Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium :
poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poets, poetry, and the po-biz



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Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium

Friday, April 30, 2004

It's the last day of National Poetry Month, or, as Christian Wiman calls it in his editorial in the April Poetry, National Defibrillation Month. With all the hoopla here and at New Poetry over the essays on Keillor's Good Poems by Gioia and Kleinzahler, it's a little surprising that, even though it's not online, no one has done more than ask what Wiman had to say introducing them. Well, I'm happy to answer anyway: not much. It's all in one paragraph. He says Keillor has some ideas about how at least some kinds of poetry might be presented to our overheated culture, and Gioia and Kleinzahler have "very different responses" to Keillor's ideas.

The bulk of the essay is about the dire condition of both poetry and our culture at large, about whether poetry can survive in the image-ridden, short-attention span mess television has made of our world. It's a version of the argument recently made by Camille Paglia, and supposedly leant some scientific rigor by this study, in which five questions on a survey diagnose attention problems. I'm not impressed by any of it.

But I'm very impressed by the poetry in this issue, enough so that I subscribed again. There's not enough of it—only 39 pages—but there's 5 new poems from A. E. Stallings, one of my heroes, and 2 from Vicki Hearne, who I didn't know wrote poetry but whose Adam's Task is wonderful. Several poets new to me. A review of Joe LeSeuer's Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara that makes me want to bring my Collected up from North Carolina. Lots of metrical poems, maybe half the issue.

And tomorrow you get new metrical poetry from me.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

I think I'll go play my mandolin at the Green Door tonight. I'll have a Bass and a single malt and I'll sing "Angel from Montgomery": When I was a young girl, ooh I had me a cowboy … or if I knew the tune, Thom Gunn's "Seesaw," from The Man With Night Sweats:

Days are bright,
Nights are dark.
We play seesaw
In the park.

Look at me
And my friend
The other end.

Shiny board
Between my legs.
Feet crunch down
On the twigs.

I crouch close
To the ground
Till it's time:
Up I bound.

Legs go loose,
Legs go tight.
I drop down
Like the night.

Like a scales.
Give and take,
Take and give.
My legs ache.

So it ends
As it begins.
Off we climb
And no one wins.

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Thom Gunn has died, survived by his partner of 52 years and by his magnificent poetry. This is from his Boss Cupid, one of several books profoundly affected by the AIDS disaster:


Walker within this circle, pause.
Although they all died of one cause,
Remember now how their lives were dense
With fine, compacted difference.

Blogged from webmail, so there's no title. More when I get back to my books.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

What to do about a poem by someone I've never read at all? Never encountered in any context? Never heard of? In bookstores, I'm almost bothered to admit, I open a book to a shortish poem somewhere near the middle, and, if the words are scattered all over the page, I put the book back on the shelf. It does bother me to admit that the next thing I do is to try to scan a few lines and to look for rhymes. I'll read the poem in any case, and, unless I think it's terrible, I'll try a few other randomly chosen shortish poems, but I can't pretend I'm not biased toward metrical poems: other kinds of poems probably have to work harder to keep me reading. Since nothing gets bought unless something knocks me out, I might very well miss that non-metrical knockout just because I stopped too soon.

It's different with a magazine. I open to the first poem and at least start reading, no matter what, and go on reading until 2 or 3 poems in a row have failed to interest me. I might still buy it, depending on how long it's held my interest. If I've liked what I've read so far, I'll probably even read that scattershot poem that closed the book unread, thinking that an editorial staff that's done so well so far might have a real surprise for me. (None has yet, but I'm willing to accept that as a personal problem.) And if I find a knockout poem of whatever kind in the magazine, I'll look for a book by its author and buy it if I can find one—I won't even open the book on the way to the cash register. If I can't find a book there, or if I'm at home when I read that knockout poem, I'll order a book online.

And as the po-blog world grows (just look at that link-list, which I still feel is badly incomplete), I find myself reading a lot of poetry I wouldn't ordinarily give more than a glance, and some of it has been very good indeed. I've ordered some books and chapbooks and feel guilty about not ordering others. I don't exactly know the other po-bloggers, but just knowing something of their attitudes and tastes, and getting a little feel for what I suppose have to be called their voices, makes me willing to read. It's something like what happens when I read a metrical poem by a poet new to me: I feel (probably wrongly) as if I know some of the choices that poet has faced and therefore am a little more engaged with the poem than I might otherwise be.

