30 May 2009

She Tells Her Love -- Robert Graves

[1895–1985, English]

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And put out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

Source: Graves, R 1946, Argosy (magazine, London) vol. 7, no. 25, November.

Last -- Dee Cohen

Last night waits in the kitchen.
Skillet still on the stove
and pan tipped into the sink,
blood drained to the bottom.
A drawer pulled open,
forks, spoons and knives
pitched forward.
Plates on the table,
unscraped, unstacked.
Chairs shoved back,
garbage can toppled,
grounds and rinds and bones
spill from its mouth.
The back door stands open,
the driveway is empty.

Source: www.pith.com, 2004.

Bloody Men -- Wendy Cope

[1945–current, English]

Bloody men are like bloody buses --
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.
You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You’re trying to read the destinations,
You haven’t much time to decide.
If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you’ll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.

Source: Cope, W 2009, Two Cures for Love, Faber and Faber.

I Think My Brain Is Coming Out Of My Ears -- Luke Yates


Found a pink wet thing
like a prawn on my pillow this morning
felt it, smelt it, looked at it under the microscope
and I could see memories, rumours and dreams
scrawled in my handwriting over the surface.
I keep my bit of brain in a jar, feed it marmalade,
call it Fred.
Frightening to think what might be missing –
unexplained chunks of my life.
(I can’t find the remote). Tonight
I sleep, orifices stuffed
and my ears glued to the sides of my head.

Source: Seen on a London Tube poster as part of the Poems on the underground series in 2001.

28 May 2009

Adjust, Adjust -- Christopher Bursk

[1943–current, American]

I was born committing suicide,
holding my breath; they had to drag me kicking
out of this damp garage, this airtight inside,
the gases I struggled back to
until the doctors slapped me alive
and shouted: survive, survive.

After Hiroshima, turning four,
I battered my head at the master bedroom door;
every night I dreamt I was a child burning at that town dump
At the world’s edge, Japan;
and every night my father yelled: be brave,
behave, behave.

I ripped his set of Plato at eight,
the year my mother was put away at Boston State,
and war was fought in some darkness called Korea;
all winter, I played dead in the corner
while my teachers clapped:
adapt, adapt.

Grandmother took me in till I was ten;
with her best silver carving knife I locked her with me
in the den, all night, clinging to her bathrobe, demanding
to cut our wrists in a lover’s pact;
the only promise I could secure
was: endure, endure.

I threw tantrums in to eleven;
I couldn’t sleep; McCarthy lashed out at reds in the nightmares
where he held me witness; they nailed grandmother up for heaven,
that year; I pounded my fingers bloody on the pews
while the minister spit:
submit, submit.

I counted my bones, waiting to be dead;
at thirteen, an invalid in this nursing home, my bed,
between commercials, curse the first graders
whom they tried to storm,
shrieking: conform, conform.

At fifteen, in South Station where I ran away,
every week, I bedded down on papers inksmudged with the blood
of freedom fighters, left in heaps in Hungary to decay,
while old men rubbed against my thighs,
lulling me to them with the hum
of succumb, succumb.

I couldn’t. Even with sleeping pills,
razor blades, I couldn’t. While the U.S. played chicken
in the hills with atom bombs, I gave up my body like sixteen years
of hardened clay to be moulded slippery
under the touch of my girl’s hand and thigh
while she moaned all night: comply, comply.

Why couldn’t I? When the world lapsed wide
and elastic into too much, too bright space when Kennedy died
and the roads wore bald; and the yards stretched between houses,
and the towns gleamed like chrome, I drove into walls,
day after day while police barked:
obey, obey.

Can’t you bleed? Coward, you can’t die
while wrists are cut, throats slit, those children, all suicides,
are gassed in Vietnam; at twenty-four can you only cry
while men shoot themselves to death
in the DMZ, and your analyst coughs; you must
adjust, adjust.

Source: Lowenfels, W (ed.), 1969, The Writing on the Wall: 108 American Poems of Protest, Doubleday, p. 65.

Excerpt from ‘In my Country’ -- Pitika Ntuli

[1942–current, born South Africa, migrated to England]

In my country they jail you
for what they think you think.
My uncle once said to me:
they’ll implant a microchip
in our minds
to flash our thoughts and dreams
on to a screen at John Vorster Square.
I was scared
by day I guard my tongue
by night my dreams.

Source: Ntuli, P 2011, ‘21st Medellin Poetry Festival, July 2011’, www.pitikantuli.com/site/artwork/poems/in_my_country/

Revelation -- Robert Frost

[1874–1963, American]

We make ourselves a place apart
    Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
    Till someone find us really out.

