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Friday, July 29, 2011

Number 228: Robert Frost "The Road Not Taken"

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-- Robert Frost

Hap Notes: I am moving, traveling across the country with all my belongings in a '96 Neon to a new state (I'll cross quite a few of them to get there) so I'll be off the net for a couple of days. Please think a good thought as I travel with my parakeet, Etienne (who is usually called Birdie-ji). We'd appreciate it. I know the masthead is a bad illustration of Frost's roads but it's a good one of mine. Meanwhile, I'll leave you with this Frost gem.

Remember what we've said about Frost before? As charming as the surface of the poem is there are some dark vibrations in it. It is typical of Frost to be philosophical, cheery and dark. This isn't JUST about choosing your own different path because Frost says his taking this road will make both paths equally trodden upon. So his choice is only one step different-it's only slightly "less traveled by."

One step, then another, many paths later and where are you? Can you ever go back? Does Frost think one can? Is he saying that some things are unchangeable? Is his casual choice of roads all that casual? What does this poem say about our choices in life?

Here is where we have talked about Frost before- this link will lead you to the many others (I like Frost):

Happy Saturday to ya'll and have a good weekend. I'll be back next week. Think of this like a short summer break or a little vacation. Much love to you all!!!- Hap

Monday, July 25, 2011

Number 227: Pablo Neruda "United Fruit Company"

United Fruit Co.

When the trumpet sounded 

everything was prepared on earth, 

and Jehovah gave the world 

to Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda, 

Ford Motors, and other corporations.

The United Fruit Company

reserved for itself the most juicy
piece, the central coast of my world, 

the delicate waist of America.

It rebaptized these countries 

Banana Republics,

and over the sleeping dead, 

over the unquiet heroes 

who won greatness, 

liberty, and banners,

it established an opera buffa: 

it abolished free will, 

gave out imperial crowns, 

encouraged envy, attracted

the dictatorship of flies: 

Trujillo flies, Tachos flies

Carias flies, Martinez flies, 

Ubico flies, flies sticky with

submissive blood and marmalade, 

drunken flies that buzz over 

the tombs of the people,

circus flies, wise flies 

expert at tyranny.

With the bloodthirsty flies 

came the Fruit Company, 

amassed coffee and fruit

in ships which put to sea like

overloaded trays with the treasures

from our sunken lands.

Meanwhile the Indians fall 

into the sugared depths of the

harbors and are buried in the 

morning mists; 
a corpse rolls, a thing without

name, a discarded number, 

a bunch of rotten fruit 

thrown on the garbage heap.

-- Pablo Neruda

Hap Notes: I suppose it's pretty obvious that Neruda is talking about U.S. political involvement in Central and South America. Most particularly the involvement that involved the "protection" of the employees for the United Fruit Company and the U.S.'s constant involvement in Latin American politics. It's true some of the governments were corrupt but no more so than the ones we helped put in to replace them.

More to the point, Neruda is also talking about the U.S. (and yes, other countries do it, too – still doesn't make it right) assumption that a foreign culture with different habits or little to no technology is somehow "primitive" and "backward." Neruda knows that Latin American history is chock full of freedom fighters, brilliant art, architecture and music, tribal wisdom, ecological balances etc.etc. I don't know if you've ever been around a culture that did not like, trust or respect American culture but the feeling one has is shame at our excesses and mistakes and defensiveness about our culture and our "commitment to freedom and justice for all." The U.S. has been making indigenous/foreign cultures feel like this for 300 years.

The U.S. swept in to Central America on behalf of the United Fruit Company many times with troops to "protect" them. In the 60s the U.S. sent 250,000 troops to the Dominican Republic to safeguard a couple hundred employees of the United Fruit Company. Seems both suspicious and excessive, huh? You can read more about all of this online. But the dictators the U.S. supported (listed in the poem by Neruda) were mostly used as resources so that Americans could have fresh fruit. It's a bloody list of sadness, that. And yes, maybe people would have had worse governments without our intervention. I'll point out these are adult humans capable of carrying out their own destinies without us – the world was still here before the English got to America. History does not start with the U.S. Most of this so-called U.S. "freedom fighting" is often about money not freedom, anyway.

Opera Buffa is an Italian term for ""comic opera" (it's where we get the word "buffoon.)

Here is where we have talked about Neruda before:

Number 226: Evan Jones "The Song of the Banana Man"

The Song of the Banana Man

Touris, white man, wipin his face,
Met me in Golden Grove market place.
He looked at m'ol' clothes brown wid stain ,
An soaked right through wid de Portlan rain,
He cas his eye, turn up his nose,
He says, 'You're a beggar man, I suppose?'
He says, 'Boy, get some occupation,
Be of some value to your nation.'
I said, 'By God and dis big right han
You mus recognize a banana man.

'Up in de hills, where de streams are cool,
An mullet an janga swim in de pool,
I have ten acres of mountain side,
An a dainty-foot donkey dat I ride,
Four Gros Michel, an four Lacatan,
Some coconut trees, and some hills of yam,
An I pasture on dat very same lan
Five she-goats an a big black ram,
Dat, by God an dis big right han
Is de property of a banana man.

'I leave m'yard early-mornin time
An set m'foot to de mountain climb,
I ben m'back to de hot-sun toil,
An m'cutlass rings on de stony soil,
Ploughin an weedin, diggin an plantin
Till Massa Sun drop back o John Crow mountain,
Den home again in cool evenin time,
Perhaps whistling dis likkle rhyme,
Praise God an m'big right han
I will live an die a banana man.

'Banana day is my special day,
I cut my stems an I'm on m'way,
Load up de donkey, leave de lan
Head down de hill to banana stan,
When de truck comes roun I take a ride
All de way down to de harbour side—
Dat is de night, when you, touris man,
Would change your place wid a banana man.
Yes, by God, an m'big right han
I will live an die a banana man.

'De bay is calm, an de moon is bright
De hills look black for de sky is light,
Down at de dock is an English ship,
Restin after her ocean trip,
While on de pier is a monstrous hustle,
Tallymen, carriers, all in a bustle,
Wid stems on deir heads in a long black snake
Some singin de sons dat banana men make,
Like, Praise God an m'big right han
I will live an die a banana man.

'Den de payment comes, an we have some fun,
Me, Zekiel, Breda and Duppy Son.
Down at de bar near United Wharf
We knock back a white rum, bus a laugh,
Fill de empty bag for further toil
Wid saltfish, breadfruit, coconut oil.
Den head back home to m'yard to sleep,
A proper sleep dat is long an deep.
Yes, by God, an m'big right han
I will live an die a banana man.

'So when you see dese ol clothes brown wid stain,
An soaked right through wid de Portlan rain,
Don't cas your eye nor turn your nose,
Don't judge a man by his patchy clothes,
I'm a strong man, a proud man, an I'm free,
Free as dese mountains, free as dis sea,
I know myself, an I know my ways,
An will sing wid pride to de end o my days
Praise God an m'big right han
I will live an die a banana man.'

--Evan Jones

Hap Notes: I would never have known this poem if not for the valuable work poet Robert Pinsky did as U.S. Poet Laureate. His "Favorite Poem" project where he asked people to choose their favorite poems and read the poems they loved aloud was a stroke of genius. The documentary that was made of this project just floored me, gave me hopes that poetry mattered to more people than I had ever dreamed.

Here is the "Song of the Banana Man" excerpt;

Evan Jones (born 1927) was born in Portland, Jamaica (this is the Portland he refers to in the poem) and was the son of a banana farmer. His mom was a Quaker missionary who defied convention and married a native planter. Jones went to Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Oxford, studied literature and taught at Wesleyan in Connecticut. He has made a living as a writer of poetry, plays and screenplays.

The gorgeously expressive Jamaican patois in this poem is particularly effective and moving. Gros Michel and Lacatan are varieties of bananas. A Gros Michel was a tasty banana often imported to the U.S. in the 40's (the time this poem takes place) but they were practically wiped out by disease in the 60s. Lacatan bananas are supposed to be the cream of the banana crop – sweeter and firmer with a richer banana taste. The banana you may have had for breakfast or lunch is a Cavendish. When your grandparents tell you that bananas tasted better when they were young, they are right– they got a much better and tastier banana (the Gros Michel) than you get.

