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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Number 250: Fleur Adcock "For A Five-Year-Old"

For A Five-Year-Old

A snail is climbing up the window-sill
Into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see, and I explain
That it would be unkind to leave it there:
It might crawl to the floor; we must take care
That no one squashes it. You understand,
And carry it outside, with careful hand,
To eat a daffodil.

I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
Your gentleness is moulded still by words
From me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
From me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
Your closest relatives, and who purveyed
The harshest kind of truth to many another.
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.

-- Fleur Adcock

Hap Notes: Kareen Fleur Adcock's (born 1934) poetry has a Granny Smith apple quality in that it can be tart, sweet, crisp and sometimes a little bitter or acrid. Her work is written with a conversational vocabulary and the mysteries it unveils can be surprising.

Born in Aukland, New Zealand, Adcock is the veteran of two youthful marriages to NZ literary types, both of which ended in divorce before she left for England in 1963. She went to England and was the assistant librarian at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, a post she held for 16 years.

Adcock has consistently written poetry throughout her life and has won loads of awards ( okay, specifically? The New Zealand State Literary Fund Award, the Buckland Award (twice), the Jessie Mackay Prize (twice), the Cholmondeley Award, the New Zealand National Book Award, Arts Council Writers' Award, an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for contribution to NZ literature, a Ruckland Award, a Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit. Phew!)

Today's poem is wryly amusing. When we ask how someone can be a Christian and bomb an abortion clinic or even carry a gun, we can directly go back to the little cheats (or big cheats) we have in our lives that make us feel guilty or defensive. We raise our children to respect life while we ravage the earth. We talk peace and make war. We hate our dependence on fossil fuels and drive everywhere. I know all these things sound BIG and our little cheats are so small but as the old adage goes, "You can't get a little bit pregnant." You are what you do, not what you believe, unless the two are synonymous. And that is hard to accomplish in our culture. We are painfully aware of this on a daily basis, just like the poet is in today's poem.

Note how our "words" have an effect on a small child. If only this were so as they got to their teen-aged years, eh? Also implicit in the poem is the natural trust and kindness of a child. That quality we guard so carefully until... what?

Of course, there is also a quality of loving protection in the poem, too, isn't there?

Here's a good Adcock quote: "You have to listen to your own voice. Not your heart, not your instincts, not any of that self-permissive psycho-babble stuff. No, none of that. If it was just about instincts and bright ideas it wouldn't need to be a voice. It's about words. You hear them, read them, then you write. But mostly read. Read the bloody poems."

and also

""There's nothing airy-fairy about being a poet."

You can find more Adcock here:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Number 249: Conrad Aiken "Beloved, Let Us Once More Praise The Rain"

Beloved Let Us Once More Praise The Rain

Beloved, let us once more praise the rain.
Let us discover some new alphabet,
For this, the often praised; and be ourselves,
The rain, the chickweed, and the burdock leaf,
The green-white privet flower, the spotted stone,
And all that welcomes the rain; the sparrow too,—
Who watches with a hard eye from seclusion,
Beneath the elm-tree bough, till rain is done.
There is an oriole who, upside down,
Hangs at his nest, and flicks an orange wing,—
Under a tree as dead and still as lead;
There is a single leaf, in all this heaven
Of leaves, which rain has loosened from its twig:
The stem breaks, and it falls, but it is caught
Upon a sister leaf, and thus she hangs;
There is an acorn cup, beside a mushroom
Which catches three drops from the stooping cloud.
The timid bee goes back to the hive; the fly
Under the broad leaf of the hollyhock
Perpends stupid with cold; the raindark snail
Surveys the wet world from a watery stone...
And still the syllables of water whisper:
The wheel of cloud whirs slowly: while we wait
In the dark room; and in your heart I find
One silver raindrop,—on a hawthorn leaf,—
Orion in a cobweb, and the World.

-- Conrad Aiken

Hap Notes: I've been dragging my feet on doing Conrad Aiken (1889-1973) because I am somewhat flummoxed by his obscurity. He called T.S. Eliot, "Tom," and when they were students at Harvard, they drank beer, went to burlesque shows and read comics (Krazy Kat!) together (both of their grandpas were Unitarian ministers). He wrote an extraordinary short story, "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" that burns in the memory once read: (That story and "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather are branded on my memory, I've read them so many times.) Freud claimed Aiken as a favorite author. Aiken was mentored by no less than George Santayana. His writing is both charming and alarming. So what gives?

Let's start at the beginning. Conrad Aiken was born in Savannah, Georgia. His mother and father came from upper crust East coast families. When Conrad was 11, his physician dad, who had become increasingly irritable and erratic, killed his mother and then committed suicide. (Surely you have noted by this point in our blog that difficult circumstances and mental illness criss-cross in the lives those who write good literature?) Young Conrad was at home when it happened, heard the shots and discovered the bodies. He was subsequently raised by an aunt in Massachusetts, attended private schools and then Harvard (where he met "Tom".)

Aiken was a fascinating writer, intensely involved in exploring consciousness, musicality (of words, thoughts, expressions) and the universe. His relationship with Eliot was always familiar and cordial but Aiken found Eliot's work too affected. Eliot once, with his characteristic sly polite wryness, commented that each of Conrad's new books were "better than the last."

So, one supposes that being somewhat at odds, in poetic theories only, with Eliot (the most influential poet, with Pound, of the time) coupled with Aiken's somewhat shy and reclusive nature, leads Aiken to the pile of under-read poets. He is often mentioned as being "too difficult" for the average reader. Which is all the more amazing when you know that he received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1930. He also was awarded the National Medal for Literature, the Gold Medal for Poetry from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Bollingen Prize, the National Book Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and served as Poetry Consultant/Laureate for the U.S. from 1950-1952.

Aiken was very interested in psychology and was an avid reader of both Freud and Jung. If you are a fan of Emily Dickinson, you can thank Aiken for pretty much establishing her work on a critical level.

If you read Jon Berendt's Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, you'll remember Aiken's grave in Savannah is mentioned.

If you want to really get to know Aiken better, I recommend his autobiographical novel, Ushant.

In today's poem, the poet celebrates the beauties and wonders of the natural world as it rains. Orion, is the constellation of the hunter, thought to be a giant man who hung around with Artemis and was killed by a giant scorpion (the Scorpio constellation is named for it). If you saw "Men In Black," you'll remember mention of "Orion's Belt," which are the three stars in the center of the constellation (and a cat collar.) There is much more to discover in the poem.

Here's a fascinating Aiken quote about Eliot and Pound:

"In 1914 I persuaded Tom to let me take “Prufrock” to England; he wasn’t at all sure of it. I tried it everywhere—not even Harold Monro of the famous Poetry Bookshop could see it, thought it crazy; many years later he said it was the “Kubla Khan” of the twentieth century. Then I met Pound, showed it to him, and he was at once bowled over. He sent it to Poetry. So, when Tom had to retreat from Germany, when the war started, one of his first moves was to go and see Ezra."

and another Aiken quote (both of these from his Paris Review interview): " Of course I do believe in this evolution of consciousness as the only thing which we can embark on, or in fact, willy-nilly, are embarked on; and along with that will go the spiritual discoveries and, I feel, the inexhaustible wonder that one feels, that opens more and more the more you know. It’s simply that this increasing knowledge constantly enlarges your kingdom and the capacity for admiring and loving the universe."

and one more: "...I have said repeatedly that as poetry is the highest speech of man, it can not only accept and contain, but in the end express best everything in the world, or in himself, that he discovers. It will absorb and transmute, as it always has done, and glorify, all that we can know. This has always been, and always will be, poetry’s office."

Here's an interesting "Unitarian" view of Aiken:

You can find more Aiken here:

and here: /

The masthead picture is the constellation Orion with an inset of Aiken's grave in Savannah, where he hoped people would sit, have a martini and contemplate.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Number 248: Stanley Kunitz "Three Floors"

Three Floors

Mother was a crack of light
and a gray eye peeping;
I made believe by breathing hard
that I was sleeping.

Sister's doughboy on last leave
has robbed me of her hand;
downstairs at intervals she played
Warum on the baby grand.

Under the roof a wardrobe trunk
whose lock a boy could pick
contained a red Masonic hat
and a walking stick.

