Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ars Poetica

(Fritillary by William Morris, 1834-1896,
English textile designer, artist, and writer)

We now conclude this month's study of ars poetica or the art of poetry, looking at the nature of poetry and the way a poet works.

The Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz defined poetry as “a passionate pursuit of the Real.” No science or philosophy “can change the fact that a poet stands before reality that is every day new, miraculously complex, inexhaustible, and tries to enclose as much of it as possible in words.”

A poem “begins in delight,” wrote the American poet Robert Frost. “It inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life — not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.”


A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown —

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.


A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind —

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.


A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea —

A poem should not mean
But be.

~ Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982), American poet

Monday, January 30, 2012

Thank You for Saying Thank You

(Woman at the Piano by Elie Nadelman,
1882-1946, Polish-born American sculptor)

from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English:

pōʹėm n. A metrical composition, especially of elevated character; elevated composition in prose or verse (prose poem). [from French poème or Latin from Greek poēma = poiēma (poieō make)]


This is a totally
accessible poem.
There is nothing
in this poem
that is in any
way difficult
to understand.
All the words
are simple &
to the point.
There are no new
concepts, no
theories, no
ideas to confuse
you. This poem
has no intellectual
pretentions. It is
purely emotional.
It fully expresses
the feelings of the
author: my feelings,
the person reciting
to you now.
It is all about
Heart to heart.
This poem appreciates
& values you as
a reader. It
celebrates the
triumph of the
human imagination
amidst pitfalls &
calamities. This poem
has 90 lines,
269 words, and
more syllables than
I have time to
count. Each line,
word, & syllable
have been chosen
to convey only the
intended meaning
& nothing more.
This poem abjures
obscurity & enigma.
There is nothing
hidden. A hundred
readers would each
read the poem
in an identical
manner & derive
the same message
from it. This
poem, like all
good poems, tells
a story in a direct
style that never
leaves the reader
guessing. While
at times expressing
bitterness, anger,
resentment, xenophobia,
& hints of racism, its
ultimate mood is
affirmative. It finds
joy even in
those spiteful moments
of life that
it shares with
you. This poem
represents the hope
for a poetry
that doesn’t turn
its back on
the audience, that
doesn’t think it’s
better than the reader,
that is committed
to a poetry as a
popular form, like kite
flying and fly
fishing. This poem
belongs to no
school, has no
dogma. It follows
no fashion. It
says just what
it says. It’s

~ Charles Bernstein, born 1950, American poet and translator

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Poet Is Told to Fill Up More Pages

(Daily News by Dona Nelson, born 1947,
American artist)

Does poetry make any difference? Poets have disagreed in their answers to this question.

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” Percy Bysshe Shelley announced in
A Defense of Poetry in 1821.

Poets, he wrote, “are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion.”

Not everyone concurs. More than a century later, for example, in his elegy on the death of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats in 1939, W. H. Auden expresses a more ambivalent view about the power of poetry. He writes that poetry “makes nothing happen” but does acknowledge that it is not entirely powerless.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

Mary Oliver, for one, hasn’t given up on poetry, yet.


But, where are the words?
Not in my pocket.
Not in the refrigerator.
Not in my savings account.

So I sit, harassed, with my notebook.
It’s a joke, really, and not a good one.
For fun I try a few commands myself.
I say to the rain, stop raining.
I say to the sun, that isn’t anywhere nearby,
Come back, and come fast.

Nothing happens.

So this is all I can give you,
not being the maker of what I do,
but only the one that holds the pencil.

Make of it what you will.

~ Mary Oliver, born 1935, American poet

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Pen

(Intermezzo by Françoise Gilot, born 1921, French painter,
writer, and muse of Pablo Picasso)

I found this poem recently at the blog hosted by librarian Diane Mayr at the Nesmith Library in Wyndam, N. H. You can visit it here.


Take a pen in your uncertain fingers.
Trust, and be assured
That the whole world is a sky-blue butterfly
And that words are the nets to capture it.

~ Muhammad al-Ghuzzi, born 1949, Tunisian poet and translator

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Joy of Writing

Each Friday we provide the link to the blog that is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is the children’s writer and illustrator Jim Hill. You can visit him here at Hey, Jim Hill!