The banana industry (especially with the United Fruit Company which is now Chiquita, I think) has a very sad and bloody history, especially in Latin America, which we will explore a bit more with a poem later in the week. But for now let's just enjoy the era of the poem and the amazing tropical taste of whatever bananas we can get – Americans consume as many bananas as they do apples and oranges combined. It's sort of amazing that this exotic thing has become so much a part of our lives.

Here's a good Jones quote: "The Song of the Banana Man" was "written as a memory of my childhood and a tribute to my county. For I was born in one of the chief banana-growing parts of Jamaica - Hector's River, Eastern Portland. My father was a prominent banana planter there."

Outside of today's poem it's difficult to find any more of Jones' poems online. Today's poem, however, is extremely popular.

Number 225: Wendy Cope "The Uncertainty of the Poet"

The Uncertainty of the Poet

I am a poet,

I am very fond of bananas.

I am bananas,

I am very fond of a poet.

I am a poet of bananas.

I am very fond.

A fond poet of 'I am, I am' -

Very bananas.

Fond of 'Am I bananas?

Am I?' - a very poet.

Bananas of a poet!

Am I fond? Am I very?

Poet bananas! I am

I am fond of a 'very'.

I am of very fond bananas.

Am I a poet?

-- Wendy Cope

Hap Notes: Well, first off Cope is having fun with this bit of poetic deconstruction. Her constant re-phrasing of the statements and questions are funny and make us feel as though we are going bananas as we read the verses.

There is some real work being done by this poem, too. The title of the poem is from surrealist painter Georgio de Chirico's work of the same name. (It is pictured on this page and on the masthead.) De Chirico may be making a statement about the classic and the organic, the real and the imagined, the permanent and the temporal and the absurd difficulty of communicating. The same thing could be said of Cope's poem but she does it with her very personal brand of humor. The de Chirico painting, by the by, is housed at the Tate in London and one assumes she's seen it in person.

Cope has done a number of poems in which she mimics, makes fun of and prods the form. This is most certainly one of them. And, of course, she's poking a bit at de Chirico, too.

Here's where we've talked about Cope before:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Number 224: Richard Brautigan "Your Catfish Friend"

Your Catfish Friend

If I were to live my life
in catfish forms
in scaffolds of skin and whiskers
at the bottom of a pond
and you were to come by
one evening
when the moon was shining
down into my dark home
and stand there at the edge
of my affection
and think, "It's beautiful
here by this pond. I wish
somebody loved me,"
I'd love you and be your catfish
friend and drive such lonely
thoughts from your mind
and suddenly you would be
at peace,
and ask yourself, "I wonder
if there are any catfish
in this pond? It seems like
a perfect place for them."

-- Richard Brautigan

Hap Notes: Big apologies! I had this post and forgot to publish it. So it's very very late (already Saturday! so I'll just owe us a poem at the end of the year.) Luckily, Brautigan is charming whenever you chance to read him.

I'm not quite sure what kind of catfish Brautigan is talking about with the "scaffolds of skin"– the Mississippi River catfish of my youth were sleek. The loricarioids have an "armored" look (and are often called armored catfish") I have included both types in the masthead.

I just have to say that it is very typical of Brautigan's humble self-worth that he would choose this particular fish as an avatar. The bottom feeding catfish is, in many ways, one of the lowliest of creatures. They were, however, when I was a kid, particularly fine eating, as were bullheads. The catching of a catfish involved a great deal of fussing as one tried to ignore the "barbs" of his whiskers. And you skin a catfish, you don't de-scale one since they don't have scales.

I'll never forget my first exposure to this – the catfish or bullheads are nailed to a board by the head (well, they are dead at this point anyway) and the skin is peeled down with a pair of pliers. That's how I saw it done in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Don't know how other fisher-persons do it, though. It's not a pretty sight, really.

What were we talking about? Oh yeah– the poem, sorry. Didn't mean to kick all of the charm out of the Brautigan. It's very sweet how he would like to be a calming influence on someone even if he was a fish. He was really like that, too.

Here's where we've talked about Brautigan before:

Since it's Saturday, a few fishy cartoons:

This is Chilly Willy- he's so cute. Seriously.

Here's a Joe Cartoon song, "I'm a Little Catfish"

Here's the Drew Nelson lush cover of the same song:

Here's the very unusual Diver Dan with the talking fish puppets:

Here's a Dick and Larry cartoon with jolly fish:

My mom and I used to sing this all the time– "At The Codfish Ball." This one is Betty Boop. The lyrics are clever.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Number 223: Amy Clampitt "Nothing Stays Put"

Nothing Stays Put
In memory of Father Flye, 1884-1985

The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes--a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom--
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics--
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labor?

The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it. The green-
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
bachelor's buttons. But it isn't the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it's

a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother's garden: a prairie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.

But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above--
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put. The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we're
made of, is motion.

-- Amy Clampitt

Hap Notes: As usual Clampitt is covering a lot of ground in this poem, poetically, botanically and geographically-both literally and figuratively (I read recently that one shouldn't use adverbs- a lot of illiterate hooey, if you ask me). Her amazing brain-full of information is both charming and staggering in its depth. Let's get right to the poem because it is loaded.

First off, Clampitt is telling us something with the first verse as she changes a line to a famous Wordsworth poem- here is Wordsworth, examine it carefully- it will come up over and over in her poem in different ways. :

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

-- William Wordsworth

So, let's go back to Clampitt's poem. Protea are any of a variety of plants with a wide variety of forms- one is pictured next to the poem- named for Proteus, one of the gods of the sea who could change into any form. Clampitt calls the bloom a "blazing honeybee of a bloom" and there is a story (from Virgil's Georgics) that says at one time Aristaeus, the son of Apollo (remember him?) kept bees and they all died of disease. It's a long story but to shorten it as much as possible, Aristaeus' mom told him to go to Proteus, hold him no matter what form he tried to change into, and ask him for help. He did it, Proteus gave him instructions and when he got back, he found a swarm of bees in one of his sacrifices to the gods and his bees never suffered from disease again. Antipodes, as Clampitt is using the word, is the word for any place on earth and its diametric opposite (remember when you were a kid and you thought if you dug straight into the ground you'd come out in China or somewhere? That is antipodal to your digging position- which, of course, I tried when I was a kid but got tired of digging- you keep hitting rock.)

Did Clampitt bury all this stuff in just the first few lines? You bet your boots she did. There's probably MORE that I'm not getting.

However, you don't need to know any of this to enjoy Clampitt's sumptuous, sensuous, gorgeous wording about flowers and plants and life. It's just an added feature when you know a bit more (and there is more but we'll stop now so you can take all this in and enjoy her poem.) Here's a question for you, though: Is she coming to the same conclusion as Wordsworth or does she have a different view?

Father Flye, by the way, was a well known priest in New York who knew a great deal about nature and had a correspondence with the writer James Agee, among other remarkable things about his life. He was an inspiration to hundreds of people in his long lifetime.

Clampitt, when she starts talking about flowers and plants throughout the country, likens it to sewing (another word for planting, sewing seeds, remember) and talks of the "corduroy" furrows and the " scarlet shoulder patch of cannas/on a courthouse lawn"- those red flowers seen at every small town courthouse (and note the building has a "shoulder"- those buildings do look as dignified as a fully uniformed person, don't they?)

There is so much more in this poem but I'll let you "dig" through it yourself. Have a good time with it- the poem will just keep growing and blooming as you appreciate it. (It wouldn't hurt any to read Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud," either- there are insights in it that parallel this poem a bit.)

Here's where we've talked about Clampitt before:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Number 222: Frank O'Hara "Why I Am Not A Painter"

Why I Am Not a Painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.

-- Frank O'Hara

Hap Notes: Here's O'Hara gently pulling our leg about the "differences" between poetry and art, which, as you can see from the poem are really quite few. Again it's all about language and what it can and cannot do.

If you were blind, O'Hara's poem would be much more "visual" than Goldberg's painting. If you could not read English, then Goldberg could speak to you without words. That, in essence, is about the only difference there is to a casual observer/reader of art and poetry.