Bolt upright in my bed that night
I saw my father flying;
the wind was walking on my neck,
the windows were crying.

-- Stanley Kunitz

Hap Notes: This is a beautifully constructed poem and like many good poems it contains a massive amount of information in a compact amount of space. Let's take it stanza by stanza.

The poet is a young boy in bed. His mother checks on him by opening the door just a crack and peeking in. He, like all of us have done at one time or another, fakes sleeping by regular hard breathing, eyes shut in slumbering concentration. His room is on the second floor.

Downstairs, the poet's sister is entertaining her WWI soldier boyfriend on the piano (at intervals; whether from hesitation in her skill or from other things one does with a boyfriend in the parlor.) She plays "Warum" which I think is a part of Schumann's "Fantasiestücke" (Fantasy Pieces) and sounds like this:
'Warum' means "why?" and you can hear from the dreamy quality of the music (and the character in Schumann's composition, how this would lead a person to dream and ponder). Here's a little more info on the piece- it's very telling for the poem: Go to and click on the word Fantasiestücke.The "gentle questioning" of the piece is an interesting dimension here. The poet is "robbed" of his sister's hand and it may mean she tucked him in at night and it may mean he has lost her attention. And of course, there is the love and admiration that a young boy feels for an older sister- that often manifests itself in a sort of romance.

Up in the attic is a trunk that the poet, as a boy, has picked the lock of and found some hidden mysteries within. Remember when we talked of Kunitz before we have discussed how his father committed suicide before the poet was born: In the trunk are items of his father's. He selects interesting items for the poem. The mysterious Masonic hat showing his father to be a member of the Masons (side note: when I was a kid I got into one of my father's nightstand drawers and found his Masonic "code" book. I didn't understand it and it both puzzled and scared me.) A walking stick is also an interesting piece. What kind of person carries a walking stick? (Hints: think on the words balance, pride, lame, hobbled, well-dressed.)

Then, in the middle of the night, the poet/boy awakes with a start from a thunderstorm. How could the wind be "walking on his neck"? Why would his father be flying? The rain on the windows is like tears. How do you think the poet/boy feels, first as a small boy in bed and secondly as a man remembering this?

This poem is loaded with other things as well. Think on the short portraits of everyone in the poem. What are eyes and hands doing in this poem? What do these three floors stand for in the poem? There is much, much more to be gleaned from these short stanzas.

Here is the other entry where we have talked about Kunitz before:

The masthead is Chagall's "The Dream". I don't know that it has all that much to do with the poem but it's the painting that came into my head to use.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Number 247: Frank O'Hara "A True Account Of Talking To The Sun At Fire Island"

A True Account Of Talking To The Sun At Fire Island

The Sun woke me this morning loud
and clear, saying "Hey! I've been
trying to wake you up for fifteen
minutes. Don't be so rude, you are
only the second poet I've ever chosen
to speak to personally
so why
aren't you more attentive? If I could
burn you through the window I would
to wake you up. I can't hang around
here all day."
"Sorry, Sun, I stayed
up late last night talking to Hal."

"When I woke up Mayakovsky he was
a lot more prompt" the Sun said
petulantly. "Most people are up
already waiting to see if I'm going
to put in an appearance."

I tried
to apologize "I missed you yesterday."
"That's better" he said. "I didn't
know you'd come out." "You may be
wondering why I've come so close?"
"Yes" I said beginning to feel hot
wondering if maybe he wasn't burning me
"Frankly I wanted to tell you
I like your poetry. I see a lot
on my rounds and you're okay. You may
not be the greatest thing on earth, but
you're different. Now, I've heard some
say you're crazy, they being excessively
calm themselves to my mind, and other
crazy poets think that you're a boring
reactionary. Not me.
Just keep on
like I do and pay no attention. You'll
find that people always will complain
about the atmosphere, either too hot
or too cold too bright or too dark, days
too short or too long.
If you don't appear
at all one day they think you're lazy
or dead. Just keep right on, I like it.

And don't worry about your lineage
poetic or natural. The Sun shines on
the jungle, you know, on the tundra
the sea, the ghetto. Wherever you were
I knew it and saw you moving. I was waiting
for you to get to work.

And now that you
are making your own days, so to speak,
even if no one reads you but me
you won't be depressed. Not
everyone can look up, even at me. It
hurts their eyes."
"Oh Sun, I'm so grateful to you!"

"Thanks and remember I'm watching. It's
easier for me to speak to you out
here. I don't have to slide down
between buildings to get your ear.
I know you love Manhattan, but
you ought to look up more often.
always embrace things, people earth
sky stars, as I do, freely and with
the appropriate sense of space. That
is your inclination, known in the heavens
and you should follow it to hell, if
necessary, which I doubt.
Maybe we'll
speak again in Africa, of which I too
am specially fond. Go back to sleep now
Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem
in that brain of yours as my farewell."

"Sun, don't go!" I was awake
at last. "No, go I must, they're calling
"Who are they?"
Rising he said "Some
day you'll know. They're calling to you
too." Darkly he rose, and then I slept.

-- Frank O'Hara

Hap Notes: Yeah, it's an intended pun, sort of, it being Sunday and all and Frank talking to the sun. But really, it's just an excuse to have one of my favorite longer O'Hara poems on the blog.

The Mayakovsky poem he is referring to is "An Extraordinary Adventure Which Befell Vladimir Mayakovsky in a Summer Cottage". O'Hara also makes references to the Russian poet/playwright in his poem, titled, aptly enough, "Mayakovsky." If you'd like to see some of Maykovsky's poems (including the one O'Hara references today) go here:

This is a charming and amusing poem but O'Hara is touching on some mysterious stuff here. Note the phrase "excessively calm"; both amusing and telling, yes? What do you think O'Hara means when he says of the sun "darkly he rose"? Who or what do you think is calling to the sun (and O'Hara)?

Here is where we have talked about O'Hara before:

and here:

and here:

The masthead today is Van Gogh's "Reaper With Wheat Field And Sun." It's hard to think of an artist more intimate with the sun and its/his/her colors than Van Gogh. Do you even see the reaper in the painting? The sun and the wheat sort of swallow him.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Numbr 246; Robert Louis Stevenson "The Swing"

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

-- Robert Louis Stevenson

Hap Notes: Well, what is like being on a swing– that remarkable, vertiginous feeling as the world swirls around you as you glide up to the sky? Remember the first time you went a little too high? That amazing feeling of breaking, just for a moment, the grip of gravity?

No matter your age, a swing is a wonderful thing to be on in the summer-time. Stevenson's verse actually swings along as you read it, doesn't it?

It's Saturday so here's our cartoons to go with the poem.

First is Bullwinkle (of Rocky and Bullwinkle) reading today's poem:

Here's a very clever Walter Lanz cartoon (I love the description of what gets sold at the Black Market), a Swing Symphony called "The Greatest Man in Siam" (Siam btw is what Thailand was called until 1949.) :

You don't have to be a child to enjoy the playground:

Here are Astaire and Rogers in "Swing Time":

A remarkable Fleischer cartoon, "Swing You Sinners!":

One of my favorite cartoons, Recess, features Swinger Girl who may or may not have "gone over the top." /

and of course,

Here is where we have talked about Stevenson before:

and here:

The masthead is Ben Shahn's "Liberation." Painted in 1945, it shows the playfulness of children who have lived through some grim circumstances, and while they look a bit grim themselves, they still find the spirit to swing.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Number 245: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) "Air"


I am lost in hot fits
of myself
to get
out. Lost
I am kinder
to myself
than I
than is good
for them.

What is it
about me
frightens me
tosses me helplessly
the air.

Oh love
don't leave
w/o me
that you
are the weakness
of my simplicity

Are feeling
& want
All need
& romance
I wd do anything
to be loved
& this
is a stupid

-- Amiri Baraka

Hap Notes: Amiri Baraka was born LeRoi Jones in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. He studied at Rutgers, Columbia and Howard universities and has taught at the State University of New York in both Stony Brook and Buffalo, Columbia and Rutgers. He changed his name in the 60's to reflect his own identity (rather than what he termed his "slave name"). He is is a powder keg of anger, frustration and heartache and his work testifies to this over and over again.

