Tag Archives: poetry

Poem-a-Day Friday: Luci Shaw

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I had the honor of hearing Luci Shaw and Jeanne Murray Walker discuss “Ambition” together a week ago Thursday. What a gift it was to be at the Festival of Faith and Writing and hear two stunning poets discuss the writing life in the context of faith, to listen to Luci Shaw speak about how she investigates her own inner motivations and questions her need for affirmation. Such honesty and humility is so rare in the poetry world and I soaked their words up with all my heart.

I should also add that Luci Shaw is just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.  But, alas, that’s not a good reason to like a poet. This, however, is:

The Simple Dark

by Luci Shaw

Black birds slice their evening patterns—
long curves in the sky. Everything
is drawing down into shade.
But the dark, which is at first so simple
is not simple. Away from the farmhouse
with is slits of yellow, the monochrome
develops like a print in the chemical bath.

The unbroken velvet swims
with complications so subtle that
seeing and hearing must take their time
to know. The shadow purples,
the dusk intricate with crickets. The sky
infested with pricks of light.
My whole body an ear, an eye.

What the Light Was Like,  © 2006 by Luci Shaw, WordFarm
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Poem-a-Day Friday: Marie Howe

This week, I listened to a rebroadcast of Terry Gross’ Fresh Air interview with poet Marie Howe back in October. Listening to her voice brought back memories of a summer class I took in July of 2000. That was the summer before my senior year of college. That class, “Contemporary American Women Poets” with my favorite all-time professor Bob Fink, was pivotal in shaping what I understand and love about poetry. That summer shimmers under those poems I read, even though I have memories of crying about my ex-boyfriend into my pillow, even though that summer was actually pretty boring and I wished I were doing more important things with myself. There’s the sacred memory and smell of where I was when I was reading Jane Kenyon and Cathy Song and Marie Howe. I’m sitting in the shade on campus soaking their words. Or I’m on a first date with an older boy (he was so tall and strong and mysterious!) downtown eating chocolate covered strawberries and looking at art. It’s all connected for me.

All that to say, on Monday when I listened to Marie Howe read aloud on Fresh Air one of those first poems I ever loved, I stood mesmerized over the kitchen sink, the water overflowing into and out of the dirty pan, my boys waiting (impatiently) for their lunches at the table. Such words.

I haven’t read any of her recent work, but in the interview she mentioned a new series she’s been working on about Mary Magdelene. So, when I had the chance this week, I looked those poems up and found this little gem.

I’m really taken by this poem. And I’m going to keep thinking about it. Want to join me?


MAGDALENE–THE SEVEN DEVILS

by Marie Howe

“Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out” —Luke 8:2.

The first was that I was very busy.
The second — I was different from you: whatever happened to you could not happen to me, not like that.

The third — I worried.
The fourth – envy, disguised as compassion.
The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too – its face. And the ant – its bifurcated body.

Ok the first was that I was so busy.
The second that I might make the wrong choice,
because I had decided to take that plane that day,
that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early
and, I shouldn’t have wanted that.
The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street
the house would blow up.
The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer of skin
lightly thrown over the whole thing.

The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living

The sixth — if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I touched the left arm a little harder than I’d first touched the right then I had to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.

The seventh — I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that was alive and I couldn’t stand it,

I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word – cheesecloth —
to breath through that would trap it — whatever was inside everyone else that
entered me when I breathed in

No. That was the first one.

The second was that I was so busy. I had no time. How had this happened? How had our lives gotten like this?

The third was that I couldn’t eat food if I really saw it – distinct, separate from me in a bowl or on a plate.

Ok. The first was that I could never get to the end of the list.

The second was that the laundry was never finally done.

The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.
And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was
love?

Someone using you as a co-ordinate to situate himself on earth.

The fourth was I didn’t belong to anyone. I wouldn’t allow myself to belong
to anyone.

Historians would assume my sin was sexual.

The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn’t know.

The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.

The seventh was the way my mother looked when she was dying.
The sound she made — the gurgling sound — so loud we had to speak louder to hear each other over it.

And that I couldn’t stop hearing it–years later —
grocery shopping, crossing the street —

No, not the sound – it was her body’s hunger
finally evident.–what our mother had hidden all her life.

