Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Poetry: Not Unlike Sex

During an epically long and multitask-worthy conference call this morning I logged into Gmail to work through the backlog of spam and feed alerts.

One of the few great remaining things about email is that it gives you an excuse to binge read your feeds - like watching an entire season of House of Cards in a weekend. Seven unread posts from theSkimm? Yes, please.

My guilty e-binge is poetry - I have subscribed to nearly every poetry blog, email and podcast I've ever come across. That's a lotta poems, delivered directly to me like morphine through a PICC line, every day. 

Many, many people think they just don't get poetry. Which is just silly. Everyone gets songs, everyone remembers nursery rhymes and jump rope rhymes, and jokes.  

Which is why you do, actually, get poetry.

"But how do I know if a poem is good?" is nearly everyone's next concern. My advice is to stop worrying about what is generally - and by generally I mean academically - considered to be "good."

Good poetry, like good food and good music and good sex, is relative. Did you enjoy it? Yes? Then it was good.

Back to binging: Binge reading poetry - not unlike experimentation in college or playing Pandora roulette - helps you figure out what you like. 

Actually, the experimental sex metaphor is not a bad one. Let's go with it. (That's what he said).
  • Open a poem, whether in a book or randomly selected from a site like poetryfoundation.org (Metaphorically find someone with whom you have a bit of chemestry)
  • Read the opening stanza (Kiss him/her)
  • Does it repel you? No? 
  • Read the next stanza (Press against him/her)
  • Are you bored? No? Read the next stanza (Let your hands wander)
  • Do you feel something? Yeah? Keep going (Keep going...)
  • Read the first stanza (Kiss)
  • Does it repel you? Yes? Move on to the next opportunity. Life is too short to be spent with bad poems and poor kissers
This is when you discover what moves you. In either context.

Try it. Click through the poems. You may give up on the first one and click away after reading one line, one stanza, two stanzas... Click on the next poem...and the next poem...keep clicking until you find yourself reading all the way through a poem. When you find the poem you want to read to the end I guarantee you will get it. 

Here is the poem that sent me down this path today. I've never heard of Craig Arnold but I kissed him and I liked it.

Poem of the Day: Bird-Understander

Of many reasons I love you here is one

the way you write me from the gate at the airport
so I can tell you everything will be alright

so you can tell me there is a bird
trapped in the terminal      all the people
ignoring it       because they do not know
what do with it       except to leave it alone
until it scares itself to death

it makes you terribly terribly sad

You wish you could take the bird outside
and set it free or       (failing that)
call a bird-understander
to come help the bird

All you can do is notice the bird
and feel for the bird       and write
to tell me how language feels
impossibly useless

but you are wrong

You are a bird-understander
better than I could ever be
who make so many noises
and call them song

These are your own words
your way of noticing
and saying plainly
of not turning away
from hurt

you have offered them
to me       I am only
giving them back

if only I could show you
how very useless
they are not

Friday, November 7, 2014

Big Shoulders and Little Cat Feet

In March 1914, Poetry magazine published the Carl Sandburg poem Chicago and introduced the literary world to the City of Big Shoulders. 

It is difficult to believe the poem celebrated (did it celebrate?) its 100th anniversary this year.

The graspability of that number - 100 -  is particularly difficult for me because when I was a tiny Chicagoan, memorizing poems and learning about poetry in grammar school, Sandburg was considered a modern poet having died only a decade earlier. Adults still made reference to Carl Sandburg like he was a sports columnist or the guy with the bowtie on the evening news. 

Although the great metropolis on the Great Lake is no longer the hog butcher for the world it is still stormy, husky and brawling. One hundred years isn't really that much time after all; just long enough for something modern to become a classic.

A century after Carl Sandburg was impressed by the fog rolling into the harbor, Chicago and its natives continue to influence poetry. 

These works are by two of my favorite modern, poetic Chicagoans:

Agoraphobia by Susan Hahn

It isn’t that she doesn’t
want to go to the marketplace, if only
to buy one small
compliment. She can remember each
time she went,
got one, took it
home, put it in
porcelain cup she kept
beside her bed.
She stopped 
going out of fear
of wanting too much to fill
the fragile container,
decorated her house in muted
and moved onto her bed
a color TV
which she watches
She likes the news, especially
the accidents what happen
when people travel too far 
from home.
They secure her place.
And when she faces
a scene filled with good
time, she wanders—
but only in her mind.

