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Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Courtesy of 2Blowhards I found Daze Reader, a nifty blog devoted to talk about sex and (recently) Senator Santorum jokes. Here's a poem (not new) for the occasion:

Putting Clothes Away

Lazy, I lie in bed and watch you bend
Over the drawer, knees apart, your dress
Barely reaching your thighs. I don’t intend
To take you from your work, just caress,
Lightly, your supple calf, but then my hand
Gets notions of its own and when you stop,
A little, noticing, moves on. You stand
Up half annoyed and half about to drop
Every stitch. My fingers undo folds
Of flesh and find the button just inside—
My breath unravels when you press, then hold
My hand away. “You stop it now!” you chide—
“Get up! I told you there was work to do—
We’ll see how that thing fits when we get through.”


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Monday, April 28, 2003

The New York Times says the state poet laureates (poets laureate?) are convening in Manchester, New Hampshire. Amiri Baraka didn’t make it. The Times also says Slate has done the near-impossible for an online magazine: make money. Slate gives a lot of pixels to poetry (not a word about wishful thinking). Last Friday it was seven war poems, complete with audio.


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Friday, April 25, 2003

Last Wednesday Kasey Mohammad posted a very perceptive piece on Milton’s sonnet “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont.” I read Kasey’s fine analyses of work like that and am mystified when he compares Milton to Zukofsky. I once loved Zukofsky’s poetry, but it began to seem empty to me at about the same time I learned to read Milton with pleasure.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Tim Hulsey replied to my post about Poetry Daily’s Poet's Pick for National Poetry Month and suggested that copyright laws might have influenced the selection of poems, and he was right. A. E. Stallings, one of the moderators at Eratosphere and a Poetry Picker, told me that the poems must be in the public domain, printed before 1929. But that doesn’t explain everything.

By 1929 Eliot had published “Prufrock” and “The Waste Land”; Williams had published several volumes of poetry, including Spring and All; Pound's Personae was published in 1926. Yet for 3 years no one has picked a poem of theirs, the founders of the dominant forms in 20th century American poetry.

BTW, Eratosphere has some interesting discussions right now on slant rhyme here and two of Robert Mezey's sonnet here and here. There's also a thread on sites friendly to formal poetry.

And A. E. Stallings had two fine poems yesterday at the Poetry Daily website. The poems originally appeared in The New Criterion


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Saturday, April 19, 2003

13 years ago today I came home from work to find my wife and my daughter Lee gone. Lee had turned 6 just two days before. A few weeks later I found my wife had accused me of molesting Lee, and it was nearly a year before a judge dismissed her complaints with prejudice. My job performance suffered, and when I was fired my wife moved to Florida and then disappeared, with my daughter. Until last year, 9 years later, I didn’t know if they were alive or dead. Lee’s OK. I still haven’t seen her.

Why Should Today Be Different?

No one answers the ring.
Doesn’t mean a thing.

Sometimes they’re at the store.
Why imagine more?

Why this catch in the throat
When they’ve left a note?

“I’m sorry.” On the phone
A stutter dialtone.

Just a message. Just
The earth moving. It always does.


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Wednesday, April 16, 2003

More than 20 years ago I had the privilege of attending a Q&A with Jorge Luis Borges. Clearly, I blew it, since my 50-year-old’s memory of a spontaneous translation of Spanish I could barely hear is just about blank—but I do remember he was asked at least twice who among his contemporaries had influenced him. The first time he replied “No one.” The last time he said, “None of them. I never read them. Why should I? They have the same problems I do.”

Something like that may start to explain the choices so far in Poetry Daily's emailed poet’s picks for National Poetry month:

  • Kim Addonizio: from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
  • Rex Wilder: John Keats, “After Dark Vapours Have Oppressed Our Plains”
  • James Richardson: Samuel Daniel, Sonnet 33 of “Delia”
  • Beth Ann Fennely: Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord”
  • Terrance Hayes: John Keats, “To Autumn”
  • Dick Allen: Alfred Lord Tennyson, “The War”
  • Karl Kirchwey: Arthur Rimbaud, “The Sleeper in the Valley (Le Dormeur du Val)”
  • Bob Hicok: Wilfred Owen, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”
  • Gabriel Gudding: Rubén Darío, “To Roosevelt (A Roosevelt)”
  • A. E. Stallings: Edward Thomas, “Out in the Dark”
  • Allison Funk: Emily Dickinson, #341 (“After great pain, a formal feeling comes—”)
  • Kelly Cherry: William Blake, “The Sick Rose”

