Poems tilting toward spring

Wrote a while back. Never posted, never really finished.

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The Spring Poem,” by Dave Smith.

Awaking in New York,” by Maya Angelou.

Spring,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

The birthday of the world,” by Marge Piercy.

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Yes, we can look backward to winter or, sadly, to the present still-winter. I’m looking out the window at the increasing flurries right now, and the forecasters say freezing rain will follow. This first day of March, as I mentioned earlier today, follows Washington’s coldest February in 36 years.

Meanwhile in Chicago, coming off a month of great poems related to Black History Month, and a brutal and continuing winter, the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day feed resumes more-varied broadcasting today with an Emily Dickinson poem comparing traumatic pain to snowy cold and death.

But all isn’t lost in a snowbank. There’s some hope in the verses. The chilly pain can be “Remembered, if outlived.” A final line mentions, after the chill and stupor, the possibility of letting go. Letting go bad? Or letting go good? I’m choosing to be optimistic today, even as the snow blows.

Looking for more about the poem, I came across a site called Shmoop.com, which seems to be CliffsNotes-meets-Buzzfeed. (A related-stories area gets the header, “People who Shmooped this also Shmooped….”) Shmoop chases this Dickinson poem for its millennial (or younger?) audience, and the site’s conclusions make my day.

Sooner or later, everybody gets a shock. And we’re not talking about the kind of shock you get when you try to slide a Hot Pocket out of the toaster oven with a fork. We’re talking about the kind of deep emotional shock that comes when something seriously bad happens.

Maybe you miss the final shot at the big game even though you’re awesome. Or it could be that you discover your Dad has a secret family in Costa Rica. Or maybe somebody close to you dies.

Whatever it is—no matter how huge or miniscule—the period of time right after the initial pain can be pretty crappy. You can feel lost, alone, and totally numb to the world.

Whenever you’re feeling like this, “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” is a poem that’s there for you. Don’t expect it to be there with sunshine and roses, though. Nah, it’s that friend who’s there to say, “Look, dude, I know how you feel.” As you read these lines that perfectly capture the conflicted feelings that come after a trauma, you’ll know it’s being straight up with you.

So, like the angsty tween readers of Shmoop, let us try to move forward with hope. In poetry selections of this time of year, I see so much “Look, dude, I know how you feel” happening. We know spring lurks!

Related favorites of mine recently include…

Probability,” by Lia Purpura.

Most coincidents are not
miraculous, but way more
common than we think—
it’s the shiver
of noticing being

Abide” by Jake Adam Work, and Natasha Trethewey’s first selection for the poem feature in the redesigned New York Times Magazine. It’s a slow burner, growing warmer, and worth it.

Trethewey’s second selection, “Moth Orchids” by Ellen Bass, is fantastic too. Trethewey writes: “Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings showed us how sensual flowers could be. Ellen Bass’s poem does this, too, reminding us of the power of metaphor: how one thing is like another, how desire can be reflected in the way we see and how our sustained attention — to language, to the things of this world — can reward us again and again.”

An Old Woman’s Painting” by Lynn Emanuel speaks to the warmth we find even when the nights are cold, mentioning autumn but still fitting for this time of year when we doff or don our coats depending on the time of day. “Let the world stand wearily on the stoop of  the jail / of  the world….”

And then there’s “I Allow Myself” by Dorothea Grossman. It begins:

I allow myself
the luxury of breakfast
(I am no nun, for Christ’s sake).

Last, we have “The Mushroom House,” which isn’t a poem at all but an actual house. Click to see the photos. The name fits, and right now I wish I could live there.

The architect, inspired by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, created an undulating design with rolling curves and curls. Because of the home’s cavelike exterior, created by a polyurethane foam coating, many people are surprised to find it light and airy inside, not dark and gloomy.

“It is very, very private,” Frances said. “It is open and free but very private.”

‘Like emerging from a forest’

The Post talks to local writers about inspiration. Rita Dove:

Whenever I walk into my study, I take a moment — an inhalation, really — to gaze out over the neighborhood, an undulating patchwork of variegated greens that miraculously smudge into the dusky lines of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The desk surface I sit down to is a landscape of woods wrapped around three walls. For me, finishing a poem often feels like emerging from a forest. Now whenever I sit down to write, I find myself suspended between artifice and nature, poised to step into the clearing’s rinsed light.

Related, from my New Yorker catch-up, there’s Anne Carson’s “Each Day Unexpected Salvation (John Cage),” a meditation on shade.

Forest shade, lake shade, poplar shade, highway shade,
backyard shade, café shade, down-behind-the-high-school
shade, cow shade, carport shade, blowing shade, dappled
shade, shade darkened by rain above, shade under ships….

Some of the poems I’ve been reading (and liking) recently

In catching up with Poetry magazine this summer.