(Engraving from The British Sportsman, by Samuel Howitt,
1756-1822, English painter and engraver)

“It’s not accidental that film biographies of great scientists and artists are produced in droves. The more ambitious directors seek to reproduce convincingly the creative process that led to important scientific discoveries or the emergence of a masterpiece. And one can depict certain kinds of scientific labor with some success. Laboratories, sundry instruments, elaborate machinery brought to life: such scenes may hold the audience’s interest for a while. And those moments of uncertainty — will the experiment, conducted for the thousandth time with some tiny modification, finally yield the desired result? — can be quite dramatic.

“Films about painters can be spectacular, as they go about recreating every stage of a famous painting’s evolution, from the first penciled line to the final brush-stroke. Music swells in films about composers: the first bars of the melody that rings in the musician’s ears finally emerge as a mature work in symphonic form. Of course this is all quite naïve and doesn’t explain the strange mental state popularly known as inspiration, but at least there’s something to look at and listen to.

“But poets are the worst. Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic. Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens. Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?”

~ Wislawa Szymborska, born 1923, Polish poet and translator, from her Nobel Lecture after receiving the Prize for Literature in 1996


Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence — this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

~ Wislawa Szymborska

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How Poetry Comes to Me

(Summer Hillside by A. J. Casson, 1898-1992, Canadian


It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of night

~ Gary Snider, born 1930, American poet often associated with the Beat Generation

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reply to the Question: "How Can You Become a Poet?"

(Spring Beauty by Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American

How can you become a poet?

The poet W. H. Auden once proposed a curriculum for his “daydream College for Bards,” which he set forth in an essay,
The Poet & The City.

1. In addition to English, at least one ancient language, probably Greek or Hebrew, and two modern languages would be required.
2. Thousands of lines of poetry in these languages would be learned by heart.
3. The library would contain no books of literary criticism, and the only critical exercise required of students would be the writing of parodies.
4. Courses in prosody [versification], rhetoric and comparative philology [linguistics] would be required of all students, and every student would have to select three courses out of courses in archaeology, mythology, liturgics, cooking.
5. Every student would be required to look after a domestic animal and cultivate a garden plot.

The poet Eve Merriam suggests another approach.


take the leaf of a tree
trace its exact shape
the outside edges
and inner lines

memorize the way it is fastened to the twig
(and how the twig arches from the branch)
how it springs forth in April
how it is panoplied in July

by late August
crumple it in your hand
so that you smell its end-of-summer sadness

chew its woody stem

listen to its autumn rattle

watch it as it atomizes in the November air

then in winter
when there is no leaf left

invent one

~ Eve Merriam (1916-1992), American poet and playwright

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dreams and Poetry

(Still Life with a Glass under Lamplight, linoleum print
by Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, Spanish artist)

Poems, it could be said, are a little like dreams, only you experience them when you are awake. Both are works of the imagination expressed through symbolism and figurative language.


It’s all ordinary experience,
All ordinary images.
By chance they emerge in a dream,
Turning out infinite patterns.

It’s all ordinary feelings,
All ordinary words.
By chance they encounter a poet,
Turning out infinite new verses.

Once intoxicated, one learns the strength of wine,
Once smitten, one learns the power of love:
You cannot write my poems
Just as I cannot dream your dreams.

~ Hu Shih (1891-1962), Chinese poet

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Thought-Fox

(Grey Fox by Carry Akroyd, English artist and printmaker)

About fifty years ago, BBC Radio invited the poet Ted Hughes to present a series of programs for school children teaching them “the simple principles of imaginative writing.” These talks were collected in the 1967 book Poetry in the Making.

In the first program, Hughes discussed how he came to write the poem below, one of his most famous.

“In a way, I suppose, I think of poems as a sort of animal. They have their own life, like animals, by which I mean that they seem quite separate from any person, even from their author, and nothing can be added to them or taken away without maiming and perhaps even killing them. And they have a certain wisdom. They know something special . . . something perhaps which we are curious to learn. Maybe my concern has been to capture not animals particularly and not poems, but simply things which have a vivid life of their own, outside mine.”


I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

~ Ted Hughes (1930-1998), English poet, editor and writer of essays and many children's books, and poet laureate from 1984 to 1998

Sunday, January 22, 2012


(Stars, engraving by Christoph Weigel, 1654-1725, German engraver and publisher)

In 2008, after she was appointed U. S. poet laureate, Kay Ryan talked to journalist Andrea Seabrook.

Seabrook: You said your poems are almost an empty suitcase.

