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Archive for the category “Poems”

Poetry Review: May Sarton

MaySartonMay Sarton did her best to become a household name. At her death in 1995, she had written 53 books: 19 novels, 17 books of poetry, 15 nonfiction works including her acclaimed journals, 2 children’s books, a play, and some screenplays. She ran away to join the theatre aged seventeen, went bankrupt and switched to writing, was friends with Elizabeth Bowen, had tea regularly with Virginia Woolf, translated from the French with Louise Bogan. Her early work was highly acclaimed, then she fell out of fashion, though never quite out of print. Her reputation spread more through word of mouth, on college campuses and amongst feminists (especially after she came out as a lesbian in 1965). Towards the end of her life, she became better known for her frank discussion of loneliness and aging in her non-fiction.

And yet she is relatively little-known outside the world of poets and feminists. Gertrude Stein, with her meagre output and difficult style, is better-known as a grande dame of literature than May Sarton. Sarton herself blamed this on her refusal to ‘play ball’, because she did not buy into the academic world of teaching poetry or do the rounds at writers’ conferences. However, as I read her collected poems, I also thought that maybe her poetic style has something to do with it.

Her style is too simple (deceptively so), for those who like their feelings to be raw and overpowering, or else carefully hidden in layers of metaphor. She is not experimental or loud. In fact, she reminds me of a favourite middle-aged aunt: at one with nature, supremely cultured and civilised,  a delightful conversationalist, but a bit old-fashioned and unadventurous in poetic form. Yet a multitude of emotions – all human emotion – is contained within the seemingly tame confines of her verse.  All of the big themes of life: truth, beauty, love, loneliness, fear, ageing, illness are treated here. They are just not paraded about on a baroque stage, carrying out elaborate theatrical gestures.

There is pure joy at loving and being loved, careful observations of nature:

And then suddenly in the silence someone said,

“Look at the sunlight on the apple tree there shiver:

I shall remember that long after I am dead.”

Together we all turned to see how the tree shook,

How it sparkled and seemed spun out of green and gold,

And we thought that hour, that light and our long mutual look

Might warm us each someday when we were cold.

And I thought of your face that sweeps over me like light,

Like the sun on the apple making a lovely show,

So one seeing it marveled the other night,

Turned to me saying, “What is it in your heart? You glow.”

Not guessing that on my face he saw the singular

Reflection of your grace like fire on snow -

And loved you there.

CollectedPoemsMany of her poems are love poems, and also suffused with prayer and spirituality, which perhaps are topic which have fallen slightly out of fashion. Her emotions are carefully restrained and calibrated, rather than given free rein: the ‘stiff upper lip’ is perhaps not perceived as an asset in poetry. And of course, she loved classical poetic forms, although she was able to (and did, on occasion) write exhilarated bursts of free verse. In an interview, she talks about the power of metre and beat in poetry: ‘The advantage of form, far from being “formal” and sort of off-putting and intellectual, is that through form you reach the reader on this subliminal level. I love form. It makes you cut down. Many free verse poems seem to me too wordy. They sound prose-y, let’s face it…. Very few free verse poems are memorable.’

There is indeed great musicality in her poetry, as well as references to music throughout:

We enter this evening as we enter a quartet

Listening again for its particular note

The interval where all seems possible,

Order within time when action is suspended

And we are pure in heart, perfect in will.

Some poems (especially later ones) seem little more than jotted down observations, and she does not always resist the temptation of a lazy cliché or facile rhyme. At times, she even has a tendency to preach (in her poems written at the time of the Vietnam War for instance). Yet there is no doubting the sincerity of her introspection, her powers of observation of nature, or how seriously she does take her poetry. Some of her descriptions of the essence of poetry will make any poet shiver in recognition:

It is not so much trying to keep alive

As trying to keep from blowing apart

From inner explosions every day. [...]

Prisoner at a desk? No, universe of feeling

Where everything is seen, and  nothing mine

To plead with or possess, only partake of,

As if at times I could put out a hand

And touch the lion head, the unicorn.

Not showy, not immediately life-changing, but the kind of poetry that seeps through your pores gradually. I’m glad that Open Road Media are reissuing her Collected Poems. I’m also curious to read her journals now and hope they are still in print. The kind of writing to savour, to dip in and out of, like going to have tea every week with your favourite aunt.

One interesting final point about the difficulty of reading poetry ebooks.The publisher comments on this in the introduction: how, because of the shape-shifting qualities of electronic type, it is hard to see the exact visual layout of lines as the poet imagined them. I also find it much harder to remember certain poems or find them again to quote from them. I think I will stick to print copies for poetry collections of more than 1-2 poems in the future.

