And San Francisco Fell

Allen-Ginsberg
Allen Ginsburg (1926 – 1997)

“The fact to which we have got to cling, as to a lifebelt, is that it is possible to be a normal decent person and yet be fully alive.”

Allen Ginsburg

Further Notice

by Philip Whalen

I can’t live in this world
And I refuse to kill myself
Or let you kill me

The dill plant lives, the airplane
My alarm clock, this ink
I won’t go away

I shall be myself—
Free, a genius, an embarrassment
Like the Indian, the buffalo

Like Yellowstone National Park

 


Midway through Dave Chappelle’s new Netfllix special he says, “I can’t live in this world.”  I don’t think he was quoting Philip Whalen.  I feel that way sometimes.  What world have we created in the past 50 years?  We have brought more people out of poverty than at any time in history, we have created medical technology and an agricultural system undreamed of 80 years ago. We have created technology that mirrors fiction on Star Trek in the 1960s. By all measures of prosperity we have wildly succeeded globally, yet in measures of happiness, contentment, reducing anxiety, we have not moved the needle, in fact we have eroded it.  Longer life, more food and more technology does not translate into happiness.

Allen Ginsburg is not a poet who made his name with sonnets.  Howl is his signature poem,  Woe Unto Thee Manhattan being the only example of a sonnet I have been able to find.  Yet, this sonnet, written early in his career is eerily prophetic, or do we assign the tragedies of the future to words of the past simply because tragedy is always waiting in the future?

I don’t feel that way about my home – Minneapolis.   I don’t relate or think my hometown will be victim to the woe that Ginsburg projects. But the good people of Odessa, Texas felt that way before gunfire shattered their peaceful co-existence.  And the fine citizens of the Bahamas probably felt that way a week ago before they ever heard of hurricane Dorian.  Ginsburg doesn’t declare whether the woe he predicts is from natural causes or the product of the human condition.  Cities are the life blood of our society, its generally where new ideas incubate, new technology arises, the arts and diversity flourish.  They are also becoming a place of division, a divide between the haves and have nots.   New York is vibrant.  So is every other city he names.  And yet, maybe we may all be in need of repentance soon enough as we ask, who or what has made this world where mass shootings have become daily news?  Where we have all become numb to this new reality and guns are so freely available we have normalized a world where the gun counter at my local Fleet Farm is literally the largest department in the store.  A customer can select a hand gun, rifle or shot gun and ammo to match at any price point, caliber and purpose.  And why do we need so many choices and such freedom?  Woe unto thee, woe to thee, those framers of the constitution, that never could have imagined this future that we have created.


Woe Unto Thee, Manhattan

by Allen Ginsburg

Woe unto thee, Manhattan, woe to thee,
Woe unto all the cities of the world.
Repent, Chicagos, O repent; ah, me!
Los Angeles, now thou art gone so wild,
I think thou art still mighty, yet shall be,
As the earth shook, and San Francisco fell,
An angel in an agony of flame.
City of horrors, New York so much like Hell,
How soon thou shalt be a city-without-name,
A tomb of souls, and a poor broken knell.
Fire and fire on London, Moscow shall die,
And Paris her livid atomies be rolled
Together into the Woe of the blazing bell–
All cities then shall toll for their great fame.

Sticks and Stones


DC

Comedy is an art form that when done by master talent makes us think as well as laugh.  And to pull that off, it means the comic is going to push boundaries beyond what is socially acceptable, because what’s usually funny is making fun of our own hypocrisy.  Nothing is funnier than talking about the white elephant in the room, particularly if you are part of the white elephant or are related to one or work with one or live with one. And in today’s society, white men are the whitest of the white elephants. Rich white men, poor white men and everything in between, we are clomping around with our heads up our collective asses not realizing that things would get better if we just started laughing at ourselves a little bit.

