Saturday, May 31, 2014

Window Light

One of my granddaughters on our recent visit.

Here is one of Basho's haiku translated by David Young:

cool of the evening
watching the melons grow
you should be here

from Moon Woke Me Up Nine Times; selected and translated by David Young. 

I'm very tired tonight for no particular reason. Back tomorrow.

Friday, May 30, 2014

"we readily translate everything, and all the time"

I went looking for a maple, to go with the poem below. Thanks to the magic of the data now stored with digital photos, I saw that the one I chose, was taken on October 11, 2001 one month after the day the world changed forever. The tree and its leaves were innocent of all that.

The New Yorker magazine came today (forwarded, so a little later than many folks get it) and I checked out the poems right away and found this short one:


Wind shuttles leaves across a parking lot,
each one a different weight, each weight
absorbed into the rustling like surfers
overwhelmed by waves. Father, my maple,
Mother, honey locust. I am nothing
but what your lives have made me.

Matt Sumpter in The New Yorker, May 26, 2014, page 39.

So I looked up Matt Sumpter and he is an MFA candidate at Ohio State, and two poems of his that are similar to this in substance and tone appear in The Drunken Boat. So he is young; does this help? Maybe just a little. I feel I almost understand this poem and admire the opening metaphor, but . . .? In the magazine, the poem is embedded into a very satisfactory 4-page essay, "Word Magic" on translation by Adam Gopnik. The paragraph I have chosen to share below is on the same page, 39.

"In a fine 2011 study of translation, "Is that a fish in your ear?" David Bellos points out that, despite the endless insistence that the real thing is always lost in translation, we readily translate everything, and all the time. "Think of a great poet, and you've almost certainly thought of a translator, too," he writes. For all the supposed incommensurability 0f languages, we guide poems from one to another every day. Even if one accepts that these are only partial victories, is there another kind? Perhaps the truth is that poetry isn't as exclusively "poetic" as we often like to pretend, just as the "poetic" part of philosophy is bigger than philosophers sometimes want to think. (When we read Hume, the patient humor is inseparable from the moral point, that skepticism has no need to be hysterical.) Poetry contains as much wisdom as it does word magic: Szymborska in English may be nothing like Szymborska in Polish, but we read her for the good counsel as much as for the choices among words."

Do you have any experience in translating? I am pretty much monolingual with vocabularies. What do you think about the utility of translation? Of translation of poetry? Many of the poems I share on this blog have been translated, and my mental life would be much diminished without them.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

White petals, golden stamens, reticulated leaves and thorns

This pesky fenceline shrub is revealing itself by flowering to be a blackberry; we think the birds must eat the berries before we can.

Today I treated myself to a new (2014) slender book from Copper Canyon Press of the poetry of W.S. Merwin, THE MOON BEFORE MORNING. Here are two poem from pages 6 and 7 in the book; because I don't plan to eat it all in one gulp.


Rain through the morning
and in the long pool a toad singing
happiness old as water 


Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or  present age.

W.S. Merwin

I am delighted to have this book!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A long moan

This is my own mown lawn, courtesy of our grandson.

A Mown Lawn

She hated a mown lawn. Maybe that was because mow was the reverse of wom, the beginning of the name of what she was—a woman. A mown lawn had a sad sound to it, like a long moan. From her, a mown lawn made a long moan. Lawn had some of the letters of man, though the reverse of man would be Nam, a bad war. A raw war. Lawn also contained the letters of law. In fact, lawn was a contraction of lawman. Certainly a lawman could and did mow a lawn. Law and order could be seen as starting from lawn order, valued by so many Americans. More lawn could be made using a lawn mower. A lawn mower did make more lawn. More lawn was a contraction of more lawmen. Did more lawn in America make more lawmen in America? Did more lawn make more Nam? More mown lawn made more long moan, from her. Or a lawn mourn. So often, she said, Americans wanted more mown lawn. All of America might be one long mown lawn. A lawn not mown grows long, she said: better a long lawn. Better a long lawn and a mole. Let the lawman have the mown lawn, she said. Or the moron, the lawn moron.

By Lydia Davis from The Best American Poetry 2991, edited by Robert Hass, page 67. This short prose piece originally appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly.

People have recently been making a great fuss over the short pieces by Lydia Davis; a new book of them has recently appeared. But as we see here, she has been a master of the short piece for quite some time. In this work she pushes a lot of our alarm buttons such as feminism, lawlessness, ecological consciousness, Americanism, the View Nam war, sadness and mourning and finally the mole let loose in the uncut grass. I could have done without the moron, but this wasn't my poem. 

