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Archive for April, 2009

I was looking through my poetry folder on my computer today and found these “challenges to young poets” from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the great Beat poet (read A Coney Island of the Mind) who co-founded the great San Francisco bookstore/literary haven, City Lights. I saw him read at Cafe Trieste two summers ago, and he’s still cheekily original at the age of 90–see him while you can if you are in the Bay Area.

Ferlinghetti’s advice is not benevolent or without controversy but I love it for what it is–a challenge to challenge everything, to be always aware, to be ambitious and rigorous in your desire to create art.

Challenges to Young Poets-Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Invent a new language anyone can understand.

Climb the Statue of Liberty.

Reach for the unattainable.

Kiss the mirror and write what you see and hear.

Dance with wolves and count the stars,
including the unseen.

Be naïve, innocent, non-cynical, as if you had
just landed on earth (as
indeed you have, as indeed we all have), astonished by what you
have fallen upon.

Write living newspapers. Be a reporter from
outer space, filing dispatches to some
supreme managing editor who belives in full
disclosure and has a low tolerance level for
hot air.

Write an endless poem about your life on
earth or elsewhere.

Read the between the lines of human discourse.

Avoid the provincial, go for the universal.

Think subjectively, write objectively.

Think long thoughts in short sentences.

Don’t attend poetry workshops, but if you do,
don’t go to learn “how to” but to learn
“what” (What’s important to write about).

Don’t bow down to critics who have not
themselves written great masterpieces.

Resist much, obey less.

Secretly liberate any being you see in a cage.

Write short poems in the voice of birds.
Make your lyrics truly lyrics. Birdsong is not made by machines. Give your poems wings to
fly to the treetops.

The much-quoted dictum from William Carlos
Williams, “No ideas but in things,” is OK for
prose, but it lays a dead hand on lyricism,
since “things” are dead.

Don’t contemplate your navel in poetry and
think the rest of the world is going to think
it’s important.

Remember everything, forget nothing.

Work on a frontier, if you can find one.

Go to sea, or work near water, and paddle
your own boat.

Associate with thinking poets. They’re hard
to find.

Cultivate dissidence and critical thinking.
“First thought, best thought” may not make
for the greatest poetry. First thought may be
worst thought.

What’s on your mind? What do you have in
mind? Open your mouth and stop mumbling.

Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall
Out.

Question everything and everyone. Be subversive, constantly questioning reality and
the status quo.

Be a poet, not a huckster. Don’t cater, don’t
pander, especially not to possible audiences,
readers, editors, or publishers.

Come out of your closet. It’s dark in there.

Raise the blinds, throw open your shuttered
windows, raise the roof, unscrew the locks
from the doors, but don’t throw away the
screws.

Be committed to something outside yourself.
be militant about it. Or ecastatic.

To be a poet at sixteen is to be sixteen, to be
at poet at 40 is to be a poet. Be both.

Wake up and pee, the world’s on fire.

Have a nice day.

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this morning

I read a poets.org poem-of-the-day that I really enjoyed.

Poem of the Day

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If I had started this blog two years ago, I would have posted something by Billy Collins within the first few days. He was another poet that my beloved 11th grade English teacher (I know you’re reading!) introduced us to during our American Lit class. I loved Billy Collins for his accessibility and his knack for celebrating the mundane… Having read most of his anthologies, I now see him as a one-trick poet, but he certainly does it well and I give him credit for being one of the few poets actually making a successful living off of his words. Who knows if I would have kept with poetry if it weren’t for poets like him. So here’s a Collins piece that I still adore–I actually wrote about this for my last English paper in high school (for another beloved teacher) instead of writing about the Emily Dickinson poem I had previously chosen. There’s just something about this poem that so deftly captures a child’s fear of growing up… and letting go.

“On Turning Ten”–Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

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poem1

To all my lovely readers, friends, random visitors: tomorrow is the last day of National Poetry Month AND Poem in Your Pocket Day.

The point of the day is to celebrate poetry by sharing it with others. Print out your favorite poem and read it to a friend at lunch. E-mail one to someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Read one over the phone to your mom. Plaster the boring bathroom stalls in your dorm with beautiful words. You get the point.

I wrote a column about this delightful holiday last year for the Stanford Daily. I’d post the link but the Daily Archives are a bit wonky so here’s some of the text with a few alterations and cuts:

What do you carry around in your pockets every day? A lanyard heavy with keys, a weathered wallet, your (only) chewed-up pen? Backpack pockets and purses count, too. What small treasures do you deem essential enough for constant transport? This upcoming Thursday, Apr. 30th, the Academy of American Poets and your trusty columnist (blogger?) here are encouraging you to place a poem in that lint-filled compartment of yours in honor of the first national Poem in Your Pocket Day.

The “rules” of celebrating this day, which falls on the last day of National Poetry Month, are pretty simple. Put a poem in your pocket. You got that part already. Now you can’t just let it fester there all day. You need to share it with people by unfurling the little piece of paper and reading it aloud whenever you can. Or, if you prefer, by inviting someone to stick their hand in your pocket and read it to you.

Because I am a lover of poetry, the possibilities of this day — or what it represents — really excite me. I realize, however, that my giddiness over poetry might not be shared by the masses. It makes me sad when I hear friends, peers or even adults say that they don’t read or enjoy poetry because they don’t think they “get it.” I think we all carry around this painful image of hunching over a poem in a high school English class, trying to squeeze out meaning by underlining as many literary terms as possible, hoping that the shiny key is located somewhere in that third example of synecdoche.

