Saturday, September 23, 2023

untitled haiku by Matsuo Bashō

[Text of the poem in Japanese]

[Japanese text in English transliteration]

kumo no mine
ikutsu kuzurete
tsuki no yama

[English translation by Donald Keene]:

The peaks of clouds

Have crumbled into fragments

The moonlit mountain!

Source of the text - Matsuo Bashō, The Narrow Road to Oku, translated by Donald Keene.  Tokyo, New York: Kodansha International, 1996, pages 108, 115.

TJB: Skyfall. With seasonal awareness & a strong cut, the poem not only describes but also enacts the disillusion of clouds, replaced by a mountain.

Friday, September 22, 2023

"The Gift" by N. Scott Momaday

The Gift

For Bobby Jack Nelson

Older, more generous,
We give each other hope.
The gift is ominous:
Enough praise, enough rope.

Source of the text - N. Scott Momaday, Again the Far Morning: New and Selected Poems.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011, page 26.

TJB: Bless-&-damn epigram. In this miniature wisdom-verse with a great rhyme, who are “we” older than? Is there any gift that is not also a curse?

"Appendix C" by Anne Carson






1. Either Stesichoros was a blind man or he was not. 

2. If Stesichoros was a blind man either his blindness was a temporary condition or it was permanent. 

3. If Stesichoros' blindness was a temporary condition this condition either had a contingent cause or it had none. 

4. If this condition had a contingent cause that cause was Helen or the cause was not Helen. 

5. If the cause was Helen Helen had her reasons or she had none. 

6. If Helen had her reasons the reasons arose out of some remark Stesichoros made or they did not. 

7. If Helen's reasons arose out of some remark Stesichoros made either it was a strong remark about Helen's sexual misconduct (not to say its unsavory aftermath the Fall of Troy) or it was not. 

8. If it was a strong remark about Helen's sexual misconduct (not to say its unsavory aftermath the Fall of Troy) either this remark was a lie or it was not. 

9. If it was not a lie either we are now in reverse and by continuing to reason in this way are likely to arrive back at the beginning of the question of the blinding of Stesichoros or we are not. 

10. If we are now in reverse and by continuing to reason in this way are likely to arrive back at the beginning of the question of the blinding of Stesichoros either we will go along without incident or we will meet Stesichoros on our way back. 

11. If we meet Stesichoros on our way back either we will keep quiet or we will look him in the eye and ask him what he thinks of Helen. 

12. If we look Stesichoros in the eye and ask him what he thinks of Helen either he will tell the truth or he will lie. 

13. If Stesichoros lies either we will know at once that he is lying or we will be fooled because now that we are in reverse the whole landscape looks inside out. 

14. If we are fooled because now that we are in reverse the whole landscape looks inside out either we will find that we do not have a single penny on us or we will call Helen up and tell her the good news. 

15. If we call Helen up either she will sit with her glass of vermouth and let it ring or she will answer. 

16. If she answers either we will (as they say) leave well enough alone or we will put Stesichoros on. 

17. If we put Stesichoros on either he will contend that he now sees more clearly than ever before the truth about her whoring or he will admit he is a liar. 

18. If Stesichoros admits he is a liar either we will melt into the crowd or we will stay to see how Helen reacts. 

19. If we stay to see how Helen reacts either we will find ourselves pleasantly surprised by her dialectical abilities or we will be taken downtown by the police for questioning. 

20. If we are taken downtown by the police for questioning either we will be expected (as eyewitnesses) to clear up once and for all the question whether Stesichoros was a blind man or not. 

21. If Stesichoros was a blind man either we will lie or if not not.

Source of the text - Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse.  New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1998, pages 18-20.

TJB: Flowchart as art. This poem of either/or propositions plays out many permutations of Stesichoros’ slut-shaming of Helen, slouching toward humor.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:  Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Source of the text - John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Complete Poetical Works.  New York: The Modern Library, 1932, page 589.

TJB: Tyrant, interrupted. The sonnet’s first 11 lines are a breathless Russian doll of a nested sentence; the colossal wreck reminds us of its poet.

"Grace" by Rae Armantrout



a spring there
where his entry must be made

signals him on


the sentence

isn't turned to salt
no stuttering


I am walking

covey in sudden flight

Source of the text - Rae Armantrout, Veil: New and Selected Poems.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001, page 4.

