In the dream, I am with the Fugitive
Poets. We’re gathered for a photograph.
Behind us, the skyline of Atlanta
hidden by the photographer’s backdrop —
a lush pasture, green, full of soft-eyed cows
lowing, a chant that sounds like no, no. Yes,
I say to the glass of bourbon I’m offered.
We’re lining up now — Robert Penn Warren,
his voice just audible above the drone
of bulldozers, telling us where to stand.
Say “race,” the photographer croons. I’m in
blackface again when the flash freezes us.
My father’s white, I tell them, and rural.
You don’t hate the South? they ask. You don’t hate it?
by Natasha Trethewey
In 1965 my parents broke two laws of Mississippi;
they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi.
They crossed the river into Cincinnati, a city whose name
begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong-mis in Mississippi.
A year later they moved to Canada, followed a route the same
as slaves, the train slicing the white glaze of winter, leaving Mississippi.
Faulkener’s Joe Christmas was born in winter, like Jesus, given his name
for the day he was left at the orphanage, his race unknown in Mississippi.
My father was reading War and Peace when he gave me my name.
was born near Easter, 1966, in Mississippi.
When I turned 33 my father said, It’s your Jesus year – you’re the same age he was when he died. It was spring, the hills greann in Mississippi
I know more than Joe Christmas did. Natasha is a Russian name –
though I’m not; it means Christmas child, even in Mississippi.
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,–
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Sunday was the 100th anniversary of Wilfred Owen’s death. The insanity of World War I and the slaughter of young men on both sides of the war is hard to imagine today. Total casualties military and civilian is estimated at 40 million, 15 to 19 million deaths and 23 million wounded.
There is a large body of war poetry from WWI that is worth the time to seek out. The waste of brilliant lives makes these poems vibrant, tragic, sarcastic and human. Poets from different stripes and ages were just men desperately wanting nothing more than to go home. Owen denied that privilege and Blunden tortured for it.
Vlamertinghe: Passing the Chateau
by Edmund Blunden
‘And all her silken flanks with garlands drest’—
But we are coming to the sacrifice.
Must those flowers who are not yet gone West?
May those flowers who live with death and lice?
This must be the floweriest place
That earth allows; the queenly face
Of the proud mansion borrows grace for grace
Spite of those brute guns lowing at the skies.
Bold great daisies’ golden lights,
Bubbling roses’ pinks and whites—
Such a gay carpet! poppies by the million;
Such damask! such vermilion!
But if you ask me, mate, the choice of colour
Is scarcely right; this red should have been duller.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“Yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
The Song of The Ungirt Runners
by Charles Hamilton Sorley
We swing ungirded hips,
And lightened are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.
The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
‘Neath the big bare sky.
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance asked why I didn’t have cable television as an explanation for why I was sitting in a bar watching a baseball game that was on TBS. When I said it’s because I prefer to spend my free time writing instead of watching TV, she said, “I’m an English major, what do you write?” I said I write a blog about poetry. She proceeded to feign interest and asked if she could read it. I should have said no, as baseball, beer, bars and poetry don’t really go together, but I pulled out my phone, pulled up that day’s entry and handed it to her. She borrowed my glasses, proceeded to read the days poem with complete lack of interest dripping off of every syllable and continued on with my commentary in the same vein and then handed both my phone and glasses back to me, saying as she did, “you do realize you are not the first person to utter these sentiments?” I said yes, I am aware that nothing I write is unique and proceeded to go back to watching the game, smiling as I did. At least she found something I said related to something she considers poetry.
Her comment underlines one of the great questions about my artistic endeavors that I wrestle with; is anything I create original or is everything a derivation or a poor imitation? This is one of the reasons I write sonnets, their strict structure conveys clearly I am not trying to claim I am inventing something new. Rather, I am infusing the poem with a historical backbone that can’t be ignored. Does this mean that because my writing is unoriginal in its form that it is less creative as well? Possibly. I choose to write mostly in rhyme because I find it more entertaining. If it is a poor imitation of more talented writers throughout history, then forgive my amateurish attempts as simply that; being an amateur. But it doesn’t mean my creative process doesn’t have value to me. My attempts to put to paper my own thoughts refine and sharpens my human experience. The process of writing brings a mindfulness to my daily routine that is worth the effort, even if the end product is mediocre.