As an English major, I would be lying (and also admitting to wasting huge amounts of time) if I said there was no value in that kind of poetic investigation. However, I think that one can enjoy poetry and dare I say understand poetry without beating it senseless.

If it makes you think, if it makes you smile, if it makes you walk through the world differently that day, it has meaning. To you. Pleasure is too often underrated in an art form that celebrates the power of words.

The door to poetry is different for everyone. Some prefer the easy-to-open, familiar screen door of Billy Collins and the like. Others would rather scratch away at a cast-iron gate until it creaks open or ignore doors altogether and squeeze in through the chimney. My first real portal to poetry was through the oven door of Sylvia Plath when I was fifteen-years-old. Cliche? Maybe. Is that a problem? I don’t think so. Something in her raw confessions resonated with me, and I’ve been devouring poetry ever since.

I get slightly frustrated when I hear people arguing against poets like Billy Collins or poetry-arrangers like Prairie Home Companion man Garrison Keillor simply on the principle that they are philistines — the fast-food verses for the impatient masses, the easy listening for those unwilling to hear something a little more complex. In my opinion, it is better to have access than to never find an entry point at all. And that’s what events like Poem in Your Pocket Day try to accomplish, as well. To bring poetry out of the anthologies and into our every day lives.

I think it’s important for the poems to be read aloud as much as possible — for your voice to bring the authors’ to life. But if you’re understandably apprehensive about disrupting your chemistry section to share some Yeats, there are other ways to celebrate the day. Slip haikus under people’s doors; read a sonnet over the phone to a friend; cover the bathroom stall doors with some soothing verses.

So come Thursday, tuck a poem into your pocket, backpack, bike basket or whatever and share it whenever you can. Reminisce about childhood over some Shel Silverstein. Lament the cruelties of April and the annoyance of footnotes over T.S. Eliot. Get your seminar hot and breathlessly bothered with Walt Whitman. Feel fragmented with Sappho. Partake in the guilty pleasure of William Carlos William’s plums. Get conceit-ed with John Donne. Or, liberate a poem you wrote from the digital dust of your laptop and let it be heard.

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Two poems from the famous Irish poet, Yeats (rhymes with crates). He had a pretty fascinating life–you should look it up. I would give you a taste but I’m not quite in the blogging mood tonight. The line “But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you” has always moved me; I don’t know what it is about the idea of a pilgrim soul that really gets to me. But it does.

“Before the World Was Made”

If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed:
I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.

What if I look upon a man
As though on my beloved,
And my blood be cold the while
And my heart unmoved?
Why should he think me cruel
Or that he is betrayed?
I’d have him love the thing that was
Before the world was made.

“When You Are Old”

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

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Have you heard of Mahmoud Darwish, who died less than a year ago at the age of sixty-seven? He was considered by many to be the voice of Palestine; whether he was constructing poetry or prose, he was always writing as a fiercely proud Arab (he was born in Western Galilee). Look him up. Read his words. Let his poetry gift you with a different lens into a situation you may have only been exposed to through the news. I offer one of his more subtle poems to you tonight as I think about my mother, who is also a proud Palestinian.

First, in Arabic:

darwish


“My Mother”

I long for my mother’s bread
My mother’s coffee
Her touch
Childhood memories grow up in me
Day after day
I must be worth my life
At the hour of my death
Worth the tears of my mother.

And if I come back one day
Take me as a veil to your eyelashes
Cover my bones with the grass
Blessed by your footsteps
Bind us together
With a lock of your hair
With a thread that trails from the back of your dress
I might become immortal
Become a God
If I touch the depths of your heart.

If I come back
Use me as wood to feed your fire
As the clothesline on the roof of your house
Without your blessing
I am too weak to stand.

I am old
Give me back the star maps of childhood
So that I
Along with the swallows
Can chart the path
Back to your waiting nest.


[….Did I say I was only posting one poem? Well surprise. Here’s one more…]

“I Belong There”
Translated by Carolyn Forche and Munir Akash

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird’s sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to
her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a single word: Home.

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the root of the root

I remember that in high school, when one of my beloved English teachers told us that he wrote his college thesis on e.e. cummings, I didn’t quite understand what he saw in the poet. My knowledge of cummings at the time was limited–I knew him as a man who loved lowercase and wrote “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” In the past few years, I have slowly come to appreciate and even love e.e. cummings for his playful imagination and his lyrical inventiveness. Edward Estlin Cummings–yes, that’s what the e’s stand for– is truly a poet who is fun to read.

ee-cummings

“Humanity i love you”

Humanity i love you
because you would rather black the boots of
success than enquire whose soul dangles from his
watch-chain which would be embarrassing for both

parties and because you
unflinchingly applaud all
songs containing the words country home and
mother when sung at the old howard

Humanity i love you because
when you’re hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink and when
you’re flush pride keeps

you from the pawn shops and
because you are continually committing
nuisances but more
especially in your own house

Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it’s there and sitting down

on it
and because you are
forever making poems in the lap
of death Humanity

i hate you

(This next one is probably over-quoted at weddings or movies that have weddings in them, but I like it anyways)

“i carry your heart with me”

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

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