I am a grave poetic hen
that lays poetic eggs.
And to enhance my temperament
A little quiet begs.
We make the yolk philosophy
True beauty the albumen.
And then gum on a shell of form
To make the screed sound human.
A lyric poem, typically one in the form of an address to a particular subject, written in varied or irregular metre.
Oxford English Dictionary
To Ezra Pound
by T. A. Fry
For your convictions, not the least of which Was treason: by what do I measure you? Was it romance or reason that carved your niche? An Imagist, whose chant was Make it New. The unkept vagrant of rebellious screed, Who Frost declared, “wanton and a poseur.” Should I forgive your racist, fascist deeds In lieu of your roiled poetic allure? Pound for Pound, man’s the most fallible beast. My own past mocks in brilliance and despair. If our life is but A Moveable Feast*? Let’s hope the worst is not beyond repair. And with words, left to time, an image paint, The truth of it; both serpent and a saint.
*Pound and Hemingway were long-time friends who both lived in Paris during the period Hemingway wrote A Moveable Feast. The reference in the sonnet is an acknowledgement to shared passions and demons. Hemingway lobbied for Pound’s release from the insane asylum where he was incarcerated for treason in the United States from 1945 – 1957. Read my prior blog post, Make it New, for more stirrings on Ezra Pound.
I have ghosts on my mind this week, with Halloween, The Day of the Dead and All Saints Day all swirling beneath the surface. A good yarn, which is all any poem should aspire, at least the ones that keep my attention, require some truth, a truth worth tending. The question is always how much truth comes from a writer’s imagination and how much from their experience? Truth in literature may be fabricated entirely. An empathetic phrase by which we catch a collective breath of understanding.
I write primarily in first person. I realize that this may create confusion for anyone who knows me personally and chooses to view the narrative as literal. What is real and what is not real? Isn’t that the cloak behind which all writers hide and invent a reality worthy of putting to paper.
We don’t have Shakespeare’s blog or twitter feed to gain further insights into his poetry. He left the interpretation of his writing to the reader. But make no mistake, Love plays a role in all this business. A most generous Love, a Love that both clasps hearts in irons and springs the lock of freedom.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, in my view, is a mirror in which to view myself. Yes, it is hubris to put one of my sonnets alongside Shakespeare’s and pretend they belong in the same space. But then isn’t it hubris that drives any of us to write in the first place? My sonnet, Gallant Ghosts, Undaunted, was written during the tail spin of a relationship. It is a fictional Polaroid of a future yet to be experienced, but hoped for with an optimism of forgiveness. I was delusional. Hell hath no fury…..
It is a connection to a beginning and an homage to the role that poetry played throughout our relationship. I am fully aware that the last few words are identical to a sonnet from the 1700s. I will share the story behind that fact in the next blog.
By William Shakespeare
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Gallant Ghosts, Undaunted
by T. A. Fry
I think of you, writing late in the nightfall Revering your muse, as no other may place Claims to a heart, forever a rightful Palace of dreams, once my saving grace. What’s mine is yours, our auspices blessed By memories of loving which illumine my soul. On Darkest Night(s) as you slowly undress, Recall my touch, though its loss be a toll.
Come gallant ghosts, lay down by my side Undaunted: whisper poems long written for me. Their haunting passion shall always reside Deep in bruised hearts, a grand larceny. Timeless this beauty, in mind’s eye I hold, The feel of your lips and outlive the old.
Come to us now, red maggots of passion.
Consume what we were, ’till there’s nothing left.
Devour our malaise with endless compassion.
Leave only lust, with your cleansing so deft.
Strip us bare, bring life to these ol’ bag-a-bones.
Stir carnal thoughts in our skeletal remains.
We’ll rattle and clack to a chorus of moans,
A fervor of desire in worm eaten brains.
Arise and fight, powerful God Eros.
Awake in fury and vanquish your foes.
Scorch the indifferent and the vapid morose.
Bathe them in fire from their head to their toes.
Bring back brave passion we’ll see with new eyes.
