Do not desire to fit in. Desire to oblige yourselves to lead.Gwendolyn Brooks
Children of the Poor
Do not desire to fit in. Desire to oblige yourselves to lead.Gwendolyn Brooks
Silence is a sounding thing, To one who listens hungrily.Gwendolyn Bennett
by Gwendolyn Bennett (1902 – 1981)
He came in silvern armour, trimmed with black—
A lover come from legends long ago—
With silver spurs and silken plumes a-blow,
And flashing sword caught fast and buckled back
In a carven sheath of Tamarack.
He came with footsteps beautifully slow,
And spoke in voice meticulously low.
He came and Romance followed in his track…
I did not ask his name—I thought him Love;
I did not care to see his hidden face.
All life seemed born in my intaken breath;
All thought seemed flown like some forgotten dove.
He bent to kiss and raised his visor’s lace…
All eager-lipped I kissed the mouth of Death.
by Gwendolyn Bennett
I love you for your brownness,
And the rounded darkness of your breast,
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eyelids rest.
Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.
Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow’s mate,
Keep all you have of queenliness,
Forgetting that you once were slave,
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!
It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.Earnest Hemingway
The publication of Homage to Mistress Bradstreet in 1953 in the Partisan Review is a demarcation in Berryman’s life and career. Berryman had been appointed a prestigious position for the spring of 1952 at the University of Cincinnati. Eileen, herself an accomplished writer and successful therapist, joined him and began working at the University hospital, while waiting to open her own practice. Eileen published a remarkable memoir in 1982, The Lives of Young Poets, a generous account of their lives together and their friendships with the myriad of poets of their generation.
Eileen suffered from back issues throughout their marriage, with a combination of degeneration of disks and benign tumors that required several surgeries. She suffered from chronic pain and for periods during the final seven years of their marriage was proscribed opioids for pain management, at times nearly bed-ridden because of the condition. Eileen’s prolonged illness created a justification in Berryman’s mind for his repeated affairs, trysts, one night stands and womanizing. Berryman’s adultery was not a mystery to either Eileen or his friends. More often than not, he was eventually found out by someone in his inner circle. Several times he had close calls where he feared he had of fathered a child with one of his lovers, and may have in fact done so, but none of his lovers ever held him accountable. In reading the multiple biographies its clear that Berryman had a high sex drive that did not align with Eileen’s. It’s also hinted at that she in part blamed herself for his extra-marital activities. Berryman was the kind of man who both loathed and worshiped women, a chaos fueled in part by his complicated relationship with his mother. His loathing extended to a part of himself for the force that sex held over his thoughts and actions. His eventual regrets never seemed to stop him from taking advantage of the sexual relationships that his looks and intelligence afforded him.
Eileen made several attempts to help her husband reform his ways. She demanded he get help for his drinking and to start psychotherapy to see if he could put to rest some of his demons from his past. He took to the psychotherapy, but not abstinence. This period of critical success with his writing did help out their finances, but it was also marked by a cycle of shortage of funds. By the time they moved to Cincinnati in spring of 1952, Berryman owed thousands of dollars to friends, landlords, his psychiatrist and banks. Berryman and his wife never could afford to buy a house during their 10 year marriage, despite both having successful careers. There were always medical bills and other expenses that got in their way of achieving a level of financial comfort that both desired. Berryman suffered for his art, intellectually, financially and at times socially. Berryman’s boat floated but rarely glided down stream with ease.
The two would spend one final summer together in 1953 in Europe. Berryman toured and lectured following the critical success of Homage to Mistress Bradstreet. Berryman’s timing of publication was fortunate. There was still an acceptance of long form poetry among critics and publishers. The 57 stanza 544 line poem likely would not have received as much literary acclaim if published just a few years later. Eileen had grown tired of living with his literary “mistress” that the writing of his long poem required as well as his repeated affairs in real life. They would separate when they returned that fall and divorce two years later in 1956.