I can always point to similarities to other poets in anything I write, the subconscious coloring inside and outside the lines based on what it currently finds interesting in whatever I am reading at the time. I find this to be true even when I have been involved in the creative brain storming process of writing called an Exquisite Corpse, invented by the Surrealists in France in the early 20th century. An Exquisite Corpse involves multiple people contributing to a drawing or a poem with only a small prompt to guide them on their portion, but no full understanding of the other’s contribution to the finished work. You would think that this collaborative spontaneous process would create the most unusual end products because of the inter-play between different people, but in hindsight there are always the footfalls of influence of others mixed in along the way.
The poem Eating Glass came about from a modified version of an Exquisite Corpse done online over email with a friend. I can point exactly to the words that are not mine, as I consider her contribution stronger. The start of the poem is based on an actual recurring dream I have frequently since I was a child of eating glass. The dream always starts out the same. These are pleasant dreams, not nightmares. I am usually outside, somewhere relatively rural and picturesque and I come across a broken window pane, a broken wine glass or a bottle, usually old and I am intrigued by the color and delicateness of it. It feels like the most natural thing at first, to feed my curiosity and take a little bite. I carefully select a shard and remove it from the cracked maze that is broken glass and hold it in my fingers. The first tentative bites are crisp and crunchy, like satisfying clear delicious glass Doritos. I take another bite, then another and suddenly I am conscious that I have a mouthful of glass and fear creeps in. The remainder of the dream until I awake is not panic, but the careful removal of every shard from my bleeding mouth.
I have not named my co-writer, unsure if she really would want transparent credit. The final stanza contains contributions from both of us but it is her words that another friend told me stops her dead every time she reads this poem; Can we manage this? We need not be alone they say….
This poem elicits stronger reactions than any other poem I have been involved in writing. People either like it or dislike it, there is no middle ground. What is at the heart of this poem is loneliness. Eating Glass is about the conflict between wanting to be in a relationship and the safety in the intention of being alone during middle age.
By T. A. Fry and J. M.
Tell me, does my Succubus owe you a favor? How else, would you come by your knowledge of my dreams of eating glass? Each of us wraiths, if not true to our dreams.
Pass over, let me slumber this night, content in chewing shards. Tomorrow shall bring another Exquisite Corpse, defiant in defiling my larder.
Why do we fear agony or tragedy as companions on this journey? We fight them, coddle them, while crooning in the darkness; “It’s unfair!”…Cry or don’t cry…. We fuck with furious fingers.
We have been here before. Liars, drunkards and whores, swapping omens, conjured from bloody entrails. Not one ending with: “……happily ever after.”
Can we manage this? We need not be alone they say…. But I am weary, contemplating another’s demons in my crib, next to my own, mewling to suckle at my tit.
When Bob Irsay, under cover of darkness, surreptitiously moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, holding a press conference the next day to announce his successful blackmailing the city of Indianapolis into building him the ugliest foot ball stadium behind the Metrodome in Minneapolis, on which the design was based, no one would have predicted that Art Modell would follow the same playbook in 1996 and move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and rename them the Baltimore Ravens, after Baltimore’s literary hometown hero – Edgar Allan Poe. If you don’t follow the intricacies of professional sports, the NFL team the Baltimore Ravens is the only professional sports team in North America named for a short story written by a 19th century poet.
How does that have anything to do with these poems? Absolutely nothing, other than I wonder how Edgar Allan Poe would feel about it? Would he have a box seat at the 50 yard line? Would he be on ESPN giving color commentary? Would he have a regular column in the Baltimore Sun?
It is a fun thing to consider, what if in each league, a sports team had to be renamed for a poet? Would the Golden State Warriors be renamed the Rainbow Warriors in honor of Allen Ginsburg? Would the Minnesota Twins be renamed the Minnesota Twains in honor of Mark Twain and Minnesota being the birth place of the Mississippi? Would the Boston Bruins in the NHL be renamed the Boston Frost after Robert Frost?
I applaud Modell for embracing literature in renaming his franchise. I think every league should require one team to be named for a writer. It might inspire more girls and boys, not just with brawn and athletic ability, but the power to influence through words.
by Edgar Allan Poe
There is a silence where hath been no sound,
There is a silence where no sound may be,
In the cold grave — under the deep, deep sea,
Or in wide desert where no life is found,
Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound;
No voice is hush’d — no life treads silently,
But clouds and cloudy shadows wander free,
That never spoke — over the idle ground
But in green ruins, in the desolate walls
Of antique palaces, where Man hath been,
Though the dun fox, or wild hyena, calls,
And owls, that flit continually between,
Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan,
There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.