Ryan: Well, I've always been extremely enamored of cartoons and cartooning, in which you have essentially just the outline, and I think if you leave something empty but charged in some way, not overly elaborated, you can have a surprising number of things come out of people when they read it. That's what I'm hoping, anyhow, and I mean, the truth is, it just is my constitution to do things that way.

Seabrook: To keep things sparse but powerful?

Ryan: Really simple, yeah. Well, hopefully. I mean, that would be the ideal.


Stardust is
the hardest thing
to hold out for.
You must
make of yourself
a perfect place —
something still
upon which
something settles —
something like
sugar grains on
something like
metal, but with
none of the chill.
It’s hard to explain.

~ Kay Ryan, born 1945, American poet, appointed poet laureate, 2007-2010

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lines Lost among Trees

(Flowers on Cottage Table by Eric Ravilious, 1903-
1942, English engraver, artist, and official war painter
during World War II)

A poem not written down can be easily lost. The English poet Gerda Mayer once wrote, “I’ve thought of a poem. I carry it carefully, nervously, in my head . . . in case I should spill some lines before I can put it down.”


These are not the lines that came to me
while walking in the woods
with no pen
and nothing to write on anyway.

They are gone forever,
a handful of coins
dropped through the grate of memory,
along with the ingenious mnemonic

I devised to hold them in place —
all gone and forgotten
before I had returned to the clearing of lawn
in back of our quiet house

with its jars jammed with pens,
its notebooks and reams of blank paper,
its desk and soft lamp,
its table and the light from its windows.

So this is my elegy for them,
those six or eight exhalations,
the braided rope of syntax,
the jazz of the timing,

and the little insight at the end
wagging like the short tail
of a perfectly obedient spaniel
sitting by the door.

This is my envoy to nothing
where I say Go, little poem —
not out into the world of strangers’ eyes,
but off to some airy limbo,

home to lost epics,
unremembered names,
and fugitive dreams
such as the one I had last night,

which, like a fantastic city in pencil,
erased itself
in the bright morning air
just as I was waking up.

~ Billy Collins, born 1941, American poet, appointed poet laureate, 2001-2003

Friday, January 20, 2012

When I Met My Muse

Each Friday we provide the link to the blog that is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is Elaine Magliaro. You can visit her here at Wild Rose Reader.

(The Head of a Woman, 1508, unfinished painting
by Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519, a true Renaissance

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso
(1881-1973), Spanish artist


I glanced at her and took my glasses
off — they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.

~ William Stafford (1914-1993), American poet

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Versatile Blogger Award

And now for something completely different — just for today.

Some happy news. This blog has received a Versatile Blogger Award. “Versatile” here is defined as “turning with ease from one thing to another.” The award praises the blog’s pairing of “poetry with art in the most unexpected but perfect ways.”

Thank you, Tabatha Yeatts of The Opposite of Indifference, for this. You can visit her blog here.

Now, I shall go on to the second and third duties outlined in The Versatile Blogger Awards manual:

a. Thank and link to the blogger who bestowed the award.
b. Share seven random facts about yourself.
c. Spread the love by passing the award to five other bloggers — and be sure to let them know.

The seven random facts below about myself are actually a few of my favorite things.

• Favorite poet: Emily Dickinson.

• Favorite novelist: Jane Austen.

• Favorite book of non-fiction: The Complete Oxford English Dictionary, for its entries showing the etymology or roots of words and the evolution of their meanings over the years.

• Favorite singer: Edith Piaf.

• Favorite movie: The Third Man (British, 1949), a striking film noir about post-war Vienna, where everything has changed and nothing is different. Written by Graham Greene, it stars Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, and the luminous Alida Valli. I’ve watched it dozens of times.

• Favorite sound track from a movie: the haunting music of The Third Man, composed and performed on the zither by Anton Karas.

• Favorite quotation from a movie: Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in The Third Man, explaining the facts of life:

“You know what the fellow said. In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed — they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vince and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.”

My choices for Versatile Blogger Awards (click on the names to link to each):

Content in a Cottage is a place of serenity, filled with images of peaceful interiors and outdoor views, and of animals, wild and domestic. With her new iPhone camera, Rosemary Beck also looks at nature up close, paying attention to the fine details of her garden and her neighborhood.

Jane Austen’s World is that and much more. Its main brief is to explore the life and times of the novelist’s England, but it also takes detours into other areas of Britain. Currently, it is visiting Downton Abbey, the great estate featured in PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre this month.

