Archive for Poetry

Kristof’s Poetry Contest

I would like to invite you to submit entries
to a new poetry contest meant to capture
the ethos of our times in verse.
…  Let’s try  to examine this historical moment
through a new prism” with this poetry contest.
 — Nicholas Kristof, September 15, 2017

Click here to download a PDF of this post:
Kristoff_Trump_poetry_contest_SIX_Oct_2017

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On September 15, Nicholas Kristof invited readers to submit entries to a new contest in the NYT — his invite: “Announcing a Trump Poetry Contest” is found at: https://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2017/09/15/announcing-a-trump-poetry-contest/
Below are six entries sent to the contest by two local authors:
myself and Lauren De Vore.)

Below are Dan’s three entries to Kristof’s New York Times “Trump” poetry contest.
After those are three poems submitted by Lauren De Vore.  As of October 8, it is unknown if any of these six poems were selected to appear in The Times.  We’ll see  …
• 
Consistent with the topic, my intent was to reflect on a distortion of the Presidency with a distortion of the sonnet form. Like classic sonnets, my entries are written in iambic pentameter, but, unlike those others, each has 20 lines (4-7-5-4) and no rhyme, just like this Presidency.
•  Another objective: to fulfill contest requirements without mentioning a certain name.
— PapaDan
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What This One Hasn’t Learned
By Dan Sapone

A president presides but does not claim
all triumphs and achievements for himself.
He praises goodness that we’ve all achieved
together to become the change we seek.

My Dad’s advice: “Give credit and take blame”
was offered free to any who would lead.
“Lift up the folks around you when you speak.
Say not ’I’m great’; for if you are, the world
will tell YOU so; and you can humbly say,
“It’s WE who make the world a better place,
together all,” he adds, “Unless we don’t … ”

For then, true leaders know to change the path
and say, “Together, follow me this way,
and bring with us those needing helping hands,
for hands we have; and other hands we’ll need
when harder work will be required of us.

D’yathink that HE can learn what those before
him knew and brought with them to leadership:
that greatness lies only in “Us” and “We”
and not at all alone in “I” and “Me?”
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Dancing on the Edge at the End of the World
By Dan Sapone

Poets’ve said a lot ’bout how it ends.
Said one: “Some say in fire, some say in ice.”
Another wrote we should expect the sound
to be “a whimper” only, not “a bang.”

So, on the edge, so near the end, we dance.
We’ve grown up thinking of a sudden end
to all we’ve known — a blast, a mist, then gone.
But those who watch may notice that a slow
decline precedes the end.  A lack of care,
neglect of values writ in stone by those
who came before. They warned us loud and clear:

“Take care of those who need — we’re all the same.
Become the change we seek. Beware of those
who shout the loudest, those who wish to rise
by pushing others down.” But we forgot,
and looked away, while demagogues arose.

And so we dance, here on the edge.  While some
will quickly pay the price of our neglect,
it’s all of us, in time, who’ll see it end.
Yes, all of us, in time, will see it end.
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“In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” — Joseph de Maistre
(popularly misquoted as having originated with Alexis de Tocqueville and Abraham Lincoln)

The Leaders We Deserve?
By Dan Sapone

A coupla hundred years ago, a few
observers offered this enduring truth,
that over time, “In a democracy,
the people get the leaders they deserve.”

That begs some questions those of us who vote
must ask ourselves: Is THIS what we deserve?
What earned us this foul-mouthed incompetent
who represents us all around the world?
Can we of right say loudly “Shame on him”
or must we own it and say, “Shame on us?”
How can we know what is it we deserve?

Do we disparage those unlike ourselves?
Or welcome others with our minds and hearts?
Do we speak of each other with respect?
Do we contribute to a common good
to help make us into a better us?”

Perhaps our leaders mindlessly reflect
the image that our honest mirror shows.
Perhaps we must admit the painful truth:
We got the leaders who are just like us.
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Lauren de Vore’s three submissions to Nicholas Kristof’s Poetry Contest
Below are the poems Lauren submitted.  In announcing the contest, Kristof asked for poems that “capture the ethos of our times” and noted that “if you can make us feel better, or laugh, or think more deeply, so much the better.” As much as I would have liked to been humorous, I do not find the current ethos to be such that verse can make anyone feel better. Rather, my poems give voice to my disgust and despair over these Trumpian times as well as the moral responsibility those of us who disagree with the current Administration and Congress have to stand in resistance and as witness to this dangerous and damaging period in our nation’s history. As for thinking more deeply, by all means do so, but not at the risk of sinking into an abyss. One must have faith in the ability to change things for the better in order to fight for the better.

Directive for the 21st Century
by Lauren de Vore

Be not numb. Turn not away. Someone must bear witness.
Hone your nerves that you may be shocked, offended,
Outraged by the sandbox-bully meanness,
By the lies and the flag-waving god-invoked hate,
That you may be horrified, anguished, incensed
In the face of act upon act of violence
And the blood-lust glee of the perpetrators.
Shrug not. Retreat not into cynicism.
Someone must feel the pain.
Though you march not on the front lines of protest
Against those who would destroy
What they envy, what they fear
And torment the weak simply because they can,
Avert not your eyes and hope it will all go away.
Rather, stand unblinking,
Witness to the rending of a nation.
And when the land lies blood-soaked and torn,
Like a troubadour of old, tell the tales of the slaughters
And the resistance, of the villains and the heroes,
That some who survive the madness may listen, may learn.
Be not numb. Turn not away. Someone must bear witness.

*  Written in response to “Truth, Lies and Numbness,”by Roger Cohen, The New York Times (August 24, 2017).
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Masquerade
by Lauren de Vore

Drivel passing as profound          Sound bites
proclaimed as wisdom          Bluster and bullying
ranted as righteousness          Lies hustled as
truth          Hatred spewed as patriotism          And
bigotry cloaked in the robes of faith

Even as          Tolerance is scorned          Compassion
mocked          Otherness reviled          Restraint and
reason          Spurned and derided          As weakness
As foolishness and naiveté

Yet who are the naïve          The foolish, the weak
But those who refuse to see          This masquerade
for the farce it is          And wrapping themselves
in spangles and stripes          Dance on the precipice
Of our undoing
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AWOL
by Lauren de Vore

There is no “i” in country
There is no “u” in nation
There is no peace in poverty
Or hope in homelessness
No tolerance in tea parties
No grace in zealotry
There is no trace of humbleness
In hubris, not a shred
Of decency in demagogue
What future is there for
This grand experiment that’s U.S.
When hate and blood and fear
Run rampant in the streets
When politicians sabotage
The land they claim to serve
And super-PACs buy votes and laws
To feed their appetite for ever more
When body politic prides ignorance
And presidents toss covfefe
Into the swirling winds
But there’s an “I” in nation, “you” in country too
Perhaps one day the “S of A” will find again its “U”
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Snow Globe

ConVivio_Snow_Globe_DeVore

 

I read the news this morning. Yet another shooting, this time, police ambushed in Baton Rouge. Even as my heart wrenched, my cynical (benumbed?) mind wondered what it would be tomorrow—civilian or law enforcement? terrorist or home-grown? individual or mass? As horrid as these events are, we must bear witness to them. We must talk. We must act. Otherwise, nothing changes.

