A poem about snails is good for summer (and so is an epic)

First of all, the July/August issue of Poetry had a glow-in-the-dark cover. How cool was that? Not enough glow-in-the-dark publications, in my opinion. Three favorites from the issue, full of translations:

That is the example that snails offer us: saints who make masterpieces 
of their lives, works of art of their own perfection. They secrete form. Nothing outside themselves, their necessity, or their needs is their work. Nothing is out of proportion with their physical being. Nothing that is unnecessary or obligatory.

And over in The New Yorker, part of a (successful!) catch-up mission this summer, Rita Dove’s “Found Sonnet: The Wig” finds great narrative life in the ordinary (which of course is life). I also loved Rebecca Hazelton’s “Letter to the Editor,” which will warm your heart too if you’ve read enough reader letters.

I do not think you cannot have meant I assume it’s in error
it comes to my attention it rises from the muck it sways
elephantine in a Gulf Stream breeze you surely meant
other you must have encountered others you are much
mistaken in this and in all other circumstances I assume
it’s in error I cannot think you mean to suggest it comes
from a childhood spent waiting for someone to notice

Meanwhile, at work, poet Aimee Nezhukumatahil visited, and it was great. (One of her poems showed up in the blog in January.) Her cousin turns out to be one of our marketing leads. (Hooray!) I got a copy of Nezhukumatahil’s Lucky Fish at the work reading and couldn’t put it down. A favorite — one of many — from the collection was “At Hundred Islands National Park, I Count Only One Island.” You should pick up her work, seriously. It will light up your day.

Nezhukumatahil at NPR.

Last but not least: My parents gave me Seamus Heaney’s translation of Aeneid Book VI, the one I mentioned the other week, for my birthday. How good? One sitting. That good. Heaney was a magician. I wish he could have done the entire book. The translation is a love letter to Latin-class translation, and every line comes alive in a way you wish your school self had been able to accomplish. The epic is epic. When Aeneas visits the Sibyl to find his way to the underworld is just one moment of many:

Thus from her innermost shine the Sibyl of Cumae
Chanted menacing riddles and made the cave echo
With sayings where truths and enigmas were twined
Inextricably, while Apollo reined in her spasms
And curbed her, or sank the spurs in her ribs.

How life is this summer

Rain” by Kazim Ali. “With thick strokes of ink the sky fills with rain. / Pretending to run for cover but secretly praying for more rain.”

Brian Age Seven” by Mark Doty. “Why do some marks / seem to thrill with life, / possess a portion / of the nervous energy / in their maker’s hand?”

Good Bones” by Maggie Smith. “Life is short, though I keep this from my children. / Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine / in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways…”

The crowd at the ball game” by William Carlos Williams. “It is summer, it is the solstice / the crowd is / cheering, the crowd is laughing / in detail…”

Celebration for June 24” by Thomas McGrath. “Your face against the night was my medallion. / Your coming forth aroused unlikely trumpets / In the once-tame heart.”

Summer Kitchen” by Donald Hall, via Lori. “In June’s high light she stood at the sink / With a glass of wine, / And listened for the bobolink, / And crushed garlic in late sunshine.”

Here’s What All The Buttons On An IndyCar Steering Wheel Do” from the Jalopnik blog. “A typical IndyCar steering wheel has 13 main features: a dashboard, RPM shift lights, pit-lane speed limiter, push-to-talk radio switch, fuel-level reset button, fuel-map switch, dash scroll, weight jacker, drink switch, neutral button, reverse, push-to-pass and clutch paddles.”

Four spring poems, for such a spring

1. “A Quiet Life” by Baron Wormser (a great name), via Lori.

What a person desires in life
is a properly boiled egg.
This isn’t as easy as it seems.

2. “Prayer” by Keetje Kuipers (also a great name), also via Lori.

Perhaps as a child you had the chicken pox
and your mother, to soothe you in your fever
or to help you fall asleep, came into your room
and read to you from some favorite book,
Charlotte’s Web or Little House on the Prairie,
a long story that she quietly took you through
until your eyes became magnets for your shuttering
lids and she saw your breathing go slow. And then

3. “Nothing” by Ken Mikolowski. Twelve words, six lines long. Ink like dust and ashes to dust and ashes. The poem barely enters the page and your brain before it departs, and a title is rarely more fitting. Life is quick, so embrace what you love while you can.