End of Days Advice from an Ex-zombie” because ex-zombies.

from d e l e t e, Part 8” because consciousness is amazing.

The Fourth Hour of the Night” because a very long poem is a gutsy way to start an issue.

Two Rooms” because a very short poem is a gutsy way to start an issue.

Introduction” by Brian Henry because it’s really just an intro to a section of an issue about poet Tomaž Šalamun but for the first two paragraphs I thought I was reading Tomaž Šalamun writing form-less poetry about himself.

Against Witness” by Cathy Park Hong about artist Doris Salcedo.

… But the surfaces have been manipulated by the artist’s hand: table surfaces have been distressed, scratched, and threaded with human hair like cryptic inscriptions from the dead.

Salcedo’s installations are said to be intimate and uncanny, both qualities in an artwork that must be intuited in person because both qualities require proximity. You must inhabit a space to feel uninhabited by the uncanny. In German, uncanny is unheimlich, or its literal translation, unhomely. To feel the uncanny is not unlike déjà vu, where you are in a new environment and are jolted by a flash of the familiar, or inversely, when you’re in your own home and you suddenly feel a terrible unease that this is not your beautiful house. Freud said that flash of the familiar is a return of our repressed past. It is the opposite of Kant’s notion of the sublime: while one elicits a rush of elevated pleasure, the uncanny provokes anxiety, a discomfort in one’s own skin. The uncanny, according to Freud, is not unlike the feeling of being buried alive. The uncanny, according to Freud, is also to feel “robbed of one’s eyes.”

 

Memo as poetry

Overdue public thanks to my quite-literary friend Elizabeth for picking up Susan Terris’ Memos at the AWP conference this year and sending me a copy. The book in the mail was a surprise, and then so were many of the poems in the collection. My three favorites at the moment are: “Memo to the girl with the port-wine stain across her face” (“your parents I’d like to know them”), “Memo to the deadbeat dad” (“think about the no-garden garden”) and “Memo to the young streetwalker” (“I can still see the soft spot your parchment / head cradled”).

Christian Wiman is a good interview, a very good one

My mom passed along the Commonweal interview with the former Poetry editor. I need to share a few parts I loved. (There were many.) You may not read a better meditation on lit-faith ties all year.

1.

The great enemy for all of us is the “I” we interpose between ourselves and experience, the self we mistake for our soul. Nothing but difficulty destroys that “I.”

2.

Can one really just decide to be more joyful, though? One aspect of joy is the suspension of will—the obliteration of will, really—though probably there is an element of discipline in being prepared for joy, just as there is in being prepared for poetry. “Iridescent readiness,” W. S. Di Piero calls it.

3. From a quoted poem by poet Anna Kamienska…

Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain

And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee’s head

4.

We all live in an agony of unbelief, and we all survive it by solidarity with others, including those minds we meet only through their works. I suppose no artist has the duty to make his or her faith available to an audience, but just think how heartening it is when one does.

5.

Poets are still guardians of the truths of faith, but poetry has less and less to do with the institutions that presume to name that faith. This makes some religious leaders think they do not need poetry, when in fact they need it now more than ever, because within poetry is the same anarchic energy and disabling insight that causes people to seek religion at all. It is the aboriginal energy of existence itself that is missing from most religious services these days. Art has this energy in abundance.

‘His head was aware of his heart’

I don’t know much about poet James Merrill. But in my New Yorker catch-up this spring, I do love these Dan Chaisson lines about him. Aspirational.

Merrill had few blind spots: his head was aware of his heart, and his imagination had unusual access to both. He approached his life with a weird mixture of abandon and detachment. There are no Merrill scandals. He wasn’t Mother Teresa, but he kept most of the friends he made, inspired forgiveness in most of his ex-lovers, and treated those whose lives drifted through the rarefied precincts of his own as though they were kings in disguise.

Poems for a long winter month

Two of them. First, Mark Strand’s “Lines for Winter,” which showed up in the Poetry Foundation’s great Poem of the Day feed.

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on

And James Richardson’s “Essay for Clouds,” from a recent New Yorker. So many good lines but maybe the most excerpt-able ones: “O / miracle not miraculous! Everything / we know well / lightens and escapes us, and isn’t that / when we escape?”

 

Neverending note mysteries

In an old notepad of mine, there’s mention of a Mary Oliver poem. I have no idea where I first heard the poem or when I wrote down a line from it, but it’s wonderful. You can read the work in full here.

You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.

On a different page of my notes, there’s “belted kingfisher.” I learn from research today that the bird is a wild one. “When a Belted Kingfisher catches a fish, it will fly back to its perch, bang the fish against the branch, throw it up into the air, catch it, and swallow it.”

Another page: “Catholic guilt. Never connected with it. Always saw it more as a kind of restlessness to do better. An interconnectedness.”