 

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Snow Globe

A shot, a siren.
A siren, a shot.
Does it matter which is first?
Either way someone’s dead.
One life ended,
Others destroyed—
The shot, the shooter,
Those left behind.

The act, the image.
The image, the outrage.
Marches, protests,
Funerals.
Pulpits, airwaves
Fill with eloquence,
Prayers and pleas
And vows for change.
Yet where’s the outrage
When nothing changes?

Black skin, brown skin,
White skin, tan,
Blue jeans, badge,
Crescent, cross, six-point star.
Does it matter who bleeds first?
Either way blood is spilt,
Hands are stained,
Souls are rended.
Vengeance, justice,
Someone tell me,
What’s the difference?

Shake a snow globe,
Glittering flakes in fury swirl,
Slacken, then subside.
A shot, a siren.
A siren, a shot.
Yet again a life is ended.
Yet again the globe’s upended.
Yet again nothing changes.

(Lauren de Vore, July 17, 2016)

Download “Snow Globe” in PDF:  ConVivio_Snow_Globe_DeVore_7_17_2016

 

Guest Poet: Lauren de Vore, National Poetry Month 2015 Continues . . .

Postcard_Lauren_Poetry_draftWell, this is a completely new experience for me, a coming out of my poet’s closet so to speak. After spending my working years as a science writer/technical editor, it’s a real treat now to spend time writing what I want to write! To my surprise, I find myself writing poetry.

I’ve always loved the sound and rhythm of words, and some of my earliest memories are of being read to—fairy tales, classic children’s stories, and poems, lots and lots of poems. Remember “Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes” (subtitled “Fleas” by Strickland Gillilan): “Adam/Had ‘em.”, reputedly the shortest poem ever published? Or how about the hypnotic verses of Robert Service: “There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold…”?

As I found pleasure in the writing of the following poems, I hope you find pleasure reading them.

====================    Click here for a PDF of this post:    ConVivio Guest Post ldv r2

Like Dan, I love Yosemite. As spectacular as spring and early summer can be, fall is actually my favorite time there; the days are still warm but the nights are crisp and, with the crowds gone, the valley is quietly settling down for the winter. Regardless of season, there is something spiritual about the place. I wrote the following poem last June after an early morning walk.

Morning Walk
Lauren de Vore (July 3, 2014)

I rose at dawn one summer morn
Something was calling me
A gift to see the day new born
Here in Yosemite

The forest duff held yestreen’s heat
Meadow grass bowed with dew
I watched the silent stars retreat
Dark eased its sable hue

With reverence I inhaled deep
All was hushed, nothing stirred
So perfect, pure that I could weep
Silver song of first bird

Such sanctity in every rockLauren_ConVivio_Yosemite_Chapel
Waterfall river pool
All mysteries reveal, unlock
Here in God’s vestibule

I walked till gray gave way to light
Granite in bas-relief
A simple chapel met my sight
Edifice for belief

Seems strange that midst this majesty
Man constructs walls and roof
In searching for divinity
Indoors he turns for proof

Perhaps too much to face full-blazed
Unfiltered gaze of God
Within a structure man has raised
There finds it safe to laud

A gentle breeze whispered my way
Gratia domini
Whate’er the day it’s Sabbath day
Here in Yosemite

Lauren_ConVivio_Yosemite_mtns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve long been a fan of Walt Whitman, even before I went to Whitman College. And no, the college was not named for the poet but for a missionary, Marcus Whitman, who in settling the Walla Walla valley managed to wipe out most of the native inhabitants with a measles epidemic; the understandably irate survivors then massacred Marcus and his settlers. History lesson aside, do you remember Apple’s commercial for last year’s Superbowl, “…the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”? That’s a line from the poem “O Me! O Life!” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182088) in Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

My verse is below. I think everyone, at some point or another, contemplates legacy. Very few of us have the opportunity, talent and/or fortitude to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. But on the smaller, more human scale…

My Verse
Lauren de Vore (Feb 27, 2014)

My verse, Mr. Whitman,
Is but a small verse, a simple verse,

One of quiet striving to find a place to fit in,
A way to leave the world better, if only a bit, than before.

I have asked the larger questions but only lightly,
For I am one more inclined to nurture dragons than slay them;

I have loved well but without grand passion,
For I am better suited to live on the plains, in the lea not the face of the storm;

I have shed tears over the struggle and injustice,
But cried also over the beauty and sheer joy of it all.

Many are the times I should have done, could have done,
But more are the times I did.

And so, mine is a simple verse—a son, a handful of friends,
A smattering of follies and kindnesses, of ordinary tragedies and triumphs.

I have not shaken the earth for good or ill,
But I have lived. I am here.

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Since we’re recognizing National Poetry Month, here are several poems about words, poets and poetry. There’s a lot of verbiage about poetry being transcendent, sublime, profound, etc. I’m always a bit put off by these superlatives. Some poetry is indeed extraordinary and inspiring, and I suspect many poets have ambitions toward that end. But such characterizations can make poetry seem intimidating and set it beyond the ken and interest of ordinary writers and readers. It’s important to remember that poetry is also fun, and that less-than profound poems are every bit as valuable, and often more enjoyable, than the critically acclaimed “greats.”

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This is my little rebuttal to literary critics who extol poetry in highfalutin terms and to poets who cultivate the abstruse in an attempt to be profound. As an aside, I’m very fond of sonnets. I like the challenge of working within the constraints of the sonnet’s structure, meter and rhyme—specifically, 14 lines consisting of three quatrains and a concluding couplet in iambic pentameter with an ABAB or ABBA rhyming scheme. (If you’ve ever taken a music theory class, writing a sonnet is similar to being presented with the melody line and figured bass for a Bach chorale and working to fill in the other three parts. And then, of course, comes the lesson in humility when, after hours of struggle on your own composition, Bach’s version is revealed! The same thing happens when I read Shakespeare’s sonnets.)

