Sunday, April 19, 2015

Poetry Day at Jungle Reds

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Our visit Friday from poet Anne Carroll Fowler has inspired me to think about poetry in my life. I love verse, and used to read old tomes and modern chapbooks voraciously, but have fallen out of the habit. Perhaps the frantic rhythms of our lives today don't mesh with poetry? I think, however, I'd like to get back into the habit. 
One of my favorites? Matthew Arnold, the great Victoria poet best known for his work On Dover Beach. My always-go-back-to pick from Arnold, however, is The Buried Life. An excerpt:

 Only—but this is rare—
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen'd ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress'd—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life's flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.

What poems speak to you, my sister Reds?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yay, Julia! I love poetry day.  I can't even read this one without crying.

by C. P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.

JULIA: Hank, they read that poem at my graduation from Ithaca College. Since then, it's held a special place in my heart!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I'm in London doing research now (and thus thinking of war, murder, and mayhem), so my thoughts have turned to T.S. Eliot:

Unreal City,     
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,     
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,     
I had not thought death had undone so many.     
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,     
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.     
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,     
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours     
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.     
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Stetson!     
You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!     
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,     
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?     
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?     
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,     
Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!     
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

LUCY BURDETTE: I don't have many poems memorized but here are two snatches that do circulate in my brain, the first from Longfellow's The Blacksmith:

UNDER a spreading chestnut tree     
  The village smithy stands;     
The smith, a mighty man is he,     
  With large and sinewy hands;     
And the muscles of his brawny arms             
  Are strong as iron bands.

And this one by Paul Verlaine:

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville.
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénêtre mon coeur ?

(It rains in my heart like it rains on the village. What is this sadness that penetrates my heart?)

The first one my father loved. The second, I love to hear John recite:)

JULIA: I had to memorize the Longfellow poem at some point in school! I remember we would say, "The smith, a mighty man is he, with arms like rubber bands." It was perhaps funnier to ten year olds...

HALLIE EPHRON: One of my favorite poems is short, but it says it all about why I write.

Homo Faber by Frank Bidart

Whatever lies still uncarried from the abyss within
me as I die dies with me.

Heavy. I know.
I can also recite the entire first book of Madeleine (In an old house in Paris all covered with vines...) as well as Dr. Seuss's Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? (Mr. Brown is a wonder He makes thunder He makes lightning ZAP ZAP ZAP And it's very very hard to make a noise like that....)

RHYS BOWEN: We had to memorize so many poems in school. I think I can still recite the whole of the Forsaken Merman, probably the Ancient Mariner and lots of Shakespeare.
But my definite favorite: The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, since it sums up my life's journey so well. I can identify three or four "road not taken" moments that would have made all the difference.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And feeling I could not travel both and be one traveler
Long I stood  and looked down one as far as I could
Till they diverged in the undergrowth
Then took the other, just as fair and having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Though as to that the passing there had left  them almost about the same
And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black
I left the first for another day, though knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in the wood and I,
I took the one less traveled by

And I once visited Robert Frost's farm in New Hampshire and did the poetry walk through his land. Poems were tacked up on trees where they had been written... the woodpile, the woods at sunset etc. My friends and I took turns to read them aloud and got chills.

JULIA: How about you, dear readers? What are the poems that mean much to you? Share them with us in the comments!


  1. I've always been fond of poetry; my personal favorite is one of Robert Frost's written in 1922: "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" . . .
    "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep."

  2. What fun! "The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver:
    Who made the world?
    Who made the swan, and the black bear?
    Who made the grasshopper?
    This grasshopper, I mean-
    the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
    I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
    into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
    which is what I have been doing all day.
    Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?

  3. Here's one of my very favorites, by the great 20th Century American poet Elizabeth Bishop.

    Filling Station

    Oh, but it is dirty!
    —this little filling station,
    oil-soaked, oil-permeated
    to a disturbing, over-all
    black translucency.
    Be careful with that match!

    Father wears a dirty,
    oil-soaked monkey suit
    that cuts him under the arms,
    and several quick and saucy
    and greasy sons assist him
    (it’s a family filling station),
    all quite thoroughly dirty.

    Do they live in the station?
    It has a cement porch
    behind the pumps, and on it
    a set of crushed and grease-
    impregnated wickerwork;
    on the wicker sofa
    a dirty dog, quite comfy.

    Some comic books provide
    the only note of color—
    of certain color. They lie
    upon a big dim doily
    draping a taboret
    (part of the set), beside
    a big hirsute begonia.

    Why the extraneous plant?
    Why the taboret?
    Why, oh why, the doily?
    (Embroidered in daisy stitch
    with marguerites, I think,
    and heavy with gray crochet.)

    Somebody embroidered the doily.
    Somebody waters the plant,
    or oils it, maybe. Somebody
    arranges the rows of cans
    so that they softly say:
    to high-strung automobiles.
    Somebody loves us all.