Baraka has always been a controversial figure in poetry, using verse as a powerful weapon to wake people up from sleep-walking through the culture. Poets who choose this route face a lot of threatening opposition and fear from their work and Baraka's career reflects this, too. I will refer you to his eye-opening poem written about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, "Somebody Blew Up America" here:

His somewhat militant Marxist views left him open to a lot of criticism from his zeal in his younger days; a zeal which has been honed to a sharp point as he matured as a poet. His poetry readings are riveting:

Baraka has been writing about Jazz, especially "Free Jazz", for more than 50 years and wrote the definitive book on it, Blues People: Negro Music in White America. He has performed both as a musician and with his poetry with Jazz ensembles. He has written more than a dozen poetry books, won an Obie award for his play, Dutchman, and has received an American Book Award and a Langston Hughes award, among others.

He continues to be a powder keg of explosive words and world-shattering ideas.

But in today's poem we see the soft side of the poet, frustrated by love and a crisis of self-identity, at cross purposes with his beneficent thoughts and longings for love. Some of Baraka's poems will startle you, some will make you think, some will fill you with shame but this poem, with all its vulnerability, just makes you want to give him a hug or a pat on the back, doesn't it? Most anger starts with heart-ache, does it not?

Here's a good Baraka quote: "Thought is more important than art. To revere art and have no understanding of the process that forces it into existence, is finally not even to understand what art is."

Here's his website:

You can find more Baraka here:

The masthead today is Jacob Lawrence's "Play".

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Number 244; Wallace Stevens "A Rabbit As King Of The Ghosts"

A Rabbit As King of The Ghosts
The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

-- Wallace Stevens

Hap Notes: Imagine yourself to be a rabbit– one of those "wild" rabbits that haunt your yard and garden. It is night. You have rabbit's mind. You remember rabbit things. The grass is made for you, the moon shines on only you. You are the only rabbit in the world. That somewhat pesky cat from earlier in the day is gone... everything is about you. You grow large in your own thoughts-- you are everything. Each singular thing surrounding you is rabbit centered, but for just you as a rabbit.

Perhaps you don't need to pretend you are a rabbit to think everything is for, and about, you. And in some ways, it is. Maybe in your meditations you have become one with everything. The first step in that feeling is to feel everything is about you, then gradually, nothing is about you, the next feeling is that there is no you and finally, you are everything and everything is in you and everybody else too. But rabbit isn't really meditating here. Or is he?

Stevens saw the everyday world as one of exotic and riotous beauty. Each time he puts a pen to paper to write a poem he sees the things he is describing as though he were an enthusiastic and mystified traveler who has just come upon the thing for the first time. He sees vivid colors, exotic plants and remarkable vistas. He sees a rabbit and imagines a rabbit-y life, a rabbit-y meditation. He loves the words and the sounds they make, too. Think, too, on why this particular poem takes place at night.

There is much more in this poem but the thing I really want you to be aware of is the description of consciousness in this poem. What is Stevens saying about the "real" world? What is he saying about our senses and our thoughts? Whose world are we living in, our own, or some cultural construct? How does your perception of the world change it? Stevens is showing us another way to look at the world and there are millions more.

So why did you choose the perception you live in and with? Stevens' world is filled with miraculous colors, strange plants and much more everyday magic. What is your world filled with? (Poetry, hopefully).

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Number 243: Jorge Luis Borges "Ars Poetica"

Ars Poetica

To gaze at the river made of time and water

And recall that time itself is another river,

To know we cease to be, just like the river,

And that our faces pass away, just like the water.

To feel that waking is another sleep

That dreams it does not sleep and that death,

Which our flesh dreads, is that very death

Of every night, which we call sleep.

To see in the day or in the year a symbol

Of mankind’s days and of his years,

To transform the outrage of the years

Into a music, a rumor and a symbol,

To see in death a sleep, and in the sunset

A sad gold, of such is Poetry

Immortal and a pauper. For Poetry

Returns like the dawn and the sunset.

At times in the afternoon a face

Looks at us from the depths of a mirror;

Art must be like that mirror
That reveals to us this face of ours.

They tell how Ulysses, glutted with wonders,

Wept with love to descry his Ithaca

Humble and green. Art is that Ithaca

Of green eternity, not of wonders.

It is also like an endless river

That passes and remains, a mirror for one same

Inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same

And another, like an endless river.

--Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by Harold Morland

Hap Notes: "Ars Poetica" is a Latin phrase which means "the art of poetry" and can refer to technical as well as the "essence" of what poetry is. Aristotle and Horace wrote about it and so have many poets including Archibald MacLeish (we talked of his poem here: Often poets write about the art of poetry because it moved them enough to want to become a poet or because they want to explain just what poetry is or can do. Is it art for art's sake or does it have to have a function? Just something to ponder.

Borges is giving us a lot to ponder but notice how he keeps returning to water, dreams and sleep in the poem. Dreams are often explained in the language of poetry; i.e. if you write down a dream in verse form you will be amazed at what a good poem it is and most poems need to be interpreted as one would interpret dreams.

The poet says Ulysses (or who the Greeks call Oedipus) was besotted with wonders in his journey where he sees the Lotus Eaters, a Cyclops, his men turned into swine, cannibals, gods, monsters, sirens and whirlpools. What makes Ulysses weep? Thoughts of his home, the island of Ithaca, a green island in the Ionian Sea.

As to Heraclitus, we've already talked about him too: "Remember the idea that the same person cannot step into the same river twice? What further twist does Borges give this?

Just a few more observations and I'll let you ruminate on the words alone. Borges describes a very interesting concept here of being awake as a kind of sleep that dreams it does not sleep and that sleep is a kind of death that we awaken from each day. Remember that he is describing the writing of poetry here.

Poetry, he says, is a mirror of sorts. But what does the mirror tell you each day? Surely one sees something different in it each day? And what about one's reflection in the water? What kind of images do we see in it?

Today is Borges birthday- he would be 112 today. He is even the subject of the Google doodle today:

Here's a great resource on Borges:

Here is where we have talked about Borges before:

The masthead today is Chagall's "Les River". Chagall always seems to me to be the artist of deams.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Number 242: Bayard Taylor "Bedouin Song"

Bedouin Song

From the Desert I come to thee
On a stallion shod with fire;
And the winds are left behind
In the speed of my desire.
Under your window I stand,
And the midnight hears my cry:
I love thee, I love but thee,
With a love that shall not die
Till the sun grows cold,
And the stars are old,
And the leaves of the Judgement
Book unfold!

Look from thy window and see
My passion and my pain;
I lie on the sands below,
And I faint in thy disdain.
Let the night-wind touch thy brow
With the heat of my burning sigh,
And melt thee to hear the vow
Of a love that shall not die
Till the sun grows cold,
And the stars are old,
And the leaves of the Judgement
Book unfold!

My steps are nightly driven,
By the fever in my breast,
To hear form thy lips
The words that shall give me rest.
Open the door of thy heart,
And open thy chamber door,
And my kisses shall teach thy lips
The love that shall fade no more
Till the sun grows cold,
And the stars are old,
And the leaves of the Judgement
Book unfold!

-- Bayard Taylor

Hap Notes: This passionate bit of fancy written by Bayard Taylor (1825-1878) will most certainly give readers pause who assumed that burning passionate love has reached its limits in the movies. Taylor wrote this in the 1800s and while it is fanciful, its ardent drive is pretty hot stuff (and retains a bit of modesty, too.)

Born to well-to-do Quaker parents, Taylor went to school and was then apprenticed to a printer. He maintained an interest in poetry and did a great deal of reading on his own. His poetry found a small audience and he took a job for several newspapers. He was friends with Horace Greeley who employed him at the New York Tribune. He also wrote travel articles for the United States Gazette and the Saturday Evening Post. While Taylor was chiefly a very popular travel writer and poet, he did write a couple of novels as well.

Taylor was gifted with language studies and was proficient in German (Mark Twain met him on one of his travels by ship and commented on it and Taylor's affable nature). Taylor was an adventurous student of other cultures. He met Tennyson on one of his junkets and he traveled to a huge variety of places including England, Germany, Sweden. Denmark, Lapland, Austria, Egypt, China, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Asia Minor, Constantinople and even the Arctic. His popular travel books made him a household name. He was also a war correspondent during the Civil War and was the Chargé d'Affaires under the American minister to Russia at St. Petersburg. Abraham Lincoln was among the audience when he gave a lecture on Russia in Washington.