O' Hara is describing the processes of art. He wrote the poems he describes in graduate school long before he visited Goldberg- he's making a point about the work. He is constructing this scenario very carefully, despite its casual look and tone. O'Hara is adept at this– making careful construction seem casual. As does Goldberg, in his painting, as O'Hara observes the painter at work.

As we have seen, over the course of the last two days with William Carlos Williams, so much depends on the "little red wheelbarrow" full of impressions, denotations and connotations (both yours and the poet's) of each word in modern poetry. Poets select their words as carefully as an artist selects his/her brush or colors. What occurs after that is a combination of work, happy accident, more work, thought and inspiration. When they merge together for you- so that you get feelings and thoughts from them- well, that's art, er, poetry, er, you get the drift.

The masthead today features the Goldberg painting O'Hara was talking about, on the right.

Here's where we've talked about O'Hara before:

Number 221: More Plums– William Carlos Williams " To A Poor Old Woman"

To A Poor Old Woman

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

-- William Carlos Williams

Hap Notes: First off, we can conclude that WCW liked plums, eh? More than that, he had an affinity for them, what they stood for to him, what they tasted like to him.

A good ripe plum is a delicious thing, no doubt, and there are many varieties and colors although generally we are most familiar with the purple prunus domestica. The plum (as with many fruits including apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries) are from the Rose family. Plums are often called gages (store that tidbit for future poetry/literature). The slightly white dusty coating on a plum is called an epicuticular wax (or bloom) and is biologically there to prevent moisture and decay- it's easily rubbed off, as you probably know. (Don't eat the pits/seeds- they aren't good for you. Don't know why anyone WOULD but, just in case. Actually I eat the whole apple when I eat one- core and all- so maybe the plum warning IS necessary for goofs like me.)

Let's go back to the poem. The repetition of the line "they taste good to her" was particularly riveting to me when I read this poem years ago. It not only emphasizes the way she is appreciatively eating the plums, but also, the phrase strikes and comforts at the same time. Sure the plums taste delicious to her, sure she's "munching" them, but there's something else here and I don't believe it is her appreciation that we are feeling (although we can feel that, too.) Once again, this isn't just about plums (take it that way if you want to, though) it's about our feelings and the poet's feelings about what is going on here.

You see an older lady. She's eating some plums. She seems to like them. But we're getting something else out of this, if we're thoughtful humans. We can relate to the feeling of eating something we find tasty. Now, is it just because a food tastes good that we like it or is there something else, something emotional that goes with taste? WCW tells us this woman is "poor." How does that change our feelings about the plums?

How does her enjoyment "fill the air"? Do we get some solace from her enjoyment? Why?

I want you to remember that when Williams wrote this poem- the form and the repetition was brand new- like a bucket of cold water thrown in the face of traditional poetry.

Here's where we've talked about Williams before: (yesterday)


Monday, July 18, 2011

Number 220: PLUM CRAZY–Wiliam Carlos Williams "This Is Just To Say" (with poems by Koch and Hurley)

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in
the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

--William Carlos Williams

Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams
I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the
next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

-- Kenneth Koch

This Is Just to Say

For William Carlos Williams

I have just

asked you to

get out of my


even though

you never


I would

Forgive me

you were


me insane.

-- Erica Lynn Hurley (Gambino)

Hap Notes: WCW's spiny poems have engendered quite a few parodies or tributes over the years but Koch and Gambino's are my favorites of the lot. Williams is going for an economy of thought which can often get warped as one tries to discern his meaning.

Seriously, who is this guy who is eating the plums? Is he a lover or a friend? What did you assume about the speaker in the poem as you read it? That he was a friend? A random plum thief? Well, of course, not, I'm just emphasizing how much we take for granted in this ultra-short poem. A random plum thief would neither know nor care what you were saving for breakfast. The speaker in the poem gets a lot of delight from the plums, much more than just a guy eating a plum would get. Why is that? What else is going on in this poem? Did Williams want us to think THAT much about it? Yes. He did.

Notice that both parodies take issue with a person who feels entitled to take something from you and they're not just talking about plums (and neither is Williams, probably.) By the way, you know that "icebox" is just an old-fashioned word for refrigerator, yes?

Koch's take (which was lovingly done, as most Koch poems are) is exaggerated for hilarity. He takes the idea right over the top, as Koch is wont to do (which is what is so appealing in his poetry, I think.) Koch's last verse (#4) refers specifically to Dr. Williams, in a good-natured jab at Williams' other profession. Koch's natural effusiveness and enthusiasm just permeates his parody/tribute.

Now, Gambino takes a direct, practical route to the Williams poem. See how she asserts that the plum thief (or whoever) has taken a bit more than she can handle. She's implying with this poem that the person she is addressing is making her crazy with a variety of personal things we don't know and things we do know since it is parody. The speaker is obviously unhappy with the poet-plum thief. Or, if not him, someone else she is equating with his poem. Again- look at all the assumptions we have to make, even with this frank poem, about what is going on.

Williams poems often let you do a lot of work. Sometimes, one does want to kick him out and just read a poem that says directly what it means. Ah! And there's the rub, because there are no words that just mean one particular thing are there? Each word we use is so loaded with images and connotations that it's hard to think of one that means the very same thing to all of us. Even simple words like yes, no, stop, ouch!, mom, dad, etc- are loaded with YOUR feelings and thoughts. In Williams' search for simplicity he ends up still making us all read deeply.

Let's let Williams have the last word on this kind of poetry, where one must look deeply into simple words for more:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

-- William Carlos Williams

Here's where we've talked about Williams before:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Number 219: Wislawa Szymborska "Some People Like Poetry"

Some People Like Poetry

Some people--
that means not everyone.
Not even most of them, only a few.
Not counting school, where you have to,
and poets themselves,
you might end up with something like two per thousand

but then, you can like chicken noodle soup,
or compliments, or the color blue,
your old scarf,
your own way,
petting the dog.

but what is poetry anyway?
More than one rickety answer
has tumbled since that question first was raised.
But I just keep on not knowing, and I cling to that
like a redemptive handrail.

--Wislawa Szymborska
(Translation by Stanislaw Barabczack and Clare Cavanagh)

Hap Notes: Wislawa Symborska (born 1923) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.
She is a wonderful poet and deserves a wide audience but just winning the Nobel Prize doesn't seem to do this as much as it should. It certainly asks the question: what the heck do you have to do to get recognized as a poet? Win the Nobel Prize? (Answer: Well, it couldn't hurt but don't count on that.)

She is well-loved, well-read and respected in her native Poland, though. She is not particularly a prolific poet, publishing only 250 poems in her lifetime, so far. As a young woman, Symborska had poetry published as she worked as an illustrator and other jobs (secretary, railroad worker). Originally supporting the "party line" she signed petitions in favor of Lenin and Stalin and like most intellectuals she became disenchanted with the cant and left the party and became more dissident in the 60s. She worked for a literary magazine, wrote a literary review column and edited a monthly periodical. She was encouraged in her writing early on by Nobel Prize-winning poet
Czesław Miłosz.

She is said to be humble, shy and a bit retiring.

In today's poem, she both explains how some folks "like" poetry and others, like herself, use it as a "redemptive handrail." The handrail image makes a lot of sense to me. Poetry can steady a person as they go through life. Seeing the misery of others, seeing the wild beauty of the universe, poetry can be a stabilizing element that helps a person stand up when life is too dizzying with its strange and vertiginous variety, both the awful and the "awe"-full. That handrail helps you pull your way up and steady your way down.

You can find more Symborska here:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Number 218: Lawrence Ferlinghetti "The Pennycandystore Beyond The El"

The Pennycandystore Beyond The El

The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
with unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that September afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! too soon!

-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Hap Notes: My apologies for not figuring out how to format this poem correctly. My computer and this format are more intractable than an IBM Selectric (which would have accomplished it with no complaints, btw). Ferlinghetti's spacing is not exactly like this and I wrestled with it for an hour and gave up---however, the words are brilliant in any format and it's such a good poem.