In Spite of Everything, the Stars by Edward Hirsch

Like a stunned piano, like a bucket
of fresh milk flung into the air
or a dozen fists of confetti
thrown hard at a bride
stepping down from the altar,
the stars surprise the sky.
Think of dazed stones
floating overhead, or an ocean
of starfish hung up to dry. Yes,
like a conductor’s expectant arm
about to lift toward the chorus,
or a juggler’s plates defying gravity,
or a hundred fastballs fired at once
and freezing in midair, the stars
startle the sky over the city.

And that’s why drunks leaning up
against abandoned buildings, women
hurrying home on deserted side streets,
policemen turning blind corners, and
even thieves stepping from alleys
all stare up at once. Why else do
sleepwalkers move toward the windows,
or old men drag flimsy lawn chairs
onto fire escapes, or hardened criminals
press sad foreheads to steel bars?
Because the night is alive with lamps!
That’s why in dark houses all over the city
dreams stir in the pillows, a million
plumes of breath rise into the sky.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Poet You Should Know - Clementine von Radics

Is Clementine von Radics on your "emerging poets" radar?

You have one of those, right? If you went to a liberal arts college they embedded an EPR chip in your neck at graduation. If you went to a universidad gigante your Sophomore Lit prof should have provided you with a radio frequency and code book.

Either way, if you aren't familiar with her work, we can remedy that situation right here and now.

Source unknown
More than just an astounding name, Clementine von Radics is  a modern philosopher, a fantastically gifted writer, and the clichéd to a crisp but true voice of her generation. 

As such she is everywhere poetry is represented in social media, and she's published two books of work for the tactile among us: Home and As Often as Miracles.

Her Goodreads profile gives you a good indication of what her work will be like:

Clementine von Radics likes reading palms and getting friendship tattoos. She drinks a lot of cheap red wine and all the women in her family are beautiful. She is the author of As Often As Miracles and a founder and collective member of Where Are You Press. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

From Ten Love Letters
It’s 11 am and I’m sitting in a restaurant 
3 beers in. Believe me, even I’m surprised 
I’m still alive sometimes. 
I have been drinking about you for 2 days. 
Lately you remind me of a wild thing 
chewing through its foot. But you
are already free and I don’t know what to do 
except trace the rough line of your jaw
and try not to place blame.
Here is the truth: It is hard to be in love 
with someone who is in love someone else. 
I don’t know how to turn that into poetry.

I love this one....

But my heart is an old house
(the kind my mother
grew up in)
hell to heat and cool
and faulty in the wiring
and though it’s nice to look at
I have no business
inviting lovers in.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Samhain's Sisters

Credit: Holger Motzkau
Every autumn Halloween - that attention whore - gets all the holiday face time. Which, I admit, is justified. Who doesn't love to try on a different side of themselves, binge on nostalgia and party anonymously? Admit it, we all do.

But this year, do yourself a favor. When the booze-stained sexy witch costume or sexy fireman costume... or sexy nerd costume?... is tossed into the dumpster and the sugar buzz evaporates, stop and take some time to notice a couple of underrepresented holidays: All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

If you want a history or theology lesson about Samhain, Hallowe'en, and the like, there are better places to get it.  

But if you are interested in a bit of poetry associated with Allhallowtide, keep scrolling.

For all the Saints - Protestant Hymn

(aka - poetry set to music)

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed
Alleluia, Alleluia! (*)

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Sugar skulls are more than body art

Calavras are used to celebrate the Latin American version of All Souls Day: Dia de los Muertos.

Poem for Day of the Dead - Author Unknown

Do not stand at my grave and weep. 
I am not there, I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow. 
I am the diamond glints on the snow. 
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain. 
I am the gentle Autumn's rain. 

When you awaken in the morning hush, 
I am the swift uplifting rush 
of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry: 
I am not there, I did not die. 

From Day After Day of the Dead - Nathanial Mackey
“While we’re alive,” we kept
repeating. Tongues, throats,
roofs of our mouths bone dry,
skeletons we’d someday
Panicky masks we wore for
effect more than effect,
more real than we’d admit...
No longer wanting to know
what soul was, happy to
shadow, know touch...
Happy to have sun at our
backs, way led by shadow,
happy to have bodies, block
Afternoon sun lighting leaf,
glint of glass, no matter what,
about to be out of body it
Soon to be shadowless we thought,
said we thought, not to be offguard, caught out.
Gray morning we
to be done with, requiem so
sweet we forgot what it lamented,
turning to sugar, we