He became a professor at Cornell in 1869 where he continued to work on a translation of Goethe's Faust and lectured on Goethe and Schiller (of whom he was planning to write biographies.) He was an extraordinary mixture of adventure, language, culture and poetry. His travels gave him plenty of fodder for his often romantic poetry full of exotic places, descriptions and phrases.

After his death, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, encouraged by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote a memorial poem to Taylor.

Today's poem was written in 1853 on the Mozambique Channel. The verses gallop along as passionately as the words, don't they? It always reminds me of a Valentino movie full of incense, colorful tents, handsome desert riders, palm tree-d oases, etc. etc. Taylor did not mean this as a judgment or cliche about Bedouins – it is meant as a dreamy tribute to passionate and enduring love. Taylor actually saw the places he wrote dramatic romantic poems about and this, in itself, is somewhat of a poetic novelty.

Here's a good Taylor quote: “The healing of the world is in its nameless saints. Each separate star seems nothing, but a myriad scattered stars break up the night and make it beautiful.”

You can find many of Taylor's books here:

Here's a bio and few of his poems:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Number 241: Carl Sandburg "At A Window"

At A Window

Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.

-- Carl Sandburg

Hap Notes: Here's a Sandburg poem that I recently found in a book, The Family Book of Best Loved Poems (copyright 1952). The poem can be found several places on the internet but there is something very appealing to me about going to a flea market and getting a book like this for 50¢ and diving for the treasures within (of which this poem is one of many.) I didn't even SEE the book at the flea market, my intrepid friend, who was with me, saw it and brought it to my attention, God bless her. The book holds few surprises and being a "family book" there won't be contemporary (for the 50s) confessional poetry but there are a plethora of old classics I am always going on about here on the blog like "Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight"

So while the internet held this very nice Sandburg poem, it was a far more happy thing to find it in the flea market find. Sandburg is asking the "fates" or the "gods" to give him hunger, pain, want, shame and failure but to not let him live without love. He's not just talking about sex or romance here, he's asking for a hand, a voice, a star to comfort his loneliness. It's a very nice poem and who does not feel the ache of loneliness as they watch the "day-shapes of dusk "? It's a time when you need a hopeful star, is it not?

Just a short aside about books of poetry, particularly collections like the flea market one I bought today which are a tad cloying and trite when read in big chunks: there's nothing like finding a treasure in an old chest like this book. I pity those not close to a public library who cannot find a few older books like this one because poetry is an art of layers and dimensions and varied threads and not all of it will appeal to everyone but all of it will appeal to someone.

Poetry is full of history lessons as well as social and political notations. Poetry tells you about the emotions and quotidian habits of men, women and children. Poetry gives new life to beauty and new beauty to life. While you can read the stuff online, a book full of it is heady stuff. One should not be allowed to read poetry and drive. One should be arrested for writing too much of it. One should get a king's ransom for finding old books full of it. The internet is an awesome tool but a book is an intellectual weapon far more advanced than that. You can hold a book, bend its pages, write in its margins, mark it with a fallen leaf, set your coffee cup on it, spill crumbs on it and it still works just like a book is supposed to. You can drop it on the floor a dozen or more times, step on it, leave it outside, use it as way to prop open a window or set it under a lamp to better its position and when you get back to reading it, it still works, it still tells you it's messages and secrets, it still waits for you.

Not all flea market books are fabulous reads but poetry collections are bound to have a couple of awesome poems, at least a few horrible (and sometimes amusing) stinkers and a handful of miraculous, surprising treasures. Treasures that you can buy at a flea market for 50¢. It's a remarkable bargain, especially compared to the internet (which I like very much, I'm just sayin'.)

Here's the last Sandburg poem we talked about (which will lead you to the others):

The masthead is Degas' "Woman at a Window".

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Number 240: Kenneth Grahame "Mr. Toad"

Mr Toad

The world has held great Heroes,
As history-books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared with that of Toad!

The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr Toad!

The animals sat in the Ark and cried,
Their tears in torrents flowed.
Who was it said, "There's land ahead"?
Encouraging Mr Toad!

The army all saluted
As they marched along the road.
Was it the King? Or Kitchener?
No. It was Mr Toad.

The Queen and her Ladies-in-waiting
Sat at the window and sewed.
She cried, "Look! Who's that handsome man?"
They answered, "Mr Toad."

-- Kenneth Grahame

Hap Notes: Of course this is the poem about Mr. Toad written by Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) in his classic book, The Wind In The Willows. Grahame was a gifted student who could not afford college. He took a position at the Bank of England where he rose up in the ranks, retiring as the bank's Secretary in 1908 for health reasons.

Grahame wrote The Wind in The Willows as an outcropping from bedtime stories he told his son, Alistair. Prior to his most famous book, Grahame had written a few other books, too, full of fancy. Mr. Toad from "Willows", however. was based on his son (anyone who has had a toddler or small child in the family will see a resemblance, really, between their offspring and the cagey Mr. Toad.) Disney has used Grahame's books as a basis for movies including the aforementioned "Willows" as well as Grahame's book/story The Reluctant Dragon.

Grahame and his siblings were raised by their grandmother (their mother died and their father was incapable of raising them for a variety of reasons.) His beginnings were fairly inauspicious but his beloved book has been treasured by generation after generation. When Teddy Roosevelt visited England the two authors he especially wanted to meet were Rudyard Kipling and Grahame.

Here's the whole book:
and here are ALL his books:

Here's the Kenneth Grahame Society:

You can see the whole movie of stop-motion animation of "Willows" at YouTube starting

Here's "When the Toad Came Home" from an animated version:

On a somewhat related note – Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole:

Which sort of leads us to Tex Avery's classic Screwy Squirrel:

Okay, and here's Warner Bros'. Slappy Squirrel:

Let's wrap it up with the Squirrel Nut Zippers:

Happy Saturday!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Number 239: Dannie Abse "Three Street Musicians"

Three Street Musicians

Three street musicians in mourning overcoats
worn too long, shake money boxes this morning,
then, afterwards, play their suicide notes.

The violinist in chic, black spectacles, blind,
the stout tenor with a fake Napoleon stance,
and the looney flautist following behind,

they try to importune us, the busy living,
who hear melodic snatches of musichall
above unceasing waterfalls of traffic.

Yet if anything can summon back the dead
it is the old-time sound, old obstinate tunes,
such as they achingly render and suspend:

‘The Minstrel Boy’, ‘Roses of Picardy’.
No wonder cemeteries are full of silences
and stones keep down the dead that they defend.

Stones too light! Airs unresistible!
Even a dog listens, one paw raised, while the stout,
loud man amazes with nostalgic notes – though half boozed

and half clapped out. And, as breadcrumbs thrown
on the ground charm sparrows down from nowhere,
now, suddenly, there are too many ghosts about.

-- Dannie Abse

Hap Notes: Dannie Abse (born 1923) was born in Cardiff, Wales to Jewish parents and this gives him an extraordinary perspective right off the bat. Add to this that he trained as and is a practicing doctor as well as a poet and writer. Big intellect, lots of facets, eh?

Abse does write some "medical" poems, dealing with patients, operations, X-rays and the like but mostly he writes on a variety of subjects in a voice schooled in the classics, spiced with his own particular sensitivities. He is one of England's most famous contemporary poets and has published a couple dozen books of the stuff and won as many fellowships and awards.

In 2005 Abse's wife of 50 years, was killed in a car crash (his rib was broken in the accident also. I'll let you think on that a bit.) Joan Abse was an art historian and the love of his life. Abse's poetry is notable for its refreshing take on monogamy, love and marriage. Abse's heartbreaking memoir of his grief at her loss, "The Presence", has received much critical acclaim. His current book of verse, Two For Joy, celebrates love and marriage's passion and humor.

In today's poem we find three musicians playing old standards in a rushing modern world. But those who remember the tunes, feel memories returning like a flock of birds as they hear the songs. You know how one song can trigger a cascade of memories? The somewhat motley and strange crew of musicians has conjured up the ghosts of memories in the listeners, and win out over the loud sounds of contemporary bustling. It's a lovely poem.