    ~ Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979

  4. I've been posting a poem a day at my Meanderings and Muses - - in honor of April being National Poetry Month.

    Here's one of my favorites -

    Windchime By Tony Hoagland

    She goes out to hang the windchime
    in her nightie and her work boots.
    It’s six-thirty in the morning
    and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest
    tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,

    windchime in her left hand,
    hammer in her right, the nail
    gripped tight between her teeth
    but nothing happens next because
    she’s trying to figure out
    how to switch #1 with #3.

    She must have been standing in the kitchen,
    coffee in her hand, asleep,
    when she heard it—the wind blowing
    through the sound the windchime
    wasn’t making
    because it wasn’t there.

    No one, including me, especially anymore believes
    till death do us part,
    but I can see what I would miss in leaving—
    the way her ankles go into the work boots
    as she stands upon the ice chest;
    the problem scrunched into her forehead;
    the little kissable mouth
    with the nail in it.

  5. Oh thank you everyone. I'll have to come back later today to read more.

    Susan, as soon as I saw the picture, I thought "The Wasteland." So many images.

    This posting underscores that I've been too far removed from the poetry on my shelves for too long a time. Time to seek out some old friends. Thanks for the nudge.

  6. Too many poems crowd close, so I will pick one to share from a poet not yet mentioned here: William Stafford.


    My father could hear a little animal step,
    or a moth in the dark against the screen,
    and every far sound called the listening out
    into places where the rest of us had never been.

    More spoke to him from the soft wild night
    than came to our porch for us on the wind;
    we would watch his face go keen
    till the walls of the world flared, widened.

    My father heard so much that we still stand
    inviting the quiet by turning the face,
    waiting for a time when something in the night
    will touch us too from that other place.

  7. The first verse of this poem is pure gold, and complete in itself, I think. (Although the rest of it is also lovely.) I wouldn't mind being immortalized this way!

    Rabbi Ben Ezra
    By Robert Browning

    Grow old along with me!
    The best is yet to be,
    The last of life, for which the first was made:
    Our times are in His hand
    Who saith "A whole I planned,
    Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!''

    Kaye, I've so enjoyed your poetry offerings this month. Thank you!

  8. Like Edith, I am a regular reader of the work of Mary Oliver, whose poetry celebrates nature in all of its amazingness.

    Here is Mary Oliver's Forgive Me:

    Angels are wonderful but they are so, well, aloof. It’s what I sense in the mud and the roots of the trees, or the well, or the barn, or the rock with its citron map of lichen that halts my feet and makes my eyes flare, feeling the presence of some spirit, some small god, who abides there.

    If I were a perfect person, I would be bowing continuously.

    I’m not, though I pause wherever I feel this holiness, which is why I’m often so late coming back from wherever I went.

    Forgive me.

  9. As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, when I'm working on fiction I read poetry to keep me attuned to language and rhythm. Like Edith and Brenda, I too find great beauty in the work of Mary Oliver. And through the Poetry Month email from Knopf, I just discovered Jane Hirshberg, who is amazing. But today I'd like to share a poem I recently read in a collection by Anne Sexton. HOpeful and melancholy at the same time ...


    There is joy
    in all:
    in the hair I brush each morning,
    in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
    that I rub my body with each morning,
    in the chapel of eggs I cook
    each morning,
    in the outcry from the kettle
    that heats my coffee
    each morning,
    in the spoon and the chair
    that cry “hello there, Anne”
    each morning,
    in the godhead of the table
    that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
    each morning.

    All this is God,
    right here in my pea-green house
    each morning
    and I mean,
    though often forget,
    to give thanks,
    to faint down by the kitchen table
    in a prayer of rejoicing
    as the holy birds at the kitchen window
    peck into their marriage of seeds.

    So while I think of it,
    let me paint a thank-you on my palm
    for this God, this laughter of the morning,
    lest it go unspoken.

    The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
    dies young.

  10. I loved discussing "Two Roads" with my students, including the contradictory passages and double meanings. They had so many crucial decision right in front of them, and I had so many past decision to reflect upon, but had not, as one student blurted out, "made all of them already." As long as we live, we are making those choices. I had it on a poster in the classroom, a reminder of choices to be made.
    I memorized Portia's "quality of mercy" speech in high school, and found it a good friend in times of giving or receiving judgements.

  11. Oh, my goodness, Brenda. I love that. Thank you.


    These are all marvelous. I love poetry day. I need to make sure I have more poetry days.

  12. Just got an email from Julia, who says:

    I'm at the ferry terminal in Hyannis, thought I'd finally have the chance to comment/ copy today's blog, but I can't get on the site. Can't tell if maybe the terminal's wifi is blocking it, or if something's wrong.