‘Tis pity if the case require
    (Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
    The understanding of a friend.

But so with all, from babes that play
    At hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
    Must speak and tell us where they are.

Frost, R 1915, A Boy’s Will, Henry Holt and Company, NY.

Pride -- Dahlia Ravikovitch

[Translated 1989 by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch]
[1936–2005, Israeli]

Even rocks break, I tell you,
and not from old age.
For years they lie on their backs
in the heat and the cold,
so many years
it almost seems peaceful.
They don’t move from their place
and so the cracks are hidden.
A kind of pride.
Year after year passes over them
expectant, waiting.
The one who will shatter them later
has not yet come.
And so the moss grows,
the seaweeds are tossed about,
the sea pounces in, and returns.
And they, it seems, do not move.
Until a little seal comes
to rub against the rocks,
comes and goes away.
And suddenly the stone is wounded.
I told you, when rocks break
it comes as a surprise.
And all the more with people.

Source: Ravikovitch, D 1970, The Third Book, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv.

Feasting With Panthers -- Ian Saw


Lord Alfred Douglas: Why do you do it Oscar? Why do you associate with such men? It must be like feasting with panthers.

Oscar Wilde: Precisely, dear boy!

They smile across the table, twitch their tails
You wonder at how sleek they are, and slim.
You touch the carver to your mortal thigh
And pass the salt and pepper pots to them.

You take another draught of burgundy
And do not feel the rasp of blade on bone.
Your eyes are as a cornered doe’s that glaze
Against the spectre of its martyrdom.

The are satin-bright; so midnight blue;
So brother-lovely in their crouching pose;
So fiercely grateful for the gift you gave;
So rigidly alert for what you’ll give.

How could your flesh deny them what they crave?
How could your soul belie such brotherhood?
The lust that lopes through their unfearing blood.
The fear that makes your passion what it is.

So carve another slice of genius-meat;
Slice after slice, and give yourself to them
Until the knife reveals your pulsing heart
They pounce –
The cell in Reading Goal begins to spin.

Source: Saw, I 1993, The sailor on the point of going overboard, Five Islands Press.

26 May 2009

Acquainted with the Night -- Robert Frost

[1874–1963, American]

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain – and back in rain.
I have out-walked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say goodbye;
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Source: Frost, R 1928, West-Running Brook, Henry Holt and Co.

Nights in the Pool -- Lynn Hard

[1938–current, born America, migrated to Australia in 1977]

Black thoughts I have had of you
nestling close to me with your sharp edges
and well I might
being a vinyl animal
that people in bathing costumes
ride through the chlorinated night.

Source: Hard, L 1993, Dancing on the Drainboard, Angus & Robertson, Australia, p. 3.

Untitled (A white lilly…) -- Kathy Benson

A white lily throws
    open her dazzling petals
        like stretched brolga’s wings

Headlights slit apart
    tall thistles arguing in
        the violent cold wind.

Source: Porter, D & Millett, J (eds) 1989, ‘On Struggle Street – An Anthology of New Poets’, Poetry Australia 122, South Head Press, Port Melbourne, p. 7.

Auschwitz, 1987 -- Adam Zych

(Translated by Hilda Schiff)
[1945–current, born in Poland, migrated to America in 1990]

and nobody shouts halt,
and nobody fires,
and yet this deathly
silence fills one’s ears

and no one slaps your face,
or whips your back, your eyes,
and no one weeps,
nor do the skies cry out

even though we have arrived
at this well-known place
with its resonant name:

Source: Schiff, H (ed.), 1995, Holocaust Poetry, 1st edn, St. Martin’s Press.

Quote -- William Penn

"I expect to pass through this life but once. If therefore, there can be any kindness I can show, or any thing I can do to help a fellow human being, let me do it now."
William Penn

25 May 2009

Habitation -- Margaret Atwood

[1939–current, Canadian]

Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

The edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire

Source: Atwood, M 1970, Procedures for Underground, Little, Brown.

Forgive Me -- Dilys Laing

[1906–1960, born Wales, migrated to America]

Forgive me for neglecting to show you that the world is evil.
I had hoped your innocence
would find it good
and teach me what I know to be untrue.

Forgive me for leaving you open to persistent heartbreak
instead of breaking your bright heart with medicinal blows.
I had hoped your eyes would be stars
dispelling darkness wherever you looked.

