* throwing things on the floor with Jim Harrison & John Keats

In reading Jim Harrison’s novel The English Major last month, I came across the following and it brought tears – I have been much for tears these days – and mainly because I have been slowly going over poems I have memorized, seeing what stuck and what fell off, and was suddenly surprised to recognize the poem referenced below:

I was saddened by the idea that I might not finish the work before I died, a natural enough fear.  Keats wrote, “When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain…”  That was throwing the raw meat on the floor in a lovely way.

That phrasing throwing the raw meat on the floor – that’s it isn’t it – what it is a poet does no matter the how we use to do it.  We are not in the business of poetry if the raw meat isn’t on the floor.

Realizing I had let the poem slip after a few years, and then coming back to it, memorizing it again – more than an old friend, I felt like a piece of myself was returning, that something understood once was being reconciled in a big, new way.

There’s a lot of history in the poem too: Yeats borrowed the phrasing of high romance, and John Berryman references the end of the poem in the title of his book Love and Fame.  I myself am tempted to borrow and manipulate the phrasing for something called: The Fool-ripened Grain.

Here is the poem below – you can see for yourself how awful and sacrilegious my idea is.

* you let the meat fall where? *
* you let the meat fall where? *

When I have fears that I may cease to be – John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to  be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books in charactery
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;

When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love – then on the shore

Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Til love and fame to nothingness do sink.

***

Happy sinking!

Jose

* the 100th post

Bright star – would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores…

(John Keats, Bright Star)

With those six lines there, poetry had me.

I read those as a kid and was floored.  I mean, first there’s the language: what’s an Eremite?  Steadfa- que?  But you go down into the words waters, priestlike task, ablution, shores and they take you into the ocean with their sounds.  I was hooked.  I didn’t know what I was looking at but I wanted to be around it, be part of it.

Of course, I didn’t realize this til much later, when I returned to Keats in an official I AM NOW GOING TO READ POETRY adolescent way.  Coming across this poem again, I went back to that silence of being a kid with something – can’t name it, don’t know what it is – but something there in these words is soooo cooool.

Eloquent I am not.

That said, I wanted to do a more personal post for this, the 100th post.

And what’s more personal than stars:

* insert crickets sound here *
* insert crickets sound here *

Sure, they’re all the way up there and on a completely different timeframe than us.  Yet, when you look up – or rather, when you let yourself look up and really look up – there’s something…I don’t know, nice about it.

Again, eloquence.

Here’s me trying to say it better:

To a star in Texas – Jose Angel Araguz

Little light weaving through, I cannot
make out much tonight, and I know this here
means nothing to you, so

skin, tell my stories; heart, fill the sky.

**

I don’t know exactly what that last line means but I’ve been kinda living by it ever since I wrote it years ago.  Something about how just being here is enough.

Stars.  The word, plural or singular, is so riddled with cliche, you could be talking about nothing.  And in a way you are.

Stars are, for me, things of persistence, pseudo-Venn diagrams of presence and absence.  They are one of the few things that people will – nearly universally – stop and let me themselves be awed by.

How do I know this?  Through reading poems.

Here’s Rilke’s take on it:

Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke

Everything is far
and long gone by.
I think that the star
glittering above me
has been dead for a million years.
I think there were tears
in the car I heard pass
and something terrible was said.
A clock has stopped striking in the house
across the road…
When did it start?…
I would like to step out of my heart
and go walking beneath the enormous sky.
I would like to pray.
And surely of all the stars that perished
long ago,
one still exists.
I think that I know
which one it is —
which one, at the end of its beam in the sky,
stands like a white city…

(trans. Stephen Mitchell)

**

Happy standing!

Jose

* glimpsing fireflies with Denise Levertov

There’s something about poetry – writing and reading it – that develops your ability to deal with the ephemeral, the fleeting, your ability to deal with almost’s.

You can work on a poem for years and still only almost say it.  Or you can read The Wasteland a few times and still only almost get it.  Yet, if it’s good, that almost is worth it.

It’s akin to pointing out fireflies: those little buggers will spark for a second in the grass – but by the time you elbow the person next to you to point them out, the light’s gone and you are left looking out into dark grass until another one lights up.

That glimpse of light – and how it passes onto another – is what I believe the poem below by Denise Levertov to be about.  There is what you see and what you would like others to see – both in writing and in life.

* no, quick, look *
* no, quick, look *

The Secret – Denise Levertov

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line.  They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was.  No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem.  I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, til death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings.  And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

***

Happy almosting!

Jose

* Sharon Olds, newspapers & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Sharon Olds!

Just read through Olds’ latest book, Stag’s Leap, a powerful collection of poems – for which she recently was awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize – centering on the story of her divorce.

The poems take on the separation with the nerve and lyrical litheness that are characteristic of Olds.  (Also: at one point she parts the Red Sea – seriously: check that out!)

I chose the poem below because it embodies much of what I admire in her skill as a poet.  There is the opening up of a moment, the digging into the details in words that put the subject – in this case, handling the newspaper – right in your hands, words like mineral-odored and greyish speckle.  She does it all with a straightforward energy that takes you along for the ride, evoking every nuance of the emotion felt.

There is a great awe in her work – a sense of awe of the world, of being a part of it, and being able to put it into words.  Few can go to this place of awe like she does.

As an American poet, I feel indebted to Sharon Olds for how she manages to stay grounded while still taking flight.  I see her in line with Whitman as well as Elizabeth Bishop – all poets of finding and feeling exuberance where you don’t expect it.

