December 21, 2020

On The Misuse of Scripture: A Collection of Poems by Daniel Klawitter

 



One of Colorado’s most prolific writers of poetry, Daniel Klawitter’s latest book is a delightful collection of both pensive and humorous poems that have for their origin of inspiration verses from the sacred text of the Bible. He calls his newest collection, The Misuse of Scripture. In the collection, each poem is preceded by a quote from various places in the Old and New Testaments. The verses referenced are used as a sort of springboard for the poem that follows it. 

I remember in the late ‘90s studying a branch of epistemology known as semiotics. Semiotics has to do with the way the human mind interprets signs and symbols. Within the study was a concept known as ‘unlimited semiosis’, where an idea will trigger a chain of associated ideas which, as the chain progresses, eventually seem unrelated to the initial idea. I might see a star, for example, and be reminded of the nativity of Jesus, which might produce the thought of him on a cross, which in turn might trigger a thought of a burning cross, then imagery of the KKK, then recollections of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then John Kennedy, and so on. 


The interesting relationship that Daniel’s poems have with the Bible verses that precede them have a similar effect. Take for example his poem, Red Stuff. The quoted verse is from the Book of Genesis, chapter 25 verse 30.


And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee,

with that same red pottage; for I am faint. 


From this verse Daniel proceeds to write what he calls a “list” poem—a free association exercise that he wrote around Christmas 2017; a list of “red stuff I could think of that might fit.” The work is quite delightful, opening up with these lines:


Red snapper fish and red velvet cake—

The famous red apple; the slithering snake. 

The blood in God’s creatures—the sunset at dusk.

The Indian corn concealed in its husk. 


A fun and cognitively stimulating poem! Notice some of the Biblical references it opens up with?—the apple, the snake, God and his creation. I especially like the internal rhymes of lines 5 and 6, and the exceedingly humorous line 8:


The communist cadre—the red-headed girl.

The socialist padre—the Eurasian red squirrel. 

The crimson tide and the precious red rubies.

The color of nipples—on some people’s boobies. 


Haha … priceless.


Again, concerning the relationship between the Bible verse and the poem, Daniel goes on to explain, “The scripture verse itself is referring to a red lentil pottage...a kind of stew that Esau wanted to eat. So that poem is a good example of me using the scripture verse entirely for my own creative exercise without it being any kind of commentary at all on the verse itself (emphasis added).”


And so, you can see how the poem can stand alone by itself without ever having known that verses from the book of Genesis spawned itwhich, of course, they did. Hence the cryptic (and creative) title of his latest collection. Daniel goes on to affirm this relationship between verse and work by explaining that the poems “may have either a direct or more indirect relationship to the poems themselves. They are all a way of framing the poem that follows them, but I definitely take some liberties on occasion in interpreting those verses for my own purposes. Thus, the title of the book (The Misuse of Scripture) is a way to poke fun at myself as well.”  


On top of this—to elaborate on our poet’s particular style—this poem, although not written in a tight metrical foot, has a palpable ballad tempo to it that when read aloud causes one to recall some of Frost and Auden’s works. This primarily has to do with the poetic devices that Daniel uses when constructing lines like the ones we just read. Daniel does much more than insert internal rhymes to support the rhythm of the approaching end-rhymes. Remember lines 5 and 6? Note the obvious rhymes:

The communist cadre—the red-headed girl.

The socialist padre—the Eurasian red squirrel


Now notice the nearly alliterativeist’ in each line coupled with the nearly assonanteds’ that weave the two lines tightly together—and this apart from the aforementioned rhymes! 


The communist cadre—the red-head/ed girl.

The socialist padre—the Eurasian red squirrel.


These two lines are so densely riddled with rhythmic devices that it seems impossible to overlook (or underhear) their musical tempo when read aloud. Couple this with an interesting list of red things and you have yourself a rhythmically fun and good read. The rest of his 16 line poem follows:


The planet called Mars—the sports car for sale.
The fox in her den—your friend Abigail.
The stop sign on First St.—the pimple that popped.
Mao’s little red book—the tomato you dropped.
The cherries and peppers—the grapes on the vine.

The sweater for Christmas with its horrid design.
The cat in the window—your heart and your kidneys.
And good old St. Nick—coming down the red chimney. 



