Before We Have Had Time To Breath

Love In The Time of Corona
Mass Wedding in South Korea During COVID – 19 Pandemic

“Like children bathing on the shore
Buried a wave beneath,
The second wave succeeds before
We have had time to breathe.”

Matthew Arnold

Sonnets To A Republican Friend

by Matthew Arnold

God knows it, I am with you.  If to prize
Those virtues, priz’d and practis’d by too few,
But priz’d, but lov’d but eminent in you,
Man’s fundamental life: if to despise
The barren optimistic sophistries
of comfortable moles, whom what they do
Teach the limits of the just and true
And for so doing, have no need of eyes
If sadness of the long heart-wasting show
Wherein earth’s great ones are disquieted:
If thoughts, not idle, while before me flow
The armies of the homeless and unfed: –
If these are yours, if these are what you are
Then I am you, and what you feel, I share.


I can almost feel the anxiety creeping up through the internet the past couple of days from people reading this blog. I am torn between posting fluff and feel good poetry as a distraction to the disruption in our lives or share something with a bit more gristle attached to the bone.  If I am wrestling with it, the answer is probably do both.

If there are good things to come out of COVID-19, it will be what each of us focuses on in response to these challenges of change.   Here’s the good I see; friends and family rallying around their elders, dropping off food, connecting with them by phone and Facetime and Skype.  I hear friends reconnecting with their neighbors, sharing food and childcare and reassuring each other, supporting each other.  I hear both fear and boastfulness of good health, but across that wide span, I am watching people talking to each other. Maybe what will come out of social distancing is a sense of community.  A realization of what we value, a longing for our neighbors and neighborhoods when we re-emerge.  We can’t isolate ourselves completely from this global world we find ourselves. This is true for the person sitting on their couch binge watching Netflix and for nations. At some point we are going to have come out of social isolation and take the risks we have always taken.  The risk that there are communicable diseases in our world.

Wendell Berry is a gifted writer and poet, who speaks to our personal well being in ourselves as a direct reflection of the well being of our communities:

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”

Wendell Berry

I listened to the church service I had planned to attend Sunday morning at Westminster Presbyterian in Minneapolis by live stream.  It was a first.   It wasn’t nearly as spiritual or relevant.  It wasn’t even a good substitute for being there. I won’t pretend.  It was a thing unto itself that if I am going to get anything out of it, I will have to accept it for what it is, a video on a screen.   I still enjoyed viewing it. What did it inspire me to do?   Take a few of my business cards and slip them under my neighbors doors, who I have said hi to in the hall in the past but never really met as they all have moved in relatively recently and I am never home.  I wrote on the back – “Howdy Neighbor,  I am your neighbor in 208.  If you need anything, give me a call.”

As this thing progresses and turns into weeks, months and potentially years, the question we are going to ask ourselves at some point is when do we shift from fear to living bravely? We can’t shut out our parents, our neighbors forever, we can’t close our schools forever, we can’t all work from home and actually survive and move forward.  At some point we have to accept the risk of living.   Otherwise, like the protagonist in Wendell Berry’s poem below, we shall cease to experience, cease to be even in, our own lives.  For as Matthew Arnold says: “Then I am you, and what you feel, I share.”


The Vacation

by Wendell Berry

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.

 

The Long, Perfect Loveliness

St.-Francis-and-the-Sow
St. Francis and the Sow

Prayer

Whatever happens.  Whatever
what is is is what
I want.  Only that.  But that.

Galway Kinnell

Fair Flower

Thomas Gent (1693 – 1778)

Fair flower! that fall’n beneath the angry blast,
Which marks with wither’d sweets its fearful way,
I grieve to see thee on the low earth cast,
While beauty’s trembling tints fade fast away.
But who is she, that from the mountain’s head
Comes gaily on, cheering the child of earth;
The walks of woe bloom bright beneath her tread,
And nature smiles with renovated mirth?
‘Tis Health! she comes, and hark! the vallies ring.
And hark! the echoing hills repeat the sound;
She sheds the new-blown blossoms of the spring,
And all their fragrance floats her footsteps round.
And hark! she whispers in the zephyr’s voice,
Lift up thy head, fair flower! rejoice! rejoice!


