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Archive for April, 2010

Thanks for spending this lovely month with me, dear readers. I will try to continue posting poems when I have a chance. I concluded last year’s National Poetry Month selection with advice from the Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and now I close with some thought-provoking words from the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. If you’d like to hear the poem in Arabic, click here.

To a Young Poet

Don’t believe our outlines, forget them
and begin from your own words.
As if you are the first to write poetry
or the last poet.

If you read our work, let it not be an extension of our airs,
but to correct our errs
in the book of agony.

Don’t ask anyone: Who am I?
You know who your mother is.
As for your father, be your own.

Truth is white, write over it
with a crow’s ink.
Truth is black, write over it
with a mirage’s light.

If you want to duel with a falcon
soar with the falcon.

If you fall in love with a woman,
be the one, not she,
who desires his end.

Life is less alive than we think but we don’t think
of the matter too much lest we hurt emotions’ health.

If you ponder a rose for too long
you won’t budge in a storm.

You are like me, but my abyss is clear.
And you have roads whose secrets never end.
They descend and ascend, descend and ascend.

You might call the end of youth
the maturity of talent
or wisdom. No doubt, it is wisdom,
the wisdom of a cool non-lyric.

One thousand birds in the hand
don’t equal one bird that wears a tree.

A poem in a difficult time
is beautiful flowers in a cemetery.

Example is not easy to attain
so be yourself and other than yourself
behind the borders of echo.

Ardor has an expiration date with extended range.
So fill up with fervor for your heart’s sake,
follow it before you reach your path.

Don’t tell the beloved, you are I
and I am you, say
the opposite of that: we are two guests
of an excess, fugitive cloud.

Deviate, with all your might, deviate from the rule.

Don’t place two stars in one utterance
and place the marginal next to the essential
to complete the rising rapture.

Don’t believe the accuracy of our instructions.
Believe only the caravan’s trace.

A moral is as a bullet in its poet’s heart
a deadly wisdom.
Be strong as a bull when you’re angry
weak as an almond blossom
when you love, and nothing, nothing
when you serenade yourself in a closed room.

The road is long like an ancient poet’s night:
plains and hills, rivers and valleys.
Walk according to your dream’s measure: either a lily
follows you or the gallows.

Your tasks are not what worry me about you.
I worry about you from those who dance
over their children’s graves,
and from the hidden cameras
in the singers’ navels.

You won’t disappoint me,
if you distance yourself from others, and from me.
What doesn’t resemble me is more beautiful.

From now on, your only guardian is a neglected future.

Don’t think, when you melt in sorrow
like candle tears, of who will see you
or follow your intuition’s light.
Think of yourself: is this all of myself?

The poem is always incomplete, the butterflies make it whole.

No advice in love. It’s experience.
No advice in poetry. It’s talent.

And last but not least, Salaam.

TRANSLATED BY FADY JOUDAH

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I love this Robert Bly poem so much that I’m going to post it again this year. He’s a big fan of repetition, of letting the words sink in once, twice, three more times, so I think he would approve.

“Indigo Bunting”

I go to the door often.
Night and summer. Crickets
lift their cries.
I know you are out.
You are driving
late through the summer night.

I do not know what will happen.
I have no claim on you.
I am one star
you have as guide; others
love you, the night
so dark over the Azores.

You have been working outdoors,
gone all week. I feel you
in this lamp lit
so late. As I reach for it
I feel myself
driving through the night.

I love a firmness in you
that disdains the trivial
and regains the difficult.
You become part then
of the firmness of night,
the granite holding up walls.

There were women in Egypt who
supported with their firmness the stars
as they revolved,
hardly aware
of the passage from night
to day and back to night.

I love you where you go
through the night, not swerving,
clear as the indigo
bunting in her flight,
passing over two
thousand miles of ocean

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To all my lovely readers, friends, random visitors: tomorrow, please join me tomorrow, April 29th, in celebrating one of my favorite not-actual-but-should-be-official holidays, Poem in Your Pocket Day. I wrote about this last year and see no reason to change anything so here goes what I said before:

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 idea.

