This Place Could Be Beautiful

 

hurricane-michael-damage
Storm Damage From Hurricane Michael, October 2018.

Good Bones

by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.


After every hurricane, tornado, flood, fire or earthquake, the same quote is printed over and over in the media; “residents vow to rebuild.” It’s true, someone will rebuild. Someone always does where the view warrants the risks. We should bring the same zeal to rebuilding the shambles of our lives. Except for the exceptionally fortunate, most of us are our own natural disaster at some point, wasting our time shaking our fists at unseen forces, rather than finding affordable marriage insurance with a reasonable deductible. So go ahead and buy that bouquet of flowers at the super market or farmer’s market on Saturday morning. Pick out a bottle of wine. Take it home, set a nice table for yourself. Cook a fine meal for your partner tonight. Say a blessing for all that you have that is grounded and not blown away. You’ll never say on your deathbed, “if I had only spent less money on flowers, think of where I would be today.”


 

The House

by Richard Wilbur (1921 – 2017)

Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.

What did she tell me of that house of hers?
White gatepost; terrace; fanlight of the door;
A widow’s walk above the bouldered shore;
Salt winds that ruffle the surrounding firs.

Is she now there, wherever there may be?
Only a foolish man would hope to find
That haven fashioned by her dreaming mind.
Night after night, my love, I put to sea.

Trust-busting Not Exactly At Its Word

Richard_Watson_Gilder,_by_V._Floyd_Campbell
Richard Watson Gilder by Floyd Campbell

 

President And Poet

by Donald Hall

Granted that what we summon is absurd:
Mustaches and the stick, the New York fake
In cowboy costume grinning for the sake
Of cameras that always just occurred;
Granted that his Rough Riders fought a third-
Rate army badly general’d, to make
Headlines for Mr. Hearst: that one can take
Trust-busting not exactly at its word:

Robinson, alcoholic and unread,
Received a letter with a White House frank.
To court the Muse, you’d think T. R.’d’ve killed her
And had her stuffed, and yet this mountebank
Chose to belaurel Robinson instead
of famous men like Richard Watson Gilder.


Of the more than 200 poems included in Donald Hall’s self compiled anthology published in 1990 titled Old and New Poems, this is the lone sonnet.  It is so out of place in terms of Hall’s body of work and so obscure, that the only thing I can make of it is that Donald was hoping we would all get the joke and laugh along with him.  There is a long history of using sonnets either as a vehicle to honor or insult a specific literary or political figure.  Miguel de Cervantes wrote a series of sonnets that were so clever in delivering their barbed critique that his insults seemed more like good-natured advice and remarkably made their way through the sensors of his day.

So what is going on in this sonnet?  Hall is skewering both Teddy Roosevelt and Edwin Arlington Robinson. History has not been kind to Robinson’s legacy as a poet.  Although the recipient of three Pulitzer prizes, largely because of the notoriety Roosevelt created by promoting Robinson as a poet, most of Robinson’s writing is dismissed by modern poets and critics as weak and worse, uninteresting. Robinson may have been a significant American poet in his day, who willingly paid the price in poverty and obscurity at the beginning of his career. But his success rested on Roosevelt’s patronage,  securing for him a government position, giving him a steady source of income and increased his literary stature through his personal praise. As for his work, his once-popular Arthurian trilogy has fallen out of favor and considered mediocre at best.

And how has Richard Watson Gilder faired in terms of history?  Well obviously Hall feels he should have been treated better. Despite being a prolific and popular poet, who was skilled at rhyme and meter, Gilder’s work has faded into obscurity as well. Gilder was the editor of the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, one of the nation’s most esteemed periodicals in the late 19th century. As such Gilder was a person of influence in American letters during this period. None of his sonnets would make my top 100 list.   But, as the punch line to Hall’s riddle, he is certainly worthy of a little investigating.