Our sockets empty, but for pupae of flies.
I am not one to interpret or offer criticism of my own poetry. The act of sharing my writing sufficiently in flagrante delicto. I wrote this sonnet early in my foray into writing sonnets several years ago, in a single early morning, the day before Halloween.
I have attached an mp3 of Camille Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre below. Give it a listen. What comes to mind in relation to the music and Wratislaw’s Sonnet Macabre? Start a conversation, share your thoughts.
The Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns.
Performed by Malmo Symphony Orchestra. Conducted by Marc Soustrot.
by Theodore Wratislaw (1871 – 1933)
I love you for the grief that lurks within
Your languid spirit, and because you wear
Corruption with a vague and childish air,
And with your beauty know the depths of sin;
Because shame cuts and holds you like a gin,
And virtue dies in you slain by despair,
Since evil has you tangled in its snare
And triumphs on the soul good cannot win.
I love you since you know remorse and tears,
And in your troubled loveliness appears
The spot of ancient crimes that writhe and hiss:
I love you for your hands that calm and bless,
The perfume of your sad and slow caress,
The avid poison of your subtle kiss.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
October in Minneapolis is a sacred month. It has the last warm days of the season mixed with a visual feast of greens, yellows, orange and reds beneath a blue harvest sky. Minnesotans know what’s coming next; cold weather, snow, icy sidewalks, short foggy grey overcast days and leafless trees. Please, don’t ruin our enjoyment of being sozzled by beauty for a couple of weeks by reminding us of our winter hangover that is yet to come. Nature throws a hell of party at summer’s closing time in Minneapolis, with a last round of a Kaleidoscope of colors for our bacchanalian fall over indulgence.
October is sacred for another reason for me personally. It is the month of my mother’s birth and the one year anniversary of her ashes being interred at Lakewood Cemetery, next to her parents and grandmother.
The only reason I am a poet and writing this blog is because of my mother. Poetry was and is a visceral connection to her. She and I shared a love of poetry going back to my childhood but it intensified as time went on. My mother returned to Minnesota for the last four years of her life, after 28 years of living in other parts of the world, always pronouncing steadfastly during short visits, that she would never return to live here again. That she relented on that declaration was a gift beyond measure. Her return to Minneapolis, coming full circle back to the neighborhood where she grew up and first taught grade school after graduating from the University of Minnesota, allowed me and my sister to spend time with her on a weekly basis, as she lived less than two miles away from each of us in those remaining years.
Soon after she returned, my mother and I created a tradition called poetry night. It started out informally but grew to have regular rules. We each would pick out 5 or 6 poems to read aloud to each other and eat a meal together once every 3 or 4 months. The rule was you had to read each poem twice (her rule, in part because of her struggles with hearing aids, but also so that you can listen carefully and internalize more of the poem the second time through). We would take turns, alternating, reading each poem we had selected one at a time, then asking each other questions, laughing, telling stories, talking about the author and why we chose each poem, before moving on to the next. We were planning another poetry night shortly before she died. It was a lovely way to spend 3 hours in her presence. Here is a poem I had set aside to read to her on our next poetry night.
Love is a Place
e. e. cummings
love is a place
& through this place of
(with brightness of peace)
yes is a world
& in this world of
(skillfully curled) all worlds
My mother was a good poet and had great taste in poetry. She liked serious poetry, but also appreciated silly rhymes, and was a masterful limerick writer. She often wrote us a poem for our birthdays, an affirmation of her love. In a future blog post I will share more of her poetry. Here is a poem my mother wrote in August of 2014 following heavy June rains that caused minor flooding on Lake of Isles, which is only a couple of blocks from where she lived. It illustrates her powers of observation, wisdom and sense of humor.
In the middle of the summer downpour
The lake rose up out of its bed,
Ambled across the beach,
Crept over the grassy verge,
And settled on the walking path.
Little fish followed;
Swimming along, their shadows gliding beneath them,
On the path that said ….’No Bikes’.
