Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Redefining Erratic

Righteous Polka is back from another righteous hiatus.  

While I've been...not posting... I have done a whole lot of researching and writing and talking about poetry. Thanks to a creative writing group at the local public library I am constantly searching for new poets, poems and poetry formats.

Recently our group looked at Japanese poetry. While discussing renga, rengu, and haiku the conversation veered down several different paths including the degree to which poetry, like many things in Japanese culture, is governed by very strict rules, traditions, customs, processes and more rules.

In my opinion rules, when applied to poetry and teenage curfews, force creativity. Have to be home by midnight? The driveway is technically "home" right? And the street? The street is adjacent to home. 

Similarly if a poet is limited to using only nouns from list of traditional seasonal words (saijiki and kigo, respectively) you need to do something weird to keep things interesting. Maybe mix up those kigo with modern verbs like texting,overnighting, or swiping. Its a game! The more rigid the rules the more creative you have to get to forge something that reflects your personality, style, and individuality.

In the spirit of breaking rules and doing something weird...the following poem has absolutely nothing to do with Japanese poetry. Or as John Cleese would say, "And now for something completely different."

I do love this piece. Poetry featured it today and my admiration of, and affection for, this poem encouraged me to return to the blog and share it with you. So, questionable link between haiku and Robert Pinsky aside, please read on and enjoy. 

Poem of the Day: Samurai Song
When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.

When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.

When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.

When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.

Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.

Read that again and take a minute to notice the very careful line breaks and choice of words because they are lovely. Read the poem aloud and really appreciate the rhythm. Take a step back and think about what he is saying. He's talking to you about himself, and about you. You are strong, like a Samurai; you make your own fortune and choir. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pocket Poetry

The day is not highlighted on iCalendar and Taylor Swift has not, as far as I know, voiced an animated Netflix special in recognition of the holiday tomorrow. 

In fact, unless your near-and-dears are word nerds, specifically poetry nerds (represent!), they are probably unaware of the quiet celebration planned for April 30th.

For on that day, fellow nerdlings, in the pockets of trousers, jackets and shirts, topcoats, capris, vests and skirts, people around planet Earth – or at least a smattering of Americans – will carry on their persons the words of their favorite bards.

To use just a few more words, Thursday is National Poem in Your Pocket Day.

A social, even evangelical, end note to the rollicking rhyme orgy that is National Poetry Month, Poem in Your Pocket Day (#pocketpoem) is meant for sharing. Learn more here

I encourage you to join the celebration this year. Participation is easy-peasy and will, I promise, fill you will a delicious sense of improving the world one stanza at a time.

To join the metered chaos, first select a favorite poem. The fact that you are here, reading this, tells me you know a little something-something about prose and already have a favorite poem or two  - or thirty - tucked away on a mental shelf.

Reach up and pull down that poem, blow off the accumulated thought dust, memory pollen, and desiccated spider carcasses (i.e. – the dead pods of your own poems. Seriously, you need to journal that stuff). On Thursday, scrawl out the poem on a piece of paper, fold it up and pop it into a pocket.

Do you have friends? Cyber acquaintances? Colleagues? Relatives who are bound by blood and duty to respond when you text? Great! Send your poem to them. Spontaneously post, text or recite that poem in your pocket - if it is one of your favorites it must be awesome.

Now go forth and recite.

Poem in Your Pocket DayLucy Walwyn

No posies or hearts
No Be Mine Sweet Tarts.
No stockings or trees
No gift spending sprees.
No bunting or flares
No rocket’s red glare.

But poesies and verse
Tucked into a purse.
If just for a day
Stowed safely away.
A wee work of art
Kept close to your heart.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Gatekeeper

The world of words lost another poet this week when Philip Levine passed away on St. Valentine's Day.

Levine graduated from college and entered into adulthood like many of us do,  as a part-time poet and full-time something else, until he decided to shake off the shackles of normal, responsible, blue (or white or no) collar employment and go for it by returning to school to study for an MFA.

How many of us would love to say, "You know what? My soul is too big for this life. Fuck it. I'm going to become a career writer"? 

Full disclosure: He did teach after he got his MFA and, in fact, taught throughout his (second) career but he was a poet first.

He published his first book of poetry at age 35, won a Pulitzer at 67, and last year - at age 85 - was awarded the Wallace Stevens Award for proven mastery in the art of poetry by the Academy of American Poets. Tucked between those achievements his book Ashes: Poems New and Old received the first American Book Award for poetry, and he was the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2011 and 2012.

Levine said, "I believed...that if I could transform my experience into poetry I would give it value and dignity it did not...possess on its own. I thought too that if I could write about it I could come to understand it. I believed that if I could understand my life...I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life."

Raise your hand if you can relate. 

Goodbye, Philip Levine. You will be missed and remembered.

The Gatekeeper’s Children

This is the house of the very rich.
You can tell because it’s taken all
The colors and left only the spaces
Between colors where the absence
Of rage and hunger survives. If you could
Get close you could touch the embers
Of red, the tiny beaks of yellow,
That jab back, the sacred blue that mimics
The color of heaven. Behind the house
The children digging in the flower beds
Have been out there since dawn waiting
To be called in for hot chocolate or tea
Or the remnants of meals. No one can see
Them, even though children are meant
To be seen, and these are good kids
Who go on working in silence.
They’re called the gatekeeper’s children,
Though there is no gate nor—of course—
Any gatekeeper, but if there were
These would be his, the seven of them,
Heads bowed, knifing the earth. Is that rain,
Snow, or what smearing their vision?
Remember, in the beginning they agreed
To accept a sky that answered nothing,
They agreed to lower their eyes, to accept
The gifts the hard ground hoarded.
Even though they were only children
They agreed to draw no more breath
Than fire requires and yet never to burn.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Three White Leopards Sat Under a Juniper Tree