Thoughts Profound
Lauren de Vore (Apr. 10, 2014)

The poet’s task can be formidable
For if one’s aim is poetry profound,
One must, as precedent, think thoughts profound
(Though not completely inexplicable).

But if a thought seems deep or sage to me,
I wonder is it so? Perhaps it’s just
My ignorance, something that’s been discussed
And shelved long since by those more scholarly.

But then I think, ne’er mind those dusty tomes,
Th’idea’s new to me. And so I pense
The thoughts and images as they make sense
To me, and in the process pen my poems.

I think it matters not what’s deemed profound,
But that one thinks and ventures to expound.

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Standing in the shower, hot water streaming over my shoulders, is often a creative time for me. Possibilities for new poems emerge, solutions to difficulties with in-progress poems arise. But then, dripping wet, I have to quickly find something to scribble on before the ideas evaporate with the steam!

Musing
Lauren de Vore (Feb. 19, 2014)

Why is it that when inspiration strikes,
I’m always in the shower or in bed
Near sleep with naught to write upon to catch
Those fleeting sparks of wit, those crystal drops
Of insight evanescent in the light
Of day? Perhaps there is some muse who likes
To tease, to pendulate a slender thread
Of perfect prose or rhyme sublime, then snatch
It back while laughing from the mountaintops.
Yet if these tricks amuse the muse, no spite
I’ll hold, for any hint poetic psyches
Me up and sets thoughts spinning in my head.
Come morn, with pen in hand I’ll chicken-scratch
Till phrases coalesce in starts and stops,
Like smoke rings that shine brightly then take flight.
And though I might prefer some clearer spikes
Of inspiration, mileage posts instead
Of traces drawn by bits of straw and thatch,
I welcome any literary sops
That come my way. For I know when the right
Words finally align in proper queues,
The poem belongs to me and not the muse.

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Words are like people. Some are practical and purposeful. Some are demanding and ambitious or exuberant and frivolous. Others are somber and melancholy or perhaps persnickety and precise. And playing with them is just plain fun.

Old Friends
Lauren de Vore (June 14, 2014)

One of the nicest things now I have time to write
Is chance to reacquaint myself with long-lost friends.
In searching for the perfect phrase or rhyme just right
As thought in prose or poem sinuously wends
Its way from brain to page, I’ve happened on a host
Of lovely words I met, oh, years ago, but long
Forgot midst press of workday life. So here’s a toast
To all the vocables that make a language song,
An art, a mental exercise, a game of tones.
Some are celebrities, imposing cynosures
That daunt for fear their inept use engender groans.
Others inveigle as they dangle sapid lures
To those who strive to find t’exact mot juste
As anodyne for verbal hebetude. The twee
And chary, risible and coy’ve returned to roost
Within my newly ‘larged vocabulology,
And in their company I’ve wambled far and wide
Through literary dingle, kloof and weald. Although
At times I balter in their syllables, beside
Their usual kith and kin they’re far more apropos
And much more fun to know. And so I set myself
The goal each day to use at least one quirky word
That else would molder on some dusty reference shelf.
Eyebrows may rise and people think me most absurd,
But words unused are eas’ly lost, and in their loss
Is language dimmed, for words are more than letters in
A row but filled with meme and meaning stretched across
The years. When words are lost, the concepts held within
Are also lost and soon or late th’ability
To think those thoughts recedes beyond recall. And so
My game of tones is more than vain legerity
But quest to save the tools we need to think and know
And understand. And after all, these words are friends,
And friendship true perdures despite mere fads and trends.

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I was always the nerdy kid, the one with glasses and braces who actually liked school and read poetry even when it wasn’t assigned. In fact, one of my favorite poems was (and still is) Robert Browning’s “The Bishop Orders his Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173002). On a recent rereading, it struck me how much one’s enjoyment of such poems depends on knowledge of the “cultural literacy” of the era in which the poem was written. The verse below attempts to reflect on this realization.

A Poet’s Admonition
Lauren de Vore (Dec. 6, 2013)

A passing survey of lauded poets of yore
Reveals what may be a vexing predicament
For would-be bards of today, for tis evident
That the sonnets and odes English teachers adore
Are brimming with analogies from history,
Legend and myth. These allusionary subjects,
While once in common grasp, now baffle and perplex
All but the super-erudite and scholarly.
For who today knows ‘nough of Ozymandias
Or Cuchulain or Lochinvar to apprehend
The poet’s nuance? Be they villain or godsend,
Their deeds are lost to time, their names are powerless.

Thus must the twenty-first-century poet ask,
What is the current coin of history and myth,
The people and places that will register with
Readers today and in years to come? Quite a task
To choose amongst Lincoln, Mandela, or Gandhi,
‘Twixt Birkenau and Abu Ghraib. And which of these,
If any, will have meaning in the centuries
Ahead when poet too is part of history?

No matter how important now, most everyone
And every deed will likely be forgot in time
As memory must pick and choose which are sublime
And worth remembering, the rest to jettison.
Perhaps this is the poet’s task, to search the dross
And find the diamonds bright, and by the craft transform
Mere mortals into myth.

Mere mortals into myth . Bard choose well, for you form
The future’s view of history, a heavy cross
Indeed to bear. But every age has need of lore,
And hist’ry books though filled with facts are dreary works.
But stories tell with rhythm and with rhyming verse,
And oft the parables evolve to something more.
So poet hone your tales and wisely wield your pen,
For they may well have powers far beyond your ken.

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These next two poems started out simply as observations of scenes but evolved into something a bit more.

Big Sur Coast
Lauren de Vore (Feb. 24, 2015)

On high I watch the breakers pound the shore.
With foaming wrath they protest journey’s end,
As if through sound and fury they could rend
The cliffs and force the land to yield before
Their watery might. No restful overlook
This bluff of mine, with naught for company
But screaming gulls and one lone cypress tree.
Though meager shelter ‘gainst the wind, in crook
Of twisted trunk I stand, eyes squinting in
The glare. With every thundering crash I feel
The temper in each surge of liquid steel,
Frustration that the race is run and win
Or lose ‘tis done. Thus so I reckon feels
The river as it empties in the sea,
As well th’explorer trekking westerly
Till dry land ends and squatting on his heels
Curses the ocean now his westering days
Are done. And yet the rivers ever run,
And though the strand is strewn with those who shun
The sea’s untamed expanse, the restless gaze
Beyond the known and venture ever on.
Around the globe, by tempests tossed, by ice
And fire burned, be’t hell or paradise
They tarry not as onwards they are drawn.
And when at last the last frontier’s been breached,
When all the empty lands are overrun,
What of the ones who chase the setting sun,
Now that the questing’s done, the limit’s reached?
I watch the breakers crash upon the shore
Refusing to accept that journeys end.
As daylight fades, down from my bluff I wend
And know the waves will pound forevermore.

