A Sadness Poem From Joan

Here is something, a rather nice poem that Joan sent me:

If Pigs Could Fly

If pigs could fly,
Then what would I
Desire for my serenity?
That wars would cease
And we’d have peace
Plus social equanimity.

And common ground
Could then be found
Tween factions of religions,
While now they pray
Unsure if they
Will not soon be clay pigeons.

If pigs could fly
The rich would buy
Less stuff for having fun,
And use, instead,
That cash for bread
For people who have none.

And companies
Would try to please
Their workers just as much
As stockholders
With prime folders; Standard and Poors and such.

If pigs could fly,
I’d cheer! No lie.
Cause that would indicate
Man’s inhumanity to man
Might cease, If not too late.

Though dream I might, Of pigs in flight, A sow is still a sow.
And man is man.
I doubt he can
Change what he is right now.

If pigs could fly,
Each man would try
To co-opt every pig,
And here we’d be
Again, you see,
Dancing the same old jig.

I liked the phrasing! Very eloquent, I thought.


That Need For Music (and poetry)

Thanks go to that wonderful poet Luisa Igloria for the link to this poem by Elizabeth Bishop, which I’ve copied and pasted here:

I Am in Need of Music

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

Elizabeth Bishop

What a poem! Somehow it reminded me of a Grateful Dead song, I Bid you Goodnight:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8gNgiCWlYg?rel=0&w=480&h=360]

That brought to mind another wonderful GD song:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keTQIN_y2Us?rel=0&w=480&h=360]

I suppose that my thoughts have taken a somber cast after my recent brush with death! We all need occasional reminders of the grim reality of mortality now and then. Sorry if I bummed you out!


Distant Connections

This blog is hosted for free at WordPress.com. An interesting success story, WordPress currently hosts many thousands of blogs. Some are freeloaders like mine, but they make their money by providing extra services for paying customers.

WordPress offers a sort of connection service. In the main menu there is a choice called Freshly Pressed; click on that and you will see links to recent posts on WordPress blogs. I occasionally get commenters and/or readers due to this service. This morning I ended up at the site of a young woman from Venda — I know, that sounds like the first line of a limerick! Wikipedia, that unfailing resource, informed me, with a brief cough at my ignorance, that Venda is a part of South Africa which was once independent. Anyhow, this blogger has written some really nice poems, and I thought that you (whoever you are!) might enjoy reading one of them:

A Conversation With My Cadaver

By tshauambea

Lifeless on a cold steel bed he lay,
His body drenched in formaline,
His lifetime story encrypted on his flesh in the form of scars,
Flaps of skin dangling,
His insides peeping out desperately seeking for attention,
A permanent facial expression and erection; Rigor Mortis!
Another one ticked off Malak al-Maut, Azrael the angel of death’s list.

They say the dead don’t see, feel or hear;
They claim death is the end of one’s journey and a full stop to their existence,
They say there is no life after death, nothing beyond the grave nor the last heartbeat;

BUT I had a conversation with my cadaver,
Yes, I dissected his heart out but we had a heart to heart conversation,
I told him about my difficulty with Anatomy and his soul was filled with heartfelt sympathy,
They claim the heartless are cruel and cold yet his soul was so warm and beaming with empathy,
They have us thinking its the heart that defines a humanbeing when they know damn well that its the soul.

I had a conversation with my cadaver,
We spoke of ancestry and spirituality,
He spoke of his struggles and challenges,
He painted a vivid image of the day he died- the ultimate betrayal; poisoned by an acquaintance,
We spoke of death and Rigor Mortis,
He told me of the two earths he’d come to know of; one with living breathing beings and another with lingering restless souls,
He spoke of empires built on dreams,
Kindoms anchored by the foundations of people’s nightmares,
He spoke of spirit slaves who serve the dark lords who roam the earth like cowards in the night,

“Are lingering souls ghosts?”, I asked.
“Open your eyes, we exist! Listen to the voices in the wind and you’ll hear conversations, love songs, screams, prayers and the songs of our struggle”, he replied.

His voice faded but I’m sure that I had a conversation with my cadaver!

Before I left the dissection hall I took a look at him and ;
Lifeless on a cold steel bed he lay,
His body drenched in formaline,
His lifetime story encrypted on his flesh in the form of scars,
Flaps of skin dangling,
His insides peeping out desperately seeking for attention,
A permanent facial expression and erection; Rigor Mortis!
Another one ticked off Malak al-Maut, Azrael the angel of death’s list.

*this poem was inspired by a nightmare that I had a few weeks back…

Take a look at the poet’s “About” page if you are at all curious:

Rhymes and Frames


Luisa Igloria On Writing

For the past year or so I’ve been a fan of Luisa Igloria’s poetry. Her command of phrase and imagery is an inspiration for me. This morning I came across an interview with her at this site:

Writing Our Way Home

That site, by the way, is an interesting resource for writers and readers and seems to have spawned a vibrant on-line community.

How do you keep creating when things get difficult?