TJB: Enigma-poetics, like fragments of Heraclitus; the new sentence as Lot, not looking back. How does grace relate to each part—because it flies?

from "Stanzas in Meditation" by Gertrude Stein

from Stanzas in Meditation

from PART I

Stanza XII

She was disappointed not alone or only
Not by what they wish but even by not which
Or should they silence in convincing
Made more than they stand for them with which
But they can be more alike than they find finely
In not only ordinary care but while they care
It is by no means why they arrange
All of which which they frustrate
Not only gleaning but if they lie down
One watching it not be left allowed to happen
Or in their often just the same as occasionally
They do not usually use that they might have mention
That often they are often there to happen.
Could call meditation often in their willing
Just why they can count how many are mistaken.
In not quite correctly not asking will they come.
It is now here that I have forgotten three.

Stanza XIII

She may count three little daisies very well
By multiplying to either six nine or fourteen
Or she can be well mentioned as twelve
Which they may like which they can like soon
Or more than ever which they wish as a button
Just as much as they arrange which they wish
Or they can attire where they need as which say
Can they call a hat or a hat a day
Made merry because it is so.

Source of the text - Gertrude Stein, Stanzas in Meditation and Other Poems [1929-1933].  Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1956, pages 17-18.

TJB: Hypotaxis without release. A string of flawed pearls, the poem is made of unfinished subordinate clauses, each one strongly worded & interesting.

Monday, September 18, 2023

From "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman


A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any 
          more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green 
          stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may 
          see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the 

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I 
          receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon 
          out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for 

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and 
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken 
          soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the 
          end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Source of the text - Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Sculley Bradley and Harold W. Blodgett.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1973, pages 33-35.

TJB: Lawnsong; grass-apotheosis. The poet’s tone—Taoist, Wordsworthian, sublime, intimate, inclusive—is unforgettable, as is the extended grass-metaphor.

Friday, September 15, 2023

"Graveyard Blues" by Natasha Trethewey


It rained the whole time we were laying her down;
Rained from church to grave when we put her down.
The suck of mud at our feet was a hollow sound.

When the preacher called out I held up my hand;
When he called for a witness I raised my hand 
Death stops the body’s work, the soul’s a journeyman.

The sun came out when I turned to walk away,
Glared down on me as I turned and walked away 
My back to my mother, leaving her where she lay.

The road going home was pocked with holes,
That home-going road’s always full of holes;
Though we slow down, time’s wheel still rolls.

            I wander now among names of the dead:
            My mother’s name, stone pillow for my head.

Source of the text - Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006, page 8.

TJB: In half-lines with timeless tropes, we hear the poem sung like the blues: burial of the mother as a pilgrimage, & the graveyard as a memory-house.

"New American Forest" by Laura Cronk

New American Forest

This is the new American forest.
You seduce me with the food you gather,
I seduce you with the food I gather.
We don’t waste. What we are building
benefits from each choice piece
as well as from each salvageable piece.

We’ve come here through the groves
of hemlock dying with pests.
We walk through the standing dead into living trees,
through the forest and farther until we reach the stream.
We follow as it gathers. We walk to the falls.

We were mad to be in contact with each other.
Now we are in contact with each other.
We are in contact with branches and leaves,
air, sun, with the darkness at night.

As we walk the narrowing trails,
pushing back thorny branches,
everything becomes denser, darker, more in the middle,
less beginning, less end, more lost clung together,
more rising on wobbly legs.

We slept in the open at first,
now we make a place for ourselves where we go.
I know that I could swell with you, but
you could also swell with me.
Look, we’ve actually become thinner together,
taking what we need, saving even more.

Source of the text - Laura Cronk, Having Been an Accomplice.  New York: Persea Books, 2012, page 26.

TJB: Thinning idyll. In short, neatly-trimmed, minimalist phrases, the poet gives us poetry as an act of deforestation, such that less is more.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

"Tree" by Vijay Seshadri


for Richard Wilbur

Three streets south of where I sit
is a city park with a plane tree in it.

From any place you choose to enter,
the tree forms the park's pole and perfect center.