I have walked a great while over the snow,
And I am not tall nor strong.
My clothes are wet, and my teeth are set,
And the way was hard and long.
I have wandered over the fruitful earth,
But I never came here before.
Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door!
The cutting wind is a cruel foe.
I dare not stand in the blast.
My hands are stone, and my voice a groan,
And the worst of death is past.
I am but a little maiden still,
My little white feet are sore.
Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door!
Her voice was the voice that women have,
Who plead for their heart’s desire.
She came—she came—and the quivering flame
Sunk and died in the fire.
It never was lit again on my hearth
Since I hurried across the floor,
To lift her over the threshold, and let her in at the door.
Poetry and play are synonymous in my life. I realize that is not true for many people, the process of reading or writing arduous to those that find little pleasure in it. I wrote Even A Man several years ago in October as a lark. I was remembering childhood horror movies in anticipation of Halloween and looking back on those movies that had made a particular impression on me.
In the 1960s television consisted of 5 broadcast channels on our black and white tube tv in St. Paul; ABC, NBC, CBS, Public Television and one independent channel WCTN that was local programming. A highlight of the local channel was Mel’s Matinee. Mel Jass a local TV personality hosted a movie in the early afternoon and regularly showed horror movies. Fortunately he mixed them up enough with other movies that once in a while I could sneak one over on my Mom and watch a movie that wouldn’t be otherwise allowed on the rare sick day when I stayed home from school or a rainy Saturday afternoon. These were horror movies unlike today’s genre of horror, which consists mostly of torture porn with prolific gore. These were classic B-movie titles from the 1940’s and 1950’s that were more campy than scary. Movies like The Blob, The Wolfman, Dracula and one of my all time favorites – Gargoyles. I was shocked to learn as an adult some of these films were made in color, it was just my TV that was in black and white.
I must have watched The Wolfman 10 times as a kid. It is burned into my brain that there is a witch like character who chants a short poem several times in the movie; “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and Autumn moon is bright.” I remembered those lines and wondered if it was tied to a longer poem, that predated the movie. Not surprisingly it wasn’t, it was only part of Hollywood horror script writing. So I playfully set out to finish the poem, using only the first line as a prompt.
Even A Man
By T. A. Fry
“Even a Man who is pure at heart and says his prayers at night,”* May become a wolf among the lambs, when the moon is full and bright. Beware the growl, a yearning yowl, that sets some men apart. `Best you fear the danger near that comes from grizzled hearts.
It’s not purity that will restrain a man or subjugate his obsessions. Nor the piety of his refrains, a fairer measure of his mind’s possessions. Many holy men declared a war; righteous virtue as their banner. And sent to their deaths countless scores while pious in their manner.
For men will slaughter their sisters and brothers to usurp what they desire. And enslave their children for wealth and power to build their own empire. If only the moon could show our doom and reveal terror lurking near, We’d damn their slurs and kill the curs and never evil fear.
But here’s a truth that in this world there is good upon these lands. For your mirror shows a deeper woe in whose visage wicked stands. Before you decree that you can see those worthy of your wrath. Best hold tight and shine a light upon your heart’s true path.
*The opening line is from the 1941 film The Wolf Man.
I was not beloved of the villagers,
But all because I spoke my mind,
And met those who transgressed against me
With plain remonstrance, hiding nor nurturing
Nor secret griefs nor grudges.
That act of the Spartan boy is greatly praised,
Who hid the wolf under his cloak,
Letting it devour him, uncomplainingly.
It is braver, I think, to snatch the wolf forth
And fight him openly in the street,
Amidst dust and howls of pain.
The tongue may be an unruly member –
But silence poisons the soul.
Berate me who will. I am content.
I was at the dentist yesterday, waiting for some unfortunate dental work to be performed and picked up the Star Tribune in the waiting room. In the variety section was a small side bar about a man who returned a library book to the Shreve Memorial Library in Shreveport, Louisiana that his mother had checked out in 1934, 84 years ago when she was 11 years old. Although he was not required to do so, he paid the fine of 0.05 a day for a total of $1,542.65 as a fitting memorial to his Mother who loved literature and support of the library that she had used as a child.
Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters masterpiece about the residents of the graveyard in Spoon River, was controversial when it was published for his unvarnished fictional accounts of the dead speaking their own eulogies in a small Midwestern town. It is a curious thing to consider, writing one’s own eulogy and leaving out the flattery. Maybe that’s what poet’s do, one line at a time.