Saturday, September 15, 2012

an early poem by Carol Ann Duffy

I think Carol Ann Duffy is the best living British poet.  Here's a beautifully-crafted early sonnet of hers, which vividly contrasts/connects the human and natural realms:


Over this Common a kestrel treads air
till the earth says mouse or vole.  Far below
two lovers walking by the pond seem unaware.

She feeds the ducks.  He wants her, tells her so
as she half-smiles and stands slightly apart.
He loves me, loves me not with each deft throw.

It could last a year, she thinks, possibly two
and then crumble like stale bread.  The kestrel flies
across the sun as he swears his love is true

and, darling, forever.  Suddenly the earth cries
Now and death drops from above like a stone.
A couple turn and see a strange bird rise.

Into the sky the kestrel climbs alone
and later she might write or he might phone.

(Vole (I had to look it up) is defined by the Oxford American Dictionary as: "any of several small animals resembling rats or mice." A kestrel is a small falcon.  SW19: "Mostly Wimbledon, a classy suburb" of London.)  (Note: Duffy did not include this in her Selected Poems (1994), nor in her New Selected Poems (2004).)

. . . Notice how effective the internal rhymes that Duffy uses are. In the first stanza, how "Far" echoes "earth" and "air."  See the connections of: over—vole—below—lovers. 

And the el-sounds in: kestrel—till—vole—bel/ow—wal/king.  Then: pond—un/aware.  Further down in the poem, find these: half—deft; crumble—stale—kestrel; love—for/ev/er —above.

The alliterations of: Common—kestrel —walking.

In lines 1-11, this progression of verbs: treads—walking—stands—crumble—drops.  Line 4, the link of 'feeds' and 'wants.' 

The repetition in lines 1-9: lovers, loves, loves, love.  How this last use of 'love' is followed so closely by 'death.' 

In the third stanza the k-sounds reoccur: crumble— kestrel— a/cross; and then, in line 13, sky—kestrel—climbs. 

Line 14 is full of internal rhymes: late/r—might —write—might; she—he. 

The connection between the wild kestrel and the tamer ducks, both wanting to feed, on 'mouse' or 'stale bread.' 

Thread the verbs of communication down through the poem: says—tells—swears—cries—write—phone (contrast the first four present active verbs with the future conditional verbs of the final line). 

Is the final verb assigned to her, "write," more distant than his verb, "phone"? 

The "two lovers" (l. 3) don't dialogue: her response to his telling her he wants her (l. 4) is to half-smile and stand slightly apart (l. 5) and to silently say to herself (silently, I assume, since the italics here are also used to indicate the unvoiced words of "the earth"),

He loves me, loves me not with each deft throw of stale bread to the ducks (l. 6). 

It could last a year, she thinks to herself, possibly two (l. 7). 

He persists and swears his love is true (l. 8) and, darling, forever (l. 9). 

Still, she won't speak; she won't even voice her doubts about his promised "forever." Instead

the earth cries Now (the needs of now take precedence to the vows of forever) and death drops (lines 10-11). 

They turn as one (a couple) to see a strange bird rise (l. 12) 

Why strange: as opposed to the domesticated ducks? 

Strange because its predatory interruption has somehow estranged them? 

To the temporary coupling of two it has introduced the terrible coup of its thirdness?  Its terza has rima'ed them apart. 

This deus ex machina dropping down 'like a stone' has shattered and split and left them each "alone" (l. 13). 

The K's and L's and I's and E's have it: Into the sKY the KestreL CLImbs aLone / And Later shE mIght wrIte or hE mIght phone.

(The kestrel is alone presumably because it has swallowed its prey.  What we devour is no longer 'apart' (l. 5) from us.)

('Apart' is the only endword in the poem which has no counterpart rhyme, a choice made probably for deliberate emphasis and reinforcement of the theme.)


on a poem by Camille Martin

appreciation: Camille Martin's "comatose in paradise . . ."

Camille Martin—

her "six sonnets" in the webzine Moria—

this is the sixth one:

comatose in paradise, but happy, happy
feet! is this where i want to go? thrust
into an age unfavourable to being
a guest in one's own home? the guest
so evolved its dying smile causes
offspring to birth on the spot? progeny
doomed to fail superbly, like houdini's
fetters? is this what i want? am i lucky to think
i am? these twittering birds have nothing
on the silence of magicians from the grave. someday
paradise will be thought savage. did rain fall
because i wanted to write a poem about love,
causing significant damage to blameless paper?
here comes the bus, fool. is that it?

Paradise/happy = perfection—

a perfect septenary ("A metrical line of 7 feet, usually . . . trochaic," the Princeton Handbook defines it)—

COmaTOSE in PARaDISE, but HAPpy, HAPpy

tose/dise . . . because "All thought emits a TOSS of the DICE" (Mallarmé)—

All thought dies in paradise—

braindead in paradise. Comatose—

replete hibernative stasis which Eliot's veggod protag protests at being cruelly wakened stirred out of, into the Waste Land—

comatose=out of it. Out of it in paradise. OD'd in paradise.


"happy, happy": the flapping harpy wings of the angel perched on edenfencegate to oversee the usual expulsion——

"happy / feet!" : Trochaic feet impelling the expelled soul, "thrust"
out of childhood's glade, into adulthood (that "age unfavourable" to being at home anywhere perhaps, much less a "guest" there)—

or into a post-ecological nowhere, homeless in nature—

age = evolved = dying = offspring = birth = progeny =

Houdini, "magician from the grave" bursting free the bounds of every painted and publicized coffin he's chained into

(the fetters of poetic meter—as always—failing superbly)

to provide a show, a career—

all his flamboyant acts of entombment-and-resurrection, a 3 minute Christ—

then famously requesting his friends/his future mourners to

(after the final stunt of his death)

commence seance for a message from him from the afterlife

into which he has been "thrust", from whence he radios nothing but the normal background noises of nature's "silence"—

(as I remember the story, he asked his friends to wait at a particular spot in the park (cue birdtwitter soundtrack) on a specific date where/when he would "contact" them if it was possible—if some telegraphable aspect of him remained postdeath—)

that meetingpoint in the park—what exact location, for one who had based his vocation on dislocating his shoulder to achieve escape from straitjackets, who had saved-his-life so many times by violent wrenchings of his joints and frame, his artistry to dislocate himself within a lock,

to find himself located and situated finally—

"is this where i want to go?" (as if I had a choice not to)—

The desire for a paradisal perfection in one's form, for a voice that will speak from past its physical life

is what drives the poet who's waiting for the bus to bear her away,

anyway is that it, is that the way? After "significant damage"

to the "blameless paper",

the "fool", the "magician" metaphors for the poet—

The eight questionmarks in the poem function as the default impatience (waiting for the bus) that interpolates all such
expressions of the poet's irritabilitus

which guilt-ridden is continually insisting "i wanted to write a poem about love"

(that's what I meant to write, the poet always testifies at his trial, that was my intent)

—love is paradise, even if when that love is over we curse the hypnotic trance that sustained us in that illusory eden—

the comatose quiescence/ simulacrum of death / "its dying smile" of happiness in that "savage" paradise, savage ergo primal, ergo what is past,

gone, over, paradise is always once-was, not now-is—

now is the bus-bench, where we wait to be houdinied from the chains of an ordinary day's luck-lock,

the bus is on time, like those motile trochees,

unlike the posthumous Houdini it will show up per schedule,

the rain via its own temporal metrical system will arrive

when it should,

but the poem won't—


a John Ashbery poem

appreciation: John Ashbery's "Farm Film"—

Looking at a single poem by John Ashbery and thinking about it seems almost a transgression of his intent to resist such frangible readings, if that is his intent or one of them.