My mother lived and lives in a yes world, and wished for all of her family and friends to live a loving life with brightness of peace. She allowed each of us to swim our own paths, even in high water.
It is a daunting thing to try and write something in honor of your mother. Words never measure up. I wrote the following poem as part of my grief process. It began as a sonnet, but it morphed a little to become something sonnet-light. The day of her internment was overcast, grey and slightly rainy.
Happy Birthday Mom.
My True Verse
T. A. Fry
Laid bare before life’s mighty eyes,
Farewell beloved I leave behind.
Look past the rain, the grey torn sky.
And if you weep this day, then go resigned.
Keep no somber vigil by silent ash.
As my spirit lives with those I loved.
For I lay beyond mere earthen cache,
My love of you forever proved.
So when in need of kindly word,
Amid drag and drone of a rambling curse.
Listen for my voice in brook or bird.
And hear the truest of my true verse.
Do you want to change your life? Screw up your courage sit down and write..…poetry. Any kind will do; Rhyming, free verse, limerick, haiku, Silly, serious or a song. Then do something even braver, Share it with a total stranger, And neither shall be strange…. for long.
By T. A. Fry
I was a glass blower before I became responsible. It wasn’t a passing fancy. I committed several years to the mastery of the craft, honing skills both difficult and routine once muscles memorize the ability to mold a uniform layer of molten glass around a bubble of air at the end of a four-foot long pipe that is red-hot on one end, cool enough to handle with bare hands on the other and a blister waiting to happen in the middle.
I lacked several important character traits to make the jump from art student to artist. The first was skill. Though my skills were good enough to create beautiful functional items, there was a level of creativity, flare, precision and execution that separated me from the very best. With practice, better equipment and a more united studio, I could have narrowed that gap. But, I realized there was still going to be a gap and that gap is everything if one wants to be the kind of artist that makes a living from their art.
The second thing I lacked was far more important to any real aspiration on my part in becoming an artist; a belief that my work was in fact art. I took pride in being a craftsman. I saw the things I created as functional vessels, intended for the purpose of the shape in which I created them, whether it was as vase, bowl, platter or chalice. I took pride in their form and function. I did not see them as art.
Several years ago I was having a drink at the Grand Cafe on 38th and Grand Avenue in South Minneapolis. The cafe is located two blocks from where I had lived for 8 years in a duplex during my glass blowing days 30 years prior. I funded a year of college through the sale of my glass out of the duplex, mostly to friends and family, when I finally declared a major and started my academic study to become an agronomist.
I was sitting at the bar, when the owner, an old friend who I had worked with in the restaurant business, came up to me and said she wanted to introduce me to someone; a friend of hers and regular customer who wanted to meet me. I said sure, but had no clue as to what this was about. The woman came up and introduced herself and said she wanted to let me know how much she had enjoyed over the years the piece of glass that I had created. She told me it was her favorite piece of art because it sat in a place that when she came home in the afternoon, the light came through the window and made it glow. It made her feel like she was home.
I blushed. I was at loss at how she even came by the piece. It had been years since I had even thought of myself as a glassblower. This stranger, bestowed to me a gift, as her kind words made me feel, for the first time, like an artist. The oddest part was that the work she described was so unlike the vast majority of things I made in those years. It stood out because it was created largely to appease a professor as part of an assignment to create something original.
The piece was one of a series of the most un-functional glass creations in my years of blowing glass. I learned a technique where I would elongate a neck off the pipe by twirling it around like a baton while the glass was glowing orange hot and fluid. This is not by itself an unusual technique, it’s a step used in creating lots of different types of vases. I would then reheat the end farthest from the pipe and expand the air pocket so that it looked like the 1960’s vases with a big bulbous bottom and long thin top. Next, I would heat up the over sized base again, making the second half of the bulb farthest away from me hotter than the lower half and rather than put more air in, I would suck all the air out, so that the glass bulb collapsed in on itself creating two relatively thin layers of glass at the top of a long neck. It took me many attempts to figure out the right combination of gathers, reheating in the glory hole, the proper expansion of the air bubble and then contraction to create the form I envisioned. After several weeks and 20 or so attempts, some of them started to turn out. I would fashion the collapsed plate-like top into a rough approximation of a very large jack in the pulpit, with a long tapering glass stem base.
