The Secret of Secrets

Ahkmatova

Anna Akmatova by Nathan Altman

On The Road

by Anna Akmatova (1889 – 1966)
Translated by Jane Kenyon

Though this land is not my own
I will never forget it,
or the waters of its ocean,
fresh and delicately icy.

Sand on the bottom is whiter
. .than chalk,
and the air is drunk, like wine.
Late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pine trees.

And the sun goes down in waves
. .of ether
in such a way that I can’t tell
if the day is ending, or the world,
or if the secrets of secrets is within
me again.


Portrait of a Figure Near Water

by Jane Kenyon

Rebuked, she turned and ran
uphill to the barn. Anger, the inner
arsonist, held a match to her brain.
She observed her life: against her will
it survived the unwavering flame.

The barn was empty of animals.
Only a swallow tilted
near the beams, and bats
hung from the rafters
the roof sagged between.

Her breath became steady
where, years past, the farmer cooled
the big tin amphoræ of milk.
The stone trough was still
filled with water: she watched it
and received its calm.

So it is when we retreat in anger:
we think we burn alone
and there is no balm.
Then water enters, though it makes
no sound.

We Are The Men of Soul

fela-anikulapo-kuti
Fela Kuti (1938 – 1997)

“A radical is he who has no sense…fights without reason…I have a reason. I am authentic. Yes, that’s what I am”

Fela Kuti

Beware, Soul Brother

by Chinua Achebe

We are the men of soul
men of song we measure out
our joys and agonies
in paces of the dance.
Beware, soul brother, beware,
for others there will be
lying in waiting, leaden-footed, tone deaf,
passionate to despoil the devour.
Take care then, mother’s son, take care
hanging a lame foot in air like the hen
in a strange unfamiliar compound.
Protect this patrimony to which
you must return when the song is finished
and the dancers disperse;
Remember also your children
for they in their time will want a
place for their feet when they come of age
and the dance of the future is born for them.

 


The concept of artist transforming society is most visible among rock stars.  But when those artists change the way we think there is something profound that goes beyond their music.  Bob Dylan never wanted to take credit that his music had a message.  Fela Kuti did.  Kuti didn’t pull any punches in regard to what he was singing and why.  Kuti wanted to bring down the corruption endemic in politics in post colonial Africa and move Africa forward.  So did Achebe.  Poetry and music is most powerful when it moves beyond the words to a regenerative truth. When it strives to create a new understanding, even an imperfect understanding of ways to improve our world.

Tony Allen was the rhythm that drove Fela Kuti’s sound for decades. Allen died in April at age 79.  If you don’t recognize the name, you should recognize the beat, because it has been imitated by drummers in jazz and rock and roll for the past 50 years. Allen created the Afro beat and was the coolest jazz drummer of our generation.  No one played a lick like Allen. His timing, his rhythm is sheer poetry, sheer jazz.  I have shared a few links below.  Enjoy.

 

 

 


Beasts of No Nation

by Fela Kuti

Ah- Let’s get now into another, underground spiritual game
Just go to help me the answer, go to say, “Aiya-kata”- Oh ya
O’feshe-Lu
AIYA-KATA *(after each line)
O’feshe- g’Ba
O’feshe-Woh

AIYA-KATA *(after each line)

