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The Poets

September 18, 2009

A Few Single Stanza/Poems


Speaking of single stanza poems, here’s a few that I think are pretty good (poet’s names included):



Infinity

To the ever-rising sun
There is no time, no age-
Tomorrow yesterday are one;
That which was as is to be
Doth with now as one become.
From whence we glean infinity.

Edwin A. Ackerman





Memory

Memory is a fragile thing;
A bee’s honey, and its sting.

Violet Wiggins Newton




Night is so Long

A strip of void fastened to my window frame,
And one assertive star;
Chasing me, purging me in its white flame,
Where all tomorrows are.

Mary Caluori





Friends

Some are true;
Others are not.
They’ll either love you,
Or what you’ve got.

Bea Myers



Stoic True*

Although you’ve read Chrysippus through-
And studied Epictetus too-
This doesn’t make you Stoic true,
Until you do what Stoics do.

John W. May





Hilltop Chapel

Those barless prison walls of Delta camp
Were not as frightening as one would deem.
Indeed, there I received the Spirit’s stamp,
And on hilltop chapel seen angels gleam.

Johm W. May




Bunky

With a crumpled ear and a crooked tail
And a stripped coat, like they wear in jail,
I may not amount to so very much
But still I’d like to make it clear:
I’ve earned my bed and board for life;
I caught a mouse . . . last year!

Billie Marie Crabb

****


It delights me through- this thing that bothered me a little in the past- to know that the idea of a single subject (a subject that could easily fill volumes) can be so beautifully conveyed in so short a poem. Not that I hadn’t known this before, but to see it reinforces the knowledge that it’s so.



* For the pronunciation of Chrysippus and Epictetus

September 15, 2009

Ηχω (Echo)


"That tongue of yours, by which I have been tricked, shall have its power curtailed and enjoy the briefest use of speech." (Hera to Echo. Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.365).


Ηχω

What beckons back is not the word
Of her whose voice I deem sublime:
I call, but repetitions heard
Reveal not Echo’s voice, but mine.



Of the Poem (Background):

Zeus was hardly the god of fidelity, an unfortunate fact his wife Hera became increasingly aware of (especially when it came to his attraction to mountain nymphs). Desiring to catch him in the act of infidelity, Hera attempts to secretly follow Zeus, but Echo (another nymph) would distract her with her attractive voice and attractive stories. When Hera realized this she punished the nymph by stripping away her ability to speak freely. The curse only enabled Echo to repeat the last words spoken by another- hence the name.

The quatrain above indirectly embraces an aspect of the story that is seldom thought about: Echo’s isolation. In it is a voice that calls out to Echo and waits in anticipation for a response. What rings back is an exact- albeit fainter- replication of the voice’s voice. It is Echo, but the conclusion is drawn that she is nowhere to be found, and that the returning voice is a mere repetition of the original call.

The unspoken tragedy of the poem is that it is Echo’s voice beckoning back, returning the call in replications she’s unable to break- replications so convincing, so exact, that the voice concludes the non-existence of a respondent. Her voice- once loved, even cherished by the nymph herself- is now the selfsame voice that produces a deception in its hearers, that keeps Echo forever in isolation. It’s the deception placed on the calling voice- repetitions heard / reveal not Echo’s voice, but mine- that magnify the punishment originally bestow by Hera (creating, as it were, a secondary punishment of eternal isolation).

*****

I have so many isolated stanzas (as I call them) that I have a folder specifically dedicated to them. Ηχω, a simple quatrain, is grouped with these. The stanzas range from heroic couplets to tercets to octets. Each of them have been kept because I felt them to be complete, fully finished poems- this despite the fact that they’re simple stand alone stanzas.

This begs a question: How long must a poem be to be considered a poem? Is there a such thing as ‘too short’ a poem? I’m utterly comfortable calling an isolated couplet a complete poem (especially if it was intended as such). Ezra Pound certainly considered his In a Station of the Metro not only a complete poem, but a highly mature one. A haiku is an exceedingly short poem, and yet contains volumes of poetic imagery (some of the best in the world).

It seems impossible that a single word could constitute a poem; but how about two carefully placed words? John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, has a very poetic feel to it ... yet it's only two words.