Sonnet

By Richard Watson Gilder

What is a sonnet? ‘Tis the pearly shell
That murmurs of the far-off murmuring sea;
A precious jewel carved most curiously:
It is a little picture painted well.
What is a sonnet? ‘Tis the tear that fell
From a great poet’s hidden ecstasy;
A two-edged sword, a star, a song–ah me!
Sometimes a heavy-tolling funeral bell.
This was the flame that shook with Dante’s breath;
The solemn organ whereon Milton played,
And the clear glass where Shakespeare’s shadow falls:
A sea this is–beware who ventureth!
For like a fjord the narrow floor is laid
Mid-ocean deep to the sheer mountain walls.

 

To Entertain A Company Of Words

One year
It’s Fourteenlines.blog One Year Anniversary

Life is too important to be taken seriously.

Oscar Wilde

Success
(From The Ladder of St. Augustine)

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

We have not wings, we cannot soar;
But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
The cloudy summits of our time.

The mighty pyramids of stone
That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen and better known,
Are but gigantic flights of stairs.

The distant mountains, that uprear
Their solid bastions of the skies,
Are crossed by pathways that appear
As we to higher levels rise.

The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.


A year ago I sat down and decided to create a blog.  I had been thinking about it for awhile but didn’t know a thing about creating a website or using WordPress. I dove in head first and haven’t looked back. This is my 173 blog post. There have been nearly 6,500 visitors to Fourteenlines this past year. I have shared over 300 poems from 152 different poets with people from over 30 countries around the world.

What have I learned in the past year? Mostly that my appreciation for poetry continues to grow. Writing this blog is a self taught course in English literature. Surprisingly my obsession with sonnets is showing no sign of abating.  A testament to how deep the well of sonnets for exploration. Most importantly, one year into writing this blog I am still having fun!

I have given some thought to my goals with this blog, knowing that my creative pursuits tend to have a beginning, a middle and an end. I am shooting for 1,000 blog posts. At a pace of 3 postings a week this project will carry me onward for another 5 years.

In researching sonnets about writing for this anniversary edition, I came across the fine sonnet by Malcom Guite called Hospitality. I rather like his idea that some words are “shy and rare, unused to company” and must be coaxed out of the darker recesses of writer’s imaginations to take center stage on the starkest of white stages.

To read the entire blog in which the sonnet Hospitality is published click on this link:

https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/entertaining-words-a-sonnet-about-writing/


Hospitality

by Malcom Guite

I turn a certain key within its wards,
Unlock my doors and set them open wide
To entertain a company of words.
Whilst some come early and with eager stride
Others must be enticed and coaxed a little,
The shy and rare, unused to company,
Who’ll need some time to feel at home and settle.
I bid them welcome all, I make them free
Of all that’s mine, and they are good to me,
I set them in the order they like best
And listen for their wisdom, try to learn
As each unfolds the other’s mystery.
And though we know each word is my free guest,
They sometimes leave a poem in return.

Neither Out Far or In Deep

Rober-Frost-Quotes

Neither Out Far Or In Deep

By Robert Frost

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be-
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?


What watch are we keeping these days? It feels like not being able to look out far or in deep is the curse of the collective human condition. Yet, it’s too easy to say that this is more so today than in the past.  Actual facts would say the modern world is continuously improving and our ability to deal with complex problems, like poverty is working and we should be back-slapping each other giving each other credit for the fact things are getting better. We aren’t to the point we can say we are globally great, but we are a darn sight better than we were 40 years ago by nearly every economic and meaningful measure that is vital to the health and well-being of our fellow global citizens. The problem is that optimism doesn’t make headlines. Disasters make headlines, so if you are a consumer of any kind of news, whether that’s on-line, TV, radio or news print, you are bombarded with a daily barrage of murder, mayhem, disaster and stupidity, until you are worn down believing everything is getting worse not better.

The writer Johan Norberg, a Swedish historian, published a book titled Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future in 2016.  In it he makes the case that if we look at statistics like number of people living in extreme poverty, number of people with access to education, number of people who are illiterate, number of active global conflicts, number of countries controlled by repressive regimes and dictators, number of woman with access to health care, etc, etc. that by every measure that we can look at that measures our collective global well-being, the statistic has improved since 40 years ago.  If you are interested in the topic of optimism, check out the link to the Guardian article on Norberg and check out the podcast that is available.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/jul/28/is-the-world-really-better-than-ever-the-new-optimists

On the topic of optimism, I believe that poetry, particularly poetry about love, in which sonnets play a central role in the history of poetry, are at their core optimistic. Poetry is about capturing a tiny sliver of the human condition that is timeless and immortal, and by that very definition the poems that stand the test of time and live on in literature are those that hold up the best of what we can be.  Poetry’s central role in our lives is to keep optimism’s lamp lit, for generations of readers.


