I Tell You Beauty Bears An Ultra Fringe

Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay

“I’m so tired of hearing about ‘Renascence,’ I’m nearly dead. I find it’s as hard to live down an early triumph as an early indiscretion.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

XXXV
Fatal Interview

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Clearly my ruined garden as it stood
Before the frost came on it I recall –
Stiff marigolds, and what a trunk of wood
The zinnia had, that was the first to fall;
These pale and oozy stalks, these hanging leaves
Neverless and darkened, dripping in the sun,
Cannot gainsay me, though the spirit grieves
And wrings its hands at what the frost has done.
If in a widening silence you should guess
I read the moment with recording eyes,
Taking your love and all your loveliness
Into a listening body hushed of sighs . . . .
Though summer’s rife and the warm rose in season,
Rebuke me not.  I have a winter reason.


We experienced the best of winter this past weekend in Minneapolis, perfect for the pond hockey events around the area.  Cold enough to produce the bright white squeaky soft snow that muffles sound and reshapes the light so that you see the world in a different way.  The roads were bad, bad enough to close schools and cancel activities and force everyone inside to cook and play games for 24 hours.  It was warm enough, at least for Minnesotans that have the winter gear and proper attitude, that working and playing outside was comfortable. It was exactly the kind of January weekend I enjoy most.

Millay was bi-sexual, her first lovers all women during college. In my opinion, bisexuality is the least accepted consonant among the LGBQT community.  It is isn’t militant enough for some political factions of sexual politics, particularly feminist sexual politics, an undercurrent of “pick a side why don’t you” running through the underbelly of the discourse.  I don’t think Millay would have used that term to describe herself, labels on sexuality are a relatively new concept. She was a generous and self absorbed lover, never truly discarding anyone in her life it seems, once someone became her lover for a period of time. The passion could go out of the balloon quickly with Vincent in terms of sex, but she always surrounded herself with vibrant people and the most vibrant remained on as friends.

The circumstances leading up to her marriage to Eugen Boissevain are a bit convoluted.  She had pursued and rejected several marriage proposals for various reasons prior to her marrying Boissevain.  She was living in Europe and somewhat miserable and lonely, both her younger sisters having already married.   Millay was tired of the constant threat of unpaid bills hanging over her head and wanted more stability that a marriage could provide.   When Eugen entered Vincent’s life he was getting over the tragic death of his first wife, Inez Milholland, who had died 7 years earlier.   By all accounts, Eugen was  the pursuer and he got what he wanted. Eugen was a good fit for Vincent.   He was not threatened by her feminist politics, nor her talent as an artist and had enough money to allow her to focus on her literary pursuits.  He contained the poise and confidence to not be threatened by her love affairs with other men and women during the remainder of their lives and marriage, while being a good companion to Vincent.

A former lover of Vincent’s, Alyse Powers, described Eugen this way:

Jboissevain1
Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugen Boissevain

“Handsome, reckless, mettlesome as a stallion breathing the first morning air, he would laugh at himself, indeed laugh at everything, with a laugh that scattered melancholy as the wind scatters the petals of the fading poppy… One day his house would be that of a citizen of the world, with a French butler to wait on the table and everything done with the greatest bienséance, the next the servants would have as mysteriously disappeared as bees from a deserted hive, and he would be out in the kitchen washing the dishes and whistling a haunting Slavic melody, as light-hearted as a troubadour. He had the gift of the aristocrat and could adapt himself to all circumstances … his blood was testy, adventurous, quixotic, and he faced life as an eagle faces its flight.”

In short, Eugen was as complicated a personality as Vincent and they fit together intricately for the remainder of their days. The next 15 years Vincent and Eugen traveled, lived and worked at Steepletop and made a life together.   Vincent worked hard as a writer and used this period to establish herself in both her place in literary and feminist history and influence.  That she eventually fell both out and into vogue subsequently is a testament to her greatness that is at the core of her best work.  True genius is rare and eventually finds its proper place in our collective cultural appreciation of art.