Lauren_ConVivio_BigSur

 

 

 

 

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I’m convinced that all cats, just before they are born, are sworn to secrecy about all things feline!

Cat
Lauren de Vore (April 15, 2015)

So sleek and elegant, tuxedo-clad, my cat
Sits crouched upon the hearth and stares unblinking at
The dancing flames and glowing coals. What see you there,
Oh cat who deigns to share my bed and meager fare,
Deep in the fire’s heart? Across the eons do
You gaze, when deepest darkest Africa was new,
When mighty beasts, not man, did rule the plains and you
Perhaps the leader of some simban pride? Or do
You see the ancient pyramids when cats were viewed
As gods, were worshipped, idolized, their favors wooed?
Can you tap mem’ries from the days beyond recall?
You’ve prowled the fetid alleys and the king’s great hall
As Black Death carried off both rich and poor. You’ve sailed
Around the world, in countless armies’ van you’ve trailed,
You’ve watched as tempests swirled and battles raged and seen
The course of hist’ry changed. Oh cat of midnight sheen,
The flick’ring flames reflect within your slitted eyes,
Their ever-changing scintillations hypnotize.
Can you not give me just a hint of what you see,
Of all that’s feline, foreign and thus hid from me?
Still as a statue, full of secrets, staring at
The swirling fire, so sits my sleek and silent cat.

Lauren_ConVivio_Cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Every writer is, I suspect, an avid reader—a good thing too, since where would writers be without readers?

Selfish
Lauren de Vore (Jan. 6, 2014)

My reading time is precious time, my selfish time.
So if you see me with a book, don’t talk to me,
Don’t ask me what I’m doing—reading, duh—or if
It’s good—it is, I wouldn’t read it otherwise.
And if you do, don’t be surprised or captious when
I scowl as I reluctantly reply. And should
You then decide to choose a book or magazine
Yourself to read, please be forewarned that reading’s not
A group activity. Repress, nay kill the urge
To interrupt to ask to read me “just one thing.”
Though I may acquiesce with barely stifled sigh,
The answer’s really “no.” For I am far away
Within the pages of my book—another time,
Another place—and hauling back to here and now
Is maddening beyond belief. Tis selfish, true,
Such solitude to seek and churlish to resent
Its breach. But since I have no secret place in which
To hide away and read, domestic bliss would be
Enhanced by silence till I’ve closed my book and joined
Again the present day and ever-patient spouse.

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And finally a little something haiku-ish…

Birdsong in a minor key
Shatters the fragile shell of dawn.
Daybreak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many thanks to my husband, Paul Jackson, for the photos. (You should have an exhibit some day!)

 

 — Lauren de Vore

 

 

Celebrating National Poetry Month — Welcome Back to ConVivio

Postcard_Poetry_Nat_poetry_month_2015OK, so National Poetry Month is as good an excuse as any to welcome you back to ConVivio

Welcome back!  It’s been awhile.  How’ve you been?  Some of you with long memories may remember that I started this blog around harvest time in 2009, and named it after our little amateur winery.  In Italian, ConVivio means “festival.”  In English, it derives from words like welcoming, friendly, lively, and hospitable — literally “with life.”  I began this experiment in storytelling to celebrate all things related to that broad theme. Our media include fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art, travel, music, food, and wine —  in no particular order. Today, we re-introduce ConVivio in honor of National Poetry Month, just as we did five years ago this month, with a handful of poems. Even though my own writing is mostly prose, I have long been an admirer of poetry and poetic language. I would like to dispel the notion that poetry is somehow an old, dead art, forced on young people by vengeful English teachers to build character through suffering. I assert that poetry is alive and well and found giving pleasure in a number of places in popular culture. Some of our best known writers of prose are also purveyors of artful language.

The poems I offer today have at least one thing on common — each was written in response to another ‘work of art.’  I include my own unspectacular attempts at poetry and those of a few much more accomplished living poets. You are welcome to participate today, and in the future, by reading what you find here and, if you feel the urge, responding with your own comments and contributions, using the “comments” field at the end of each post.  We hope you will join us here often.

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A Local Tri-Valley Poet: Lauren de Vore

Since we’re honoring National Poetry Month, it seems appropriate to start with “what is poetry?” Contrary to what some may think, poetry is not an archaic genre or something forced on schoolchildren to inflict pain.  Rather poetry is for everyman and by everyman, as relevant today as in the time of Homer and before. As Lauren says…

Poetry Is

by Lauren de Vore   (April 14, 2015)

Poetry is a song                                Poetry is outrage
Where the words themselves              For times when prose
Make the music.                                Is insufficient.

Poetry is a painting                            Poetry is passion
By hands inept                                  In all its excess
With pigment and brush.                    And abandon.

Poetry is a love letter                         Poetry is laughter
For a heart too shy                             For the simple joys
To speak the words.                           Of everyday life.

Poetry is the pulse                              Poetry is crystal
Of memory                                        Pure and transparent
Echoing round the fire.                        As clear water.

Poetry is a rainbow                            Poetry is profound
Of dreams tinted                               Fathomless and dark
With rhythm and rhyme.                    As the human soul.

Poetry is a prayer                              Poetry is ageless
Where the poet cries                          Timeless for as long
Out to his god.                                  As man has words.

This is  whiter space without any text at all Poetry is.

============================

Next is a poem I started to write while Gretta and I were sitting in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan and finished a few blocks away in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel (where much greater writers did their work in times gone by). What struck me most about Bryant Park was its rhythm — and island of green at the center of the world’s most intense city.  This poem is inspired by the rhythm of another poem (OK, a song lyric) by Antonio Carlos Jobim. So, it is truly a response to two other works of art: Jobim’s Waters of March (copied below my poem for your comparison) and Bryant Park itself — a work of urban art on a large scale. It is an experiment in rhythm and image.

Bryant Park: An Island of New York Rhythms Amid the Tall City

By Dan Sapone
Rhythmic inspiration provided by Antonio Carlos Jobim (see below)

A step
outside
both ways to the park
past the guys playing chess
until long after dark.
And the park is alive with the young and the old
reading books on iPads eating ice cream that’s sold . . .

Ice_cream    Bryant_fountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

right here
right now
‘mid the tall glass and steel,
‘round this island of green,
where the jugglers are real.
To see and be seen all four classes are there:
Low, middle, and high, and “I don’t really care.”