4. “The Amnesty” by Caroline Bird. I’ve posted this poem here before. But the lines hit me squarely when they first came through my feeds amid all of our wedding planning. How squarely? Years ago, I met a train-jumper — his preferred term versus hobo — who told me with some pride how a wooden board at a construction job the previous week had fallen and smacked him right in the middle of his face. That squarely. I tweeted the poem the morning of our wedding because I couldn’t say much more than it does. “My love / equips me.”

Recent poems in my life, with which to emerge from winter?

I know we are still in the first days of February. After temperatures were scarf-less early in the week, bone chills re-emerged last night. But I find myself favoriting the warmth in what I read — Jhumpa Lahiri learning Italian, Cord Jefferson writing about his love for his mother, Washingtonian magazine noting (and capturing visually, if briefly) acres open city land and beautiful city-ancient buildings before they’re gone or disfigured, and, as usual, some poems.

A great way to start the day other day was Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day.” She read it at Obama’s first inauguration. People didn’t love it. I loved it was a way to start my day. Italics are Alexander’s:

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Recently in my feeds as well have been two catch-you-off-guard poems about desire: Mary Jo Bang’s “Definitely” (“What is desire / But the hardwire argument given / To the mind’s unstoppable mouth”) and Heather Christle’s “Pursuits” (“It only gets worse / A girl’s gotta eat”).

And I’ve been catching up on The New Yorker too. Catching up for real. Before the holidays, my backlog had hit three or four months, and the physical stack was so sad. But I began digging over Christmas and have kept the pages turning. I’m now on the current issue. And it’s a double! I’m going to be a week ahead! Maybe. If I finish it today. You can’t count your Remnick chickens before they’re read.

Anyway, here’s the start of Hagit Grossman’s “On Friendship,” a poem of common life and so satisfactorily so, in the latest issue:

If a friend calls out to you late at night from beneath your window
Never send him on his way. And if you’ve sent him away and still
Insist on rigid rules, regain your composure after a moment
And run to the window and shout his name: “Come, Merhav!
Come back! I’ve got some corn cooking! Come eat something.”

Last but not entirely, I’m two issues behind on Poetry (after Conde Zero, so soon, I promise), but two favorites from the December issue were Caroline Bird’s “The Amnesty,” which packed so much metaphor and love in so little space, and Nate Marshall “Harold’s Chicken Shack #86,” which wrings Northwestern, names, race, and poverty from half a quote in a newspaper story.

Marshall also has a good one in the issue about Oregon Trail (“my first venture west was in Windows 98 / or Independence, Missouri…”), and the Poetry Foundation site turns up him penning a “Harold’s Chicken Shack #1.” Maybe the “#86” of the Northwestern poem is poetic license, but I hope there are 84 in between. I’d like to read them.

Related: The Springsteen song “Amnesty” made me think of. No one will put this song on a greatest-hits compilation, or any kind of compilation that comes to mind. But I’ve always found it strange and special, the best song on a not-great album. Heard it playing during a nice dinner at a nice restaurant last fall — Garrison, on Barracks Row — and found it fitting.

Related: It was a nice surprise to find Sally Jenkins writing on the front page of the Washington Post‘s Sports section recently about the friendship between NBA coach Phil Jackson and poet Mary Karr. I blogged about Karr’s “Loony Bin Basketball” poem here two years ago, and the article was a good reason to go back and reread the poem and her interview partly about it.

Related: Edward T. Wheeler writes for Commonweal about his prison ministry. “I was retired, convalescing from a five-month hospital stay, and needed a focus for my free time. … Soon I—a former high-school English teacher and long-ago Jesuit seminarian—was involved in a biweekly writing seminar for GED students, then a book discussion club, and finally a life-skills course sponsored by the state university’s extension division.”

They say Twitter will begin an algorithmically ordered timeline next week. They say it will be optional. I’m glad for the latter.

‘An ordinary making’ in recent poetry feeds and shares

First, I love the idea of this recipe — and this graf (source).