This is one of those works that makes my head ring, and which is completely outside my powers to imitate. I even avoid puns, for instance, whenever possible. "A pun is the lowest form of humor," my father used to smile as he made another one. I have the Lydia Davis book on my Kindle now, and every so often I take another bite or two. It is a book for thoughtful investigation. Are you a punster, or wordplay devotee, dear reader??

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Heritage English Rose

I love this old-fashioned rose bred by rosarian David Austen, but it seems to attract trouble. Last year, it developed the dread Black Spot, and this year the buds seemed blasted, as if by frost. I planned to cut them off and give repeat bloom another chance, but didn't get it done, and suddenly, blossoms! Slightly different in color than last year, but very lovely.

I have been looking again at Jane Reichhold's magnificent book of Basho's haiku, Basho: the complete haiku, Kodansha, 2008, 2013, ever since reading the heartfelt and lovely tribute to her work in the preface to Moon Woke Me Up Nine Times; selected haiku of Basho, Knopf, 2013, by David Young.

So here is one of Basho's haiku from Jane's book, from page 56. It has a headnote, which haiku most often do not, but which makes me giggle.

The summer onion withers before a scouring rush, 
and the leaf of a yam is defeated by that of a lotus . . 

dew on roses
the rapeseed flowers's faces
become envious

Monday, May 26, 2014

Franks and Beans

It was a beautiful sunny day in the back yard. Just a slight breeze, the whuffle of a pair of mallards in flight, the repeated calling of the red-wing blackbird. Sunlight and shadow. It would have been a good day for a potluck. I have been thinking about my old friend, Phyllis Koestenbaum and how hard she worked, revising seriously, relentlessly! on her "criminal sonnets" sharp little detail-filled sonnet-length poems based on her life, her Jewish heritage, and her relentless thinking, trying to make sense of it all. I think she wrote at least 500 of them. On the back of her book Criminal Sonnets, Jacaranda Press, 1998, it states that there are 367 of these poems, of which 66 have been selected for the book of that title. This book is still available on Amazon; I can definitely recommend it! Here is one of my favorites:


To the potluck I took hot dogs and beans;
our neighbor, greens: her child's heart was repaired.
Another miracle: the humpback's red-haired
kids who swim, can thank him for their beauty.
I said little. An overweight, pretty
young mother spoke freely. Before
he blessed, the Father joked about morals,
God's versus ours. I didn't laugh. Knitting,
I was feeling sorry for the person
I was, knitting. Who'd say benediction
should my unaffiliated son
reach Eagle like the Greek Orthodox server
thanking his folks unsyntactically.
In error, my son once ate Christ's body.

Phyllis Koestenbaum, Criminal Sonnets, page 21.

Look at the subtle rhymes, interior rhymes, and off-rhymes in this poem. Look at the great amount of material compressed into such a small space! Think about this kind of serious practice for yourself. One of my friends write 4 lines (like a classical Chinese poem!) every night sitting in her bed just before she turned out the light. She could look back at any time and see where she was or what she was thinking on the same date in previous years. She kept the 5x8 journals she used on shelves in order. I have always admired people who created these practices for themselves. In a way, during the last year, this blog has become such a daily practice for me, but I am still working on how I would like it to be formed and the balance and vibrations between my day, photographs, memory threads, and the poems, mostly by other poets.

In my memory, when Phyllis was working on this poem, in the mid-1980s, it began, "To the potluck I took franks and beans." Franks is the word, and makes the chunky rhythm, I still like and sometime I think I might ask her why she changed it.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Green Hair

Lichen with native iris, second verse! This is another of the pictures from the Tilden Botanic Garden. Lichen is very ancient, and so is the memory thread I am about to spin tonight.

In 1953, when I was about to take the two-day train journey from Schenectady to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona, the matter of my choosing a major, or direction of study, came up. I hadn't thought much about it; I had always known I wanted to attend U of A, where my parents had gone, but hadn't really thought of what I might actually study when I got there. My mother suggested that I Major in Drama--I don't really know why. Earlier I had planned to become a librarian because of my love of reading. But then I watched the high school librarian as she snipped nudes from an art book. It looked boring. She was also very timid and relentlessly unmarried, even desiccated, to my unkind eye. So I gave that up. I had been in the senior play at school (they powdered my hair--hard to wash out--and I played an old lady in a wheel chair) and, when Chester Rychek forgot his lines, I had ad-libbed the necessary information for the audience's understanding. But I didn't feel a calling to the stage, really. Anyhow, off I went, on the train, with my sewing machine, my portable typewriter, my small suitcase of writing supplies, paper, ink, staples and tape, and one other item. This meant that, in Chicago, where I changed trains, I had to carry something heavy in each hand and something else under each arm. A trunk followed after. I never have been able to travel light. My father gave me a $20 bill at the station, but didn't tell me what it was for, like tipping a porter to help me carry that stuff in Chicago, or buying food. I got to Arizona without breaking that bill.

