Friday, September 26, 2008

Poetry Friday: Curiosity (Bovine and Otherwise)

In honor of Poetry Friday, I am going to post two poems: one by Hayden Carruth which might be sentimental but which I'm in the mood for, because I'm going to Vermont next week and the moon will be moving from a Harvest to a Hunter's. I'm also posting a recent poem of my own about curiosity. Its generative source is William R. Corliss's fascinating "Science Frontiers" newsletter. You can read Corliss's observations online, too. Definitely spend some time there - the site is full of poetry disguising as weird science.


The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw

the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.

I stopped, and took my flashlight
to the pasture fence. They turned
to me where they lay, sad

and beautiful faces in the dark,
and I counted them–forty
near and far in the pasture,

turning to me, sad and beautiful
like girls very long ago
who were innocent, and sad

because they were innocent,
and beautiful because they were
sad. I switched off my light.

But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how

in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.
I stood by the fence. And then

very gently it began to rain.

Hayden Carruth

As we get closer to the presidential election, I wonder more and more about people who are not curious, who don't ask questions, who don't seek answers and are completely comfortable with that. Is curiosity a blessing or a curse? Does being un-curious mean you are more content? Of course, I think the answer to that question is "Only if you are bovine."

Come to think of it, even cows are curious, as seen in the photo above. Poets, cows and scientists: we like to investigate what our gaze falls upon. Poets might actually have more in common with cows than scientists in terms of our ability to tolerate a lack of answers ("For how / in that great darkness could I explain / anything, anything at all....") But to exist without curiosity, as some people seem able and willing to do? Unimaginable.

Natural Curiosity

We are eager to understand
the behavior of chickens,
constantly crossing the road now
as they once crossed the Pacific
from Chile to Tonga to Samoa.
Who knows how?

To find out, some say
we must follow the path
of the sweet potato
or the bottle gourd.
Others say look for DNA.

Even more say good lord
why fuss.
But they are not us.

Or, for example, cosmology.
What's up and out there,
what are the chances
for rarer prepositions
or propositions?
The alignment of certain
elements of the universe,
quasar polarizations,
hot and cold spots, a lot
of spiral galaxies spiraling or not
on their axes of rotation,
filaments lining up single file
to converge upon the earth?

To counter discombobulation,
compile two lists.
Across the top of the first
write People Who Wonder.
Across the other,
People Who Are Certain.
Add your name
to the shortest one.
Run to poll the nervous man
behind the green curtain.
Consider which candidate
to vote for in the next election.

Then consider the fundamental
trembling of electrons.


Julie Larios

Poetry Friday this week is being hosted by Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect .

Friday, September 19, 2008

Poetry Friday - May Swenson's Sense of Play

In honor of Poetry Friday, and in honor of the last weekend of summer, I offer up this wonderful poem by American poet May Swenson (1919-1989), a woman who knew how to play with words. If you're a teacher, try using it to help your students forge a new relationship with words as malleable objects. I see both delight and mystification (each has its appeal and its purpose) in the faces of kids when I share it with them. Some are immediately pleased; with others it takes a little time for the light bulb to go on. I guarantee you that once that happens, once they understand what kind of power we have to make words "play," kids are simply lit from within about it. As a teacher you can sleep nights knowing you've taken children one step closer to loving the language they speak.


berries of Straw
berries of Goose
berries of Huckle
berries of Dew

berries of Boysen
berries of Black
berries of Rasp
berries of Blue

berries of Mul
berries of Cran
berries of Elder
berries of Haw

apples of Crab
apples of May
apples of Pin
apples of Love

nuts of Pea
nuts of Wal
nuts of Hazel
nuts of Chest

nuts of Brazil
nuts of Monkey
nuts of Pecan
nuts of Grape

beans of Lima
beans of French
beans of Coffee
beans of Black

beans of Jumping
beans of Jelly
beans of Green
beans of Soy

melons of Water
melons of Musk
cherries of Pie
cherries of Choke

glories of Morning
rooms of Mush
days of Dog
puppies of Hush

—May Swenson

Poetry Friday today is hosted by Laura Shavon at Author Amok.

Speaking of kids and their imaginations, their innate sense of play, their delight and vulnerability, I offer up this photograph, which commemorates a sad day in history - 19 September 1941, exactly sixty-seven years ago today - when Nazi's first forced German Jews to wear yellow stars on their clothing. Look at those sweet faces.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

“Language is a cracked kettle on which we bang out tunes to make the bears dance, when what we long for is to move the stars to pity.” (Gustave Flaubert, seen at right.)

I'm not completely sure about that - I like the sound of what Flaubert says, but I like those tunes and those dancing bears an awful lot, too.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wallace Stevens, Flaneur

Wallace Stevens (shown in photo at right) once said, "It's not always easy to tell the difference between thinking and staring out the window." I've decided to use that as my blog "description."

And he also said this (I can't resist the tunk-a-tunk-tunk):

The High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven.  Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle.  That's clear.  But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets.  Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones.  And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began.  Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince.  But fictive things
Wink as they will.  Wink most when widows wince.

Friday, September 5, 2008

For Poetry Friday - Walter de la Mare and Noel Coward

Walter de la Mare - 1873-1956

Sweet, sweet poet. Worked as a statistician for the London office of Standard Oil for eighteen years.

Here is a pig poem by the man himself, and it does just what poetry should do, doesn't it? It paints a picture with words & with the way words sound, but it doesn't answer questions; instead, it leaves the reader a mystery to fall asleep with. And I love those truncated fourth lines in each quatrain. Perfect bending of the formal elements.

The Pigs and the Charcoal-burner

The old Pig said to the little pigs,

'In the forest is truffles and mast,

Follow me then, all ye little pigs,

Follow me fast!'

The Charcoal-burner sat in the shade

With his chin on his thumb,

And saw the big Pig and the little pigs,

Chuffling come.

He watched 'neath a green and giant bough,

And the pigs in the ground

Made a wonderful grisling and gruzzling

And greedy sound.

And when, full-fed, they were gone, and Night

Walked her starry ways,

He stared with his cheeks in his hands

At his sullen blaze.

—Walter de la Mare


AND since we're on the subject of pigs, I will post this clever poem by the clever Sir Noel Coward, (with apologies to all vegetarians):

Any Part of Piggy

Any part of the piggy
Is quite alright with me.
Ham from Westphalia, ham from Parma
Ham as lean as the Dalai Lama
Ham from Virginia, ham from York,
Trotters, sausages, hot roast pork.
Crackling crisp for my teeth to grind on
Bacon with or without the rind on
Though humanitarian
I'm not a vegetarian
I'm neither a crank nor prude nor prig
And though it may sound infra dig
Any part of the darling pig
Is perfectly fine by me.

—Noel Coward

["Infra dig"? Noel Coward?] Did you know that Noel Coward worked with the British Secret Service during World War II and was in the Nazi Black Book (along with H.G. Wells)? Or that in the British comedy Red Dwarf, a wax-droid of Noel Coward was available for the entertainment of Lister and the rest of the crew during their visit to a theme-park planet.

Poetry Friday is being hosted this week by Elaine Magliaro over at The Wild Rose:

Thursday, September 4, 2008