I used to moan and whine a lot about not having, or finding, enough time in the day/week/month/year to “get to my writing”. That’s most likely a function of wearing a number of hats at the same time: I’m a full time parent and spouse at the same time that I’m a full time academic. Finally I got tired of hearing myself complain, and have had to learn to squirrel away moments in the day to feed that part of me where the writing comes from.

Perhaps some day we’ll find that ideal world where we can have time for everything, but right now the medley of all that claims one’s attention is the reality for most of us. I used to look forward to summers, and applying for some kind of writing retreat or residency (have gone to some really nice ones too, over the years). But that’s not always something one can count on with any regularity.

So I appreciate what the last 287+ days writing a poem a day on Dave Bonta’s Via Negativa site (beginning with a prompt I find at his Morning Porch site) have helped me to achieve– the space, and ability, to keep sharply focused on nothing but writing for even just thirty to forty minutes a day. I could swear by it now – by how daily writing practice does make you limber, trains the mind and the senses to pay attention, so you can quickly get to that place where spontaneous generation can take place and you can use language, image, sound to cut even momentarily through the noise and crap, all the baggage we lug around everyday.

Luisa teaches on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she directs the MFA Creative Writing Program.

In closing I’ll present an example of her fine poetry:

Todos los Santos

The gravestones are damp, shiny with recent rain.
Everyone we’ve ever loved sleeps beneath this ground,

smelling the grass, letting weather trickle into bones
that lie in their beds, broken rosaries wound through

what once were fingers clasped across the chest.
At their feet, pairs of good leather shoes, tightly

rolled blankets not yet riddled with holes.
In trouser pockets, soft bills, loose change.

A gold tooth that’s fallen into a circle of ash.
How long has it been like this? Soon, hundreds of

little flames flower atop white-washed tombs.
Moths in the branches sift smoke from their wings.

—Luisa A. Igloria
10 26 2011

This poem was inspired by one of Dave Bonta’s Morning Porch series of deliberately short poems:

The walk is shiny with recent rain, and the west wind is damp and full of sounds from the valley: tires humming, the heavy thrum of a train.

Dave and Luisa have a very fruitful call-and-response collaboration, with new poems every day. I observe from afar and offer comments occasionally.


Ogden Nash

Rhyme and regular meter are out of fashion among modern poets, it seems. These two ancient poetic conventions are seen as archaic and useless survivals, like textual appendixes.

There are still versifiers who persist in rhyming and writing metrically in the face of the sheer seriousness of the current poetic community, a grim phalanx of free verse advocates who tend to frown on such archaic fripperies, viewing rhymers in much the same way many people view the participants in Renaissance Fairs and Frontier Rendevous gatherings.

Nevertheless there is a certain pleasure to be obtained from reading a deftly-turned rhymed verse, like watching a virtuoso juggler at work. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the light verse written at the drop of a verbal hat by commenter Joan Ryan. The Digital Cuttlefish is another master of the form.

Ogden Nash is the grandfather of them all, though. He brought great wit and verbal facility to his rhymes, which are unjustly neglected these days. I was reminded of Nash when I came across this e-mail in a digest of a daily word list:

I’ve never encountered a back-formation more delightful than Ogden Nash’s “glimp”:

A shrimp who sought his lady shrimp
Could catch no glimpse
Not even a glimp.
At times, translucence
Is rather a nuisance.

Varun Narasimhachar, Waterloo, Canada

Nash freely played around with spelling and meter, often to a delightful effect. Did you know that he is the originator of that classic rhyme:

Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker.

Another good one, a send-up of pedantry;

Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
“You mean,” he said, “a crocodile.”


Lyrical Writing From the Balkans

This morning I discovered a writer who lives in Northwestern Greece, near the Prespa Lakes. Julian Hoffman writes evocative essays that could be called prose poems. His views on the power of place align well with mine; in other words, I’ve found another member of that unorganized band of writers and photographers who possess an attribute rare in this urbanized world, a sensitivity to the faint signals given off by a place, any place on this planet. Here’s a quote, just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

The catalyst that converts any physical location – any environment if you will – into a place, is the process of experiencing deeply. A place is a piece of the whole environment that has been claimed by feelings. Viewed simply as a life-support system, the earth is an environment. Viewed as a resource that sustains our humanity, the earth is a collection of places.

You can visit Julian’s blog here:

Notes From Near and Far

Hoffman’s latest essay is called “Gathering In”, an impressionistic account of autumn in the rural Balkans. Here are a couple of quotes from the beginning and end of that piece to whet the appetite of those who share at least a few of my tastes in writing:

The sun passes lower in the sky, bringing the quickening rush that starts the long winter months. Tresses of drying peppers spread like flames across sheds, turning the stone walls into scenes of tropical design. The elegant stems of onions that have spoked all summer above the swelling bulbs are plaited, woven together like hands in a dance, and hung out of the way of snow. Felled trees are hauled by donkey from the forests, wearing a glaze of lichens and ice. They’re split by axe throughout the day, the thud of blade against wood marking the hours, and stacked to face what is left of the sun.