It’s why I think Dave Chappelle is brilliant and a genuine artist.  Dave Chappelle is one of the few people in today’s world beyond Donald Trump, who says what he wants to say regardless of the political consequences. The difference between Dave Chappelle and Donald Trump in my mind, is at the core of Chappelle’s monologues and jokes is empathy and humanity and at the core of Donald’s Twitter feed is willful ignorance and anger.  Chappelle is one of the few people who walked away, no darn near ran away from what other people deemed success and had the courage to walk his own path, write his own jokes, say what he wanted to say, knowing somebody was gong to take offense, no matter what he did.  In fact, I’ll go one step further, some people were going to be outraged.  That’s what the internet and social media has done.  It has democratized outrage. Anyone can find a way to be outraged about anything and if you look hard enough you will find a meme that expresses your outrage perfectly.

I like Dave Chappelle. I enjoy his art. I think he is funnier than shit. I hope he keeps on writing jokes that make us uncomfortable.  Let’s laugh at this mess we find ourselves and hope that laughter lets something go deep inside our collective ignorance or shame and move on. Let’s laugh at ourselves, each other and the silliness that is the human experience. Chappelle is so talented that it is inevitable that a hoard of people are going to be pissed off by something he says because most people can’t take the stick out of their ass long enough to realize not everything Dave says is what he believes.  Its a joke.  And people write jokes, just like people write poetry to push boundaries, to experience aspects of the human condition in their imagination that might not be their full reality. That’s what’s fun about imaginations, if we use them, we get to try different ideas and play around.

There are many controversies that surround comedy these days because apparently now in society we are only allowed to laugh at clean, politically correct jokes that are family PG friendly. Like the Peanuts cartoon.  Which is why I hate and have always hated the Peanuts cartoon because I never found it funny. The Peanuts cartoon violates my first principle of art – I find it boring. I do not find Dave Chappelle boring.  I find him captivating, funny and genuinely complicated. The controversies that surround David Chappelle illustrate that if you take words out of context and drill in deep, you can scapegoat anyone. Then again, if we are honest with ourselves, each and every one of us says something stupid once in a while that taken in context and if you drill in deep we deserve to be scapegoated.  Its just that most of us are not famous enough for anyone to give a shit about the stupid stuff we say. None of us are perfect.

I have a little secret to reveal about people that write sonnets.  Writing sonnets is not the serious business that people that don’t write sonnets think it is. Humor abounds in Shakespeare if you stop reading it with your nose in the air.  I have a feeling Shakespeare was like most other poets, (I am being gender inclusive here), that if they are brutally honest, will admit, they wrote most of that shit hoping to get laid. Oh and bare their beautiful soul to the world too.  Phoey.  I think most people who write sonnets do it because its fun, its how we entertain ourselves. We write because we want to.  We write because we hope to get laid. It’s all the same thing.

Lest you think that I only write serious things in church, I thought I would share my first and only limerick sonnet.  I wrote this right before church and shared it with my Mom after the service.  This is one of those times where the words wrote themselves.  It just flowed. What’s funny about this sonnet is it doesn’t read like a sonnet, even though the rhyming scheme and the syllable count is mostly correct, it flows if you read it out loud more like a silly poem.  And I want everyone to know, that just like Dave Chappelle, everything in this sonnet is a joke and not to be taken seriously because what is in this sonnet is not how I truly feel.  But the reason my Mom laughed is because hiding in plain sight in the joke was a modicum of truth.   And for those of you that would like to use this as your opportunity to scapegoat me in my very own #metoo moment for being politically incorrect and insensitive, I would like you to know,  I am still married.

Summons

By T. A. Fry

Starving in a wasteland of affection,
I have come to forgiveness bye and bye.
For celibacy is not an affliction,
It is a condition made lonelier by,
the contract between husband and wife.
It’s not easy to leave your child’s mother,
after 32 long years of life.
I found love in the arms of another,
and with her passion’s no longer a stranger.
I would never approach divorce lightly,
It has emotional turmoil and danger,
But when sex is this fabulous nightly,
Saying “Go fuck yourself,” is a no brainer.
I’ll gladly put up both lawyers retainers.

Floods All The Soul With Its Melodius Seas

 

The Ninth Wave
The Ninth Wave by Ivan Alvazovsky

A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.