The zombie apocalypse has begun.  At least it feels that way a bit with corona virus in the news 24/7.   All my plans for the next 30 days seem to have been reformed, rewritten or scrapped all together as the week progressed.  The picture changes by the day in terms of what does and doesn’t make sense in terms of travel, over reacting, under reacting – who knows? I am feeling second guessed (mostly by myself) for any decision I make regarding human contact.  The politically correct thing to do right now is stay home for the next 14 days, avoid all human contact, but that seems a little extreme given that we likely have barely even kicked this pandemic off yet.  We maybe only experiencing the pre-game ceremonies of the covid-19 games and just at the start of the first quarter.  It’s going to be a long, long game.  Hope you stocked up on toilet paper, nacho chips and salsa.

I enjoyed Stephen Fry’s tweet on Friday. Go team Fry!  Even if we aren’t related, Stephen and I, I am always glad to see my namesakes being compassionate and intelligent. I agree, kindness and civility need to rule the day right now.  It’s okay to be a rattled or even activated by all this crazy weirdness of COVID – 19. Reach out to friends and family and stay connected even if that means a little less face to face and a little more technology.  Ask for reassurance.  It is going to be okay, even though sadly, for some it probably won’t.  That was true before COVID – 19 and will be true after it. However,  faith in the benevolence of the universe is a better place to start this next global recession than grabby pessimism.

IMG_8315

 


St. Francis and the Sow

by Galway Kinnell (1927 – 2014)

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

 

 

It Won’t Always Be Like This

franz_Wright
Franz Wright (1953 – 2015)

Spell

Some fish for words from shore while others, lacking in such contemplative tact, like to go wading in up to their chins through a torrent of bone-freezing diamond, knife raised, to freeze-frame incarnadine and then bid it as with hermetic wand flow on again, ferociously, transparently, name writ in river.

By Franz Wright

To Myself

by Franz Wright

You are riding the bus again
burrowing into the blackness of Interstate 80,
the sole passenger

with an overhead light on.
And I am with you.
I’m the interminable fields you can’t see,

the little lights off in the distance
(in one of those rooms we are
living) and I am the rain

and the others all
around you, and the loneliness you love,
and the universe that loves you specifically, maybe,

and the catastrophic dawn,
the nicotine crawling on your skin—
and when you begin

to cough I won’t cover my face,
and if you vomit this time I will hold you:
everything’s going to be fine

I will whisper.
It won’t always be like this.
I am going to buy you a sandwich.


I have an affinity for James Wright’s poetry in part because of his connection to Minnesota and the landscapes and sentiments expressed of the Midwest.  James and Franz Wright are the only father and son to win a Pulitzer Prize in the same category.   It is hard for sons to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, particularly fathers that are celebrated for their achievements.

Poetry is a unique terror to impart as a hereditary legacy to one’s child, poetry rooted in desperation that connects the Wright’s poetic accomplishments. A criticism of their work is there’s a thread of self pity that runs through it, a contrition that lacks discipline.  I don’t see it that way.  I see their starkest poetry as the courage to write what they feel. The question is whether readers have the courage to feel those same things along side them.

James died of lung cancer from smoking.  Franz died of tongue cancer, also smoking related. Self destruction is an art form all of our own creation and as individual as the individual. Is poetry the instruction manual left behind for the puzzle keepers to reassemble the poet as flesh and blood, even if only for a second in our own minds?


In Response to a Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia Has Been Condemned

by James Wright

I will grieve alone,
As I strolled alone, years ago, down along
The Ohio shore.
I hid in the hobo jungle weeds
Upstream from the sewer main,
Pondering, gazing.

I saw, down river,
At Twenty-third and Water Streets
By the vinegar works,
The doors open in early evening.
Swinging their purses, the women
Poured down the long street to the river
And into the river.

I do not know how it was
They could drown every evening.
What time near dawn did they climb up the other shore,
Drying their wings?

For the river at Wheeling, West Virginia,
Has only two shores:
The one in hell, the other
In Bridgeport, Ohio.

And nobody would commit suicide, only
To find beyond death
Bridgeport, Ohio.

 

I Will Take It As A Greate Favor

 

532182897
Tracy K. Smith

“One of poetry’s great effects, through its emphasis upon feeling, association, music and image — things we recognize and respond to even before we understand why — is to guide us toward the part of ourselves so deeply buried that it borders upon the collective.”