The careful regulation of sentences, the tunneling into uncomfortable states of mind and feeling, could threaten to asphyxiate, but Boyer has a dark wit and knows when to shift modes. The dramaturgy of the book bestows enormous power on apparently small moments — as when Boyer shares a recipe for “A chocolate cake for when you own only one small round pan.” That recipe is the totem of an alternate ars poetica, an ordinary making, a writing of the shareable, edible ordinary — which on some blessed days tastes good.

That story about poet Anne Boyer comes from the recent New York Times Sunday Book Review, which was all about poetry and which friend David thoughtfully saved for me. Thank you, David! Another great line from the issue comes in a quote from Jennifer L. Knox’s new work, “Whoever tied the Mylar birthday balloon to the dead squirrel on Main Street thinks big.” So bizarre and true.

Also. I was sorry to read the other day about the death of C.D. Wright, whose poems had turned up several times in this blog. The three that appeared are all still very, very good (and dark and passionate and when read aloud will get through to anyone, I have no doubt):

  • Everything Good between Men and Women,” which begins with the first lines continuing the title, “has been written in mud and butter / and barbecue sauce.”
  • Flame,” which needs to be seen to be most appreciated and is basically a series of words but what a series of words.
  • This Couple,” which is so full of yearning it hurts. “Now is when we love to sit before mirrors / with a dark beer or hand out leaflets / at chainlink gates or come together after work/ listening to each other’s day. The engine dies….”

Meanwhile, in my slow, slow New Yorker catch-up — I’ll get there one day, I swear — there’s a good new one from Meghan O’Rourke, “Poem of Regret for an Old Friend.”

She begins, “What you did wasn’t so bad. / You stood in a small room, waiting for the sun. / At least you told yourself that.”  I’ve been on both ends of this one. You too?


Five poems recently

This Inwardness, This Ice” by Christian Wiman. “… this discipline, this glaze, / this cold opacity of days / begins to crack. …”

On Turning 37” by Kareem Tayyar, via Lori. “… Whitman was 37 when he wrote ‘Song of Myself’, / Rousseau was 40 when he first picked up a paintbrush in his Paris apartment….”

Apology” by Joanna Klink. “Lately, too much disturbed, you stay trailing in me / and I believe you. How could I not feel / you were misspent….”

Dear Amy Nehzooukammyatootill” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “… You are very young to be a poet. I also like how your poems take / up an entire page (it makes our reading assignment go faster). …”

Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye. “… I want to be famous to shuffling men / who smile while crossing streets, / sticky children in grocery lines, / famous as the one who smiled back. …”

‘It is a dark fall day’ but…

Two of my favorites recently:

Because today is a dark fall day and I’m happy, though she’s at work now, that her jacket hangs in the hall next to mine. “Fall Song” by Joy Harjo. “It is a dark fall day. / The earth is slightly damp with rain. / I hear a jay. / The cry is blue.”

Untitled” by Fabio Morabito. On St. Francis of Assisi: “Every time, more widowed of my possessions, / every time, more bland to my writing tools. / Why not take off like him? What stops me from / returning to the woods, the bird, the wolf?”

Also good, from the January issue of Poetry, which I just got read last weekend, after a subscription issue last winter: Kathy Fagan’s “Perpendicular,” Rae Armantrout’s “Followers” — the first stanza is what gets me, framing an image of which I hadn’t thought in years or decades — and Mark Levine’s “Climax Change,” which I don’t entirely understand but must be a ton of fun to read aloud.

And then there’s this: “Las Chavas.” Episcopalian priest Spencer Reese and former U.S. poet laureate Richard Blanco team up to teach poetry at a school for girl orphans in Honduras. They share the girls’ best work with us, and we’re fortunate for both the teaching and publishing.

‘Keeping me almost warm enough…’

Thanks to friend Becky for dropping off a preview copy the other day of Susan Gardner’s new poetry collection “Lifted to the Wind.” After a week buried in the Internet (even more than usual), sitting with close reads of nature was a surprise — strange at first and then refreshing.

Like fall when you don’t expect it to be cold out, but then you find it’s not too cold and just brisk enough. (Like this weekend.) Gardner’s site hosts two of my favorites from the book, “Nebraska Sunrise” and “Chilly.”