We will do more Abse this year.

Here is a great Abse quote: "There have been many [doctor-writers] who have had great difficulty in combining both of these professions. Tobias Smollett, the novelist, did not prosper as a surgeon, and Oliver Goldsmith was advised to treat his enemies rather than his patients. There was John Keats, who perhaps suffered from too much empathy with creatures and things to become a good doctor, to survive, perhaps, as a doctor. And I think that is a problem for a lot of poets, that they do have this ability to empathize greatly. "

and another:
"Keats used to talk about how he identified with a bird pecking at the gravel outside his window, and indeed with a billiard ball he could feel complete affinity. Some, like the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, used to say that he didn't like to leave a bit of soap behind in an hotel in case it got lonely. So I do think poets have got this problem, and they, doctor-writers, are not always as successful as William Carlos Williams was, or, indeed, Chekhov."

You can find more Abse here:

Here's his website:

The masthead is Picasso's "Three Musicians," an image that often goes through my head when I read this poem.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Number 238: Bruce Smith "After St. Vincent Millay"

After St. Vincent Millay

When I saw you again, distant, sparrow-boned 

under the elegant clothes you wear in your life without me, 

I thought, No, No, let her be the one 

this time to look up at an oblivious me.

Let her find the edge of the cliff with her foot, 

blindfolded. Let her be the one struck by the lightning 

of the other so that the heart is jolted

from the ribs and the rest of the body is nothing 

but ash. It’s a sad, familiar story

I wish you were telling me with this shabby excuse:

I never loved you any more than

I hated myself for loving you.

And about that other guy by your side

you left me for. I hope he dies.

--Bruce Smith

Hap Notes: Bruce Smith (born 1946) has written a half dozen books of poetry with his signature jazzy classicism. His spicy blend of thoughtful metaphor is punctuated by modern musical notes and odd riffs. His work, like today's poem, is often a blend of heart-rending and amusing.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, from the title of the poem, is a poet you are familiar with if you've kept up with us on this blog. Here's a refresher: Millay often wrote of the ecstasies/heartbreak of romance. Millay also said, "It's not true that life is one damn thing after another; it's one damn thing over and over."

In today's poem, note how he manages to go from the lyrical description to the conversational to jarringly painful to philosophical to bitter all in the course of one somewhat tattered sonnet. The last line is an explosion of laughter and grief.

Smith is a native of Philadelphia, PA, got his degree at Bucknell University (Lewisburg, PA) and has taught at a variety of universities including Harvard, Portland State and the University of Alabama. He is currently teaching at Syracuse University. He has won numerous fellowships and awards including an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Here's a good Smith quote: "I like the apprenticeship that's implied in jazz. Before you can blow you had better acquire the skills beforehand, woodshed, as they say, which for poets is reading and practicing and failing. Jazz in my mind is also an antidote and adversarial stance to pop music, which, as Oppen said, can only say what the audience already believes."

You can read the whole interview here (and it's well worth the reading):

You can find more Smith here:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Number 237: William Wordsworth Two "To Sleep"

To Sleep

Fond words have oft been spoken to thee, Sleep!
And thou hast had thy store of tenderest names;
The very sweetest, Fancy culls or frames,
When thankfulness of heart is strong and deep!
Dear Bosom-child we call thee, that dost steep
In rich reward all suffering; Balm that tames
All anguish; Saint that evil thoughts and aims
Takest away, and into souls dost creep,
Like to a breeze from heaven. Shall I alone,
I surely not a man ungently made,
Call thee worst Tyrant by which Flesh is crost?
Perverse, self-willed to own and to disown,
Mere slave of them who never for thee prayed,
Still last to come where thou art wanted most!

-- William Wordsworth
To Sleep

A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by,
One after one; the sound of rain, and bees
Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky;
I have thought of all by turns, and yet do lie
Sleepless! and soon the small birds' melodies
Must hear, first uttered from my orchard trees;
And the first cuckoo's melancholy cry.
Even thus last night, and two nights more, I lay,
And could not win thee, Sleep! by any stealth;
So do not let me wear tonight away;
Without Thee what is all the morning's wealth?
Come, blessed barrier between day and day,
Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health!

-- William Wordsworth

Hap Notes: Obviously William Wordsworth (1770-1850) had some serious insomnia since he devoted two full sonnets to it. Even the many paintings and drawings of Wordsworth seem to show a man who needed a good night's sleep.

Wordsworth was born in the "Lake District" in Northwest England, a place that would come to stand for poetry in later years. Wordsworth's friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the poet Robert Southey, along with Wordsworth were known as the "Lake Poets" when they all lived there in the early 1800s. (This, by the way, is just a geographical epithet and was not a "school" of poetry.)

Wordsworth went to St. James College, Cambridge, graduating in 1791. He had begun writing poetry by this time and for a while, was a supporter of the French Revolution. He became disenchanted with the revolution when heads started to roll. He fell in love with a French woman, Annete Vallon, with whom he had a child. He could not visit her often due to the tension built up between Britain and France in the revolution but this was also a good excuse since it didn't seem Wordsworth really wanted to marry her (he did, however, give her financial help whenever necessary.)

In 1798 he and his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a collection of poems, Lyrical Ballads, which changed the style and temper of literature as we know it. The collection was the opening salvo of what would come to be known as "Romantic" movement. English literature would never be the same. (Remember how we said that Byron and Keats and Shelley were the "second generation" romantics? Coleridge and Wordsworth are the first.)

Wordsworth was very close to his sister, Dorothy, who often traveled with him. She kept several diaries and journals which reveal how supportive she was of his work (and Lyrical Ballads). She kept house for Wordsworth for many years and lived with him and his wife, Mary Hutchens (an old grade school friend. That's right. He played around in France and then married the girl next door). I believe Dorothy lived in their house until her death in 1855.

Wordsworth and Coleridge were trying to create poetry in what Wordsworth termed "the language of men" and one has to remember that the flowery sounding phrases from this era were somewhat like spoken English sounded then. Wordsworth's famous description of poetry reads, in part "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." Wordsworth was a prolific poet (go to our poet's link at the bottom of the page and you'll see) and many of his phrases will be familiar to you as you read him.

In today's poems we see a man fighting with his insomnia (Wordsworth was also prone to depression) with every means at his disposal; "counting sheep" (which I think Wordsworth may have invented), thinking of tranquil places, imploring sleep to bless him with a visit and even chastising sleep for its non-appearance. Most everyone can relate to a sleepless night or two, can't they?

We will do more Wordsworth this year.

Here's a good Wordsworth quote: "The human mind is capable of excitement without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this."

and another

"Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present to live better in the future. "

You can find more Wordsworth

Today's picture is Wynken, Blynken and Nod. Remember them? If not, here's the

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Number 236: Stevie Smith "Thoughts About The Person From Porlock"

Thoughts About The Person From Porlock

Coleridge received the Person from Porlock
And ever after called him a curse,
Then why did he hurry to let him in?
He could have hid in the house.

It was not right of Coleridge in fact it was wrong
(But often we all do wrong)
As the truth is I think he was already stuck
With Kubla Khan.

He was weeping and wailing: I am finished, finished,
I shall never write another word of it,
When along comes the Person from Porlock
And takes the blame for it.

It was not right, it was wrong,
But often we all do wrong.


May we inquire the name of the Person from Porlock?
Why, Porson, didn’t you know?
He lived at the bottom of Porlock Hill
So had a long way to go,

He wasn’t much in the social sense
Though his grandmother was a Warlock,
One of the Rutlandshire ones I fancy
And nothing to do with Porlock,

And he lived at the bottom of the hill as I said
And had a cat named Flo,
And had a cat named Flo.

I long for the Person from Porlock
To bring my thoughts to an end,
I am becoming impatient to see him
I think of him as a friend,

Often I look out of the window
Often I run to the gate
I think, He will come this evening,
I think it is rather late.

I am hungry to be interrupted
For ever and ever amen
O Person from Porlock come quickly
And bring my thoughts to an end.


I felicitate the people who have a Person from Porlock
To break up everything and throw it away
Because then there will be nothing to keep them
And they need not stay.