Berryman had already begun his magnum opus, the long process of writing the first volume of Dream Songs. During this time he would teach one semester at the University of Iowa in 1954, only to be dismissed for intoxication, profanity and an arrest for disturbing the peace. It didn’t phase him. He would be recruited by the University of Minnesota to become a lecturer in the Humanities Department in 1955, where he would remain until his death in 1972.
Although reading Homage to Mistress Bradstreet is a bit of a slog today, its clear that Berryman had already honed his writing and poetic style that is carried forward into the creation of Dream Songs. His intellectual capacity to connect history and literature in his writing was well established. So too was his lifelong self destructive habits that were as immovable as his drive to be a successful poet. I have not read Eileen’s memoir, but have ordered a copy for February as a way to mentally cleanse myself as I venture further into Berryman’s demise. I’ll share anything I find particularly compelling later in the year. Berryman’s final lines in stanza 37 are chilling in the honesty and complexity of his struggle to find peace in his relationships with women and the destructive tendencies of his behavior on their lives.
by John Berryman
–Hard and divided heaven! creases me. Shame
is failing. My breath is scented, and I throw
hostile glances toward God.
Crumpling plunge of pestle, bray:
sin cross & opposite, wherein I survive
nightmares of Eden. Reaches foul & live
he for me, this soul
to crunch, a minute tangle of eternal flame.
I fear Hell’s hammer-wind. But fear does wane.
Death’s blossoms grain my hair; I cannot live.
A black joy clashes
joy, in twilight. The Devil said
‘I will deal toward her softly, and her enchanting cries
will fool the horns of Adam.’ Father of lies,
a male great pestle smashes
small women swarming towards the mortar’s rim in vain.
The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.Mark Van Doren
by Mark Van Doren
After long drought, commotion in the sky;
After dead silence, thunder. Then it comes,
The rain. It slashes leaves, and doubly drums
On tin and shingle; beats and bends awry
The flower heads; puddles dust, and with a sigh
Like love sinks into grasses, where it hums
As bees did once, among chrysanthemums
And asters when the summer thought to die.
The whole world dreamed of this, and has it now.
Nor was the waking easy. The dull root
Is jealous of its death; the sleepy brow
Smiles in its slumber; and a heart can fear
The very flood it longed for, roaring near.
The spirit best remembers being mute.
by John Berryman
Dapples my floor the eastern sun, my house faces north,
I have nothing to say except that it dapples my floor
and it would dapple me
if I lay on that floor, as-well-forthwith
I have done, trying well to mount a thought
in times forgotten, except by the New York Times
which can’t forget. There is always the morgue.
There are men in the morgue.
These men have access. Sleepless, in position,
they dream the past forever
Colossal in the dawn comes the second light
we do all die, in the floor, in the morgue
and we must die forever, c’est la mort
a heady brilliance
the ultimate gloire
post-mach, probably in underwear
as we met each other once.
I used to be snow white, but I drifted.Mae West
by Adeline Treadwell Lunt
It likes me well—December’s breath,
Although its kiss be cold,
Nor yet the year is sealed in death,
‘Tis only growing old.
Nor yet the brooks have ceased to run,
The rivers freely flow,
And over flowerless fields the sun
Still wreathes a roseate glow.
In stranded boats the children creep
To wait the coming tide,
And watch the foaming breakers leap
Upon the meadow’s side.
The year is dying, ay, is dead,
But yet December’s breath
A glory and a glow can shed
by Henry G. Hewlett
An old man’s life, dim, colorless and cold,
Is like the earth and sky December shows.
The barest joys of sense are all he knows:
Hope that erewhile made their fruition bold,
Now soars beyond. If one sun-glint of gold,
Rifts in the dense grey firmament disclose,
Earth has enough. ‘Mid purple mist up-throws
The birch her silver; the larch may hold
With fragile needles yet its amber cone,
Tho’ other trees be dark: the pine alone,
Like memory, lingers green, till over all,
Death-like, the snow doth cast its gentle pall.
Child-month and Mother-year in death are one:
The winds of midnight moan memorial.
by G. K. Chesterton
…This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.