As for me, I know internally when I can dub a work of mine as a poem (short or not)- but would that hold true by definition? I guess what my curiosity wants to know is this: What’s the shortest poem ever written; and, how short is too short (if there is such a thing)? Feel free to give an opinion on the matter (short or not).

copyright © 2009

September 12, 2009

Blue Moon So Rare: A Nancy Villanelle

With recent posts on the structure and (challenging) nature of the villanelle, I was pleased to see that a good friend of mine took up the task of creating one … and an absolutely beautiful one at that.

Nancy, as I mentioned to you on Facebook (where she posted this poem): you’ve singlehandedly set the bar for writing villanelles … in fact (I dare say), you’ve trumped Dylan’s popular verse … absolutely incredible ...

Below the asterisks (with her permission) is the post as laid out by her. Thank you for sharing this, Nancy. Everyone else: Enjoy!


*******

Blue Moon So Rare

The moon above so full so rare so blue
She rises high in a night sky most fair
And leads us home, you to me, me to you

Keeping deep held secrets only she knew
She whisper'd their myst’ry into the air
The moon above so full so rare so blue

A lunar lifetime one fulfill’d, then two
Spawns folklore of veil'd occurrences rare
And leads us home, you to me, me to you

To propose it is said woman sh’ant do
Still on this night with this moon she doth dare
The moon above so full so rare so blue

Hearts echoed refrain may thus engage true
Two souls as one reflect in her mirror
And leads us home, you to me, me to you

She’ll pray that you this day may say “I do”
To life’s magic and love without compare
The moon above so full so rare so blue
That leads us home, you to me, me to you

~ Nancy, 9/10/2009


Regarding the topic:

I love the folklore of the blue moon and have researched it on more than one occasion. Though the phrase “once in a blue moon” can be traced back about 400 years, its present usage only came into being in the mid-1940’s from an article in Sky & Telescope magazine. Still it was not widely known until made popular by the 1986 Genus II edition of the Trivial Pursuit board game. However, the most common understanding, the 2nd full moon in a calendar month, is now considered inaccurate and the “true” meaning said to be the 2nd full moon in a season.

Ironically, by this definition a blue moon is not even that rare – a calendar blue moon occurs 7 times every 19 years - the next of which will occur on 12/31/2009 at 7:14 p.m. MST. A seasonal blue moon is less frequent, but still not especially rare – the next occurring on 11/21/2010.

Of course, having a romantic heart, I like the superstition that under a blue moon a woman can propose to the man, and hence used that for the inspiration of my poem. This notion was born in an article about blue moons published in the long-running, and thereby taken as authoritative, Sydney Morning Herald feature, Column Eight (formerly called Granny's Column). It repeated the previously published theory and added that “under a blue moon a woman is permitted by tradition to propose to her sweetheart.” Perhaps echoing the genuinely ancient custom of women being able to propose marriage in Leap Year (or on Leap Year Day, February 29), which began with Scottish legislation to that effect in 1288.

Also being a fan of things scientific, it is interesting to note that there can be an actual visible blue moon under certain (and yes, rare) atmospheric conditions. This is caused by a concentration of dust or ice or sometimes even clouds in the air. Some recent occasions have been Krakatoa in 1883 which caused green sunsets and moons of blue, a 1927 monsoon in India, and a forest fire in Alberta, Canada in 1951.

Regarding the poem (technical aspects):

This poem was written in the form of the villanelle. A villanelle consists of:

* 19 lines broken up into five tercets (3 lines) and a concluding quatrain (4 lines).

* The meter is iambic pentameter and consists of ten syllables per line.

* The rhyme scheme is aba aba aba aba aba abaa.

* The first refrain (the first line) repeats in lines 6, 12, and 18; the second refrain (the third line) repeats in lines 9, 15, and 19. This causes the last two lines (18 and 19) to form a rhymed couplet.

Very tricky stuff and a fun challenge!

I also intentionally included personification, archetype, person, and recurrent themes (in word choices), as well as several enjoyable poetry techniques which I have only recently learned about such as polysyndeton, assonance, alliteration, oblique rhyme, and metric consolidation. A number of metaphors have been pointed out as well. They are mostly unintended and are merely the result of my natural writing style.

Of Poetry -- Thank you my friend, my yoda, my muse, my inspiration, for opening my eyes and expanding my world.


September 11, 2009

The Beast that Vies

What motivates that crouching soul
Through twine and twig in evil stealth,
Where songs fall silent by its stroll
Amongst the desert’s commonwealth?

What dreadful- no! what wicked strife
Goes pouncing ‘long that barren plain
And seeks the vein of human life-
Rapacious, wond’ring there insane.