But there ain't no danger I'll suddenly give up sonnets. In fact, I've been so pleasantly surprised working on the things I made back in January and February that I'm almost threatening to try that near-daily madness again for the month of May, with maybe a little more variety— triolets, anapestic or trochaic verse, terza rima, different line lengths, some het-met. It'd be a good way to gear up for West Chester.

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Saturday, April 24, 2004

Huzzah! for the first reading from POTELCOM: Global Telecommunication Giants of Poetry, organized by Shanna Compton and featuring Aaron McCollough. Technically flawless where I was, a lot of fun, and good to hear a few voices (Shanna's and Aaron's, Stephanie Young's, Katey Nicosia's) to place with blogs. I hope there's more to come.

Without the texts, and with my sieve of a memory (there's a reason I like rhyme and meter) I have nothing to add to the accounts from Stephanie and Katey except a very brief note on a couple of the formal aspects (surprised?) of Aaron's poems. Except for his final piece, he read pairs of poems, the first of each pair called "Letter from Prison" and the second called "Prisoners Read." The firsts were first-person, more discursive, with near-prose syntax, while the seconds were full of half-rhymes and inverted double phrases, strongly rhythmic. Water imagery everywhere, and he did a fine job of setting them up with a brief introduction. The last poem, "Confessional," came out of Herbert—by way of Lowell, Aaron said, though I couldn't hear that aspect. I could hear the ghost of the 17th century through everything, though Burton was missing. Maybe in other poems. Hey, I told you it would be brief. :-)

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Thursday, April 22, 2004

In comments on Tuesday's post, Jonathan Mayhew complains about Keillor's Good Poems that it contains "a remarkable shortage of excellent and great poems," and Jim agrees with him. They're both wrong.

Jim does offer the excuse for Keillor that poems read at the end of a short radio show must pass the "Huh?" filter, asking "Would a great poem that deserves more in depth study or contemplation work in that venue?" I'll go along with him this far: even granting (which I do not) that the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets or Graham and her spawn have written excellent poems, those poems would not pass the "Huh?" filter. However, it is not the case that only those poems which rely on the great learning and intelligence of their readers may be excellent or great. In fact, the greatest poems, however much they may repay meditative study, damned well get past "Huh?"

And just how many great poems are there in English? A few dozens per century? Fewer? Of those, how many can be read aloud in a minute or two? A few sonnets? It would be truly remarkable if the book did contain a large number of them.

Perhaps my standard for a great poem is unreasonably high. What about the merely excellent? The book is full of them, far too many to do justice by naming a few here, but I'll mention some anyway, poems I read for the first time in this anthology: the opening poem, Thomas Lux's "Poem in Thanks," Kenneth Rexroth's "Quietly," Stephen Dobyns's "No Map," Robert Hass's "The Feast," Howard Nemerov's "Walking the Dog," May Sarton's "Death and the Turtle," Roy Daniels's "Noah," Frank O'Hara's "Animal," John Clare's "Winter Winds Cold and Blea," Steve Scafidi's "Prayer for a Marriage," W. H. Auden's "Ode to the Medieval Poets" (I must have read that one before, but I don't remember having done it), May Swenson's "Bison Crossing Near Mt. Rushmore."

But Jonathan describes the book as "pure middle-brow NPR taste," and reports, "Too much Stafford, Bly, Kumin, Olds, and Collins. Flat-languaged free-verse narrative/confessional poems predominate." What really happens? Keillor presents 173 poets, if you count the 4 by Anonymous as being written by one person, in 394 actual pages of poetry. More poems by Emily Dickinson (8) than by anyone else. There's more free verse than I would have chosen, but not much flat language. There are a lot of story poems, and many of them at least pretend to be autobiographical. But confessional? Who knows? Who cares? Of the 5 poets whom Jonathan complains are too well-represented, Keillor uses 2 each from Collins, Olds, and Stafford, 3 from Kumin, and 5 from Bly. That last must be a Minnesota thing, but I would be glad to have more Kumin. Here is one of hers from the book:

The Excrement Poem

It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to what must have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.