My two favorite things in one– poetry and candy. And it's Saturday, too! However there's a shadow on this poem as the poet realizes that life and pleasure and the whole mystery of it is going by very very quickly- too soon! Too soon! The sparkling raindrops on the girl's hair, the heady smell and colors of candy, the rattling of the elevated train (the El) perhaps, the fall rain that brings on such a contrast between indoor lights and the outside gloom, the sharpness that each and every thing seems to contain in a moment of blissful and wistful epiphany; it's all in this short poem.

Penny candy (it's clever than Ferlinghetti runs these words together) was such a wonderful thing. When I was a kid (back when Lincoln was president) one bought candy by the pound or the piece at the department store (like Marshall Fields or even Sears) or a candy store. The candy would be put in a little white bag. I particularly liked a candy called "Peas and Carrots": little round green candies and little orange cubes of candy that resembled the vegetables one got at a cafeteria. Usually the candy store also had a revolving roaster for cashews and peanuts and Brazil nuts that smelled delicious, too.

And yes, candy really was about a penny a piece or three pieces for a nickel. Candy bars were not as good a deal- they were about a dime and a dime could buy ten pieces of different candies at the penny candy counter so you could get licorice, cinnamon, mint, peanut butter, cherry, orange, lemon, grape, a piece of gum and chocolate if you wanted. (yes, I was one of thos O/C types that wanted one of each- the hard part was figuring out the order in which to eat them.)

It's Saturday so here's some video fun:

Sour is not a new flavor profile. Dig this Adams gum ad with the cool 60s music (well, I liked it)

My grandma always had a pack of Teaberry gum in her purse and I love the stuff. Teaberry refers to the herb, Eastern Teaberry, and it has a faintly minty taste. Sorta like wintergreen a little. Here's Herb Alpert with the "Teaberry Shuffle". (It was called the "Mexican Shuffle" but it was changed for the commercial- with a dance!)

Yes, the 60s made everything about being hip and on the beach. Here's an ad for Bit-o-Honey that is full of 60's "youth culture":

We used to sing this stupid Chunky song when I was a kid:

Three Musketeers bars were originally called that because they featured three little candy bars, one vanilla, one chocolate and one strawberry nougat. Then they went to a big chocolate nougat bar which one was supposed to share. I don't believe this worked out very well. Here it is:

Here's the original Snickers bar. They sound delicious. Too bad they aren't made like this anymore:

Here's where we've talked about Ferlinghetti before:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Number 217: Jane Austen "When Winchester Races"

When Winchester Races

When Winchester races first took their beginning
It is said the good people forgot their old Saint
Not applying at all for the leave of Saint Swithin
And that William of Wykeham’s approval was faint.

The races however were fixed and determined
The company came and the Weather was charming
The Lords and the Ladies were satine’d and ermined
And nobody saw any future alarming.–

But when the old Saint was informed of these doings
He made but one Spring from his Shrine to the Roof
Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins
And then he addressed them all standing aloof.

"Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved
When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal! By vice you’re enslaved
You have sinned and must suffer, ten farther he said

These races and revels and dissolute measures
With which you’re debasing a neighboring Plain
Let them stand–You shall meet with your curse in your pleasures
Set off for your course, I’ll pursue with my rain.

Ye cannot but know my command o’er July
Henceforward I’ll triumph in shewing my powers
Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry
The curse upon Venta is July in showers–."

--Jane Austen

Hap Notes: Happy St. Swithin's Day! St. Swithin (or Swithun) was the Bishop of Winchester (he died in 862) who was noted for his work on the restoration of churches. He traveled on foot and when he gave banquets he invited the poor, not the rich. One of his miracles entails the reparation of a basket of broken eggs. He also planted a few apple trees. Before he died he asked that he be given an humble burial outside of the church where the rain would fall on him and on which parishioners would walk. On July 15, 972, his remains were dug up (I'm shortening the story a bit but the gist is correct, I think) and placed in an indoor shrine. It is said that this, obviously counter to Swithin's wishes, caused a torrential rain and bad weather.

That is the old wives tale, which comes with a rhyme:

St Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain na mair

If it rains on St. Swithin's Day, the rains will continue for 40 days. I don't believe there is evidence to support this but it's a nice day to have a feast and eat an apple (one of Swithin's signifiers). Some apple growers believed that the rain on St. Swithin's Day christened the apples and that no apples should be picked or eaten before July 15.

Now we get to the poem. Jane Austen ( 1775-1817) is writing of the horse racing taking place at Winchester, Swithin's home turf. Swithin arises from his monument to chide the crowd. Venta is the Roman/Latin word for Winchester (remember it's pronounced "wenta" in Latin). William of Wykeham was Bishop of Winchester in the 1300s. The ladies are dressed to the nines, as we say, and, of course, gambling was taking place. Swithin gives them all a little "what for."

Austen needs no introduction to contemporary readers as she is way more popular as a writer now than she was even in her own time. Popular she was, but anonymous, also. She wrote her classic novels anonymously because women...blah blah know. Austen is not just a beloved writer from her era but a shrewd social critic and observer of the human heart with a shrewd, wry, witty sense of humor. All of her books (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion) are loaded with charming insights and clever, real dialog. I find her a joy to read, speaking strictly for myself.

Austen lived with her family and never married (she was asked- said yes-changed her mind). Her books were successful and even Sir Walter Scott (writing anonymously) reviewed her book with high praise.

I am touched by the fact that Austen wrote this poem two days before her death. She had been ill for some time, was bedridden, and still her wit and sparkle and brilliance is intact as she lampoons the rich. She was still writing until the end.

It is of no little interest to me that Austen is so revered now. I believe she's a wonderful writer but what is it about her that is so inspirational to contemporary women? Is it, that, like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, they are unwilling to "give in" to contemporary men while at the same time not wanting to particularly be Georges Sand? Is it the clothes, the manners, the life style? Not sure.

Of course you know that Austen-based movies and books on her and her writing abound. The movie "Clueless" is roughly based on Emma, there is the series "Lost In Austen" in which a contemporary woman magically trades places with the spunky aforementioned Elizabeth Bennet and many films have come out in recent years based on her books.

Here is where you can find more Austen:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Number 216: James Laughlin "Step On His Head"

Step On His Head

Let's step on daddy's head shout
the children my dear children as
we walk in the country on a sunny

summer day my shadow bobs dark on
the road as we walk and they jump
on its head and my love of them

fills me all full of soft feelings
now I duck with my head so they'll
miss when they jump they screech

with delight and I moan oh you're
hurting you're hurting me stop
they jump all the harder and love

fills the whole road but I see it run
on through the years and I know
how some day they must jump when

it won't be this shadow but really
my head (as I stepped on my own
father's head) it will hurt really

hurt and I wonder if then I will
have love enough will I have love
enough when it's not just a game?

-- James Laughlin

Hap Notes: James Laughlin (1914-1997) casts an enormous shadow of influence over the literature of the 20th (and 21st) century. His remarkable taste and boldness is unequaled today and one can hardly see when it ever will be equaled at all.

Don't know him? Sure you do. You may not know his poetry but you are most certainly familiar with writers that he published and was often the first to publish. Just a short list includes Elizabeth Bishop, Kay Boyle, e.e. cummings, Henry Miller, Marianne Moore, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Tennessee Williams, Randall Jarrell, Karl Shapiro, Henry Miller, Vladimir Nabokov, Denise Levertov, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Gregory Corso, Nathanael West and that's just mostly the Americans. He was the first to publish Hesse's Siddhartha in America as well as Dylan Thomas's poetry and his publishing company also handled the works of Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Rilke, Valery, Kafka, Cocteau, Neruda, Queneau, Cardenal, Lorca, Pasternak, Paz and Borges. If you are not impressed and you love literature, check your pulse.

Laughlin was heir to the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company in Pittsburgh although after visiting one of the foundries as a child, with its hot smoke, sparks, fire and noise, he determined he would not be going near the family business. He majored in Latin and Italian at Harvard and while on a sabbatical in Europe he wrote to Ezra Pound whom he visited and ended up attending what Pound called his "Ezuniversity"; hanging around with Pound for about six months. Pound told him to "do something useful" and he left Europe and started New Directions, a publishing house dedicated to the more experimental writers of the era. Laughlin knew the books would probably not make much money. That was not why he started the company. He wanted to give writers he felt were doing interesting work a publisher and, just maybe, some readers. (If this has no impact on you, again, pulse- check it.)