By Robert Southwell
As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
‘Alas!’ quoth he, ‘but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I.
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shames and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath, to wash them in my blood.’
With this he vanished out of sight, and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.Henry Ford
By Louise Imogen Guiney
You that are dear, O you above the rest!
Forgive him his evasive moods and cold;
The absence that belied him oft of old,
The war upon sad speech, the desperate jest,
And pity’s wildest gush but half-confessed,
Forgive him! Let your gentle memories hold
Some written word once tender and once bold,
Or service done shamefacedly at best,
Whereby to judge him. All his days he spent,
Like one who with an angel wrestled well,
O’ermastering Love with show of light disdain;
And whatso’er your spirits underwent,
He, wounded for you, worked no miracle
To make his heart’s allegiance wholly plain.
At a certain point all writing is political, whether the writer realizes it or not, because it positions itself a certain angle. It stands, whether it likes it or not, in relation to its time.Sean O’Brien
by Sean O’Brien
We say Next time we’ll go away,
But then the winter happens, like a secret
We’ve to keep yet never understand
As daylight turns to cinema once more:
A lustrous darkness deep in ice-age cold,
And the print in need of restoration
Starting to consume itself
With snowfall where no snow is falling now.
Or could it be a cloud of sparrows, dancing
In the bare hedge that this gale of light
Is seeking to uproot? Let it be sparrows, then,
Still dancing in the blazing hedge,
Their tender fury and their fall,
Because it snows, because it burns.
For the past couple of years I am in a race with the start of winter and the on-set of cold weather, a rush to see how many outdoor projects I can finish. This year I discovered, late in the fall, the solution for a problem that had been vexing me all summer, just as the number of days above freezing were dwindling. I had ordered screens for the windows I had installed a year ago back in May, and the brand name company who made them apparently has decided to stop making screens, because my order was never completed. Then in late November, I realized there were stock storm windows available at my local building supply store that would fit my windows, with just a minor clever tweak at instillation. After buying one to prove my theory correct, we bought three more and got them in last weekend. Now I am tempted to try and get two more on the second story of the north side of the house, where the wind blows, this coming Sunday, but it means making many trips up and down a ladder in the cold. The question I ponder – is it worth it?
Increasingly, that seems to be a question I ask myself about a lot of things that pull at me lately, wanting my attention and time? Is it worth it? I think the answer is yes, but it’s going to be miserable, or at best uncomfortable, like many of the other things I contemplate that very same question. Life is not made up of a series of tasks that are pleasant. Someone has to muck out the stalls, clean the cat pan, suffer through another boring TEAMs meeting on the very same topic as the previous week by the inept project lead who can’t seem to take notes or make decisions. Life is a slog these days more often than not. How does one wax the sleds so that life pulls a little easier or even glides ever so slightly downhill once again?
One of the blessings of Fourteen Lines, is that I have come to appreciate poets that I had glossed over years before. Robert Frost is one such poet. The deeper I read Frost the more I enjoy his perspective. Maybe I am finally catching up to him. I have read this poem a few winters, considering it. But it wasn’t until this week that several lines jumped off the page and grabbed me. I appreciate Frost extending a literary hand and pulling me closer. For those of us that experience an actual winter, it can become a time, to come in out of the cold and ponder the stores in our cellar.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
by Robert Frost
All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him—at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off;—and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon,—such as she was,
So late-arising,—to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man—one man—can’t fill a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It’s thus he does it of a winter night.
God, though this life is but a wraith, Although we know not what we use, Although we grope with little faith, Give me the heart to fight and lose.Louis Untermeyer
One could argue, quite successfully, that pairing Hopkin with Untermeyer is in poor taste, rather like pairing champagne with collard greens. Each has it own merit, but better to drink beer with one and eat strawberries with the other. However, just because it isn’t done, doesn’t mean the clash can’t be illuminating.