I was reading reviews of autobiographical novels today and I remembered that year, that journey and that time in the Drama Dept. at U of A. One of the first plays we put on was called The House of Bernarda Alba, which is a pretty bleak drama by Garcia Lorca. The director was the department head, whose name I have been trying to remember all day, something like Peter Marroney. He was a short, short-tempered fellow, bossy and definite. A main role was played by a pretty thespian whose hair was very blonde. He insisted she dye it black (the characters were Spaniards, after all!) and after much resistance, she finally gave in. I guess her hair was porous from having already been made blonder through chemistry, but the result of the black dye job was hair that was unmistakably green! A deep rich green, that in some lights might have even looked a little blackish, but not much. There was a great conflab on this, more dyeing, and eventually compromises involving headscarves. At the outskirts of all this, I was a fascinated observer as I waited to learn how to help move furniture around on the darkened stage between scenes.

Here is something from Eliot's Four Quartet's which I return to every so often, because Pat Shelley told me it was her favorite work. This poem also concerns memory. Read it twice or even three times. Read it out loud.

La Figlia Che Piange

              O quam te memorem virgo
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair— 
Lean on a garden urn— 
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair— 
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise— 
Fling them to the ground and turn      
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes: 
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair. 
So I would have had him leave, 
So I would have had her stand and grieve, 
So he would have left         
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised, 
As the mind deserts the body it has used. 
I should find 
Some way incomparably light and deft, 
Some way we both should understand,         
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand. 
She turned away, but with the autumn weather 
Compelled my imagination many days, 
Many days and many hours: 
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together! 
I should have lost a gesture and a pose. 
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze 
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.
T.S. Eliot 1888-1965

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Intricate Beauty, flame orange at the heart

All afternoon as I weeded and pruned, the red-winged blackbird was singing. When I work in this
garden by the Little Union Canal, I often think of the man who planted and tended it. From my son's place across the street I often saw him fussing with his roses, which surround the front lawn, but I never really talked with him. We bought the place from his widow. In the back yard are irises, many different colors, so well-established that it would take many years to reach this splendor that we now benefit from. Here is one of our favorites, an apricot color, just coming into bloom. I get a kick out of the single blue vinca bloom in the lower left that sneaked into the portrait when I wasn't looking.

I love this poem of Ted Kooser's about his mother's garden--so here it is in celebration of the recent Mother's Day. There are so many celebratory days. Is there one for iris?? Yesterday was World Turtle Day and I missed celebrating it; sorry, Diane!

Mid April already, and the wild plums
bloom at the roadside, a lacy white
against the exuberant, jubilant green
of new grass and the dusty, fading black
of burned-out ditches. No leaves, not yet,
only the delicate, star-petaled
blossoms, sweet with their timeless perfume.

You have been gone a month today
and have missed three rains and one nightlong
watch for tornadoes. I sat in the cellar
from six to eight while fat spring clouds
went somersaulting, rumbling east. Then it poured,
a storm that walked on legs of lightning,
dragging its shaggy belly over the fields.

The meadowlarks are back, and the finches
are turning from green to gold. Those same
two geese have come to the pond again this year,
honking in over the trees and splashing down.
They never nest, but stay a week or two
then leave. The peonies are up, the red sprouts
burning in circles like birthday candles,

for this is the month of my birth, as you know,
the best month to be born in, thanks to you,
everything ready to burst with living.
There will be no more new flannel nightshirts
sewn on your old black Singer, no birthday card
addressed in a shaky but businesslike hand.
You asked me if I would be sad when it happened

and I am sad. But the iris I moved from your house
now hold in the dusty dry fists of their roots
green knives and forks as if waiting for dinner,
as if spring were a feast. I thank you for that.
Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever.

Ted Kooser, from Delights & Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, 2004. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

"no beautiful thing lasts"

I was putting a lot of books away yesterday, and clicking on links from here and there, and I found a mention of this poem, by someone who liked it. And now I have forgotten where. But I found the poem and then went looking for an autumnal photo and found this from last years October trip home to California. I love autumn aspens against the sky.

When I was very young, I was invited to a housewarming party near Cleveland, where S was in school. Helga Sandburg, Carl's daughter, was there; she brought her guitar and favored us young mortals with a few folksy songs. She must have liked some things about being Sandburg's daughter and some things must have been tedious, like the whispers at that party, "That's Helga Sandburg! Carl Sandburg's daughter!" Just now, I looked her up and found that she just died in January of this year at age 95. Imagine! Her Wikipedia article says she typed many of Carl's manuscripts and that he wrote many poems and dedications to her. I think my favorite line of this poem is, "The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes."

Autumn Movement

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts. 
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the 
copper sunburned woman, 
      the mother of the year, the taker of seeds. 