Laughlin recalled how when the names of Pound or T.S. Eliot were mentioned in the classroom at Harvard, his creative-writing professor, poet Robert Hillyer, would actually leave the room. Laughlin's taste was not as conservative, obviously.

The first thing his publishing company, New Directions (founded with a gift of $100,000 from his father,) tackled was an anthology of writers who included William Carlos Williams, Henry Miller, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, E.E. Cummings and Ezra Pound (and also Tasilo Ribischka- a pen-name for Laughlin himself and described as "an Austrian now living in Saugus, Mass., where he is a night watchman at a railroad grade crossing; this gives him lots of time to think.")

After the anthology was published, he put copies in the trunk of his car and sold them to book stores a few at a time. New Directions published anthologies consistently until 1991 when they issued their last edition. New Directions also published Fitzgeralds' The Crack Up (where you see that Fitzgerald was every bit as brilliant and insecure as you thought.)

Laughlin knew everybody, was led to other writers by the writers he already knew and his life was a who's who of American letters. He had copious notes he wrote on his life which was published by New Directions called The Way It Wasn't and includes his thoughts on butterfly hunting with Nabokov and camping trips with Kenneth Rexroth. Their catalog is breathtaking: take a gander at this- New Directions' landmark best-sellers, however, were Hesse's Siddhartha and Ferlinghetti's Coney Island of the Mind.

If you have been moved by any of these writers you owe Laughlin a good thought.

In today's poem Laughlin talks about the cycle of father to child. Laughlin said of his own father and father's father in reference to New Directions, "Of course, none of this would have possible without the industry of my ancestors, the canny Irishmen who immigrated in 1824 from County Down to Pittsburgh, where they built up what became the fourth largest steel company in the country. I bless them with every breath. "

In today's poem, Laughlin is playing a little "shadow" game with his kids as they step on his shadow's head as they walk along. There is a joyful and a cautionary tone to this poem as the poet knows the shadow game presages a real one that will take place someday.

The love and joy in this poem is a happy running stream that turns into a river that runs into what could be a very dangerous sea. Laughlin knows that it won't be long before childhood delight turns into a young person striking out on their own and possibly striking out at the father a bit, too. It may not even be totally intentional but parents must be ready for it.

This comes with the territory of parenting and the poet hopes he and his offspring will be ready for it with love. He knows it's his love that needs to be the strongest, able to withstand what will come. (I won't tell you what that is- let's just enjoy this poem for now. We'll look at another of Laughlin's somewhat related poems later this year.)

Here's Laughlin reading the poem:

Here's a good Laughlin quote: "I don't have any business acumen. I'm not good at deals and can't cope with agents."

and another:

"Do not become a cheap writer. Keep up your standards. It is better to be read by 800 readers and be a good writer than be read by all the world and be Somerset Maugham."

You can find more Laughlin here:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Number 215: Emily Bronte "How Still, How Happy"

How Still, How Happy

How still, how happy! Those are words
That once would scarce agree together;
I loved the plashing of the surge -
The changing heaven the breezy weather,

More than smooth seas and cloudless skies
And solemn, soothing, softened airs
That in the forest woke no sighs
And from the green spray shook no tears.

How still, how happy! now I feel
Where silence dwells is sweeter far
Than laughing mirth's most joyous swell
However pure its raptures are.

Come, sit down on this sunny stone:
'Tis wintry light o'er flowerless moors -
But sit - for we are all alone
And clear expand heaven's breathless shores.

I could think in the withered grass
Spring's budding wreaths we might discern;
The violet's eye might shyly flash
And young leaves shoot among the fern.

It is but thought - full many a night
The snow shall clothe those hills afar
And storms shall add a drearier blight
And winds shall wage a wilder war,

Before the lark may herald in
Fresh foliage twined with blossoms fair
And summer days again begin
Their glory - haloed crown to wear.

Yet my heart loves December's smile
As much as July's golden beam;
Then let us sit and watch the while
The blue ice curdling on the stream.

-- Emily Bronte

Hap Notes: I'm always getting the Bronte sisters confused in my own head. Emily Bronte (1818-1848) is the one who wrote Wuthering Heights (wuthering is a Yorkshire word which refers to stormy weather). Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre and Anne wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

It has always amazed me that Charlotte is so highly respected and Anne is not. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an extraordinary book-- much more like a Thomas Hardy novel, say Jude the Obscure. Charlotte hated the book so much she refused a second printing after Anne was dead and the book had sold out. Sheesh! Where were we? Oh yes, Emily. Emily was most surely the poet of the trio and while her poetry was not met with much enthusiasm when it was published, it has increased in merit over the years.

I find Emily's poetry charming and graceful, unlike the characters in Wuthering Heights who are singularly selfish. Somebody somewhere must have done a study of what the Bronte sisters thought of men whom they portray as selfish drunken louts, milque-toasty toadies or saints. Mostly the former. I have enjoyed the books but on the whole, I'll take Jane Austen. Oh, wait, this isn't about me- sorry- started musing there. Let's go back to Emily.

I thought since this poem was actually written for the winter that the images would cool us down since the nation has been in such a heat wave. Just the phrase "blue ice curdling on the stream" makes one feel cooler, doesn't it? She brings up a good point, too, that one can imagine most every season no matter what the weather is, if one wants to. The imagination is a very powerful tool. The Bronte sisters and their brother, Branwell, created extensively detailed imaginary worlds as children and wrote lots of stories and poems about them.

The Bronte sisters wrote a book of poetry together with their pen names taken to make them seem to be men (because women were eschewed as writers, etc. know the drill.) Charlotte was Currer Bell, Emily was Ellis Bell and Anne was Acton Bell and the book was called Poems By Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The poetry was really mostly Emily's and she turned to novel writing to enact her vengeance at her poetic dismissal with a book bound to be made into countless cheesy movies and stand as an archetype as a "romantic hero." (Okay, she didn't do it quite like that. Heathcliff is a very bad romantic, let alone hero. And Emily didn't write from rage, or---maybe she did...)

If you are in any Women's Studies classes the Bronte sisters are sure to be mentioned. They were very gifted storytellers and keen observers of dialect and life. Their health was compromised by poor sanitary conditions (it was the water, not their housekeeping- which led to typhus. tuberculosis and pneumonia) and both Emily (at 30) and Anne (at 29) died young. Branwell Bronte, their only brother, was a portrait painter. He was said to be dashing and handsome and talented. He had a torrid affair with a married woman, was abandoned by her and became a severe alcoholic ( you gettin' the drift that the Bronte sisters saw some firsthand stuff to use for their characters, here?) He also died at 29.

So Charlotte was left to sort out the stories. She didn't live all that much longer, dying at age 38. But she, alone, escaped to tell.

The masthead picture is a portrait Branwell painted of himself and his three sisters. Don't see him in the painting? He painted himself out. There is an apocryphal story that the Bronte's father wiped him out of the painting with turpentine. The sisters in the painting are, left to right: Anne, Emily and Charlotte. The painting next to the poem is one Branwell did of Emily.

You can find more Emily Bronte here:

Here's some of Anne's work:

And here's Charlotte:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Number 214: Ogden Nash "The Centipede"

The Centipede

I objurgate the centipede,
A bug we do not really need.
At sleepy-time he beats a path
Straight to the bedroom or the bath.
You always wallop where he’s not,
Or, if he is, he makes a spot.

-- Ogden Nash

Hap Notes: Here, in spite of the poem's humorous content (well, humorous to us, not centipedes) are some sharp observations about the "creepy crawly" thing we call a House Centipede (or more exactly Scutigera coleoptrata.) Nash is right, they are nocturnal- you won't often see them in the day time. And they like moist areas- if you hate seeing them, run a dehumidifier- they hate dry air. They need moisture to live and will dry out and die if it is not around (so they leave to find a moister area.) I don't think they can swim, though. (The masthead picture is a close-up of one. They are sort of beautiful, I think. Creepy, but beautiful.)