*****



Again, Daniel’s use of scripture as a springboard may or may not produce a poetic work that refers to or relates itself ‘theologically’ back to the verse in question, but some works are certainly closer in topic than others. Let us take a look at another one of his works—a poem titled: For What It’s Worth. Here it is in its entirety: 



For What It’s Worth


For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope:

—Romans 8:24


You flip the flashing coin—end over end—into the fountain. 

Sun strikes copper as you make your wish—the penny
Hits the water and sinks to the bottom. It is autumn
And all things are returning to earth. For what it’s worth
Your wishes have withered to a whimper. But when hope
Is a hard currency we remember a penny for our thoughts.

So many coins cast against gravity: terrestrial astronauts. 


In the opening notes of his book, Daniel states that his “hope is that [his poems] can be read fruitfully and with some measurement of enjoyment by almost anyone, including those with practically no familiarity with the Bible.” 


That statement certainly holds true for the poem above. Had I read this poem somewhere out in the world without having Romans 8:24 to precede it, I would have come up with roughly the same conclusion about the poem as I did when I first read it with the verse. That is to say, I would have concluded that the poem is suggesting that the tangible, ritualistic gesture of wishing upon a coin that you toss into a fountain is inferior to that of the raw, unassisted, intangible act of hope. The ‘act’ of wishing upon a coin, as the poem suggests, indicates that our “wishes have [already] withered to a whimper.” It is only the “hard currency” of hope in itself and by itself that is of any enduring value.

Notwithstanding, his use of Romans 8:24 as a ‘literary epigraph’ sheds light on and illuminates his poem. Either way the message is conveyed, whether one has knowledge of the Bible or not. Of course, I have to confess, when I read the opening verse from Romans I immediately remembered Hebrews 11:1, that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”, and this helped me appreciate Daniel’s poem all the more!

A quick note on some of the poetic devices Daniel uses in this work. This might be a total reach on my part, but I like that the poem conveys its message within seven linesseven signifying that which is sacred. I also like how line 1 and line 7 are complete sentences, as if bracketing in the more sensitive core of the poem. 


And let us look at that core. It consists of all enjambed lines. In poetry, enjambment occurs when a sentence in a line of poetry continues unimpeded by the end-rhyme (if the poem rhymes) while adhering to regular syntax. Often, when the sentence terminates or resolves, it does so roughly in the center of the following line rather than comfortably at the end. The next sentence then picks up where the previous one ended, and so on. Note how Daniel enjambs every line from 2 to 6 (highlighted in blue).

Sun strikes copper as you make your wishthe penny
Hits the water and sinks to the bottom. It is autumn
And all things are returning to earth. For what it’s worth
Your wishes have withered to a whimper. But when hope
Is a hard currency we remember a penny for our thoughts.


Note that line 6 is still an enjambed line since the sentence begins toward the end of line 5. And further note how Daniel exploits a couple of those enjambed lines by inserting rhymed words: 


Hits the water and sinks to the bottom. It is autumn
And all things are returning to earth. For what it’s worth


Hmm? I can not recall a poet exploiting enjambment with rhymed words. I also can not recall a poet tethering an enjambed line of poetry together by using alliteration, like Daniel does in line 5: 


Your wishes have withered to a whimper. But when hope 


Damn! Very cool. I could go on: there are just too many subtleties in Daniel’s works that it would require a volume or two just to cover a single one of his collections. To say the least, Mr. Klawitter is certainly—and in a rather stealthy way—a meticulous writer of poetry. 



*****



As mentioned in the beginning of this post, The Misuse of Scripture contains poems both pensive and humorous: pensive and sobering like the poem, Grief is…; or humorously risqué like the poem, Yes, But Does He Write You Poetry?. Others border on didactical reproaches such as, My Homophobic Friend, and, I Hear That. Daniel’s poem, The Knowledge of Good & Evil, for some reason reminds me of Tracy Chapman’s song, Fast Car. Some of his other works are autobiographical, like, In Sickness and in Health, and, Fishing with Father. There is another little nugget in Daniel’s collection that I need to mention separately here. 


The Misuse of Scripture is divided into three parts: I, II and III. Parts I and III consist of all of Daniel’s well crafted poems. The whole of part II, however, consists of a ‘flash non-fiction’ piece that takes us back to the mid ‘90s when Daniel was working in the Philippines with a nonprofit, social justice organization. The story is not only about a true event, it is also suspenseful, humorous, and well written—and if you would like to know what happens, I left a link to his book in the right column.


