Cerrar podrá mis ojos la postrera
sombra que me llevare el blanco día,
y podrá desatar esta alma mía
hora a su afán ansioso lisonjera;
mas no de essotra parte, en la riuera,
dexará la memoria, en donde ardía:
nadar sabe mi llama l’agua fría,
y perder el respeto a lei severa.
Alma qu’a todo un dios prissión ha sido,
venas qu’umor a tanto fuego an dado,
medulas qu’an gloriosamente ardido,
su cuerpo dexarán, no su cuydado;
serán ceniça, mas tendrá sentido;
polvo serán, mas polvo enamorado.
Love Constant Beyond Death
By Francisco de Quevedo
The final shadow that will close my eyes
will in its darkness take me from white day
and instantly untie the soul from lies
and flattery of death, and find its way
and yet my soul won’t leave its memory
of love there on the shore where it has burned:
my flame can swim cold water and has learned
to lose respect for laws’ severity.
My soul, whom a God made his prison of,
my veins, which a liquid humour fed to fire,
my marrows, which have gloriously flamed,
will leave their body, never their desire;
they will be ash but ash in feeling framed;
they will be dust but will be dust in love.
“The poem comes in the form of a blessing—‘like rapture breaking on the mind,’ as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.”
by Stanley Kunitz
Only, when I am sudden loss
Of consequence for mind and stair
Picking my dogged way from us
To whom, recessive in some where
Of recollection, with the cross
Fall, the breast in disrepair:
Only, when loosening clothes, you lean
Out of your window sleepily,
And with luxurious, lidded mien
Sniff at the bitter dark – dear she,
Think somewhat gently of, between
Love ended and beginning, me.
It is difficult to summarize a career that spans so many decades. Stanley Kunitz is one of those rare talents whose writing got stronger as he got older, he never reached a zenith from which to fall. His poetry ranged from metaphorical postcards to autobiographical and deeply personal. He was fearless in his writing, laying bare the most intimate of wounds before the reader, unimpeded by dramatic flourish, only an invitation to witness our shared humanity.
Kunitz was marked from birth by his father’s suicide, leaving a pregnant wife with two daughters to fend for herself. He did not countenance his father’s selfish act as his inheritance for Kunitz would prosper for over a 100 years, wringing every ounce of enjoyment out of life that the human body can provide.
Kunitz was a poet’s poet. His poems carefully constructed, complex and eloquent. His poetry completely accessible, he embraced rhymes and excelled at free verse. Kunitz wrote what he wanted to write throughout his entire life with aplomb. His first book of poetry, Intellectual Things, was green lighted by a young editor at Doubleday, Ogden Nash, and published in 1930. His final book, The Wild Braid, was published in 2005 in his centenary year. Kunitz long career would influence many including such poets as Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, W. H. Auden, James Wright, and Mark Doty. Kunitz has the unique honor of being named Poet Lauraete twice, in 1974 and in 2000 and holds the distinction of being the oldest Poet Laurate in our nation’s history.
Kunitz is one of those poet’s that if I had come to poetry sooner in my life, I think I would have written him fan mail and wished secretly that he would respond. Here’s one of his most personal poem’s and a great example of why poetry is an art form unlike any other in its power to articulate what it is to be human.
PS. An interesting question, what living poet should I write a fan mail letter? What living poet would you write? A good idea to think about and maybe do…
by Stanley Kunitz
My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
I unsheathe a grass blade,
Drag its private sweetness through my teeth.
My limbs float backwards to a day in June,
In the vise of yellow sun and quilted ground
My brain is crushed foliage.
Though on my idling eyes are traced
Ant-trollies in the grasses
And in my drowsing ears resounds
Time’s tick through fleshless spaces
And now slack energies within me faintly stir;
Still, budge budge, I cannot budge –
The air is pitched in nooses around my torso.
The elements of freedom hold me prisoner.
Marriage does not come easily to most. And yet it comes to most of us at least once in our lifetimes. Elise Asher and Stanley Kunitz were married in 1957 and would remain so until her death in 2004. For Elise it was her second marriage and for Stanley it was his third. Kunitz was quoted as saying that relationships got in the way of his writing, but lucky for him Asher just kept getting in his way. Kunitz was the more celebrated of the two in terms of poets, but both were accomplished artists, Elise blending words and images throughout her long career and illustrating some of her husband’s poems on canvas.
Touch Me was published in 1995 when Kunitz was 90 years old. I love the ending of this poem; “Darling do you remember the man you married? Touch me, remind me who I am.”
by Stanley Kunitz (1905 – 2006)
Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the dresser of deal.
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
I don’t know why I love this poem. Maybe it’s the mixture of serious with the silly. It paints a great picture, even if I am not sure I totally understand what its all about. Good poetry has a veil around it that allows the reader to decide and this one leaves plenty for the reader to interpret.
A more interesting question is whether Wallace was intentionally playing with a sonnet concept when he wrote it? At first glance this is obviously not a sonnet, at least to any purist. But when I look closer, I am not so sure. It is 138 syllables in length, shockingly close to our 140 syllable traditional sonnet. It is 16 lines, not 14, but its clever in how the rhyming scheme is incorporated with a 1-2 punch at the end, just like an English sonnet. The final two lines of each stanza is 21 syllables. If you count enough sonnets there are plenty of others that finish with an extra syllable or two when it carries the sonnet to its natural conclusion.
Stevens was consciously moving away from traditional metrical poetry to voice his own unique style throughout his career. But the pull of tradition impacts writers and artists in unusual ways and it would have been interesting to have a conversation with Wallace on whether, even subconsciously, his experience with sonnets had an impact on his creation of this wonderful poem.