Schemes frustrate or elongate meanings enter my tongue like a retort rebuttal that stretches the Plasticman of my sense lapse to an aerymaspian beaten goldleaf.



Takeitapart, no one understands how you can just do
This to yourself. Balancing a long pole on your chin
And seeing only the ooze of foliage and blue sunlight
Above. At the same time you have not forgotten

The attendant itch, but, being occupied solely with making
Ends meet, or the end, believe that it will live, raised
In secrecy, into an important yet invisible destiny, unfulfilled.
If the dappled cows and noon plums ever thought of

Answering you, your answer would be like the sun, convinced
It knows best, maybe having forgotten someday. But for this
She looked long for one clothespin in the grass, the rime
And fire of midnight etched each other out, into importance

That is like a screen sometimes. So many
Patterns to choose from, they the colliding of all dispirited
Illustration on our lives, that will rise in its time like
Temperature, and mean us, and then faint away.

This is page 17 in "Shadow Train" (1981), which I've been reading at recently. How many poems, how many pages of poetry has he published since then, a thousand, two thousand?—

I don't know, but I know I haven't read the majority of them.

It's absurd to focus my attention on one old poem like this, and to appreciate it for reasons which are probably spurious since

they are personal, autobiographical—

that is, I spent part of my childhood on a farm.

—Didn't Ashbery himself grow up on a family farm in western New York state, or am I remembering this wrong, but if I'm right do I have the right to read this poem with that biographical fact

if it is a fact (which it is: the first sentence in the bio note of the hardcover edition of Shadow Train says: "John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927, grew up on a farm in western New York, and was educated at Deerfield Academy, Harvard, and Columbia, where he specialized in English literature.")

in the forefront of my responsive attendance? What am I allowed to do when I read an Ashbery poem,

what are the parameters of a permissible perusal?

And regardless in any case I'm scarcely capable of scratching at the surface of the probes raised by any of his works—

So: Unforgivable and misguided of me to say as I read it, Yes:

yes, I know from firsthand the farmer's occupational obsession, how he is constantly "being occupied solely with making / Ends meet," the endless seasonal scrabble to "balance" the crops and the cash income,

to plant and reap the seed, and to "believe that it will live." The belief in one's childhood

which remains back there always growing, always being "raised / In secrecy, into" its "destiny, unfulfilled."

I can think of ways I passed time/entertained myself in the tedium of the farm child not unlike

"Balancing a long pole on your chin / And seeing only the ooze of foliage and blue sunlight / Above."

Teetering a rake or pitchfork on your head, raising in secrecy the unforgotten itch of hickeyrash summer sweat as it films the skin's ooze toward a blue endless day . . .

raising that question the "dappled cows and noon plums" could have answered, and if they had, your answer to theirs could only have been like the sun's, passing with conviction and hence forgotten in its maybe someday—

But the days of childhood blur like winter and summer midnights etching each other out with their recurrent rime and fire, their cold and warmth, their years

with only a stray unimportant in the scheme of anything memory standing out here and there, for example the time your mother

stubbornly refused to come in the house while she looked in the grass for one lost clothespin

and it's getting late, it's supper, it's getting dark, why, why won't she come in!?

You can "takeitapart" (though the jamming together of the very words of that thought indicates the opposite) and try to make these straws these strains cohere in a pattern,

but the patterns overlap like a montage where the screen of all these images "you have not forgotten" collide collate their "dispirited / Illustration on our lives . . ."

and this collision "no one understands," least of all yourself, how can you do this to yourself, put it together take it apart (either way),

the collision of lost seasons and occupations, the cohesion will rise its beanpole like Jack and his poor cow-stalk mother, his plum-mom,

will rise (elevate) its time like the rising temperature that augurs long summer days of boredom

with attendant itches that cause all kinds of erections and their harvest of ooze—

like that phallic pole astride my chin—

no, but the poem will mean us, and then faint away.

Fade, feint. A way.


on a poem by Jericho Brown

I encountered this poem a couple years ago at the Rumpus website, and it immediately made a vivid impression—I left a brief comment saying I thought it was an awfully good poem.

Of lately I've been putting together for possible publication my "appreciations", the pieces I've written in praise of particular poems, and thinking about possible candidates for further such proselets, I was reminded of this one by the author posting a comment here recently.  It had been in the back of my mind anyway, so I was glad to have my memory of it prodded.

Another Elegy
by Jericho Brown

This is what your dying looks like.
You believe in the sun. You believe
I don't love you. Always be closing,
Said our favorite professor before
He let the gun go off in his mouth.
I turned 29 the way any man turns
In his sleep, unaware of the earth
Moving beneath him, its plates in
Their places, a dated disagreement.
Let's fight it out, baby. You have
Only so long left. A man turns
In his sleep, so I take a picture.
He won't look at it, of course. It's
His bad side, his Mr. Hyde, the hole
In a husband's head, the O
Of his wife's mouth. Every night,
I take a pill. Miss one, and I'm gone.
Miss two, and we're through. Hotels
Bore me, unless I get a mountain view,
A room in which my cell won't work,
And there's nothing to do but see
The sun go down into the ground
That cradles us as any coffin can.

Let me see if I can properly speculate about this.  I see a lot of poems online, meaning I glimpse them, "page-view" them, but few take or hold my attention as this one did.

The title is ambivalent and perhaps not especially effective.  It's a bit innocuous.—

Another elegy in the sense that my life (I, the speaker of the poem) has been full-witness to so many deaths, overdreaded with the deaths of those close to me, dear enough to me each that they each demanded an elegy, more and more, elegy after elegy I have had to compose until at last exhausted I can only think of them as blurring into one after Another—?

Or another in the PoTech sense of saying Okay here's another elegy like all the poets throughout history have always written and here's another one with the ironic acknowledgment of such in its title, the wry winking belatedness all contemporary poets must profess cop to before they can even hope to begin to—

Or both senses blended.   Or a third I can't think of—?

23 lines: 8 octosyllabic; 7 enneasyllabic; 4 decasyllabic; 3 heptasyllabic; 1 hendecasyllabic.