A beer
A dog
And some ‘kraut on a roll
with a pickle and chips
it’s all food for the soul.
Oh, there’s nori on sushi, and wasabi peas
Chorizo, chipotle, chiabata, and cheese.

Bizz-ness,
all kinds,
being done all around
selling personal jets
and some stuff on the ground.
And the rhythm of now is as old as the land;
it’s as new as the kids playing marbles in sand.

Non-stop
You hear
Varied sounds of the day.
It’s a city at work.
It’s a city at play.
Taxis, busses, and bikes’ polyphonic cacophony,
plays a twenty-first-century version of harmony.
Destination, way station, place to go and to be,
here together alone, plugged in cordlessly.

Skyscrapers    Bryant_rotate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At night
Gets dark?
No, no, not at all,
For the bright-lit skyscrapers
Shine down on us all.
It changes from everyone’s front porch and yard,
To comf’terble living room with ceiling that’s starred.
It’s here; it’s now; it’s there; it’s then.
And the change ev’ry hour brings us back again . . .

Why here?
Why now?
Are we looking inside?
Or escaping a burden
in plain sight to hide?
In the world spinning faster and faster each day,
We ask, “Will it carry us near or away?”
Our park answers softly, “You can stay just right here.
I’m not changing, honest, you’ve nothing to fear.”
============================

In 2001, “Águas de Março” was named as the all-time best Brazilian song in a poll of Brazilian journalists, musicians and other artists. The central metaphor of The Waters of March gives the impression of the passing of daily life and its progression towards death, just as the rains of March mark the end of a Brazilian summer. But, the translated lyrics speak of “the promise of life,” “the joy in your heart,” and the “promise of spring,” suggesting a much more affirming theme.  [iTunes will bring Jane Monheit’s wonderful performance of this song to your iPhone for ninety-nine cents.]

The Waters of March

By Antonio Carlos Jobim

A stick,
a stone,
it’s the end of the road,
It’s the rest of a stump,
it’s a little alone.
It’s a sliver of glass, it is life, it’s the sun
It is night, it is death, it’s a trap, it’s a gun.

The oak when it blooms,
a fox in the brush,
the knot in the wood,
the song of a thrush.
The will of the wind, a cliff, a fall
A scratch, a lump, it is nothing at all.

It’s the wind blowing free,
it’s the end of the slope.
It’s a beam, it’s a void,
it’s a hunch, it’s a hope
And the riverbank talks of the waters of March
It’s the end of all strain, it’s the joy in your heart.

The foot,
the ground,
the flesh and the bone
The beat of the road, a slingshot’s stone.
A fish, a flash, a silvery glow
A fight, a bet, the range of a bow.
The bed of the well, the end of the line,
The dismay in the face, it’s a loss, it’s a find.
A spear, a spike, a point, a nail
A drip, a drop, the end of the tale.

A truckload of bricks in the soft morning light
The sound of a shot in the dead of the night
A mile, a must, a thrust, a bump,
It’s a girl, it’s a rhyme, it’s a cold, it’s the mumps.
The plan of the house, the body in bed
And the car that got stuck, it’s the mud, it’s the mud.

A float, a drift,
a flight, a wing
A hawk, a quail,
the promise of spring.
And the riverbank talks of the waters of March
It’s the promise of life, it’s the joy in your heart.

A snake,
a stick,
it is John, it is Joe,
It’s a thorn on your hand and a cut in your toe.
A point, a grain, a bee, a bite
A blink, a buzzard, a sudden stroke of night.

A pin,
a needle,
a sting, a pain
A snail, a riddle, a wasp or a stain.
A pass in the mountains, a horse and a mule
In the distance the shelves rode three shadows of blue.
And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It’s the promise of life in your heart, in your heart.

A stick, a stone, the end of the road,
The rest of a stump, a lonesome road.
A sliver of glass, a life, the sun,
A knife, a death, the end of the run.
And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It’s the end of all strain, it’s the joy in your heart.

==================

Inspiration from The Lady in the Harbor

Lauren wrote this poem in response to two other works of art: Emma Lazarus’ famous 1883 poem The New Colossus (copied below this one), and the colossal work of art that inspired that poem, The Statue of Liberty, in New York Harbor.

Cry Shame

By Lauren de Vore (September 5, 2014)

I. Hypocrisy
Not like Ms. Liberty whose outstretched hand
And flaming torch did bid world-wide welcome
To exiles seeking sanctuary from
Injustice in their far-off native land,
A barrier in fact and mind’s been built
Against newcomers yearning to breathe free.
Whence came such coldness and hypocrisy?
Have we forgotten all the blood t’was spilt
For freedom’s sake on foreign shores that would
Deny such liberation here at home?
I fear America is passing into gloam
When we forget for what this country stood.
A travesty, the border fence doth shout
“You homeless, poor, and tempest-tost—keep out!”

II. Truths Self-Evident
How short and fickle is the memory
Of those who’d shut this country’s golden door,
And in the closing guilefully ignore
That not so long ago t’was they, t’was we
Who were the immigrants. For then, as now,
The hunger for a better life didst drive
Us all to seek a place where we could thrive,
A land where founding fathers did avow
As truths self-evident that all men are
Created equal, with God-given right
To life and liberty and chance to fight
For happiness ‘neath freedom’s beacon star.
That which was true for generations past
Still’s true for all the wretched and outcast.

III. Cry Shame
Cry shame on all false patriots, on all
Who smirch their heritage fear-mongering
‘Gainst incomers with nonwhite skin, who sling
Their vitriol on any who’d forestall
Such bigotry. There is no honor in
A land that claims to champion liberty
Yet fences out th’oppressed, that piously
Hides prejudice behind flag-waving din.
Who dares’t forget this country’s built upon
The blood and backs of immigrants? They are
Our past, they are our future too, they are
America. If welcome be withdrawn,
Our day will dim, our greatness fade away
Unless Ms. Liberty re-light our way.

==================

And here is the original, when times were different . . .

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus (1883)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

==================

This next poem, was inspired by a painting Gretta and I discovered in a hotel lobby in Philadelphia on our way to the patio at the back of the hotel beside the river.  Walking into the hotel for the first time, the painting called Figures In a Boat by a local artist, caught my attention and made me ask, “What’s the story?”   I recorded that first impression in the first part of the poem (“First Look”).  At the end of the afternoon, walking back through the lobby past the painting again, it made a different impression, recorded in “Second Look.”    THEN, after I sent a copy of the poem and the photo to my nephew Joseph Faletti, he reported that he saw it an entirely different way.  His poem, A Different Look, is copied below mine. Joe Faletti is not a poet, or so he says. But as a programmer and software designer he is quite accustomed to making ideas to fit within a predetermined framework. So given the topic and structure he saw in First Look, Second Look, he was able to fit words for the different vision he saw in reaction to what I had seen. He also grew up with an artistic sensibility for the harmonious merger of words, images, and powerful feelings.