 

Amoretti LXXV

By Edmund Spenser

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
‘Vain man,’ said she, ‘that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.’
‘Not so,’ (quod I); ‘let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.’

 

 

 

 

Hurled By Hurricanes To A Birdless Place

181010021838-hurricane-michael-wednesday-2a-exlarge-169
Hurricane Michael hours before landfall 10/10/2018

Sonnet III

by Ted Berrigan

Stronger than alcohol, more great than song,
deep in whose reeds great elephants decay,
I, an island, sail, and my shoes toss
on a fragrant evening, fraught with sadness
bristling hate.
It’s true, I weep too much. Dawns break
slow kisses on the eyelids of the sea,
what other men sometimes have thought they’ve seen.
And since then I’ve been bathing in the poem
lifting her shadowy flowers up for me,
and hurled by hurricanes to a birdless place
the waving flags, nor pass by prison ships
O let me burst, and I be lost at sea!
and fall on my knees then, womanly.

I was just out of the reach of Hurricane Michael this week in Tampa Florida. A reminder of how local weather is, even extreme weather. Parts of the Florida panhandle were devastated yesterday while downtown Tampa got very little rain, almost no wind and only a small rise in sea levels channel side.

Storm Ending

Jean Toomer (1894 – 1967)

Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
Rumbling in the wind,
Stretching clappers to strike our ears . . .
Full-lipped flowers
Bitten by the sun
Bleeding rain
Dripping rain like golden honey—
And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.

Ted Berrigan, “Sonnet III” from The Sonnets. Copyright © 2000 by Alice Notley, Literary Executrix of the Estate of Ted Berrigan.  Used by permission of Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

The Perfect Poach

poachedeggs

Francis sang a little song to it (the egg on her plate), she sang it very softly:

I do not like the way you slide,
I do not like your soft inside,
I do not like you lots of ways
I could do for many days,
without eggs.

Bread And Jam For Francis by Russell Hoban

Egg

by Ales Steger

When you kill it at the edge of the pan, you don’t notice
That the egg grows an eye in death.

It is so small, it doesn’t satisfy
Even the most modest morning appetite.

But it already watches, already stares at your world.
What are its horizons, whose glassy eyed perspectives?

Does it see time, which moves carelessly through space?
Eyeballs, eyeballs, cracked shells, chaos or order?

Big questions for such a little eye at such an early hour.
And you – do you really want an answer?

When you sit down, eye to eye, behind a table,
You blind it soon enough with a crust of bread.


As a notoriously picky eater as a child, my Mother wore out our copy of Bread and Jam for Francis hoping its inspirational message about expanding your food horizons would rub off on me. I had a firm dislike of eggs until I was about 10, until I realized, I liked fried eggs a bit on the runny side, and after that pretty much any kind of egg became a part of my regular repertoire in cooking for myself.

The one egg style that generally has Americans and fair to middling chefs stumped are poached eggs.  There are lots of resources to help you master that craft and the tricks are pretty simple: strain your egg in a fine colander to get rid of the really watery yoke, add vinegar and salt to your water and don’t over do it on temperature, a hard boil not the thing for the perfect poached egg.

But my father taught me a much simpler way to perfect the poached egg. Take a very small round sauce pan that has a lid – 6 inches and put into it either fresh salsa or a can of crushed tomatoes in a layer about 1/2 inch deep. Bring it up to heat, add a little fresh basil if you have it on hand, get rid of a little water by boiling it off. Then lower the heat and make four little nests with a spoon. Crack your eggs and drop them into the nests one at a time, poach with lid on for 3 minutes on low heat. Spoon out egg with a little of the tomato sauce and serve with cracked black pepper or a sprinkle of bread crumbs.  Yum!

