Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Oh, Kaye!" chats about poetry

I often turn to poetry when I can't seem to find the right book for the right moment.  Poetry seems to fill the gaps between books for me.

It can be fun and whimsical.

Or, speak to a darker mood.

It's for that reason, I often turn to poetry during tough times.

I have found myself turning to it more lately than usual.

And because April is National Poetry Month, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites with you.

For My Grandmother’s Perfume, Norell 

Because your generation didn’t wear perfume
           but chose a scent—a signature—every day
                      you spritzed a powerhouse floral with top
                                 notes of lavender and mandarin, a loud
smell one part Doris Day, that girl-next-door
           who used Technicolor to find a way to laugh about
                      husbands screwing their secretaries over lunch,
                                 the rest all Faye Dunaway, all high drama
extensions of nails and lashes, your hair a
           a breezy fall of bangs, a stiletto entrance
                      that knew to walk sideways, hip first:
                                 now watch a real lady descend the stairs.

Launched in 1968, Norell
           was the 1950s tingling with the beginning
                      of Disco; Norell was a housewife tired of gospel,
                                 mopping her house to Stevie Wonder instead.

You wore so much of it, tiny pockets
           of your ghost lingered hours after you
                      were gone, and last month, I stalked
                                 a woman wearing your scent through
the grocery so long I abandoned
           my cart and went home. Fanny, tell me:
                      How can manufactured particles carry you
                                 through the air? I always express what I see,
but it was no photo that
           stopped and queased me to my knees.

After all these years, you were an invisible
           trace, and in front of a tower of soup cans
                      I was a simple animal craving the deep memory
                                 worn by a stranger oblivious of me. If I had courage,
the kind of fool I’d like to be,
           I would have pressed my face to her small
                      shoulder, and with the sheer work of
                                 two pink lungs, I would have breathed
enough to
                      you back
                                 to me.

-- Nickole Brown

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

A passion to make, and make again
where such un-making reigns.

—Adrienne Rich

The Country

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

- - Billy Collins

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

—Wallace Stevens

Fictional Characters 

Do they ever want to escape?
Climb out of the white pages
and enter our world?

Holden Caulfield slipping in the movie theater
to catch the two o'clock
Anna Karenina sitting in a diner,
reading the paper as the waitress
serves up a cheeseburger.

Even Hector, on break from the Iliad,
takes a stroll through the park,
admires the tulips.
Maybe they grew tired
of the author's mind,
all its twists and turns.
Or were finally weary
of stumbling around Pamplona,
a bottle in each fist,
eating lotuses on the banks of the Nile.
For others, it was just too hot
in the small California town
where they'd been written into
a lifetime of plowing fields.

Whatever the reason,
here they are, roaming the city streets
rain falling on their phantasmal shoulders.
Wouldn't you, if you could?
Step out of your own story,
to lean against a doorway
of the Five & Dime, sipping your coffee,
your life, somewhere far behind you,
all its heat and toil nothing but a tale
resting in the hands of a stranger,
the sidewalk ahead wet and glistening.

by Danusha Laméris

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
 - Langston Hughes

New Year Poem 

Let us step outside for a moment
As the sun breaks through clouds
And shines on wet new fallen snow,
And breathe the new air.
So much has died that had to die this year.

We are dying away from things.
It is a necessity—we have to do it
Or we shall be buried under the magazines,
The too many clothes, the too much food.
We have dragged it all around
Like dung beetles
Who drag piles of dung
Behind them on which to feed,
In which to lay their eggs.
Let us step outside for a moment
Among ocean, clouds, a white field,
Islands floating in the distance.
They have always been there.
But we have not been there.
We are going to drive slowly
And see the small poor farms,
The lovely shapes of leafless trees
Their shadows blue on the snow.
We are going to learn the sharp edge
Of perception after a day’s fast.
There is nothing to fear.
About this revolution…
Though it will change our minds.
Aggression, violence, machismo
Are fading from us
Like old photographs
Faintly ridiculous
(Did a man actually step like a goose
To instill fear?
Does a boy have to kill
To become a man?)
Already there are signs.
Young people plant gardens.
Fathers change their babies’ diapers
And are learning to cook.
Let us step outside for a moment.
It is all there
Only we have been slow to arrive
At a way of seeing it.
Unless the gentle inherit the earth
There will be no earth.
- - May Sarton

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.

How 'bout you, Dear Reds, are you poetry readers?

Or poetry writers?

Do you turn to poetry at any particular time,

for any particular reason?

Do you have a favorite poem
 or two you'd care to share?


  1. So many lovely poems, Kaye. Here are two of my favorites:

    Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village though;
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.

    My little horse must think it queer
    To stop without a farmhouse near
    Between the woods and frozen lake
    The darkest evening of the year.

    He gives his harness bells a shake
    To ask if there is some mistake.
    The only other sound's the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake.

    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.

    Trees by Joyce Kilmer

    I think that I shall never see
    A poem lovely as a tree.
    A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
    Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
    A tree that looks at God all day,
    And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
    A tree that may in summer wear
    A nest of robins in her hair;
    Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
    Who intimately lives with rain.
    Poems are made by fools like me,
    But only God can make a tree.

  2. I don't seek poetry out, but I always know I should have once I read the ones you love. Thanks Joan and Kaye for a good start to the morning!

  3. Poetry seems to have bracketed the beginning and later years of my life. The middle years too busy to read the short phrases of its wisdom. How odd. Thank you, Kaye, for reminding me of how much comfort poetry brings to the soul.