 

Self-Portrait, Warts and All

MarinaPicSort of a prose poem really, which came out of being asked to do a self-portrait for dVerse Poets Pub. Third person, of course, as befits any bio written for the corporate world… although I doubt I’ll be making use of this one in the near future. 

There was a young lady of Bucharest

Who was searching for a good place to rest

‘A lot I have seen,

I’m betwixt and between,

There’s no single place I like the best.’

Gawd, what a drama queen! No one has known the trouble she’s seen… because she marched in revolutions, was shot at, moved often. Because she was the precious, unique, rare jewel of an only child. Oh, sure, polished all the rough corners out of recognition by parents who had come so far they’d forgotten. Or feared the past would catch up to embarrass them. Suffocation of eyes attached to one’s shoulder, nose to the grindstone. Musty odour of academic success, sharp sniff of disappointment when early stardom turned to suburbia and monotony of housewifedom. Motherhood still warring inside me. Laziness has now enveloped my muscles, sinews, brain. Skin too thin, patched together to cover the gaps with a rough worsted in attempt to be jolly.

Not allowed to keep cats or sit on toilets for hygienic reasons, she nervously does both today. Do I detect a tendency to blame others for falling short? Dreaded word: expectations. Lofty and absurd. The wrong passport, attitude, husband, career path.  Always wiser five steps after the event. Wrong kind of mind, too perpendicular.

She sits in laundry like a queen of discontentment, pontificating about what could have been if she had been … and seen… but never done. Bastard of many cultures, home in all and none. Dreaming in tongues, limber and crafty, mistress in none.

 

 

The Goat: dVerse Poets Photo Prompt

Intriguing, unusual and slightly nightmarish… the photos by Phyllis Galembo of masks and rituals are an anthropologist’s treasure trove. Anthony Desmond over at dVerse Poets is encouraging us to use one of those pictures as a prompt for exploring our own masks and underlying boldness. For me, the image below evokes an annual Romanian New Year’s tradition known as CapraThe Goat Dance.

Water Buffalo Devil in Africa

Water Buffalo Devil in Africa

‘Vine capra, vine capra!’

We waited in vain, my cousins and I. There was no goat dance for us that night.

They came in the morning, in the ice-encrusted dawn hours.

‘It gets earlier every year,’ grumbled Uncle Ilie.

But he shrugged on his sheepskin coat and went to open the gates.

The yard filled with men, stamping, drumming.

A squeaky accordeon player stood a little aside to avoid the kicks,

the prancing, the clattering jaws of the goat.

They spoke words we could not fathom, sense now lost, left only rhyme.

Caught up in frenzy of voices, we waved our arms like windmills, tried to catch

the gauzy frills or greasy kid fur,

tried to match it jump for jump,

little knowing that the devils we were chasing

were far too deep within.

 

The Sound of Rain

rainI cannot stop the rain

it pours straight into me

through lightly-stabbed holes in my clingfilm.

 

I despise the British drizzle,

that mealy-paced drip

of convictions skin-deep.

There are obvious parallels

with acknowledged tear drops,

cycle of perdition, repetition, hum-drum…

Give me bursts of whip-flash

boil over gurgling of resentments

in fierce downpours

drops as big as fistfuls

punching to my gut to bring back

the smell of paddy fields,

that eternal wombish damp.

 

rainstormBe Latin! Uncontained! Dramatic!

Misunderstood                 theatre                 maligned

Be a storm of epic sounds:

sudden, surprising, outrageous!

Stop being

safe gully to the stars.

New Poetic Forms: The Hum-Along

We’re having a DIY moment over at the dVerse Poets Pub. Gay Reiser Cannon has us creating our own poetic form, which is quite an ask for someone like me who mostly shuns rhyme and meter. So I have cheated a little bit… but other contributors haven’t, so their work is certainly worth checking out.

But it’s a Friday, it’s been a tough week, so, ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to The Humble Hum-Along! This is something I do quite regularly, usually because I don’t know all the words of a song. I make up my own words to fit the tune and the beat (especially of the chorus), a bit like scat singing in jazz, but with words that make some sense. Hang on a second, maybe that’s not all that original – some people call that song-writing…!