The bleeding grounds beneath its tread,
It calls from crimson dust that flies:
“Avenge the souls of all us dead,
And quit the vicious beast that vies.”

So now you tread the riddled steep,
And flee before the prickly air;
The desert floors that tossing sleep …
They praise the hunters by your lair.

-jwm


















Of the Poem:


I had this poem complete prior to this day, September 11th (the eighth anniversary of that tragic morning where nearly 3,000 human souls were lost). I specifically waited so that I might post it here as the poem refers to the perpetrators (murderers) of that sad, sad day.

It would be next to impossible to know the intended subject of this poem without commentary or a context. Without diminishing the subject I indented, I tried to loosen any literal aspects so that, should another mind read it, other possible meanings might manifest.

Evil, wicked, rapacious, insane, vicious … these predicates and more establish the poem’s attitude toward the beast, an attitude of extreme antipathy and condemnation. The beast spoken of here refers to the Taliban (the fundamentalist organization of Sunni Muslims who ruthlessly ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and the source of the tragedies that occurred on 9-11).

Twine, twig, desert, barren plain, grounds, dust that flies, desert floors … these words are obscure allusions to Afghanistan. The riddled steep of line 13 is a reference to the mountain range of the Tora Bora (the place where the Taliban fled in the face of warfare).

The desert’s commonwealth alludes to the Northern Alliance who, although there were initially loose internal conflicts, united and fought against the Taliban.

Bleeding grounds and crimson dust depicts the unfortunate loss of life under Taliban rule- especially the vein of human life (i.e. innocent life). That loss is represented here as calling out for Justice, pleading that this vicious and contentious beast be put down. Those prayers would be answered in the form of a military coalition (the hunters) who would displace and topple the Taliban, forcing them to flee the country through the mountainous range of Tora Bora. Although those mountain heights are cold, prickly air actually was meant to depict the bombing campaign on that mountain range.

And so, with this brief commentary laid out, I hope the poem is enjoyed. Please, I would love to hear any different takes on it.

September 07, 2009

Rage, Rage (A Thomas Villanelle)

The previous post skimmed over the style and structure of the villanelle, a poetic form whose completion doesn’t come easy. The reason for that post was deliberate and planned, as I wished to introduce a popular poem written by Dylan Thomas and one of the most famous villanelles to date:

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.



Of the Poem (Notes):

I have no doubt that our poet was writing about and towards his father. Indeed, in words that are hardly cryptic he says: “And you, my father.” Stanzas 1 and 6 are the only direct appeals that the poet makes to his father (these are also the only stanzas that he speaks from the perspective of the second person). The poem can almost therefore be consolidated so that the ‘meaty’ aspects of it are all that’s left:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The remaining sections (stanzas 2 through 4) speak about the wise, the good, the wild, and the grave man’s position in relation to death- all of whom seem to deplore it.

It’s interesting to note the deteriorating scale from the moral stature of the wise man down to the wretched state of the grave man … it is as if our poet would have us aware of the general tendency humans (good or bad) have in relation to death, the tendency of resistance.

But the tendency, if we grant our poet’s conclusion, is not only futile- it is impossible. Death and dying are inevitable. One may resist the fruition of it, deny its lingering possibility, or even deny it as a possibility altogether … the fact is it will occur. The poem seems to beg resistance towards it: rage against the dying of the light (where light is meant to mean life).

It is precisely because the poet wishes to rouse his father to this impossible tendency that I sense desperation and a denial of reality. This isn’t to chide or diminish the character of the man- far from it. If anything it reveals his humanity, a man who doesn’t want to see his father die (especially passively). And so, by this, the poem is held in a specific light: stanzas 1 and 5 show the poet’s literal (albeit, poetic) plea to his father to actively resist death, whereas the remaining stanzas- all of which speak from the third person- become a sort of subconscious justification or premise for the plea in the first place.

What I love most about the poem is its high complexity- the poet employs so many techniques in a poem whose metric frame and rhyme scheme are already a challenge. The poem type- the
villanelle- has already been treated of in the previous post. In addition to the high and challenging task presented by the villanelle, Thomas uses oxymoron, metaphors, assonance, and alliteration to convey antipathy toward passively perishing beneath death’s crushing inevitability.

His use of oxymoron coveys a sort of defiance and absurdity:

Line 1: good night
Line 13: blinding sight
Line 17: fierce tears

Even the apparent point of the poem- resisting inevitability- is an oxymoron.