First Look

By Dan Sapone (October 2013)

Painting_boat_5x7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not alone                                                         Here
Accompanied only by responsibility                     For the one with all the burden
on a wine-dark sea,                                           no oar propels nor rudder guides.
before a fearful scene,                                       Mercy, we must hope, resides in other hands
she stands, and looks, and wonders.                   if it lives at all.

Here                                                                  Now
The sea below and sky above                              No wave nor tide nor wind-filled sail
do not meet with usual grace.                             moves us anywhere but here.
Between the two,                                               But where to go?
the horizon burns                                               Where is home?
with violence and anger.                                     Were we transported here for safety?
There                                                                 Or did we drift here into danger?
Do the flames a homeland burn?                         Was it inattention, mindful negligence, or trust,
Whose? Mine?                                                   that brought us here?
An unintended consequence in pursuit of warmth?
Or did someone choose to burn it down,               And I
a preferred replacement to install?                       Sleeping on a steady shoulder
Will the sea between us and danger                     knowing none of this,
quench the flames                                              can only sleep
us carry safely to a calmer port                           to wake into whatever destination
or to destruction?                                               that awaits.

Second Look

By Dan Sapone

Alone                                                           Here
Accompanied only by the future                      The one who holds the promise
on hopeful waters,                                         Needs no oar nor rudder to arrive.
before a welcome dawn,                                 Welcome, we learn, resides in other hands
she stands, and looks, and knows.                   Stretched out to us.

Here                                                             Now
Stars that ruled the night                              An ebbing tide is all it takes
are washed away by a warming sun.              to draw us home on well-lit waters
The sky and sea, alike in darkness,                Lest we drift away to danger,
conspire to reveal a destination                     must it be earned
ripe with promise, as the light ascends.          through attention, vigilance, and trust
There                                                           that brought us here?
Does home await in this morning light?           And I
Theirs? And now mine, ours?                          Sleeping on a steady shoulder
Will the light that brought them here               Knowing none of this,
give sight as well to other eyes.                      can only sleep
What did they offer?                                      to wake into whatever destination
What do we?                                                 that awaits.

A Different Look

By Joe Faletti    (inspired by First Look, Second Look by Dan Sapone)

Part of a chain
Filled with relief – and awe,
on a wind-swept lake,
as the never-old dawn diffuses through the fog;
he absorbs the moment, and the tossings as of the boat
and is content.

Here
His father taught him to fish here,
arising in darkness to paddle into moonlight.
And to love the water, and the quiet,
and the soft, steady, yet random undulation
and the arrival of dawn –
time to return to land and breakfast.
And perhaps a nap!

There
The wife and mother sleeps in comfort,
secure in the knowing that all is well,
because all is quiet.
Or is she still uneasy —
unable to rest completely,
sensing the half-empty bed
and the empty crib nearby.

Here
The new father sighs at his success
in comforting a colicky child
less desperately than driving the pitted lake road.
And revels in the warm cushion
of a sleeping child, breathing quietly
beside his ear.

Now
One task remains,
more daunting than the recent triumph:
To row back to the dock,
climb the ladder,
and place the baby in a waiting crib,
without disturbing its sleep.
Perhaps he’ll stay
and watch the sun rise a bit longer!

And I
Relaxed and secure in his strong hold,
knowing none of this,
can only sleep
and dream of past and present.

=========================

Of course, many of us — certainly of my generation — have experienced poetry in song lyrics almost more than any other way. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge National Poetry Month without one especially poetic song. Again, this one is a poem written in response to another work of art and its artist, Vincent Van Gogh.

Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)

by Don McLean (inspired by Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh)

Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land.
This is  a blank line
Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now.
This is  a blank line
Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue
Colors changing hue.
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand.
This is  a blank line
Now I understand

What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now.
This is  a blank line
For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could’ve told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for
One as beautiful as you.
This is  a blank line
Starry, starry night
Portraits hung in empty halls
Frame-less heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can’t forget
Like the strangers that you’ve met.
The ragged men in ragged clothes
The silver thorn of bloody rose
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.
This is  a blank line e
Now I think I know
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will.

===========================

A Pentameter Fistfight Between Iambs (u /) and Trochees (/ u)

by Dan Sapone (2014)

And now something ridiculous for those who remember, from freshman English class, being taught about the strategic use of iambic pentameter vs trochaic pentameter (right, I’m talking about you). It is poetry making fun of itself — because — poetry is supposed to be fun. [Sorry about the blurry image — ain’t technology grand?]

Pentameter

 

 

 

===========================

Our last poem is another by our own local poet, Lauren de Vore.  It’s a bit of a teaser — in two weeks, ConVivio will feature an entire post featuring a set of Lauren’s poems. This one is written in the classic sonnet form —about sonnets  . . .  well sort of.

Poetical Tweets

by Lauren de Vore (April 10, 2014)
Some say the sonnet is outdated verse,
Sententious and obscure, archaic with
It’s prejudice ‘gainst feet trochaic, curse
Of students forced to parse the poet’s pith.
This is  a blank line
And yet a sonnet’s just a rhyming tweet,
One hundred forty syllables is all,
Three quatrains and a couplet short and sweet,
Profane, profound or scribbling on a wall.
 This is  a blank line
Like anything with rules, within them it’s
A free-for-all. The art is knowing when
To bend or break the rules as best befits
The poet’s vision and the poem’s zen.
 This is  a blank line
So grab your tablets, all you twitter hawks,
Tweet sonnets from the subways and sidewalks.
=========================

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little tribute to National Poetry Month. If you got this far, let us know what you think.
Although I don’t agree with everything in the articles below, if you’d like some further reading: try this:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pam-allyn/why-poetry-matters_b_5185399.html
Or this:   http://www.edgemagazine.net/2012/08/why-poetry-matters/

–> Next week: look for a piece of prose — this time a column about the place that Gretta and I have decided is our favorite place in all the world.

Regards — PapaDan

National Poetry Month Ends: Happy Birthday, Will Shakespeare!

In honor of the birthday (April 23) of the world’s greatest poet and playwright, we add to our month-long poetry reading what some consider the greatest pair of love poems in the language.

Romeo speaks first as he looks up at Juliet’s balcony and catches a glimpse of her as she laments the unfairness of falling in love with a boy whose family is the sworn enemy of her family. Meanwhile, he thinks about how nice it would be to touch her cheek (but he says it nicely, for a guy  . . . ).