Its slight, heliotropic, side-
wise bias, its height, and its wide,

rustling canopy all testify that it has won
its long negotiations with the sun,

and now simply distributes the breeze,
and keeps guard over these

ruminant people who stand before
the local memorial to the war

or sit on the benches ordering the mess
and stilling the noise of consciousness,

while the tree arches above them, serene,
mottled, magnificent, Platonic, and green.

Source of the text - Vijay Seshadri, The Long Meadow.  Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2004, page 30.

TJB: At his desk, Audenesque, the poet makes a gem of a miniature in couplets: a tree that is more than a tree, an anti-jar placed in an anti-Tennessee.

from "Twelve Chairs" by Rita Dove


            First Juror

     Proof casts a shadow;
         doubt is to walk
            onto a field
           at high noon
            one tendril
                held to

          Second Juror

       A stone to throw

         A curse to hurl

      A silence to break

        A page to write

          A day to live

              A blank

               To fill

          Third Juror

       between the lip
          and the kiss
     between the hand
          and the fist
       between rumor
          and prayer
     between dungeon
           and tower
        between fear
          and liberty

           Fourth Juror

    Cancel the afternoon
   evenings mornings all
        the days to come
           until the fires
              fall to ash
          the fog clears
        and we can see
             where we

Source of the text - Rita Dove, American Smooth.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004, pages 71-75.

TJB: Deliberation ode. Beyond a reasonable doubt, this poem repackages each juror’s interiority into a short lyric. I stand with the first juror.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

"Red Lilies" by Barbara Guest

Red Lilies

Someone has remembered to dry the dishes;
they have taken the accident out of the stove.
Afterward lilies for supper; there
the lines in front of the window
are rubbed on the table of stone

The paper flies up
then down as the wind
repeats. repeats its birdsong.

Those arms under the pillow
the burrowing arms they cleave
as night as the tug kneads water
calling themselves branches

The tree is you
the blanket is what warms it
snow erupts from thistle;
the snow pours out of you.

A cold hand on the dishes
placing a saucer inside

her who undressed for supper
gliding that hair to the snow

The pilot light
went out on the stove

The paper folded like a napkin
other wings flew into the stone.

Source of the text - Barbara Guest, Selected Poems.  Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1995, pages 53-54.

TJB: Polysemous supper. In this poem constructed of simple, cheerfully-stated, clear-seeming statements & slant rhyme, uncertain metaphors emerge.

"No it was no dream of coming death" by Louis Zukofsky


No it was no dream of coming death,
Those you love will live long.
If light hurried my dream, I saw none:
Stepped from my bed and to the sill,
From a window looked down
On the river I knew set forth
To rise toward me—full after rain.
People watched, crowded the banks, thought
As with old words to a river:
(Whose waters seemed unwillingly
to glide like friends who linger while
they sever.) Soon, as expected!

A coffin launched like a ship’s hull
Sped as from a curtain afire
Draped to the keystone of an arch
And—as at a burial at sea—
Sank. The displaced water rose,
Made the heart sound the coffin’s grave,
Woke under the stream and in me
A set of furtive bells, muted
And jangling by rote “What does this say?
What loss will make the world different?
Are they gathered to further war?
What sorrow do you fear?
Ask, will you, is it here
Distrust is cast off, all
Cowardice dies. Eyes, looking out,
Without the good of intellect,
Rouse as you are used to:
It is the bad fallen away,
And the sorrow in the good.
You saw now for your book, Anew.”

Source of the text – Louis Zukofsky, Complete Short Poetry. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991, pages 85-86.

TJB: Ars objectiva. In short lines & tight syntax, the poem is a burial at sea, with vatic speech from the coffin-swallowing sea: the sorrow in the good.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

"Maiden in the mor lay," anonymous Middle English lyric

Maiden in the mor lay,
     In the mor lay,
Sevenight fulle, sevenight fulle.
Maiden in the mor lay,
     In the mor lay,
Sevenightes fulle and a day.

Welle was hire mete.
What was hire mete?
     The primerole and the
     The primerole and the
Welle was hire mete.
What was hire mete?
     The primerole and the violet.

Welle was hire dring.
What was hire dring?
     The chelde water of the
     The chelde water of the
Welle was hire dring.
What was hire dring?
     The chelde water of the welle-spring.

Welle was hire bour.
What was hire bour?
     The rede rose and the
     The rede rose and the
Welle was hire bour.
What was hire bour?
     The rede rose and the lilie flour.