John Milton

Milton

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I pace the sounding sea-beach and behold
      How the voluminous billows roll and run,
      Upheaving and subsiding, while the sun
      Shines through their sheeted emerald far unrolled,
And the ninth wave, slow gathering fold by fold
      All its loose-flowing garments into one,
      Plunges upon the shore, and floods the dun
      Pale reach of sands, and changes them to gold.
So in majestic cadence rise and fall
      The mighty undulations of thy song,
      O sightless bard, England’s Mæonides!
And ever and anon, high over all
      Uplifted, a ninth wave superb and strong,
      Floods all the soul with its melodious seas.

Someone with keen powers of observation counted the waves that come ashore and realized that the ninth wave is the one with the most power and causes the most devastation.  Whether this is based on fact or is a product of sailors and shore dwellers imaginations, the ninth wave has become a metaphor for destruction, either by the power of nature or by the destructive forces of human actions.  Destruction is not an odd theme for artists to illuminate. The saying “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush”, popularized by Anton Chekhov, is used in Russia for describing something  incredibly beautiful.  I suppose there’s a particular beauty in power beyond our control, even power that causes loss, if we are capable of disconnecting it from the pain of attachment, even the most powerful attachments – love.

Pro tip in interpreting these sonnets.   The line, O sightless bard, England’s Mæonides, is a very wordy way for Longfellow the say that Milton is England’s Homer, the Greek poet Homer sometimes referred to as Mæonides.   In Milton’s sonnet he refers to Latona, which is an alternate name for the Greek Goddess Leto, who conceived Juno and Apollo, a feisty couple of Gods who still battle in our heavens.  I am very fond of Milton’s sonnet below and timely for the lack of leadership that pervades politics and diplomacy here and around the globe.  Men and women everywhere still “bawl for freedom,” but have we the wisdom to manage it when the human condition trends towards selfishness and not a broader democratic approach to safe guarding us from the worst of us, and inspiring us by the best.

Longfellow and Milton both explored the beauty of loss and immortalized it in poetry.  They both experienced loss at the most profound level in their lives and moved forward, resiliency infused into their words, a backbone for their art. Beauty that lacks the fullness of our human experience risks being superficial.  What agony have you endured that had a semblance of beauty?  How does resilience manifest itself in your experience? How does destruction inform your art?


Sonnet 12

by John Milton

I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
       By the known rules of ancient liberty,
       When straight a barbarous noise environs me
       Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes and dogs:
As when those hinds that were transform’d to frogs
       Rail’d at Latona’s twin-born progeny
       Which after held the sun and moon in fee.
       But this is got by casting pearl to hogs,
That bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,
       And still revolt when truth would set them free.
       Licence they mean when they cry liberty;
For who loves that, must first be wise and good.
       But from that mark how far they rove we see,
       For all this waste of wealth and loss of blood.

Time Will Find Us Utterly Destroyed

Jorge-Luis-Borges
Jorge Luis Borges

I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library.

Jorge Luis Borges

Sonnet of the Garland of Roses

by Federico Garcia Lorca
Translated by Paul Archer

A garland, quick, I’m dying!
Weave it now, sing and moan and sing!
For shadows my throat are clouding
and again the January light comes in.

Trembling bushes and the air of stars
lie between your love and mine,
a dense mass of anemones picks up
an entire year with a muffled moan.

Revel in the open country of my wound,
break apart its reeds and delicate rivulets,
drink from my thigh my pouring blood.

But be quick! And then, together entwined,
with love-broken mouths and frayed souls
time will find us utterly destroyed.

Soneto de al Guirnalda de Rosas

by Federico Garcia Lorca

¡Esa guirnalda! ¡pronto! ¡que me muero!
¡Teje deprisa! ¡canta! ¡gime! ¡canta!
que la sombra me enturbia la garganta
y otra vez y mil la luz de enero

Entre lo que me quieres y te quiero,
aire de estrellas y temblor de planta,
espesura de anémonas levanta
con oscuro gemir un año enter

Goza el fresco paisaje de mi herida,
quiebra juncos y arroyos delicados.
Bebe en muslo de miel sangre vertida.

Pero ¡pronto! Que unidos, enlazados,
boca rota de amor y alma mordida,
el tiempo nos encuentre destrozados.