Untermeyer was a clever chap, he ran in elite literary circles, not so much as a writer but more so as an editor and anthologist. His academic background helped to wrangle a spot as one of the original judges on What’s My Line? in the early days of television. He was booted off the show after a year because there was a whiff of Marxism floating around in his closet from many years prior. The producers used it as an excuse to remove what was a decideldy dull personality from its show. Untermeyer’s blacklisting was more like a grey listing, as the evidence really didn’t stand up. In fact at the very time that Untermeyer was under suspicion, he was waging a rather nasty rhetorical battle against Ezra Pound, who was in prison for treason. Many other writers had come to Pound’s defense, but not Untermeyer. With a level of wit completely non-existent from his television career, he was quoted as saying, ““I do not believe he (Pound) should be shot. I would favor merely life imprisonment in a cell surrounded by books—all of them copies of the works of Edgar A. Guest.”
Untermeyer fared far better than others who were blacklisted for less. He was appointed to the position of poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, the position that was the predecessor to our national poet laureate. Untermeyer is best known for his translation work and his many anthologies for readers of all ages. Untermeyer traveled extensively late in life giving lectures on poetry around the world, his welcome little sullied by his political leanings.
by Louis Untermeyer
LO, to the battle-ground of Life,
Child, you have come, like a conquering shout,
Out of a struggle—into strife;
Out of a darkness—into doubt.
Girt with the fragile armor of youth,
Child, you must ride into endless wars,
With the sword of protest, the buckler of truth,
And a banner of love to sweep the stars.
About you the world’s despair will surge;
Into defeat you must plunge and grope.
Be to the faltering an urge;
Be to the hopeless years a hope!
Be to the darkened world a flame;
Be to its unconcern a blow—
For out of its pain and tumult you came,
And into its tumult and pain you go
A recipe has no soul, soul food comes from the heart.Anonymous
by Stacie Cassarino
The months have not left us, living apart
from city to treeline, how do we speak
tenderly or not speak at all, the heart
has many winters, the earth cannot keep
us still. In my dreams I touched you every-
where with my lips, and lost my feet in snow
fields, and told you a story of safety
on Snake Mountain. Now, you seem far, you know
where words fail to sound, you know we choose wrong,
sometimes, and look away. The mind paces
in its beautiful error. We belong
near to each other, like this, our faces
assigned to see again. My love, the air
grows around us, the body wakes, come here
I enjoy my kitchen. It is impractical, generally cold, no work space to speak of and by most cooks standards uninviting. It’s not about what it isn’t, its about what it is. It is painted a sparkling bright tangerine, a color I most appreciate at 5:30 am throughout the winter when it is dark for the hour I sip my coffee while reading and writing. It is like my own personal sunrise. I have hung a vintage chandelier that is my favorite light fixture in the history of lighting over the small antique round oak table. It is truly one of a kind, a work of art, from the earliest onset of electric lighting when it still was something magical and to be constructed with elegance. It has a peacock theme in brass in its simple infrastructure, but I pretend they are blue herons, which in summer I can see from my kitchen window some mornings.
I am never alone in the kitchen. There is always at least one of the two dogs or the cat keeping me company, demanding my attention after their breakfasts are served. They each have their own way of not taking no for an answer. A nudge from a nose on my elbow timed perfectly to make me loose my train of thought, one of them leaning into my leg while I type, a slow stroll across my keyboard or a sly soft claw in my thigh, all of these done with genuine humor and a smile upon on their furry faces. They don’t approve of my poetry addiction and consider it impolite that I insist on my indulgence most mornings until each has had sufficient pets.
I wonder if we could measure in the history of poetry, what percentage of poems have been written in the kitchen? At least what percentage of good poems or great poems have been written in the kitchen? I am guessing it tops the list of all places one can possibly imagine to write. The kitchen is where most of creation has been created. Food has always been an important way lovers connect, the courting process can begin with something as simple as a bowl of soup or a cup of tea. A man or woman knows the earliest onset of intimacy often begins by being invited into the others kitchen, particularly a messy kitchen. Sex is messy. So is cooking. So are relationships. If one can’t deal with a bit of a mess and clean up afterwards, then you are likely going to wind up eating that bowl of soup alone.