Maybe the meter of the 1st line grabbed me: those 3 trochees followed by that spondee.  Their hardness eased/released by the 3 anapests in line 2.

Internal sound-rhyme in line 1 of dy/li strangely echoed by sight-rhyme in line 2: lie/lie.

But lookylook at the L's in these first 3 lines: Looks/Like/beLieve/beLieve/Love/aLways/cLosing.

(Which is Liquid counterpoint to their harsh content and abrupt curtal lines and sentences, perhaps.)

Line 4, 4 internal rhymes kick it home: OUR / [fav]OR[ite] / [profes]SOR / [be]FORE.

Periodic structure effectively varied throughout poem.  Starting with 3 short sentences in the first 3 and a half lines, followed by a 3 and a half line sentence; followed by a 4-line sentence, followed by 2 short ones; etc.

Internal rhymes fill the poem knit-tight and hold it taut-tensioned.   I won't mention them all, but look at:

lines 4/5: PROF[essor] / OFF ; 

line 6: I / [twent]TY / NI[ne] / [w]AY / [a]NY ;

lines 8/9: PLA[tes] / PLA[ces] ; ITS / PLATES / DATE[d]    . . . .

ENgage the ENtrancement of those N's line 5 through 9: guN/turNed/aNy/maN/turNs/uNaware/beNeath/iN/disagreemeNt.

The craftworkship of the poem ensures its element. 

The distribution of enjambed and end-stopped lines seems like a perfect mix of vis a vis. 

Just one more technical detail, admirable for its sturdy undergridding of the climax:

beginning end of line 18, the poem's longest sentence is its last—and in

line 19 starting with the second foot, the meter turns wholly solely iambic through the end of the poem line 23, with only three variations, trochees,

all of which are stressed on their N-sound: ANd / NOTHing (line 21) / INto (line 22)—

indeed the N-sounds re-emerge strongly throughout this final five-line sentence, 

which concludes the poem with these words: aNy coffiN caN.   ENd ENd ENd.  

ANother elegy.  ENother alogy.

The imperative mode: This is what your dying looks like.  You believe this, you believe that, you have only so much time left so let's fight out our old disagreements.  Listen to me, Mister, I'll tell you what's what.

But! at that point in the poem, midway, the word "you" disappears.  The direct confrontational address ends, and the "you" becomes present now only by implication—or suggestion:  ?  —

is he the "man turn[ing] in his sleep", the man who refuses to look (look at your dying, man) at the photo which shows him sprawled simulacrum-recumbent of death, that final turning away, death the "bad side" of life, the "Mr. Hyde" to life's Jekyll. . . 

"[H]is Mr. Hyde / the hole in a husband's head" is like the mouth of the professor in line 4, or like "the O of his wife's mouth."   Those aitches and that o.  Ho ho ho: some joke.  

Jocular, somewhat, the poem turns now, no? Sardonic—"Every night, / I take a pill.  Miss one, and I'm gone. /  Miss two, and we're through."  And then, speaking of ho ho ho: Hotels / bore me, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb . . .

But why the "turn" from the 2nd-person intimate-spoken "you" to the 3rd-person (impersonal-descriptive) "his"—?

Not sure I understand this dramatic shift.  But the "you" which ends in lines 10-11 also ended in line 3, and vanished for 6 and a half lines: "You believe in the sun.  You believe / I don't love you." (lines 2/3)—

You believe I don't love you, and to prove it I'll ignore you for the next 6 and a half lines, until I can face that dated disagreement (line 10) of whether I love you or not, and confront you: "Let's fight it out, baby.  You have / Only so long left.  A man turns / " (lines 10-11) . . .  (In fact, the "you" has no time left, it is immediately "left" behind and transposed into the third-person "man" . . . )

The repetitions in the poem, the repeated words and phrases work, I think.  And the reappearance of imagery like "sun" in lines 2 and 22 (also there visually as the O, the hole of lines 14/15).  

(Does the somewhat-taunting "You believe in the sun" imply that I don't believe in the sun?  — what does it mean to not believe in the sun?  how does this relate to the sunset at the end of the poem?)

Indeed the poem is aided greatly by these recurrent insistent themes, for example the link from "look" in line 1 to "look" in line 13 to "view" in line 19 and "see" in line 21,

and they don't become (for me as a reader, anyway) monotonous or facile as they might in a poem less well-constructed.

The turn in the middle must have something to do with the you believing I don't love them (him).  That doubt makes me (I, the narrator) turn away at that point to think of past dyings, other elegiac events (the professor's suicide; my turning 29, ie the death of my youth; the continental drift of ancient planetary extinctions foreshadowing the shift of my own deviations toward indifference and defensive postures (let's fight) and the distancing maneuver of slipping into the 3rd-person)—

If he turns away from me and won't look at my bad-sided vision of him (lines 11-14) it must be linked to his wife, Mrs. Jekyll.  Sleeping with me brings out the hole, the Hyde in him, he thinks, or his wife's mouth thinks, and her mouth makes me think of the professor letting the gun go off in his mouth.  Cradle to coffin it fits right in.  It swallows that pill, that sun.

Turnings, endings, closures ("always be closing", line 3), closings which bleed into openings of the mouth or opening of the space between the lovers, or between husband and wife, the gap that separates, the endless gulf across which "my cell" won't reach—

It's a mountain view: objective perspective of the elegy; which in its dimensional instances is not a lament. 

Some provisional thoughts for now; maybe later I'll revisit revise or augment the notes above.  I've probably misread some of it, or perhaps most of it, but it's rewarding sometimes to try to stay with a poem for a while if the poem merits it, if the poem flatters my attention.


a delightfully piquant Wordsworth sonnet


[UNTITLED ("Composed December 1806")]

How sweet it is, when mother Fancy rocks
The wayward brain, to saunter through a wood!
An old place, full of many a lovely brood,
Tall trees, green arbours, and ground-flowers in flocks;
And wild rose tip-toe upon hawthorn stocks,
Like a bold Girl, who plays her agile pranks
At Wakes and Fairs with wandering Mountebanks,—
When she stands cresting the Clown's head, and mocks
The crowd beneath her.  Verily I think,
Such place to me is sometimes like a dream
Or map of the whole world: thoughts, link by link,
Enter through ears and eyesight, with such gleam
Of all things, that at last in fear I shrink,
And leap at once from the delicious stream.

 Mother, Girl, and Clown, the wayward wandering Mountebank Poet there in December remembering summer's pranks . . .

Not one of Wordsworth's famous sonnets, I don't recall it appearing in any anthology, nor even in a Selected Poems Of.

But I like its bounding quality, the way it leaps from its stream. 

It even echoes the Intimations Ode: "Whither is fled the visionary gleam?" 

Such gleam of all things.

How sweet it is at last in fear to shrink.