O’feshe-Weng
Aiya kata
Aiya Koto
Aiya Kiti
Aiya Kutu
O’feshe-Lu
AIYA-KATA *(after each line)
O’feshe- g’Ba
Oh—–…
Basket mouth wan start to leak again, oh-
BASKET MOUTH WAN OPEN MOUTH AGAIN, OH
Abi** you don forget I say I sing, ee-oh **(is it not)
BASKET MOUTH WAN OPEN MOUTH AGAIN, OH
Oh, I sing, I say, I go my mouth like basket, ee-oh, Malan Bia-gbe-re
(2x)
Basket mouth wan start to leak again, oh-
BASKET MOUTH WAN OPEN MOUTH AGAIN, OH
Fela, wetin you go sing about?
DEM GO WORRY ME… *(after each line)
(3x)
Dem go worry me, worry me– worry, worry, worry, worry
DEM GO WORRY ME *(After each line)
Dey wan to make us sing about prison
Dem go worry me, worry me– worry, worry all over da town
Dey wan to know about prison life
Dem go worry me, worry me– worry, worry all over da town
*(repeat stanza)
Fela, wetin you go sing about?
DEM GO WORRY ME
Dem go worry me, worry me– worry, worry, worry, worry
The time weh I dey, for prison, I call am “inside world”
The time weh I dey outside prison, I call am “outside world”
Na craze world, na be outside world
CRAZE** WORLD *(after each line) / **(crazy)
Na be outside- da police-i dey
Na be outside- da soldier dey
Na be outside- da court dem dey
Na be outside- da magistrate dey
Na be outside- da judge dem dey
Na craze world be dat
Na be outside- Buhari dey
Na craze man be dat
Animal in craze-man skin-i
Na craze world be dat
Na be outside- Idia-gbon dey
Na craze man be dat- oh
Animal in craze-man skin-i
Na craze world be dat
Na be outside- dem find me guilty
Na be outside- dem jail me five years
——————I no do nothing
Na be outside-dem judge dey beg ee-o
Na craze world be dat, Na craze world be dat
Na be outside- dem kill dem students
Soweto, Zaria, and Ife
Na craze world be dat, ee-oh
Na craze world be dat
Na be outside- all dis dey happen
Na craze world be dat, ee-oh
Na craze world be dat, ee-oh
Na craze world be dat, ee-oh
Na craze world be dat, ee-oh
Na craze world be dat, ee-oh…
Make you hear this one
War against indiscipline, ee-oh
Na Nigerian government, ee-oh
Dem dey talk ee-oh
“My people are us-e-less, My people are sens-i-less, My people are indiscipline”
Na Nigerian government, ee-oh
Dem dey talk be dat
“My people are us-e-less, My people are sens-i-less, My people are indiscipline”
I never hear dat before- oh
Make Government talk, ee-oh
“My people are us-e-less, My people are sens-i-less, My people are indiscipline”
Na Nigerian government, ee-oh
Dem dey talk be dat
Which kind talk be dat- oh?
Craze talk be dat ee-oh
Na animal talk be dat

 

A Yesterday I Find Almost Impossible To Lift

stanley-plumly.
Stanley Plumly (1939 – 2019)

“And now each day seems,
Like my own soul, farther and farther off,
Lost in its light as in a dream in which I meant to ask you something.”

Stanley Plumly

Five Flights Up

by Elizabeth Bishop

Still dark.
The unknown bird sits on his usual branch.
The little dog next door barks in his sleep
inquiringly, just once.
Perhaps in his sleep, too, the bird inquires
once or twice, quavering.
Questions—if that is what they are—
answered directly, simply,
by day itself.

Enormous morning, ponderous, meticulous;
gray light streaking each bare branch,
each single twig, along one side,
making another tree, of glassy veins . . .
The bird still sits there. Now he seems to yawn.

The little black dog runs in his yard.
His owner’s voice arises, stern,
“You ought to be ashamed!”
What has he done?
He bounces cheerfully up and down;
he rushes in circles in the fallen leaves.

Obviously, he has no sense of shame.
He and the bird know everything is answered,
all taken care of,
no need to ask again.
—Yesterday brought to today so lightly,
(A yesterday I find almost impossible to lift).


I enjoy the connections that poets make as inspiration in their work.  I like to try and connect those dots between poems.  A test of a poet’s prowess among the academic community is often the unique quality of their voice in their work, this idea that poetry has to be constantly evolving.   I am not sure that’s possible or even always interesting. Everything is built on the foundation of something, influenced by something.  Poetry written with no influences is likely not poetry in my mind, the poet disingenuous in giving credit where credit is due.  We all have to start with something, start somewhere. We travel to what we think are unique destinations of the mind, only to find the cairns of past adventurers, awaiting us in literature and art.

Freud is quoted as saying,  “Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.”  

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these poems. The fact they are connect by one line, “-Yesterday brought to today so lightly,” gives them an interesting push/pull when read back to back. For the time being, my yesterday’s are not as impossible to lift as the uncertainty of my tomorrows. I’ll get more used to this  new uncharted territory of worry for our loved ones and the unthinking way we took for granted our good health in the past, but it will take a while. If there is blessing of this pandemic is to make our today’s more mindful and not a thing we take for granted.  Be well.


