Oklahoma Center for the Humanities

I have been traveling, which is why no poem this Monday. The highlight of my trip has been two days at the University of Tulsa, meeting with students and faculty, and participating in a presentation called Poetry, Tyranny and Memory with Jacob Howland for the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities. It focuses on the poetry of Osip Mandelstam and Tadeusz Borowski, and you can see it here.

The first eight minutes are about upcoming programs at the Center, so you can start at minute eight.

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A prose poem

Here is one by Joseph Stroud–one long exhalation of description that opens at the end. To me, the title adds a little twist to the poem–life itself is so strange and gorgeous, we don’t need to look further than the road we are on for poetry. Though I have no way of knowing whether that’s what he meant.

Against Surrealism

Continue reading

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Monday poem

A bit late, a bit short, but…

Bread and Stars

Bread is in my lap,
Stars are far, far away.
I am eating bread looking at the stars.
I am so engrossed, don’t even ask—
Sometimes I get mixed up and instead of bread
I eat stars.

Oktay Rifat

translated from the Turkish by Sidney Wade and Efe Murad

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The poor hummingbird

I unintentionally lured a hummingbird into the jaws of my cat a few days ago, trying to get it down from the skylight. I have now thought of several ways I could easily have avoided this savage death. Not that it does the poor, tiny bird any good. That kind of regret is expressed for a different animal in this poem by Ruth Stone.

Another Feeling

Once you saw a drove of young pigs
crossing the highway. One of them
pulling his body by the front feet,
the hind legs dragging flat.
Without thinking,
you called the Humane Society.
They came with a net and went for him.
They were matter of fact, uniformed;
there were two of them,
their truck ominous, with a cage.
He was hiding in the weeds. It was then
you saw his eyes. He understood.
He was trembling.
After they took him, you began to suffer regret.
Years later, you remember his misfit body
scrambling to reach the others.
Even at this moment, your heart
is going too fast; your hands sweat.

Ruth Stone

 

 

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The Mondays come faster and faster

And so it’s time again for a Monday poem, when I just posted last Monday’s! Today, a poem on Arthritis, which I never thought about when young. But well described by Carol Moldaw, along with other strands of thought. Carol will be reading in October for Marin Poetry Center.

Arthritis

“Save your hands,” my mother says,
seeing me untwist a jar’s tight cap—

just the way she used to tell me
not to let boys fool around, or feel

my breasts: “keep them fresh
for marriage,” as if they were a pair

of actual fruit. I scoffed
to think they could bruise, scuff, Continue reading

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Faults

Everyone has them of course, even saints might be faulted for their saintliness–surely that would be hard to live with. But this week, after I set my hearing aids for safety in my hat while I swam and then lost them who knows where when I casually put on my hat–I have been berating myself for my inattention to the physical world, for the way I leave a trail of unfinished projects and detritus everywhere, and for other, more serious flaws that I will not mention here.  Continue reading

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Before moving on…

One last comment on my summer reading, A friend, knowing how much I liked Primo Levi’s book, The Periodic Table, gave me a gorgeous edition of his complete works. It is so good, I feel compelled to quote from it at length, and I’ve only finished the first book, If This is Man. In the afterword, he says he wrote this book as soon as he could after his experience, that it was “burning inside me” and needed expression. About the concentration camp, the Lager, he says:

“…the Lager was also and preeminently a gigantic biological and social experiment. Let thousands of individuals differing in age, condition, origin, language, culture and customs be enclosed within barbed wire, and there be subjected to a regular, controlled life, which is identical for all and  inadequate to all needs. No one could have set up a more rigorous experiment to determine what is inherent and what is acquired in the behavior of the human animal faced with the struggle for life…The only conclusion is that, in the face of driving need, many habits and social instincts are reduced to silence.” Continue reading

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Short poem by Larry Levis

I saw a documentary on Larry Levis, A Late Style of Fire,  two years ago that made me like him less. Nonetheless, this is a pretty killer little poem.

Wound

I’ve loved you
like a man loves an old wound
picked up in a razor fight

on a street nobody remembers.
Look at him:
even in the dark he touches it gently.

Larry Levis

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Summer reading

I know that you’re supposed to take up some frivolous books for the summer, but perhaps influenced by the morning and evening fog that characterizes coastal California, my reading has been more dour. I mentioned these books in an earlier post: A Century of Horrors, by Alain Besançon, Hope Against Hope, by Osip Mandelstam’s wife, Nadezhda, and most of Secondhand Time (I couldn’t get through all of it), by Svetlana Alexievich. I also just reread Czesław Miłosz’ The Captive Mind. All of these books deal with the phenomenon of Communism as it has been practiced since the Russian Revolution. Besançon’s thesis is that while Nazism was horrific, it was a brief nightmare compared to Communism. The Shoah was intense, killed millions, but was defeated and rejected.

Communism, on the other hand, while originating in an idealistic set of premises, has for over a century imprisoned, murdered, and instilled terror in many more millions, and is still doing so. It’s a powerful book, and lays out facts in a reasoned argument that’s hard to deny. Continue reading

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Charles Wright

Larry has been doing a series of poetry broadsides–letterpress copies of poems, suitable for framing.  He has selected poets of roughly his age group, and this one is on his upcoming list.

The Silent Generation

Afternoons in the backyard, our lives like photographs

Yellowing elsewhere,

xxxxxxxxxxxxx In somebody else’s album,

In secret, January south winds

Ungathering easily through the black limbs of the fruit trees.

 

What was it we never had to say?

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Who can remember now—

Something about the world’s wrongs,

Something about the way we shuddered them off like rain

In an open field,

xxxxxxxxxxxConvinced that lightning would not strike.

 

We’re arm in arm with regret, now the left foot, now the right foot.

We give the devil his due.

We walk up and down in the earth

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx We take our flesh in our teeth.

When we die, we die. The wind blows away our footprints.

Charles Wright

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