Friday, May 29, 2009

A Sonnet - Because Writing Sonnets Is A Pleasure

I recommend the writing of sonnets to anyone and everyone. First, there is the pleasure of the rhyme, then the pleasure of the contained form (in response to its restrictions, unexpected ideas float to the surface) and last but not least the pleasure of the slight turn in the ninth line, where you begin to argue with yourself.....Here's an original sonnet for Poetry Friday, written after a day spent at the University of Washington's Marine Lab out in Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island (see photos above and below of the FHL dock - yes, the ferry boats drift in and out of the harbor, just like the one you see in the distance - and yes, the deer come and drift by the cottages, just like those you see in the foreground....)


Down to up, small to large, from phyto-
plankton to a starfish to the stars,
from ant to the plant the ant is on, from Fido's
fleas to Fido's loyalties, from stirred
to opened wide, from sighed to sung, dinger
to the brass dong, from winter's had to summer's
have again, from take away to bring,
from pit to fruit, from plum to even plummier,
from thirst to Coke with rum. And then, the sun
goes down, directions shift toward the bottom,
bounce to grief, come to leave, done to undone,
and though you try to move from Class to Phylum
to the Kingdom come, they’ve closed the border:
and you're stuck in Species, and you’re out of Order.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today over at Irene Latham's Live. Love. Explore!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009



Disappointing news: Ruth Padel, newly named Oxford Professor of Poetry (and the first woman ever named to that post since its inception 300 years ago) has now resigned - ten days into her professorship we find out she played a part in the smear campaign against the other nominee, Derek Walcott. I posted a link to one of her wonderful poems just a few days ago. She's Darwin's great-great-granddaughter, but I think there's some devolution going on here - backwards to the tooth-and-claw stage, instead of forward to the share-and-share-alike stage. It's sad to think that writers can be as competitive as Wall Street sharks. The NY Times calls it a "saga of skullduggery" and I agree. Maybe anyone who really wants to eat at the Big Table engages in this kind of nasty behavior - the jockeying for position, the backstabbing, the "networking" that has nothing to do with friendship? It makes me want to run the other direction, thanks. Here's a link to the complicated news at The New York Times.
Quick note: I've been getting some spam in my blog comments so I've opted to moderate all comments now. I'm fairly efficient with this....

Friday, May 22, 2009

Darwin, Padel, Oxford and Tigers (Oh My)

It's a thrill to see Ruth Padel named the Oxford Professor of Poetry, the first female ever elected to that role since it was created in 1708. I'm excited to hear she hopes to draw poetry and science closer together(she comes by it naturally - her great-great-grandfather was Charles Darwin, and she is a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London.) Here's one of her lovely poems:


Water, moonlight, danger, dream.
Bronze urn, angled on a tree root: one
Slash of light, then gone. A red moon
Seen through clouds, or almost seen.

Treasure found but lost, flirting between
The worlds of lost and found. An unjust law
Repealed, a wish come true, a lifelong
Sadness healed. Haven, in the mind,

To anyone hurt by littleness. A prayer
For the moment, saved; treachery forgiven.
Flame of the crackle-glaze tangle, amber
Reflected in grey milk-jade. An old song
Remembered, long debt paid.
A painting on silk, which may fade.

CLICK HERE for more poems by Padel.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Knickers in a twist....

I don't always explain myself well, though I often get inspired to try. When the editor of the Horn Book, Roger Sutton, talked on his blog about pink slips being passed out to good editors in the publishing business (most recently heads were rolling at Simon and Schuster) and then asked for opinions about why it was happening, I went thermonuclear with my opinion. I believe the words trickle-down, get-rich-quick and greedy sots were among those I used to express myself.

Here's why I just couldn't leave it alone: 1) I had just listened to Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Mike Davis (a socialist historian) on Bill Moyer's Journal (archived online) and 2) I had been listening earlier to the audiobook of Sarah Vowell's WORDY SHIPMATES, about our strange Puritan beginnings. Maybe the lesson to be learned, if you want to stay calm, is not to listen to anyone. Cancel your subscription to the newspaper and try to reach Nirvana by reciting mantras. Instead, I listen to Sarah Vowell and Mike Davis. So the State of the Union has been on my mind, to say the least.

If you are unable to resist listening to bright people talk about where we're headed in this country, here are links to the interview of Davis and a review of the audiobook of Vowell. The cartoon at the top of this post describes how I feel when I try to explain things myself!

Mothers, Children, Flowers

Is there anything more wonderful than children's artwork? Recently I saw this drawing by Jared Kim, drawn when he was eight years old, and posted by his aunt, Jama Kim Rattigan, over at her blog, Alphabet Soup. I was reminded of how often I go to country fairs with juried art competitions & end up loving the Children's Art section more than all the rest. Just look at Jared's vase: I can easily imagine it on a table top in a painting by Matisse, can't you? The table would be next to a window, open to a view of Coullioure: blue sea, blue sky, sailboats. Or maybe Jared's vase would be on a table out in a garden, this time the scene is painted by Bonnard, there is lovely dappled light. Or maybe Sylvester's mother has this vase in her house, filled with flowers to celebrate Sylvester's return in Sylvester and the Magic Pebble? Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, William Steig... Jared's work is in the same tradition.

Today is Mother's Day - but spring is coming late to Seattle this year, and the lilacs I usually give my mother haven't bloomed yet. I think a young boy's drawing of a vase with flowers is a perfect gift for her, so I'm going to print it up and take it to her. Thanks, Jared! And here is a poem about spring (I know it's May, but it feels like April), tulips, blackbirds, and a "green-sprayed bough."