But it’s more than that— not one poem listed above is more recent than World War I, and only two are not in traditional forms! Even the Rimbaud is a sonnet, though the translation doesn’t attempt rhyme or meter. It’s almost as if Pound and Eliot and Williams and Olson and Zukoski and Ginsberg had never written, as if the dominant poetry of the 20th Century had been excised from poet’s memories. It’s not because these poets are traditionalists—only Addonizio and Stallings are associated with New Formalism, and Addonizio chose Whitman. And I’ll lay you odds Gudding chose the other non-metrical piece (from Darío) because of its anti-US rhetoric rather than its poetic merit. Darío was a wonderful poet, but that is not a wonderful poem: Here is the poem, and here is a translation, though not the Gudding translation from the email.

What do you think?

Update: 4/21

Aimee Nezhukumatathil has picked a passage from H. D.'s 1924 "Let Zeus." So we're finally past WWI, and H. D., with Pound, Lowell, and Ford, is one of the original Imagist poets--but look at the passage:

Stars wheel in purple, yours is not so rare
  as Hesperus, nor yet so great a star
  as bright Aldeboran or Sirius,
nor yet the stained and brilliant one of War;

stars turn in purple, glorious to the sight;
yours is not gracious as the Pleiades are
  nor as Orion's sapphires, luminous;

yet disenchanted, cold, imperious face,
when all the others blighted, reel and fall,
your star, steel-set, keeps lone and frigid tryst
  to freighted ships, baffled in wind and blast.

Irregularly rhymed iambic pentameter, with only two (conventional) substitutions: an initial trochee in line 6 and a trochee following the caesura in line 11.


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Monday, April 14, 2003

New job started today; the war’s almost over; taxes done; car failed inspection. Now what? An old poem, slightly revised, that fits my mood:

Waking Up to What?

There’s no cock crowing -- no one fed
The flock this year. They’ve flown the coop,
Which I can’t find. I’d stay in bed,
Except my mind’s a boiling soup --

Stone soup. Some soldier made that,
Right? Who stoops to conquer -- See?
A stew! For God’s sake find my hat!
I can?t chew the stones the infantry

Grinds beneath its blistered feet,
A black wreath on every door,
Trumpets blaring out defeat
Of sleep. I’m staring at the floor --

Look up! Look up! There’s the sun.
I’m cooking stones but there’s the sun.

Worth fixing? I’m not sure that’s a real question.


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Monday, April 7, 2003

Paul Muldoon has won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry with his collection Moy Sand and Gravel. I haven't read the book--I have one of his books back home in North Carolina but I can't remember anything from it. I feel incredibly isolated here.


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Thursday, April 3, 2003

Yesterday Slate published a small collection of Donald Rumsfeld's poems. Hart Seely, who introduced the collection, said

Rumsfeld's poetry is paradoxical: It uses playful language to address the most somber subjects: war, terrorism, mortality. Much of it is about indirection and evasion: He never faces his subjects head on but weaves away, letting inversions and repetitions confuse and beguile. His work, with its dedication to the fractured rhythms of the plainspoken vernacular, is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams'. Some readers may find that Rumsfeld's gift for offhand, quotidian pronouncements is as entrancing as Frank O'Hara's.

And by God some of it reads like Williams on a mediocre day. Here's my favorite, though not particularly Williamsish:

Glass Box

You know, it's the old glass box at the?
At the gas station,
Where you're using those little things
Trying to pick up the prize,
And you can't find it.
It's?

And it's all these arms are going down in there,
And so you keep dropping it
And picking it up again and moving it,
But?

Some of you are probably too young to remember those?
Those glass boxes,
But?

But they used to have them
At all the gas stations
When I was a kid.

-Dec. 6, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing


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Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Today begins National Poetry Month. I'm not sure what I think about that--like Black History Month, it comes close to implying that those we ostensibly celebrate would be utterly forgotten without special dutiful attention. For instance, this morning on the way to work I heard NPR's Renee Montagne, who's always seemed a sensible person, interviewing Poet Laureate Billy Collins. After he read, in translation, a pretty good war poem by a Polish poet whose name I will not attempt to transcribe, she noted with surprise that it wasn't exactly an anti-war poem and asked him if he would read a poem which had "nothing whatsoever to do with real world, that has to do maybe with a pure escape, reminding us of daffodils or love or the classic subject matter of April." Collins handled the whole thing amazingly well. If you've got Real Player or Windows Media Player, you can hear the whole interview here.


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