  13. I never memorized them but two poems that pop up in my mind so that I look them up are In Flanders Fields and Death of the Ball Turret Gunner. I was introduced to the second poem in college while the Vietnam war was escalating. Both very moving. And that village blacksmith! We had to memorize his poem in elementary school too. And oddly enough his arms were as strong as rubber bands too! I think my favorite poem was one my great uncle had to invent, spur of the moment, for school. The assignment was to write a poem which he didn't get around to. So he recited the following with great arm waving and drama, sure that emoting would make it poetry.
    "The thunder roared, the lightning flashed! Hit a rock and killed a pig." I think he got a switch for his efforts but his fellow classmates never forgot his performance.

  14. One more comment. I am insanely jealous of people who can quote poetry that is just right for the situation. Lord Peter Wimsey is one culprit. And so many of the characters who grew up in the early 1900s. Their brains are crammed full of poetry that can be retrieved at no effort. Not fair!

  15. Hallie, I was just thinking that. That short poem says it. Thank you for posting. I needed it. A sort of... no, no words work except these. And it is all I have to leave of me. This short poem says that for me as well. Why do I write?

    Homo Faber by Frank Bidart

    Whatever lies still uncarried from the abyss within
    me as I die dies with me.

  16. Julia, get thee to Nantucket and write!

  17. Joan, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is my favorite one, too. Robert Frost is probably my favorite poet, so many of his poems have stayed with me over the years. Rhys, "The Road Not Taken" is another favorite. Other Frost poems that top the list for me are "The Pasture," "Mending Walls,"Fire and Ice," "Nothing Gold Can Stay," "Out,Out," and "The Death of the Hired Man." Some of my favorite lines of poetry are from "The Death of the Hired Man," which read as follows:

    "Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
    They have to take you in."

    "I should have called it
    Something you somehow haven't to deserve."

    One of my favorite books of poetry is Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology. Those poems along with Sherwood Anderson's novel Winesburg, Ohio served to cement my interest in what people's lives are behind closed doors, a perfect companion to my early interest in mystery reading. I must get those two books out again.

    I loved all of the Reds' and others' picks for poetry today. Karen, I love the Robert Browning you shared. Lucy, Longfellow's "The Blacksmith" is one that I've remembered from my youth, too.

    Just a quick note on the Southern Kentucky Book Fest that I attended yesterday. To hit the highlights, I got to meet one of my favorite authors, Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost). He was wonderful to talk with, and I have a photo of us on my FB page and coming up on my blog. Also, I got to meet Anna Lee Huber who was recently here and whose Lady Darby series I just caught up on; met Kimberly Willis Holt, children's and young adult author who wrote When Zachery Beaver Came to Town, The Water Seeker, and Dear Hank Williams (her latest); met children's author Doreen Cronin with her quirky humored Click, Clack, Moo and others; met a new-to-me author Michael Morris, a friend of Jamie Ford's and author of Man in the Blue Moon; and I found a new young adult series called Doon by authors Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon. Oh, did I mention that Diana Gabaldon and Terry Brooks were also there? Quite a nice gathering.

  18. Can't believe I left out Katherine Howe, author of Conversion, The Physic Book of Deliverance Dane, The House of Velvet and Glass, and The Penguin Book of Witches (edited). Katherine and I had a long talk, and having just finished reading Conversion, we were able to talk about that book in particular. She is amazing, as were all the authors I was privileged to have conversations with.

  19. I realized I would be remiss if I didn't also include this small portion from the middle of John Greenleaf Whittier's poem, "The Meeting," which he wrote about sitting in silence in the same Friends Meetinghouse where I walk to every Sunday morning, including today.

    "And so I find it well to come
 For deeper rest to this still room,
 For here the habit of the soul

    Feels less the outer world's control;
 The strength of mutual purpose pleads
 More earnestly our common needs;

    And from the silence multiplied

    By these still forms on either side,

    The world that time and sense have known

    Falls off and leaves us God alone.”

  20. Thank you, Edith. I love this poem. One of my fourth grade book reports was a children's biography of John Greenleaf Whittier. Our school bookmobile librarian in Woburn knew just the books to suggest for me. I remember having clear pictures in my mind of the places he walked. It was the first book I read that I felt connected to in a spatial way.

  21. Some lovely verses here. Poetry reaches my heart and soul in a way prose doesn’t. As a woman in recovery, this poem takes my breath away.

    One Heart
    Franz Wright

    It is late afternoon and I have just returned from
    the longer version of my walk nobody knows
    about. For the first time in nearly a month, and
    everything changed. It is the end of March, once
    more I have lived. This morning a young woman
    described what it’s like shooting coke with a baby
    in your arms. The astonishing windy and altering light
    and clouds and water were, at certain moment,

    There is only one heart in my body, have mercy
    on me.

    The brown leaves buried all winter creatureless feet
    running over dead grass beginning to green, the first scent-
    less violet here and there, returned, the first star noticed all
    at once as one stands staring into the black water.

    Thank You for letting me live for a little as one of the
    sane; thank You for letting me know what this is
    like. Thank You for letting me look at your frightening
    blue sky without fear, and your terrible world without
    terror, and your loveless psychotic and hopelessly
    with this love.