Daniel Klawitter

October 03, 2020

To the Memory of My Mom, Beverly Ann Smith: Persephone


Persephone

To my delight and too my pain,
I hear her laughter echo near;
Though muffled by the veil of time, 
It comes obscured, yet still I hear. 

The chords are faint, yet still resound, 
And overwhelm my listless state, 
Til all at once my heart gives way 
To joy and grief that will not wait. 

Oh would that I could reach my hand 
Through that thick darkness we call death, 
And draw her out to me again, 
Restoring laughter and her breath.

But mortals may not thus retrieve
The ones we’ve lost, who’ve gone before, 
And so, to hear her laughter clear, 
I’ll have to pass through Hades’ door.

—jwm


Of the Poem Stanza Type: Quatrain Meter: Eight lines per stanza (i.e. tetrameter) 

Rhyme Scheme: xaxa xbxb xcxc xdxd (where ‘x’ represents unrhymed lines) 

Composition: April – May 2016  In Greek mythology Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Demeter loved Persephone so much and cared for her innocence that she was exceedingly protective of her and utterly opposed to allowing her into marriage, believing any possible suitors to be unworthy of her. Hades, who loved Persephone, was well aware that Demeter would certainly deny him her hand.  One day, as Persephone was gathering flowers in the meadows of Enna, a jagged fissure ripped the earth wide open and Hades emerged out of the twisting and rumbling. Seizing Persephone, Hades descended with her instantly into the Underworld—the fissure closing behind them. The event occurred so quickly that even those who were gathering flowers nearby did not notice Persephone was missing.  Demeter was beside herself and writhed in despair upon the discovery of Persephone’s abduction. Crippled by agony, Demeter neglected her supervision as goddess of fertility and harvest and the earth began to reel in degeneration- crops began to fail, fruits and all manner of nourishment began to dry up and wither away, people and animals began to perish beneath the growing famine, along with countless other miseries. Hearing the cries below Mount Olympus, Zeus confronts Hades and persuades him to release Persephone from his bonds, but not before Hades tricks her into tasting a few pomegranate seeds—fruit of the Underworld, of which those who partake are filled with an overwhelming desire to stay in the Underworld.  Restored to her relieved mother, Persephone expresses a desire to return to Hades and this, of course, infuriates Demeter. Demeter threatens to let the earth perish if Persephone leaves her side. A compromise was ultimately made: Persephone is permitted to spend a given duration with Hades below, and a given duration with Demeter above.  It is said that for this reason, when Persephone abides with Hades, autumn strips trees bare and winter ravages the land—this as a result of Demeter’s indignation; and that when Persephone is with Demeter, spring’s vitality returns and summer feeds the earth with warmth and light.  That is one way of telling Persephone’s story. Inasmuch as the poem Persephone is concerned, I wanted to imagine the agony and sorrow Demeter felt upon the discovery of Persephone’s abduction by Hades (represented by death in the poem) and imagine beyond the crippling grief the inexplicable joy she must have felt upon being reunited with her daughter.  Persephone is dedicated to the memory of my mom, Beverly Ann Smith, who died October 3rd, 2015. Like Demeter, my heart perpetually writhes in crippling pain at her departure. Memories of her sustain me from despair: her angel-voice, her beautiful face, her unique and punctuated laughter, her love for me. Unlike Demeter, however, I am unable to call her back from the other side of that dark veil, and so my inexplicable joy awaits me on the other side, where I will see her again.

To the memory of my mom ...

July 11, 2020

Jonah, Nineveh, Poetry and Prejudice

Nineveh

He sees me, but with eyes unbrotherly
And blind. I want to reach beyond the wall—
Now shrouded with corroded, twisted vines—
And show him we are one. Will God not call

Another reluctant prophet to go
Beyond the city walls and through the streets,
Preaching repentance (like Jonah of old),
Teaching them our hearts like theirs also beats?

Me perhaps? Why? For the hated object
To teach love and equality seems strange,
So for the shores of Tarshish travel I …
Nineveh must teach Nineveh to change.

