Live Someplace That Loves You Back

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Summer, somewhere

By Danez Smith

(Excerpt from Poetry Magazine January 2016)

no need for geography
now that we’re safe everywhere.

point to whatever you please
& call it church, home, or sweet love.

paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun.

here, if it grows it knows its place
in history. yesterday, a poplar

told me of old forest
heavy with fruits I’d call uncle

bursting red pulp & set afire,
harvest of dark wind chimes.

after I fell from its limb
it kissed sap into my wound.

do you know what it’s like to live
someplace that loves you back?


 

Yes, 24 inches of snow on April 15 is a bit extreme for even the heartiest of Minnesotans, but sometimes the places that love us most, must show us tough love too. Truth be told, I have had a wonderful weekend.  I wish all of you that live in warm places could experience the fun of a spring snowstorm like yesterday and today.  Even though it feels like February, I know this snow won’t last long and spring is just a week or two away.

I spent the last two days with a perfect companion for this kind of unexpected weather.  My friend’s love of snow is so completely infectious that I had no choice but to join her in celebration. We didn’t let the weather alter our plans.  We ventured out Saturday morning and got where we needed to be in the midst of the worst of it and then got home mid afternoon to make a delicious batch of potato, leek, ham soup.  As the snow piled up and winds howled last evening, we feasted on soup, had a glass of wine, (well maybe two), and watched a movie while the blizzard raged.

We awoke to a thick blanket of fresh snow, the most of our entire winter! This is a record-setting snow storm in St. Paul and Minneapolis for April and is not normal for this time of year.  Today’s high temperature is 30 degrees below normal.  However, one of the refreshing things about a snow storm, any time of year, is it gives you an opportunity for a sense of achievement.  My friend and I got up early this morning, made a hearty breakfast (apple-bacon-pannenkoeken) and then shoveled her steps, used the snowblower to clear out her drive way and then performed our good deed for the day by assisting an elderly neighbor down the block.  By 10 am we felt like we had accomplished something and earned the right to curl up on the couch for a nap this afternoon.

Pre-nap I am reading the Minneapolis Star Tribune Sunday paper and was pleased to see that Minnesota poet Danez Smith won a rather prestigious award for his sequence of poems titled “Summer, somewhere.”  The sequence is from Smith’s collection “Don’t Call Us Dead,” published in 2017 by Graywolf Press.  I have included one segment of his prize winning poem above.  It seems rather fitting given today’s weather.   To answer his question in the final stanza of the excerpt I have included; I do know what it is like to live someplace that loves me back. It’s why Minneapolis is my home, the same as Danez Smith.

To read a longer excerpt from his poem, or listen to Smith give a reading, check out the link below to Poetry Magazine.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/58645/from-summer-somewhere

Here’s the recipe I used to whip up this morning’s breakfast.

 

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Apple Bacon Pannenkoeken

Apple Bacon Pannenkoeken

(serves 2, if you are shoveling snow…)

Ingredients:
4 eggs
3/4 cup of flour
3/4 cup of milk (or half and half if that is all you have)
1/4 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 medium apples (peeled, seeded and diced)
2 tablespoons of butter

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix eggs, flour, milk sugar, salt together.  Fold in apples.  Pick out large skillet (I used a 12 inch flat bottom with 2 inch sides).  Melt butter in skillet and add mixture and put in hot oven. (Bake for 20 to 25 minutes)

While its baking – make your toppings.

Topping:
5 slices bacon
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tsp of cinnamon
(mystery season of your choosing – I used a pinch of cloves and a dash of cardamom).
Drizzle of Maple syrup

While the pannenkoeken has started baking, cook your bacon – remove from heat, pat free of excess grease on a paper towel and cut up into desired sized pieces.  Mix your seasonings together.  Pull out your pan from oven with about 10 minutes left and add your bacon and brown sugar/cinnamon/spice topping.  Dollop with a drizzle of maple syrup.  Put back in oven and finish baking.

