Friday, January 15, 2016

Poetry Friday: C.D. Wright

“Poetry is a necessity of life. It is a function of poetry
to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.” 
C.D. Wright, 1949-2016

The intriguing and brilliant poet C.D. Wright died this last Tuesday, January 12th. She was only 67, born the same year I was born. That fact makes me feel vulnerable, reminds me that life is short. Enough said. I'm just going to post a poem in her honor - I puzzled over it for a long time and eventually learned to love it. Hoping the same for you.

[One tangential thought: I try to pick poetry for children on Poetry Fridays, but I don't always think that the category "child" means a young child. Teens can be offered poems written for adults (though when a poet writes a poem like this, is she thinking of audience?) Let's present more complicated and beautiful poems like this one to YA readers, in addition to the growing volume of verse novels (emphasis usually on "novel," not on "verse") which go only so far to kindle a passion for poetry, and which too often assume a limited desire on the part of teens to work hard at understanding something. This is a thick poem - a poem with weight - not much white space to it, which I feel can be a common flaw in verse novels. Here's a poem that can be read, then re-read, then discussed in a high school English class - discovering "the zones inside us that would be free" - oh, I'd like to hear that discussion. What an unexpected couple of lines this poem opens with, given its title. How wave-like it settles into the listing of moments in a life. What a last word to leave us with - "Instead."

I love a poem that makes us ask a question and does not, necessarily, provide the answer. A poem that sends us to bed wondering. Anyway, with no further opinion-pushing, here's C. D. Wright:

Everything Good Between Men and Women

   has been written in mud and butter
   and barbecue sauce. The walls and
   the floors used to be gorgeous.
   The socks off-white and a near match.
   The quince with fire blight
   but we get two pints of jelly
   in the end. Long walks strengthen
   the back. You with a fever blister
   and myself with a sty. Eyes
   have we and we are forever prey
   to each other’s teeth. The torrents
   go over us. Thunder has not harmed
   anyone we know. The river coursing
   through us is dirty and deep. The left
   hand protects the rhythm. Watch
   your head. No fires should be
   unattended. Especially when wind. Each
   receives a free swiss army knife.
   The first few tongues are clearly
   preparatory. The impression
   made by yours I carry to my grave. It is
   just so sad so creepy so beautiful.
   Bless it. We have so little time
   to learn, so much... The river
   courses dirty and deep. Cover the lettuce.
   Call it a night. O soul. Flow on. Instead.

   The Poetry Friday round-up this week is being hosted by Keri over at Keri Recommends. Head over there to see what other people have posted. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Poetry Friday: John Clare and Winter


"I love to see the old heath's withered brake / Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling...."
"...and coy bumbarrels.../ flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain...."

Happy Poetry Friday and Happy Holidays to you all. I'm posting a traditional winter poem today, John Clare's "Emmonsail's Heath in Winter." Clare was an English poet who wrote in the first half of the 1800's - his personal story is a sad one, but his love of the English countryside is uplifting. This particular poem touches on everything winter does to us, I think - makes us think of age, of slowing down, of shrubs and twigs and icy weather, but also of life amid the bare branches (the bouncing, chattering and flitting of birds) and the desire to "start again." In the meantime, the poem plays with words I don't hear any other place but in Clare's work - furze, ling, cloven roves, fieldfares and bumbarrels (bumbarrels!) Hope you enjoy it ~ and that your winter is a happy one.

The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted today by the always interesting and delightful Diane Mayr over at Random Noodling. Head over there to see what other people have posted. And if you've ever had trouble understanding the way fiction works, or why you like certain novels, check out my last post over at Books Around the Table before heading out.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Poetry Friday: The Poetry of Science

My copy of a newly revised The Poetry of Science arrived today - just in time for Poetry Friday. Hooray! 248 poems by 78 poets - a terrific collection edited by the ever-energetic team of Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell, founders of Pomelo Books.  With a four-page glossary of scientific terms used in the poems, cute illustrations by Frank Ramspott and Bug Wang (yes, Bug Wang - envy-inducing name!) and a detailed list of web pages for students to turn to for more information, this anthology is definitely going to find its way into many classrooms, and I'm proud to have five poems in it. Two are about scientists Rachel Carson and Albert Einstein, one is about a despondent moment in the science lab, one about how it rains metal on Venus (yes, metal) and one about magnets. Many Poetry Friday poets are included in the list of contributors -- you'll find familiar names!

My favorite poem in the collection is by author/illustrator Terry Webb Harshman titled "Queen of Night." It begins like this...

I am the moon, Queen of Night, 
riddle wrapped in borrowed light....   

I haven't had time yet to get permission from the poet to print the entire poem, but I hope to have permission soon. Until then, trust me, it's a knock-out.

Since I don't need permission to share one of my own poems, I'll do that today.  Hope you like questions. For me, questions are the beginning point of all scientific exploration. In fact, for me, questions feel like the beginning of just about everything.

Testing My Magnet

Flowers? No. Dirt? No.
Socks? No. Shirt? No.
Hamster? No. Snake? No.
Plastic scoop and rake? No.
Glue? Paint? Paper? Clay?
Sneakers that I wore today? 
No, no, no, no...