XLIII
The Harp-Weaver

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Still will I harvest beauty where it grows:
In coloured fungus and the spotted fog
Surprised on foods forgotten, in ditch and bog
Filmed brilliant with irregular rainbows
Of rust and oil, where have a city throws
Its empty tins; and in some spongy log,
Whence headlong leaps the oozy emerald frog. . . .
And a black pupil in the green scum shows,
Her the inhabiter of divers places
Surmising at all doors, I push them all.
Oh, you that fearful of a creaking hinge
Turn back forevermore with craven faces,
I tell you Beauty bears an ultra fringe
Unguessed of you upon her gossamer shawl!

Here Might You Bless Me

Millay_library

 

“The longest absence is less perilous to love than the terrible trials of incessant proximity.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

XXX
The Harp Weaver

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sometimes when I am wearied suddenly
Of all the things that are the outward you,
And my gaze wanders ere your tale is through
To webs of my own weaving, or I see
Abstractedly your hands about your knee
And wonder why I love you as I do,
Then I recall, “Yet Sorrow thus he drew”;
Then I consider, “Pride thus painted he.”
Oh, friend, forget not, when you fain wound note
In me a beauty that was never mine,
How first you knew me in a book I wrote,
How first you loved me for a written line:
So are we bound till broken in the throat
Of Song, and Art no more leads out the Nine.


Millay’s critics did not like the direct way she dealt with art as Art, love as Love, sorrow as Sorrow and pride as Pride.  They felt it too direct and complained endlessly that it was immature, some even going so far to label it as “bad writing.” What is bad writing? I would really like to know. Is it like the definition of pornography in some people’s minds, they really can’t describe it, but they know it when they read it?

All reading, and particularly, reading poetry, is so incredibly subjective and personal.  I have poems that I love for one line, one image, one feeling they impart, the rest of it can grate on my ears like fingernails on a chalkboard and it doesn’t bother me a bit, in fact I almost seem to enjoy it more for having to waddle through a bit of stuff I can’t seem to wrap my head around for that moment of clarity that leaps off the page as a complete human connection.

Do people really read poetry for understanding to analyze line by line every intention of the poet?  I hope not. Do you go to an art gallery trying to figure out the meaning of every brush stroke of a painting? Do you take in every pixel of a photograph?  Of course not.   You stand back and you let your eye roam around and land on where it pleases you and then see if the brain can make something of the images in ways that make you think, or laugh, or something else. Why does ART have to be serious?  Why does poetry have to make sense?  Can it be just an image that our eye finds floating about within the poem and our mind then can land on what we find interesting?

Next time you read a poem or a novel or a news article that you don’t like, its obvious its to your eyes”bad writing,” try this; don’t read it all and don’t read it linearly.  Scan it and see it, go to the middle, go the end, and see if you find something your like, something that perks your interest,  read that.   Who knows what you may find afterwards….


 

XLV
Fatal Interview

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I know my mind and I have made my choice;
Not from your temper does my doom depend;
Love me or love me not, you have no voice
In this, which is my portion to the end.
Your presence and your favours, the full part
That you could give, you now can take away:
What lies between your beauty and my heart
Not even you can trouble or betray.
Mistake me not – unto my inmost core
I do desire your kiss upon my mouth;
They have not craved a cup of water more
That bleach upon the deserts of the mouth;
Here might you bless me; what you cannot do
Is bow me down, who have been loved by you.


Fatal Interview in my opinion was Millay at the absolute height of her powers as an artist.  Many of her most famous sonnets are contained within its pages and it is written during a period of what appears to be the most stability of her life.   It is written during her time at Steepletop, the home and farm she shared with her husband, Eugen Boissevain.  Their marriage was enduring, successful and met each of their needs to be themselves in all their tortured glory.  I reject this idea that longevity is the only measure of a life well lived.  To live well in the moment and to string as many of those moments together, like pearls, whether it is a long chain or a single beautiful ball of shining hardened mucus. Vincent bet her fortune on love and left nothing for retirement. She never intended to get old.   It was not her idea of a good idea.