I often am attracted to a poem for one line and for me in this poem it is the line “Let be be finale of seem.” It is such a convoluted use of the word be and yet it makes sense to me. It says to me – our impressions have the final say in what’s real and what is not, for though we may have eyes in our heads it is our brains that decide what is that we see.
Heed me, feed me, I am hungry, I am red-tongued with desire; Boughs of balsam, slabs of cedar, gummy fagots of the pine, Heap them on me, let me hug them to my eager heart of fire, Roaring, soaring up to heaven as a symbol and a sign……
Excerpt from The Song of the Camp-fire by William Service
Life is good. Summer life in Minnesota can be extravagant in its simplicity. Friday night I grilled sweet corn, ate outside on the patio and afterwards enjoyed a summer backyard campfire. We are in that sweet spot of June; the mosquitos are almost non-existent, the fire flies have hatched and highlight the growing darkness and the temperature was cool enough that you could enjoy a bit of heat emanating off the coals. We toasted marsh-mellows, ate a couple of smores (roasted marshmallows between graham crackers with a bit of a chocolate bar), sipped a glass of red wine and talked through our week, realizing how incredibly lucky we are to be alive.
There is something pleasantly visceral pleasant about watching a fire die down, as the fading light turns to darkness. There is more than just smoke that rises into the evening sky, as anxiety and stress follow it on its winding path high above the tree tops. The smell of ash and smoke a reminder of our more primitive selves when fire was the primary source of energy of human endeavors. There are few things as peaceful as a campfire, when there are no responsibilities for a moment, other than to feed a log or two to keep it going and experience the fellowship of life with those that gather with you, in circle, to share its flames.
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Not without fire can any workman mould
The iron to his preconceived design,
Nor can the artist without fire refine
And purify from all its dross the gold;
Nor can revive the phoenix, we are told,
Except by fire. Hence if such death be mine
I hope to rise again with the divine,
Whom death augments, and time cannot make old.
O sweet, sweet death! O fortunate fire that burns
Within me still to renovate my days,
Though I am almost numbered with the dead!
If by its nature unto heaven returns
This element, me, kindled in its blaze,
Will it bear upward when my life is fled.
POOR soul, the centre of my sinful earth–
My sinful earth these rebel powers array–
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men;
And Death once dead, there ‘s no more dying then.
Why shall I keep the old name?
What is a name anywhere anyway?
A name is a cheap thing all fathers and mothers leave each child:
A job is a job and I want to live, so
Why does God Almighty or anybody else care whether I take a new name to go by?
I Dream A World
by Langston Hughes
I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!
In my recent blog post, Break My Ghostly Heart, I wrote about Dorothy Parker being blacklisted and the impact it had on her. However no individual was accused by the House Un-american Activities Committee (HUAC) of having more communist associations than Langston Hughes. Hughes would be forced to testify before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s subcommittee in 1953. In the end, Hughes’ legacy is one as a true American, not McCarthy. The current claims of being “more patriotic” by Trump and his supporters ring with the same falsehoods that McCarthyism did in the 1950’s.
Langston responded to a questionnaire sent by Elmer Rice to 50 writers who had been named as suspected communists by the government in Red Channels. Rice asked Langston a series of questions, but simply put – he was asking how has being blacklisted impacted you. Here is a portion of Hughes’ brilliant reply to Rice in a letter in 1952.
Elmer Rice: QUESTIONNAIRE
Has the publication of your name in Red Channels adversely affected your employment or the use of your material in the radio and television fields?
Here are my answers to the questionnaire re the FCC and blacklisting in TV and radio:
The publication of my name in RED CHANNELS has not affected my employment in TV or radio. Being colored I received no offers of employment in these before RED CHANNELS appeared, and have had none since—so it hasn’t affected me at all.
Negro writers, being black, have always been blacklisted in radio and TV. Only once in a blue moon are any colored writers given an opportunity to do a script and then, usually, with no regularity, and no credits. Like Hollywood, Negroes just simply are not employed in the writing fields in the American entertainment industry.
My personal experience has been that in my 25 years of writing, I have not been asked to do more than four or five commercial one-shot scripts. These were performed on major national hook-ups, but produced for me no immediate additional jobs or requests. One script for BBC was done around the world with an all-star cast. No American stations offered me work. My agents stated flatly, “It is just about impossible to sell a Negro writer to Hollywood or radio, and they use Negro subject matter very rarely.” Even the “Negro” shows like “Amos and Andy” and “Beulah” are written largely by white writers—the better to preserve the stereotypes, I imagine.
During the war I did a number of requested scripts for the Writers War Board, used throughout the country. Most of the white writers serving this committee also got any number of paying jobs to do patriotic scripts. Not one chance to do a commercial script was offered me.
My one period of work in radio covering several weeks was a few summers ago scripting the NBC show, “Swing Time at The Savoy”, a Negro variety revue. This was achieved at the insistence of the N.A.A.C.P. that objected to the stereotypes in the audition scripts written by white writers. NBC had at that time had not one Negro writer on its staff—which would have saved them making the mistakes the N.A.A.C.P. objected to and which were offensive to the general Negro public. As far as I know, Negro writers are, however, “blacklisted” at NBC. I know of none working there regularly.
Richard Durham in Chicago and Bob Lucas and Woody Bovell in New York are excellent radio writers but, being Negroes, they work with great irregularity—not due to being red but due to being colored.
No point in my appearing—the color bars everyone knows have been with us since radio began, before TV was born, and long ere that.
I’d like to add, however, my personal gratitude to you and the committee for your very fine stand in relation to the freedom to work—for those writers who are white enough to work (when not red-baited) and I hope as well for those writers who have been blacklisted from birth.
And to you for your personal stand, Elmer, my very great admiration.