Pentimeno is a most interesting blog. A Ph. D. in music, the host writes thoughtful meditations on love, community, forgiveness, and beauty, and links the reader to videos of enchanting music.

• The children’s writer Jama Rattigan hosts a blog featuring a delightful blend of poems, delicious recipes, memories of childhood, and reviews of cookery and children’s books.

• And finally, The Blue Lantern is beautiful to look at, with colorful images placed against a backdrop that reminds you of soft black velvet. The host, Jane Librizzi, writes brief illustrated essays about the arts — paintings, prints, photographs, and posters — and their place in history. I have learned much there.

~ Maria

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

For Poets

(Owl and Young by Osuitok Ipeelee, 1923-
2005, Canadian Inuit printmaker and sculptor)

“We receive but what we give,” wrote the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1832), “and in our life alone does Nature live.”


Stay beautiful
but don’t stay down underground too long
Don’t turn into a mole
or a worm
or a root
or a stone

Come on out into the sunlight
Breathe in trees
Knock out mountains
Commune with snakes
& be the very hero of birds

Don’t forget to poke your head up
& blink
Walk all around
Swim upstream

Don’t forget to fly

~ Al Young, born 1935, American poet

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Constantly Risking Absurdity

(Circus by Marc Chagall, 1887-1985, Belarusian-French

Poetry in motion.



Constantly risking absurdity
and death
whenever he performs
above the heads
of his audience
the poet like an acrobat
climbs on rime¹
to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
above a sea of faces
paces his way
to the other side of the day
performing entrachats²
and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
and all without mistaking
any thing
for what it may not be

For he’s the super realist
who must perforce perceive
taut truth
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
with gravity
to start her death-defying leap

And he
a little charleychaplin man
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spreadeagled in the empty air
of existence

~ Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born 1919, American poet, painter, and publisher

¹ rime – old spelling of “rhyme”

² entrachats – in ballet, a leap into the air where the dancer rapidly and repeatedly crosses the legs

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ars Poetica?

(Czeslaw Milosz answers the door to
reporters after the announcement of
his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980;
photo by Jim Palmer)

How does the poet come to create poetry? Where does he find his inspiration?

In the poem below Czeslaw Milosz suggests that the practice of poetry involves spirits, or daimonions, transmitting their messages to the artist.

Why the question mark in the title? Is he being ironic? Or expressing doubts?


I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion¹,
though it’s an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons²,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?

It’s true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I’ve devised just one more means
of praising Art with the help of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I’m saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

~ Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004), Polish poet, essayist, and translator,

¹daimonion and ²demons – spirits, both good and bad

A dozen years later, in the lecture on the occasion of his acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Milosz argued for a more deliberative craft, the conscious use of reason in the service of the reader.

“‘To see’ means not only to have before one’s eyes,” Milosz said in Stockholm in 1980. “It may mean also to preserve in memory. ‘To see and to describe’ may also mean to reconstruct in imagination. A distance achieved, thanks to the mystery of time, must not change events, landscapes, human figures into a tangle of shadows growing paler and paler. On the contrary, it can show them in full light, so that every event, every date becomes expressive and persists as an eternal reminder of human depravity and human greatness. Those who are alive receive a mandate from those who are silent forever. They can fulfill their duties only by trying to reconstruct precisely things as they were, and by wresting the past from fictions and legends.”

These two understandings are not mutually exclusive. The art of poetry relies on both the heart and the head, the imaginative and the rational.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Because You Asked about the Line between Prose and Poetry

(Flounce of French Guipure lace from the late
17th- and early 18th-centuries, at the State
Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia)

The conversation below takes place between a philosophy teacher and Monsieur Jourdain, the middle-class son of a cloth merchant in the comedy The Bourgeois Gentleman by Molière (1622-1673), French playwright and actor. The play follows Monsieur Jourdain as he is preparing, with the help of tutors, to climb up the social ladder to the aristocracy.

Monsieur Jourdain (MJ): I must confide in you. I’m in love with a lady of great quality, and I wish that you would help me write something to her in a little note that I will let fall at her feet.

Philosophy Teacher (PT): Very well.

MJ: That will be gallant, yes?

PT: Without doubt. Is it verse that you wish to write her?

MJ: No, no. No verse.

PT: Do you want only prose?

MJ: No, I don’t want either prose or verse.

PT: It must be one or the other.

MJ: Why?

PT: Because, sir, there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse.