XXIX
Fatal Interview

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

Heart, have no pity on this house of bone:
Shake it with dancing, break it down with joy.
No man holds mortgage on it, it is your own;
To give, to sell at auction, to destroy.
When you are blind to moonlight on the bed,
When you are deaf to gravel on the pane,
Shall quavering caution from this house instead
Chuck forth at summer mischief in the lane?
All that delightful youth forbears to spend
Molestful age inherits, and the ground
Will have us, therefore, while we’re young, my friend —
The Latin’s vulgar, but the advice is sound.
Youth have no pity, leave no farthing here
For age to invest in compromise and fear.

I Don’t Know What You Do Exactly When Someone Dies

Vincent
Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

XVIII
Sonnets from An Ungrafted Tree

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Gazing upon him now, severe and dead,
It seemed a curious thing that she had lain
Beside him many a night in that cold bed,
And that had been which would not be again.
From his desirous body the great heat
Was gone at last, it seemed, and the taut nerves
loosened forever.  Formally the sheet
Set forth for her today those curves
And lengths familiar as the bedroom door.
She was as one who enters, sly and proud,
To where her husbands speaks before a crowd,
And sees a man she never saw before –
The man who eats his victuals at her side,
Small, and absurd, and hers: for once, not hers,
unclassified.

      .                   .Finis


Reading the sonnets contained within Sonnets from An Ungrafted Tree, it is hard to reconcile the timeline of when they were penned to the content.   Edna St. Vincent Millay published them in 1923, several years before she met and wed her husband and more than 20 years before a sequence of deaths of men she loved would begin to surround her like a shroud. I am not one to investigate literary criticism, which ties all kinds of obscure politics and literary references to lines of poetry.  I know that is what great poets do,  they write literary criticism, they read literary criticism, they translate other great poets from other languages and they write poetry with depth so literary critics have something to do.  But I am not a great poet.  I am consumer of poetry and as I have stated before, I approach poetry with the same approach I drink wine,  I consume what I like, regardless of what other people think or the gravitas it has received.

There are seventeen sonnets in the sequence from Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree that deal with Death, using the view point of a wife watching and helping her husband die. Vincent constructed these sonnets slightly different than her previous work, but the construction in my mind is not intent on making a statement on Feminism as much as they fit the disjointed nature of the subject matter – death.  I do believe that great poets and novelists are able to create something in words that is entirely more real than the life in which they live.  These sonnets are written in third person, not first person and by doing so, they are not autobiographical, but at the same time they are chillingly personal.

The first sonnet in the sequence tells the story of many marriages, one that has subsided in working like a marriage should, but there is still a kind of connection with a history of love that cannot ever completely unchain one from the other.  The first lines speaks volumes of what has come and gone. And like most things in life, do not express the totality of the wife’s sentiments, which are flushed out in subsequent sonnets.

I
Sonnets from An Ungrafted Tree

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

So she came back into his house again.
And watched beside his bed until he died,
Loving him not all.  The winter rain
Splashed in the painted butter-tub outside,
Where once her red geraniums had stood,
Where still their rotted stalk were to be seen;
The thin log snapped; and she went out for wood,
Bareheaded, running the few steps between
The house and shed; there, from the sodden eaves
Blown back and forth on ragged ends of twine,
Saw the dejected creeping-jinny vine,
(And one, big aproned, blithe, with stiff blue sleeves
Rolled to the shoulder that warm day in spring,
Who planted seeds, musing ahead to their far blossoming).

XIV
Sonnets from An Ungrafted Tree

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

She had a horror he would die at night.
And sometimes when the light began to fade
She could not keep from noticing how white
The birches looked – and then she would be afraid,
Even with a lamp, to go about the house
And lock the windows; and as night wore on
Toward morning, if a dog howled, or a mouse
Squeaked in the floor, long after it was gone
Her flesh would sit awry on her.  By day
She would forget somewhat, and it would seem
A silly thing to go with just this dram
And get a neighbor to come at night and stay.
But it would strike her sometimes, making the tea:
She had kept that kettle boiling all night long,
for company. 