I remember reading somewhere that Jung describes the Anima of the adult male as being not commeasurate with his own age, but stunted at the adolescent stage—

hence this "bold Girl" who leaps out of Wordsworth's delicious stream of consciousness . . .

this simile which jumps the poem so suddenly from the "lovely brood" of deep forest solitude to a raucous circus atmosphere,

where the acrobats "link by link" perform their agile pranks for the crowd's amusement.

A troupe of tumble-makers, a clown clan of wandering Mountebanks who entertain at Wakes and Fairs,

with the Girl, probably one of the family, still young enough to win the crowd by her bold saucy manner, her mock of it all . . .

Mother Fancy rocks the cradled wayward child, her lovely brood cradled in his thoughts.

"Wakes" here has the old meaning of "a merry-making held in connection with the feast of the dedication of a church, kept by watching all night" as well as a post-burial celebration . . .

Bold Wordsworth mocking the crowd of thoughts that delight and frighten.

Even the self-mockery of great poets is exhilarating (Ashbery or Larkin for more recent examples).

I like this sonnet for all the reasons it likes itself.


after Dowson

Where Modern Poetry Began: a Conjecture


A LAST WORD (by Ernest Dowson, 1899)

Let us go hence: the night is now at hand;
   The day is overworn, the birds all flown;
   And we have reaped the crops the gods have sown;
Despair and death; deep darkness o'er the land,
Broods like an owl; we cannot understand
   Laughter or tears, for we have only known
   Surpassing vanity: vain things alone
Have driven our perverse and aimless band.
Let us go hence, somewhither strange and cold,
   To Hollow Lands where just men and unjust
   Find end of labour, where's rest for the old,
Freedom to all from love and fear and lust.
Twine our torn hands!  O pray the earth enfold
Our life-sick hearts and turn them into dust.

Many have linked Dowson's first line here with the start of Eliot's Prufrock: "Let us go then, you and I . . . "

(not to mention Hollow Lands and Hollow Men) . . .

Louis Simpson in his very commendable book, "Three on the Tower," declares that Modern Poetry begins with this simile:

When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table . . .

If you enter the Boston Common near the corner of Beacon and Arlington streets, you can easily find the Memorial to Ether: it's a large stele structure, erected in 1909 to honor the medical miracle that led to this alleviation of surgical pains . . .

if you walk around it, you'll see carved on its sides the names and facts attending the merciful invention; also engraved there is a depiction of a patient lying upon the surgical table, masked to his necessary numbness, his unfelt salvation . . .

Now as you stand there looking up at the stone monument, imagine it's 1910 and you're a shy young Philosophy major from Harvard on your way to an arty soiree on nearby Beacon Hill, bashfully headed toward paneled rooms where the women come and go talking of Michelangelo,

only you're early probably (you're a bit of an earlywart), and so, trying to forget how nervous the thought of those lamp-eyed women up there on the Hill makes you, you kill time here in the Park by avidly remembering the dissolute lines of a late Dowson and murmuring the beginning of a poem you yourself are working on, yes you're a poet,

as it happens a very handsome young Tom from St Louis, Missouri—

indeed you're a dude though you doubt it to such a perversely-celibate degree, to an extent of fear and desperate longing, that a Saint might envy the Sebastianated profundity, the repressed prowess of your bit-back passions,

there you are muttering and stuttering the start of your poem, your panicky Love Song, but you're stuck, you can't get past the first couple lines that go (going after Dowson) "Let us go then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a . . . like a  . . ."

Like a what?  Umm, like an enormous purple peony?  an enormous purpled penis?  an enormous, engorged prepuce?—

and then suddenly, out of nowhere, a cat escaped from a nearby mansion streaks past and drags your glance down or aslant from the sunset you've been studying for inspiration—

and all at once your eye is caught on the tumescent wonder of this newly-erected pillar or Cleopatra's Needle whose obeliskness awaits your transfiguration of its nursed and doctored bas-relief figures into the first trope of Modern Verse . . .

in short, you see this great big thing sticking phallic-ly out of the ground, and hard upon it rears the fresh cuts, hot-off-the-chisel, the castrate-straight edges hacked and honed, so recently-rendered in sharp homage to the genius of Hippocrates etcet,

and in particular a sculpted picture that shows, what else,

a patient etherised upon a table.

. . .  It's close to Arlington St, down from the corner of Beacon St about fifty or sixty yards.  There is no plaque commemorating the historic event I've envisioned here, but maybe you can stray chance to stand upon the very spot where Modern Poetry began in my imaginary re-enactment, tableau where I fancy the young poet found himself:

only of course there wouldn't have been all the insane traffic noise there is now back in 1910; if you can blank out those honking horns and rush-hour engines, you might be able to return to that briefest encounter:

can you re-T.S. that bewildering juncture, the awful daring of that moment's surrender . . . ?

Just a short walk away from there, moreover, you may also try to find the place where PostModern Poetry perhaps began in the late 1950s—

the sidewalk where Robert Lowell raged in crucifixed witness as the Boston Garden was ripped apart to build a parkinglot. . . . Stop there or stroll there while all around you, all around the Common, a savage servility slides by on grease.  Inhale that oil, feel that energy, that power, that source the world is killing itself for.

Stroll there and stand there in our Hollow Land . . .

Where?  Somewhither strange and cold.  Let us go hence—

Oh do not ask what is it: let us go and make our visit.



[When Louise Bogan met Eliot in the 1940s, she was struck by how blithely he retained or emitted an aura of his handsomeness as a youth . . . I don't have the quote, but as I remember it she went on to say something about how those who were physically beautiful when young will often wear the air or the manner (the grace) of that beauty into their middle or old age . . . a bearing, as it were.]


on a poem by Jill Essbaum


by Jill Alexander Essbaum:



is my season
of defeat.

Though all
is green

and death
is done,  

I feel alone.
As if the stone

rolled off
from the head

of the tomb
is lodged

in the doorframe
of my room,

and everyone
I’ve ever loved

lives happily
just past

my able reach.
And each time

Jesus rises
I’m reminded

of this marble

they are not
coming back.

Let me see if I can elucidate for myself why I am impressed by this poem, and write another 'appreciation' to add to my book (see second paragraph here: ) . . . maybe I should just transfer the ones I've posted here over the years onto a separate blog—

I don't or can't make any large claims for the poems I'm writing these notations on, just that they struck me and stayed with me,

and these mini essays are attempts to understand how they involved me, or how I understand my admiration of each verse—I'm not trying to elevate the status of their authors, none of whom need my approbation—

and certainly Essbaum doesn't need it.  Overall her verse seems outstandingly brilliant to me, but for the purpose of these appreciations such praise is superfluous.  She reminds me of Guillevic, and could well be I think a major adjunct to the great tradition of Ungaretti et al, but my opinions are hoo-ha at best.  Nobody wants my words blurbed on the back of their book.

Essbaum, Esster, Easter.

/ is my season / of defeat.  EAster / SEAson / deFEAts me because rhyme is cyclical and I am Jill.

Rhymes come back (recur) but, the poem concludes, "they are not / coming back."  They are not Easter.