Variations on a line from Elizabeth Bishop’s “Five Flights Up”

by Stanley Plumly

Sometimes it’s the shoes, the tying and untying,
the bending of the heart to put them on,
take them off, the rush of blood
between the head and feet, my face,
sometimes, if I could see it, astonished.
Other times the stairs, three, four stages
at the most, “flights” we call them,
in honor of the wings we’ll never have,
the fifth floor the one that kills the breath,
where the bird in the building flies to first.
Love, too, a leveler, a dying all its own,
the parts left behind not to be replaced,
a loss ongoing, and every day increased,
like rising in the night, at 3:00 am,
to watch the snow or the dead leaf fall,
the rings around the streetlight in the rain,
and then the rain, the red fist in the heart
opening and closing almost without me.
“ — Yesterday brought to today so lightly!”
The morning, more and more, like evening.
When I bend to tie my shoes and the blood
fills the cup, it’s as if I see into the hidden earth,
see the sunburned path on which I pass
in shoes that look like sandals
and arrive at a house where my feet
are washed and wiped with my mother’s hair
and anointed with the autumn oils of wildflowers.

Luminous The Light Of Being You

Edna-St-Vincent-Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay

To Vincent

by T. A. Fry

Never was your singular voice contrived.
Nor the passion that shaped it.  Like your art,
No more separable from your racing heart
Than blood from beating, than poets from pride.
Jilted lovers, their earnest vows denied,
Your bohemian life, eagerly read,
Vainglorious words and beauty wed,
To your poetic nature like a bride.

Faithfulness to art a winsome doom.
How great was Envy’s pressure to be true,
To the siren who infamously burned?
A Pulitzer for voicing freedoms earned.
Luminous the light of being you,
Free to live and love, what you loved and whom.


It’s hard to say goodbye to Vincent, but awfully good to be about to say Hello to February.  And as much fun as its been to spend a month in her company, she would be the first to tell you variety is the spice of life.  Time to head out again farther afield with more spontaneity and new poets.

Here is a charming grainy home made movies of Edna with her friends. I highly recommend you turn your volume to zero when you watch it.  Someone, well meaning I am sure, laid in music over the top. These were silent films, similar to the films of my mother as a child.  Try watching it as Vincent would have watched it.  And then we will bid adieu to Millay letting her own words have the last word.


From Not For A Nation

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

What rider spurs him from the darkening east
As from a forest, and with rapid pound
Of hooves, now light, now louder on hard ground,
Approaches, and rides past with speed increased,
Dark spots and flecks of foam upon his beast?
What shouts he from the saddle, turning ’round,
As he rides on? — “Greetings!” — I made the sound;
“Greetings from Nineveh!” — it seemed, at least.
Did someone catch the object that he flung?
He held some object on his saddle-bow,
And flung it towards us as he passed; among
The children then it fell most likely; no,
‘Tis here: a little bell without a tongue.
Listen; it has a voice even so.

I Will Put Chaos Into Fourteen Lines

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
And keep him there; and let him thence escape
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
Flood, fire, and demon – his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
Of this sweet Order, where, in pious rape,
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Past are the hours, the years, of our duress,
His arrogance, our awful servitude:
I have him.  He is nothing more than less
Than something simple not yet understood;
I shall not even force him to confess,
Or answer.  I will only make him good.

 

 

Be Always Drunken

IMG_7510
Minneapolis Getting In The Holiday Spirit At The Brave New Workshop

The Drunk Sonnets
SONNET 1

by Daniel Bailey

I’M A LITTLE HUNGRY BUT DRUNK
I WANT FORGIVENESS IN A BEEHIVE
LIKE A DOG WITH THE BENDS IN THE ARCTIC
AND COVERED IN ICE FURS

MY FIRST PRAYER TO GOD WENT
I DON’T KNOW IF I’M DOING THIS RIGHT
MY LAST PRAYER TO GOD WENT
I KNOW FOR A FACT I’M NOT DOING THIS RIGHT