Thistle seed drifts towards the following spring and coils of smoke climb the sky. The crack of the axes thins into quiet. And a last swell of light sends up a cold shower of stars.

The photo at the top of this post is a crop from one of Julian’s photos.


Joan On Osage Orange

Osage orange is found in and around Hannibal. Some very aged trees used as a property/wind break on what used to be my great grandfather’s farm in neighboring Rensselaer were uprooted in this summer’s mini-tornado. The root systems were as large as the tops of most trees around here.

Osage orange trees are found in St. Louis, also. My husband, who is ‘the friend’ in the following poem, had a great story:

Forbidden Fruit

The Osage orange fruit is quite large and quite green.
Though orange-like in odor, it’s not what it seems.
It is bumpy and pitted somewhat like the brain
So “brain-fruit’s” another weird Osage fruit name.

Plus “hedge apple”, “horse-apple”, “hedge ball”, “bois d’arc”
The namers of Osage fruit sure made their mark.
There is “monkey brain”, “monkey orange”, also “bow wood”
If fame rest in names then the Osage did good.

The tree is most useful, the Osage would say
For bows and ax handles and games they might play
But what is the use of the fruit of this tree?
Few animals eat it to any degree.

A boyhood experience told by a friend
Suggested a much less than savory end
To the question of uses of grapefruit sized bombs
But it’s hardly a story they told to their moms.

It seems that an inner tube fixed to a tree
Made a world class huge sling shot to set that fruit free
To land on the boxcars of oncoming trains
And to splat and to splotch them and leave them with stains.

Today if they caught you it might not go well.
Your fun-filled barrage might land you in a cell.
Yet I seriously doubt that they’d notice the stain
Among the graffiti that’s found on a train.

Miscellaneous Verse (not mine)

In this post I’ll present some snippets of verse which I’ve accumulated in my peregrinations around the web.

This is an old vaudeville poem which Rebecca Butler and B.E. Berger brought to my attention via a post shared on Google+:

Lynn, Lynn the city of sin
You never come out, the way you came in

You ask for water, but they give you gin
The girls say no, yet they always give in

If your not bad, they won’t let you in
It’s the damndest city I’ve ever lived in

Lynn, Lynn the city of sin
You never come out, the way you came in.

Lynn, Massachusetts is where Frederick Douglass settled and wrote.

I was reading a Scottish crime novel by Ian Rankin called Set In Darkness the other day. Rankin is one of my favorite genre writers; his character development is exemplary. He used half of a quatrain from Victorian poet Sarah Williams as preliminary matter; the excerpt is from The Old Astronomer to his Pupil:

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Frankly, the remainder of the poem isn’t as good — it could bear to be edited and generally “tightened up”. I did like the final stanza:

I must say Good-bye, my pupil, for I cannot longer speak;
Draw the curtain back for Venus, ere my vision grows too weak:
It is strange the pearly planet should look red as fiery Mars,
God will mercifully guide me on my way amongst the stars.

You can read the entire poem here:

The Old Astronomer to his Pupil

Dave Bonta, an occasional commenter here, blogs from a rural place in Pennsylvania. Lately he’s been writing a brief poem every morning called The Morning Porch. The subject matter is what he sees while drinking coffee out on his porch in 140 characters or less. Sort of a Twitter feed from the Pennsylvania boonies.

Dave’s collaborator at the blog, Via Negativa, is a woman from Virginia named Luisa Igloria. Every morning Luisa responds to Dave’s Morning Porch images with a longer poem of her own. Amazingly, Luisa allows herself thirty minutes to complete her response. She has a family and work to deal with, after all. The interaction between Dave and Luisa is analogous to the “call and response” in American folk, jazz and gospel music. Here’s an example:

Dave’s Morning Porch post:

Rain and Fog. With the power out…

Rain and fog. With the power out, the world looms frighteningly close. Off in the
woods, a bright clearing where some tree came down.

Luisa’s response:

Bearing Fire

We get up to rain and fog; or rather,
smoke— the swamp still burning

in the month-long aftermath of
lightning strike. Not even a hurricane

could put it out. Whatever else one
might say, it is a form of dedication.

Name your materials, then: peat and fossils;
ethyl alcohol, grains soaked and swirled

in a silo of glass. Little clutch of wood
shavings; cone of paper, puff of breath.

Coals in a tempered dish. Some light
to take you past the midnight hour.

At a conference many years ago,
a Persian poet I didn’t even know

looked at me and said, Your stomach
is tight; don’t try too hard.

And it’s true. Don’t we want,
so many times every day, to unclench?

The world looms close. Only look up
at the brilliant fall sky

and the silver gleam of a plane
glancing off the buildings.

Somewhere in the woods, a bright
clearing where a tree came down.

—Luisa A. Igloria

Dave and Luisa have been carrying on this verse dialog for the past seventy-six days, barring the occasional hurricane-related hiatus. I’m impressed!

In closing, I’ll present a little verse I found somewhere:

My candle burns at both its ends.
It will not last the night.
But ah, my friends
And oh, my foes,
It gives a lovely light!

Dorothy Parker