert

There are some poems essential to my psyche that I’m surprised I haven’t posted on here yet.

This week’s poem by Zbigniew Herbert is one of them.

I remember reading it the first time years ago and just being floored. How the subject, a pebble, can be meditated upon and become some larger than itself is profound. You can see the mountain forming in reverse from the pebble of the lyric.

Enjoy!

* who, me? *
* who, me? *


Pebble – Zbigniew Herbert

The pebble
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits

filled exactly
with a pebbly meaning

with a scent that does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

its ardour and coldness
are just and full of dignity

I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

– Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

                                       Translated by Peter Dale Scott and Czeslaw Milosz

**

Happy clearing!

J

* sketchiness with Bill Knott

* Domino Effect *
* Domino Effect *

The above is a snapshot of where I’m at in my sketching.  While I would love – and will continue to aspire to – sketch nice scenes of trees (really, just trees, nothing too fancy) I keep coming back to these little efforts that make me smirk.

Do people groan at visual puns?  I’d really like to know.

I’ve been doodling things like the above for years but never put one in my sketchbook til this week.  I was sitting there thinking: Be inspired.  Be inspired.  When some other part of me spoke up and said: Y’know, it’d be funny if…

A few years ago, I came across William Steig’s book The Lonely Ones in which he draws caricatures of emotions like greed and envy.  Totally kindred spirits.  A sort of visual poetry, a bit campier than Magritte.

Here is a drawing inspired by this week’s poem by Bill Knott.

* To Be Continued *
* To Be Continued *

As Usual – Bill Knott *

Immediately I’m dead
Body laid out straight
Please don’t hesitate
Just cut off my head

Lift it and lay it a foot
Or so below my feet
Shift it till I look like
An exclamation mark

Overt sign of joy pain
Surprise consternation
Despair exuberance

As usual a metaphor
Meant to  make up for
My lack of coherence

***

Happy cohering!

Jose

* from his book The Unsubscriber

* arriving with Denise Levertov

Overland to the Islands – Denise Levertov

Let’s go — much as that dog goes,
intently haphazard.  The
Mexican light on a day that
“smells like autumn in Connecticut”
makes iris ripples on his
black gleaming fur — and that too
is as one would desire — a radiance
consorting with the dance.
Under his feet
rock and mud, his imagination, sniffing,
engaged in its perceptions — dancing
edgeways, there’s nothing
the dog disdains on his way,
nevertheless he
keeps moving, changing
pace and approach but
not direction — “every step an arrival.”

*arrivearrivearrive*
*arrivearrivearrive*

Our professor snuck in this poem at the tail end of Levertov’s essay “Some Notes on Organic Form” – a good read for you poets if you have the time.

Much of what moves me here in this particular poem – the juxtaposition of senses and sensibility, how the poem insists on perception after perception, leads from word to word in an engaging manner – is discussed in that essay in terms of meditation and breath.

I have been much involved in another kind of meditation and breath, one that centers me after teaching.  Here’s a quote that has followed me into my inner space the past two days:

All the world is a dream, not because it isn’t there, but because we each attach different meanings to it.

— Ming-Dao Deng, 365 Tao

Happy attaching!

Jose