Category Archives: poetry

Growing Darkness

171127_r30985

Wild + Precious

I just found out that the literary world is dismissive of the poet Mary Oliver, whom I love to pieces. I was thinking of the “sun swinging east” during these “days of growing darkness,” quoting “Lines Written During These Days of Growing Darkness.” Feeling as if I had elevated my experience of a bleak day. Feeling a bit smug to be thinking about poetry as I walked home from the train station as opposed to, say, about the wine I was going to drink when I got there. Turns out my poet of choice was deemed “the kind of old-fashioned poet who walks the woods most days, accompanied by dog and notepad,” per a profile in The New Yorker. The profile also tells me she was a Provincetown girl who wrote about the world but stuck close to home. When asked if she might like to travel she said yes, agreeably, then would “go off to my woods, my ponds, my sun-filled harbor, no more than a blue comma on the map of the world but, to me, the emblem of everything.”

And speaking of everything, take this you also-smug New Yorker profile writer: “There is only one question; / how to love this world,” from Oliver’s “Spring.”

I give you “Lines” which I recited, almost by heart, at the Bowery Poetry Project this past summer (a story for another time).

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends
into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

Advertisements
Tagged , ,

The reason why birds can fly

“Things!

Burn them, burn them!

Make a beautiful fire!

More room in your heart for love, for the trees!

For the birds who own nothing—the reason they can fly.” 

~ “Felicity,” Mary Oliver

maxresdefault.jpg

I read this while Oliver is leaving again. As is his pattern, home for Christmas and those first, dark months in January. And then, like a bird, he’s often again, carrying so little in exchange for doing so much.

 

 

Tagged ,

Yes, it’s an Audi ad

cuba-road

The road between Trinidad and Havana

But my attention is caught by Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” an extremely long poem that I excerpt here, just the first and last parts. A plus: it’s also a love poem.

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! Let the money remain unearn’d!
Let the school stand! Mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! Let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
Tagged , ,

Why Poetry?

Why now? Why at all? Daniel Halpern’s essay in the New York Times found answers to these questions by emailing notable poets and researching what past poets said about their medium. There are anecdotes that get to poetry’s essential nature. The Greek Poet Yiannia Ritso was jailed, wrote poems on cigarette papers and walked out at the end of his sentence wearing his collected poems stuffed in the lining of his jacket. From Moonlight Sonata (1956) about an old woman in an old house, thinking about death, translated from the Greek.

But who can play this game to the end?
And the bear gets up again and moves on
obedient to her leash, her rings, her teeth,
smiling with torn lips at the pennies the beautiful and unsuspecting children toss
(beautiful precisely because unsuspecting)
and saying thank you. Because bears that have grown old
can say only one thing: thank you; thank you.
Let me come with you.

Then there’s the Ukraninain poet Irina Raushinkskaya, also jailed, who wrote her poems on bars of soap and when she had memorized them, washed them away.

Are these two stories true? Is poetry true? What is true? What is truth? These are the questions poetry puts before you, like leaves on a tree, waving madly, like vivid flags, in the wind, if only you would stop to notice them. If only you could get out of your own thoughts and notice them. From Raushinkskaya’s I Will Live and Survive:

I will live and survive and be asked:

How they slammed my head against a trestle, 

How I had to freeze at nights, 

How my hair started to turn grey… 

But I’ll smile. And will crack some joke 

And brush away the encroaching shadow. 

And I will render homage to the dry September 

That became my second birth. 

And I’ll be asked: ‘Doesn’t it hurt you to remember?’ 

Not being deceived by my outward flippancy. 

But the former names will detonate my memory – 

Magnificent as old cannon. 

And I will tell of the best people in all the earth, 

The most tender, but also the most invincible, 

How they said farewell, how they went to be tortured, 

How they waited for letters from their loved ones. 

And I’ll be asked: what helped us to live 

When there were neither letters nor any news – only walls, 

And the cold of the cell, and the blather of official lies, 

And the sickening promises made in exchange for betrayal. 

And I will tell of the first beauty 

I saw in captivity. 

A frost-covered window! No spy-holes, nor walls, 

Nor cell-bars, nor the long endured pain – 

Only a blue radiance on a tiny pane of glass, 

A cast pattern- none more beautiful could be dreamt! 

The more clearly you looked the more powerfully blossomed 

Those brigand forests, campfires and birds! 

And how many times there was bitter cold weather 

And how many windows sparkled after that one – 

But never was it repeated, 

That upheaval of rainbow ice! 

And anyway, what good would it be to me now, 

And what would be the pretext for the festival? 

Such a gift can only be received once, 

And perhaps is only needed once.

Poetry is personal and for me it makes me read more slowly, stop to notice a frost-covered window, rise above words concerned with politics and celebrity and anything that starts with a hashtag. That’s why.

Tagged ,
Advertisements