We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.
I think these things each morning with shovel
and rake, drawing the risen brown buns
toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,

or culling the alfalfa green ones, expelled
in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed
to take a serviceable form, as putty does,
so as to lift out entire from the stall.

And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,
I think of the angle of repose the manure
pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick
the redelivered grain, how inky-cap

coprinus mushrooms spring up in a downpour.
I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and next.
However much we stain the world, spatter

it with our leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down,
trundling off today's last barrowful,
I honor shit for saying: we go on.

Pretty middlebrow, huh?

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Jane Yolen is primarily known for her juvenile/young adult fantasy novels, but she has written or edited several books of poems for children. Her The Radiation Sonnets, a chronicle that I discovered through this NPR interview on the poems and her husband's treatment for an inoperable brain tumor, are a real departure for her in many ways, some of which you can find in the NPR interview and some in the foreword and afterword to the book. I had a hard time choosing a poem from the book, partly because it was my first wife's brain tumor and its sequelae which led, 14 years ago last Monday, to the loss of my daughter, who turned 20 last Saturday. This time of year is always difficult for me. So, for my daughter Lee, and for Nancy, my first wife, and for my mother, who nursed my father through vascular dementia, and, most of all, for my wife Deana, who will likely one day care for her 10 years older husband and whom I love more than my own breath,

A Daughter's Visit

She has your nose, she has your chin,
She has my eyes, my hair.
So if you lose, I still can win
And keep you close and near.
I stare at her, she stares at you
When sleep, that smaller death,
Corrupts your face and takes you to
A world without a breath.
She and I, we breathe as one,
Cadencing the future count.
She's my blood, and she's my bone,
Measuring each small amount
As if we'd breath enough to share
To give you, love, along with care.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Thanks to the New Poetry list, I've known for a few weeks that the April issue of Poetry had essays by Dana Gioia and August Kleinzahler on Garrison Keillor's Good Poetry. I wanted to read the essays—I own and like the book; I've admired Dana Gioia's poetry and criticism for a long time; though I don't kow Kleinzahler's poetry at all, I remembered being affected (but not how) while reading his week's journal at Slate—but since I didn't renew my Poetry subscription 3 years ago, and the closest store that carries it is 50 miles north of my bachelor pad by the Navy base, I was resigned to missing them.

Poetry Daily to the rescue. Go read them, Gioia here and Kleinzahler here.

Both men came to the book with considerable skepticism, but Gioia, at least, appears to have actually read it and been surprised and pleased by what he found. He recognizes Keillor's introduction for the spiky and confrontational thing it is, and correctly recognizes that the book's organization by theme signals that this is not a teaching anthology, but rather an anthology of poems which people might actually turn to for insight, a good story, amusement, or, anathema!, comfort.

Kleinzahler, on the other hand, appears to be so violently affronted by Keillor's mere existence that he couldn't bring himself to do much more than glance at the table of contents. He doesn't comment on the selections except to say that he has "little doubt that a Keillor staffer picks the poems for the show, a superannuated former M.F.A. from the Iowa Workshop would be my guess, one familiar with Keillor's appalling taste, sentimentality, and the constraints of format" and that the book "isn't as bad as one might think had one been listening now and then to Keillor's morning segment over the years." He sneers "Its principal virtue is that one doesn't have to endure Keillor's poetry voice." Here's his summary of Keillor on the constraints imposed by reading poems on the radio:

"So I'll be feeding you mostly shit," is what Garrison could well go on to say. No Antonin Artaud with the flapjacks, please.

Kleinzahler insists that "art's exclusive function is to entertain, not to improve or nourish or console, simply entertain," and it's clear he doesn't believe there's much chance that anything could possibly improve, nourish, or console such vermin as human beings are. After reading his essay, I remember how his journal affected me, because the persona in both is a mean-spirited jerk and a poseur. He may be a wonderful uncle to somebody and he may be a fine poet, but I'll be damned if I want to find out after reading (and re-reading, in the journal) his vitriolic spew.