Why do they grumble so much?
He comes like a benison
They should be glad he has not forgotten them
They might have had to go on.


These thoughts are depressing I know. They are depressing,
I wish I was more cheerful, it is more pleasant,
Also it is a duty, we should smile as well as submitting
To the purpose of One Above who is experimenting
With various mixtures of human character which goes best,
All is interesting for him it is exciting, but not for us.
There I go again. Smile, smile, and get some work to do
Then you will be practically unconscious without positively having to go.

-- Stevie Smith

Hap Notes: This poem will make a lot more sense if you know the story behind Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan" which we already discussed here: I'll wait while you go read it.

Done? Okay, so Smith is being very clever and amusing here but as with all Stevie Smith (1902-1971) poems it eventually leads to ruminations, a bit of sadness and loneliness. Smith has a very piquant somewhat naive and whimsical way of writing about the disturbing topics of death, loneliness and fear. In this poem, as she muses about Coleridge's "person" she makes up stories and nursery rhymes about it and finally alights on the loneliness of creativity, the idea of a creator (in several senses), and death. Not bad for something that starts out as an amusing little riff on Coleridge. A benison, by the way, is a blessing or benediction.

Smith was raised by a very independent minded aunt (her "lion Aunt" she called her). Smith's father left her mother and went to sea and her mother moved in with her sister, Madge. After her mother's death, Madge took care of Smith (her mother died of a heart-attack with Stevie was 16). Smith was born with the name "Florence Margaret" but was called "Stevie" in school, named for the jockey Steve Donaghue, because Smith was a good rider.

Smith went to a secretarial college and became a secretary, writing her first novel on the yellow paper of the firm (hence its name Novel On Yellow Paper.) She wrote poems and a couple of more novels as well. Smith's very personal, deceptively child-like viewpoint often flummoxed critics who could not decide whether to take her seriously or not. One of her books of poetry was published with sketches she'd drawn. Poet Phillip Larkin called this "the hallmark of frivolity" although one wonders, after reading Larkin's poems if he actually knew what frivolity was (he's a good poet but gloomily serious about every little thing.)

Smith won many awards (most of them later in life) and never married (although she'd had some relationships with men) and lived most of her life in the London Suburb in which she was raised, Palmer's Green.

Smith is very famous for one poem "Not Waving But Drowning." It's wonderful. Here it is so we don't have to do it again (EVERYBODY who reads it has an opinion on it):

Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

-- Stevie Smith

Smith is always a surprise to read with flashes of droll humor, myths, depression, death, fantasy and whimsy in almost every poem. We will do more Smith this year.

Here's a good Smith quote: "I used to have very complicated feelings about not being able to cook, supposing I ever had to, and not being able to keep house, and wonder if it might not be better being dead than not being capable. Now I cook and I do not worry. I like food, I like stripping vegetables of their skins, I like to have a slim young parsnip under my knife. I like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen."

And another

You can find more Smith here:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Number 235: Amrita Pritam "I Will Meet You Yet Again"

Mein tainu pher milan gi (I will meet you yet again)

I will meet you yet again

How and where? I know not.

Perhaps I will become a

figment of your imagination

and maybe, spreading myself

in a mysterious line

on your canvas,

I will keep gazing at you.

Perhaps I will become a ray

of sunshine, to be

embraced by your colours.

I will paint myself on your canvas

I know not how and where –

but I will meet you for sure.

Maybe I will turn into a spring,

and rub the foaming

drops of water on your body,

and rest my coolness on
your burning chest.

I know nothing else
but that this life

will walk along with me.

When the body perishes,

all perishes;

but the threads of memory

are woven with enduring specks.

I will pick these particles,

weave the threads,

and I will meet you yet again.

—-Amrita Pritam
(Translated by Nirupama Dutt)

Hap Notes: Before we you read my comments about this poem, read it once again, aloud, to yourself. Isn't this an enchanting poem? Amrita is a Sanskrit word for immortality. Amrita is one of the names, in Vedic literature, that is used for "soma", the nectar that bestows immortality on the drinker (forbidden to men, used by the gods.) Pritam's father was a poet/writer/editor and when her parents gave her this name one wonders how prescient they might have been. Her work is extraordinary and her reputation has only expanded since her death in 2005. Her story is near legendary in Indian literary circles.

Amrita Pritam (1919-2005) was born Gujranwala, Punjab (now Pakistan). Her father was also a scholar and Sikh preacher. [Hap, what is a Sikh, you may ask? I don't know a prodigious amount about the religion but I know that they believe in the teachings of the "Ten Gurus" and that they believe in the equality of all humans, the idea of the universal brotherhood of man and in one supreme God (Ik Onkar). Punjab is basically the place of origin for the religion.] Pritam's mother died when she was eleven and her poetry often reflects the loneliness of a young woman who needs another woman with whom she could talk (Punjab, and indeed most other cultures, often exclude women as intellects etc. etc.)

Her first volume of poetry was published when she was 16. She started as a romantic poet but became more political and socially conscious as the years went by. When Pakistan was formed as a separate Muslim country, she moved to India (it's very glib of me to say this. The Pakistani-India partitioning was a bloody, scary, difficult thing and was exacerbated by famines and weather tragedies.)

Pritam married a hosiery merchant, Pritam Singh, in 1935. But she left him in 1960 for poet Sahir Ludhianvi and many poems and much of her autobiography speak of her love affair. When the Ludhianvi romance went a bit sour (there was another woman) she found companionship with an artist of some fame, Imroz. (I don't suppose I have to tell you how romantic and courageous a woman had to be in order to be freedom loving, socially responsible and dedicated to the romance of life in this era in India/Pakistan/Punjab do I?)

The last forty years of her life were spent with Imroz who designed the covers of her books, gave her solace. They lived together (never married) with Imroz completely in love with her. She, while still loving Ludhianvi, came to understand a lot through Imroz's devotion and care. Some say she never stopped loving Ludhianvi but I believe today's poem was written for the faithful and true Imroz.

Pritam won dozens of awards for her novels and poems both at home and abroad. She is probably the most famous Sikh/Punjab woman poet.

Here's a quote from Imroz, after her death: "She has not gone, only her body has perished. She will be there in her poems and my paintings."

Here's another quote from Imroz: “We were madly in love with each other. We lived together but had different rooms in the same house. Her kids were mine and we never felt that we should have our own kids."

You can find more Pritam here:

(The pictures on this page feature one of Pritam and one of her with Imroz)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nubmer 234: Kenneth Rexroth "The Bad Old Days"

The Bad Old Days

The summer of nineteen eighteen
I read The Jungle and The
Research Magnificent. That fall
My father died and my aunt
Took me to Chicago to live.
The first thing I did was to take
A streetcar to the stockyards.
In the winter afternoon,
Gritty and fetid, I walked
Through the filthy snow, through the
Squalid streets, looking shyly
Into the people’s faces,
Those who were home in the daytime.
Debauched and exhausted faces,
Starved and looted brains, faces
Like the faces in the senile
And insane wards of charity
Hospitals. Predatory
Faces of little children.
Then as the soiled twilight darkened,
Under the green gas lamps, and the
Sputtering purple arc lamps,
The faces of the men coming
Home from work, some still alive with
The last pulse of hope or courage,
Some sly and bitter, some smart and
Silly, most of them already
Broken and empty, no life,
Only blinding tiredness, worse
Than any tired animal.
The sour smells of a thousand
Suppers of fried potatoes and
Fried cabbage bled into the street.
I was giddy and sick, and out
Of my misery I felt rising
A terrible anger and out
Of the anger, an absolute vow.
Today the evil is clean
And prosperous, but it is
Everywhere, you don’t have to
Take a streetcar to find it,
And it is the same evil.
And the misery, and the
Anger, and the vow are the same.

-- Kenneth Rexroth

Hap Notes: The evil that Rexroth is talking about in this autobiographical poem is still (as he points out) alive and well and thriving all over the world, however it is particularly disheartening and discouraging that it lives so comfortably in America.