MJ: There is nothing but prose or verse?

PT: No, sir, everything that is not prose is verse, and everything that is not verse is prose.

MJ: And when one speaks, what is that then?

PT: Prose.

MJ: What? when I say, “Nicole, bring me my slippers, and give me my nightcap,” that’s prose?

PT: Yes, sir.

MJ: Good heavens! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it.


Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned into pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

~ Howard Nemerov (1920-1999), American poet

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Young Poets

(The Muses by Brice Marden, born 1938, American

“Taught or untaught, we all scribble poetry.” ~ Horace (65-8
B. C.), one of the greatest Roman lyric poets


Write as you will
In whatever style you like
Too much blood has run under the bridge
To go on believing
That only one road is right.

In poetry everything is permitted.

With only this condition of course,
You have to improve the blank page.

~ Nicanor Parra, born 1914, Chilean poet and mathematician

Friday, January 13, 2012

Notes on the Art of Poetry

Each Friday we provide the link to the blog that is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is Tara. You can visit her here at A Teaching Life.

(Der Buchbinder or The Bookbinder by
Jost Amman, 1539-1591, Swiss artist)

Jost Amman’s woodcut is one of 114 illustrations he created for The Book of Trades published in Germany in 1568. Each depicts a different trade or profession, leaving us with a fascinating portrait of Renaissance life in Northern Europe.


I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

~ Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), the great Welsh poet and writer

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In the Land of Words

(Empress of the Blues [Bessie Smith], acrylic, pencil, and
paper collage by Romare Bearden, 1911-1988, American
artist and writer)

Eloise Greenfield, born in 1929, is an American writer of more than 45 books for children — novels, biographies, and collections of poetry. Her works reflect the African American linguistic and musical culture in which she was raised.

“With the poetry and prose, I think the music that you grow up with, and that you love, is a part of you. It’s a part of your speech and a part of your personality. And so there are times when I consciously decide that I want to write about music, for example, the blues poem ‘My Daddy’ in
Nathaniel Talking. But there are other times when I just hear the music of speech, and when I’m writing, it flows into the work.”


In the land
of words,
I stand as still
as a tree
and let the words
rain down on me.
Come, rain, bring
your knowledge and your
music. Sing
while I grow green
and full.
I’ll stand as still
as a tree,
and let your blessings
fall on me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Some Like Poetry

(Tulips, wallpaper design by William Morris, 1834-
1896, English textile designer, artist, and writer)

Is the poet right?


Some –
not all, that is.
Not even the majority of all, but the minority.
Not counting school, where one must,
or the poets themselves,
there’d be maybe two such people in a thousand.

Like –
but one also likes chicken-noodle soup,
one likes compliments and the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes to prove one’s point,
one likes to pet a dog.

Poetry –
but what sort of thing is poetry?
Many a shaky answer
has been given to this question.
But I do not know and do not know and hold on to it,
as to a saving banister.

~ Wislawa Szymborska, born 1923, Polish poet

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Unfolding Bud

(Water Lilies, watercolor by Beatrix Potter, 1866-1943,
English writer, illustrator, sheep breeder, conservationist,
and creator of Peter Rabbit, among many others)

Naoshi Koriyama is a Japanese poet and translator, born in 1926, who works in both Japanese and English. He was interviewed in 2008 by Tim Newfields of Toyo University, Tokyo.

Newfields: Are you active in any poetry groups?

Koriyama: Well, I'm a member of the Poetry Society of Japan, a small group of mostly Japanese poets writing in English, and the Gerard Manley Hopkins Society of Japan. I admire the sonnets of that 19th-century English poet. That group has a New Year meeting and it’s my habit to read a poem about the new Chinese zodiac sign each year there. It has become a ritual for me to write a poem on January 1st and to drink an extra amount of sake that day.


One is amazed
By a water-lily bud
With each passing day,
Taking on a richer color
And new dimensions.

One is not amazed,
At first glance,
By a poem,
Which is tight-closed
As a tiny bud.