I CAN’T SLEEP AT NIGHT AND AT DAY I DONT’ WANT AWAKE
AND A BODY THAT RUSTS INTO HARD AND AND UNBELIEVABLE
I WILL BE NOT ALIVE FOREVER EXCEPT FOR THE DRY BED

MY HANDS ARE TOO SMALL TO CARRY WHATEVER THIS IS
ACTUALLY, A HABIT OF DOLPHINS THAT LIVE IN CAPTIVITY
TO EAT FISH OUT OF BUCKETS AND SLEEP IN THE SALT AND THE WATER


I much prefer Baudelaire’s version of over indulgence but Bailey certainly has a great sense of humor.  ‘Tis the season for office holiday parties, white elephant gift night with the buds and other opportune events to let down your hair, put on a lamp shade and over indulge. Here are a few tips to avoid incarceration, termination or break-ups with your current squeeze.

  1. Don’t try and keep up.  Let’s face it, most people can’t drink up to the living large standards of their friends and alcoholic relatives.  Let them do the heavy lifting this December and New Years.  Skip the first round and then go every other from there, making sure they are picking up the tab along the way if you are out on the town.  They will run out of steam after their fifth drink and you’ll only have had two.
  2. Bring poetry to read aloud to all holiday gatherings.  Read one poem every 30 minutes, by announcing loudly, “Can everyone be quiet, I have something MARVELOUS to share.” Nothing will kill the vibe at that party faster and you won’t have time to get plastered.  The event will end much quicker than planned and you can go home with extra doggy bags of left over food where you can drink like a responsible adult, on your sofa.
  3. Become an Uber driver and then charge all your friends and relatives to drive them to and from the events you are invited. It will give you a sense of purpose to be the designated UBERIST and you can make some extra cash for the holidays.
  4. Ride the bus to all your scheduled events.  You will arrive 45 minutes late and have to leave by 9:45 to get to your bus stop and so likely you’ll only have time for a couple of drinks.
  5. Use the buddy system.  This is similar to option #1, except be sure to go to all the events with your favorite drunk.  Someone who has a great sense of humor, killer sarcasm and a supernatural knowledge of 1990’s television shows for trivia.  Pick them up when they are 3 cocktails into the afternoon at .10 blood alcohol content and then watch as they slur their way to .20 over the next couple of hours. Watching them make a complete fool of themselves while you are dead sober will keep you to a two drink maximum.   Remember to bring a plastic bucket in your car in case your friend is a 1:30 am White Castle snacking barfer.   This tip also applies to Option #3.

I hope you find these holiday survival tips to getting plowed helpful.   Happy Holidays!


Enivrez-vous 

(Paris Spleen, 1864)
by Charles Baudelaire

Il faut être toujours ivre. Tout est là: c’est l’unique question. Pour ne pas sentir l’horrible fardeau du Temps qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans trêve.

   Mais de quoi? De vin, de poésie ou de vertu, à votre guise. Mais enivrez-vous.
Et si quelquefois, sur les marches d’un palais, sur l’herbe verte d’un fossé, dans la solitude morne de votre chambre, vous vous réveillez, l’ivresse déjà diminuée ou disparue, demandez au vent, à la vague, à l’étoile, à l’oiseau, à l’horloge, à tout ce qui fuit, à tout ce qui gémit, à tout ce qui roule, à tout ce qui chante, à tout ce qui parle, demandez quelle heure il est et le vent, la vague, l’étoile, l’oiseau, l’horloge, vous répondront: “Il est l’heure de s’enivrer! Pour n’être pas les esclaves martyrisés du Temps, enivrez-vous; enivrez-vous sans cesse! De vin, de poésie ou de vertu, à votre guise.”

Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually.Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken. And if sometimes, on the stairs of a palace, or on the green side of a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your own room, you should awaken and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you, ask of the wind, or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the clock, of whatever flies, or sighs, or rocks, or sings, or speaks, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock, will answer you: “It is the hour to be drunken! Be drunken, if you would not be martyred slaves of Time; be drunken continually! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.”

Arthur Symons translation, as quoted by Eugene O’Neill in Long Day’s Journey into Night