For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.

The underneath —that was the first devil. It was always with me.
And that I didn’t think you— if I told you – would understand any of this –

* Published in the July/August 2011 issue of the American Poetry Review (Vol. 40 Issue 4, p48)

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A Very Thankful Poem-a-Day Friday

I’ve missed our Thankful Tuesdays, friends! So much so that my mind has been filling over with thankful bullet points and I keep thinking: Scratch that on a list! It just feels too far away to wait till Tuesday. So…

I’m Thankful for:

  • The gift of walking through Holy Week with all of you
  • Being married to a man whose eyes are always a little red and shiny after Easter services
  • A deck where we can host an Easter meal
  • Easter egg hunts and Easter-clad children in the backyard
  • Eating boiled eggs a bit dye-stained on the white and for how little I mind
  • Happy happy news from my brother-in-law
  • Prayers sweetly answered for friends with health scares
  • My baby’s near running skills
  • Looking from the kitchen sink toward the living room and seeing both my boys on their backs on the carpet, holding their blankets and laughing at each other.
  • A baby who can’t stop smiling even when he’s sick (and making fake coughs and fake nose snorts in an attempt to make me laugh)
  • A migraine Sunday night: The small reminder of the suffering so many people live with in daily life. A husband who stays awake rubbing my shoulders and gets up with the kids.
  • August’s love for gardening
  • The joy of trimming back overgrown plants. (Cutting stuff off and pulling stuff out of the ground! So therapeutic! Even though I have no idea what I’m doing!)
  • Austin in the springtime (It’s really so lovely…I know, I know…summer will be rough.)
  • That feeling when the dishes are clean (no matter that it only lasts three hours)
  • Reading a book with both boys in my lap
  • Windows open, birds singing
  • And this Someecard that makes me cackle (yes, I said ‘cackle’) every time I see it.




And now, a poem from my favorite Jane Kenyon (whose poems I should really just quote here every Friday):

The Suitor

by Jane Kenyon

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

Jane Kenyon, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, Graywolf Press, 1996

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Poem-a-Day Friday: Robert Lowell, again

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Yes, I’m still reading Robert Lowell. But I promise a new poet next time. (Next Friday is Good Friday, and I will offer lots of stunning words from the best of the word-makers on that day.)

Today, however, I’m posting this, not because I understand it all. (Lowell is not the easiest.) But because I want to understand it all, because it feels significant for our preparation for Holy Week, and because it was written in 1945 and has the line: “The nineteen-hundred forty-fifth of grace,” which I love.

The Holy Innocents

by Robert Lowell

Listen, the hay-bells tinkle as the cart
Wavers on rubber tires along the tar
And cindered ice below the burlap mill
And ale-wife run. The oxen drool and start
In wonder at the fenders of a car,
And blunder hugely up St. Peter’s hill.
These are the undefiled by woman–their
Sorrow is not the sorrow of this world:
King Herod shrieking vengeance at the curled
Up knees of Jesus choking in the air,

A king of speechless clods and infants. Still
The world out-Herods Herod; and the year,
The nineteen-hundred forty-fifth of grace,
Lumbers with losses up the clinkered hill
Of our purgation; and the oxen near
The worn foundations of their resting-place,
The holy manger where their bed is corn
And holly torn for Christmas. If they die,
As Jesus, in the harness, who will mourn?
Lamb of the shepherds, Child, how still you lie.

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Poem-a-Day Friday: Robert Lowell

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I have this very heavy, beautiful, hard covered block of pages, also known as Robert Lowell’s Collected PoemsChris gave it to me for Christmas nine years ago and there’s something about it–Its beauty? Its big words? Its scholarly poet on the front cover?–that makes me scared too really get into it. And that’s crazy because Robert Lowell‘s poems on their own are always powerful to me. That’s why for my poem a day, for at least a while, I’m going to be forcing myself to open up that book and read. Which means you may be forced to look at Robert Lowell poems for several Fridays in a row.

This is one of his very best. Here goes…

Waking in the Blue

by Robert Lowell

The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore,
rouses from the mare’s-nest of his drowsy head
propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
Azure day
makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My heart grows tense
as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the “mentally ill.”)