A pannenkoeken has a kind of crepe-like consistency.  The bacon and apple give it something for you to chew on and the rest is sheer warm egg fluffy delight.  This dish is so good you’ll wish it was snowing outside to ease your conscience for eating the entire thing so that you could go out and work off a few of the calories by shoveling.

Håper det smaker!  Or Bon Appetite in Norwegian.

 

Might Not Our Eyes Adjust To The Dark

 

Relativity
Artist’s Depiction of Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity

The greatest physicists rewrite the rules of our universe to fit not only what is observable but what is possible. Many of their experiments take place solely as thought experiments, our ability to test their theories beyond our scientific capability. They use creativity to expand our understanding.  Isn’t that what poets do as well?

Einstein’s theory of relativity says essentially that all motion must be defined relative to a frame of reference, that space and time are relative, rather than absolute concepts. There’s lots of other mumbo-jumbo about speed of light in a vacuum and gravity bending in space near black holes, but the idea that time and space are relative is a concept explored by artists as well and part of what the humanities does in a different way. In reading a sonnet or poem from 300 years ago, a 1,000 years ago, we realize what it is to be human is the same now as it was then, space and time are relative.

Sarah Howe wrote a sonnet for Stephen Hawking and sent it to him.  Her inspiration his book A Brief History of Time which came out in 1988. It sounds like she may share my obsession with sonnets if they have a gravitational pull for her….

In formal terms, “Relativity” is a sonnet, a form I started to think of as a sort of black hole exerting its own gravitational pull, compressing an everywhere into its little room. Yet my sonnet starts with light not as it exists in the large-scale world of gravity but at the subatomic level of quantum physics. It is the grail of contemporary physicists to make these two irreconcilable theories speak to one another.

Sarah Howe, Paris Review. October 2015

Try following my advice, the rules of Poetry Night (See my earlier blog post).  Read the following sonnet twice.  The first time, read it like a scientist, thinking about how the words relate to the rules of physics and specifically the untestable theory of relativity.  The second time read it like a lover, thinking about how the words relate to explaining the mystery of love.  Then ask yourself; which one makes more sense to you?

Bonus Points: Check out the link for the marvelous reading by Stephen Hawking himself.  Its good stuff and a kick in the pants that it was recorded for National Poetry Day.  Think Like a Poet!

Stephen Hawking reads Relativity by Sarah Howe

https://fast.wistia.net/embed/iframe/xjqbr1iabp

 

Relativity

by Sarah Howe

for Stephen Hawking

When we wake up brushed by panic in the dark
our pupils grope for the shape of things we know.

Photons loosed from slits like greyhounds at the track
reveal light’s doubleness in their cast shadows

that stripe a dimmed lab’s wall—particles no more—
and with a wave bid all certainties goodbye.

For what’s sure in a universe that dopplers
away like a siren’s midnight cry? They say

a flash seen from on and off a hurtling train
will explain why time dilates like a perfect

afternoon; predicts black holes where parallel lines
will meet, whose stark horizon even starlight,

bent in its tracks, can’t resist. If we can think
this far, might not our eyes adjust to the dark?

And Yet One Arrives Somehow

 

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Rolla by Henri Gervex

Arrival

by William Carlos Williams

And yet one arrives somehow,
finds himself loosening the hooks of
her dress
in a strange bedroom—
feels the autumn
dropping its silk and linen leaves
about her ankles.
The tawdry veined body emerges
twisted upon itself
like a winter wind . . . !


There is a tradition in poetry which I admire; that being established poets mentoring the next generation of poets who are pushing the current boundaries of poetry.  Many of my favorite poets have maintained a wide circle of friendships, and provided encouragement and criticism to new writers,  helping them to hone their craft.

William Carlos Williams is an example and maintained correspondence and friendships with many poets, including Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Charles Abbott, James Laughlin, Louis Zukofsky, and Denise Levertov to name a few. Levertov, a disciple of Williams’ Imagist style, wrote him an admiring letter when she was young, and included several of her poems. Williams wrote back, providing validation and the most generous act of all, suggested edits, to help refine her writing technique.