In April by James Hearst

This I saw on an April day:
Warm rain spilt from a sun-lined cloud,
A sky-flung wave of gold at evening,
And a cock pheasant treading a dusty path
Shy and proud.

And this I found in an April field:
A new white calf in the sun at noon,
A flash of blue in a cool moss bank,
And tips of tulips promising flowers
To a blue-winged loon.

And this I tried to understand
As I scrubbed the rust from my brightening plow:
The movement of seed in furrowed earth,
And a blackbird whistling sweet and clear
From a green-sprayed bough.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Poetry Friday: Naming the Tools

Tricia at THE MISS RUMPHIUS EFFECT offered up a Poetry Stretch this week that made me think of my two grandfathers - both were accomplished carpenters, and both took great care with the tools in their tools boxes. My mom's dad had an old sandstone grinder - a wheel - that he let me turn the handle on when he wanted to put a sharp edge on one of his tools. The wheel was almost as big as I was.

The Stretch challenge was to come up with a poem about work or about a profession. So here's mine:


Claw hammer, screw driver
tape measure, locking pliers

monkey wrench, cat’s paw
framing square, tenon saw

chisel and pencil
hand drill, spirit level

draw knife, spokeshave
wood rasp, hand plane

miter box, chalk line
sharp and fine, all mine

The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted this week over at Anastasia Suen's wonderful Picture Book of the Day.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Poetry Friday: Poems, Pockets, May Baskets

I'm reflecting on Poem-in-a-Pocket Day this week, but first I have a brag: Today is my youngest son's birthday. He's grown now, but believe me, May Day of 1983 feels like yesterday (I hear Fiddler On the Roof's Sunrise/Sunset playing over and over in my head ....) We almost lost Mike when he came down with meningitis at seven months old, but he rallied and now he's about 6'2' tall, 26 years old, strong, creative, bright - and he has a heart of gold. In his honor, I'm going to post this original poem, written several years ago and dedicated to him:

Here’s How

for Mike

Here’s how it goes:
you toss the script and jump over the goose

with the golden beak.
You’re all seat-of-the-pants, all break-

the-pattern. You run
from the fairy tale fowl toward the runt

of the old sow’s litter, you don’t sneak back
to appease the goose or make bleak

apologies, you don’t try to restitch
the picture. Instead, you shift

the story’s gears, the rules
mid-game, you’re a new hero made to ruffle

feathers— look, it’s here-pig-pig-piggy,
why not a new rhyme, and we’re wigged

out not knowing the answer. You make stars
burn from pure squeals and snouts, you stir

up all those piles of straw in the Big Barn.
Oh, how lucky we are that you were born

under such a strange sky
and so close to midnight.


Yesterday was Poem-In-Your-Pocket Day. I just love that whole idea - to carry a poem and share it with friends, co-workers, family. My choice for the day was The Shirt by Robert Pinsky, pictured above (Don't you love to see poets laugh? This is a secret I share with kids: Poets are very funny people. Not enough people know that!) :

The Shirt      by Robert Pinsky

The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams,
The nearly invisible stitches along the collar
Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians

Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break
Or talking money or politics while one fitted
This armpiece with its overseam to the band

Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,
The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,
The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes--

The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another. As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

A third before he dropped her put her arms
Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once

He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers--

Like Hart Crane's Bedlamite, "shrill shirt ballooning."
Wonderful how the pattern matches perfectly
Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked

Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme
Or a major chord. Prints, plaids, checks,
Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans

Invented by mill-owners inspired by the hoax of Ossian,
To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed
By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor,

Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers
To wear among the dusty clattering looms.
Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader,

The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter
Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton
As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:

George Herbert, your descendant is a Black
Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma
And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit

And feel and its clean smell have satisfied
Both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality
Down to the buttons of simulated bone,

The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters
Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape,
The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

I just love how physical that poem gets - celebrating the shirt itself, each detail, and celebrating the people who made it, the woman inspecting it for shipment. I love how it evokes the ghosts from the Triangle Fire, making them seem real (and is it possible not to shudder in the year 2009 at the equivalency here of Triangle Fire and World Trade Center - all those falling bodies?) Shirt as Evocative Object - able to conjure up the object itself, and by doing that, to speak to the abstractions of life, death, labor, love. It's such a beautiful poem. And carefully crafted - like the shirt. Message and medium, perfectly matched.

I know, my pocket had to be big to accommodate that poem, and there were only a few people patient enough to let me share it. I would have needed an even bigger pocket for Walt Whitman's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, which is a poem I would gladly take out any day of the year and share. A friend of mine actually read it to a bunch of us once, on a ferryboat as it crossed Puget Sound. That was a great moment.

The photo of Whitman, below, is unusual, and I like it - just think of that rather bookish man being the wild man/poet we love!

For a smaller pocket next year, I think I'll use the poem I posted for Poetry Friday on 10/28/08 - Valerie Worth's Bell.

I hope you carried a poem in your pocket, too, that you made the day a Katy-No-Pocket day, found a carpenter's apron, and put a poem in every pocket!

The Poetry Friday round-up is over at Maya Ganesan's blog ALLEGRO today - it's always exciting when someone new enters into the Poetry Friday circle, and this time, it's more than exciting , it's remarkable: Maya's blog says she is "an eleven-year-old poet who indulges in music, art, books, and writing." She loves "performing, traveling, and the little things." She also likes collecting pencils!! Oh, I'm with you, Maya - pencils are heaven! Congratulations to you on your great blog and on the very lovely original poems you've been posting.