In 1918 Rexroth was a mere 13 years old but do not dismiss his observations completely as that of a disgruntled teenager. For one thing, Rexroth was extraordinarily well read by that time as he had started reading classic literature at a very early age, home-schooled by his mother – he started reading it when he was around the age most of us are going to kindergarten and just beginning to learn our ABCs. Rexroth was the ultimate autodidact and said that he read the encyclopedia from cover to cover each year ( for you youngsters this would be like reading every entry in Wikipedia every year) as if it were a novel (and in so many ways, it IS a novel if you read it correctly with each thing connected to another thing creating a pattern, like stitches in a tapestry, of the world- or at least a certain view of it.) [Side Note: My brother recently tried to sell his leather bound, gold-edged paged Encyclopedia Britannica (1990 edition) and found that the entire set was worth--- ready for this? 35¢ (thirty-five cents. No kidding!]

Chicago was going through a lot in 1918. It was the joyful year of armistice (WWI) as well as the year of several race and employment riots as the misery of workers often reached the breaking point. As Rexroth, placed in a new city after the death of his parents (he had lived in Indiana), observes the working class, he acutely observes the pain of everyday subservient work and subsistence living. (Baseball fan note– it was a year before the "Black Sox Scandal.")

The books he refers to– Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and H.G. Wells' The Research Magnificent– are two amazing pieces of literature which would surely make one see the world differently with Sinclair's scathing indictment of the meat-packing industry (hence Rexroth's seeking out the stockyards in Chicago) and Wells' amusing yet heartrending view of life in The Research Magnificent). If you have not read these classic works they are available free online here:
The Research Magnificent by H.G. Wells :
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair:

One wishes that this poem of despair for the working class, the "common man," the "working poor," was not so piercingly close to the way things are now. One hopes that the same anger and the same vow to end it is still as vivid as Rexroth's. It is only this kind of reaction and empathy that can change things. As Rexroth points out in this poem, even though the evil is "clean and prosperous," it is every bit as insidious and, by the by, becoming less prosperous every day.

Surely, as a nation, we have as much compassion and intelligence as a 13 year-old boy had in 1918? And what does that say if we don't?

Here is where we have talked about Rexroth before:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Number 233 : Kenn Nesbitt "I Bought A Pet Banana"

I Bought a Pet Banana

I bought a pet banana
and I tried to teach him tricks,
but he wasn't any good at
catching balls or fetching sticks.

He could never catch a Frisbee,
and he wouldn't sit or speak,
though we practiced every afternoon
and evening for a week.

He refused to shake or wave or crawl
or beg or take a bow,
and I tried, but couldn't make him bark
or get him to meow.

He was terrible at playing dead.
He couldn't jump a rope.
When he wouldn't do a single trick
I simply gave up hope.

Though I liked my pet banana,
I returned him with regret.
Boy, I sure do hope this watermelon
makes a better pet.

--Kenn Nesbitt

Hap Notes: It's another silly Saturday poem! Although I have to admit that if I was reading it as a kid I would take umbrage with the idea that a pet banana could not play dead (I was one of those kinds of kids- you know, irritatingly curious.)

Ken Nesbitt (born 1962) has written several books of poetry for kids, although, as we always say, children's poetry is not just for children. He has a delightfully witty sense of play and it comes though in his books and website. Some of his books include the hilarious Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney (2006), When the Teacher Isn’t Looking: And Other Funny School Poems (2005), and The Aliens Have Landed at Our School! (2001).

You can find more Nesbitt poems and a whole lot more kid fun here:

And our Saturday Cartoons:

First off Parry Gripp's song on being a banana: /

Remember the incredibly odd and charming Bananas In Pajamas?:

Sidney the Elephant has a "banana habit":

Here's the infamous "Banana Man":

Finally here are the incomparable Dickies doing the Banana Splits theme song. You should really hear their covers of "Knights in White Satin", "The Sounds of Silence" and "Silent Night" too. You'll never be the same:

Here are the Dickies doing one of their own hit songs, "Rosemary". I've always adored their sense of punk and playfulness (and I avoided some of my favorites like "Stuck In A Condo With Marlon Brando," "Killer Clowns From Outer Space" and the alarmingly funny song about Sammy Davis Junior "Where Did His Eye Go"):

Finally here's the Banana Rap:

Friday, August 12, 2011

Number 232: John Updike "Bindweed"


Intelligence does help, sometimes;

the bindweed doesn't know

when it begins to climb a wand of grass

that this is no tree and will shortly bend

its flourishing dependent back to earth.

But bindweed has a trick: self-

stiffening, entwining two- or three-ply,

to boost itself up, into the lilac.

Without much forethought it manages

to imitate the lilac leaves and lose

itself to all but the avidest clippers.

To spy it out, to clip near the root

and unwind the climbing tight spiral

with a motion the reverse of its own

feels like treachery--death to a plotter

whose intelligence mirrors ours, twist for twist.

--John Updike

Hap Notes: The bindweed that Updike is talking about is a sister to the Morning Glory (in fact they are one in the same, really) which has a delightful flower and a powerful will to get to the most sunlight it can. The delicate tendrils that wind around and around the fence, a clump of grass, another flower (the Morning Glories used the Zinnias and an old rake I'd left on the side of the house in the last place I lived) or whatever is around it are lovely but determined. It is almost impossible to extricate the various flowering bind weeds without a huge amount of patience and, even then, one risks the killing of the host plant that the bindweed has attached itself to so tightly.

Updike is saying something very interesting about this ability to twine around an object – that it is is a human trait. There is an odd feeling, as one clips the weed, unraveling it from a lilac or a zinnia or a rake, that one is undoing a great deal of patient conscious work on the part of the bindweed. The patience and forbearance it takes to do this mimics the work of the plant and the delicate green vine-y tendrils are so fragile yet so willfully attached.

How can a plant with such delicacy be so determined and difficult and tightly binding? The poet tells us that the "plotter" who can succeed at being this involved and twined and twisted, especially if it is unwanted, seems to have done this with intelligent forethought. How much does that "mirror" our own machinations, do you think?

At this point you know what I think of Updike – a poet disguised as a novelist.

Here's where we have talked about him before: (which will lead you, winding and twining, to the next one which will lead to the following Updike entries and so on...)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Number 231: Joseph Stanton "Banana Trees"

Banana Trees

They are tall herbs, really, not trees,
though they can shoot up thirty feet
if all goes well for them. Cut in cross

section they look like gigantic onions,
multi-layered mysteries with ghostly hearts.
Their leaves are made to be broken by the wind,

if wind there be, but the crosswise tears
they are built to expect do them no harm.
Around the steady staff of the leafstalk

the broken fronds flap in the breeze
like brief forgotten flags, but these
tattered, green, photosynthetic machines

know how to grasp with their broken fingers
the gold coins of light that give open air
its shine. In hot, dry weather the fingers

fold down to touch on each side--
a kind of prayer to clasp what damp they can
against the too much light.

-- Joseph Stanton

Hap Notes: Joseph Stanton (born 1949) is a poet, writer, historian and baseball fan who reverberates to art and uses words much like explanatory paint (i.e. the strokes explain, not obfuscate, the feelings and the subject – far more difficult than it sounds.)

He is attracted also to mythic and fairytale stories and art. In addition to at least three volumes of poetry, he has also written a scholarly text on the artwork of children's storybooks (and covers artists like Sendak and Van Allsburg among others) and how it appeals to both children and adults. He has also written a book on the career of power slugger and all-around mythic baseball hero Stan Musial. His blend of poetry and artwork has bred several poems inspired by the work of Edward Hopper.

In today's poem Stanton gives us a view of the banana we don't much consider – the plant itself. Since Stanton teaches art history and American studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, he probably sees a few banana trees (which are not really trees, you know. As Stanton points out, bananas are herbaceous). Hawai'i contains a large number of banana varieties. Bananas are extremely complicated plants which flower and develop the fruits.

Stanton describes the plant taking note of the extraordinary leaves which are not injured by the tears of the wind but just give the plant more area for photosynthesis. A bunch of bananas at the grocery store are often called a "hand" and Stanton alludes to the "fingers" of the leaves grabbing the sunlight and folding for water.

Banana leaves, in some cultures, provide shelter or cooking equipment (food is wrapped in the leaves before cooking) or even just serve as an umbrella against the rain. It's a remarkable plant, even inspiring a few poems, as we have seen.