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Saturday, April 17, 2004

What a creature of habit I've become, living up here by myself! OK, maybe the ceiling falling in isn't a minor inconvenience, but I haven't been able to write a line of poetry with my desk moved into the bedroom. Something be wrong.

Maybe it's that I've started reading Yeats again for the first time in many years. I've been a little afraid of him, and experiencing once more how wonderful are even the early "minor" poems—"Fergus and the Druid," "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," "The Stolen Child," "When You Are Old," "Cuchulain's Fight With the Sea," even the absurd Indian fantasies—well, it's just overwhelming. And then today a comment on an earlier posting led me to the extremely well-handled C. Little, No Less where I found Hardy's "Channel Firing". That didn't make me feel more hopeful for my poetry. But, hey! Hardy was 64 when he wrote that. I'm still a young 'un! (Shut up about Yeats.)

There have been good things in the last week or so. I sent poems out for the first time in a long time, some of them on the recommendation of one of the poets I most admire. My wife found a way for me to get to West Chester after all. I've worked with the crew fixing my ceiling, and I love that kind of work. I did it for a living for 5 or 6 years in the 90s, and, if I could count on insurance and retirement, I'd be doing it now. And I slept a lot today. That's a very good thing, and, even better, it's time to take Yeats' Collected to bed with me now. The only thing better than that would be my wife.

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Friday, April 16, 2004

Be there or be square—and then tell Shanna Compton about it for inclusion in a cento.

The Game

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

"The structure clash between the two calendars is real enough to have caused a lot of expense and inconvenience for business and government."

(from Michael Jackson(!), Software Requirements & Specifications, 1995)

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Thursday, April 15, 2004

The living room ceiling at my furnished apartment in Maryland really did fall in about 6:30 yesterday morning, 10 minutes after I'd gotten my books and desk and computer moved out from under what I could see was coming. There's a crew here tonight, re-rocking the ceiling, and I've discovered thinking and hammering don't mix very well. So I'll just leave you with this from Ted Roethke and my memory:

Suppose the ceiling went outside
And caught a cold and up and died?
The only thing we'd have for proof
That it was gone would be the roof.
I think it would be most revealing
To find out how the ceiling's feeling.

and something completely different from Donald Justice's New and Selected Poems:

Time and the Weather

Time and the weather wear away
The houses that our fathers built.
Their ghostly furniture remains—
All the sad sofas we have stained
With tears of boredom or of guilt,

The fraying mottoes, the stopped clocks …
And still sometimes these tired shapes
Haunt the damp parlors of the heart.
What Sunday prisons they recall!
And what miraculous escapes!

Update: I did add a link to starnosedmole in BLOGS ON POETRY. That's almost like working. Links to zines are coming.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

This one's from the scientist Loren Eiseley:

The Spider

His science has progressed past stone,
His strange and dark geometries,
Impossible to flesh and bone,
Revive upon the passing breeze
The house the blundering foot destroys.
Indifferent to what is lost
He trusts the wind and yet employs
The jeweled stability of frost.
Foundations buried underfoot
Are forfeit to the mole and worm
But spiders know it and will put
Their trust in airy dreams more firm
Than any rock and raise from dew
Frail stairs the careless wind blows through.

This originally appeared in Poetry, and Eiseley published three books of poems. I have it in an old paperback copy of The Star Thrower (Harvest/HBJ Books, 1979) with an introduction by W. H. Auden, who in nine pages mentioned the poetry not at all, as if it were nothing special for a scientist to write poems this good. I've never seen any of Eiseley's poems in an anthology. What has happened?

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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

3 hours squatting, pulling weeds,
     Has taught humility:
When I can find my legs again
     I'll try to find my brain.

But wantwit as I am, I know
     To thank the one who's shown
My verses in such flattering ways
     As Chris at texfiles has.

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Thursday, April 8, 2004

I've posted a poem from Ernst A. Kipling to Poems From Readers. Go read this one.

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Except for being featured at texfiles, it's been a hellish week and for no discernable reason. I've felt so old (and only 51!) and tired, and far from those I love, and poetry sustains me, particularly the poetry I've loved the most: C. P. Cavafy, Denise Levertov, Paul Goodman, and Robert Graves.