I have had more than my fair share of deaths in my circle of loved ones in the past year.  It can get to feel like death is ganging up on you.  And it has been interesting to watch how all impacted in various spheres of my life, have dealt with the grief and finality of change that death brings.  There is no one way to grieve and no right or wrong way to experience the loss of beloved ones and creatures in our lives.  Grief is entirely a personal experience best shared with others, even if it feels awkward.  In a recent conversation with someone who has experienced a bucketful of tragedy and loss in a short period of time, she stated it astutely, “I did the best that I could.”  Vincent channels that sense of being lost and doing the best you can in the final sonnet I will share from this sequence.


XVI
Sonnets from An Ungrafted Tree

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

The doctor asked what she wanted done
With him, that could not lie there many days,
and she was shocked to see how life goes on
Even after death, in irritating ways;
And mused how if he had not died at all
‘Twould have been easier – then there need not be
The stiff disorder of a funeral
Everywhere, and the hideous industry,
And crowds of people calling her by name
And questioning her, she’d never seen before,
But only watching by his bed once more
And sitting silent if a knocking came . . .
She said at length, feeling the doctor’s eyes,
“I don’t know what you do exactly when a person dies.”

I Met The Wolf Alone

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay in the middle.

“Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

First Fig

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!

Second Fig

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!


First Fig, one of Vincent’s simplest poems, would become her most iconic.  It transferred to a generation of men and women a tiny piece of her essence. Although Millay’s popularity has ebbed and flowed in the intervening years, there has always been a place for her in reader’s hearts, who recognize in her words, their own desires for freedom and love. I have read a fair number of introductions, historical footnotes and descriptions of Vincent. I find many of them blunt and salacious in attempting to describe what was a very complicated woman. There is no question that she was a feminist, an independent thinker, sexually liberated and willing to love whomever she choose. But after that, I quail a bit at putting definitions or terms to her private relationships, as some well meaning biographies come across as intentionally trying to titillate. Her poetry demonstrates she lived passionately, and Milford’s biography regrettably catalogs the long list of lovers Vincent had over her lifetime.  But, after a while, there are aspects of Milford’s recounting that became tedious and I thought unnecessarily superficial in the retelling. I felt like Milford at some point was almost putting her on trial and my inner voice screamed, “Have you no decency Madam, is there no such thing as privacy for this lovely woman!”

I think what makes Vincent’s poetry special are a couple of things I learned early on about writing sonnets. First, writing sonnets in first person, allows the reader to experience the ideas in a different way, it personalizes even the fiction. The use of the word – I, changes the nature of the interaction of the reader with the words. It allows the reader to take on the mantle of arousal, passion, love, arrogance, rejection, honesty and lies that make up the contradictory complexity of what it is to be human contained within Millay’s poetry. Vincent took sexuality beyond a thing hidden in flowery language, and brought the raw emotions and politics that are the nuts and bolts of human relations to the structure of fourteen lines. She never recoiled away from the uncomfortable truth that not all relationships are equal and that the vast majority of them in our lifetime are transient. Vincent dared to speak what few are willing to declare: we take from each other and give to each other what we want and what we need, when we choose and for the lucky few for whom love lasts on and on, know you are blessed.  For the rest of us, we either have to live on in the afterglow of the blaze or move on.

It is almost impossible to pick what are Vincent’s finest sonnets on the subject of love because what underlies so many of the ones that speak most clearly to me, are not the declarations of undying devotion, but rather deal with the complexity of relationships beginning and ending. For often it is in those moments of transition that emotions are most raw, the muse speaks with the clearest tongue and the question is whether as a writer you are going to smear your blood upon the page.

I find the following little poem fascinating.  It is rarely quoted or included in common references and anthologies of her poetry.  It was published in her last volume of original poetry published in her lifetime in 1939.  The True Encounter is an ingenious little rhyme and a wonderful example of how rhyming poetry can hide the serious nature of the idea’s it represents. I can approach this poem from several different angles and relate to it and consider the poet’s experiences and intentions.  Enjoy.