Yet one is surprised
To see the poem
Gradually unfolding,
Revealing its rich inner self
As one reads it
And over again.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe

(Women and Children, 1990 by Miriam Qiyuk, born 1933, Canadian Inuit sculptor)

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” ~ T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), American-born English poet, playwright, and editor


Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown¹ said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”),
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here or there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

~ Elizabeth Alexander, born 1962, American poet, playwright, and essayist

¹ Sterling Brown – (1901-1989) American poet and folklorist active in the Harlem Renaissance

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Familiar Letter

(“Well done, Cynthia, it was deadly nightshade.” — Pen
and ink drawing by Ronald Searle, British cartoonist who
died on December 30 at age 91. His cartoons depicting
scenes of anarchy and mayhem perpetrated by the girls at
St. Trinian’s School inspired a series of delightful films
starring the actor Alastair Sim as both the School’s
headmistress Millicent Fritton and her brother Clarence.)

“My favorite poem is the one that starts ‘Thirty days hath September’ because it actually tells you something,” words attributed to Groucho Marx (1890-1977), American humorist, movie and tv star, and writer


To Several Correspondents

Yes, write, if you want to, there's nothing like trying;
Who knows what a treasure your casket may hold?
I'll show you that writing’s as easy as lying,
If you’ll listen to me as the art I unfold.

Here’s a book full of words; one can choose as he fancies,
As a painter his tint, as a workman his tool;
Just think! all the poems, and plays and romances
Were drawn out of this, like the fish from a pool!

You can wander at will through its syllabled mazes,
And take all you want, — not a copper they cost, —
What is there to hinder your picking out phrases
For an epic as clever as “Paradise Lost”?

Don’t mind if the index of sense is at zero,
Use words that run smoothly, whatever they mean;
Leander and Lilian and Lillibullero
Are much the same thing in the rhyming machine.

There are words so delicious their sweetness will smother
That boarding-school flavor of which we’re afraid, —
There is “lush” is a good one, and “swirl” is another, —
Put both in one stanza, its fortune is made.

With musical murmurs and rhythmical closes
You can cheat us of smiles when you’ve nothing to tell;
You hand us a nosegay of milliner’s roses,
And we cry with delight, “Oh, how sweet they do smell!”

Perhaps you will answer all needful conditions
For winning the laurels to which you aspire,
By docking the tails of the two prepositions
I’ the style o’ the bards you so greatly admire.

As for subjects of verse, they are only too plenty
For ringing the changes on metrical chimes;
A maiden, a moonbeam, a lover of twenty
Have filled that great basket with bushels of rhymes.

Let me show you a picture — ’tis far from irrelevant —
By a famous old hand in the arts of design;
’Tis only a photographed sketch of an elephant, —
The name of the draughtsman was Rembrandt of Rhine.

How easy! no troublesome colors to lay on,
It can’t have fatigued him, — no, not in the least, —
A dash here and there with a haphazard crayon,
And there stands the wrinkled-skinned, baggy-limbed beast.

Just so with your verse, — ’tis as easy as sketching, —
You can reel off a song without knitting your brow,
As lightly as Rembrandt a drawing or etching;
It is nothing at all, if you only know how.

Well; imagine you’ve printed your volume of verses:
Your forehead is wreathed with the garland of fame,
Your poems the eloquent school-boy rehearses,
Her album the school-girl presents for your name;

Each morning the post brings you autograph letters;
You’ll answer them promptly, — an hour isn’t much
For the honor of sharing a page with your betters,
With magistrates, members of Congress, and such.

Of course you’re delighted to serve the committees
That come with requests from the country all round,
You would grace the occasion with poems and ditties
When they’ve got a new schoolhouse, or poorhouse, or pound.

With a hymn for the saints and a song for the sinners,
You go and are welcome wherever you please;
You’re a privileged guest at all manner of dinners,
You’ve a seat on the platform among the grandees.

At length your mere presence becomes a sensation,
Your cup of enjoyment is filled to its brim
With the pleasure Horatian of digitmonstration,
As the whisper runs round of “That’s he!” or “That’s him!”

But remember, O dealer in phrases sonorous,
So daintily chosen, so tunefully matched,
Though you soar with the wings of the cherubim o’er us,
The ovum was human from which you were hatched.

No will of your own with its puny compulsion
Can summon the spirit that quickens the lyre;
It comes, if at all, like the Sibyl’s convulsion
And touches the brain with a finger of fire.

So perhaps, after all, it’s as well to be quiet
If you’ve nothing you think is worth saying in prose,
As to furnish a meal of their cannibal diet
To the critics, by publishing, as you propose.

But it’s all of no use, and I’m sorry I’ve written, —
I shall see your thin volume some day on my shelf;
For the rhyming tarantula surely has bitten,
And music must cure you, so pipe it yourself.