Here’s a culinary tip for the perfect poached egg using traditional techniques:  https://www.npr.org/2011/11/29/142903042/cracking-the-poached-egg-code

Either way, make sure you serve it with plenty of toast and jam.

frances-cover

Jam on biscuits, jam on toast,
Jam is the thing I like the most.
Jam is sticky, jam is sweet,
Jam is tasty, jam’s a treat,
Raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry
I’m very,

FOND……OF……. JAM!

Bread and Jam For Francis by Russell Hoban

 

 

 

Sometimes, Odor Of A Man

sappho
Fresco unearthed in Pompeii called Sappho.

 

“What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful.” …

“You came and I was longing for you”….

Sappho (630 BC – 580 BC)

Poem of Jealousy

by Sappho
Translated by William Carlos Williams

That man is peer of the gods, who
face to face sits listening
to your sweet speech and lovely
laughter.

It is this that rouses a tumult
in my breast. At mere sight of you
my voice falters, my tongue
is broken.

Straightway, a delicate fire runs in
my limbs; my eyes
are blinded and my ears
thunder.

Sweat pours out: a trembling hunts
me down. I grow
paler than grass and lack little
of dying.

 


Very little of Sappho’s writing survives in its entirety, what does remain are broken fragments, like ancient pottery shards, which have to be pieced together with jagged holes remaining to see a glimpse of the form of the original vessel.  Much has been written about how in the blank spaces of Sappho’s poetry is formed her greatness, the reader left to fill in the holes from their own lives, envision their own connections.

Sappho is known as the first great lesbian writer, but to characterize her as strictly a lesbian or feminist does not impart the complexity of her life in my opinion and unfairly pigeon holes her, when she should be just called a great writer. She was likely bi-sexual, having married a wealthy man and raised a daughter.  She came from a large family and was richly involved in the lives of her brothers, their children and her community.   She was not the standard-bearer of the LBGT community in her lifetime.  She was herself, with the courage to love completely, from her heart, the people in her life worthy of her love.

In the Library of Congress is a wonderful 4 page document that has the original translation of this poem by William Carlos Williams, published in 1957 by Grabhorn Press in San Francisco.  I have included an image of the footnote below, in which he writes:

“I’m 73 years old. I’ve gone on living as I could as a doctor and writing poetry on the side. I practiced to get money to live as I please, and what pleases me is to write poetry.

“I don’t speak English, but the American idiom.  I don’t know how to write anything else, and I refuse to learn. I’m writing and planning something all the time. I have nothing to do – a retired doctor who can’t use his right hand anymore.  But my core (my head, you know) goes on spinning and maybe occasionally I work it pretty hard. It goes on day and night. All my life I’ve never stopped thinking. I think all writing is a disease.  You can’t stop it.

“I have worked with two or three friends in making the translation for I am no Greek scholar but have been veritably shocked by the official British translations of a marvelous poem by one of the greatest poets of all time. How their ears could have sanctioned the enormities they produced is more than I can understand. American scholars must have been scared off by the difficulties of the job to not have done better. Their prosy versions were little better – to my taste. It may be that I have also failed but all I can say is that as far as I have been able to do I have been as accurate as the meanings of the words permitted – always with a sense of our own American idioms to instruct me.

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There is so much in both the translation and the footnote that I relate, that it is awe-inspiring to realize how much in common I have with humanity, going back a century, going back millenia.  The human need to be in service to love hasn’t changed.  We are attracted to whom we are attracted, mind, body and scent.  And if we are lucky, we are allowed to love and be loved, by the same.


Sonnet In Search Of An Author

By William Carlos Williams

Nude bodies like peeled logs
sometimes give off a sweetest
odor, man and woman
under the trees in full excess
matching the cushion of
aromatic pine-drift fallen
threaded with trailing woodbine
a sonnet might be made of it
Might be made of it! odor of excess
odor of pine needles, odor of
peeled logs, odor of no odor
other than trailing woodbine that
has no odor, odor of a nude woman
sometimes, odor of a man