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things 
      come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the 
old things go, 
       not one lasts.

Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Then suddenly the sun was shining"

This is an outdoor picture (through the windshield) with the very indoor poem below. A poem about time, by the wonderful poet, Louise Gluck, which appeared in The New Yorker and was chosen for The Best American Poetry 2001, edited by Robert Hass.


There was too much, always, then too little.
Childhood: sickness.
By the side of the bed I had a little bell--
at the other end of the bell, my mother.

Sickness, gray rain. The dogs slept through it. They slept on the bed,
at the end of it, and it seemed to me they understood
about childhood: best to remain unconscious.

The rain made gray slats on the windows.
I sat with my book, the little bell beside me.
Without seeing any sign of the spirit, I determined
to live in the spirit.

The rain faded in and out.
Month after month, in the space of a day.
Things became dreams; dreams became things.

Then I was well; the bell went back to the cupboard.
The rain ended. The dogs stood at the door,
panting to go outside.

I was well, then I was an adult.
And time went on--it was like rain,
so much, so much, as though it was a weight that couldn't be moved.

I was a child, half sleeping.
I was sick; I was protected.

And I lived in the world of the spirit,
the world of the gray rain,
the lost, the remembered.

Then suddenly the sun was shining.
And time went on, even when there was almost none left.
And the perceived became the remembered,
the remembered, the perceived.

I simply love this poem!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sunset colors

Tonight in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beauty among the weeds

In the Idaho garden. 

Hope to resume poetry posting very soon.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Angels of Humboldt County

There has to be a story to this statue in a park in Winnemucca, but I don't know what it is. Finished the final day of this second leg of the trip.

The legend says in memory of the angels of Humboldt County. Don't know the full story. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Window Light

I love the focus and concentration that a young child can have. I've spent the day with four grandchildren and am too tired to think of much. Lupines are blooming in their yard! And I hope to get more photos tomorrow. And find some poems . . .

Hot Dawg!

Along the road this vision of the past!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tonight, the moon with my granddaughter

We spent a long time together watching the moon rise through the Ponderosa pines of the Sierras. I did hear three mosquitoes, but none tried to land. The air was balmy, even at night, because the weather is just a little too warm, really.

While we watched and listened for the bear and mountain lion rumored to be nearby, she went through a lot of old photos, picture notes and app-modified photographs that have piled up in my iPad Three. Which I haven't used much lately. It was like living history of our other visits. I don't know when I have spent a more enjoyable couple of hours.

She also taught herself how to use a sky app and located some named stars. Spend as much time as you can with your children and grandchildren . From this end, I can see how fleeting are these moments.

Monday, May 12, 2014

"when a letter suddenly arrives"

Carol brought these flower arrangements to yesterday's Haiku Reading in the Teahouse. I thought that something from Sei Shonagon would be the perfect accompaniment. Imagine! So many centuries and we still have her writings! And some of us are still reading them and smiling, too!

From The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, 10th century Japan
(Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on this work.)

Letters are commonplace enough, yet what splendid things they are! When someone is in a distant province and one is worried about him, and then a letter suddenly arrives, one feels as though one were seeing him face to face. Again, it is a great comfort to have expressed one's feelings in a letter even though one knows it cannot yet have arrived. If letters did not exist, what dark depressions would come over one! When one has been worrying about something and wants to tell a certain person about it, what a relief it is to put it all down in a letter! Still greater is one's joy when a reply arrives. At that moment a letter really seems like an elixir of life.”

You assignment for today (I am speaking to myself AND to you!) Surprise someonw with the real letter; use a pretty stamp.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"the true poet"

This is the place where I can channel Thoreau; it's in North East Michigan near where the three great lakes join. It is a country of chageable weather, lots of rain and beautiful woodlands. I'm hoping to get there this summer and fall. My thrush here is the hermit thrush.

One hundred and sixty years ago today, Thoreau wrote this in his journal: He may have written more; this sentence was the choice of the editor, Odell Shepherd.

May 11, 1854

The true poet will ever live aloof from society, wild to it, as the finest singer is the wood thrush, a forest bird.

The Heart of Thoreau's Journals, edited by Odell Shepherd, Dover, 1961, page 130.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"and something found"

This is my grandkid's recent selfie which I think is pretty terrific! (I did change it to black and white and then added the vignette.) Today I went to the YTHS haiku Reading in the Teahouse at the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Jose's Kelley Park.. Roger, our park ranger and long-time member, had arranged a very interesting presentation on koi and a haiku workshop in the morning, and fixed us hot dogs and salad for lunch. In the afternoon, we heard four excellent writers read. I think this may have been my favorite Teahouse Reading ever! (Our group, the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society has held an annual one there every spring for 22 years!) Each one of the four readers had an interesting "voice" and a fresh and original spin on the material they had written. It just made me feel better about writing as a project, and about examining your own experiences and surroundings and treating them in fresh ways in your writing,


The brightly colored animal paintings of Franz Marc, who was killed in the First World War, have always been favorites of mine. So I was delighted by this poem in the Gettysburg Review that came today in the mail.