I wrote a column about this delightful holiday two years ago 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. 29th, 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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I’m always in awe of William Carlos Williams who was not only a stunning, revolutionary poet but also a respected doctor for more than 40 years.

“The Widow’s Lament in Springtime”

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirtyfive years
I lived with my husband.
The plumtree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

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Tonight, three from Yehuda Amichai, (1924-2000) who is considered one of the finest modern Israeli poets.

“For My Mother”

I

Like an old windmill,
Two hands always raised to scream up to the sky
And two descending to make sandwiches.

Her eyes clean and polished
As on the eve of Passover.

At night, she puts all the letters
And the photographs next to each other,

To measure with them
The length of God’s finger.

2

I want to walk in the deep
Wadis between her sobs.

I want to stand in the hot wind
Of her silence.

I want to learn
On the rough trunks of her pain.

3.

She puts me,
As Hagar put Ishmael,
Under one of the bushes.

So she won’t see me die in the war,
Under one of the bushes
In one of the wars.
_____________________________________

“Wild Peace”

Not the one of an armistice,
Not even the one of the vision of wolf and lamb,
But,
As in your heart after an excitement:
To talk only of a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
I am grown up.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
How to open and close its eyes and say “Mama.”
Peace
Without the commotion of turning swords into plowshares, without
words, without
The sound of heavy seals; let it be light
On top, like lazy white foam.
Rest for the wounds,
Not even healing.
(And the scream of orphans is passed on from one generation
To another, as in a relay race: the baton won’t fall.)

Let it be
Like wild flowers,
Suddenly, an imperative of the field:
Wild peace.
_______________________________________

“Again, A Love is Finished”

Again a love is finished, like a successful citrus season,
Or a digging season ofarr archaeologists, bringing up from the depths
Exciting things that wanted to be forgotten.

Again a love is finished. As after the demolition
Of a big house, and the cleaning of the debris, you’re standing
In the square empty lot, saying: How small
The space where the house stood
With all its stories and people.

And from the distant valley, you hear
A lonely tractor working,
And from the distant past, the clatter
Of a fork on a porcelain plate, mixing
And whipping up yoke with sugar for the child,
Clatter, clatter.

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Two from William Stafford (1914-1993), whose work often makes me want to go outside.

“Remembering Mountain Men”

I put my foot in cold water
and hold it there: early mornings
they had to wade through broken ice
to find the traps in the deep channel
with their hands, drag up the chains and
the drowned beaver. The slow current
of the life below tugs at me all day.
When I dream at night, they save a place for me,
no matter how small, somewhere by the fire.

Yosemite, Summer 2009

“Ask Me”

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

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The title poem from Ilya Kaminsky’s first book, Dancing in Odessa, which you should track down and read in its entirety right now. Incredible. Some more poems can be found here.

Dancing In Odessa

We lived north of the future, days opened
letters with a child’s signature, a raspberry, a page of sky.
My grandmother threw tomatoes
from her balcony, she pulled imagination like a blanket
over my head. I painted
my mother’s face. She understood
loneliness, hid the dead in the earth like partisans.

The night undressed us (I counted
its pulse) my mother danced, she filled the past
with peaches, casseroles. At this, my doctor laughed, his granddaughter
touched my eyelid—I kissed
the back of her knee. The city trembled,
a ghost-ship setting sail.
And my classmate invented twenty names for Jew.
He was an angel, he had no name,
we wrestled, yes. My grandfathers fought

the German tanks on tractors, I kept a suitcase full
of Brodsky’s poems. The city trembled,
a ghost-ship setting sail.
At night, I woke to whisper: yes, we lived.

We lived, yes, don’t say it was a dream.
At the local factory, my father
took a handful of snow, put it in my mouth.
The sun began a routine narration,
whitening their bodies: mother, father dancing, moving
as the darkness spoke behind them.
It was April. The sun washed the balconies, April.

I retell the story the light etches
into my hand: Little book, go to the city without me.

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