—jwm


Nineveh was an Assyrian city that thrived in ancient Mesopotamia’s northern region, near modern-day Mosul, Iraq. At one point it was the largest city of the ancient world—until it violently fell in 612.

This city was held in deep antipathy by Israel as a result of the perpetual and bitter conflict they had with the Assyrian empire, as can be seen by Jonah’s (almost comedic) response to the Lord’s call:

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. ~ Jonah 1:1,2 

Jonah, as the story continues, boarded a ship at the port of Joppa and was off for Tarshish. His plans, however, were thwarted when the Lord intercepted the ship with a violent tempest. It was revealed to the crew that the cause of the storm was Jonah, and Jonah was eventually thrown overboard.

As many know, Jonah was then swallowed by a great fish, and while in the belly of that fish gave a prayer of repentance and the Lord heard him. The fish vomited Jonah out on dry land and Jonah proceeded to Nineveh where he would deliver God’s message and ultimately His salvation to that city.

It is clear from the story that Jonah resented the fact that God wanted to bring salvation to a city of people who Jonah (and Israel) considered an enemy nation. This is also clearly a story about prejudice and the need for repentance. Nineveh hated Israel, and Israel along with Jonah hated Nineveh. God, however, loved them both, and wanted nothing more than to bring salvation to them and any of His other children abroad.

In the above poem, Nineveh is symbolic for the antagonist who has a deep hatred for the narrator. For whatever reason it is—homophobia, racism, xenophobia, whatever—the antagonist is blinded by the hatred that governs his disposition and perspective.

Unlike Jonah, the narrator (uncalled by God) desires to reach past this barrier of hatred with the hope of showing the antagonist that there is more that unites them than divides them, to show him how alike they are and that they are even deemed kindred and one in the eyes of God. The narrator, unlike his self-made foe, is looking through brotherly eyes.

But hatred is sometimes too much of a barrier, and in this poem it is a wall that has been there a long time: choked and covered with dying vines. The image of a walled city comes to mind, and the narrator wonders if God will call someone, a prophet perhaps, to go beyond these walls and to encourage, indeed, to warn its inhabitants to repent and change their ways for fear that they die in that state of hatred. If only they could see that the lives of those they hated mattered, or that their hearts like theirs also beats, perhaps this would facilitate for them a desire or motive to see things differently, and to change.

As if being asked, the narrator declines being such a messenger, believing it to be strange that the responsibility of teaching love and equality should lie on the shoulders of those being held in antipathy. If anyone ought to coax the inhabitants of that city to change their ways, it ought to be the people living within it. Any change that is not from within will be a show of pretense and therefore meaningless. Ultimately, it is Nineveh that must change Nineveh.

And so, like Jonah, the narrator’s attention is fixed not on Nineveh, but on Tarshish.

May 25, 2020

Ayame (彩女) of the Clan Azuma: a Poem

Ayame (彩女)

A moonless night filled the feudal estate—
No silver-gilding glow would help them see
The approaching danger, their coming fate,
Stalking the compound from the distant trees.

Out from the darkness a warrior came—
A shadow within the shadow’s shadow—
An Azuma ninja, O dreaded name:
Ayame—scourge of her trembling foes.

Now death’s dark shadow through the castle creeps,
And it follows Ayame’s crimson path
Up to the chambers where the cruel lord sleeps,
Who will soon feel the shadow’s fatal wrath.

And soon, guard after guard will disappear,
And Kiku will too from their clutch be saved—
That child-princess whom the clan holds dear, 
Whom the lord of this compound had enslaved.

“Let no more guards my way impede or fight, 
Or by these swords, none will survive this night.”

-jwm Of the Poem The above poem is the result of a request by my daughter to write something pertaining to the video game series, Tenchu. My daughter had previously written a poem about a character in the same series who goes by the name Rin (凛), a poem she titled: I am Rin of the Benyia. Since I knew a great deal about Tenchu in general, and Ayame's character in particular (my daughter and I played this game together often), and because she did a really good job with her poem, I thought it would be fun to try and put something together. So who is this Ayame character? Ayame (彩女, pronounced 'aye-yom-ee') is a fictional character in the stealth video game series Tenchu. According to that series, which takes place in a fantasy 16th century feudal Japan, Ayame was found abandoned in Kyoto as a very young child after a devastating battle that took place during the Warring States period. She was adopted and eventually trained as a kunoichi (female ninja) by a grand master named Shiunsai Azuma (東 紫雲齋.) When she was twelve, Ayame trained as an equal along side two other male ninjas, Tatsumaru (龍丸) and Rikimaru (力丸). She would eventually become one of the most feared assassins serving the House of Lord Gohda (郷田 松之信) and dedicating especially her time and loyalty to the young Princess Kiku (菊姫, pronounced 'key-koo'), whom she treated as a younger sister.