The Conservation of Matter

A flurry of leaves in the window\
like those calendar pages flying
in old movies
to indicate time passing,
and it is passing,
though where it's going
nobody seems to know.

Something is always lost
and something found---
an earring or the key
to a secret door,, 
to some second self.
I watch as energy and matter
bow and switch places,
as last year's leaves appear
and disappear again

like my childhood room
with its billowy curtains
and the picture of orange horses 
with blue manes hanging over my bed---
I thought it was gone,

but I walked through
the Marc Museum last month,
and there it was, the very picture.
And the child I was, 
still hiding in this body,
rose up in recognition.

Linda Pastan, from Gettysburg Review, Summer 2014, page 183.

Here is a link to the Wikimedia Commons images of Marc's horses. If you do a Google Search for Franz Marc horses and you will find many, many more. This poem has short stanzas of unequal length, and a narrative development.

Here is the Poetry Foundation link for Linda Pastan,  And here is her Wikipedia Page. Look her up, she is an interesting poet and has earned your attention with a fine body of work.

And here, in the public domain, is the Franz Marc painting, a reproduction of which hangs over my writing desk. They are irresistable! I saw mine years ago in a shop window in Palo Alto and went right in ant bought it without any hesitation. I think you might need a brightly colored Marc animal, too!

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Darkling Thrush

Ah, the wonder of those iPhone apps that make a sort of etching of a rose photo in seconds! From my garden and touched by electronic magic. It is also always interesting to change an image to black and white. You see what you might not have seen before. In this case, the details of the leaves become more important.

We are still browsing in Understanding Poetry (see previous post)  this is one of the Hardy poems treated in that book on pages 345 and 346.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate 
    When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires. 

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
    The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.
Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928)

This might be one of the bleakest, most shocking end of a poem ever! I will never forget the shock I felt the first time I read it. Thomas Hardy is one of our very great English poets. We can also be reminded by the vocabulary of this poem of the wonderful, combinatory language available to English poets! Some of these words we do not regularly use, but because of their relationships to more common words, they are easy to comprehend in the context of the poem.

Without history

In this beautiful world we traveled under these Minnesota clouds and others across the state and barely through a corner of Wisconsin and just into Michigan. It was a beautiful day, but started out on an extremely sour note. We were the last, I think, to leave the motel, but there was another car on the far side of the lot. A corpulent, coarse, red-faced angry man was yelling at a woman and calling her a bitch, bitch, bitch. (I couldn't look; this is S's description of him. I don't know why I didn't look; it seemed too private or too dangerous. Or I didn't want to know.) This went on a little as we got into our truck with the dachshund. The woman screamed back and then began to scream and flail at the two girls, who were sobbing. The group sort of eddied around their car; it wasn't clear if they were loading or unloading. The girls had long dark hair and reminded me of my granddaughter. We drove away. I have been thinking about this all day. 
Why do people act like this? How can children be protected? Why are men often so free with their anger? Why does it seem like public behavior and has gotten more and more coarse while I have been watching it? There are many terrible things going on right now all over the world and so much suffering and I can make very little difference. I wish I could. I don't know how this goes with this Eliot poem, but I think it does. Good night.

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Section V.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple­tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half­heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always-
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in­folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Using the materials you have

Today my grandson and I were waiting for his sisters to practice for their dance recital. He was making airplanes and knives from sticks. I thought this would be a good time to share Erica Goss's prompt she shared on Facebook. It is about gathering your own material for poems.

Recycling this prompt from March 2013.

Consider this beautiful poem by Meena Alexander:

Fragment, in Praise of the Book

Book with the word for love
In all the languages that flow through me,
Book made of leaves from a mango tree
Book of rice paper tossed by monsoon winds
Book of pearls from grandmother’s wrist
Book of bottle glass rinsed by the sea
--Book of the illiterate heart--
Book of alphabets burnt so the truth can be told
Book of fire on al-Mutanabbi street
Book for a child who wakes to smoldering ash
Book of singing grief
Book of desire glowing as light pours through.

- First published in al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5, 2007, Bombing of Baghdad’s “Street of the Booksellers,” PM Press, 2012

This poem uses a simple, yet effective technique: the list. I use this often when generating ideas for my writing, videos, or events. You can start with the basic “who, what, when, where, how, why” lists, and then blend them to create a new story.