The True Encounter

“Wolf!” cried my cunning heart
. . At every sheep it spied,
. . and roused the countryside.

“Wolf! Wolf!” – and up would start
. . Good neighbors, bringing spade
. . And pitchfork to my aid.

At length my cry was known:
. . Therein lay my release.
I met the wolf alone
. . And was devoured in peace.

 

I Will Be The Gladdest Thing

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Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am glad I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

On Hearing a Symphony of Beethoven’s

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sweet sounds, oh, beautiful music, do not cease!
Reject me not into the world again.
With you alone is excellence and peace,
Mankind made plausible, his purpose plain,
Enchanted in your air benign and shrewd,
With limbs asprawl and empty faces pale,
The spiteful and the stingy and the rude
Sleep like scullions in the fairy tale.
This moment is the best the world can give:
The tranquil blossom on the tortured stem.
Reject me not, sweet sounds! oh, let me live,
Till Doom espy my towers and scatter them,
A city spellbound under the aging sun,
Music my rampart, and my only one.


In reading Nancy Milford’s biography of Millay titled Savage Beauty, I was struck by how important the role of music played in Vincent’s life. Poetry and poets are not the same thing. You can not reconstruct the poet from the accumulated words of a lifetime. You can get a glimpse of their souls, their personalities, some of their beliefs, but the flesh and blood is far more spurious and complicated. Millay could channel joy in her poetry almost like a melody that runs through many of her poems. Vincent learned to read music at the same time she learned to read poetry.

In 1900 when Vincent was 8 years old, her parents separated and never reconciled, divorcing soon after.  The Millay’s was a modest household prior to the separation but now, Edna and her sisters were thrown into domestic chaos that would shape the co-dependent relationships that were both vibrant and at their core somewhat rotten between her, her siblings and her mother Cora.  Cora spent the next 25 years as a traveling nurse-maid, skilled in the art of nursing sick children back to health from the myriad of childhood diseases at the time.  She rarely was home and so Edna, her younger sisters Norma and Kathleen, ran their own household, in a broken down shack, knowing that the best way to not attract unwanted attention in the community from their plight was for the three little girls to run their lives with pristine efficiency. A list of chores titled “Do It Now” outlined the tasks that each was to complete from 6:00 am to 6:30 pm and then off to bed at 8 pm. The girls often made play of the work by singing to each other, making up songs and crafted a conscious air of happiness, that surrounded them and that was real in their bond to each other, but masked an underlying sadness that pervaded their pain of having no consistent support, financial or domestic, from either parent.  That domestic happiness that the three girls created was a source of intrigue and envy that drew others into their inner circle like moths to a flame throughout their lifetime. It created an unbreakable bond between sisters and between Edna and her Mother.  But not all bonds are forged from only good.  The nuanced way Edna deals with sorrow, indifference and love, I think comes from a deep well of complicated circumstances and hardship.  Edna was a generation older than my parents, both born during the height of the depression, but I have witnessed how “making do” with not much at a young age creates its own pandora’s box of issues that are both positive and negative in shaping young minds.

There are many recordings of Edna reading her poetry.  I will share a few in upcoming posts, but listening to recordings of her voice today, it sounds oddly foreign, a bit jilted, with a curious accent more English than New England.  It sounds like she is putting on airs, trying to impress the rich crowd that she would not only aspire to eventually be part of, but would succeed, though never feeling like she completely fit in. Whether she had a softer, gentler voice for her companions in every day life we will not know, but based on her prolific letter writing and the playful, gentle teasing that pervades it, I have a feeling her unrecorded voice was much softer in song and favored company.

Fragments of Millay’s poetry are pervasive to this day in our collective culture. Her words inspiration for other writers, other artists and pop songs.  I have included a video of Deb Talan’s song the Gladdest Thing that is based on Millay’s poem Afternoon on a Hill.  Enjoy.


Afternoon on A Hill

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will be the gladdest thing
    Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
    And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
    With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
    And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
    Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
    And then start down!