Typing in the Cavafy last night reminded me how differently Paul Goodman experienced his sexuality, though it was never for him easy—is it for any of us?

Taylor, these unreasonable days
gentle it is how we have been for each
other practical and very sweet
friends. I am not bashful to praise
how we in spite of persons and bad laws
and the envious opinion of the street
enjoyed our simple sex without deceit
that others fear and hide for no good cause.

Exactly of a continent the span
divides us now: you where upon the rocks
the seals play outside the Golden Gate,
I watch the stormier Atlantic that
ceaselessly on Fire Island knocks,
who only yesterday were hand in hand.

Here's Levertov (hey, I know it doesn't scan), the first section of "Ancient Airs and Dances":

I knew too well
what had befallen me
when, one night, I put my lips to his wineglass
after he left—an impulse I thought was locked away with a smile
into memory's museum.

When he took me to visit friends and the sea, he lay
asleep in the next room's dark where the fire
rustled all night; and I, from a warm bed, sleepless,
watched through the open door
that glowing hearth, and heard,
drumming the roof, the rain's
insistent heartbeat.

Greyhaired, I have not grown wiser,
unless to perceive absurdity
is wisdom. A powerless wisdom.

And Graves, "The Twin of Sleep":

Death is the twin of Sleep, they say:
For I shall rise renewed,
Free from the cramps of yesterday,
Clear-eyed and supple-thewed.

But though this bland analogy
Help other folk to face
Decrepitude, senility,
Madness, disease, disgrace,

I do not like Death's greedy looks:
Give me his twin instead—
Sleep never auctions off my books,
My boots, my shirts, my bed,

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I was tired and lazy last night and let Word generate the html (from a Word doc) for the announcement of the literature prizes from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Never again. It looked good on 3 different Mac browsers, including Internet Explorer for the Mac, but when I got to work this morning I found it had completely hosed the entire page on Windows machines. I went to my apartment for lunch and hurriedly fixed things, and I see I still don't have it right. I apologize, and I'll fix it this afternoon after work.

Blogged from webmail, so there's no title.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2004

I just learned from the New Poetry list that the American Academy of Arts and Letters (no website) has announced its 2004 literature awards, and 4 poets whose work I've cited here — Marilyn Hacker, Greg Williamson, R. S. Gwynn, and Rosanna Warren — are among the recipients. Gwynn and Williamson, in particular, are among my favorite writers. Hearty congratulations to all!



New York, April 6, 2004 — The American Academy of Arts and Letters announced today the names of 19 writers who will receive its 2004 awards in literature. The awards will be presented in New York on May 19th at the Academy's annual Ceremonial. The literature prizes, totaling nearly $180,000 this year, honor both established and emerging writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The Academy's 250 members nominate candidates, and a rotating committee of writers selects winners. The members of the 2004 committee were Anthony Hecht, John Hollander, Romulus Linney, Reynolds Price, Jane Smiley, and Edmund White.


Academy Awards in Literature

Eight awards of $7,500 each honor writers of exceptional accomplishment in any genre.










Michael Braude Award for Light Verse

A biennial award of $5,000, given for light verse in the English language regardless of the country of origin of the writer.



Benjamin H. Danks Award

$20,000 given to encourage a young writer of fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.



E.M. Forster Award

$15,000 to a young writer from England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales for a stay in the United States. Award jury: Robert Creeley, Donald Hall, Alison Lurie.



Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction

$2,500 for the best work of first fiction (novel or short stories) published in 2003.



Award of Merit for Poetry

A medal and $10,000 given once every six years, to an outstanding poet.



Katherine Anne Porter Award

A biennial award of $20,000, given to a writer of prose.



Rome Fellowships in Literature

One-year residency (2004-2005) at the American Academy in Rome.




Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award

$5,000 for fiction of considerable literary accomplishment published in the preceding year.



Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award

$10,000 for writing that merits recognition for the quality of its prose style.



Morton Dawen Zabel Award

$10,000 to a progressive, original, and experimental writer.