Anyway, here’s the song I keep hearing on the radio and whose rhythm has influence my poetry today:

 

Rustle after Rain – Hum-along

Birds wake shy

getting stronger all the while

persistent chirrup stands out

but the girls ignore him…

Go out in strong air

turn your pages in deep peace

pause between the bursts of song

don’t compare to others

don’t compare to others…

 

 

 

Emotion in Poetry: Misaligned

Mandarin.duck.arpYour ducks poised for flight         forever

askew, misaligned,

I linger to add my knowledge

whether you want it or miss

the days of silent entertainment.  Mirth

drops like bounty from that dog-eared sky

where geese meet your ducks, summer meets winter.

And I, alone, my ducks in a row…

One just off,

so easy to shoot at

just mock.

just mock.

Claudia has us playing with our emotions over at dVerse Poets Pub: don’t show, don’t tell, just hint. I’ve been trying to remember all the delicate allusive texts of Japanese literature. Mandarin ducks are regarded as the ideal couple in Japanese poetic and theatrical tradition. Tachibana Akemi, one of the greatest poets of the late Edo period, summed it up beautifully below, but it all changes when geese come into the picture. Or more ducks.

My sweetheart and I,
Sleepy face side by side,
Look out at the pond
Covered with snow and watch
The mandarin ducks floating.

 

An Even Better Cat Poem (By My Sons)

My sons were not impressed with the poem I wrote about our cat for dVerse Poets Pub. They suggested (insisted) I should post their ‘Song for Zoe’ instead. They’ve composed it themselves, written the lyrics and regularly perform it as a lullaby for our bemused cat. So here goes: the much better cat poem which perfectly captures her quintessential nature (and it rhymes!).

Zoe can be fierce and Zoe can be scary,

Zoe can be cute and Zoe is so hairy.

Zoe can be fussy and Zoe can be strong.

Zoe can be greedy and this is Zoe’s song.

My First Pub Night and Animal Poem

I am very honoured and pleased to be hosting my first session behind the bar at the dVerse Poets Pub today. Feel free to join me there for an animal-themed poetry session (and link your own animal poetry if you feel inspired).

ZozoBlankieThere are two reasons for this animal theme: first, it is Poisson d’Avril (the fish which the French use to trick you on April Fools’ Day). Secondly and more selfishly, I cannot get enough of singing the praises of my lovely recently-adopted cat. Today is her (approximate) birthday: we think she is roughly two years old. It has been my lifelong desire to have a cat, always thwarted by parents, landlords, spouses, travel and international moves. But my patience has been rewarded with the sweetest, most affectionate cat in the world. Even though she does bring in an occasional lizard or bird…

 

At night a cat purrs me to oblivion

with rhythmic chant she kneads my mind

wet nose nestled in my blanket

she slows my needs and wants right down

mistress of silent companionship

she asks nothing, no rush to judge or refute

listens with pupils like pools of ancient knowledge.

 

I live scarcely aware of the encroachment of loneliness

until the tinkle of her arrival signals comfort

that small paw of trust

nuzzling the crook of my arm

her hunting instincts quelled for the moment

bloodthirst slaked in the wish to be loved.

Celebrating the Colours of Spring

We’ve a wonderful prompt over at dVerse Poets today, namely the richly colourful pictures of Sunita Khedekar. Her lush dream landscapes, tinged with an Indian mythological sensibility, are the best way to celebrate the coming of Spring. And it is coming, isn’t it? You can find more of Sunita’s work here and you can read some of the other poems inspired by her paintings here.

Happy Tree by Sunita Khedekar

Happy Tree by Sunita Khedekar

Happy List and Happy Trees

What makes me happy?

Let me list away!

Things you cannot pay

things you seek words for and poof!

they vanish when you find them.

View of mountains after weeks of cloud cover

that first gasp of air on a cold morning

puffing away at dandelion clocks

naming clouds lying back on freshly mown grass

to hell with the grass stains

bless my tail with my sons’ giggles

setting the world aright with old friends, whom you can still trust to think and feel like you

finding a new favourite book or author

music to match my moods

And the list expands with love and laughter

to be examined on dark days

to be etched in every movement, word and smile.

And yes, indeed, trees make me happy

their wisdom of renewal

yet

those lists are made, are chopped off trees

so maybe trees are not so happy…

 

The Seeker (Attempt at Micropoetics)

Cable Land at CERN

Cable Land at CERN

When you find the restless boson

touch it gently in the depth

seek the wonder ever further

beyond the forest prose of cables.

Micropoetry of 140 characters or less is being served in conjunction with macro photography over at dVerse Poets Pub. Join us and have a look!

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