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Posts Tagged ‘poets’

Dear readers,

Thank you kindly for joining me on this month’s journey in verse. It’s always a delight to share the words that have moved me over the past year–and to seek out new poets to introduce to you all. I hope you’ve encountered something along the way that resonated with you, and I very much hope you will keep reading poetry throughout the year.

April’s final poem comes from the incredible Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963), who is considered the first modern Turkish poet. As I mentioned in this month’s introductory post, it is through reading poetry that I often rediscover what is worth celebrating and fighting for in this life, even on the darkest days. These stirring words from Hikmet speak not only to what is at stake in each of the poems I posted this month, but to what is at stake in every day of our lives. Here’s to learning to love this world, seriously and deeply and with every fiber of our beings.

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“On Living”

I

Living is no laughing matter:
    you must live with great seriousness
        like a squirrel, for example—
  I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
        I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
    you must take it seriously,
    so much so and to such a degree
  that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
    in your white coat and safety glasses,
    you can die for people—
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
    is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
  that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
  and not for your children, either,
  but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
  because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
                      from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
                      about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
                      for the latest newscast. . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
                  for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
                  we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
            but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
            about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                      before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
                          I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
            we must live as if we will never die.

III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
              and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
              I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
              in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
                              if you’re going to say “I lived”. .

translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk

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I can’t let National Poetry Month pass without sharing some devastating verse from brilliant, dear Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926).

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“I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone”

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
    enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
    enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

translation by Annemarie S. Kidder

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There’s so much going on in this breathless, breathtaking prose poem from Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib‘s collection The Crown Ain’t Worth MuchGive yourself time to read it slowly, and then once more.

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“DUDES, WE DID NOT GO THROUGH
THE HASSLE OF GETTING THESE
FAKE IDS FOR THIS JUKEBOX TO
NOT HAVE ANY SPRINGSTEEN”

& and it is the end of another summer where I have slept on my couch
for days only allowing another body to interrupt long enough for
our limbs to tangle like weeds up the side of a brick house,
reaching for something impossible. I promise there have always
been dishes spilling out of the sink, love. It’s how I discovered this
kind of hunger. Last week, Rick lit a cigarette & yelled across the
bar that the only difference between smoking & kissing someone
who smokes is the way mouths collide before death sits in your
lungs like an abandoned city & everyone laughed while I tried to
wipe another’s lip gloss from my cheek. Most people I know
cannot sleep until they crawl though someone else’s hollow.
There are nights when I wish we were all still children, but then
again, I suppose we may be or at least there is no other way to
explain how we make every doorway our own. The way we stain
ourselves & anything else that moves. The way we scream into
the dark like a siren & the weeping, yet another thing we never
mention in the morning. I think I am starting to vanish slowly
from head to toe. There are ten different ways to say sunset. The
bartender says my face is wearing all of them.

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My copy of Louder than Heartsthe new and potent collection from Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck, arrived in the mail just last week–and it’s been traveling close by me from room to room ever since.

zeinas-photo

“I Dreamt We Threw Bread Crumbs”

I dreamt we threw bread crumbs
in the sea, waited to catch
a glimpse of our hunger, our hope,
rising out of this dark.

You fished out a tin can;
before we ate it
you told me to listen to the prayer
inside it—our prayer.

You mapped my body in chalk
on the sidewalk. My longing
was ruby-colored. I wore it
around my neck, and everything
was drunkenness and dance, every day
a kind of drowning—

the shawarma on the skewers,
the plastic roses in the children’s hands,
the antennas scribbled across the sky.
Only the clotheslines knew
of our leaving and returning,
and they wept.

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Per my tradition of Earth Days past, let’s listen to Walt Whitman exalt in this earth–and our relationship to it–in this excerpt from “A Song of the Rolling Earth” from Leaves of Grass.  If you’d like to read the full text of the poem, here you go.

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“A Song of the Rolling Earth

1

A SONG of the rolling earth, and of words according,
Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines?
those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the
ground and sea,
They are in the air, they are in you.