Levertov penned an interesting explanation of why modern poetry evolved in the 20th century beyond the confines of more formal metrical structure like sonnets.  In it she wrote:

“.….I do not mean to imply that I consider modern, nonmetrical poetry “better” or “superior” to the great poetry of the past, which I love and honor. That would obviously be absurd. But I do feel that there are few poets today whose sensibility naturally expresses itself in the traditional forms…The closed, contained quality of such forms has less relation to the relativistic sense of life which unavoidably prevails in the late twentieth century than modes that are more exploratory, more open-ended. A sonnet may end with a question; but its essential,underlying structure arrives at conclusion. “Open forms” do not necessarily terminate inconclusively, but their degree of conclusion is–structurally, and thereby expressively–less pronounced, and partakes of the open quality of the whole…The forms more apt to express the sensibility of our age are the exploratory, open ones.”

Excerpt from The Function of The Line, 1979.  Yale University Press.

It is an interesting idea, that the poets of the 20th and now 21 century have left structure and rhyme behind because there are no answers to the madness that befalls this world on a daily basis.  But there’s always been madness.  And in my opinion, if poetry lacks beauty, in some form, it lacks a timeless quality that is the cornerstone of verse that survives its epoch.  As readers we toy with darkness and enjoy rolling in the mud from time to time, but’s its the light of poetry that is the bread of life for our souls. Its why, when I ask someone, do you have a favorite poem, the answer if yes, is more often than not, a metrical rhyming poem.  A poem where there is a reassurance of an answer. Poems where there is something concrete in meaning or imagery for the reader to find, not words that were by design to be elusive, there is something for the reader to hold on to.

Wallace Stevens’ legacy is primarily his originality of free verse, but he wrote beautifully in traditional forms as well, even if he found “it sounded like the rise, of distant echo from dead melody, soft as a song heard far in Paradise.”


Sonnet

by Wallace Stevens

Lo, even as I passed beside the booth
Of roses, and beheld them brightly twine
To damask heights, taking them as a sign
Of my own self still unconcerned with truth;
Even as I held up in hands uncouth
And drained with joy the golden-bodied wine,
Deeming it half-unworthy, half divine,
From out the sweet-rimmed goblet of my youth.

Even in that pure hour I heard the tone
Of grievous music stir in memory,
Telling me of the time already flown
From my first youth. It sounded like the rise
Of distant echo from dead melody,
Soft as a song heard far in Paradise.

The Older We Get, The Less We Count

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Thomas Lynch

Refusing At Age 52 To Write Sonnets

by Thomas Lynch

It came to him that he could nearly count
How many Octobers he had left to him
In increments of ten or, say, eleven
Thus: sixty-three, seventy-four, eighty-five.
He couldn’t see himself at ninety-six—
Humanity’s advances notwithstanding
In health-care, self-help, or new-age regimens—
What with his habits and family history,
The end he thought is nearer than you think.

The future, thus confined to its contingencies,
The present moment opens like a gift:
The balding month, the grey week, the blue morning,
The hour’s routine, the minute’s passing glance—
All seem like godsends now. And what to make of this?
At the end the word that comes to him is Thanks.


 

 


Northern Pike

by James Arlington Wright (1927 – 1980)

All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,

 

A Voice Whose Sound Was Like The Sea

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Paradise Lost by Salvador Dali

On His Blindness

by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”


Milton wrote Paradise Lost at a time when the power struggle between the Monarchy and Parliament was coming to a head and while the Monarchy still held tightly to the reins of power, Cromwell and his supporters, such as Milton, were turning the tide of public sentiment in favor of the Republic.  Was Milton’s literature as powerful a tool as armies in fomenting rebellion or is it in retrospect given more credit than it deserves and is simply the elegance of history shaped in metaphor?   The bold politics of Paradise Lost amidst its pure literary style is Milton’s genius.  Satan has rarely had such a star turn in literature as Milton provides him in Paradise Lost.  Milton’s Satan is depicted as the most beautiful and intelligent of all the angels, who proclaims; “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven….”