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The adaptations from Cavafy I posted last night just happened to be the first poems in the Collected and are not typical. His two major themes were the Alexandria of late antiquity and the demimonde of early 20th century Alexandria, particularly the passions of young men for each other. Here is one of the latter, again my adaptation of a Keeley and Sherrard translation, following the brief formal notes from Savidis: "Each line really consists of two lines of either six or seven syllables, loosely rhymed. In the Greek text of this poem, the effect, according to Seferis, is that of a popular tango."

In Despair

He's really gone, he's lost,
and now he searches for
those lips in other lips,
in each new lover's mouth,
and he's almost convinced
that this is that young man,
he wants to be convinced
he gives himself to him.

He's really gone, he's lost,
it's like he never was.
His lover said he wanted --
he had to save himself
from their tainted kind of sex,
from their unhealthy pleasure,
from their tainted sex,
their shameful kind of pleasure.
There was still time, he said,
for him to save himself.

He's really gone, he's lost,
it's like he never was.
It's like a fevered dream,
like a wild delirium,
the way he searches for
those lips in other lips,
the way he longs to feel
his kind of love once more.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2004

This week of all weeks, while Chris Murray is featuring my poetry at texfiles, I should be posting brilliant new poems clearly destined for the canon or, at the very least, insightful analysis which at last brings the free-versers to their senses and causes even Jonathan Mayhew and Kasey Mohammad to take up that tub-thumping pentameter for the rest of their days. And I would, too, if I wasn't so tired.

But, as it is, about all I can do is dredge up an old project, and one that didn't get very far, at that. I loved C. P. Cavafy's poetry from the moment I first read it, and a few years ago I tried to do some translations. I don't speak or read Greek, and I worked from the Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard translation edited by George Savidis. I don't know how literal their translations are, or how faithful to the sound of the original. Much of his poetry, apparently, was free verse, but from Savidis's notes I know they didn't try to reproduce any rhyme or any metrical structure Cavafy did use. I hope some of you who do know Greek will let me know if Cavafy wrote syllabics, as Savidis seems to indicate, or if his metrical poetry was quantitative. Does modern Greek verse still use quantitative measures?

Here are my versions of the first two poems from that book:


Without pity or shame, without a thought,
They've built these walls around me, thick and high,
And now my every hope has come to naught.
It's all I know, this fate gnawing my mind —
because I had so much to do out there!
How did I miss it when they built the walls?
The masons never made a sound, I swear,
and cut me off completely from the world.


Savidis notes "Couplets of 14-15, 14-15, 15-15, and 15-15 syllables, homophonously rhymed ab ab cd cd."


An Old Man

An old man sits behind his paper,
Bending his head over the table,
alone at the cafe's noisy end.

In old age's banal misery
he thinks how few his pleasures were
when he had looks and wit and strength.

He's so old now — he knows, he feels —
and young just yesterday it seems.
How quickly each day, each year ends year's gone!

And how that cheat Discretion lied:
"Tomorrow. You have plenty of time."
So stupid to be fooled that way.

Now every chance he lost, each bridled
impulse and joy he sacrificed,
they mock him — such a prudent sheep!

So much thinking and remembering
make the old man dizzy. Resting
his head on the table, he falls asleep.


Savidis notes "The line lengths vary from eleven to fourteen syllables, but the second line of each tercet invariably has thirteen syllables; the rhyme scheme is aab ccd ffe ggh iih."


I should note that Chris has two poems in the latest issue of Moria, which also features bloggers Clayton Couch, harry k stammer, Eileen Tabios, and Jean Vengua. Do you think triolets would count as experimental?

Besides the above-mentioned harry k stammer and moria, I've added Plum Ruby Review, co-edited by Crystal King, to the link list. This weekend, if the creek don't rise, I'm going to add a number of ezines. Formal-friendly first, of course.

Update: Small change in the third stanza of "An Old Man."