Pile of metal paper clips --
Yes! Hooray for paper clips!
Shiny whistle? Metal fan?
Dented metal garbage can?
Hammer head, bag of nails?
Ring of keys? Rusty pails?
Yes, yes, yes and yes!

Results of my experiment?
Magnets are mag--nificent!

The Poetry Friday round-up today is being hosted by Tara over at A Teaching Life. Head over there to see what other people have posted.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Poetry Friday: Julie Paschkis's Flutter and Hum (Aleteo y Zumbido)

What can I say about Julie Paschkis's new book Flutter and Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems / Poemas de Animales?

Well, how about this: I want to take every student I ever taught at the University of Washington and at Vermont College of Fine Arts and tell them, belatedly, "Here. Sit down. Read this. This is what Evelyn Glennie meant in her TedTalk, 'How to Truly Listen," about hearing with your whole body. This is what Leonard Bernstein meant about language being musical. Poetry, prose, it doesn't matter - in order to make the language right, you have to listen to the sound it makes. You have to try to make it sing some kind of song, try to hear it as if each word is new to you. Start with individual words, say them aloud, then stack them up, make them chime, play with rhyme, investigate rhythm.  Read what Julie Paschkis does in this book. Then try your hand at it."

Of course, I've left something out here - something important - about the process of listening carefully to language. Julie learned it while writing the book: It's easier to hear the music of a language that is new to us and fresh - that is, a language which still surprises us - than to hear the music of our own first language. After all, as adults we've gotten so used to English that we've almost forgotten how to really hear it. Kids do a bit better - they're still surprised...and often, delighted, when they "hear it new."

What Julie did was begin to learn Spanish. Over the course of her studies, she fell in love with the language.  I experienced this myself when I lived in Mexico as a new bride; my husband, who grew up in Mexico, was feeling the same way about English. It's a giddy time, starting out with a new language, kind of like looking up into the sky at night and seeing a super moon, brighter than normal. Language - the sound the words make - is usually familiar, but it suddenly surprises you.

Julie Paschkis and Friend

I think Julie wrote the poems in Flutter and Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido as a kind of love letter to Spanish. She started with individual words - many free-standing words float into, above, under and around the pages.  Then she did the stacking and chiming and rhyming I mentioned before - she formed the poems. She wrote them first in Spanish, then translated them into the kind of English that also sings and surprises. The result is very exciting, because the poems please both heart and mind. And ear! Here's an example (if you know any Spanish, definitely read the poems aloud -- and if you don't know Spanish, just give it a shot - it's basically phonetic, and a double L is pronounced as a Y):

     La Polilla

     La polilla
     la bombilla,
     buscando la luna.

     La lucierniga
     aletea ---
     su propia estrella.

     La luna
     no ve
     ni la polilla,
     ni la bombilla,
     ni la lucierniaga.



     The moth
     the lightbulb,
     looking for the moon.

     The firefly
     flutters by ---
     its own star.

     The moon
     doesn't notice
     the moth,
     the lightbulb,
     or the firefly. 

(Be sure to click on this to make it larger!)
I guess what I want to suggest on this Poetry Friday is simple: "Here. Sit down. Read this poem and its translation. Then try your hand at it."

 The Poetry Friday round-up today is being hosted by Tricia over at the fabulous Miss Rumphius Effect (she's posted a beautiful poem by Robert Frost - "My November Guest.") Head over there to see what other poems have been posted by the Poetry Friday crowd. And don't miss Julie's new post over at Books Around the Table today!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween and Then...November!

Here's wishing everyone in the Poetry Friday circle a wonderful, creepy, owl-y, ghostly, black catty, witchy, dark and delightful Halloween tomorrow night!! After that, November....

Not that I don't like November. But I love the early fall in Seattle - crisp apples, clean air, autumn leaves -  especially if I can resist thinking about how quickly our winter will be here with its bare branches, short days and long nights. Halloween seems to mark the end of sweet autumn and the beginning of soggy fall. But here's a shiny poem (a sonnet, now that I look at it carefully) in celebration of the gray (silver?) month to come: Novemberrrrrrrrr.

Like Coins, November

We drove past late fall fields as flat and cold
as sheets of tin and, in the distance, trees

were tossed like coins against the sky. Stunned gold
and bronze, oaks, maples, stood in twos and threes:

some copper bright, a few dull brown and, now
and then, the shock of one so steeled with frost

it glittered like a dime. The autumn boughs
and blackened branches wore a somber gloss

that whispered tails to me, not heads. I read
memorial columns in their trunks; their leaves

spelled UNUM, cent; and yours, the only head...
in penny profile, Lincoln-like (one sleeve,

one eye) but even it was turning tails
as russet leaves lay spent across the trails.

                     by Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck

The Poetry Friday round-up is either being hosted today by Jone over at Check It Out or Mary Lee at A Year of Reading - can't tell which but will update this later in the day. Head over to one of those pages to see what other people have posted. And you can read another post of mine (about a week in the life of author Maira Kalman) over at Books Around the Table today!