― Tracy K. Smith, Staying Human:  Poetry in the Age of Technology

American Sonnet 10

by Wanda Coleman

.                after Lowell

our mothers wrung hell and hardtack from row
. .and boll.  fenced others’
gardens with bones of lovers.  embarking
. .from Africa in chains
reluctant pilgrims stolen by Jehovah’s light
. .planted here the bitter
seed of blight and here eternal torches mark
. .the shame of Moloch’s mansions
built in slavery’s name.  our hungered eyes
. .do see/refuse the dark
illuminate the blood-soaked steps of each
. .historic gain.  a yearning
yearning to avenge the raping of the womb
. .from which we spring.


 

Florence, Ala. December 7th 1866
From Wade in The Water

by Tracy K. Smith

Dear Sir  I take the pleashure of writing you
A fue lins hoping that I will not ofende you
by doing so    I was raised in your state
and was sold from their when I was 31 years olde
left wife one childe Mother Brothers and sisters
My wife died about 12 years agoe and ten years
agoe I made money And went back and bought
My olde Mother and she lives with me

Seven years agoe I Maried again and commence
to by Myself and wife for two thousande dollars and
last Christmas I Made the last pay ment and I have
made Some little Money this year and I wis
to get my Kinde All with me and I will take it
as a Greate favor if you will help me to get them

There’s Much More To It

rowan-ricardo-phillips
Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Washington Mews

by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

I won’t ever tell you how it ended.
But it ended.  I was told not to act
Like it was some big dramatic moment.
She swiveled on her heels like she twirled just
The other day on a bar stool, the joy
Gone out of it now.  Then she walked away.
I called out to her once.  She slightly turned.
But she didn’t stop.  I called out again.
And that was when, well, that’s just when
You know: You will always be what you were
On that small street at that small time, right when
She left and Pluto sudsed your throat and said,
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche
Tú la quisiste, y a veces ella también te quiso.

 


For someone who is interested in words and language, I am ashamed to admit I am a complete failure in learning other languages.   Most of the rest of my family has decent conversational Spanish skills, something that I think all Americans should have, given the importance of our neighbors to the south.  If you are like me, then this might be helpful. A loose translation of the last two lines of the poem above is:

  “I can write the saddest verses tonight, You loved her, and sometimes she loved you too.”

The Super Bowl half time on Sunday was incredible.  I was pleased so many of the songs were sung in Spanish, quite a contrast to the political ads from President Trump and his constant attack on immigrants. Shakira and J. Lo put on a great performance and regardless of your opinion on booty shaking, there was no mistaking their power as performers and their impact on the pop culture of the United States.  The NFL never does anything by chance.  It was clear they were courting a wider audience and realizing that it didn’t matter what the bible belt felt about the costumes or the dancing, no one was going to turn it off and a whole new demographic might just tune in.   I loved the dancing brass back-ups for J. Lo.  Phillips poem below is a fitting commentary to the entire spectacle, that try and simplify it, or put it in a “category” and you are going to miss the complexity of what is really going on.   What the half time show said to me, is it’s more than one thing.  It was about life, about music,  about celebration.  It spoke to me, we are much more interesting in living life as a global multi-cultural experience than in courting isolationism and building walls.


 

Little Song

by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Both guitars run trebly. One noodles
Over a groove. The other slushes chords.
Then they switch. It’s quite an earnest affair.
They close my eyes. I close their eyes. A horn
Blares its inner air to brass. A girl shakes
Her ass. Some dude does the same. The music’s
Gone moot. Who doesn’t love it when the bass
Doesn’t hide? When you can feel the trumpet peel
Old oil and spit from deep down the empty
Pit of a note or none or few? So don’t
Give up on it yet: the scenario.
You know that it’s just as tired of you
As you are of it. Still, there’s much more to it
Than that. It does not not get you quite wrong.

Luminous The Light Of Being You

Edna-St-Vincent-Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay

To Vincent

by T. A. Fry

Never was your singular voice contrived.
Nor the passion that shaped it.  Like your art,
No more separable from your racing heart
Than blood from beating, than poets from pride.
Jilted lovers, their earnest vows denied,
Your bohemian life, eagerly read,
Vainglorious words and beauty wed,
To your poetic nature like a bride.

Faithfulness to art a winsome doom.
How great was Envy’s pressure to be true,
To the siren who infamously burned?
A Pulitzer for voicing freedoms earned.
Luminous the light of being you,
Free to live and love, what you loved and whom.