But the poem is Easter, or the first line of the poem is Easter and Easter is simultaneously the poem's title,

and this latter "fact" makes it the only unaccompanied un-coupleted line of the poem—

as I, the speaker, feel myself uncoupled from "everyone / I've ever loved /"—

"I feel alone."  Easter is alone too, because, although it is celebrated yearly, it is not holidayed for the "fact" of itself in and of itself,

but for the myth it "lodges" or houses or seals up in an immoveable meaning,

another resurrection fantasy whose nature (apparatus) is to declare itself unrepeatable (only, solitary, unique: alone).

Each year the myth is repeated ("Each time Jesus rises"), recurrent as rhymes in a poem, a poem which also seeks to be unrepeatable,

mythical in its uniqueness.  The "fact" it must contain repeating elements in order to become unrepeatable is simply its Sisyphean foot in the door, the feet that heft its syllables of Shklovskian stoniness into that crack—

troch-cracks open the tomb: EAster / IS my / SEAson / OF de / FEAT. 

(Or is it: EAster / is MY / SEAson / of deFEAT: trochee/iamb/trochee/anapest)

Then the iam-breaks split: Though ALL / is GREEN / and DEATH / is DONE / I FEEL / aLONE.  / As IF / the STONE

—and when the seal-stone is "rolled off", the meter rolls off its track:

"rolled off" (line 9) is a what-foot, trochee, iamb, spondee, what,

but lines 10 and 11 sort of bounce anapestically (like that rolled off stone bounces before it comes to rest)

before an iambic line 12, followed by 13 which is pyrrhic/spondee (?): "in the doorframe",

or is it:

IN the / DOORframe / OF my / ROOM.  

"Of" (line 14) seems definitely stressed (to my ear anyway) which then

happily ("happily") rhymes with all the v's that follow in lines 15/16/17:


Lines 15-19 mostly iambic, with maybe a linger-stress on "lives" in 17 echoing its preceding word "loved" and perhaps line 18 ("just past") has a spondaic emphasis—

N's and M's: the poem begins with N's and then beginning line 10 becomes mostly M's:

Lines 1-10: seasoN/greeN/doNe/aloNe/stoNe

(though don't forget all the L's slipping through the poem: aLL/feeL/aLone/roLLed/Lodged/Loved/Lives/happiLy/abLe/marbLe)—

Well, anyone can see the rhymes and soundpatterns woven into the poem, I don't need to point them out everyone,

(like: EAch/JEsus/REminded ... or JeSUS/riSES/thIS . . . TIme/RIses/I'm/reMInded

but the M's are so important I simply muhhhst count them:

line 10 through 14 you have: 


(but in lines 15-19, the M's vanish!)

and then "coming back" in lines 20-26, the M's resurrect themselves:


Line 24 only monosyllablic line, engraved in gravity, incised even more by its colon: "fact:"—

then line 25 ends with a strong "N-word" which gains greater emphasis perhaps by its "remiNded" echo of those N's in the early lines: "they are not"—

—But (drumroll) suddenly, out of nowhere, in the last 3 lines (=3 days=trinity) of Easter, for the first and only time

some "K" sounds occur:


and it seems apropos they would rear here to KonKlude the poem.

The door of the tomb poem klangs shut once more. 

It seals me in from everyone I've ever loved: they "live" while I stay stanzaically stuck here in my perfected/hermetic rhyme room.

Or doesn't Yeats say somewhere that when a poem is successfully finished the poet will hear a "click"?

Click, clack, the poem keeps coming back.  (Fact.)


(This is a poem I admired when I read it a year or so ago in Po(Chi)Mag, and I've 'come back' to it many times since.  In general the poetry Poetry Magazine publishes is not much better than what shows up in your Rat Vomit Review, but occasionally a miracle like "Easter" appears.  And actually I thought the other two poems by Essbaum in that issue (January 2011) were just as good as this one, and would equally merit an 'appreciation', hopefully from somebody better qualified to do it.)

My provisional thoughts for now; maybe later I'll revisit revise or augment the notes above.  If I've made errors in reading it or rigging it, report me to the MLA or the AWP, or the nearest MFA. 


a great love poem, by Louis MacNeice

A Louis MacNeice masterpiece, which uses natural imagery in a fascinating way; from the late 1930s—


Time was away and somewhere else,
There were two glasses and two chairs
And two people with the one pulse
(Somebody stopped the moving stairs):
Time was away and somewhere else.

And they were neither up nor down;
The stream's music did not stop
Flowing through heather, limpid brown,
Although they sat in a coffee shop
And they were neither up nor down.

The bell was silent in the air
Holding its inverted poise—
Between the clang and clang a flower,
A brazen calyx of no noise:
The bell was silent in the air.

The camels crossed the miles of sand
That stretched around the cups and plates;
The desert was their own, they planned
To portion out the stars and dates:
The camels crossed the miles of sand.

Time was away and somewhere else.
The waiter did not come, the clock
Forgot them and the radio waltz
Came out like water from a rock:
Time was away and somewhere else.

Her fingers flicked away the ash
That bloomed again in tropic trees:
Not caring if the markets crash
When they had forests such as these,
Her fingers flicked away the ash.

God or whatever means the Good
Be praised that time can stop like this,
That what the heart has understood
Can verify in the body's peace
God or whatever means the Good.

Time was away and she was here
And life no longer what it was,
The bell was silent in the air
And all the room one glow because
Time was away and she was here.

The contrast/conflict of static and mobile imagery throughout the poem is prefigured in its title. 

The cyclical repetons enclose each stanza with endstopped emphasis. 

But the scene itself keeps shifting, from table to stairs to stream to coffee shop to bell-tower to desert to tropics to the body's peace (peace: rest, stillness, stasis). . .

The first stanza's refrain-line reoccurs at the mid-point of the eight stanzas, which is surprising: but by repeating it just there rather than as the last, concluding line, MacNeice skillfully evades the danger of tying the poem off too neatly, resolving it with a formulaic flashback: 

and yet perhaps it needs some such echo for its climax— 

The reader might anticipate as much, and our expectations are met with a brilliant variant: "Time was away and she was here" . . .

Here?  Where's here?  The coffeeshop is permeated, riddled as it were, by nature: stream, heather, flower, calyx, camels, sand, desert, stars, water, rock, ashen blooms of tropic trees, forests. . . . 

In the first stanza, time was away, but the "one pulse" ticked on.  And the bell that tolls the time "was silent in the air." 