Were you thinking that those were the words, those delicious sounds
out of your friends’ mouths?
No, the real words are more delicious than they.

Human bodies are words, myriads of words,
(In the best poems re-appears the body, man’s or woman’s, well-
shaped, natural, gay,
Every part able, active, receptive, without shame or the need of
shame.)

Air, soil, water, fire—those are words,
I myself am a word with them—my qualities interpenetrate with
theirs—my name is nothing to them,
Though it were told in the three thousand languages, what would
air, soil, water, fire, know of my name?

A healthy presence, a friendly or commanding gesture, are words,
sayings, meanings,
The charms that go with the mere looks of some men and women,
are sayings and meanings also.

The workmanship of souls is by those inaudible words of the earth,
The masters know the earth’s words and use them more than
audible words.

Amelioration is one of the earth’s words,
The earth neither lags nor hastens,
It has all attributes, growths, effects, latent in itself from the jump,
It is not half beautiful only, defects and excrescences show just as
much as perfections show.

The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough,
The truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so conceal’d
either,

They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print,
They are imbued through all things conveying themselves willingly,
Conveying a sentiment and invitation, I utter and utter,
I speak not, yet if you hear me not of what avail am I to you?
To bear, to better, lacking these of what avail am I?

(Accouche! accouchez!
Will you rot your own fruit in yourself there?
Will you squat and stifle there?)

The earth does not argue,
Is not pathetic, has no arrangements,
Does not scream, haste, persuade, threaten, promise,
Makes no discriminations, has no conceivable failures,
Closes nothing, refuses nothing, shuts none out,
Of all the powers, objects, states, it notifies, shuts none out.

 

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Here’s a stunning punch in the gut/mind/heart from Morgan Parker‘s powerful new collection, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé

Photo of Morgan Parker

“These Are Dangerous Times, Man”

Do you know what I would do
with the glory of everyone?
I would set it on my tongue.
I’ve been meaning to sing this
against chamomile hissing
up from the grates.
Not because it is
dark but because of how
I interpret the rules.
While tree trunks
grow into their pleats,
I continue to respect
unwritten codes.
The world would crumble
without my unwavering
sacrifice. I try to write
a text message
to describe
all my feelings
but the emoticon hands
are all white.
White Whine.
White flowers in a river.
Some plantation
stuck in my teeth like a seed.
I think the phone is racist.
The phone doesn’t care about Black people.
The phone is the nation
that loves the phone.
Otherwise my feelings are unable
to be expressed.
A white thumb pointed down.
You are
everything good.
I suck color
out of the night and then
your finger bones.
We become
a beautiful collection
of knots
trembling on the floor.
I need to know
what it feels like to be softened.
Tender filet on a fresh
wood block.
Small, warm body
in a field, un-itching.
Our bodies
never synchronized
enough.

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Over the years, I find myself returning again and again to the luminous verse of the great Kashmiri-American poet, Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001). This particular favorite can be found in A Nostalgist’s Map of America via his collected works, The Veiled Suite
agha-main

“Beyond the Ash Rains”

What have you known of loss
That makes you different from other men?
– Gilgamesh.

When the desert refused my history,
refused to acknowledge that I had lived
there, with you, among a vanished tribe,

two, three thousand years ago, you parted
the dawn rain, its thickest monsoon curtains,

and beckoned me to the northern canyons.
There, among the red rocks, you lived alone.
I had still not learned the style of nomads:

to walk between the rain drops to keep dry.
Wet and cold, I spoke like a poor man,

without irony. You showed me the relics
of our former life, proof that we’d at last
found each other, but in your arms I felt

singled out for loss. When you lit the fire
and poured the wine, “I am going,” I murmured,

repeatedly, “going where no one has been
and no one will be… Will you come with me?”
You took my hand, and we walked through the streets

of an emptied world, vulnerable
to our suddenly bare history in which I was,

but you said won’t again be, singled
out for loss in your arms, won’t ever again
be exiled, never again, from your arms.

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