These pieces were soaked in frustration and uncertainty. They were only worked off the pipe, there was no second step on the punty rod to shape the top which in reality became the bottom. The pieces were asymmetrical at the finished end, which doesn’t work particularly well in glass blowing so I soon learned I had to work these pieces fast and on the cold side, right on the hairy edge of breaking on the pipe to keep the shape intact to enable working the top. Because of this, I had to work these pieces fast. I would break off the piece from the pipe with a scratch line from a hack saw, when it was ready to go into the annealing oven and sometime the base would shatter or chip beyond repair, meaning it would be discarded moments from completion, with no way to salvage it.
Color in hot glass is something both controlled and uncontrolable, as you never really know what the piece is going to look like until it comes out of the annealing oven several days later. Color is something a glass artist develops a feel for over time through experience and trial and error in learning how to prepare colored glass combinations in hopes that it turns out like your vision. These pieces contained even more uncertainty because they had two layers of glass that added to the unpredictability in how colors would merge and work together or against one another.
After many failed attempts, I finally crafted 3 or 4 pieces that worked, both in terms of form, concept and colors. I ground the stems of those pieces so that they would balance elegantly on their spindly bases. These pieces were completely impractical, there was no opening facing up, they couldn’t hold anything in the folds of glass at the top because their narrow base, was by its design, tippy. The were top-heavy and easily knocked over. The point of them was only the beauty of the glass and their form. I created them for the challenge of trying to figure out the technique and a grade. But I wasn’t that fond of them and discarded all the failed attempts. I never displayed in my home the three or four that were presented in class for the assignment and critiqued by my professor and classmates. I don’t remember getting a particularly good grade on them or enthusiastic feedback. I thought they were funky and I stopped making them after the assignment was over. I wound up selling a couple at the final glass show. I really don’t know what happened to the rest. As a glass blower, you can’t keep that much of what you make or it would overwhelm you. I gave away as gifts or sold 98% of what I made over those years and only later realized I failed to keep for myself some of my favorite forms.
The one she has in this series I remember distinctly. The piece is blue and white, with bits of red and yellow. It is mostly opaque but has clear dark cobalt blue patches throughout its long slender base and portions of the top. It’s top was the size of a small dinner plate with graceful curves arching up in the back of the piece and swooping down in the front. It had a swirl of white around the outside edge. It stands more than 12 inches in height and is heavy, heavier than it looks.
That the piece still survives and has given someone joy all these years embodies the miracle that surrounds creative acts. I believe humanity is bound together less by governance, rule of law or morality, but more by the respect for beauty we find in shared creativity: whether its creation of a meal, an article of clothing, a painting, a building, a film, a book, pottery, a photograph, a glass vase, a garden, a poem, or a baby, the list is endless. Entropy brings destruction and disharmony to everything and everyone with relative ease over time. Destruction is part of the natural order. But so too is construction. It is in creation that I find courage. Creation is where genius lies in wait to pounce on me when I least expect it and maybe in most of need of it.
What binds together this tale of glass and poetry? Where does this story connect to the poem at the beginning? My chance meeting with a woman who owns a piece of art I created long ago and forgotten about, was a reminder that the power of creation is only truly achieved when it is shared with someone else. It reminded me that even pieces that I create and might not be that fond, may turn out to enhance the life experience of someone, who sees something in them, that I have failed to see, and might only later, truly appreciate, through their eyes. I believe that all art finds its own water level. And some art is created for an audience of one, which searches for its proper place if set loose within this world.
I wrote the poem Change as a title page to a small chap book I hand bound and gave away for Christmas presents a couple of years ago. It has grown on me over time and is a proper clarion call of what this blog project is all about.
Is there a poem or piece of art you created, and set loose, that impacted someone else in ways you couldn’t anticipate? Start a conversation and share your story of creation and transformation.
