...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Galway Kinnell

Looking at Your Face

Looking at your face
now you have become ready to die
is like kneeling at an old gravestone
on an afternoon without sun, trying to read
the white chiselings of the poem
in the white stone.
- A New Selected Poems (2000)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Poem 7 - Blank Verse


A ball, a floor, a broken window pane.
The glinting shards, the footsteps running off.

Lord God, in the cool of the day, calling to two
who hide themselves, who know they're naked now,

who see they've been always without a thread
between their bodies and the perfect glass,

the dome of sky, the voice among the trees.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Poem 6 - Pastoral

A sign near my house, on cardboard, on a tree
& handwritten in Sharpie, reads, “Danger:
Coyotes spotted in this area at night.”
They’ve started killing them, the city has,
the contractor the city hired, at the request
of the citizens—my neighbors.
Lots of signs lately, missing pets.
My cat was killed by coyote last year.
The only remains, the front of her head,
her face with tongue in rictus hanging out,
was placed in a small wooden box by the woman
at the end of the street. Too much for my wife,
so she gave our neighbor the box, who did the job.
I was away at a conference. My wife buried it,
along with ashes of our dog (put down
eleven years ago, last time I sobbed),
in the backyard, where birds—the worst thing
to put in poems, apparently—have returned
in fearless hunting of tiny things in the lawn,
a tiny green our landlord lets us.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

William Gass

     Rilke was, like most men and women, many men...and women. How to describe this crude and jostling crowd of parvenus and office seekers without becoming fascinated or especially repelled by one or other of them, turning into a sycophant or hanging judge, as Rilke's spiritual mumbo jumbo charms, or his presumably snobby politics jars? He is passion's spokesman. He's a cold and calculating egotist, covering his selfishness with the royal robes of art. He's a poseur, a courtier, a migrant, a loner. He hates the United States for reactionary reasons: because he hates machines and commerce, and equality too. He is charming and sensitive and given to shows of concern that melt the heart. His soul is a knot of childhood resentments. He is a trifler. He is too continuously serious--he thinks of himself as a creature of myth. He has all the moth-eaten arrogance of the self-taught, and sports a learning, both quirky and full of holes, which he is as proud of as a pup just trained to paper. Put on airs? An Eskimo has not so many layers of fuss and show. A priest of the poet's art, he takes the European lyric to new levels of achievement--forming, with Valéry and Yeats perhaps, a true triune god--and creates the texts of a worthy religion at last, one which we may wholeheartedly admire, in part because we are not required to believe in it or pay it tithes.
     Doctor Serafico, the princess von Thurn und Taxis-Hohenlohe called him. More appropriately, Doctor Dodge...as we follow this summary full of repetitions of repetition:
     In Linz, it is Olga, in Prague, it is Valley who helps him publish; then Rilke meets Lou, his lover/mother, in Munich, follows her to Berlin, accompanies her to Danzig, St. Petersburg, and back to Berlin again; he vacations in Viareggio, where he meets Elena; enjoys the company of Paula and Clara at Worpswede; marries Clara when bounced by Lou, although he does so against Lou's good advice, and rolls to Westerwede, where these is a charming little cottage soon too full of child cries and other obnoxious duties; consequently he's shortly off to Paris, where Rodin (and not a woman) is the lure, but it is no fun being poor in Paris, even if the parks are pretty; so with Clara (who has parked the kid with her parents), Rilke escapes to Rome, then volleys north to visit Ellen Key in Scandinavia, where he's handsomely taken care of by her friends, until it is time to return to Bremen, Göttingen (one of Lou Salomé's haunts), and Berlin again; but not for long, because it's Rilke's luck to enjoy a few more elegant estates--the Countess von Schwerin's, the Baron von der Heydt's, the beginning of a pleasant habit--before trudging back to Paris and a crankier Rodin.
     Such summations are forms of exaggeration, yet so are maps and travel tables and those figures in the carpet.
- Reading Rilke (1999), 33-34.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Auden's difficult sentences

Here's a poem by Auden, the first in his Selected Poems (Vintage, 1974):
Who stands, the crux left of the watershed,
On the wet road between the chafing grass
Below him sees dismantled washing-floors,
Snatches of tramline running to the rood,
An industry already comatose,
Yet sparsely living. A ramshackle engine
At Cashwell raises water; for ten years
It lay in flooded workings until this,
Its latter office, grudgingly performed,
And further here and there, though many dead
Lie under the poor soil, some acts are chosen
Taken from recent winters; two there were
Cleaned out a damaged shaft by hand, clutching
The winch the gale would tear them from; one died
During a storm, the fells impassable,
Not at his village, but in wooden shape
Through long abandoned levels nosed his way
And in his final valley went to ground.

Go home, now, stranger, proud of your young stock,
Stranger, turn back again, frustrate and vexed:
This land, cut off, will not communicate,
Be no accessory content to one
Aimless for faces rather there than here.
Beams from your car may cross a bedroom wall,
They wake no sleeper; you may hear the wind
Arriving driven from the ignorant sea
To hurt itself on pane, on bark of elm
Where sap unbaffled rises, being Spring;
But seldom this. Near you, taller than grass,
Ears poise before decision, scenting danger.
This is early, from 1927, when, as I understand the narrative, Auden was trying to match the Modernists at their game. Then (again, as I understand the narrative), after he moved to the states and recommitted himself to the Church of England, he put away such childish things and moved to a plainer, more accessible style. [Maybe I'm wrong to say it this way. Language is too much for me, perhaps, but re-reading The Waste Land this past summer brought to me a new, and what feels mature, question: Who is this poem written for?] Whatever the case, I find this poem enchanting even as its sentences resist my comprehension. How do you make sense, for example, of the sentence that begins the second strophe? Or, in a clearly parse-able way, the sentences that precede it? I've read the poem out loud three or four times, and I haven't spent the time I might with it, but in this initial run, I'm, unlike the sap, baffled. That sentence, though, the one that begins, "Beams from your car,"go ahead and say it out loud. If this is what Auden's repudiated youth brought him, I'm happy to have it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Poem Assignment 5 - Elegy or Ode

Poem Beginning w/ a Line from Wikipedia

"According to legend, Cassandra 
     was both beautiful and considered insane."
According to legend, Cassandra's 
     beauty attracted a god's attention.
According to legend, her insanity is a 
     consequence of this attention.
According to legend, the story happened 
     like this: 1. Apollo saw her, his lust aroused, 
     and offered her the gift of prophecy. 2. She 
     accepted but refused his advances. 3. He 
     therefore cursed her so that no one would 
     believe what she foretold. 4. She went insane. 
     5. We refer to this story as a grim warning 
     of something. In other words,
According to legend, beauty is a curse--unchosen 
     and, in the end, alienating. Thus,
According to legend, we should pity people 
     too beautiful to be believed. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Assignment 4 - Persona Poem


We say it’s going to get better.
We say that you are loved.
We say, we say that your transgressions 
     don’t shock us.
We say that it might not get better but 
     you are loved.
We say the end is inevitable.
We say the end is indelible. It’s written 
     in dew.
We say the broken feeling you feel is 
     something you feel.
We say the ways you’ve been misunderstood 
     we know, too.
They are inevitable. Hope if you can if 
     you are able.
We say when people lie they do so because 
     they are afraid of telling the truth.
We say they are afraid they won’t get what 
     they want.
They are venal but so often so are we.
We say what you did is in fact a big deal.
We say nevertheless that it doesn’t shock us, 
     that you’re still just a kid, and even if you 
     weren’t we’d still not be shocked. This world.
We say that we forgive you though the 
     system will not.
We say that we’d like the system to not be 
     so one-size-fits-all, but there are so many 
     of us and there is only so much time, and 
     what should we do, throw down everything 
     so that we can make the consequences 
     appropriate for each case?
We say that would take so much time and 
     energy and we’re so tired.
We say we’re so tired.
We say that you’re still alive but it’s no 
     life you’ll be leading.
We say we’re sorry. For everything.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Four Recommendations

"Identity," by A.R. Ammons
"Foolish Father," by Weezer
Yo La Tengo, live.
Bonnie "Prince" Billie, live.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Declinist Posting

Sorry. I do this for myself.