It can hardly be said that this is a coincidental byproduct of the poem or poet himself, but the poem is riddled with metaphors. Here’s just a few (and all of them seem quite intentional):

… the poet refers to death as a good night (throughout)
... wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight
… words had forked no lightning
… frail deeds might have danced


In line 2 and 14 Thomas uses the poetic technique of assonance (where one or more words within the line itself share a similar sonorous value, as in line two: age, rave, day).

Another technique, alliteration, is employed beautifully (and a lot) in the poem...

Line 1: go and good.
Line 4: through and their
Line 5: deeds and dance
Line 10: sang and sun
Line 11: learn and late
Line 13: see and sight
Line 13 and 14: blinding, blind, and blaze

Notice, however, that go and gentle of line 1 don’t fit the criteria for alliteration: there’s a ‘guttal’ sound to the first g; whereas the g of gentle almost sounds like a j.

The first time I hear this poem, a time when poetry meant very little to me, was in the movie Dangerous Minds, where a teacher (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) tries to educate wayward kids about symbolism and life through song lyrics and poetry. The above villanelle played an important role in the movie, and in retrospect probably contributed to its overall popularity.

Now that I know the poem (apart from the movie), how hardwired and how difficult a structure it is, I have a greater appreciation for Dylan Thomas as a poet. What impresses me the most is that he took this difficult form and increased its complexity by jamming it full of poetic devices. I might even be tempted to say that this is the only poem (so far) I’ve read that has made me feel the intensity and labor of its production … since I’m not quite certain of that, I won't.


To hear the audio of this poem click on the following link:
Poets.org

September 03, 2009

Poetic Forms: The Villanelle

Of all the poetic forms there are, and of all the types of stanzas and rhyme schemes that exist, I chose long ago- as my first attempt at poetry- to take on the villanelle. It was an arduous task, to say the least. The reason is because villanelles are tough poems to complete.

The poem itself consists of 19 lines broken up into five tercets and a concluding quatrain. The meter, which is called an iambic pentameter, consists of ten syllables per line. Its rhyme scheme is aba aba aba aba aba abaa. The difficulty of the composition has to do with the refrains that alternate throughout the poem, so that the poem takes on this structure: aba aba aba aba aba abaa. Another way to write the structure is this: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 (where ‘A’ = the refrain).

In other words, the first refrain (the first line) is repeated in lines 6, 12, and 18; while the second refrain (the third line) is repeated in lines 9, 15, and 19. Meanwhile, to add to the difficulty, the composer has to maintain 7 rhymed words on the one hand, 6 rhymed words on the other, while puzzling in the refrains so that the poem makes sense as the meaning of the refrains alternate ... again, an arduous task.

But when these poems are complete, and are done well, the results are just beautiful. The Waking, written by Theodore Roethke, is a great example of a villanelle.


The Waking

I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.


We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

September 02, 2009

Dylan Thomas: The Welsh Poet*


Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914 - 1953)


The Welsh poet Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953) has been acclaimed as one of the most important poets of the century. His lyrics rank among the most powerful and captivating of modern poetry.

Dylan Thomas was born in the Welsh seaport of Swansea, Carmarthenshire, on Oct. 27, 1914. His father was an English teacher and a would-be poet, from whom Dylan inherited his intellect and literary abilities. From his mother, a simple and religious woman, Dylan inherited his disposition, temperament, and Celtic sentimentality. He attended the Swansea Grammar School, where he received all of his formal education. As a student, he made contributions to the school magazine and was keenly interested in local folklore. He said that as a boy he was "small, thin, indecisively active, quick to get dirty, curly."

After leaving school Thomas supported himself as an actor, reporter, reviewer, and scriptwriter and with various odd jobs. When he was 22 years old, he married Caitlin Macnamara, by whom he had two sons, Llewelyn and Colm, and a daughter, Aeron. After his marriage, Thomas moved to the fishing village of Laugharne, Carmarthenshire.

The need to support his growing family forced Thomas to write radio scripts for the Ministry of Information and documentaries for the British government. During World War II he served as an antiaircraft gunner. After the war he became a commentator on poetry for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In 1950 Thomas made the first of three lecture tours through the United States--the others were in 1952 and 1953--in which he gave more than 100 poetry readings. In these recitals he half declaimed, half sang the lines in his "Welsh singing" voice. Many critics have attested to the rolling vigor of his voice, its melodic subtlety, and its almost hypnotic power of incantation.