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Monday, April 5, 2004

There's a lot of excellent 20th century metrical poetry by people who are definitely not part of Official Verse Culture. I've already pointed out Send Bygraves, by the mystery writer Martha Grimes, and from time to time I'll share other finds with you—and please return the favor. When I was a C. S. Lewis fanatic (I still think his book on allegory is the best that's been done) I came across Charles Williams's Taliessin through Logres (out of print but obtainable) one of the strangest books of poetry I know. After 30 years it continues to surprise and delight me, and this is one of its strangest and most beautiful poems:

Taliessin's Song of the Unicorn

Shouldering shapes of the skies of Broceliande
   are rumours in the flesh of Caucasia; they raid the west;
clattering with shining hooves, in myth scanned—
   centaur, gryphon, but lordlier for verse is the crest
of the unicorn, the quick panting unicorn; he will come
   to a girl's crooked finger or the sharp smell
of her clear flesh—but to her no good; the strum
   of her blood takes no riot or quiet from the quell;
she cannot like such a snorting love
   galloped from a dusky horizon it has no voice
to explain, nor the silver horn pirouetting above
   her bosom—a ghostly threat but no way to rejoice
in released satiation; her body without delight
   chill-curdled, and the gruesome horn only to be
polished, its rifling rubbed between breasts; right
   is the tale that a true man runs and sets the maid free,
and she lies with the gay hunter and his spear flesh-hued,
   and over their couch the spoiled head displayed—
as Lesbia tied horned Catullus—of the cuckold of the wood;
   such, west from Caucasia, is the will of every maid;
yet if any, having the cunning to call the great beast,
   the animal which is but a shade until it starts to run,
should dare set palms on the point, twisting from the least
   to feel the sharper impress, for the thrust to stun
her arteries into channels of tears beyond blood
   (O twy-fount, crystal in crimson, of the Word's side),
and she to a background of dark bark, where the wood
   becomes one giant tree, were pinned, and plied
through hands to heart by the horn's longing: O she
   translucent, planted with virtues, lit by throes,
should be called the Mother of the Unicorn's Voice, men see
   her with awe, her son the new sound that goes
surrounding the City's reach, the sound of enskied
   shouldering shapes, and there each science disposed,
horn-sharp, blood-deep, ocean and lightning wide,
   in her paramours song, by intellectual nuptials unclosed.

7:51:46 PM    comment: use html tags for formatting []  trackback []

I'm pleased and proud to be featured as this week's texfiles poet of the week! While you're there be sure to read yesterday's selections from Kent Johnson's Yasusada work and check out the archives for previous texfiles feature poets and lots of fine poetry and comment from Chris herself.

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Sunday, April 4, 2004

  • I've added yet more links: In POETRY SITES, UBUWEB::MP3 ARCHIVE, a large and varied collection of recorded poetry, and in BLOGS ON POETRY, flingdump scattershot, Home-Schooled By a Cackling Jackal, Kutibeng, and A Private Studio. I really do try to visit everything over there on the left at least once a day. RSS would sure make life easier.

  • I've added two poems from Gerard Van der Leun to Poems from Readers. That site is not an ezine, and I am not a poetry editor. But if you want other people who read this blog to see what you're doing, feel free to send me poems. I will not edit: I copy and paste. If you've got a blog, I'll link it. If you're interested in sending poems out for publication, you should be aware that some markets consider something like this to be publication and will not accept poems which have appeared this way.

  • Other than Steven Rose and Richard Lewontin, who never forgave him for not being Marxist, I doubt anyone who had read Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate could feel comfortable calling him a "cultural conservative"—an aesthetic conservative, perhaps, but he freely admits aesthetics is not in his purview. But I, too, want to avoid a "'Mike-Josh' debate," partly because it's extremely unlikely either of us have the time to read or reread all the pertinent things the other has read. I find Cahiers de Corey always interesting and provocative, as I hope Josh does this blog, and no doubt we will from time to time note our agreements and disagreements, and even answer each other. But Josh is right: this is an open conversation.

7:38:04 PM    comment: use html tags for formatting []  trackback []

Trying to count the holes in ceiling tiles
Lit only by the bar's red flashing lights
And losing count, wondering why my trial's
Trying to count the holes in ceiling tiles.
Past 50, in a bed 300 miles
From home 11 out of 14 nights,
Trying to count the holes in ceiling tiles
Lit only by the bar's red flashing lights.