—And then, in the final stanza, the bell is still silent, but the "one pulse" is transmuted/transfigured into "one glow."



appreciation ai

"Conversation" is I think one of Ai's best poems . . .

my first memory of it is that I heard her read it before I read it on the page . . .

as I remember the occasion, it was an unusual experience, I think it happened only one other time when I was at a reading,

a Raymond Carver reading at the Harvard Lampoon building (am I remembering this right?) before his fame, there were only about a dozen attending, and I had room

to lie down on my back in a corner and close my eyes and just listen rather than having to also look,

his story about the armless photographer and the husband whose wife has just left him, and as he read it and it went along

I kept thinking to myself at various points in the story (which I had not read beforehand, I was encountering it for the first time),

well that's it,

it has to end now because it can't get any better than this,

but it kept getting better and better until the end which was the best of all,—

and that's what I remember about the Ai reading of this poem, I had the same experience as the Carver,—

as she read it I kept thinking okay that's it,

the poem will end now because it can't get any better,

but it did, it just kept getting better and better . . .

it might have been the qualities of her recitation, she was one of the best readers I've ever seen, and she performed it perfectly,

slowly and dramatically and effectively, but as she read it and finished it

I had the rare thrill to feel as Emily Dickinson said a poem should make you stir the hair

on your head or take your head off or was it Housman's beard that said that, electric, prickles like on your skin.

It was that good. Not just her performance of it, but the poem itself still moves me . . .

And not just because it's so different from Ai's normal style of persona-poem, no‚ its intrinsic merit continues to muse me.

As I remember it, Ai's poem was(is) an elegaic response to the death of Robert Lowell, and is addressed to Lowell . . .

as such it's much better than Elizabeth Bishop's in memoriam, "North Harbor" . . .

Yes, Bishop is a great poet, but "North Harbor" is perfunctory and prosaic, interesting only for its historic biographic affinity.

(As usual my opinion is the meager minority of one . . . the Bishop is in the Norton and the Ai isn't. The three Ai poems they include are in her default mode of the Dramatic Monologue.)


We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don't tell me, I say. I don't want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,
you see it too
and you realize how that image
is simply the extension of another image,
that your own life
is a chain of words
that one day will snap.
Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,
and beginning to rise heavenward
in their confirmation dresses,
like white helium balloons,
the wreathes of flowers on their heads spinning,
and above all that,
that's where I'm floating,
and that's what it's like
only ten times clearer,
ten times more horrible.
Could anyone alive survive it?


a little Creeley

"The more we read the less we write." —Nicanor Parra.

"The 'simply natural' is interesting no longer. The much decried, mad, late-Turner rendering is now necessary to create my interest." —Thomas Hardy.

Strindberg, re his "late-Turner" paintings: "My canvases are painted in a dark room and cannot stand the light of day."

two pieces of Creeley's Pieces (1969):

Life like you
think you have
it till it isn't
—but is, inevitably—
behind the scene. (p. 49)

Here is all there is,
but there seems so
insistently across the way. (p. 71)

Inevitably, insistently. Behind the scene, across the way. (Somewhere; only not here.)

"I hold that the mission of poetry is to record impressions." —Hardy.

Creeley (two sequent pieces from p. 58-59):
There might be
an imaginary
place to be—
there might be.
Grey mist forms
out the window,
leaves showing green,
the dark trunks of trees—

place beyond?
The eye sees, the
head apparently records
the vision of these eyes.

What have I seen,
now see? There were
times before
I look now.



Takahashi teardrops

I don't know if it's a great poem, but it's a poem I have loved for over 30 years since I first read it, a poem I still am moved and awed by and envy each time I read it——

by the great Japanese poet Mutsuo Takahashi——

in English translation by the brilliant Hiroaki Sato——

(so many of the poems I wrote in my life were influenced by reading Sato's translations, I owe him a great debt)——

the poem:


May I have the dove, he said
You may, I replied

Oh he's so sweet, he said and held him in his arms
Listen, the way he coos, I added

I like his eyes, he said and touched them
I like his beak too, I said and touched it

But, he said and looked at me
But what, I said and looked at him

But you even more, he said
Oh no please, I said and looked down

I love you, he said and let the dove go
He's gone, I murmured
In his arms


Typing it up now and proofing it, it made tears come to my eyes (again), I find this poem so incredibly poignant——

The book it's from, "Ten Japanese Poets" edited and translated by Sato, was published by Granite in 1973 . . .

There are photos of and bio notes on each of the ten poets——

One of the books listed for Takahashi's biblio has as its title:

"You Dirty Ones, Do Dirtier Things" . . .

Incidently there have been two or three books of selections from Takahashi published in English translation——

The first, "Poems of a Penisist" was trans. by Sato, and includes

a thousand-line ode to fellatio—

ah: Takahashi—



your blond poet may be going insane


Georg Heym (1887-1912), Georg Trakl (1887-1914), August Stramm (1874-1915), and Alfred Lichtenstein (1889-1914). The least-known today, to English-speaking poetry readers anyway, are Stramm and Lichtenstein. A Selected Heym in English versions was published in the UK recently, and Trakl of course has been presented in several book-length translations.

Heym died in an iceskating accident before The Great War, which murdered the other three.

Stramm’s poetry is so idiosyncratic that it doesn’t translate well, and Lichtenstein died so young that his poetic career had barely begun.

Here are two translations of Lichtenstein’s “Die Dämmerung” (1913):


A fat boy is playing with a pond.
The wind has trapped itself in a tree.
The sky looks wan and pale
As though it hadn’t found its make-up.

On long crutches, bent crookedly, two lame men
Creak and chatter across the field.
A blond poet may be going mad.
A little horse stumbles over a lady.

At a window a fat man is stuck.
A youth is going to visit a soft woman.
A grey clown is pulling up his boots.
A baby-carriage screeches and dogs curse.

(trans. Victor Lange)

the next is by Roy F. Allen, from his book, “German Expressionist Poetry” (Twayne, 1979):


A fat boy is playing with a pond.
The wind has gotten caught in a tree.
The sky looks dissolute and pale,
As though it had run out of make-up.

Bent crooked on long crutches
And chattering, two cripples are creeping across the field.
A blond poet is perhaps going mad.
A pony trips over a lady.

A fat man is sticking to a window.
A young lad wants to visit a supple woman.
A gray clown is putting on his boots.
A baby carriage screams and dogs are cursing.

This mode, this method, is taken, the experts all point out, from “Weltende” (1910) by Jacob van Hoddis, which is historically and famously “the first Expressionist poem.” (And which I assume everyone is familiar with.)

Die Dämmerung

Ein dicker Junge spielt mit einem Teich.
Der Wind hat sich in einem Baum gefangen.
Der Himmel sieht verbummelt aus und bleich,
as wäre ihm die Schminke ausgegangen.

Auf lange Krücken schief herabgebückt
Un schwatzend kriechen auf dem Feld zwei Lahme.
Ein blonder Dichter wird vielleicht verrückt.
Ein Pferdchen stolpert über eine Dame.

An einem Fenster klebt ein fetter Mann.
Ein Jüngling will ein weiches Weib besuchen.
Ein grauer Clown zieht sich die Stiefel an.
Ein Kinderwagen schreit und Hunde fluchen.