Okay, the "bad" news about centipedes in the house is that they can live to be 3-7 years old. Once you find them- they ain't goin' anywhere. They lay eggs in the spring and can have 60-150 little centipedes although they don't start laying eggs until their third year- they're late bloomers, sexually. (Also, they don't really "have sex". They dance around each other a bit. The male lays down his sperm and the female, if she wants to, surrounds it. They touch antennas for a moment. That's it. That's all they get from the reproductive deal. She doesn't even get dinner out of the deal and then she curls around the eggs to protect them until they hatch.)

"Centipede" means one hundred legs although most house centipedes probably have around 30 legs or 15 pairs (centipedes generally have an odd number of pairs- 7,9,11,13, 15.) All those legs come in handy because they are very fast and can move up to 16 inches per second. That's why "you always wallop where he's not." Each segment of the centipede contains a leg on each side.

They can detach or lose a few legs without being harmed and can grow to be almost 2 inches long. Pretty short by human standards but when you see one in the bathroom they look monstrous. They can withstand a pretty long fall so just brushing them off a counter top probably won't hurt them. It's the exoskeleton that is so brilliantly protective.

The do have a "bite" or "sting" but their jaws are usually too weak to break human skin. Those who have been bitten compare it to a bee sting. My suggestion is to just not pick them up. They squoosh very easily with a wad of bathroom tissue. (Hence Nash's line about leaving a spot.)

Here's the "good" news. The house centipede mainly feeds on bedbugs, spiders, cockroaches, silverfish and ants. They can see but not particularly well and count on their antenna for smell and feel. Also they can eat one bug while holding on to another one. They jump on their prey and use their legs with a process often called "lassoing." I don't believe they have rodeos, though, more's the pity.

There are more than 8,000 species of centipedes and there are fossil records of them dating back 430 million years. Only 3,000 of the species has actually been studied, however.

Centipedes are actually not insects, by the by. They are chilopoda and are more related to shrimp. lobsters and crabs.

If all this is creeping you out a bit I will answer a question which might help you: why do insects run toward you instead of away from you when you encounter them on the floor? Because you aren't thinking of this from the insect point of view.

Insects (and other creeping crawling things) are looking for a dark place to hide. (I have often noted with some snotty human amusement that insects will hide on the black tiles of the black and white tiles on the floor in my bathroom). So you are huge- they see you in the same way you would see something that was approximately 750 times taller than you are –you are like a skyscraper to them. They head for the darkness- the crevice under your feet. When you move- they're freaked- go to the dark! So they find the closest dark place which is often UNDER you. They aren't charging you- they're trying to hide from the giant slowly-moving skyscraper thing making all the vibrations. They don't connect "under you" with you. (Also, wouldn't it be smarter to "ride" the moving thing than be exposed to it?)

So centipedes may not be a bug we "really need," as Nash says but really, they do eliminate a lot of so-called pests we do not like. It's 'Morton's Fork'- a choice between two things equally unpleasant.

Here is where we have talked about Nash before:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Number 213: Charles Causley "Eden Rock"

Eden Rock

They are waiting for me somewhere beyond Eden

My father, twenty-five, in the same suit

Of Genuine Irish Tweed, his terrier Jack

Still two years old and trembling at his feet.

My mother, twenty-three, in a sprigged dress

Drawn at the waist, ribbon in her straw hat,

Has spread the stiff white cloth over the grass.

Her hair, the colour of wheat, takes on the light.

She pours tea from a Thermos, the milk straight

From an old H.P. sauce-bottle, a screw

Of paper for a cork; slowly sets out

The same three plates, the tin cups painted blue.

The sky whitens as if lit by three suns.

My mother shades her eyes and looks my way

Over the drifted stream. My father spins

A stone along the water. Leisurely,

They beckon to me from the other bank.

I hear them call, 'See where the stream-path is!

Crossing is not as hard as you might think.'

I had not thought that it would be like this.

-- Charles Causley

Hap Notes: This is one of Causley's most famous and moving poems. Here he is reading it aloud- his reading adds to the simple mysterious beauty of the words:

I have a couple of notes for the poem. H.P. Sauce, a note for us Americans, is a brown sauce somewhat like a steak sauce but it has tamarind in it and now comes in a variety of blends. It's a very popular condiment in the U.K. First invented in the late 1800s, it was used in a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament and inventor of the sauce Frederick Garton says that's why he eventually named it "H. P." Causley's mother is using the bottle to hold milk for the picnic. She's stoppered the bottle with a bit of twisted paper.

Genuine Irish Tweed is capitalized because it is authentic hand-woven tweed of pure wool made in Donegal. Other tweeds are not allowed to use this designation.

Isn't this dream like image in the poem a very child-like and lovely thing? It's particularly moving since Causley lost his father when he was only 8 or 9 and he's hearkening back to a time when his parents were (and now are) together and happy. The poet seems a boy, rather than a man in this poem even though we know it is a full grown man writing it. It's very stirring with the sky whitening with a sort of divine light.

Causley died in 2003 and I most fervently wish that this is the vision that met him as he passed on. His gravestone (pictured in the masthead) says simply "Poet" and that he was. The rocks in the masthead picture are Dartmoor and you have to hear him read the poem to know why I whimsically used it.

Here is where we have talked about Causley before:

and here:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Number 212: Josephine Miles "The Doctor Who Sits At The Bedside Of A Rat"

The Doctor Who Sits at the Bedside of a Rat

The doctor who sits at the bedside of a rat
Obtains real answers–a paw twitch,
An ear tremor, a gain or loss of weight,
No problem as to which
Is temper and which is true.
What a rat feels, he will do.

Concomitantly then, the doctor who sits
At the bedside of a rat
Asks real questions, as befits
The place, like where did that potassium go, not what
Do you think of Willie Mays or the weather?
So rat and doctor may converse together.

-- Josephine Miles

Hap Notes: Oddly enough, Josephine Miles (1911-1985), a fairly restrained and highly intellectual professor at U.C. Berkeley, was an influential force with the poets of the burgeoning "Beat" movement. She was excited by their use of language and showed Ginsberg's Howl to poet Richard Eberhart, who consequently wrote an article about it for the New York Times.

Miles was born with some health problems and she suffered from arthritis from an early age. She had to be educated at home by tutors but eventually went to UCLA and then U.C. Berkeley for her doctorate, where she taught for her entire career. She was the first woman to get tenure in the English department at Berkeley. It wasn't easy for her. Students recollect that Miles was often carried into the classroom due to her disabilities. She worked tirelessly helping students in the evenings. Miles wrote books on the writing of poetry, analyzing vocabulary and styles in addition to publishing more than a half dozen books of her own poetry. She was a gentlewoman and a scholar, to change a phrase a bit.

Miles was a mentor to Jack Spicer ( and was very good friends with drama and movie critic Pauline Kael. In spite of being a proponent of Beat poetry, Miles remains a singular voice unattached to any school. Her students also included A.R. Ammons, William Stafford, Robin Blaser and Diane Wakoski. (We've already done poems by both Stafford and Wakoski, too.)

Kenneth Rexroth ( called her poetry "small, very neat holes cut in the paper," which I believe he meant as a criticism but the statement has some merit as to Miles' precision with language. Randall Jarrell said her work was "full of the conversational elegance of understatement, Of a carefully awkward and mannered charm. Everything is just a little off; is, always, the precisely unexpected."

Miles won scads of awards and fellowships and grants. Her work is always surprising-- from within a short, coolish, dry statement, a strange thing will emerge, an unpredictable outcome, an ending that is not an end.

In today's poem she starts out a little odd, although, a rat as a patient is the way patients often feel – that they are nothing more than laboratory animals. But a laboratory animal just yields physical results. The doctor cannot talk of Willie Mays (oh, tell me you know who that is, please) or of the weather or of the latest books or movies because rats do not function like that (and even if they did, he would not have the necessary language to ask.)

In point of fact, Miles may be saying that while doctors do have the necessary language to talk to the patient, it is all just patter while they check the "animal's" vital statistics. Because that's what doctors do- they are checking for symptoms, anomalies, health statistics. They are not there to make snappy patter. Now, why would this matter to a person?

The word concomitant is cleverly used here- it is often used in the medical profession to describe secondary symptoms that occur with a main symptom. We would do well to remember that Miles had a good deal of interaction with doctors in her life-long frail and disabled state. The poem also exhibits her wry sense of humor.

