Saturday, 29 November 2014

Mark Strand dies, age 80

Some among you may have noticed I haven't posted anything in some time- the truth is that while some may feel a sense of exhilaration at casting their voice into the void and hearing nothing in return, I am not one of those. But I felt the need to post this upon the death of one of my favorite poets, Mark Strand. He has not featured previously in this blog largely because he is not a particularly 'accessible' poet- while his language is simple and direct he often deals in abstractions, with themes of nothingness and absence, our literal and figurative deaths. His imagery is often a bit surreal and dark, although I have often found his poetry to be like a delicious winter meal whose ingredients one can't quite identify but which come together under a wondrous gravy of melancholy. Certainly not everyone's taste but it has often been mine.


Here is a link to some of his poems on the Writer's Almanac podcast. Enjoy. RIP Mark. Thank you.




Saturday, 1 November 2014

RIP Galway Kinnell



Pulitzer-prize winning poet Galway Kinnell, a lifelong New Englander, recently died at his home in Vermont at the age of 87.




From his NY Times obituary:

Through it all, he held that it was the job of poets to bear witness. “To me,” he said, “poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.”

Here is a link to a tribute to Kinnell by his long-time friend C.K. Williams from The New Yorker:

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/postscript-galway-kinnell-1927-2014

Here is my favourite Kinnell poem and one of my favourite poems EVER (referred to in the above piece by Williams):

“Saint Francis and the Sow”

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

-Galway Kinnell

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A Metaphor for Poetry's Power

It's not often that long, boring car rides provide me with metaphors for how powerful poetry can be but recently I was on just such a drive and was visited by just such a metaphor. The road was long and straight and the scenery repetitive. The radio was playing top-forty trash which seemed to melt into one continuous whine punctuated by a monotonous bass line. I was driving on auto-pilot, no longer aware of my surroundings or what I was thinking at the time.

I gradually became aware of an eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer approaching in the distance although this 'awareness' was more like a nebulous shape forming from the fog of my subconscious than any tangible reality- that is until it was suddenly upon me, past me- and my car shuddered with the accordion of air its bulk was pushing before it and the vortex created behind it. I grabbed the wheel as my heart began to race and I was ripped from my stupor into a more vibrant consciousness where I became aware once again of where I was, the camber of the road, the scenery rushing past.


Good poetry is like that. It has the power to shake us out of the stupor we descend into far too readily and make us suddenly aware again of our surroundings. I'm not sure what kind of truck it was that passed me on the road. I don't know what it was carrying. I don't know where it had originated nor what its destination was. Those details were less important than the way its speed and the churning air around it suddenly transformed the way I was travelling. Sometimes I read a poem and may not know from whence it's come nor where it's headed. But there is something about the way it's going- perhaps the tone or language of the poem, perhaps only a single resonating image- that buffets me in its passing and makes me grip the wheel tighter and with more intention than before.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

September's Favourite Poet: Stu Bagby

September's choice is NZ local, Stu Bagby, highly regarded for his straightforward, conversational tone packed with subtle humor, irony, and feeling. For more biographical information, please check out the Favourite Poets page. Below are a few sample poems. Enjoy!



First dance

Father Doyle and the Sisters decide
a Dance is in order
for Standard Six, a secular
First communion (our parents joke)

to prepare us for life beyond
the Convent. The girls are transformed
from uniforms into beautiful strangers
whose language we boys can hardly

put voice to. I dance.
I dance with Barbara Hackett.
To Perry Como? To Elvis? We dance
to music we will never forget.

             *    *    *
 
Forty years  later I read of Berlioz
setting off in his sixties to find
the Girl with the Pink Shoes
with whom he once danced when he was twelve.

I don't remember what colour shoes
Barbara Hackett wore when we danced
or was wearing the next Friday night
when I met her out shopping with her mother.

We blushed, I remember that, and I remember
the way her mother looked at us.
She looked as if the whole wide world
was a very sad place.

Walking Red Beach

The off-duty sea
has gone out for the morning
so they can walk and talk
and come back by
the footprints they make,
which are firm and delicate
and moreover there,
and theirs alone.

But the sea sighs
and comes in once more,
a tireless housekeeper
who's seen it all before,

and must make the beach as it was,
and as it will be
when one will ask:
"Remember the time we walked Red Beach?"
And the other reply:
"No, no I don't remember that."

Small steps

Dakota Avenue 1969,
a small cottage rented,
a station on
our newly wed journey.

One bedroomed,
an old grapefruit tree
out back, successful
past imagination.

Coming home one night,
we looked up,
up to where men
were walking on the moon.

We say remember
a lot these days,
going as far back
as we can.

It's how we forget
all the small
fires that turned
away from us.

Queenstown '04

It's the air you notice first.
It's keener than the air
that you are used to breathing.

You're glad, difference after all
is what you've come here for.

And a large part of that entails
a view you've only seen
on films or glossy illustrations.

But the mountains have pulled clouds
around themselves
as if they're cold or modest,

or have small imperfections
they'd rather cover up
until they get to know you better.

Sometimes,
coming to new places

is like being reminded of
the time a girl invited you to kiss her,
and then she changed her mind.

Poems reproduced with permission of the author

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

NEW: Jack Gilbert's 'Michiko Dead' in Favourite Poems


Michiko Dead is a powerful poem in which Gilbert likens the grief he feels over the death of his wife, the sculptor Michiko Nogami, to the way a man carries a heavy box. It is an extended metaphor (i.e., the metaphor continues throughout the entire length of the poem) and the way each line on the page runs into the next mirrors the way the subject of the poem tries to wrap his arms around a barely manageable load. The language is simple but the sentiment it so skillfully hints at makes it one of the best 'descriptions' of grief that I have ever read.  

August's Favourite Poet


Better late than never- August's poet is Jack Gilbert who wrote one of the all-time most heart-wrenching poems (see Favourite Poems page) entitled Michiko Dead. Check out the Favourite Poets page for links to Gilbert's bio and sample poems.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

New Poem added to Favourites

Lying in a hammock at William Duffy's farm at Pine Island, Minnesota by James Wright




is a haunting poem that I can read over and over again and find something new each time. The poem starts at a specific time and at a specific location and begins observationally in a pleasant, pastoral tone but by the second sentence I always sense some unease (why is the house empty?) and a kind of disassociation beginning to creep in (not cows following one another but cowbells).

How interesting the transformation of the horse droppings in the next line, but why are they last year's horses? It's an unusual syntax and adds to my sense of unease and discomfort. And then evening comes with the image of a predatory bird looking (but not finding?) home. By now, what can be read as a gentle nature poem has, for me, become something more sinister, although in a very subtle, understated way I find difficult to describe. And then- the dagger through the heart!

I have wasted my life. 

No matter how many times I read this poem, I find this line startling but also quite ambiguous. Has the poet had a sudden moment of utter despair, as sometimes afflicts all of us? Or conversely, is he rejoicing in this moment of intense observation and realising that he has previously walked blindly through his life? I love that this line is so unexpected and can be read in so many different ways. I don't care that I'll never know what James Wright intended- he has written something that continues to surprise and resonate- and for me, that is the essence of a 'favourite' poem!