In the poem above, I depict Ayame infiltrating an enemy castle at night in stealth, assassinating the rival clan leader, and rescuing Princess Kiku who had been kidnapped and held there as a hostageevents that did not occur in the game's storyline, but certainly could have.

To stay as true to the character as I could, I had the concluding couplet refer to 'two swords' that Ayame swears on. Throughout the entire Tenchu series, Ayame's primary weapons were two kodachi (小太刀)—that is, two short swords (swords that were commonly used by samurai during Japan's feudal period).

Before closing I might add that my poem
was initially meant to be a sonnet, but my daughter thought that I should include what is now the fourth stanza—a stanza that I had been experimenting with. After having done that, and after having read the poem through, I felt the addition of that stanza not only fit well, but added wonderfully to the story. For that, I have her to thank. Thank you for stopping by. If you have played Tenchu, or are familiar with the series, I would love to know what you think of the poem. Was Ayame depicted well, did you like the storyline? Do you wish they would come out with another Tenchu? Let me know ...

May 16, 2020

A Prayer to the Lord


A Prayer

Wash us clean, O Lord, and teach us your ways—
Draw us up and out of prison
And help us to rely, in faith, on these:
Your cross, your blood, and you risen. 

-jwm

April 05, 2020

Michael Longley Quote


Michael Longley's Poem: Ceasefire

Image by Colin Davidson
A couple years ago a friend of mine sent me a YouTube clip of a poetry reading by Michael Longley, Ireland Professor of Poetry from 2007–2010. The subject of the poem revolved around the clandestine meeting between King Priam of Troy and Achilles, the warrior who killed and kept the body of Priam’s son, Hector. For some reason the poem has been on my mind for the last month, and so I thought I would post it here for others to also enjoy.
The poem, Longley states, was inspired by a declaration of an IRA ceasefire in the mid ‘90s. At the time Longley happened to be reading Homer’s Iliad—an epic poem about the conflict between the Achaeans and Trojans. The combination of these events produced Longley’s poem, Ceasefire
Here is a very brief backstory. Achilles and Hector battled blade-to-blade and Hector fell. Achilles strapped the corpse to his chariot and ruthlessly drug it through the dust back to camp. Priam, later guided safely by Hermes to Achilles’ tent, woefully pleaded with the warrior to return his son’s body to him. Pope renders a beautiful but solemn plea to Achilles by Priam for his son’s body:

Think of thy father, and this helpless face behold
See him in me, as helpless and as old!
Though not so wretched: there he yields to me,
The first of men in sovereign misery!
Thus forced to kneel, thus groveling to embrace
The scourge and ruin of my realm and race;
Suppliant my children’s murderer to implore,
And kiss those hands yet reeking with their gore!”

Longley’s poem, written in 1994, is his depiction of the same events recorded in the Iliad. His is a four part poem consisting of three unrhymed quatrains and a powerful concluding rhyming couplet. The poem wants to elicit a sense of empathy on the part of Achilles, his ultimate willingness to concede to Priam’s pleas, and Priam’s willingness to humble himself—even before an enemy—to achieve a higher goal.

I imagine that the notion of mutual self-abasement and even a sympathetic understanding in order to achieve a higher and more noble end was in Longley’s mind when scripting this work out. These dispositions certainly seem a prerequisite to any meaningful ceasefire whether it manifests itself in a contemporary armistice, or whether it does so in a temporary annulment of conflict somewhere near the ancient shores of Troy.

Below is Longley’s poem along with his reading of it. Hope you enjoy them both.
Ceasefire
I
Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears
Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king
Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and
Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.

II
Taking Hector's corpse into his own hands Achilles
Made sure it was washed and, for the old king's sake,
Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry
Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.

III
When they had eaten together, it pleased them both
To stare at each other's beauty as lovers might,
Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still
And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:

IV
'I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles' hand, the killer of my son.'





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