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  5. I am of the generation that memorized poems as a school child. And still they come to mind at the oddest times. Funny or gloomy, filled with dread or joy, what an art. Again I only read and never write. This one has been going thru my head since November. Pftt.


    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul.
    William Ernest Henley

    Happy spring everyone.
    Ann in Rochester

  6. I've been mulling this one over since I read it earlier this morning. I read a lot of poetry when I was in college, and have seen some phenomenal love performances of poetry over the years: Ntozake Shange's "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When The Rainbow Is Enuf" springs to mind, and private holiday parties when we could coax John Hillerman to read "A Child's Christmas in Wales." But mostly I turn to poetry when I am sad, so most of the poems that stick with me are sad poems. I'll share a couple of sonnets, if I may. The first is Shakespeare. The second is Edna St Vincent Millay. They rather contradict each other, but I love them both.

    Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments. Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
    That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wandering bark,
    Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
    Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle's compass come;
    Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

    Even in the moment of our earliest kiss,
    When sighed the straitened bud into the flower,
    Sat the dry seed of most unwelcome this;
    And that I knew, though not the day and hour.
    Too season-wise am I, being country-bred,
    To tilt at autumn or defy the frost:
    Snuffing the chill even as my fathers did,
    I say with them, "What's out tonight is lost."
    I only hoped, with the mild hope of all
    Who watch the leaf take shape upon the tree,
    A fairer summer and a later fall
    Than in these parts a man is apt to see,
    And sunny clusters ripened for the wine:
    I tell you this across the blackened vine.

  7. Finta, Love this. I'm of that same generation of memorizing poems in school. The book of poems we were assigned was 100 Greatest Poems (or something like that). It was my introduction to poetry and where I came to know some of the "classics," including the two Joan shared with us - which I love.

    Kait - What an interesting observation. Very true, I think.

    Lucy - Happy to have started your day off so nicely!

  8. Replies
    1. You're welcome. I resisted "The Cremation of Sam McGee."

  9. I recently read this poem for the first time, and I can't get the first line out of my head!

    Failing and Flying
    By Jack Gilbert

    Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
    It's the same when love comes to an end,
    or the marriage fails and people say
    they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
    said it would never work. That she was
    old enough to know better. But anything
    worth doing is worth doing badly.
    Like being there by that summer ocean
    on the other side of the island while
    love was fading out of her, the stars
    burning so extravagantly those nights that
    anyone could tell you they would never last.
    Every morning she was asleep in my bed
    like a visitation, the gentleness in her
    like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
    Each afternoon I watched her coming back
    through the hot stony field after swimming,
    the sea light behind her and the huge sky
    on the other side of that. Listened to her
    while we ate lunch. How can they say
    the marriage failed? Like the people who
    came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
    and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
    I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
    but just coming to the end of his triumph.

  10. Okay, this isn't deep or elevating, and I'm not sure of the author (may be Ogden Nash), but when I watch the news it comes to mind:
    The bee is such a busy soul.
    He has no time for birth control.
    So that is why in times like these
    There are so many sons of bees.

  11. I do love poetry, but I prefer listening to it to reading it.
    And I think the best picture books for kids are some of the best poetry.
    Thanks for a lovely Sunday sojourn, Kaye!

  12. Oh, Carolyn, that's so funny. Love it.

    Hallie, the person who immediately popped into mind when you mentioned children was Shel Silverstein, who I adore.

  13. Forgive me for this, Kaye, but I couldn't resist.

    Poetry's fine
    If that's your incline.
    I ruefully opine
    It really isn't mine.

    Given then that I can't rhyme
    Worth a solitary dime,
    I spoze I'll spend my time
    Writing mystery and crime.

  14. Applause for my pal Earl!!!!! Earl Staggs, you ALWAYS brighten my day (AND, you're a very good poet).

  15. Particularly love the Wallace Stevens poem.

  16. Kaye Kaye Kaye, I do love you. Oh, that little country mouse. And the book characters. Thank you! xoo

  17. What, Gigi? Private party with HIllerman reading Dylan Thomas? what what what?

  18. Thank you, Kaye, for the Sunday treat. I had to read these in installments, to process them (in between naps...) It was reading poetry, and then writing poetry, that made me fall in love with words. It wasn't until years later that the love of words turned into novels. Such gorgeous choices today! How do you find new poets and poems that you love?

  19. PS Ingrid, I LOVE the Jack Gilbert!!!

    1. I just love that poem! I love that it makes you look at things from a whole new perspective, which is, of course, one of the main points of art.

  20. Oh, Kaye, what a lovely post to open up during my break from taxes. I especially loved Windchime! And, Ingrid, that first line does resonate. Hub and I were recently talking about song lyrics being considered poetry - we agree that they are. So here is a snippet of an old Irish folksong that always read like poetry to me:

    "Oh! the heart, that has truly lov'd, never forgets,
    But as truly loves on to the close;
    As the sun-flower turns on her god, when he sets,
    The same look which she turn'd when he rose!"

  21. and I love you back, Hank Phillippi Ryan. And yes, Gigi, come back and tell us more, please.

    Debs, do you still write poetry?? Poetry seems to find me. I'm not sure how, exactly, but if I somehow stumble onto a piece I enjoy, like at Facebook or while reading a book, I'll go look for more by that poet. And, like research, the hunt just continues with all sorts of lovely surprises along the way. And while roaming through bookstores I'll pull out books of poetry by poets I'm unfamiliar with. And - just like with novels, friends recommendations.

    Jenn, I too have to think of song lyrics as poetry.

  22. Kaye, novels seem to take up most of that lust for creative imagery. But I'd like to write more poetry--and read more poetry, since that seems to fire up the writing synapses!

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