 

 

How Strange A Thing is Death

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The Buck In The Snow

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

White sky, over the hemlocks bowed with snow,
Saw you not at the beginning of the evening the antlered buck
.        . and his doe
Standing in the apple-orchard? I saw them, I saw them
.        . suddenly go,
Tails up, with long leaps lovely and slow,
Over the stone-wall into the wood of hemlocks bowed
.         . with snow.

Now lies he here, his wild blood scalding snow.

How strange a thing is death, bringing to his knees, bringing
.        . to his antlers
The buck in the snow.
How strange a thing, – a mile away by now, it may be,
Under the heavy hemlocks that as the moments pass
Shift their loads a little, letting fall a feather of snow –
Life, looking out attentive from the eyes of the doe.


Welcome to the new year!  2020 has a nice sound to it.  What will the new decade bring to this planet?  To your community?  To your family?  To your life?

Taking a page out of last year’s playbook, I am going to spend January exploring a retrospective of one poet, this year showcasing Edna St. Vincent Millay.  I’ll do a deep dive into her poetry and some by writers in her inner circle, and share some observations from the outstanding biography of her by Nancy Milford.  In general, start out the new year by enjoying one of the best sonneteers in history.

The story of Edna St. Vincent Millay is a complex one, not easily summarized or generalized.  Her life is one of hard work as a writer and artist, defined in part by chance as much as her courage, her unbending individualism, her passion and tragedies.  Millay did what so few are willing to do, share her joy, her sorrow, her love, her condemnation on the page in a very complex way, regardless of the judgements it created.

Millay’s life begins in 1892, her mother giving birth at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, a teaching hospital founded in 1849 that continued up until 2010 as a vital source of health care in Greenwich Village.  Edna’s mother was so grateful for the generous care she received from the nuns, that she bestowed the name to her oldest daughter as a tribute.  Edna St. Vincent Millay would use that unique and proud moniker to stand out. She submitted her first work to the children’s literary magazine St. Nicholas as E. Vincent Millay as a 12 year old.  The editors correspondence over the following years always began – Master Millay, which she didn’t bother to correct the gender until she was 18. Millay understood from an early age that the world was tipped in favor of men, particularly the world of publishing and poetry during her emergence as a writer.  She never compromised her perspective as a woman, never pandered to the popular or the expected. She wrote with a clear distinctive voice from the very beginning, taking chances that opened some doors and closed others.

Millay is best known for her sonnets on love and relationships, but in preparing for this month’s retrospective, I came to appreciate the complexity of the subjects she encompassed in her poetry throughout her lifetime and the unique brilliance of her writing.  I hope you enjoy the next months journey with me and with Edna St. Vincent Millay.


XLVIII

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Now by the path I climbed, I journey back.
The oaks have grown; I have been long away.
Taking with me your memory and your lack
I now descend into a milder day;
Stripped of your love, unburdened of my hope,
Descend the path I mounted from the plain;
Yet steeper than I fancied seems the slope
And stonier, now that I go down again.
Warm falls the dusk; the clanking of a bell
Faintly ascends upon this heavier air;
I do recall those grassy pastures well:
In early spring they drove the cattle there.
And close at hand should be a shelter, too.
From which the mountain peaks are not in view.

Bring Your Love To Me Undarned

IMG_7781
This Year’s Tom’s Favorite Poem Book, from gift to part of the mix on the kitchen table.

Port-O-Pot

by T. A. Fry

Someone carelessly forgot,
To secure their lime-green Port-A-Pot.
Splattering its’ stinking, filthy load,
Nasty obstacles in my road.
If you’re hauling ’round aging shit;
Check ties twice, then dispose of it.