The banana flower (pictured in the masthead) is awe-inspiring, isn't it? The huge flowers and leaves seem to be mythic in their beauty and size. It's amazing how much around us can take on the properties of epic myths with just a closer look, eh?

You can find more Stanton here:

and here

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Number 230: Dorianne Laux "A Short History of the Apple"

A Short History of the Apple

The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days. —Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929

Teeth at the skin. Anticipation.
Then flesh. Grain on the tongue.
Eve's knees ground in the dirt
of paradise. Newton watching
gravity happen. The history
of apples in each starry core,
every papery chamber's bright
bitter seed. Woody stem
an infant tree. William Tell
and his lucky arrow. Orchards
of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels.
Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew.
Cedar apple rust. The apple endures.
Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors.
The first pip raised in Kazakhstan.
Snow White with poison on her lips.
The buried blades of Halloween.
Budding and grafting. John Chapman
in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward
Expansion. Apple pie. American
as. Hard cider. Winter banana.
Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet
by hives of Britain's honeybees:
white man's flies. O eat. O eat.

-- Dorianne Laux

Hap Notes: Dorianne Laux (born 1952) is giving you an opportunity to expand your imagination as you eat or gaze at an apple in this poem. She gives us a plethora of images associated with the apple starting with Eve, even including Snow White.

It's always mind bending to think of the genealogy of the foods we eat, most particularly common foods like apples, onions (remember the Naomi Shalub Nye poem?: //, beans, garlic, plums and the like. All of these foods connect us with the past– exotically, practically and imaginatively. Laux gives us a glimpse of this (you can probably think of some connections yourself) with John Chapman ("Johnny Appleseed") and Issac Newton and that semi-fictional tale of William Tell. Her poem is a meditation on the fruit (Winter Banana being a rare and interesting breed of apple) and the parade of mankind that marches within the apple's history.

Laux was born in Augusta, Maine. She worked her way towards college as she did stints as a cook, a gas station manager and a maid among other things, writing on her breaks at work. She took classes at junior college while being a single mother and after moving to Berkeley, CA she started classes with scholarships and grants after her daughter was age 9. Laux graduated from Mills College in 1988 (she was 36 and a single mom- just noting the difficulty and the inspiration here.)

Laux is the author of a half-dozen books, mostly poetry but also wrote and edited The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry with Kim Addonizio (whom we have talked about before here: // Laux's work has won a Pushcart Prize, an Editor's Choice III Award, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She currently teaches at North Carolina State's MFA program. She is married to poet Joseph Millar.

You can find more Laux here:

You can hear her reading some of her poems here: /

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Number 229: Samuel Taylor Coleridge "This Lime Tree Bower My Prison"

This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison

Addressed to Charles Lamb, Of the India House, London

Well, they are gone, and here must I remain,
This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost
Beauties and feelings, such as would have been
Most sweet to my remembrance even when age
Had dimm'd mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,
Friends, whom I never more may meet again,
On springy heath, along the hill-top edge,
Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance,
To that still roaring dell, of which I told;
The roaring dell, o'erwooded, narrow, deep,
And only speckled by the mid-day sun;
Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge; -- that branchless ash,
Unsunn'd and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne'er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still,
Fann'd by the water-fall! and there my friends
Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds,
That all at once (a most fantastic sight!)
Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge
Of the blue clay-stone.

Now, my friends emerge
Beneath the wide wide Heaven -- and view again
The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow! Yes! they wander on
In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad,
My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined
And hunger'd after Nature, many a year,
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! Ah! slowly sink
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun!
Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,
Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds!
Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!
And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend
Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence.

A delight
Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad
As I myself were there! Nor in this bower,
This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark'd
Much that has sooth'd me. Pale beneath the blaze
Hung the transparent foliage; and I watch'd
Some broad and sunny leaf, and lov'd to see
The shadow of the leaf and stem above
Dappling its sunshine! And that walnut-tree
Was richly ting'd, and a deep radiance lay
Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps
Those fronting elms, and now, with blackest mass
Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue
Through the late twilight; and though now the bat
Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters,
Yet still the solitary humble-bee
Sings in the bean-flower! Henceforth I shall know
That Nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty! and sometimes
'Tis well to be bereft of promis'd good,
That we may lift the soul, and contemplate
With lively joy the joys we cannot share.
My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross'd the mighty Orb's dilated glory,
While thou stood'st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creaking o'er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.

-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Hap Notes: Okay, moving and getting settled (and internet) took longer than I thought. Sorry for the big gap. It just means the blog will have to go until Dec. 18 in order to make it a full year. So I picked a whopper to make up for the missing days.

First of all, don't get daunted by the length of this poem. Read it casually, as if Coleridge is speaking to you. That's pretty much how he intended it to be read, with the natural cadences (iambic pentameter more or less) of speech in blank verse.

The title of the poem suggests Coleridge's theme right away. A lime tree (or Linden) is not really much of a prison, is it? While Coleridge laments his "solitary confinement" he also recognizes that this tree is a mighty pretty prison.

The poem starts off with Coleridge feeling a bit sad and abandoned because he cannot join his friends, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Charles Lamb and Coleridge's wife Sarah Fricker who are taking a walk in the countryside. The walk, Coleridge knew, would be full of splendors and he describes the vistas and haunts beautifully as he is well acquainted with the route. Coleridge sits under a linden tree, writing this poem, thinking about his friends' enjoyment.

The reason Coleridge cannot go is because his wife accidentally spilled boiling hot milk on his foot. Seeing as how earlier in this particular summer she had suffered a miscarriage, the incident seems fraught with metaphor and perhaps maybe even an "accidentally on purpose" kind of thing (they did not get along well at all.) But, at any rate, Coleridge is hobbled and cannot go along.

He is most anxious for his old school-chum, essayist Charles Lamb, to have a lovely time since Lamb's life was more than a bit hobbled in a different way. A gifted student, Lamb had a speech impediment and boys of his social station could only continue in college if they wanted to pursue the ministry (which would have been impossible for him with the stutter he had.) Lamb and Coleridge, by the way, both went to (and met at) Christ's Hospital, the infamously brutal charity boarding school. Lamb had to leave school and he worked as a clerk for the East India Company. (He did this for 25 years while he wrote essays and poetry.)

But wait, there's more! Not only was Lamb hobbled by his not being able to go on in school and having to get a job but, he had family troubles as well. "Troubles" being a pale word for a sister with mental illness (with whom he was quite close) who one day flew off the handle and stabbed and killed their mother with a table knife. (Charles had a bit of trouble, too, with debilitating depressions). So Charles took care of his sister, sending her to mental hospitals when she was too difficult to deal with and taking care and responsibility for her when she was feeling better. It's said she was literate and charming company when she was not completely psycho-goofy. In fact, she and Charles wrote one of my favorite childhood books "Tales From Shakespeare" (Mary wrote summaries of the comedies, Charles did the tragedies.) Charles often wrote under the name "Elia."

So you can see why Coleridge wished for his pal Charles to have a peaceful, beautiful and charming walk to possibly give the fella a bit of comfort.

Now to the poem itself. The first section is Coleridge talking about his sorrow at not being able to go with his pals. He gets a bit dramatic "Friends, whom I nevermore may meet again"– sort of like a puppy who thinks when his owner leaves for work, he will never return. All of them are probably having dinner together that very night so it's just Coleridge's way of saying he feels really abandoned.

In the second section he describes the visual treats that Lamb and his friends will see. Lamb, shut up in a trading house dealing with business is in need of such a treat, Coleridge says, and he deserves a bit of a holiday from heartbreak and city bustling.

In the third section, Coleridge rejoices in his friend's pleasure, partakes in it vicariously and thinks that where ever one is sitting in the grandeur and beauty of nature, it is good. His "prison" is no such thing, but a temple to God and nature. The solitary bumblebee, like the poet, does his work and enjoys the splendors of nature –pleasures which never desert those who are blessed to see them.

The poet sees a black bird (a rook) winging its way home at twilight and blesses it for his friend who may also see it in his walk- a connection of nature between the friends.

You can cull a lot more from this poem about Coleridge's view of God and nature but I'll let you enjoy the walk for yourself.

Here is where we have talked about Coleridge before:

The masthead is Linden. The picture on this page is Coleridge's friend Charles Lamb.