*periodico*
*periodico*

On Reading a Newspaper for the First Time as an Adult – Sharon Olds

By evening, I am down to the last,
almost weightless, mineral-odored
pages of the morning paper, and as I am
letting fall what I have read,
and creasing what’s left lengthwise, the crackly
rustle and the feathery grease remind me that
what I am doing is what my then husband
did, that sitting waltz with the paper,
undressing its layers, blowsing it,
opening and closing its delicate bellows,
folding till only a single column is un-
taken in, a bone of print then
gnawed from the top down, until
the layers of the paper-wasp nest lay around him by the
couch in a greyish speckle dishevel.  I left him to it,
the closest I wanted to get to the news was to
start to sleep with him, slowly, while he was
reading, the clouds of printed words
gradually becoming bedsheets around us.
When he left me, I thought, If only I had read
the paper, 
and vowed, In two years,
I will have the Times delivered,
so here
I am, leaning back on the couch, in the smell of ink’s
oil, its molecules like chipped bits of
ammonites suspended in shale,
lead’s dust silvering me.
I have a finger, now, in the pie –
count me as a reader of the earth’s gossip.
I weep to feel how I love to be like
my guy.  I taste what he tastes each morning
without moving my lips.

***

Happy tasting!

Jose

* photo found here

* Keats’ On the Grasshopper and Cricket: a reenactment

Image
Sir Sprinkle Belly in the role of The Grasshopper!

This week on the Influence: (a) play!

It’s winter time and I realize that I haven’t posted up a winter poem.  One of my favorites is John Keats’ “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”.

It is a deceptively playful yet serious sonnet.  Statements on “the poetry of earth” occur twice, breaking up the poem’s argument which consists of a parallel between the lives and seasons of the grasshopper and cricket.  The grasshopper is playful in summertime; the cricket’s song survives with us in the wintertime.

The rhymes are musical and yet there is an undertone of mortality despite the harmony.  The first line hits with two charged words “never dead” and then bounces along with the grasshopper.  This charged feeling is repeated with the words “ceasing never”.  Life – earthly life – is emphatic.

This parallel would be enough except (and as a good sonnet should) there is a turn – only here it occurs at the end.  The cricket’s song suddenly brings forth the memory of the grasshopper.  It is a visceral evocation worthy of Mr. Negative Capability.  Suddenly – like some poetical Venn Diagram of genius – the poem ends with summertime in wintertime.

Keats is the man.

Here is the proof:

On the Grasshopper and Cricket – John Keats
The Poetry of earth is never dead:    
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,    
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run    
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;    
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead      
  In summer luxury,—he has never done    
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun    
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.    
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:    
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost     
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills    
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,    
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,    
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
***

...and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!
…and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!

It ain’t easy being Sprinkle Foot.

Cookies are courtesy of my lady’s family household.  I totally decorated cookies this week.

Like a boss.

See ya next year (ha!),

jose

p.s. Keats wrote the above sonnet in a contest with his mentor Leigh Hunt.  With this, the mentee became the mentor … ‘s buddy? – the matinee became the mentorasaurus…rex…the –

* special feature: Kenneth P. Gurney

This week The Friday Influence is proud to feature the work of Kenneth P. Gurney!

Ken and I struck up a friendship during my brief time in Albuquerque.  He runs the Adobe Walls Open Mic out of Page 1 Books, the used bookstore where I worked.  Once a month – while helping clean up and close – I would get to overhear the great community of poets he fosters there.

His poetry is marked by his background in art – surrealistic images abound – yet, there is always some of his sense of awe and humor throughout his work, something altogether his own.

Find out more about Ken and his poetry here.

Since moving, we have sent poems on postcards to each other.  I am happy to share some of the poems that have made getting the mail – where bills and rejection letters abound – a bit of a treat.

Missive

Missive – Kenneth P. Gurney

I wrote a letter to the earth

on the bottom of my bare feet

then walked five miles

on grassy lanes that ran

adjacent to greening fields

and two wood lots.

While resting

under the broad shade

of a century oak

I checked my soles and determined

the blue ink to be all gone

& I considered my letter delivered.

Catastrophe

Catastrophe – Kenneth P. Gurney

Spring fails to create the perfect green

as the cat laps chartreuse spilled

from the dropped shot glass

where a trail of mucky pawprints

scub across the sparkling kitchen tile

like so many clouds

unable to congregate

and expel a healthy Albuquerque rain.

***

Happy congregating!

* jose

* Sylvia Plath, boarded trains & the friday influence

Metaphors – Sylvia Plath

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

***

This week on the Influence: Sylvia Plath!

Much is made about the life of Plath, to the point that much of her work is overlooked outside of a handful of poems.  Personally, my favorite poems of hers are the ones where she shows off how much of a poetry geek she was (and by poetry geek I mean poetic virtuoso!).

This poem in particular is a marvel.  I was stumped as to what it meant or what it was doing the first few times I read it years ago.  It says nothing big, really, (not in the classroom/dig up the meaning kind of way) but in figuring out how to read it, I learned much about what a poem could do.

I read and reread the poem, and it wasn’t until I took the first line to heart – a riddle in nine syllables – that I started to see nine everywhere – nine letters in the word “Metaphors”, nine syllables per line, nine lines in the whole poem.  Which only leads into the concept of the poem – pregnancy and its nine months of effort.

Through syllabics and form, Plath is able to express several (nine!) of the facets of her experience with impending motherhood.

The poem endears itself to the poet in me that likes to work out extra layers in a poem as part of the process and overall meaning.  The cinquain tributes from a previous post are an example of this side.

here – this train’s a’coming…

In other happenings, the construction at our house has stirred some inner soul construction – specifically the decision to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing.  More on this front as it develops.  For now, I have – as the lady said – Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Happy training!

J