This year is the sixth edition of Tom’s Favorite Poems.   I hand made and gave away as gifts a new personal best, with 15 copies distributed.  Unlike past years, where many of the favorites came from the poem log I keep, this year all of my creative energy regarding poetry was poured into Fourteenlines. So when it came time to pull together my best of it largely consisted  of rereading this year’s posts and taking my favorites that lent themselves to a little book of poetry.  There are 33 poems contained within, three of my own and 30 of others writing.  Not surprisingly, there are ten sonnets included. There is a poem by both W. S. Merwin and Mary Oliver, who passed away this year.  Over all it is a very pleasing little anthology.  If you asked me what are my top five poems from 2019, my answer would vary depending on my mood that day, but if I am forced to pick five this morning, here they are:

  1.  Janus – By John M. Ford
  2. Walking Away by Cecil Day-Lewis
  3. Now by Robert Browning
  4. It’s The Dream by Olav Hauge
  5. Bring Your Love To Me Undarned by T. A. Fry

I know its a rigged jury system to include one of my own poems in my top five for the year, but I never said this was an impartial list.  I always look back at my writing productivity over the course of the year and give myself a grade.  This year I give myself a B.  I spent my writing time in different ways this year, most of it focused on this blog. The second area of focus was on editing two chap books that I have been working on for the better part of six years, and I spent the least amount of time on writing new poems. If I total up the year’s new compositions there are 7 or 8 good sonnets, another 6 or 7 reasonable rhyming poems and 2 or 3 free verse poems for the year. My total output is better than one a month but a far cry from recent years.  But if I can write one great poem a year, I am happy.

Of the three poems of my own included in this year’s anthology, each represents a different method of creativity in my writing process. The poem Port-O-Pot wrote itself on the way to work last February, when waiting at a stop light merging on to a highway, a truck with a trailer loaded with six Port-o-Pots, situated about five vehicles in front of me, went around a bend in the round while accelerating from the stop light and hit a bump, ejecting one off the side in the back. It broke into a few pieces and then was demolished by a utility truck that couldn’t get out of the way in time.  There was a small delay and then those of us that needed to get to work, wound our way carefully through the carnage of plastic and filth, hoping that the car wash was going to be open when we got off work.  The poem was all done in my head by the time I got to my office 10 minutes later.

The sonnet Easter, I included on Fourteenlines and it is on the last page of this year’s little book. It is an example of writing with intention and letting the hard work of writing become a time capsule for a memory that will forever transport me back to that day.  It took me several days to have a good draft.  Then after probably 25 to 30 more revisions, reading and rereading and revising, it came to be the finished sonnet. The poem is an eternal connection to all the dear people I shared the experience of communion with that day.

The third and final poem of my own that I included I have not shared until this post on Fourteenlines. It is far and away the best poem I wrote this year. It is an example of grinding, writing down ideas, letting them sit and and then revising, rewriting and editing. It is an example of not giving up. Sometimes writing is not inspiration, it is hard work. The title and opening line I wrote as part of a longer poem back in January and I kept coming back to it and rewriting it.  Finally after many drafts and failed attempts that I was unsatisfied with, I decided to start over and took the line, Bring your love to me undarned, from out of the body of the poem and made it the opening line, deleting the rest and started over.  A fresh start after 9 months freed up my subconscious and then the poem came together over the course of a week of new writing.  It is one of the few poems I have ever written that the finished poem is almost perfect iambic pentameter, so when you read it, follow my rule for poetry and read it out loud and let your brain, mouth, vocal cords and tongue all experience the poem. You will know it differently read aloud then reading it silently.  We have a different spoken voice that we hear then we do our silent voice inside our heads.

If you wrote a poem in 2019, that fits the style and length of this blog, rhymed or unrhymed, that you would like to share on Fourteenlines, please contact me at Fourteenlines10@gmail.com and I would be thrilled to work with you to guest blog an entry in 2020.


Bring Your Love To Me Undarned

by T. A. Fry

For Carmen

Bring your love to me undarned,
Moth holes and worn heels
Ragged in its country charm
Where your love has kneeled.

Kneeled before the grace of God
Kneeled to wash their feet –
All the creatures you have loved
And some you’ve yet to meet.

I’ll darn it with a silken string
And mend it with some yarn,
And knit back all you bring
To me, in your loving arms.