It’s hard to say goodbye to Vincent, but awfully good to be about to say Hello to February.  And as much fun as its been to spend a month in her company, she would be the first to tell you variety is the spice of life.  Time to head out again farther afield with more spontaneity and new poets.

Here is a charming grainy home made movies of Edna with her friends. I highly recommend you turn your volume to zero when you watch it.  Someone, well meaning I am sure, laid in music over the top. These were silent films, similar to the films of my mother as a child.  Try watching it as Vincent would have watched it.  And then we will bid adieu to Millay letting her own words have the last word.


From Not For A Nation

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

What rider spurs him from the darkening east
As from a forest, and with rapid pound
Of hooves, now light, now louder on hard ground,
Approaches, and rides past with speed increased,
Dark spots and flecks of foam upon his beast?
What shouts he from the saddle, turning ’round,
As he rides on? — “Greetings!” — I made the sound;
“Greetings from Nineveh!” — it seemed, at least.
Did someone catch the object that he flung?
He held some object on his saddle-bow,
And flung it towards us as he passed; among
The children then it fell most likely; no,
‘Tis here: a little bell without a tongue.
Listen; it has a voice even so.

I Will Put Chaos Into Fourteen Lines

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
And keep him there; and let him thence escape
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
Flood, fire, and demon – his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
Of this sweet Order, where, in pious rape,
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Past are the hours, the years, of our duress,
His arrogance, our awful servitude:
I have him.  He is nothing more than less
Than something simple not yet understood;
I shall not even force him to confess,
Or answer.  I will only make him good.

 

 

I Wept Tonight When Live Words Rose

Millay 12

I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year,
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever, by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favourite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And oaths were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far, –
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.


A hundred years later and Millay is seeing a resurgence in respect and interest.   It begs the question if she were alive today and writing the very same sonnets, would she even get a sniff from publishers?   Tracey K. Smith and Terrance Hayes are using the sonnet form in innovate ways and receiving critical acclaim.  But they are not metrical sonnets. Do fuddy, duddy traditional sonnets still have a role to play or has the ghost of William Carlos Williams, (who I love by the way) won the day and free verse is forever king?  The problem is there are an incredible number of terrible free verse poets.  Go to a local poetry reading at a coffee house sometime.   There are also incredibly gifted ones.  I would say the same is true for poets that still write in rhyme, but you already have three strikes against you if send in a poem that rhymes for publishing.  I started this blog because I got tired of the endless rejection slips and figured that rather than waste my time sending in poetry that was unlikely to get a welcome, I would create a vehicle to share the poetry I enjoy and slip a few of my own in once in a while and see if I could get away with it. White, male, metrical poets that get published today are as rare as a breed as there is in the literary world.  I can’t think of a single one that has gotten my attention in recent years as I don’t think they have much of an opportunity to find their audience. If you have a favorite present day metrical poet please share….

Several chums of Millay would pull off one of the better poetic spoofs of the 20th century. Witter Bynner, along with Arthur Ficke, would create a new fake poetic movement called the Spectra Poets.  Writing under assumed names, and genders, they concocted all kinds of silliness making fun of the new fad of free verse poetry.  Unfortunately, free verse got the last laugh.   Frank Hudson, a friend of Fourteenlines, has an outstanding article on his blog.  Check out the link below and while you are there, listen to some of his original music using poems as lyrics.   Its worth the time to listen.

https://frankhudson.org/tag/arthur-davison-ficke

Bynner, although gay, and possibly involved in an on again, off again relationship with Ficke, would propose to Millay while she was in Paris via a series of letters.  Millay would turn him down and then through a series of unfortunate events, (or fortunate), Millay would accept only for Bynner to ghost her, priming the pump for Eugen to come along and sweep her off her feet.  I think Edna’s marriage with Eugen was a far more fulfilling one than if she had married Bynner, in what would have been a poor marriage of literary convenience.

If Words Are Wise

by Witter Bynner

Words, words and words! What else when men are dead,
Their small lives ended and sayings said,
Is left of them?  Their children go to dust,
As also all their children’s children must
And their belongings are of petty worth
Against the insatiable consuming earth
But words, if words are wise, go on and on
To make a longer tone of unison
With man and man than ever faint selves make
With one another for whatever sake . . . .
Therefore I wept tonight when live words rose,
Out of a dead man’s grave, whom no one knows.