The English poet Edith Sitwell described Thomas as follows: "He was not tall, but was extremely broad, and gave an impression of extraordinary strength, sturdiness, and superabundant life. (His reddish-amber curls, strong as the curls on the brow of a young bull, his proud, but not despising, bearing, emphasized this.) Mr. Augustus John's portrait of him is beautiful but gives him a cherubic aspect, which though pleasing, does not convey ... Dylan's look of archangelic power. In full face he looked much as William Blake must have looked as a young man. He had full eyes--like those of Blake--giving him at first the impression of being unseeing, but seeing all, looking over immeasurable distances."

Thomas's poetic output was not large. He wrote only six poems in the last 6 years of his life. Dissipation and a grueling lecture schedule hindered his literary output in these years. His conviction that he would die young led him to create "instant Dylan"--the persona of the wild young Welsh bard, damned by drink and women, that he believed his public wanted. When he was 35 years old, he described himself as "old, small, dark, intelligent, and darting-doting-dotting eyed ... balding and toothlessing." He had grown corpulent but retained his grace of movement.

During his visit to the United States in 1953, Thomas was scheduled to read his own and other poetry in some 40 university towns throughout the country. He also intended to work on the libretto of an opera for Igor Stravinsky in the latter's California home. Thomas celebrated his thirty-ninth birthday in New York City in a mood of gay exhilaration following the phenomenal success of his just-published Collected Poems. The festivities ended in collapse and illness, and on Nov. 9, 1953, he died in St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City. Some reports attribute his death to pneumonia induced by acute alcoholism, others to encephalopathy, a virulent brain disease. His body was returned to Laugharne, Wales, for burial.

Literary Works

Thomas published his first book of poetry, Eighteen Poems (1934), when he was not yet 20 years old. "The reeling excitement of a poetry-intoxicated schoolboy smote the Philistine as hard a blow with one small book as Swinburne had with Poems and Ballads," wrote Kenneth Rexroth. Thomas' second and third volumes were Twenty-five Poems (1936) and The Map of Love (1939). The poems of his first three volumes were collected in The World I Breathe (1939).

By this time, Thomas was being hailed as the most spectacular of the surrealist poets. He acknowledged his debt to James Joyce and strewed his pages with invented words and fused puns. Thomas also acknowledged his debt to Sigmund Freud, stating: "Poetry is the rhythmic, inevitably narrative, movement from an overclothed blindness to a naked vision.... Poetry must drag further into the clear nakedness of light more even of the hidden causes than Freud could realize."

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940) is a collection of humorous autobiographical sketches. Thomas loved the wild landscape of Wales, and he put much of his childhood and youth into these stories. He published two more new collections of poetry, both of which contained some of his finest work: Deaths and Entrances (1946) and In Country Sleep (1951). Collected Poems, 1934-1953 (1953) contains all of his poetry that he wished to preserve.

Themes and Style

Thomas claimed that his poetry was "the record of my individual struggle from darkness toward some measure of light.... To be stripped of darkness is to be clean, to strip of darkness is to make clean." He also wrote that his poems "with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of man and in praise of God, and I'd be a damned fool if they weren't." Passionate and intense, vivid and violent, Thomas wrote that he became a poet because "I had fallen in love with words." His sense of the richness and variety and flexibility of the English language shines through all of his work.

The theme of all of Thomas's poetry is the celebration of the divine purpose that he saw in all human and natural processes. The cycle of birth and flowering and death, of love and death, suffuses his poems. He celebrated life in the seas and fields and hills and towns of his native Wales. In some of his shorter poems, he sought to recapture a child's innocent vision of the world.

Thomas was passionately dedicated to his "sullen art," and he was a competent, finished, and occasionally intricate craftsman. He made, for example, more than 200 versions of "Fern Hill" before he was satisfied with it. His early poems are relatively obscure and complex in sense and simple and obvious in auditory patterns. His later poems, on the other hand, are simple in sense but complex in sounds.

Under Milk Wood, a radio play commissioned by the BBC (published 1954), was Thomas's last completed work. This poem-play is not a drama but a pageant of eccentric, outrageous, and charming Welsh villagers. During the 24 hours presented in the play, the characters reminisce about the casual and crucial moments of their lives. Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Stories (1955) contains all the uncollected stories and shows the wit and humor that made Thomas an enchanting companion.

*Biography from Encyclopedia of World Biography

As of April 9th, 2010