Friday, November 28, 2008

Poetry Friday -

Today I'm offering up Starfish by Eleanor Lerman. The line breaks are strange - more like a prose poem, deserving of a good solid paragraph. Still, I like it so much. Seems like the perfect poem for the day after Thanksgiving.


This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish
. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

From Our Post Soviet History Unfolds
published by Sarabande Books
The Poetry Friday round-up this week
is over at Lisa Chellman's Under the Covers.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Poetry Stretch - A Question, An Answer

I love the idea of a Monday Poetry Stretch to help us limber up for the week. This time around, Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect has suggested a lune. Here's my contribution, guided by syllables (5/3/5)rather than word count:

A Question, An Answer

You – yes, you, Moon - how
does dead stone
shine? Sunlight finds me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Second Poetry Friday Post Today

Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect has challenged people to write/post a list poem. Here's mine. It was originally written as a bout-rimes sonnet (can you tell by the end words?? Especially the "Hobo-/ken" which I'm especially proud of.) The bout-rimes poem is an experiment I love - it gets you out of your usual vocabulary/topic ruts. And the poem definitely qualifies as a list.


I worry about my head. I worry: Is it June
or is it December? I worry whether the stress
on my brain is greater when the moon
waxes or when it wanes. I howl. I obsess
about everything: cracks in the sidewalk, a snake
in the grass. Sneakers or boots? It's never moot
whether we come or go, eat bread or eat cake.
Life's little -ifuls (merc, bount-, beaut-)
are no tethers to keep me secure. Did Garbo
never get to be alone? And if the play
is the thing, what's not? From Cairo to Hobo-
ken, my anxious nose sniffs, sniffs: Is day
better than night? Jeans with this or rhinestones?
And those terrorists. And perfume or cologne?

Poetry Friday - Not Exactly a Poem

It's the French surrealist painter Rene Magritte's birthday today and I can't resist posting this photo (by Bill Brandt) of the painter holding one of his own paintings. The image has nothing to do with poetry, unless you think about how indirect poetry is - how a pipe is not a pipe. And how a poem is like a mirror, yet is not a mirror. And how like a spiral a poem can be, coming back on itself. And how a good poem reveals something new every time you read it. And how form follows content. And how near-repetition - in the case of a poem, that's rhyme - plays on our senses. And how a poem is comfortable with uncertainty. And how a poem casts a shadow someplace unexpected. And how a poem tells the truth, and how a poem lies. And how open to interpretation any good poem is.

Other than that, the photo has nothing to do with poetry.

The people over at Brimstone Soup are hosting today's Poetry Friday. I think. They might be busy with their November Novels. 5000 words a day for a month can leave you pretty exhausted.

I found another photo to post - this one is also by Bill Brandt, and it's a photo of Bill Brandt. Notice how he only lets one eye show, and lets the camera lens stand in as his other eye? Seems to me that artists always find a tool outside themselves to look through. For a poet, words serve the purpose of a camera lens, no?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poetry Friday / Parisian Gargoyle

When the long season of rain comes to Seattle, I begin to fantasize about going to Paris. Not Cancun, not Santa Cruz. Paris - where it also rains. Well, in honor of rain and Paris, I'll post a poem from my latest book, Imaginary Menagerie, and it's about a gargoyle. Tomorrow, when I have my coffee, I'm going to pretend that I'm sitting in the park adjacent to the beautiful and simple church of St. Julien-le-Pauvre, in the shadow of Notre Dame. Maybe it's beginning to rain. Maybe a gargoyle from the cathedral looks down on me.


How can a beast speak
with a stone tongue,
with a stone throat?

My mouth is a rainspout.
I screech. I shout.

How can a beast fly
with stone wings?

I fly when the bells ring
and the hunchback is home.

Does a stone beast sleep
in a stone nest?

I am on guard.
I never rest.


Poetry Friday is being hosted this week by Yat-Yee Chong

Thanks to Sara, who sent me on a hunt for photos of gargoyles on the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. They are especially eerie, since they are "modern" (sunglasses, movie cameras, gas masks, etc.) Eek. Here's one to give you nightmares:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day: Yusef Komunyakaa

This seems like a perfect poem for Veterans Day.

Yusef Komunyakaa was born James Willie Brown, Jr. in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1947. He eventually took back the name his grandparents had abandoned when they stowed away on a ship from Trinidad. He served in the U.S. military in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, and he teaches now in the Creative Writing program at Princeton University.

You can hear a vet named Michael Lythgoe read another Komunyakaa poem titled "Facing It" about Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial in D.C. at the Favorite Poem Project site. Just be prepared, because it breaks your heart to see the grief that still fills Lythgoe, 40+ years later.

We Never Know

by Yusef Komunyakaa

He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrels
glowed white-hot.
When I got to him,
a blue halo
of flies had already claimed him.
I pulled the crumbled photograph
from his fingers.
There's no other way
to say this: I fell in love.
The morning cleared again,
except for a distant mortar
& somewhere choppers taking off.
I slid the wallet into his pocket
& turned him over, so he wouldn't be
kissing the ground.

Friday, November 7, 2008

For Poetry Friday: A Song in Honor of Election Day

To honor the election results, I offer up the lyrics of this lovely song as "Poem" of the Week.

Poetry Friday is being hosted this week (I think) over at CHECK IT OUT

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Obama won?
Obama won!

Obama won!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008


Today, I'm worrying about the integrity of the election - hacked machines, voter suppression, etc. I just can't stop hearing that voice in my head that maybe 2000 and 2004 were rigged somehow. For some frightening pre-election reading, go to this full-text copy of Robert Kennedy Jr.'s article in Rolling Stone, Was the 2004 Election Stolen? (You know what Tom Stoppard said, right? "It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting.") But I am STILL optimisitic - I've sent my ballot in. Please, don't forget to vote.

While I wait for tomorrow night's first reports, I offer up these delicious few lines of a long and wonderful poem which plays on McCain's "Straight Talk Express" and on "Joe the Plumber" - it's by Elaine Magliaro over at the Wild Rose Reader and you can read the whole poem here :

Who’s on Board the Straight Squawk Express? or Joe the Plumber Et Al

Joe the plumber,
Mack the Knife,
Hal the husband,
Val the wife,
Don the dentist,
Dick the doc,
Phil the farmer,
Hank the hawk,
Gail the grocer,
Ken the catcher,
Pat the daft

Police dispatcher...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

El Dia de Los Muertos and Vermont College's Ghost

In honor of the Day of the Dead, I'm linking this clip from Vermont Public Radio about the Ghost of College Hall (pictured to the right.) The ghost inhabits the upper stories of the building, which is the architectural centerpiece of Vermont College of the Fine Arts in Montpelier, where I teach. Some people say there is a malevolent spirit that claims the basement....