Thursday, May 08, 2014


Today we have been looking at a classic text, Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. This book came out first in 1938, has gone through several editions, we have the one from 1975, The most recent edition seems to be the 1978 Fourth edition (much revised) and still in print for a list price of $165.95, Awesome, no? It really is an excellent book, and would repay any amount of study handsomely. But the price strikes me as a case of whatever the traffic will bear.

I was reminded then of William Butler Yeats, the grandaddy of those of us who write poetry in English. Imagine being born the year the American Civil War ended and dying just in time to miss World War II! Here is his world-class poem:

The Wild Swans at Coole

William Butler Yeats  (1865-1935)

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

from Understanding Poetry, 4th Edition, 1975, pages 351-352

A six-stanza pome in six-line stanzas! With very nice rhyming (usually ABABCC) and thythmic patterns, yet not oppressive or sing-song in its regulatity. I have only seen swans in twos or threes on Crooked River in Michigan. But I have seen other large congregations of birds. It does make your heart leap when they take to the air!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Claude Monet's favorite climbing rose

                                          Is blooming now in our back yard!!

The nursery where we got this rose thirty years ago is still there! It is called Roses of Yesterday and Today and this is the link to their web page! This Mermaid rose is blooming now and we bought it there 30 or more years ago. Here is the description from their catalog:

Mermaid. Hybrid Bracteata.  (1918)  15-25 feet. Yellow.  Repeat Bloom. Flowers repeatedly. Zones 7-10.
One of the outstanding characters of rosedom, and one of the most beautiful . . . abandoned by most commercial nurseries for its cantankerousness in the growing field and the great cost of producing plants of it.  It is equally efficient whether planted as a ground cover or climber . . . always in bloom with 5 inch, soft yellow (almost white in hot weather) single flowers with prominent gold stamens. Wild rose fragrance, attractive to bees . . . drops its spent petals so the plant, with glossy leaves, always looks clean. This was Claude Monet's favorite climber!

We were visiting this Heritage Rose nursery to find something to plant after we had failed so spectacularly with tomatoes (tomatoes had been grown here before this was a housing tract and the soil was infested with fusarium or verticillium wilt (or both!) which caused the failure of the crop.)
There was a hedge of this single yellow rose in bloom at the nursery that day. But they had sold all the potted ones they had. A nice fellow went into the back and came out with two or three dry sticks in a gallon can. "This is the only one left, but I would be embarrassed to sell you this puny one," he said. He turned out not to be THAT embarassed and charged us $17.50 for it. S would have left it there, but I really wanted it! We planted it against the fence on the east side of the back yard. It was a little slow to get started, but eventually it made a pretty show. After a few years, it needed pruning and that was quite a job as it is VERY thorny, even for a rose. Still we trimmed it, and later had a gardener trim it back every winter. Then one year it escaped onto the roof of a storage shed next door. And we thought we should do something, but didn't know quite what to do. that house is a rental and no one seemed to care. Eventually it covered the whole shed roof and pu on a glorious display, as if it had been grown for a jubilee! Then a couple of weeks ago, the neighbors cut it back to our fence. There were two huge piles on the street to be collected by the recycling truck. So no it is much smaller and a little raggedy looking, but still blooming like crazy on our side of the fence.

In celebration of things that have lasted a long time (a rose hybridized in 1918 and also, thank you, Claude Monet, for your garden!) here is another poem from the China of long ago.

                       Sanso, king of Shoku, built roads

They say the roads of Sanso are steep.
Sheer as the mountains.
The walls rise in a man's face,
Clouds grow out of the hill
            at his horse's bridle.
Sweet trees are on the paved way of the Shin,
Their trunks burst through the paving,
And freshets are bursting their ice
              in the midst of Shoku, a proud city.

Men's faces are already set,
There is no need of asking diviners
The red sun comes out of the Eastern corner 
    as if he sprang from the bottom of the earth
It crosses heaven and sinks again in the sea
Who will say where the six dragons of his car will come to rest
Who will date its beginning and ending
Man, who art not a cardinal spirit
How shall you think to wander forever with the
     unwearying sun, yourself unwearied
How shall you desire it
Yet the grass takes no thought of the wind that makes it flourish
The trees do not hate the autumn of their decline
Who by brandishing whips will hasten the course of the seasons?
Or of the myriad things that
   without thought arise and decay

Li Po 
(701-762) mid-Tang Dynasty
Translation by Ezra Pound from The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese poetry, edited by Eliot Weinberger, page 85-86.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

At home; as if elegy were endless

A recent record of the way we lived. That is our dear Rylka-Twinkie-Pookie (she just attracted those diminutives, being a small dachshund) in the zig-zag collar. At the left, I have Watercolor Magazine open to an article about a painter of landscapes and seascapes. You can see a bit of the fabric of my favorite blouse next to that. Near the top you can see S's exercises ball which lives in the office chair. The round basket in the center is where all the "clickers" for various electronics are supposed to be kept. The book with red covers on the table's lower shelf is the American Heritage Dictionary; I have copies near all the places I work. The pad of small yellow Post-its are what I used to mark the pages with poems for this blog. A little bit of the pretty area rug shows under the dog's chin. There is a scattering of magazines on the table; I keep neatening this up, but that never lasts for long. The bits of light at the top are coming through our sliding patio doors.The drape of blanket with blue is over a dog crate, it used to help keep Sammi from barking all the time when someone visited if she couldn't see them. And both of these little dogs are gone now. 