What role does literature play in society in 2018?  Sadly, video games and Netflix have usurped our children’s imagination.  First person shooter games and violent programing have overtaken literature as centers of entertainment, worthy of their time and ingeniuty.

What role does poetry play in shaping the discourse of our nation, of our world? I believe poetry is as vibrant a vehicle for challenging the status quo of lassitude as ever, but we lack the dominant voices in poetry that once were as popular as today’s rock stars or fashion divas.  I wonder, who will be the first rock star poet of the 21st Century and what will be their message that invigorates the public’s imagination?  What poet’s genius is already rousing us from sleepy acceptance of the crude politics of divisiveness that dominate our polarized world?   Whose words inspire you to build a bridge between the political rifts that divide your communities?  It certainly is not the loud blustery voices on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN.  So maybe its time we tune out the rabid 24/7 news cycle and take the time to read a book, read a poem, listen to music and find in them, new ideas that stretch us in unexpected ways.  For all of human history, in tension and conflict are sown the seeds of artistic expression.  If I view current conflicts as the incubator of great art, then I awaken to the reality that art is all around me to seek out and enjoy.


On The Pulse of Morning

by Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow,
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Facedown in ignorance,
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

London, 1802

by William Wordsworth

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

 

 

Alive By Reason

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The Descent

by William Carlos Williams

The descent beckons
   ……as the ascent beckoned
  .““`…….Memory is a kind
of accomplishment
      …a sort of renewal
…………..even
an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
  ………..inhabited by hordes
…………………… heretofore unrealized
of new kinds—
  ……..since their movements
…………………are toward new objectives
(even though formerly they were abandoned)

No defeat is made up entirely of defeat—since
the world it opens is always a place
  …….formerly
……………..unsuspected. A
world lost
   ,a world unsuspected
.…….beckons to new places
and no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory
of whiteness

With evening, love wakens
though its shadows
  ………..which are alive by reason
of the sun shining—
……grow sleepy now and drop away
  …………from desire
Love without shadows stirs now
……………beginning to awaken
………………..as night
advances

The descent
………made up of despairs
……………..and without accomplishment
realizes a new awakening:
.…………which is a reversal
of despair
………For what we cannot accomplish, what
is denied to love
…………..what we have lost in the anticipation—
………………..a descent follows
endless and indestructible

Full Of Life, Now.

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Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

FULL OF LIFE, NOW.

by Walt Whitman

FULL of life, now, compact, visible,
I, forty years old the Eighty-third Year of The States,
To one a century hence, or any number of centuries
hence,
To you, yet unborn, these seeking you.

When you read these, I, that was visible, am become
invisible;
Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems,
seeking me;
Fancying how happy you (are), if I could be with you,
and become your loving comrade;
Be it, as if I were with you. Be not too certain, but I
am now with you.


I admit that I deleted my first commentary on this blog post.  In rereading, it felt ponderous and overbearing.   Maybe the trick to discussing eternity is brevity?

The upshot of what I was trying to say is simply this:  All creative acts are in of themselves a type of eternal life and resurrection for their creator.   Their creativity takes its own trajectory once it comes into the world.   Whitman’s poems and particularly Song of Myself have always felt to me like his gospel, his new testament.   Full of Life, Now is Whitman’s call to worship and Song of Myself his parables and benediction.

Song of Myself is a daunting poem, hard to wade through and unpack because of its ferocity.  But there are poignant passages of respite contained within for me, where my fullness of understanding is complete and those passages of clarity bring light to the whole of it.

The ending of Song of Myself I consider to be one of the greatest achievements in American Literature, an unfettered acceptance of life and death as ever I have read.

Do I contradict myself?  Well then, I contradict myself. That’s poetry’s genius.


Song of Myself (Excerpt)

by Walt Whitman

51

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

52

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass (: Norton, 1973)