Here's a good Josephine Miles quote: "I like the idea of speech – not images, not ideals, not music, but people talking – as the material from which poetry is made."

You can find more Miles here:

Here is an excellent transcript of an interview with Miles after she retired from teaching:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Number 211: Shel Silverstein "Ice Cream Stop"

Ice Cream Stop

The circus train made an ice cream stop
At the fifty-two flavor ice cream stand.
The animals all got off the train
And walked right up to the ice cream man.
“I’ll take Vanilla,” yelled the gorilla.
“I’ll take Chocolate,” shouted the ocelot.
“I’ll take Strawberry,” chirped the canary.
“Rocky Road,” croaked the toad
“Lemon and Lime,” growled the lion.
Said the ice cream man, “Til I see a dime,
You’ll get no ice cream of mine.”
Then the animals snarled and screeched and growled
And whinnied and whimpered and hooted and howled
And gobbled up the whole ice cream stand,
All fifty-two flavors
(fifty-three with the ice cream man).

-- Shel Silverstein

Hap Notes: Yay! It's Saturday. And everybody likes ice cream, yes? I love the way Silverstein gets rhymes for each animal. Always nice to take a little break after a long poem by Shelley, eh?

Here is a bit of Saturday ice cream fun.

Here's an 80s ad for ice cream cone cereal. Do you remember this cereal?

Then we have Tootsie Roll Ice Cream bars... another thing I never knew about...

Have you ever heard of spaghetti ice cream? I honestly thought this was a joke but it's not:

No ice cream mention would be complete without the Buckwheat Boys- I believe Baskin and Robbins used this for an ad:

And the Buckwheat Boys cultural contribution to the internet-- the infamous Peanut Butter Jelly Time:

Here's a short explanation about these cultural blips:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Number 210: Percy Bysshe Shelley "The Cloud"

The Cloud

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother's breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

I sift the snow on the mountains below,
And their great pines groan aghast;
And all the night 'tis my pillow white,
While I sleep in the arms of the blast.
Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning my pilot sits;
In a cavern under is fettered the thunder,
It struggles and howls at fits;
Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion,
This pilot is guiding me,
Lured by the love of the genii that move
In the depths of the purple sea;
Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills,
Over the lakes and the plains,
Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,
The Spirit he loves remains;
And I all the while bask in Heaven's blue smile,
Whilst he is dissolving in rains.

The sanguine Sunrise, with his meteor eyes,
And his burning plumes outspread,
Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
When the morning star shines dead;
As on the jag of a mountain crag,
Which an earthquake rocks and swings,
An eagle alit one moment may sit
In the light of its golden wings.
And when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,
Its ardours of rest and of love,
And the crimson pall of eve may fall
From the depth of Heaven above,
With wings folded I rest, on mine aëry nest,
As still as a brooding dove.

That orbèd maiden with white fire laden,
Whom mortals call the Moon,
Glides glimmering o'er my fleece-like floor,
By the midnight breezes strewn;
And wherever the beat of her unseen feet,
Which only the angels hear,
May have broken the woof of my tent's thin roof,
The stars peep behind her and peer;
And I laugh to see them whirl and flee,
Like a swarm of golden bees,
When I widen the rent in my wind-built tent,
Till calm the rivers, lakes, and seas,
Like strips of the sky fallen through me on high,
Are each paved with the moon and these.

I bind the Sun's throne with a burning zone,
And the Moon's with a girdle of pearl;
The volcanoes are dim, and the stars reel and swim,
When the whirlwinds my banner unfurl.
From cape to cape, with a bridge-like shape,
Over a torrent sea,
Sunbeam-proof, I hang like a roof,
The mountains its columns be.
The triumphal arch through which I march
With hurricane, fire, and snow,
When the Powers of the air are chained to my chair,
Is the million-coloured bow;
The sphere-fire above its soft colours wove,
While the moist Earth was laughing below.

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.

-- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Hap Notes: Today, in 1822, Shelley and his friend Edward Williams were on the small schooner "Don Juan" (named by Byron but Shelley called it "Ariel") when it capsized in a squall and they were drowned. There is speculation about why the ship went down but, in the end, the results are the same, the poet was dead at 29 years old.

In today's poem, Shelley speaks as the cloud and exhibits his very sound knowledge of the way weather works. He was always interested in science and was well read about it and infinitely curious. This is pretty much how weather works from the evaporation to air to cloud to rain to evaporation again. The clouds don't really make the dew but it is certainly a composition of the cloud. A cenotaph is a monument erected to the dead. The "woof" he is talking about is the texture, as in weaving; the woof and warp (sometimes called the woof and weft- store that tidbit for future poetry reading.) He's even technically correct about this as the woof is the horizontal threads, the warp the vertical.

So in spite of the genies in the purple deep and the swarm of golden bees and the girdles (which is a word often used in poetry and does not mean that Lycra thing that holds in one's stomach, think of it like a big sash that encircles the waist) of pearl, Shelley's got some accuracy here.

The internal rhyming of every other line is both deft and awesome even if "breathe" and "beneath" is stretching it a little. It's a good effort. I loved this poem when I was a kid and I still find it charming.

Here are a few Shelley tidbits you may not know. First, he was tall- 5'11" and slender and walked with a bit of a stooped posture. His thick hair was prematurely greyed in places (some call it "grizzled.") It is said that his eyes were "stag like"- large and fixed on you when he talked. His voice was said to be high pitched (by the by, did you know that Abraham Lincoln's voice was also said to be high pitched with a distinctive Kentucky-Indiana twang?) Bysshe is an alteration of the surname "Bush" (that's right, as in George) and is pronounced "bish."

Shelley was enormously generous, kind and enthusiastic. Byron said, on Shelley's death, " You were all brutally mistaken about Shelley, who was without exception the best and least selfish man I ever knew." (I think he's referring to the fact that Shelley was looked on as a wild-eyed revolutionary in England. Everyone, to a man, who knew Shelley thought he was generous.)

As Shelley's body was cremated on the beach, his heart would not burn. It remained in the ashes (some speculate it was his liver, others that his heart had calcified, making it harder to burn, from his many illnesses which may have stemmed from heart trouble.)

His heart was given to his wife, Mary. A year after she died, the Shelley family opened her box desk (a lap desk) and found a notebook she had shared with Percy, locks from her children's hair, some of Shelley's ashes and a copy of his poem "Adonais" wrapped around his heart. "Adonais" was the poem Shelley had written as an elegy to Keats, who died in 1821, a year before Shelley drowned.

It's my personal opinion, but, I think this poem sums up Shelley almost perfectly. He really was a cloud spirit: stormy, beneficent, complex, serene, egalitarian (rain falls on both the rich and poor) and deeply beautiful, sentimental (everyone has memories of the rain and snow) and mysterious.

Here's where we've talked about Shelley before:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Number 209: Genevieve Taggard " The Geraniums"

The Geraniums

Even if the geraniums are artificial
Just the same,
In the rear of the Italian cafe
Under the nimbus of electric light
They are red; no less red
For how they were made. Above
The mirror and the napkins
In the little white pots ...
... In the semi-clean cafe
Where they have good
Lasagne ... The red is a wonderful joy
Really, and so are the people
Who like and ignore it. In this place
They also have good bread.

-- Genevieve Taggard

Hap Notes: Genevieve Taggard (1894-1948) is another of the criminally under-read poets of a a bygone era. I refer you to the fact that Taggard died in 1948 and this poem sounds refreshingly contemporary doesn't it? Not all of Taggard's poetry reads quite this easily but it all has startling visions of the world. She is a treasure and it's very sad her reputation is so threadbare. Taggard is still often included in anthologies although, less and less as the years go by. I'm sort of shocked by this although I don't know why I should be; women poets are often ignored if they are not twice as smart and twice as popular as male poets. (I said "often" not always.)