Editors' Notes:

   mor - moor
   mete - food
   primerole - primrose
   dring - drink
   chelde - cold

Source of the text - Middle English Lyrics: A Norton Critical Edition, selected and edited by Maxwell S. Luria and Richard L. Hoffman.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1974, pages 128-129.

TJB: Down her weedy trophies. Here, repetition & musicality aestheticize the death of a proto-Ophelia, with a focus on her food & drink & her crib.


"Up-Hill" by Christina Rossetti


Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
    Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
    From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
    A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
    You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
    Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
    They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
    Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
    Yea, beds for all who come.

Source of the text - Christina Rossetti: The Complete Poems, Text by R.W. Crump, Notes and Introduction by Betty S. Flowers.  New York: Penguin Books, 2000, page 59.

TJB: Adieu-FAQ; deposition in quatrain verse. Able to stop for death, the questioner seeks travel-info & receives terse, grave monosyllable replies.

"Anecdote of the Jar" by Wallace Stevens

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Source of the text - Wallace Stevens, Harmonium.  New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1923, page 112.

TJB: Iambic anecdata. In short, declarative sentences, the poem posits the wild isn’t truly wild until a tame thing is placed. Is the poem a jar?

Friday, September 1, 2023

"On first looking into Chapman's Homer" by John Keats

[Image of Keats’ autograph manuscript of the poem from October 1816]

[Poem as published by Keats in 1817]

On first looking into Chapmans Homer.

Much have I travelld in the realms of gold,
   And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
   Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
   That deep-browd Homer ruled as his demesne;
   Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
   When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
   He stard at the Pacific—and all his men
Lookd at each other with a wild surmise—
   Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Source of the text - John Keats, Poems.  London: C & J Ollier, 1817, page 89.

TJB: Buzzed of Homer. This armchair-travel sonnet with a bold volta plays loose with facts & gorgeously conflates the notions of reading & travel.

"The Swing" by Don Paterson

The Swing

The swing was picked up for the boys, 
for the here-and-here-to-stay
and only she knew why it was
I dug so solemnly

I spread the feet two yards apart
and hammered down the pegs
filled up the holes and stamped the dirt
around its skinny legs

I hung the rope up in the air
and fixed the yellow seat
then stood back that I might admire
my handiwork complete

and saw within its frail trapeze
the child that would not come
of what we knew had two more days
before we sent it home

I know that there is nothing here
no venue and no host
but the honest fulcrum of the hour
that engineers our ghost

the bright sweep of its radar-arc
is all the human dream
handing us from dark to dark
like a rope over a stream

But for all the coldness of my creed
for all those I denied
for all the others she had freed
like arrows from her side

for all the child was barely here
and for all that we were over
I could not weigh the ghosts we are
against those we deliver

I gave the empty seat a push
and nothing made a sound
and swung between two skies to brush
her feet upon the ground

Source of the text – Don Paterson, Rain: Poems.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009, p. 6-7.

TJB: The absence of a child fills up the swing. Song-iambics & ballad verse sound child-like here; we hear the speaker’s grief, deeply sublimated.

"On Sitting Down to Write I Decide Instead to Go to Fred Herko's Concert" by Diane Di Prima


As water, silk,
the quiver of fish
or the long cry of goose
              or some such bird
              I never heard
your orange tie
a sock in the eye
              as Duncan
              might forcibly note
are you sitting under the irregular drums
of Brooklyn Joe Jones
(in a loft which I know to be dirty
& probably cold)
or have you scurried already
                        hurried already
on a Third Avenue Bus
toward smelly movies & crabs I’ll never get
and you all perfumed too
as if they’d notice

O the dark caves of obligation
into which I must creep
like downstairs & into a coat
O all that wind
Even Lord & Taylor don’t quite keep out
that wind
and that petulant vacuum
I am aware of it
sucking me into Bond Street
into that loft
I draw a blank
at the very thought
I came here
              after all

Dec 1963

Source of the text - Diane Di Prima, Freddie Poems. Point Reyes: Eidolon Editions, 1974.

TJB: Beat elegy. With doggerel rhyme, archaisms, & ‘70s slang, the poem starts in haiku mode, & moves reluctantly to the streets toward the dance.

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