Don’t ever think for a moment that poetry isn’t dangerous.  Poetry that crosses the boundary from mere words into art, by its very nature is dangerous.  Dangerous for the writer and the reader, a danger that you will be forever changed to your core, subverted.  Is that as good a definition of subversive as any – poetry?

How many poets have lost their lives because their poetry was too subversive for the politics of their times, either by their own hand or their enemies?   Federico Garcia Lorca was a casualty of the Spanish Civil war, his body never found, his execution and likely torture at the hands of the right wing for being a socialist and a homosexual.  Which was the greater crime in the eyes of his judges and executioners?

Lorca and Borges are two of the more prominent Spanish poets, dramatists and writers of their generation. Both used the sonnet form to great effect, but did not limit themselves to the confines of fourteen lines and explored a myriad of poetic forms and styles.  Borges had a wide knowledge of world literature, the connection to Milton with his sonnet below gives it more weight and complexity. Borges was born in Argentina but lived in Europe for much of his lifetime.   His surrealist style opened the eyes of writers around the world to mystical reality that imbibes great writing.   Unlike Lorca, Borges enjoyed a long life, dying in Switzerland that the age of 87.  I wonder if the “luminous mist” surrounded him?


On His Blindness

by Jorge Luis Borges (1899 – 1986)

In the fullness of the years, like it or not
a luminous mist surrounds the unvarying
that breaks down into a single thing
colorless, formless. Almost into a thought.
The elemental, vast night and the day,
teeming with people have become that fog
of constant, tentative light that does not flag,
and lies at wait at dawn.  I longed to see
just once a human face.  Unknown to me
the closed encyclopedia, the sweet play
in volumes I can do no more to hold
the tiny soaring birds, the moons of gold,
Others have the world, better or worse;
I have this half-dark, and the toil of verse.

If I Am A Dog

federico-garcia-lorca
Federico Garcia Lorca 

Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint

by Federico García Lorca (1898 – 1936)

  Never let me lose the marvel
of your statue-like eyes, or the accent
the solitary rose of your breath
places on my cheek at night.

  I am afraid of being, on this shore,
a branchless trunk, and what I most regret
is having no flower, pulp, or clay
for the worm of my despair.

  If you are my hidden treasure,
if you are my cross, my dampened pain,
if I am a dog, and you alone my master,

  never let me lose what I have gained,
and adorn the branches of your river
with leaves of my estranged Autumn.

Soneto de la dulce queja

by Federico García Lorca

Tengo miedo a perder la maravilla
de tus ojos de estatua y el acento
que de noche me pone en la mejilla
la solitaria rosa de tu aliento.

Tengo pena de ser en esta orilla
tronco sin ramas; y lo que más siento
es no tener la flor, pulpa o arcilla,
para el gusano de mi sufrimiento.

Si tú eres el tesoro oculto mío,
si eres mi cruz y mi dolor mojado,
si soy el perro de tu señorío,

no me dejes perder lo que he ganado
y decora las aguas de tu río
con hojas de mi otoño enajenado.

 


Night of Sleepless Love

by Federico García Lorca

The night rose with its moon full above.
I began to mourn, and you laughed with contempt.
Your scorn was a god, and my poor lament
was a momentary, shackled dove.

The night fell.  You became a crystal of hurt,
weeping for distances slowly deepening.
My sadness, like a crowd of sores, came creeping
across your sickened heart of dirt.

But dawn joined our bodies on the bed
and with frozen lips pried wide apart
we drank the endless blood we’d shed.

And through the shutters, I saw sunrise start.
And the coral of life, with its branches spread,
arched high above my shroud.

 

Noche Del Amor Insomne

by Federico García Lorca

Noche arriba los dos con luna llena,
yo me puse a llorar y tú reías.
Tu desdén era un dios, las quejas mías
momentos y palomas en cadena.

Noche abajo los dos. Cristal de pena,
llorabas tú por hondas lejanías.
Mi dolor era un grupo de agonías
sobre tu débil corazón de arena.

La aurora nos unió sobre la cama,
las bocas puestas sobre el chorro helado
de una sangre sin fin que se derrama.

Y el sol entró por el balcón cerrado
y el coral de la vida abrió su rama
sobre mi corazón amortajado.