Taggard was born in Washington state but her parents, James and Alta (he was a school principle, she was a teacher), moved to Hawaii as missionaries for the Disciples of Christ (now known as the Christian Church.) Taggard tells of a time when her parents had saved up enough money for them to both attend college and James' brother needed money to buy an apple farm. James' brotherly love outweighed his ambition and the money was given to his brother. The Taggards lived close to poverty their whole lives. Genevieve went to UC Berkeley on a borrowed $200 and then went to New York to pursue her own destiny. Taggard remarked that her mother kept a book of Edgar Guest's poetry on a table in their house as a silent protest of Genvieve's chosen profession. (Edgar Guest was a prolific and somewhat syrupy poet firmly rooted in "traditional" values. I believe that's the nicest thing we can say about him.)

Taggard was a socialist who believed in the working man, fair pay, equality for all races and kindness towards all-- of course she was looked on (as many would today) as a radical. It was especially radical in the early 1900s.

She commented, “In the little church my parents attended in Honolulu I was impressed with the text, "I am come that ye might have life and have it more abundantly.’ When we sat listening I had only to move my eyes from the minister to see outside the flowering vines and colored trees of abundance. Nevertheless, or perhaps because we lived a rich sensuous life, the text became my own. I have never ceased to think that the text, taken literally, should be the aim of all governments. I scoff at those who tell me solemnly that government must be something else."

Notice how despite their poverty she describes their life as "rich" and "sensuous." She understood the difference between the poverty of the soul and the lack of wealth.

She taught at Mount Holyoke College and Bennington but the greater portion of her teaching career was at Sarah Lawrence. She also founded a magazine, The Measure, with her friend Maxwell Anderson (who wrote plays you will know from the movies made from them, "The Bad Seed," "Anne of the Thousand Days" and "Key Largo.") She wrote a great deal for socialist magazines and was devoted to equality for all and freedom. She was a very early proponent of Black Blues and Jazz and a devoted fan of Langston Hughes' poetry and Leadbelly's blues. In fact Taggard often tried to emulate the Blues in some of her poetry and often wished she was a musician.

Much of her life has to be taken in the context of the Great Depression and the sadness therein. So many Americans were suffering from joblessness, women were mostly homemakers, Blacks were thought "inferior" etc. etc. She railed against this and her poetry often has the tang of a progressive trying to paint a picture to make a point. Often Taggard donated any royalties from her books to the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) health care fund.

In today's poem, do not be fooled by the simplicity of the statements. She is giving us a photograph and an impression, for a brief instant of a moment in a restaurant but it is more than this. The moment feeds her, and us with colors, candles, lasagne, light, geraniums and bread. This is not a short review of a good restaurant; this is a statement of warmth from a rich moment of life. It's a form of communion.

We will do more Taggard this year.

All of Taggard's books were out of print. There is one available now from Ahsahta Press, To The Natural World. If you are interested in it you can find it here:

Here's a good Taggard quote (a preface from one of her books):
"The reader will misunderstand my poems if he thinks I have been trying to write about myself (as if I were in any way unique) as a biographer might – or as a romantic poet would, to map his own individuality. Since the earliest attempts at verse I have tried to use the 'I' in a poem only as a means for transferring feeling to identification with anyone who takes the poem, momentarily, for his own. 'I' is then adjusted to the voice of the reader.

You can find more Taggard here:

The picture on the masthead today is one of my favorite places –Lagomarcino's in downtown Moline, IL. The store started as a confectionery (Candy!!!) in 1908 but also serves ice cream and food. The booths and mirrors are still the same as they were in the 1920s. It's an awesome place (and still there, thank God) and reminded me a bit of the poem.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Number 208: Kenneth Fearing "Q & A"

Q & A

Where analgesia may be found to ease the infinite, minute scars of the day;
What final interlude will result, picked bit by bit from the morning's hurry, the lunch-hour boredom, the fevers of the night;
Why this one is cherished by the gods, and that one not;
How to win, and win again, and again, staking wit alone against a sea of time;
Which man to trust and, once found, how far—

Will not be found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John,
Nor Blackstone, nor Gray's, nor Dun & Bradstreet, nor Freud, nor Marx,
Nor the sage of the evening news, nor the corner astrologist, nor in any poet,

Nor what sort of laughter should greet the paid pronouncements of the great,
Nor what pleasure the multitudes have, bringing lunch and the children to watch the condemned to be plunged into death,

Nor why the sun should rise tomorrow,
Nor how the moon still weaves upon the ground, through the leaves, so much silence and so much peace.

-- Kenneth Fearing

Hap Notes: As you can probably determine from this blog, I am a fan of those who are often called the "lesser" or "minor" poets of the 20th century and I suppose Fearing must be numbered among them, although I think it's a darn shame. Fearing's quick cuts, hip jangly industrial-age jargon, hard-boiled realism and love of mysterious beauty are particularly prescient of contemporary poetry. He isn't always great but when he is, he hits you right between the eyes. Seems to me, that's worth something.

In today's poem he asks us vital questions about ourselves, our era, our neighbors, our lives. He gives us no answer but images from which to draw your own conclusions. The poem is particularly apt in light of how we sensationalize crime and murder on the news, watching endless repetitive, often lurid, commentary on the television as we eat our lunch or dinner in front of the set with our children.

In the second line of the second stanza, I believe he is referring to Blackstone's commentary on English law, Gray's Anatomy (the textbook on human anatomy now in its 40th edition), and Dun and Bradstreet is a company that provides subscribers with information on businesses and corporations. So he is saying in the first line that the Bible (spirituality) will provide no answer, neither will law, science, business, psychology (Freud) or politics (Marx.) He even tells us the media, literature and the occult will not provide answers. So what will "ease the infinite, minute scars of the day"?

What do you think the answer is?

Here's where we have talked about Fearing before:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Number 207: Vachel Lindsay "The Mouse That Gnawed The Oak-Tree Down"

The Mouse That Gnawed The Oak-Tree Down

The mouse that gnawed the oak-tree down
Began his task in early life.
He kept so busy with his teeth
He had no time to take a wife.

He gnawed and gnawed through sun and rain
When the ambitious fit was on,
Then rested in the sawdust till
A month of idleness had gone.

He did not move about to hunt
The coteries of mousie-men.
He was a snail-paced, stupid thing
Until he cared to gnaw again.

The mouse that gnawed the oak-tree down,
When that tough foe was at his feet—
Found in the stump no angel-cake
Nor buttered bread, nor cheese, nor meat—
The forest-roof let in the sky.
“This light is worth the work,” said he.
“I’ll make this ancient swamp more light,”
And started on another tree.

--Vachel Lindsay

Hap Notes: This is a brilliant little poem. It brings up some startling questions that can certainly apply to our lives.

Is it worth it for the mouse to gnaw down that tree? Is he doing something valuable by letting the light into that "ancient swamp"? Did he waste his life destroying something that should have been left intact? That oak tree was probably home to dozens of creatures- is it okay that they are displaced?

The mouse takes on a monumental task. He seeks out no friends, he has no wife but at the end of his task there is more light in the forest. Who is he making the light for and why? Remember that this is the only reward for this gargantuan task-- there's no cheese or cake as a reward. Is light a good enough reward? It obviously was for the mouse, yes?

So is this the tale of a mouse who takes on the task of progress for the sake of progress or is he a mouse with vision who sees that the light will change the swamp for the better and lets go of his mousie needs to make sure that it gets done and if it evicts a few creatures, well, that's just the way it goes? Why is he a "snail-paced stupid thing" when he is not working on the tree?

Is this the tale of the artist, who gives up his life for his art- who is lost and stupid without it? Or is it the tale of a progressive who works for betterment? Or is it the tale of an obsessive who feels his need to gnaw is more important than any thing or anyone (remember the displaced creatures in the tree)?

What if all mice did this? How much light is enough? And of course, if they all took no wives there would be no mice for a later generation. And even if the mice slept around without marrying, there would be a huge population of young mice who'd never see or know who their father was and learn how to become a regular mouse. Just sayin'. Those mouse coteries would be more like street gang kids in the next generation (just an aside, maybe we should call street gangs "coteries"- it sounds so much more interesting than a "gang.")

Is it selfish for the mouse to do this? Why or why not? I'm just asking.

Do you think I'm reading too much into the poem? What is too much? How do you judge this? Maybe this is my oak tree. Maybe not.

There's a lot to gnaw on in this charming poem.

Here's where we've talked about Lindsay before: