Monday, December 21, 2015

"Song of Perfect Propriety" by Dorothy Parker


Oh, I should like to ride the seas,
    A roaring buccaneer;
A cutlass banging at my knees,
    A dirk behind my ear.
And when my captives’ chains would clank
    I’d howl with glee and drink,
And then fling out the quivering plank
    And watch the beggars sink.

I’d like to straddle gory decks,
    And dig in laden sands,
And know the feel of throbbing necks
    Between my knotted hands.
Oh, I should like to strut and curse
    Among my blackguard crew. . . .
But I am writing little verse,
    As little ladies do.

Oh, I should like to dance and laugh
    And pose and preen and sway,
And rip the hearts of men in half,
    And toss the bits away.
I’d like to view the reeling years
    Through unastonished eyes,
And dip my finger-tips in tears,
    And give my smiles for sighs.

I’d stroll beyond the ancient bounds,
    And tap at fastened gates,
And hear the prettiest of sounds—
    The clink of shattered fates.
My slaves I’d like to bind with thongs
    That cut and burn and chill. . . .
But I am writing little songs,
    As little ladies will.

Source of the text – Dorothy Parker, The Collected Poems of Dorothy Parker.  New York: The Modern Library, 1959, p. 56-57.

TJB: Arr, the same joke twice. The poet politely & with musical, stately-homely rhythm, glorifies the lives of pirates, then other, crueler folk.

"Columba aspexit" by Hildegard of Bingen, translated by Peter Dronke

Columba aspexit

[original text in Latin]

Columba aspexit
per cancellos fenestrae,
ubi ante faciem eius
sudando sudavit balsamum
de lucido Maximino.

Calor solis exarsit
et in tenebras resplenduit,
unde gemma surrexit
in edificatione templi
purissimi cordis benivoli.

Iste, turris excelsa
de ligno Libani et cipresso facta,
iacincto et sardio ornata est,
urbs precellens artes
aliorum artificum.

Ipse, velox cervus,
cucurrit ad fontem purissime aque
fluentis de fortissimo lapide,
qui dulcia aromata irrigavit.

O pigmentarii!
qui estis in suavissima viriditate
hortorum regis,
ascendentes in altum
quando sanctum sacrificium
in arietibus perfecistis:

Inter vos fulget hic artifex,
paries templi,
qui desideravit alas aquile,
osculando nutricem Sapientiam
in gloriosa fecunditate

O Maximine,
mons et vallis es,
et in utroque alta
edificatio appares,
ubi capricornus
cum elephante exivit,
et Sapientia
in deliciis fuit.

Tu es fortis et suavis
in cerimoniis
et in choruscatione altaris,
ascendens ut fumus aromatum
ad columpnam laudis:

Ubi intercedis pro populo
qui tendit ad speculum lucis,
cui laus est in altis.

[English translation by Peter Dronke]

1a.   The dove peered in
        through the latticed window,
        where before her gaze
        raining, a balm rained down
        from the brightness of Maximinus.

1b.   The sun’s heat blazed
        and streamed into the darkness
        from which blossomed the gem
        —in the building of the temple—
        of the purest generous heart.

2a.   He, the sublime tower
        made of Lebanon’s tree,
        made of cypress,
        is decked with jacinth and sardonyx,
        city that no architect’s skill can match.

2b.   He, the swift hart
        ran up to the fountain
        of purest water
        bubbling from the mightiest stone
        whose moisture made the sweet perfumes flow.

3a.   You perfumers
        who live in the gentlest greenness
        of the king’s gardens,
        you who mount into the heights
        when you have consummated
        the holy sacrifice among the rams,

3b.   Lucent among you
        is this architect, wall of the temple,
        he who longed
        for an eagle’s wings as he kissed
        his foster-mother, Wisdom,
        in Ekklesia’s glorious fecundity!

4a.   Maximinus, you are mountain and valley,
        and in both you appear, a pinnacle,
        where the mountain-goat walked, and the elephant,
        and Wisdom played in her delight.

4b.   You are both brave and gentle;
        in the rites and in the sparkling of the altar
        you mount as a smoke of fragrant spices
        to the column of praise

5.    Where you plead the cause of your people
       who aspire to the mirror of light
       for which there is praise on high.

Source of the text in Latin: Fiona Maddocks, Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age.  New York: Doubleday, 2001, p. 195-197.

Source of the English translation: The Medieval Lyric, Third Edition, edited by Peter Dronke.  Suffolk, England: D.S. Brewer, 1996, p. 76-77.

TJB: 9 ways of looking at a saint. This hagiography-verse uses great moving-image-scenes: the saint as tower, deer, lush mountain, altar-smoke.

"The Tyre" by Simon Armitage


Just how it came to rest where it rested,
miles out, miles from the last farmhouse even,
was a fair question. Dropped by hurricane
or aeroplane perhaps for some reason,
put down as a cairn or marker, then lost.
Tractor-size, six or seven feet across,
it was sloughed, unconscious, warm to the touch,
its gashed, rhinoceros, sea-lion skin
nursing a gallon of rain in its gut.
Lashed to the planet with grasses and roots,
it had to be cut. Stood up it was drunk
or slugged, wanted nothing more than to slump,
to spiral back to its circle of sleep,
dream another year in its nest of peat.
We bullied it over the moor, drove it,
pushed from the back or turned it from the side,
unspooling a thread in the shape and form
of its tread, in its length and in its line,
rolled its weight through broken walls, felt the shock
when it met with stones, guided its sleepwalk
down to meadows, fields, onto level ground.
There and then we were one connected thing,
five of us, all hands steering a tall ship
or one hand fingering a coin or ring.

Once on the road it picked up pace, free-wheeled,
then moved up through the gears, and wouldn’t give
to shoulder-charges, kicks; resisted force
until to tangle with it would have been
to test bone against engine or machine,
to be dragged in, broken, thrown out again
minus a limb. So we let the thing go,
leaning into the bends and corners,
balanced and centred, riding the camber,
carried away with its own momentum.
We pictured an incident up ahead:
life carved open, gardens in half, parted,
a man on a motorbike taken down,
a phone-box upended, children erased,
police and an ambulance in attendance,
scuff-marks and the smell of burning rubber,
the tyre itself embedded in a house
or lying in the gutter, playing dead.

But down in the village the tyre was gone,
and not just gone but unseen and unheard of,
not curled like a cat in the graveyard, not
cornered in the playground like a reptile,
or found and kept like a giant fossil.
Not there or anywhere. No trace. Thin air.

Being more in tune with the feel of things
than science and facts, we knew that the tyre
had travelled too fast for its size and mass,
and broken through some barrier of speed,
outrun the act of being driven, steered,
and at that moment gone beyond itself
towards some other sphere, and disappeared.

Source of the text – Simon Armitage, The Shout: Selected Poems.  Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2005, p. 67-68.

TJB: Unsteerable. Like a Frost woodpile or jar in Tennessee only cut loose, moved, then disappearing. This rolling story chews on its many verbs.

"Loco" by Deborah Slicer


If titmouse wags her song at me again like a scolding finger—you-loco
          I aim to pop her,
then lie down among the cows and rusting tractors along the creekside,
while the bull soliloquizes like widower Macbeth.
          For the milk of human kindness doth flow from mine ears
and I have murderous thoughts
          against myself
because I didn’t grieve you better.

If that same murder of crows bobs the back field in their blackcoats
          like a convention of metaphysicians
muttering Kant-kant-kant-kant,
          I’ll give them one barrel of heaven, the other hell.
My buck fawn’s back legs yodel through the early morning plenary,
          my buck fawn runs their arguments reductio
loco. His tongue shinnies up their one-eyed sunflower stalks,
          his back talk pins their heavy-headed arguments to the ground.
Come winter I’ll eat my own hands before those oily axioms touch my mouth.

If bobwhite calls her lover’s name in her sleep at dusk,
          reminding me, again, I’m loverless, lonesome
as a criminal past, well, then—
          what? Make another meal of self-pity?
Oh World, blow your noise through the keyhole of me,
          so when Night walks by on its tip-toes with its ear to the wall of my bedroom
let it hear the loco-commotion
          of the bus stop at five-fifteen on any Friday afternoon.

I have a crazy angel in my throat.
          She grabs sorrow by the ankles, swings it round,
round in my mouth,
          until it’s a tale of childish fury,
signifying the best it can—
          a fluster of wings in the chimney, ashes sassing.
Blood bird,
          my bird, she eats the ashes;

these ashes are enough.

Source of the text – Deborah Slicer, the white calf kicks.  Pittsburgh: Autumn House Press, 2003, p. 3-4.

TJB: Angry at birds. The long-lined semi-sonnet, with Shakespearean-natural images, threatens violence of the little bird-poems the poet invokes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Silver Star" by Richard Hugo

Silver Star

This is the final resting place for engines,
farm equipment and that rare, never more
than occasional man. Population:
17. Altitude: unknown. For no
good reason you can guess, the woman
in the local store is kind. Old steam trains
have been rusting here so long, you feel
the urge to oil them, to lay new track, to start
the west again. The Jefferson
drifts by in no great hurry on its way
to wed the Madison, to be a tributary
to the ultimately dirty brown Missouri.
This town supports your need to run alone.

What if you’d lived here young, gone full of fear
to that stark brick school, the cruel teacher
supported by your guardian? Think well
of the day you ran away to Whitehall.
Think evil of the cop who found you starving
and returned you, siren open, to the house
you cannot find today. You question
everyone you see.  The answer comes back wrong.
There was no house.  They never heard your name.

When you leave here, leave in a flashy car
and wave goodbye.  You are a stranger
every day.  Let the engines and the farm
equipment die, and know that rivers
end and never end, lose and never lose
their famous names.  What if your first girl
ended certain she was animal, barking
at the aides and licking floors?  You know
you have no answers.  The empty school
burns red in heavy snow.

Source of the text – Richard Hugo, Selected Poems.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979, p. 87-88.

TJB: Timor mortis conturbat this tiny town. Using details visible from the highway, the poet imagines the reader imagining youth in this hamlet.

"View of Delft" by Carol Ann Davis

View of Delft

The human figures
seem to match in vacancy
the waiting boat,
its scrubbed planks and face.

Like an afterthought, the water
cuts through the picture below-meridian,
shines at a slant like a knife on a cutting board—

     from this view,
one can guess how the customs house door
arches into total darkness, which is to say
fine buildings are reflected
in the brown water, nothing more
than a shallow swath
catching imaginary light
from the sky;

                      the city floats
between this water
and insubstantial heaven,
the water, between blue shingles of castle
and two nuns—
one thin, one round—
their habits set
against the weight
and business of the wharf,
they must think:
what we are God is not.
Detail on the steeples.
God is not.  Perfect angles.

Source of the text – Carol Ann Davis, Psalm.  Dorset, VT: Tupelo Press, 2007, p. 18.

TJB: Disagree those are nuns or that heaven’s insubstantial. Otherwise, this poem describes some of what’s visible or implied in the masterpiece.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"Penmaen Pool" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Penmaen Pool

For the Visitors’ Book at the Inn

Who long for rest, who look for pleasure
Away from counter, court, or school
O where live well your lease of leisure
But here at, here at Penmaen Pool ?

You’ll dare the Alp ? you’ll dart the skiff ?—
Each sport has here its tackle and tool :
Come, plant the staff by Cadair cliff ;
Come, swing the sculls on Penmaen Pool.

What’s yonder ?—Grizzled Dyphwys dim :
The triple-hummocked Giant’s stool,
Hoar messmate, hobs and nobs with him
To halve the bowl of Penmaen Pool.

And all the landscape under survey,
At tranquil turns, by nature’s rule,
Rides repeated topsyturvy
In frank, in fairy Penmaen Pool.

And Charles’s Wain, the wondrous seven,
And sheep-flock clouds like worlds of wool,
For all they shine so, high in heaven,
Shew brighter shaken in Penmaen Pool.

The Mawddach, how she trips ! though throttled
If floodtide teeming thrills her full,
And mazy sands all water-wattled
Waylay her at ebb, past Penmaen Pool.

But what’s to see in stormy weather,
When grey showers gather and gusts are cool ?—
Why, raindrop-roundels looped together
That lace the face of Penmaen Pool.

Then even in weariest wintry hour
Of New Year’s month or surly Yule
Furred snows, charged tuft above tuft, tower
From darksome darksome Penmaen Pool.

And ever, if bound here hardest home,
You’ve parlour-pastime left and (who’ll
Not honour it ?) ale like goldy foam
That frocks an oar in Penmaen Pool.

Then come who pine for peace or pleasure
Away from counter, court, or school,
Spend here your measure of time and treasure
And taste the treats of Penmaen Pool.

Source of the text – Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, now first published, Edited with notes by Robert Bridges, Poet Laureate.  London: Humphrey Milford, 1918.

TJB: Born adman? Perhaps the best poem composed in a guest log, this light verse—intensely alliterated & interrupted—names a litany of features.

"The Loba Addresses the Goddess / or The Poet as Priestess Addresses the Loba-Goddess" by Diane di Prima


Is it not in yr service that I wear myself out
running ragged among these hills, driving children
to forgotten movies? In yr service
broom & pen. The monstrous feasts
we serve the others on the outer porch
(within the house there is only rice & salt)
And we wear exhaustion like a painted robe
I & my sisters
wresting the goods from the niggardly
dying fathers
healing each other w / water & bitter herbs
that when we stand naked in the circle of lamps
(beside the small water, in the inner grove)
we show
no blemish, but also no superfluous beauty.
It had burned off in watches of the night.
O Nut, O mantle of stars, we catch at you
lean mournful
ragged triumphant
shaggy as grass
our skins ache of emergence / dark o’ the moon

Source of the text – Diane di Prima, Loba.  New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

TJB: In priestly grandeur & amplifying asides, we hear poetry as hard work, as sacred self-sacrifice. What would the bricklayers or nurses think?

"Transparent" by Carla Harryman


Have I ever had a real vision? I wonder about this, even as I can easily describe one associated with something I ate once—several months before I met you. It was during Easter break in the late spring of 1971, and the vision happened on a Laguna Beach mesa overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was early morning when I went through the ritual of consuming the toxic buttons. After a prolonged bout of nausea from which I could find relief only by lying in my shower with the shower head pointing directly at my body and continuously spraying a soft mist onto my back and stomach, I was at last able to slip on a dress and sometime after midday wander down a short hill to the sandy mesa where a man in a transparent shirt tapped me on the shoulder. I was not exactly startled, but I had been enjoying the feeling of warm sand on my bare feet, so I reacted to this touching with irritation. A personal project in those years was to find fulfillment in being alone—a challenge of sorts for a young person living in zones of rampaging libido. I had to talk myself into turning around to see who was touching me, with the sense that if I didnt something might go wrong. He said something I can no longer recall, but I do remember his shirt, which simultaneously sheathed and revealed his lean high definition body. The shirt was composed of a blend of threads—the sky blue of Pacific air after the fog had burned off and the pale adobe pink of the Spanish style rooftops in the area. When I realized that his shirt was the rooftop meeting the sky, he faded in front of my eyes. Until today, however, I hadnt thought that this vision had to do with actual things in the sense that real things were the compositional materials of the hallucination. Instead, I had experienced the things around me as having been constituted by the vision. I believe I relied on that oddly distorted sensation in order to retain the memory, which otherwise might never have been recorded.

Source of the text - Carla Harryman, Adornos Noise. Ithaca, NY: Essay Press 2008.

TJB: Novelistic memory of a vision. Intensely visual, it is as “transparent” as a page-turner but still makes us pay attention to sound & style.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

("some token or") by Larry Eigner

                                                                                                                     March 20 81    # 1 2 4 9

s  o  m  e    t  o  k  e  n       o  r

a  metalanguage  maybe                                a farewell to
they  can  call  writing                    Jim             Elizabeth
like  a  title
come  up  with  to

belong  to  the  poem

is  there  on  the  page

Source of the text - The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner, Volume 4, edited by Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier.  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009, p. 1418.

TJB: Metasimile: writing is like adding a title to a poem on a page. This poem gently asks us to confront the relationship of title and body.

("where any sound") by Larry Eigner

                                                                                                 February 22-March 7 81    # 1 2 4 8

w  h  e  r  e      a  n  y      s  o  u  n  d


          watch  it
          get  dark

               cars  moving
               in  the  streets

                    travel    far

                        puts  number
                            in  the  head

                            dont  think

                            darker  and  darker
                              the  turning  earth

Source of the text - The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner, Volume 4, edited by Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier.  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009, p. 1418.

TJB: The title alludes to sound but these minimal utterances describe darkening space—page/world; mental/physical divides—& resist contemplation.

Monday, December 7, 2015

"Flirtation" by Rita Dove


After all, there’s no need
to say anything

at first. An orange, peeled
and quartered, flares

like a tulip on a wedgwood plate.
Anything can happen.

Outside the sun
has rolled up her rugs

and night strewn salt
across the sky. My heart

is humming a tune
I haven’t heard in years!

Quiet’s cool flesh—
let’s sniff and eat it.

There are ways
to make of the moment

a topiary
so the pleasure’s in

walking through.

Source of the text – Rita Dove, Museum.  Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon Press, 1992, p. 70.

TJB: With short-lined, simple-elegant images alive to sensual detail—viewing sculpted shrubs!—the poem captures the thrill of being flirted with.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

"Dortmunder" by Samuel Beckett


In the magic the Homer dusk
past the red spire of sanctuary
I null she royal hulk
hasten to the violet lamp to the thin Kin music of the bawd.
She stands before me in the bright stall
sustaining the jade splinters
the scarred signaculum of purity quiet
the eyes the eyes black till the plagal east
shall resolve the long night phrase.
Then, as a scroll, folded,
and the glory of her dissolution enlarged
in me, Habbakuk, mard of all sinners.
Schopenhauer is dead, the bawd
puts her lute away.

Source of the text - Samuel Beckett, Collected Poems in English & French. New York: Grove Press, 1977.

TJB: Brothelyrical. The narrative—in which the poet goes a-maying—bows to precocious-cryptic language, with little mortar between the bricks.

Friday, December 4, 2015

"Flute Notes from a Reedy Pond" by Sylvia Plath

Flute Notes
from a Reedy Pond

Now coldness comes sifting down, layer after layer,
To our bower at the lily root.
Overhead the old umbrellas of summer
Wither like pithless hands. There is little shelter.

Hourly the eye of the sky enlarges its blank
Dominion. The stars are no nearer.
Already frog-mouth and fish-mouth drink
The liquor of indolence, and all thing sink

Into a soft caul of forgetfulness.
The fugitive colors die.
Caddis worms drowse in their silk cases,
The lamp-headed nymphs are nodding to sleep like

Puppets, loosed from the strings of the puppet-
Wear masks of horn to bed.
This is not death, it is something safer.
The wingy myths won’t tug at us anymore:

The molts are tongueless that sang from above the
Of golgotha at the tip of a reed,
And how a god flimsy as a baby’s finger

Shall unhusk himself and steer into the air. 

Source of the text - Sylvia Plath, Colossus. New York: Vintage Books, 1968, p. 80-81.

TJB: In simple-bold declarations, a pond—& the things you’d notice while flyfishing—begins to hibernate as the great god Pan arises insectlike.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"Mocking Bird Hotel" by Valzhyna Mort

Mocking Bird Hotel

A woman’s hallelujah! washes the foot of Mocking Bird
Hill, her face eclipsed by her black mouth,
her eyes rolled up like workman’s sleeves.
Stirred up, a fly speaks in the tongue of the hotel
doorbell, where, on the sun-ridden straw terrace
my salvation means less than praise
to a dumb child. Damned, blinded by ice cubes,
the fly surrenders its life into the waiter’s clean hands.

Behind the kitchen of the Mocking Bird Hotel
a rooster repeats hallelujah! until it loses its head.
A man harvests the Family Tree before his forefathers’
features have a chance to ripen on their faces. Parakeets
watch him from the bare nerves of the garden. He harvests
before the worms that eat his father turn into demons.

Do not eat the fruit from your Family Tree. You have
eyes not to see them, hands not to pick them, teeth
not to bite them, tongue not to taste them even in speech.
The waiter slashes the table with our bill. We descend
Mocking Bird Hill without raising dust. Dogs,
their fur hanging like wet feathers off their backs,
piss yellow smoke without lifting a leg. Gulls
smash their heads between their wings.
Light lays eggs of shadows under the shrubs.
Produce shacks stand empty like football gates.
What appeared blue from afar, turns green.
             I hold it all in, even my own urine.
But the mother of vowels slumps from my throat
like the queen of a havocked beehive.

Higher than hallelujah! rising like smoke over the hill,
I scream at the top of that green lung,
             why, in the Mocking Bird
Hell, do you value your blood over your sweat,
that bitterness over this salt, that wound over this
crystal? But often to shed light on the darkness,
light isn’t enough. Often what I need is an even darker
darkness. Like in those hours before the sun incriminates this
hotel, his two nostrils that illuminate our benighted bodies.

Source of the text – Valzhyna Mort, Collected Body.  Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2011, p. 4-5.

TJB: Poetry as mimicry. On an American hill, the Belarusian poet flings rhetoric, images, St. Paul, & deigns to pluck verse from her family tree.

"Thought" by Henry Real Bird


“Thought is like a cloud
You can see through shadow to see nothing
But you can see shadow
When it touches something you know,
Like that cloud’s shadow
Touching the Wolf Teeth Mountains.
When the clouds touch the mountain's top
Or where it is high
The wind is good
When you’re among the clouds
Blurred ground among fog,
You are close to He Who First Did Everything,”
Said my Grandfather Owns Painted Horse.
We are but nomads asking for nothing
But the blessings upon our Mother Earth.
We are born as someone new
So then
We have to be taught
The good from the bad.
What is good, we want you to know.
What is good, we want you to use,
In the way that you are a person.

Source of the text – Henry Real Bird, Horse Tracks.  Sandpoint, ID: Lost Horse Press, 2010.

TJB: Thought bubble. In Grandfather’s voice, shadows, clouds & thus thought are equated to godliness. The poem’s second half is itself a thought.

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