Forgive me for a love that has delivered you unwarned to treachery.
Now I confess that the world,
more beautiful for your presence,
was not fine enough to warrant my summoning you into it.
My beloved.

Source: Lowenfels, W (ed.), 1969, The Writing on the Wall: 108 American Poems of Protest, Doubleday.

Quiet Girl [Ardella] -- Langston Hughes

[1902–1967, American]

I would liken you
To a night without stars
Were it not for your eyes.
I would liken you
To a sleep without dreams
Were it not for your songs.

Source: Hughes, L, 1995, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Vintage.
Originally published as ‘Ardella’ in the book above. Later published as ‘Quiet Girl’.

22 May 2009

I’m Really Very Fond -- Alice Walker

[1944–current, American]

I’m really very fond of you,
he said.

I don’t like fond.
It sounds like something
you would tell a dog.

Give me love,
or nothing.

Throw your fond in a pond,
I said.

But what I felt for him
was also warm, frisky,
and could swim away

if forced to do so.

Source: Walker, A 1986, Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, Mariner Books.

Death Barged In -- Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno


In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.

Poem via www.coffee-stainedwriter.blogspot.com
Source: Bonanno, KS 2009, Slamming Open the Door, Alice James Books.

21 May 2009

Quotes 1

"His native home deep imaged in his soul."
Homer, Trans. of Pope, ‘Odyssey, Bk. XIII’

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
Oscar Wilde, ‘Lady Windermere's Fan’, 1893

"Misery is a communicable disease."
Martha Graham

"A loving person lives in a loving world. A hostile person lives in a hostile world; everyone you meet is your mirror."
Ken Keyes, Jr.

Lullaby -- Rosemary Norman

[1946–current, English]

Go to sleep, Mum,
I won’t stop breathing
suddenly, in the night.

Go to sleep, I won’t
climb out of my cot and
tumble downstairs.

Mum, I won’t swallow
the pills the doctor gave you or
put hairpins in electric
sockets, just go to sleep.

I won’t cry
when you take me to school and leave me:
I’ll be happy with other children
my own age.

Sleep, Mum, sleep.
I won’t
fall in the pond, play with matches,
run under a lorry or even consider
sweets from strangers.

No, I won’t
give you a lot of lip,
not like some.

I won’t sniff glue,
fail all my exams,
get myself/
my girlfriend pregnant.
I’ll work hard and get a steady/
really worthwhile job.
I promise, go to sleep.
I’ll never forget
to drop in/phone/write
and if
I need any milk, I’ll yell.

Source: Goodwin, D 2002, 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life: An Anthology of Emotional First Aid, Harper.

Prayer -- Hugo Williams

[1942–current, British]
God give me strength to lead a double life.
Cut me in half.
Make each half happy in its own way
with what is left. Let me disobey
my own best instincts
and do what I want to do, whatever that may be,
without regretting it, or thinking I might.

When I come home late at night from home,
saying I have to go away,
remind me to look out the window
to see which house I’m in.
Pin a smile on my face
when I turn up two weeks later with a tan
and presents for everyone.

Teach me how to stand and where to look
when I say the words
about where I’ve been
and what sort of time I’ve had.
Was it good or bad or somewhere in between?
I’d like to know how I feel about these things,
perhaps you’d let me know?

When it’s time to go to bed in one of my lives,
go ahead of me up the stairs,
shine a light in the corners of my room.
Tell me this: do I wear pyjamas here,
or sleep with nothing on?
If you can’t oblige by cutting me in half,
God give me strength to lead a double life.

Source: Goodwin, D 2002, 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life: An Anthology of Emotional First Aid, Harper.

20 May 2009

In a Station of the Metro -- Ezra Pound

[1885–1972, American]

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
 Petals on a wet, black bough.

Source: Pound, E 1913, Poetry Magazine (April 1913), www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/toc/7

Adultery -- Carol Ann Duffy

[1955–current, British]

Wear dark glasses in the rain.
Regard what was unhurt
as though through a bruise.
Guilt. A sick, green tint.

New gloves, money tucked in the palms,
the handshake crackles. Hands
can do many things. Phone.
Open the wine. Wash themselves. Now

you are naked under your clothes all day,
slim with deceit. Only the once
brings you alone to your knees,
miming, more, more, older and sadder,

creative. Suck a lie with a hole in it
on the way home from a lethal, thrilling night
up against a wall, faster. Language
unpeels a lost cry. You’re a bastard.

Do it do it do it. Sweet darkness
in the afternoon; a voice in your ear
telling you how you are wanted,
which way, now. A telltale clock

wiping the hours from its face, your face
on a white sheet, gasping, radiant, yes.
Pay for it in cash, fiction, cab-fares back
to the life which crumbles like a wedding-cake.