Here is the Michael Palmer poem I have been saving:

Untitled (Three Days)

Yes, I changed the light bulb myself,
so no more jokes about poets and light bulbs,

or poets and ligth,
no more combing the unconscious

for its Corybantic folds, its flows,
and no more talk of "the bitter wind."

It will do what it must
to summon and confound

all at once
and ravel the wings of moths at dusk.

(Did we not, that same night.
carve the voice into parts

and number them one, then one plus one,
and so on?) Tea from the leaves of mint,

the tiny sisal boats, adrift
in shifting currents of air

as if elegy were endless.
Three days, one light bulb, now this.

Michael Palmer 

from Company of Moths, 
New Directions, 2005, page 37.

This is one of my favorite forms for poems, disparate statements arranged over two-line stanzas. It is very flexible and elegant, I think.

Monday, May 05, 2014

San Francisco Bay

This is another picture of the green waters of San Francisco Bay from Fort Mason. I had another of Mandelstam's poems for tonight, but was suddenly overwhelmed by the (immense, intense) century since his poem was written. I guess it will keep for later in the week. Thinking about modern, I remembered how nice Lyn Hejinian was about participating in a poetry panel that I was drafted to arrange by a sort of outlier outfit, the Poetry Bibliographers of the American Library Association. I have a cassette tape (old Technology!) of the presentation which I still treasure. So, in quest of modernity, I found this at this link.  For convenience, I have copied and pasted it here, formatting, footnotes and all.

from constant change figures

constant change figures
the time we sense
passing on its effect
surpassing things we've known before
since memory
of many things is called
but what of what
we call nature's picture
surpassing things we call
since memory
we call nature's picture
surpassing things we've known before
constant change figures
passing on its effect
but what of what
constant change figures
since memory
of many things is called
the time we sense
called nature's picture
but what of what
in the time we sense
surpassing things we've known before
passing on its effect
is experience
FOOTNOTES: Originally published in Bay Poetics, edited by Stephanie Young. Faux Press: Cambridge, MA, 2006.
Lyn Hejinian, "Constant change figures" from Bay Poetics, 2006. Copyright 2006 by Lyn Hejinian.

Source: Bay Poetics (Poetry Foundation, 2006)

If I concentrate on this, I feel like I can almost understand it; I feel my brain humming. Also, now I notice that in my own poetry, there is usually some sort of narrative element. Read this poem more than once and see what you think.  Hum m m m m m . . . .

Sunday, May 04, 2014

A good year for loquats

These look just about ready to eat, the biggest ones, don't you think?

I have been looking again at Osip Mandelshtam's poems again. I am at the beginning of a Kindle book of translations by James Green. I have tried other translations and never got very far with that, but these seem slightly more accessible (maybe just because these are his earliest poems; he was born in 1891!) and the book has good introductory matter, too.

And right at the beginning (before he had ever published any poems) is this short verse, 
which reminded me of these loquats I took a photo of today.

The careful muffled sound
Of a fruit breaking loose from a tree
In the middle of the continual singing
Of deep forest silence. . .    1908  (page 1)


To read only children's books, treasure
Only childish thoughts, throw
Grown-up things away
And rise from deep sorrows.

I'm tired to death of life,
I accept nothing it can give me,
But I love my poor earth
Because its the only one I've seen.

In a far-off garden I swung
On a simple wooden swing,
And I remember dark tall firs
In a hazy fever.          (1908)  (page 3)

A full hundred years and more has gone by since these poems were written, yet we still have some forests, and in them, dark tall firs. It is hard to get your mind around one hundred years!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Morning, light and mind at dawn

This is my friend, Anil, on the beach at Asilomar at dawn. She made me get up to see it; I had been contenting myself with the sunset. And I have always been very glad. Dawn light, the best!
Here is a passage from Thoreau's Journal which puzzles me. I would like to agree with it, but it puzzles me and I am not sure I understand it. It has been very hard recently for me to get up in the morning, and as a result, I am falling behind on things I hope to accomplish. I have the greatest respect for "morning people" but have never been one of them, ever, at any time in my life. I find myself wishing (at night) to participate in dawn light, and (in the early morn) failing to do so. And I find HDT's musings on the "infinite mind" not very convincing. What do you think?