Then, she speaks some widely misunderstood lines, wondering WHY (remember, “wherefore” = “why”) WHY he is Romeo? WHY he must be a Montague? She also wonders why he wouldn’t be willing to solve the problem by giving up his name, since she is willing to give up hers (a legitimate question, eh?).

ROMEO AND JULIET

Act 2, Scene 2

ROMEO

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!
She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?
Her eye discourses; I will answer it.
I am too bold, ’tis not to me she speaks:
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!

JULIET

Ay me!

ROMEO

She speaks:
O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o’er my head
As is a winged messenger of heaven
Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes
Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him
When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds
And sails upon the bosom of the air.

JULIET

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

ROMEO

[Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?

JULIET

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

=================================

Preview of Coming Attractions

In June, Gretta and I plan to drop by and visit this balcony in Verona, which the locals claim is THE balcony in this famous scene.  William Shakespeare, son of John Shakespeare, never visited Verona; but his characters do have some pretty impressive Veronese roots. In 1597, when Shakespeare wrote Romeo & Juliet, Luigi Da Porta’s 1530 story of Romeo Montecchi and Giulietta Cappelletti (names taken from Dante’s Purgatorio) was fairly well known to many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, as were other published versions by Bandello (1554) and The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliett (1562) attributed to Arthur Brooke. Events in the play have caused some to make connections to real characters and events (including an earthquake in Italy in 1570 and a duel in 1581 with familiar details). All of this has led to conspiracy theories questioning Shakespeare’s authorship.

I, of course, am convinced that Shakespeare wrote this play (and others set in Italy) from stories told to him by travelers (perhaps Christopher Marlowe) who had visited Verona. I have been, so far, unconvinced that Christopher Marlowe escaped from a deadly scandal by faking his own death and emerging in London as William Shakespeare and suddenly becoming the greatest poet and playwright of all time. However, I am about the read James Shapiro’s new book Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, which focuses on this subject; so, I’ll get back to you on that  . . . Perhaps standing beneath “Juliet’s” balcony, the truth will emerge.

=================

One more

This is my last post in honor of National Poetry Month. A new reader to this blog Shelley Clements, has sent us a few of hers and and I offer one of them below. She sent more, but, heck, perhaps appearing on the same page with two of Shakespeare’s will be comforting. I like this one.

Code Breaker

by Shelley Clements

i read and
re read
your poetry
i try to lure your words to me
coax them out softly
whisper them aloud
as if they were my own

i patch the inadequacies
with my own imaginings
yours are too spare
too lacking in enthusiasms:

a neglected wheel barrow
frost flecked and rust ready
keeping company with chalky hens
depends so much upon
finding resonance in
each word each line
of your “masterful” poem

i read and
re read
your poetry
i try to decrypt your words
as if they were precious glyphs
divine their meaning as if they were smoke
but i lack the language of the Navajo

==========

NOW, it is time to start thinking about Italy and Austria.

April Is Still National Poetry Month — Part Two

Four Poems From ConVivio’s First Guest Poet

Dorty Nowak is a writer and artist living in Paris and Berkeley who writes frequently about the challenges and delights of multi-cultural living. A former educator and insurance executive, she helped found the Oakland School for the Arts. She is currently developing a collaborative project, ”Where Do I Belong,” involving artists and poets from Europe, Australia, and the U.S.

 

In response to our recent ‘National Poetry Month’ post, Dorty offers a couple of her favorites by Richard Wilbur and Wallace Stevens; and, she says, “because I’ll never pass up a chance for extra credit” she gives us two of her own creations. To introduce her own poems, Windsurfer and Haiku (below), she writes: “Recently I have been experimenting with various poetic forms. I particularly like haiku because the form demands a deceptive simplicity. I wrote “Windsurfers” while sitting on a beach in Mexico last year watching my friends windsurf.  I was captivated by their skill and beauty.” — Dorty.

Since ‘National Poetry Month’ is  . . . well . . . a month long, she hopes others will take this opportunity to contribute some of their favorites.

 

Some of Dorty’s recent contributions to the world of ideas can also be found at the “Your Life Is A Trip” blog at: http://www.yourlifeisatrip.com/home/author/dortynowak

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

 

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
by Richard Wilbur

 

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul

Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple

As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

 

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.

Now they are rising together in calm swells

Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

 

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving

And staying like white water; and now of a sudden

They swoon down into so rapt a quiet

That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

 

From all that is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessed day,

And cries,
“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

 

 

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,

The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,

“Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.”

 

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

 

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind, 
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

 

Windsurfers
by Dorty Nowak

 

Oil slicked bodies stretch and strain,
Hold their wings against the pull of wind.
Born from the chrysalis of board and sail,
A host of dragonflies.

 

Sails skim the surface of the sea,
Their colors flashing in the sun.
They swoop and flit to quilt the waves.
They seem, if only for a moment, to fly.

 

What grace to break the human bond,
To bend such power to their ways,
Calling on gods of wind and wave,
To transform them as they play.

 

Haiku
by Dorty Nowak

 

Irrefutable
your logic sticks like a bone
in just the wrong place

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

Thank you, Dorty. 

As always, your comments are always welcome and we would still like to see more of your favorite poems in this space. There are still three full weeks left in National Poetry Month!

April Is National Poetry Month

Let’s try a few

In honor of National Poetry Month, which begins next Thursday, I have assembled here a dozen of my favorites.  In our culture, poetry is the neglected art form — and that’s why we need a ‘National Poetry Month.’ As you can see from my selections, “poetry” can take many forms — from the very long to the very short, from rhyming couplets to paragraphs of ‘natural’ speech, from bold optimism to its opposite. Poetry was defined by William Wordsworth as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings . . . emotion recollected in tranquility.” It can be presented in many styles, from the simplest sincerity to the most cutting sarcasm; and it can address a wide range of themes.  My little collection is surely not exhaustive and not even likely to yield universal agreement that it is all poetry. Not a “top-dozen” list, it is a sample of some eloquent uses of vivid, compact language, some creating distinctive characters, some expressing assertions of belief, some old friends to be re-visited, some new, all attempting to bring ideas to life with words that evoke rich images. Most are best read aloud, some with music; all are best when given a bit of time to have their way. Many of these contain a line or two — teasers, if you will — that matter very much to me — for example:

•  “Try to see it, not with your eyes, for they are wise  . . . ”
•  “Sweet time unafflicted”
•  “And that has made all the difference”
•  “At a place that chose them”
•  “You know how it is with an April day . . .”
•  “My object in living is  . . . ”
•  “And smale fowles maken melodye”
•  “(a leaf falls)”
•  “Waiting to be named  . . . THE GREAT HAJI”
•  “In another world, someone over there is . . . ”
•  “When you have prayed for victory, you have prayed for many unmentioned results . . . ”
•  “Yes, we can ”
•  “We ain’t what we was.”