Sorrows Much Keener Than These

file-37

The Blue Bowl

by Jane Kenyon

Like primitives we buried the cat
with his bowl. Bare-handed
we scraped sand and gravel
back into the hole. It fell with a hiss
and thud on his side,
on his long red fur, the white feathers
that grew between his toes, and his
long, not to say aquiline, nose.
We stood and brushed each other off.
There are sorrows much keener than these.
Silent the rest of the day, we worked,
ate, stared, and slept. It stormed
all night; now it clears, and a robin
burbles from a dripping bush
like the neighbor who means well
but always says the wrong thing.

 I find myself this weekend in a small town on the Mississippi River in Iowa, the bars on its main street hopping and the lovely summer August night air soft and warm.   I will let the town go unnamed, as I am not sure I want to let the secret out. There are some towns that deserve some level of privacy and this is one of them.   River towns have a certain vibrancy that comes from the wealth accumulated from the grain terminals and movement of goods and people along its railroads and barges.   The economy in this town not very unlike what prosperity looked like 80 years earlier; main streets success still hinges on the yield of the upcoming crop in the surrounding fields in the nearby counties.

August in corn country is green and lush, but tinges of color are starting to show that signal fall isn’t far away.  But for this weekend, summer is still in command and there is a wedding to attend tomorrow, beer to drink, a dance or two to twirl and the enjoyment of being able to walk from the hotel down main street to where the celebrations will begin, under the clear blue skies of a prairie sun.  Let’s hope the newly weds are still in love in 50 years.

I am missing the funeral of a good friend and a family reunion to be at this wedding. Summer weekends are that precious a commodity that you have to make sacrifices or clone yourself to be all the places you would like to be at one time.  So tomorrow we’ll honor all my family with sacred vows, those present and those passed and toast them all with good cheer.  What are you toasting on this precious summer weekend?   Where are the two places you would most like to be at once on this August Saturday?


Let Evening Come

by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

 

No Human Is Inadequate For Art

ddb 200001 040-04
John Milo “Mike” Ford (1957 – 2006)

Against Entropy

by John M. Ford

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days
Perhaps you will not miss them. That’s the joke.
The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.


One of the things I enjoy about this project is how I can suddenly come across a writer I have never heard of based on trying to find a sonnet related to a certain topic.  This is how I stumbled across John M. Ford’s outstanding sonnets. In reading several of his poems, and about his life, I instantly was saddened to learn of his untimely early death from complications from diabetes as he sounds like the kind of person I would have enjoyed reaching out and attempting to meet face to face.  He was a fellow Minnesotan, living in Minneapolis, an accomplished celebrated fantasy and science fiction writer, game creator and poet.  I will have to check out my local used book stores and see if I can find some copies of his award winning short stories and novels.  Ford was a passionate supporter of the public library system and I have a feeling is applauding Mayor Carter’s decision in St. Paul to eliminate library fines so that library resources can work for everyone in our community.

Entropy is a natural topic for a sonnet for those of us who like to combine poetry with a bent towards science occassionaly.  Why?  Is it because the entire structure and formality of a sonnet requires that the writer bend a bit of their creativity towards order and away from the natural tendency towards disorder? Entropy is the ability of things to change, particularly man made things but also in nature.  At the molecular level entropy is the tendency of a natural state towards migration, for mixing of elements, for there to become a natural equilibrium of complete fusion, rather than elements segregating. Maybe we should see migration on a human scale as the same natural state of achieving equilibrium as entropy?   How do you think of entropy? What is its opposite in your  mind?


Janus

by John M. Ford

Sufficient time for faith and miracles
We find we cannot fit into our days;
And nothing’s left at all that joyous dwells
Inside the heart. The spark of spirit stays
Too small for dreamburst, and all earth may prove
Inadequate for art. No human is
This potent all alone, and fear kills love . . .
Love kills fear, and alone; all-potent, this.
No human is inadequate for art,
For dreamburst; and all earth may prove too small.
The spark of spirit stays inside the heart
That joyous dwells, and nothing’s left at all
We cannot fit into our days. We find
For faith and miracles, sufficient time.