from Thoreau's Journal: 17-Mar-1852

I catch myself philosophizing most abstractly when first returning to consciousness in the night or morning. I make the truest observations and distinctions then, when the will is yet wholly asleep and the mind works like a machine without friction. I am conscious of having, in my sleep, transcended the limits of the individual, and made observations and carried on conversations which in my waking hours I can neither recall nor appreciate. As if in sleep our individual fell into the infinite mind, and at the moment of awakening we found ourselves on the confines of the latter. On awakening we resume our enterprise, take up our bodies and become limited mind again. We meet and converse with those bodies which we have previously animated. There is a moment in the dawn, when the darkness of the night is dissipated and before the exhalations of the day commence to rise, when we see things more truly than at any other time. The light is more trustworthy, since our senses are purer and the atmosphere is less gross. By afternoon all objects are seen in mirage.

Friday, May 02, 2014

White Rose, bug, wrong question

As well as being a photograph of a white rose in our garden, it is also a picture of sunlight! Many of the roses are blown now, but some buds are still opening, We are now at the stage when it becomes necessary to tidy the plant with my clippers.

Tonight's poem is again from The Best American Poetry, 2013, page 67.

I just finished the excellent new biography of Marianne Moore, and plan to pick some things of hers to share, but so far, I cannot figure out how to reproduce her very important spacing and arrangement by re-typing here.The biography, Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore by Linda Leavell, Macmillan, 2013, follows her whole life, which was in many ways physically very circumscribed, and which is very well documented by the stupendous amount of letter-writing by herself, her family and friends. The author pays special attention to the construction and revision of her poems,and also her translations of the verse fables of the French writer, La Fontaine. I am hoping to get a copy of these fables and maybe blog about one soon.  If you have any interest in 20th Century Modernism, Steiglitz, Eliot, Pound, H.D., Bryher. W. C. Williams and so on and so forth, you will be very interested in this well-researched and well-written book. It put a new spin on many things for me.

Tony Hoagland

Wrong question

Are you all right? she asks. wrinkling her brow,
and I think how unfair that question is,

how it rises up and hangs there in the air
like a Welcome sign shining in thr dark;

Are you all right? Is all she has to say
with that faint line between her eyebrows
that signifies concern,

and her soft, moral-looking mouth,
and I feel as if I have fallen off my bike

and she wants to take care of my skinned knee
back at her apartment.

Are you all right? she says,

and all the belts begin to move inside my factory
and all the little citizens of me

lay down their tasks, stand up and start to sing
their eight-hour version of The Messiah of my Unhappiness.

Am I all right?

I thought I was all right before she asked,

but now I find that I have never been all right.
There is something soft and childish at my core

I have not been able to eliminate.
And yet---it is the question I keep answering.

originally published in Fifth Wednesday Journal

This is a fairly clear and understandable idea for a poem. But I love the part about the factory and the eight-hour Messiah of my unhappiness. And I thought you might like it, too. I had two computer glitches while doing this, a sudden Windows update and a mouse-click failure, But I didn't lose very much and here we are again tonight!

Grampa's Little Dog

Because my son is allergic to dogs, this was a treat for her, since she always had to bathe and put on fresh clothes after a dog-hugging session. The dogs liked her visits, too, and I was very pleased to find this photo of her with Rylka when I was looking for something else. There is an interesting and serendipitous aspect to having so many digital photo files!

And then I have many text files, too. Here is a poem I wrote more than 20 years ago about a short vacation when I became very interested in birds and really decided to become a birder. With the help of several local Audubon Societies, I did so.


A very small hard-bodied bug falls
from the lamp onto my shirt.
A dainty purple aster, tough to identify,
lies on the table, milky sap oozing from its stem. 

The sound of someone else's pen
(the clock, the noisy clock)
that humming in my ears, when a thought
brings a rush of blood to the head. 

Stretch out the legs, the muscles,
as when kicking while swimming;
think of the flicker flying overhead
his call unexpectedly soft, high-pitched and sweet. 

Yesterday, a teacher was killed by a driver who made
"erratic lane changes" according to a witness,
and was drunk, though as an assistant district
attorney he should have known better. 

When I took the corn cobs outside to the trash
after dinner, the thrasher warbled from a bush-top
while three goldfinches, tipped upside down,
stuffed themselves with seeds. 

A single orange opuntia flower
blooming past its season, almost hidden by dry weeds:
in this place of dust and dry foliage
only its color gives it away. 

What was that funny phrase that made us laugh?

June Hopper Hymas (unpublished)

I have just broken this into stanzas and it fell quite gracefully into four-line ones, except for that rogue last line. OOPS! This never went up last night, so here it is!