A completely genuine word of encouragement occurred after a writing workshop by another writer. He said, “what you are trying to do isn’t easy. But I can’t relate, because I have never been able to write what I want to write in the structure that a sonnet imposes.”
He summed up in many ways the very reason why I write sonnets. I find being forced into a structure of ten syllables a line and fourteen lines empowering and reassuring. Sonnets require me to think clearly. I enjoy rhyming poetry, both reading it and the challenge of writing it. For me, it feels like my writing becomes simultaneously both more accessible and genuine through a sonnet’s structure.
I find writing sonnets a process of discovery. It requires that I not fear the rhyme. I explore ideas first and look to uncover rhyme and structure later. I strive to write poetry that is pleasing to read aloud and has what I call good mouth feel. I believe strongly poetry should be read aloud, whether alone or better yet, with someone else to share the experience. I have found, if I am patient and let the sonnet go in unexpected ways, even let the rhyme have the upper hand once in a while, my subconscious steers my writing in productive and interesting ways.
Here is an example where the rhyme guided, rather than obstructed the writing. It draws on imagery from one of my favorite poems in the Tao. It was inspired by the bravery of a friend.
Cry my brave warrior; peace tears like rain. Let them fall freely; nourish your heart’s threads. Each able to share the source of its pain. Awash in the wisdom of roads you have tread. Sob my brave fighter, each rasp a sad song. Don’t hold it in. Give it back to the soil. Each gasp a lyric of when you were wronged, The blood tragic score of all of your toil. Give me your tears and I’ll settle my dust, Soften my glare, blunt what was pointed. Each shines my soul and rids it of rust. With every one shed our friendship anointed. Bless me or curse me, whatever shall be. Cry in my arms and set our hearts free.
If you had told me when I turned 50, that I would find myself writing a blog about sonnets, I would have been incredulous. I am not a literary scholar or published author. I am a regular guy, who had up until that point in his life, only a modest interest in poetry as a reader and even less interest in writing poetry. As a writer, to this day, I am an inaccurate speller, lousy at punctuation and stubbornly ignorant of the rules of grammar. So what business have I in writing what could be considered by many one of the most structured of poetic forms- the sonnet? Good question..
There is both a long and short answer to that question and they are the same – I don’t know. In this blog I hope to share my genuine enjoyment for what feels like a somewhat unwelcome guest of modern poetry journals – the formality of rhyming poetry and in particular – sonnets.
My foray into writing sonnets began after several months as a fledgling writer, working on a poem that was rudderless and frustrating. I finally figured out the poem was actually two poems, unmercifully mashed together. One of them, after I stripped it out and gave it it’s own proper space, had a rough construction that looked something like I remembered from high school advanced English as a sonnet. Being curious, I Googled “Sonnet Structure” and soon realized it wasn’t even close to being a sonnet. However, that simple act of exploration got me suddenly reading sonnets. And once I started reading sonnets, I realized they are everywhere in our shared experience of literature and artistic expression.
Over a month later, an unexpected inspiration occurred. One Thursday morning, I awoke early and started writing, like I often do in the mornings, and suddenly to my surprise emerged from my typing fingertips a sonnet. It sprang from my subconscious, nearly fully formed in the first draft. It contained truths I wouldn’t understand for many months and to this day, surprises me with its genuine imagery of hope.
This was the beginning of my obsession with writing sonnets. Three years later it is still going strong…..
Oh Darkest Night
Oh Darkest Night, tell us your mystery. Come like a thief to steal restless minds. Take only the parts of life’s sordid history, Which free our regrets from their deepest confines. Oh love be a locksmith, open our hearts. We’ll guard what is found as rare mortal treasure. Love’s masterful thievery will form a new start. Forgive our past trials as no final measure. Out of this blackness we’ll create a new day. A boundless void we’ll fill with pure light. Dreams! Savage Hope! Sweet Naiveté! Restore the magic of love to our sight. Hold back the sunrise. Stay by my side. Nothing before us and eyes open wide.