Paranoia for lunch; too much
to drink, as a hand on your thigh
tilts the restaurant. You know all about love,
don’t you. Turn on your beautiful eyes

for a stranger who’s dynamite in bed, again
and again; a slow replay in the kitchen
where the slicing of innocent onions
scalds you to tears. Then, selfish autobiographical sleep

in a marital bed, the tarnished spoon of your body
stirring betrayal, your heart over-ripe at the core.
You’re an expert, darling; your flowers
dumb and explicit on nobody’s birthday.

So write the script – illness and debt,
a ring thrown away in a garden
no moon can heal, your own words
commuting to bile in your mouth, terror –

and all for the same thing twice. And all
for the same thing twice. You did it.
What. Didn’t you. Fuck. Fuck. No. That was
the wrong verb. This is only an abstract noun.

Source: Duffy, CA 1993, Mean Time, Anvil Press Poetry.

Truth -- Barrie Wade

Sticks and stones may beak my bones
but words can also hurt me.
Stones and sticks break only skin,
while words are ghosts that haunt me.

Slant and curved the word-swords fall
to pierce and stick inside me.
Bats and bricks may ache through bones
but words can mortify me.

Pain from words has left its scar
on mind and heart that’s tender
Cuts and bruises now have healed
it’s words that I remember.

Source: Wade, B 1989, Conkers: Poems, Oxford University Press, USA.

New Pocket Dictionary of America -- John Cotter

Relationship: an erotic compromise
Dog: where you put your heart
Desert: a myth in reality’s clothes
Books: mirrors too small to hold

Frame: that which is framed by something else
Meditation: opening the mouth within
Myth: that which did not transpire
Music: when a dream shakes it’s sleep off and speaks

Air: that which connects us
Fingers: thin bodies waiting to be born
Cowboy: the transcendental shepherd; the shepherd what’s-his-name
Fingernails: sunglasses for your hands

Source: www.pith.net, 2004.

15 May 2009

Dreams -- Langston Hughes

[1902–1967, American]

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Source: Hughes, L 1994, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Alfred A Knopf/Vintage.

Separation -- W.S. Merwin

[1927–current, American]

Your absence has gone through me
    Like thread through a needle.
    Everything I do is stitched with its color.

Source: Merwin, WS 2005, Migration: New & Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press.

When You’ve Got -- Helen Dunmore

[1952–current, British]

When you’ve got the plan of your life
matched to the time it will take
but you just want to press SHIFT / BREAK
and print over and over
this is not what I was after
this is not what I was after.

When you’ve finally stripped out the house
with its iron-cold fireplace,
its mouldings, its mortgage,
its single-skin walls
but you want to write in the plaster
This is not what I was after.”

When you’ve got the rainbow-clad baby
in his state-of-the-art pushchair
but he arches his back at you
and pulps his Activity Centre
and you just want to whisper
This is not what I was after.”

When the vacuum seethes and whines in the lounge
and the waste-disposal unit blows,
when tenners settle in your account
like snow hitting a stove,
when you get a chat from your spouse
about marriage and personal growth,
when a wino comes to sleep in your porch
on your Citizen’s Charter
and you know a hostel’s opening soon
but your headache’s closer
and you really just want to torch
the bundle of rags and newspaper
and you’ll say to the newspaper
“This is not what we were after,
this is not what we were after.

Source: Goodwin, D 2002, 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life: An Anthology of Emotional First Aid, Harper.

Death Stands Above Me, Whispering Low -- Walter Savage Landor

[1775–1864, English]

Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.

Source: Eliot, CW (ed.), 2001, English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald, vol. XLI, The Harvard Classics, New York, PF Collier & Son.

Eating Poetry -- Mark Strand

[1934–current, American]

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

Source: Strand, M 1992, Reasons for Moving, Darker, and the Sargeantville Notebook, Knopf Press.

14 May 2009

Unfortunate Coincidence -- Dorothy Parker

[1893–1967, American]

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying --
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

Source: Parker, D 1926, Enough Rope: Poems, University of California.

The Taxi -- Amy Lowell

[1874–1925, American]

When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
one after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?

Source: Lowell, A 1914, Sword Blades and Poppy Seed, The Macmillan Company.

Introduction to Poetry -- Billy Collins

[1941–current, American]

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Source: Collins, B 1988, The Apple That Astonished Paris, University of Arkansas Press, USA.