I'm just not home enough to piss her off,
Or else she misses me like I do her.
The guys I work with think it's fun to scoff
"You're just not home enough to piss her off,"
But I'm the one she watches while we doff
Our clothes, whichever answer you prefer:
I'm just not home enough to piss her off,
Or else she misses me like I do her.

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Friday, April 2, 2004

I got so excited last night that I'd worked in all the repetends that I didn't see I was a stanza short. Here's the fix for now, for better or for worse:

Fools in Love

We didn't start with much. You had a ride;
I had a room. One night became a week,
You driving me to work to save your pride
And I so much in love I couldn't speak.

Even my brother called my prospects bleak,
At best, and I knew he was justified
But almost hoped you'd end my losing streak —
We didn't start with much. You had a ride.

I rode a bike. God I was terrified
Of trucks with towing mirrors, hide and seek
In traffic, and you were mostly gratified
I had a room. One night became a week,

Since you were homeless — glad to find a geek
With no addictions and a job, tongue-tied
Without a mandolin, and not too much a freak —
You driving me to work to save your pride.

You should have run and found someplace to hide,
Your girls so young and me almost antique,
My daughter lost despite how hard I'd tried,
And I so much in love I couldn't speak.

Friends' warnings might as well have been in Greek
For all they meant to us — how could they guide
A pair like us, so sure we were unique
That careless love just couldn't be denied?
We didn't start with much.

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Thursday, April 1, 2004

  • AWP is all over the poetry blog world, far too thickly sown to do justice with links. Makes me sorry I won't be able to go to West Chester this year.

  • The New Sonnetarium is off-line, as I promised, so I can get to work on them and send them out. If you want copies of my New Year madness, ask.

  • I am going to get busy sending things out. Ivy Alvarez is an inspiration.

  • Gary Norris is asking good questions and clarifying what he meant by poetry going missing from the market. But Marx!

  • Aaron Haspel wrote an insightful post (me and Ron Silliman, together again!) on software development and poetry. I'd only add that poems sometimes ignore your design in ways that would be disastrous for software.

  • Chris Murray took part in a Homerathon in addition to the incredible amount of work she does daily at texfiles, pointing to good work all over the web.

  • Jilly Dybka's interviewed at Stick Poet Superhero. She gets to go to West Chester. No fair!

  • Tim Yu (here, here, and here) and Kasey Mohammad (here) are working hard on the idea of intention in writing and interpretation, in the Constitution as well as poetry.

10:07:40 PM    comment: use html tags for formatting []  trackback []

What we have here is a rondeau redouble:

Fools in Love

We didn't start with much. You had a ride;
I had a room. One night became a week,
You driving me to work to save your pride
And I so much in love I couldn't speak.

My closest friends all called my prospects bleak,
At best, and I knew they were justified,
But almost hoped you'd end my losing streak —
We didn't start with much. You had a ride.

I rode a bike. God I was terrified
Of trucks with towing mirrors, hide and seek
In traffic, and you were mostly gratified
I had a room. One night became a week,

Since you were homeless — glad to find a geek
With no addictions and a job, tongue-tied
Without a mandolin, and not too much a freak —
You driving me to work to save your pride.

Darling we should have found a place to hide,
Your kids so young and me almost antique,
But careless love just wouldn't be denied,
And I'm so much in love I still can't speak.
We didn't start with much.

It's reworked from this sonnet:

Fools in Love

We didn't start with much. You had a ride;
I had a room. One night became a week,
You driving me to work to save your pride
And I so much in love I couldn't speak.
I played my mandolin, singing the song
I sang on Lisa's porch the night we met —
"Angel from Montgomery" — and all night long
we kept my housemates up with our duet.
We were a silly pair, to think that we
Could build a life. You had two children, one
In diapers. We were broke. My daughter Lee
Was lost. Ten years younger, you should have run.
We were the portrait of improvidence —
And love has blessed us for our lack of sense.

I often take an old piece, even if I like it, and rework it completely. I 'll move from free verse to sonnet, sonnet to some other form, or even from a trad form to free verse. This one's more a proof of concept than anything: I'd never written a rondeau redouble and that first quatrain looked like it might work as a texte for one. Won't know for months whether I like it.

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