Chubby boy to fat man, pond to window.
Sans make-up, the horse keeps tripping over that lady.
And the young man of course is on his way toward sex.
The pregnancies that ensue from these encounters may fill the Kinderwagens with Pegasi or blond poets going bonkers.


But the method here, the one-liners, the sequence of seemingly nonsequitirs—

Victor Lange: “The Expressionist technique . . . juxtaposes not, in the symbolist manner, resonant metaphors but static images. . . . We find [this] technique of stringing together a number of almost self-contained statements, each striking but without lyric resonance, in Kafka’s earliest prose text, “Description of a Fight.” written in 1902 or 1903, and published in 1909: ‘What days are these? Why is everything so poorly built? Houses collapse without any reason. . . . People fall down in the street and lie there. . . . The tip of the town hall tower moves in small circles. All window panes rattle. The lampposts bend like bamboo. The cloak of The Mother Mary on the column flaps and the air tugs at it. Does nobody see it?’ ”

Lange introduces Lichtenstein’s “Twilight” by saying something like (I’m paraphrasing it):
“One Expressionist procedure [technique, method] is the attempt to present a succession of syntactically simple statements which, in their taciturn manner, produce an almost mythical effect. Lichtenstein’s “Twilight” is an example of this. . . .”
(These Lange quotes are from the Review of National Literatures, Volume 9, 1978).

Another translation, from Michael Hamburger:


A flabby boy is playing with a pond.
The wind has got entangled in a tree.
The sky looks like the morning after, drained
And pale as though its make-up had run out.

Athwart long crutches, bowed and chattering
Across the field a pair of lame men creeps.
A fair-haired poet may be going mad.
Over a lady a small horse trips up.

A man's fat face sticks to a window-pane.
A youngster wants to visit a soft woman.
A greyish clown is putting on his boots.
A pram begins to yell and dogs to curse.

(Particularly admirable is how Hamburger has reproduced the iambic pentameter of the original.)

Born in Berlin in 1889, "the son of a factory owner, a Prussian Jew," Lichtenstein in 1939 would have been 50 years old, perhaps at the peak of his poetic career, or probably dead instead if he hadn't made it into exile like Brecht and others—

Those blond poets not only went insane, they (or some of them) became Nazis.

Lichtenstein wasn't the greatest poet slaughtered in the Great War, not even the greatest German poet, but—

Here's another Hamburger rendering, of Lichtenstein's "Der Lackschuh":


The poet thought:
Enough. I'm sick of the whole lot!

The whores, the theatre and the city moon,
The streets, the laundered shirtfronts and the smells,
The nights, the coachmen and the curtained windows,
The laughter and the street lamps and the murders—
I am well and truly sick of the whole lot,
To hell with it!
Happen what may . . . it's all the same to me:
This black shoe pinches me. I'll take it off—

Let people turn their heads for all I care.
A pity, though, about my new silk sock . . .


A "plain prose" trans. of Die Dämmerung by R. S. Furness:

A fat boy is playing with a pond. / The wind has become entangled in a tree. / The sky looks pale and debauched /As though its make-up had run out. // On long crutches, crookedly bent, and chatting, / Two cripples crawl about a field. / Perhaps a fair poet will become insane. / A pony stumbles over a lady. // A fat man is sticking to a window. / A youth wishes to visit a soft woman. / A grey clown pulls on his boots. / A pram screams, and dogs curse.



a note on some lines by Hart Crane

Lowell says somewhere (source?) the two greatest Modern poets are Rilke and Hardy.

Hart Crane, in a letter to Yvor Winters dated May 29, 1927, writes this of Hardy: 

"I think him perhaps the greatest technician in English verse since Shakespeare."

Crane of course was no mean hand himself at crafting the deft. Here's two excerpts from "Eternity," about the aftermath of a hurricane in Cuba:

[the first 4 lines:]

After it was over, though still gusting balefully,
The old woman and I foraged some drier clothes
And left the house, or what was left of it;
Parts of the roof reached Yucatan, I suppose.


[the last 11 lines:]

The morrow's dawn was dense with carrion hazes
Sliding everywhere. Bodies were rushed into graves
Without ceremony, while hammers pattered in town.
The roads were being cleared, injured brought in
And treated, it seemed. In due time
The President sent down a battleship that baked
Something like two thousand loaves on the way.
Doctors shot ahead from the deck in planes.
The fever was checked. I stood a long time in Mack's talking
New York with the gobs, Guantanamo, Norfolk,—
Drinking Bacardi and talking U.S.A.

"Eternity" is overall not one of Crane's best poems, and it's never anthologized, but I go back and read it oftener than some of his more famous ones, and I reread it for the "rush", the sweep of these last 11 lines. Doctors—deck—checked. The President and the gobs. The battleship that baked. Talking U.S.A.

Talking USA! Yes. Exactly. If only we could do it.

(Remember Frank O'Hara's hyperbole about only three American poets being better than the movies: Whitman, Crane, and Williams.)


appreciation of a poem by Dale Smith

this poem seems perfect to me—

it's by Dale Smith:

Last Scene of Antonioni's The Passenger

The ambient noise
of a quiet suburb
absorbs Locke
and his future's
arrival on a bed
some might call
or desperation
wherein the dull
self finds
a mind alien
to the animal
he pursues
the white stress
of sheets lightly
spread under him
"I don't know this man"
what can be said
of them who die
off screen behind
the light
boys play ball
watching daylight



I adore minimalist verse when it works, and it works in this poem—

the pacing, the placing of the impetus on separate words in the interplay of syntax . . . it's all done extremely well—— I'm impressed by it——it's very effective——brilliant, really——the integration of form and content——it's so difficult to bring off a poem of this kind, but this one achieves it——

And perhaps most amazingly, has Smith come up with/discovered a new mode, a new subject:

poems about the final frame(s) of films—?

after reading his, I looked for others in the two moviepo anthols on my shelf, "Lights, Camera, Poetry" and "The Faber Book of Movie Verse,"

and couldn't find any: could his poem have invented/originated this subgenre? Or are there others I'm not aware of?

Might his be the first poem ever written about a film's final frame(s)?

I hope Smith is doing a series of poems about last scenes in movies——because I'd love to read more like this——

I hadn't thought about it before but maybe this minimalist approach is particularly appropriate in writing about a scene from a film,

because it duplicates the unreeling deliberate narrative juxtapositions of flow and montage, the cuts and courses of cinema . . .

in poetry, that's endstops and enjambements, which Smith here manages with such superb skill. . . .



sprachlos thoughts

Two translations of Erich Fried's "Sprachlos":


Why do you
still write
although you
reach only
a few people
by this method

friends ask me
impatient because
they reach only
a few people
by their methods

and I don't
have an answer
for them



do you still
write poems
although you know
that you can only
reach a minority
with this method

my friends ask me
impatient that
they can only
reach a minority
with their methods

and I can't
give them
an answer


(The first translation is by Beth Bjorklund, from her anthology "Contemporary Austrian Poetry," published in 1986; the second is by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner, from their anthology "Austrian Poetry Today," published in 1985. Both these books are available via Amazon or Abebooks for a reasonable price, and I recommend them highly. There are wonderful poems in each.)

