Recitation in Six

brace yourself for morning
peer out between the blinds
could be a plague of frogs
or snow falling sideways
more likely it’s stillness
and a chance to observe

today I’ll rise early
and turn on some music
the New World Symphony
a long time favorite
so familiar and yet
still so full of secrets

Paul chastises my taste
calling it commonplace
no point in arguing
he’s been impossible
since that last publisher
passed on his manuscript

Brahms envied Dvorak
his melodic gift for
spinning variations
like symphonic snowflakes
what’s good enough for Brahms
is good enough for me

and the last thing I need
as I savor each note
like California wine
is Paul disrupting my
search for meaning in the
silent spaces between

Advertisements

A Poem’s Cumulative Power

I read somewhere recently that the hallmark of a great poem is that its power, or whatever it is you loved about it the first time you read it, doesn’t diminish, no matter how many times you read it — or words to that effect. And this is true enough. But there’s an even greater category of poem  — the kind you discover early and grows with you as you age. It resonates immediately, but its significance to you increases with each reading. One such poem, for me, is Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish.” I read it again today for the first time in several months, and it means more to me now than it ever has.


The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
– the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly-
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
– It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
– if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels- until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Why Poetry?

I’ve had some level of interest in poetry for as long as I can remember, but in recent years, it has occupied a position of much greater significance in my life. As with any topic of deep interest, poetry inspires questions, not the least of which is why. Why poetry? Why does it mean so much to me, especially when so many other people just can’t be bothered?

Poems have the power to draw us deeply into unfamiliar contexts. Take the following poem for example, in which the author, a child of biracial parents, imagines a lighter-skinned version of herself.

Blond
Natasha Trethewey

Certainly it was possible — somewhere
in my parents’ genes the recessive traits
that might have given me a different look:
not attached earlobes or my father’s green eyes,
but another hair color — gentleman-preferred,
have-more-fun blond. And with my skin color,
like a good tan — an even mix of my parents’ —
I could have passed for white.

When on Christmas day I woke to find
a blond wig, a pink sequined tutu,
and a blond ballerina doll, nearly tall as me,
I didn’t know to ask, nor that it mattered,
if there’d been a brown version. This was years before
my grandmother nestled the dark baby
into our creche, years before I’d understand it
as primer for a Mississippi childhood.

Instead, I pranced around our living room
in a whirl of possibility, my parents looking on
at their suddenly strange child. In the photograph
my mother took, my father — almost
out of the frame — looks on as Joseph must have
at the miraculous birth: I’m in the foreground —
my blond wig a shining halo, a newborn likeness
to the child that chance, the long odds,
might have brought.

Few scenarios could lie further from my own experience, but the poem allows me into its private world with such immediacy that I imagine myself in the speaker’s place. I ponder the same questions she does, and I begin to feel what she feels. The context is unique, but the emotions it inspires are universally human. In the space of one short poem, I’ve imagined life in someone else’s shoes – someone with a background far different from mine. Every new poem offers this possibility.

I would argue that there is nothing we need more as human beings than to connect regularly with this level of depth, particularly with people from unfamiliar backgrounds. Article after article will tell you that despite the best efforts of technology, we live in an age of ever-increasing social isolation. Developing a poetry habit can help to bridge this disconnect, and as with any learned behavior, lasting change requires repeated exposure. The ultimate promise of poetry, as Jane Hirshfield writes in her book Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, is that “by changing ourselves, one by one…,” we might also change “…the outer world that selves create and share.” It may be a cliche to suggest that poetry, or any art, has the power to change the world, but to my ear, it’s a cliche that rings true. Poems have tremendous potential to inspire both personal and social change.

 

Fun with rejections – guest blog post by Alan J. Blaustein — Trish Hopkinson

An entertaining article on publication rejection.


I do NOT pay to publish. When I’m approaching a journal for possible submission, I first check the guidelines for a reading fee and whether they expressly prohibit formal verse (more on this shortly). If no fee and no such proscription, I go to the archives for the first issue. The editors discuss their vision […]

via Fun with rejections – guest blog post by Alan J. Blaustein — Trish Hopkinson

Tenderness by Cassie Donish

Just discovered Tenderness by Cassie Donish.  Her purposeful omission of words is a beautiful illustration of the power of addition by subtraction.  It really drives the poem forward like an engine. I found it in Sixth Finch, a journal I had not heard of and plan to revisit.

Click the image to read the poem.

The Open Mouse – A site for poems

If you’re looking for a new place to submit your work, take a look at The Open Mouse. To quote the editor, they’re looking for “imaginative use of language, freshness of approach, unusual viewpoints, emotion.” I’ve never visited the site and failed to quickly discover something of interest.

Offshore Breeze by Andy Powell

Just discovered Offshore Breeze by Andy Powell on Queen Mob’s Tea House.
It really spoke to me — evocative imagery, strong voice, and a good sense of humor.

Click the image to link to the poem.