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809-1894), American physician, medical reformer, and poet

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Caution to Poets

(Interior by John Nash, 1893-1977, English painter,
wood engraver, and botanic illustrator)


What poets feel not, when they make,
A pleasure in creating,
The world, in its turn, will not take
Pleasure in contemplating.

~ Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), English poet and critic

Friday, January 6, 2012

Mum Is the Word

Each Friday we provide the link to the blog that is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is JoAnn Early Macken. You can visit her here at Teaching Authors

(Chairs of Paris, Avenue des Champs-Élysées 1927, by
André Kertész, 1894-1985, Hungarian-born photographer)

“God is the friend of silence. See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. . . . We need silence to be able to touch souls.” ~ Mother Teresa (1910-1997), Albanian-born Indian Catholic nun


The League of Quiet Persons meets
monthly. Its quarters are a cavernous
warehouse away from traffic. Its
business is not to discuss business.
Minutes are read silently and tacitly approved.
Members listen to rain argue with corrugated
iron, a furnace with itself. Glances
are learnéd. It is not so much refuge
from noise the members seek in such company
as implicit permission not to speak,
not to answer or to answer for,
not to pose, chat, persuade, or expound.

Podium and gravel have been banned,
indeed are viewed as weaponry.
A microphone? The horror.
Several Quiet Persons interviewed
had no comment. A recorded voice
at the main office murmured only, “You
have reached the League of Quiet
Persons. After the tone, listen.”

~ Hans Ostrom, born 1954, American poet, editor, and writer of short fiction

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Poetry for Supper

(Music by Jorge Luis Medina López, born 1955, Puerto
Rican artist)

“Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.” ~ Plato (427?-347 B. C.), Greek philosopher, from The Republic


“Listen, now, verse should be as natural
As the small tuber that feeds on muck
And grows slowly from obtuse soil
To the white flower of immortal beauty.”

“Natural, hell! What was it Chaucer
Said once about the long toil
That goes like blood to the poem’s making?
Leave it to nature and the verse sprawls,
Limp as bindweed, if it break at all
Life’s iron crust. Man, you must sweat
And rhyme your guts taut, if you’d build
Your verse a ladder.”

“You speak as though
No sunlight ever surprised the mind
Groping on its cloudy path.”

“Sunlight’s a thing that needs a window
Before it enters a dark room.
Windows don’t happen.”

So two old poets,
Hunched at their beer in the low haze
Of an inn parlor, while the talk ran
Noisily by them, glib with prose.

~ R. S. Thomas (1913-2000), Welsh poet

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pretty Words

(Still Life with Puppies by Paul Gauguin,
1848-1903, French Post-Impressionist

A sonnet.


Poets make pets of pretty, docile words:
I love smooth words, like gold-enameled fish
Which circle slowly with a silken swish,
And tender ones, like downy-feathered birds:
Words shy and dappled, deep-eyed deer in herds
Come to my hand, and playful if I wish,
Or purring softly at a silver dish,
Blue Persian kittens fed on cream and curds.

I love bright words, words up and signing early.
Words that are luminous in the dark, and sing;
Warm lazy words, white cattle under trees;
I love words opalescent, cool, and pearly,
Like midsummer moths, and honied words like
Gilded and sticky, with a little sting.

~ Elinor Wylie (1885-1928), American poet and novelist

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Poet's Work

(Hotel Eden, 1945, a boxed assemblage by Joseph Cornell,
1903-1972, American artist)

“For me the sentence lies in wait — all those prepositions and connectives — like an early flood,” the poet Lorine Niedecker once wrote. “A good thing my follow-up feeling has always been condense, condense.”


advised me:
Learn a trade

I learned
to sit at desk
and condense

No layoff
from this

~ Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970), American poet

Monday, January 2, 2012

this is my letter to the World

(Leaves by Séraphine Louis de Senlis, 1864-1942,
French painter)

This month we will be looking at ars poetica, the art of poetry. We will be considering the nature of poetry and the way poets work.

Words, the what and the how of them, do matter.

To learn more about the power of words,
click here.

This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me —
The simple News that Nature told —
With tender Majesty

Her Message committed
To Hands I cannot see —
For love of Her — Sweet — countrymen —
Judge tenderly — of Me

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Day

(Elizabeth’s Book, Newton, Connecticut by
André Kertész, 1894-1985, Hungarian-born

A haiku.

New Year's Day —
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

~ Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), Japanese poet