Ash Wednesday - TS Eliot
Because I do not hope to turn againBecause I do not hopeBecause I do not hope to turnDesiring this man’s gift and that man’s scopeI no longer strive to strive towards such things(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)Why should I mournThe vanished power of the usual reign? Because I do not hope to knowThe infirm glory of the positive hourBecause I do not thinkBecause I know I shall not knowThe one veritable transitory powerBecause I cannot drinkThere, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again Because I know that time is always timeAnd place is always and only placeAnd what is actual is actual only for one timeAnd only for one placeI rejoice that things are as they are andI renounce the blessèd faceAnd renounce the voiceBecause I cannot hope to turn againConsequently I rejoice, having to construct somethingUpon which to rejoice And pray to God to have mercy upon usAnd pray that I may forgetThese matters that with myself I too much discussToo much explainBecause I do not hope to turn againLet these words answerFor what is done, not to be done againMay the judgement not be too heavy upon us Because these wings are no longer wings to flyBut merely vans to beat the airThe air which is now thoroughly small and drySmaller and dryer than the willTeach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our deathPray for us now and at the hour of our death. II Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-treeIn the cool of the day, having fed to sateityOn my legs my heart my liver and that which had been containedIn the hollow round of my skull. And God saidShall these bones live? shall theseBones live? And that which had been containedIn the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:Because of the goodness of this LadyAnd because of her loveliness, and becauseShe honours the Virgin in meditation,We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembledProffer my deeds to oblivion, and my loveTo the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.It is this which recoversMy guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portionsWhich the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawnIn a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.There is no life in them. As I am forgottenAnd would be forgotten, so I would forgetThus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God saidProphesy to the wind, to the wind only for onlyThe wind will listen. And the bones sang chirpingWith the burden of the grasshopper, saying Lady of silencesCalm and distressedTorn and most wholeRose of memoryRose of forgetfulnessExhausted and life-givingWorried reposefulThe single RoseIs now the GardenWhere all loves endTerminate tormentOf love unsatisfiedThe greater tormentOf love satisfiedEnd of the endlessJourney to no endConclusion of all thatIs inconclusibleSpeech without word andWord of no speechGrace to the MotherFor the GardenWhere all love ends. Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shiningWe are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,Forgetting themselves and each other, unitedIn the quiet of the desert. This is the land which yeShall divide by lot. And neither division nor unityMatters. This is the land. We have our inheritance. III At the first turning of the second stairI turned and saw belowThe same shape twisted on the banisterUnder the vapour in the fetid airStruggling with the devil of the stairs who wearsThe deceitul face of hope and of despair. At the second turning of the second stairI left them twisting, turning below;There were no more faces and the stair was dark,Damp, jaggèd, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond repair,Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark. At the first turning of the third stairWas a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruitAnd beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture sceneThe broadbacked figure drest in blue and greenEnchanted the maytime with an antique flute.Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,Lilac and brown hair;Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mindover the third stair,Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despairClimbing the third stair. Lord, I am not worthyLord, I am not worthy but speak the word only. IV Who walked between the violet and the violetWhe walked betweenThe various ranks of varied greenGoing in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,Talking of trivial thingsIn ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolourWho moved among the others as they walked,Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sandIn blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,Sovegna vos Here are the years that walk between, bearingAway the fiddles and the flutes, restoringOne who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.The new years walk, restoringThrough a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoringWith a new verse the ancient rhyme. RedeemThe time. RedeemThe unread vision in the higher dreamWhile jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse. The silent sister veiled in white and blueBetween the yews, behind the garden god,Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang downRedeem the time, redeem the dreamThe token of the word unheard, unspoken Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew And after this our exile V If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spentIf the unheard, unspokenWord is unspoken, unheard;Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,The Word without a word, the Word withinThe world and for the world;And the light shone in darkness andAgainst the Word the unstilled world still whirledAbout the centre of the silent Word. O my people, what have I done unto thee. Where shall the word be found, where will the wordResound? Not here, there is not enough silenceNot on the sea or on the islands, notOn the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,For those who walk in darknessBoth in the day time and in the night timeThe right time and the right place are not hereNo place of grace for those who avoid the faceNo time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice Will the veiled sister pray forThose who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, betweenHour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who waitIn darkness? Will the veiled sister prayFor children at the gateWho will not go away and cannot pray:Pray for those who chose and oppose O my people, what have I done unto thee. Will the veiled sister between the slenderYew trees pray for those who offend herAnd are terrified and cannot surrenderAnd affirm before the world and deny between the rocksIn the last desert before the last blue rocksThe desert in the garden the garden in the desertOf drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed. O my people. VI Although I do not hope to turn againAlthough I do not hopeAlthough I do not hope to turn Wavering between the profit and the lossIn this brief transit where the dreams crossThe dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these thingsFrom the wide window towards the granite shoreThe white sails still fly seaward, seaward flyingUnbroken wings And the lost heart stiffens and rejoicesIn the lost lilac and the lost sea voicesAnd the weak spirit quickens to rebelFor the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smellQuickens to recoverThe cry of quail and the whirling ploverAnd the blind eye createsThe empty forms between the ivory gatesAnd smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth This is the time of tension between dying and birthThe place of solitude where three dreams crossBetween blue rocksBut when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift awayLet the other yew be shaken and reply. Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehoodTeach us to care and not to careTeach us to sit stillEven among these rocks,Our peace in His willAnd even among these rocksSister, motherAnd spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,Suffer me not to be separated And let my cry come unto Thee.