. . . The question Fried raises is particularly troublesome for poets of any time who, like him, want to "reach" an audience with an urgent political message or idea.—

Especially when there are always those "friends" who hector:

"Why write such poems when you know that poetry has only a small audience at best,

and of that minority there is even a smaller group who are willing to read verse whose intent is political, whose aim to is provoke and disturb.

Most readers go to poetry for various succinct expressions of delusionary consolation and psychological gratification,

not to be confronted with social dilemmas which can't be resolved

or momentarily dissolved by a sigh or a sob or a settling softly of the book on one's knee.

Knowing how limited its 'reach' is, why would a committed Socialist artist ever use poetry as the 'method' to further the cause?

If you really, realistically wanted to win and influence the largest audience possible, you would become a writer of popsongs or screenplays.

One leftist accomplisher like that is worth a thousand poets of the persuasion."

Whether those accusatory friends are correct is the question—

I certainly don't have the answer!






Anybody who's reading this and doesn't know the work of the great Japanese poet Shuntaro Tanikawa, I urge you to look at some of the many books of his translated into English. You can find reasonably-priced copies at Amazon or abebooks.

His poetry has been a delight and inspiration to me for decades, and I owe a deep debt to his translators, in particular William I. Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura, who have co-translated at least a dozen collections. Harold Wright also did a "Selected" which is available. (I love Wright's translation of the poem, "Billy the Kid.")

The first volume of Tanikawa I read was "With Silence My Companion," a sequence of 25 sonnets, published in 1975 by Prescott Street Press, who did a great job of design and production (just holding the book and looking into it as I fan through its pages, is enjoyable).

Here's a couple poems from "Songs of Nonsense," published by Seidosha in 1991, trans. Elliott/Kawamura:


He leapt from the 9th floor,
bounced off the 6th floor terrace,
slammed into the 3rd floor eaves,
and fell in the bushes on the ground,
his cheeks and shins all scraped up.
He took the elevator back up to the 9th
and re-read his half-page suicide note,
which contained three misplaced prepositions
that he now corrected.
Then he ran up to the 16th floor
and once again jumped.
At the 12th floor level he sprouted wings;
a 10th floor wind took him in tow
and lifted him to circle the night sky, slowly.


A man or a woman?
Bowels spill out
of a large surgical incision.
Three doctors and four nurses freeze
over the body.
The room is as bright as a riverbank.
He—or she—is going to die
but is asleep right now!
In his dreams
he's brushing his teeth!
Though nothing further can be done,
the dying one doesn't give a damn.
While the family cry in the waiting room,
he dies brushing his teeth.



a Hardy sonnet


the tragical To-Be

Among the books I wish existed is the Collected Sonnets of Thomas Hardy. Rexroth in the intro to his selection of Lawrence's poetry says something to the effect that Hardy's best poems are his most formal, and there may be some truth in that . . . I think Hardy's sonnets at their best are awesome and brilliant.

—Here's the Rexroth quote:

"[T]here is always something a little synthetic about Hardy's rugged verse. The smooth ones seem more natural, somehow. The full dress, Matthew Arnold sort of sonnet to Leslie Stephen is probably Hardy's best poem. It is a very great poem, but Arnold learned the trick of talking like a highly idealized Anglican archbishop and passed it on to Hardy."

Assuming for the moment that Rexroth's right, then presumably the sonnet form itself would channel Hardy's "more natural" powers into their full dress best . . .

Though of course Hardy was a master of any and every mode—

We should never forget that Hart Crane called Hardy "perhaps the greatest verse technician since Shakespeare."

Here's one I've read at recently:


Here, where Vespasian's legions struck the sands,
And Cerdic with his Saxons entered in,
And Henry's army leapt afloat to win
Convincing triumphs over neighbor lands,

Vaster battalions press for further strands,
To argue in the selfsame bloody mode
Which this late age of thought, and pact, and code,
Still fails to mend. — Now deckward tramp the bands,

Yellow as autumn leaves, alive as spring;
And as each host draws out upon the sea
Beyond which lies the tragical To-Be,
None dubious of the cause, none murmuring,

Wives, sisters, parents, wave white hands and smile,
As if they knew not that they weep the while.

Note the balance of the two sentences, splitting the poem in half.

A few of the splits, the conflicts here:
convincing/dubious . . .

The white hands waving like the white flag of surrender.

Beginning with the three famous names is a poignant ironic contrast to the present anonymous bands and hosts, whose individual loved names are perhaps being "murmured" by wives sisters parents . . .

the latter want to weep, and are weeping within, but are forced and shamed and shoved by cultural sociopolitical pressures into showing a brave front:

and to raise their faces in encouraging supportive smiles, to give the lads a good send-off—none can admit to being "yellow" cowards unwilling to sacrifice their kin for Crown and Country.

None are dubious of the cause, because they know in their hearts that the cause is the same it always was (and is), the "selfsame bloody mode" whose "argue" still wins out over "thought, and pact, and code."

Legions, Saxons, army, battalions, hosts: how eternal these forces seem to be, as ever-returning as the seasons . . .

Yellow as autumn leaves, alive as spring.

(Another irony: there in October 1899, how "alive" would the green hopes and joys of spring seem to any thoughtful (dubious, skeptical) person?)

The telescoping of historical time (Roman, Saxon, British) in the first three lines is like an overlap of montage besieging the singular scene of Southhampton's shores: innumerable as "sands" the lives lost in these endless wars . . .

Hardy's depiction of the troops here embarking for the Boer War, in their fresh uniforms of yellow (is that khaki-colored? sand-colored for camouflage?),

"Yellow as autumn leaves, alive as spring,"

reminded me of a passage from Robert Payne's The White Pony (an Anthology of Chinese Poetry from Earliest Times to the Present Day, Newly Translated), published in 1947:

this is from page 226, Payne's introduction to the poems of Tu Fu:

[H]e is universal. No poet before or after him in Chinese history has been so conscious of the human role that can be played by a poet, and no else would have dared to sum up all human history, as he saw it, in words so charged with meaning that they burst out of the page with the effect of an explosion:

Blue is the smoke of war, white the bones of men.

Payne concludes his intro with terms that might apply to Hardy:

[Tu Fu] remains to the end the eternal wanderer, complaining against the cold, the poor profits of earth, the sorrows of death, the ghastly (but splendid) rituals of empire. He cared for nothing except the dignity and freedom of men to live their own lives as they choose, and would have preferred to be remembered, if he was remembered at all, as a man of simple faith in simple things . . . .

(I seem to remember Berryman somewhere joshing that Hardy's poems are disingenuous when they profess "simple faith in simple things" . . . am I remembering that right?)

(It's significant that Robert Lowell said the two greatest modern poets were Rilke and Hardy.)