What use is my sense of humor?
I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties,
once a Harvard all-American fullback,
(if such were possible!)
still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties,
as he soaks, a ramrod
with the muscle of a seal
in his long tub,
vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing.
A kingly granite profile in a crimson golf-cap,
worn all day, all night,
he thinks only of his figure,
of slimming on sherbet and ginger ale–
more cut off from words than a seal.

This is way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean’s;
the hooded night lights bring out “Bobbie,”
Porcelain ’29,
a replica of Louis XVI
without the wig–
redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale,
as he swashbuckles about in his birthday suit
and horses at chairs.
In between the limits of day,
hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts
and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor wrinkle
of the Roman Catholic attendants.
(There are no Mayflower
screwballs in the Catholic Church.)

After a hearty New England breakfast,
I weigh two hundred pounds
this morning. Cock of the walk,
I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor’s jersey
before the metal shaving mirrors,
and see the shaky future grow familiar
in the pinched, indigenous faces
of these thoroughbred mental cases,
twice my age and half my weight.
We are all old-timers,
each of us holds a locked razor.

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Poem-a-Day Friday: Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Friends, I can’t talk long about poetry without begging you to love my bestest favorite poet-priest ever, the great Gerard Manley Hopkins. I know why he has all my poetry-love. The first time I ever heard his words, they were recited to me by my grad professor Mary while we sat in her office talking about my poems. His words on her tongue were stunning. They were so…what’s the word? Robust. Full. She spoke these words from “Carrion Comfort“:

But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me?

“A lionlimb?” I said. “That’s so weird and disturbing and unlike any description I’ve ever heard.” Then I said those two lines to myself all the way home through the snow until I could look up the poem and read the whole thing. Hopkins always makes me a little nervous and warm around his words. Sort of like you feel when you’re falling in love.

He uses verbs as nouns and nouns as verbs. He builds rhythms that both hurt the ear and ring clear and beautiful in it. He says true things about God and the world’s brokenness with such richness and wisdom. And his poems just must be read out loud. They were made to be read out loud. So, I’m going to do something a little odd today. I recorded myself reading it. Because, if ever there were a poet who deserves my awkward blog reading of his work, it’s Gerard, my main squeeze.

To hear me read it click here. I chose “Spring” in honor of the green buds on the trees around Austin, in honor of these bluebonnets popping out of the ground and begging to be celebrated…

Spring

by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

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Poem-a-Day Friday: Sarah C. Harwell

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I haven’t been reading my poem-a-day this week. But I’ve been thinking about a poem by my friend Sarah Harwell. She wrote this poem back when we studied together at Syracuse. When I first read it, I loved it. But it hasn’t been until now, years later, where I’ve come to understand the ritual and struggle of begging a child into sleep: the pushing toward and holding on all at once.

The past three nights in my parents’ house have been ridiculous attempts at swaying my son to close his eyes. “But Mom! I sleep with my eyes open!” It hasn’t been pretty. And so, I hear this poem in my head while I sit on the edge of his bed, pushing him toward the sleep realm, listening to his whining, telling him one more story…

(“Dead” was first published in Poetry magazine and then in a collection of poems called “Three New Poets,” which featured Sarah, along with two other genius poet-friends of mine, Courtney Queeney and Farah Marklevits. I love all three of them. The book is worth picking up. Read Mary Karr’s recommendation of this poem for a Washington Post series here.)

Dead

for Hannah

The way my daughter sleeps it’s as if she’s talking
to the dead. Now she is one. I watch her eyes roll
backwards in her head, her senses fold

one by one, and then her breathing quiets to a beat.
Every night she fights this silent way of being
with all the whining ammunition that she has.

She wins a tired story, a smothered song, the small
and willful links to life that carry her away.
Welcome to the Egyptian burial. She’s gone to Hades

with her stuffed animals. When she wakes,
the sad circles disappeared, she blinks
before she knows me. I have listened

to one million breaths of her. And every night
my body seizes when she leaves to go
where I am not, and yet every night I urge her, go.

Sarah C. Harwell

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