Your comments about any of the following ‘poems’ are welcome. If you are interested, please share with us one or more of YOUR favorite poems. If you write one of your own, you get ‘extra credit!’

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A Perfect Time To Be In Love

By Tom Jones

You wonder how these things begin.
Well, this begins with a glen.
It begins with a season, which,
For want of a better word,
We might as well call September.

It begins with a forest,
Where the woodchucks woo,
And leaves wax green,
And vines entwine like lovers.

Try to see it, not with your eyes
for they are wise;
But see it with your ears:
The cool green breathing of the leaves;
And hear it with the inside of your hand:
The soundless sound of shadows flicking light.

Celebrate sensation!
Recall that secret place,
You’ve been there, you remember,
That special place where once,
Just once, in your crowded sunlit lifetime
You hid away in shadows from the tyranny of time.

That spot beside the clover,
Where someone’s hand held your hand,
Where love was sweeter than the berries
Or the honey
Or the stinging taste of mint.

It is September, before a rain fall
A perfect time to be in love . . .”

http://thefantasticks.com/

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ABC

by Robert Pinsky

Any Body Can Die, Evidently.  Few
Go Happily, Irradiating Joy,

Knowledge, Love.  Many
Need Oblivion, Painkillers,
Quickest Respite.

Sweet Time Unafflicted,
Various World:

X=Your Zenith.

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The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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

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

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

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

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Two to One

by D.R. Sapone
(for the occasion of Ben and Cary’s wedding)

Two ‑
Shall grow from roots planted
far away across the world;

Shall arrive apart,
at a place that chose them;

Shall discover the beauty of the world
through the eyes of the other;

Shall decide to be known,
wherever the world takes them, as
‑ One

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Two Tramps in Mud Time

By Robert Frost

Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving loose to my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
These two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right–agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.

Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

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“Aprille” From the General Prologue to Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer
[Its famous first ten lines . . . each line followed
by a pronunciation guide to the original 14th-century
‘Middle English’ — Click here and again on the sound bar to listen to it]

Whan that Aprille with his shoores soote
[Wan thot A’prill with his sure-es so-tuh]

The drought of March hath perced to the roote
[The drewgt of March hath pear-said to the row-tuh]

And bathed every vein in swich liquor
[And ba-thed every vane in sweech lee-coor]

Of which vertu engendred is the flour
[of wheech ver-too en-jen-dred is the flu-er]

When Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth
[When Zeph-er-us ache with his sway-tuh breath]

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
[In-spear-ed hath in every holt and heth]

The tendre croppes and the yonge sun
[The tawn-dray crop-pays and the young-gay soan]

Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne
[Hath in the rahm his hall-vey coors e-rown]

And smale fowles maken melodye
[And smal-ay foe-lays mock-en mel-oh-dee-uh]

That slepen all the night with open eye
[That slep-en all the neekdt with open ee-ah]

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l(ale

By e. e. cummings

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(A Footnote) From Lake Wobegon Days

by Garrison Keillor

To his parents: ‘Things you taught me’

For fear of what it might do to me, you never paid me a compliment,
and when other people did, you beat it away from me with a stick.
“He certainly is looking nice and grown up.”
You would reply: “He’d look a lot nicer if he did something about his skin.”
“That’s wonderful that he got a job.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see how long it lasts.”

You trained me so well, I now perform this service for myself.
I deflect every kind word directed to me, and my denials
are much more extravagant than the praise.
“Good speech.”
“Oh it was way too long, I didn’t know what I was talking about,
I was just blathering on and on, I was glad when it was over.”
I do this under the impression that it is humility, a becoming quality in a person.

Actually, I am starved for a good word, but after the long drought of my youth, no word is quite good enough.
[Voice rising] “Good” isn’t enough. Under this thin veneer of modesty lies a MONSTER of greed.
I drive away faint praise, beating my little chest, waiting to be named
[Shouting now] SUN-GOD, KING OF AMERICA, IDOL OF MILLIONS, BRINGER OF FIRE,
THE GREAT HAJI, THUND-DAR THE BOY GIANT.
I don’t want to say, “Thanks, glad you liked it.” I want to say:
“RISE MY PEOPLE. REMOVE YOUR FACES FROM THE CARPET STAND, AND LOOK ME IN THE FACE!”

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Golden Earth Girl

by Paul McCartney

Golden earth girl, female animal,
sings to the wind, resting at sunset,
in a mossy nest, sensing moonlight in the air,
moonlight in the air.

Good clear water, friend of wilderness
sees in the pool her own reflection.
In another world
someone over there is counting
fish in a sunbeam,
in eggshell seas.
fish in a sunbeam,
eggshell finish.

Natures lover climbs the primrose hill,
smiles at the sky, watching the sunset,
from a mossy nest.
As she falls asleep she’s counting
Fish in a sunbeam,
in eggshell seas.
fish in a sunbeam,
eggshell finish.

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The War Prayer

by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched fire-crackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies, a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came–next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams–visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!

Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, falling, to die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:

“God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,
Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword.”

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever-merciful and begnignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them; shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory–

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside–which the startled minister did–and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God.” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import – -that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of–unless he pause and think. God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two–one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! Lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer–the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also in your hearts–fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You have heard those words ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God.’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory, you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of the patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of their guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their offending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —

“For our sakes who adore thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

“We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him who is the Source of Love, and Who is the Ever-Faithful Refuge and Friends of all who are sore beset and seeking His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

(The old man paused). “Ye have prayed it; if you still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High awaits.”

* * * * *

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

— Mark Twain

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Yes, We Can

By Barack Obama, others

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation:
Yes, we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists
as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights:
Yes, we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores
and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness:
Yes, we can.

It was the call of workers who organized,
women who reached for the ballot,
a president who chose the moon as our new frontier,
and a king who took us to the mountaintop
and pointed the way to the promised land:

Yes, we can, to justice and equality;
Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity;
Yes, we can heal this nation;
Yes, we can repair this world.
Yes, we can.

Watch and Listen: Yes, We Can

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Prayer of a Former Slave

Lord, we ain’t what we want to be;
We ain’t what we ought to be;
We ain’t what we gonna be;
But thank God almighty, we  ain’t  what  we  was.

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