Friday, August 30, 2013

Poetry Friday: "His mind holds summer...."

Farm Boy: 1940 by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration

We all know that when August ends, summer ends, no matter what the official last day of the season, and no matter how hot the weather. The word "September" is not a summer word, it's a First-Day-of-School word. So, in honor of  tomorrow, August 31, I offer up this after-summer poem by Robert Francis:

Farm Boy After Summer

A seated statue of himself he seems.
A bronze slowness becomes him. Patently
The page he contemplates he doesn't see.

The lesson, the long lesson, has been summer.
His mind holds summer, as his skin holds sun.
For once the homework, all of it, was done.

What were the crops, where were the fiery fields
Where for so many days so many hours
The sun assaulted him with glittering showers.

Expect a certain absence in his presence.
Expect all winter long a summer scholar,
For scarcely all its snows can cool that color.

Kentucky schoolhouse, 1940 - photo by Mary Post Wolcott for the FSA
Of course, there's no better way to end summer than by going to a county fair - ours is usually the Island Country Fair out on Whidbey Island or the Northwest Washington Fair in Whatcom County. You get to say goodbye to summer in one dusty, exhausting, glorious visit, taking in things like this:

 The rooster crowing contest...

 and the newborn piglets... 

  the prize-winning peaches...

and pickles...

 and the ferris wheel...

the kids' collections...

and the kids's art...

the blue-ribbon quilts...

and the milk cows....
the corn on the cob and...

...the corn dogs and funnel cakes.

I'm a true admirer of the 4-H kids and Future Farmers of America who have led their animals (after hosing them down and prettying them up) around the judging rings over the years in hopes of praise from the judges.  And I love it when a kid steps forward in the goat barn to tell me all about how to make goat cheese. I hold the thought of that kid for a long time, well into colder weather.

It's true, my mind "holds summer" and my "skin holds sun." I get serious in autumn, which as Northrup Frye theorized, is the season of tragedy. And I can get through winter in a good mood, usually, with satire to help me.  At least, until about February - by then, the rain and the gray days make me begin to fantasize about primroses, and way off the sound of carny music on the midway and the smell of kettle corn.  Then comes spring, and the primroses, and who doesn't love spring? But summer....the season of full belief...? Can you do anything but love it? It comes out of the blue and bowls you over. And when it's gone, your skin holds it.
"...for scarcely all it snows can cool that color."

The Poetry Friday round-up this week is being hosted by Tara at A Teaching Life. Head there to see what other people have posted.  And if you have time, catch this video from the New York Time Frugal Traveler, all about the Kandiyohi County Fair in Minnesota.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Poetry Friday - John Hollander's Double Dactyls

John Hollander - Imagine studying poetry with this man....

Last Saturday, when I heard that the poet John Hollander had died, I pulled several of his books off my shelves to look through them and think about his work, which I've grown to love more and more over the years. I had a flirtation with it early on, due to the double dactyl form he invented with Anthony Hecht, another favorite poet of mine. The flirtation deepened when I began to read his more serious work, which I recommend to everyone (just look at "Adam's Task.")   But today, I want to stay focused on those double dactyls.

The definition of a double dactyl sounds simple: eight lines of two dactyls each, arranged in two quatrains. The first line of the poem must be nonsense (like “Higgledy-piggledy” or “Jiggery-pokery”) and the second line must be a name; the fourth and eighth lines are dactyls followed by spondees, and they rhyme; and one line of the poem (often the 6th or 7th) must be a single six-syllable word. Of course, the killer in that list of must-haves is the six-syllable word in dactylic meter, and the whole poem hinges on how clever that word is. Some say that the word cannot have been used before (never, ever) in any other double dactyl. Here's a wonderful example by poet George Starbuck (whose work I take a look at in the August issue of Numero Cinq. ) Notice that Starbuck, not to be outdone by anyone in terms of technical control, comes up with two six-syllable words in that second stanza:

Higgledy piggledy
Fifty Columbuses,
Fifty times richer in
Trinkets and beads

Couldn’t provision the
Business’s needs.

Here is one of Hollander's own; it's typical of his light-verse with a dark twist: 

Higgeldy, piggeldy,

Anna Karenina

Went off her feed and just

Couldn't relax.

Then, quite ignoring the


Threw in the sponge and was

Scraped off the tracks.

And here is one where he actually wrote a double dactyl about how to write double dactls:

Self Reference 

Starting with nonsense words:
  then comes a name (making
  line number two);
Somewhere along in the 
  terminal quatrain, a
  word and we're through. 
Hecht and Hollander published a whole book of these silly and delightful poems titled Jiggery Pokery, which inspired a whole generation of MFA students with equally silly souls (I include myself) to try their hand at them. I challenge readers of The Drift Record to write a double dactyl and leave it in the comments - in honor of John Hollander! Come on! Do it! Doesn't have to be about John Hollander or about anything specific to poetry - just a double dactyl about anyone (as long as that someone's name is dactylic!)
The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted this week by Betsy at I Think in Poems. Head over there to see what other people have posted.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Poetry Friday: "First Crushes" and the Door to Wonder

Holland Cotter, art critic at The New York Times, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, writes about his love of recited poetry in the wonderful new series "First Crush":

Here's a preview of the essay, titled "Finding Poetry on the Page and, Later, on the Canvas":

I was lucky to come from a family of reciters and readers. My great-great-aunt Helen, probably born a decade or so after the Civil War, was in her late 70s, maybe 80s, when I was 8 or 9. She came from a poetry-memorizing Victorian culture and knew long passages of Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” and Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” by heart. Whenever I visited, I asked her to “do ‘Hiawatha.’ ” To this day, I can still hear the rhythms and sounds of her delivery, particularly the way she enunciated Longfellow’s “Indian” names. They conjured up miraculous visual images, natural and supernatural: a woman descends from the moon to earth; a rainbow turns into a field of flowers; birds and forest animals speak. 

I love to see how a love of words - especially poetry - spreads to a love of all kinds of creative activities. Language is a door to wonder in general, isn't it?  
Click here to read Cotter's short and lovely essay. 

Poetry Friday today is being hosted by Lisa over at Steps and Staircases (on Tumblr.) Head over there for links to what other people have posted.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Poetry Friday (on Saturday): Howard Norman

Howard Norman

I am a day behind the usual Poetry Friday posting. So this is Poetry Saturday. I want to share a poem from one of my absolute favorite collections, The Wishing Bone Cycle by Howard Norman. The subtitle is "Narrative Poems from the Swampy Cree Indians." Apparently they were "gathered and translated by Howard A. Norman" - but I do think the gathering, the eye for what is poetic, is 100% Norman's. In a significant way, these poems are only partially translations in the traditional sense. Norman has learned the stories and turned them into poems. Here is one that delights me:

One night I was wishing things all over.
Then, I thought there were too many stars.
in the sky
and not enough light down under,
in the earth.
That's when I wished a star down
for that mole
to carry on his nose.
He took it down under.
He walked around with it under there
and tried it out.
Now he comes up sometimes
to let his star talk to the other stars
in the sky.
It's dark down there
but his nose sees where he's going. 

 Poetry Friday was hosted yesterday for everyone who knows it's Friday and not Saturday by the most lovely and energetic Renee La Tulippe over at No Water River.  Head over there to see what people posted!