Noncanonical

The epigraph to Maura Dahvana Headley‘s The Mere Wife is a translation of “The Wife’s Lament” by Ann Stanford. It’s bold and grammar-inverted in a way that makes grief obvious. I immediately wanted to read the remainder; I immediately wanted to read more of Stanford’s poems if this was what her translations looked like. Stanford’s last volume, Holding Our Own, was selected by two of her students and each wrote an introduction to it. One was emotional, the other was distanced; both discussed why, although patronized by May Swenson, Stanford’s work was not collected in the big women poet anthologies of the late 20th century: No More Masks! and The Rising Tide.

I have long been a fan of Abbie Huston Evans‘ poetry but only recently did I get a copy of Carl Little’s essay “The Life and Poetry of Abbie Huston Evans”. It was occasioned by her death, although it did discuss her antecedents, genetic and poetic, spent some time quoting her poetry and raving about said quotes, and listing other essays which discussed why Evans’ work did not appear in No More Masks! or The Rising Tide even though a poet as famous as Edna St. Vincent Millay introduced her first volume.

In both cases, the reason listed was political. Neither Evans nor Stanford wrote political or political-icizable poetry. Although, if one needs some help #resisting at the moment, I would point you to Stanford’s “The Weathercock”. And if you need music to convince people the earth—rocks, plants, weeds, trees—around them are worth valuing and working to save, I could pelt you with poems by Evans which do just that.

A lot of feminist criticism talks about The Canon, what authors are passed down, and who is excluded. And here I find that not even May Swenson, or Edna St. Vincent Millay, unlikely to go forgotten anytime soon, can keep a poet’s work in the barrel of history. Instead, I believe, we are required to exhume the beauty we need and hand it down to others, handful at a time. I hope that you have a moment for Stanford or for Evans. And I hope that when you do, you too find something you were looking for.

To E.D. in July

“To E.D. in July”
by Abbie Huston Evans
(copied from Evans’ Collected Poems p. 93)

Emily, lie you below
And I above, this morning,
While this same earth you used to know
Stabs deep and gives no warning?
It passes me how it can be
That I instead am seeing
Light loved by you implicitly
While you resign your being.

Tell me truth, did you find heaven
And your old neighbor, God?
Or is it nothingness, not even
A sleep, beneath the sod?
Did your relentless wish create
What is from what could be;
Or found you one grim predicate
Wherewith nouns must agree?

Listen: the tide is out again;
The rock-weed lies out hissing.
I could weep in the world of men
To think what you are missing.
To your low ear I bring in news
Gathered this same day, giving
A pocketful from which to choose
Fresh from the land of the living.

The sun finds garnets on this ledge
The tide’s bare hand is slapping;
And where the grass fails at the edge
A poplar bush stands clapping.
Woodpecker drums his hollow log,
Pond-lillies open slow,
Shell-pink upon the cranberry bog
Has just begun to show.

This morning early, Emily,
I saw a crane go wading
About the glassed cove to the knee,
The ripples round him braiding;
The cove out of the mist pulled free
As radiant as a bridge,
But smokiness blew in from sea
With the turning of the tide.

Know kittens still lap creamy milk,
Know mice still gnaw the rind,
And like great lengths of waving silk
Hay-fields blow out behind;
Barn-swallows scissor down and up
With tea-stained vests (you know!),
And hawkweed crowds on buttercup,
And elderberries blow.

—Here, take them, Emily, they hurt
In telling; can you bear
To hear of elderberries, skirt
The coasts of sun and air?
Know all that hurt you once hurts still.
Need any tell you now
Night brings the moon, dawn finds the hill?
Want you such hurting now?

festive when I can manage it

postcard poems

This morning, my subconscious chose to inflict on me an extended dream about work. This is in itself nothing new, but I am nonetheless vexed that my interior film projector can’t come up with better movies. It’s not as if dwelling on the heaps of deliverables will deal with them, so why can’t the reel revel instead in, say, ridiculous Bottega Veneta jackets? Sheesh.

In the meantime, I’m sneaking in some postcard-scribbling between work, working out, and housework. Some with addresses from Postcards to Voters and Americans of Conscience, and some as part of the August postcard poetry fest that doubles as a fundraiser for SPlab (the fest + service fee added up to 11.71 USD for me); registration closes July 19.

Three of the postcards I wrote on today are in the above snapshot; because there isn’t a lot of room on the cards, and I try to write something related to the image and/or stamps I’m putting on them, I am (so far) spinning out springboards rather than dives — that is, prompts rather than full-fledged poems. That’s OK. The ground rules emphasize that these should be first drafts, and each card is a handful of steps toward something more, which is more than I’d come up with left to my own devices when this hemmed-in by must-dos.

I like big bunnies and I cannot lie

May blitzed by me in a blur of bacteria, bureaucracy, and blackspot. But it also brought Amanda Parer’s BIIIIIIIIG bunnies to a botanical garden in my town:

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At Hoppy Hour, there was a silent disco that escaped its blue-lit headphones while I was waiting for my food-truck banh mi and Thai iced tea. It was a fine way to start a Friday night, and so was the spoken word Happening yesterday night at the Frist Art Museum, which included Rashad thaPoet slammin’ the four-dollarcent jury verdict, Debria Love leading a laughter- and snaps-punctuated takeoff on the Lord’s Prayer laden with hip-hop in-jokes after the crowd agreed that Kanye was a Kan-NAY, and S-Wrap (Saran Thompson) pulling the crowd into chants. One refrain:

SW: I speak
Crowd: You speak
All: We speak life!

In the cypher segment, the prompts from the audience included “banana” and some other… oddities … but S-Wrap set up his call-and-response hand cues with “cat,” “power,” “peace,” and “iridescence”:
Happening

Lunchtime Learning

In case you were occupied with actual lunch yesterday 🙂

Unicorn Removal

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When both the glitter and gunk have been scoured away —
tapes and ropes into dumpsters, crumbs and the birds that hoovered them up
long decomposed into daffodil feed — what will we say
to one another, about how we looked before we knew
what it meant to be marked for life, with life,
or will we have learned enough to speak more
about what we are looking at now, however riotous
and unruly and rancid its remains?

[Springboard: temp tattoo (originally on me here) that I ended up (mostly) erasing with tape a few minutes after midnight. What the streaks of pigment on tape really remind me of: smears of frosting. Some other night….]

BINGO!

It’s InterNational Poetry Month and I want to encourage you all to celebrate the poetry in your lives. To that end, I’ve devised a BINGO card for you to keep track of how much poetry you read, read aloud, watch, and revel in. Feel free to forward. Feel free to scratch out the 2018 and change it to 2019 next year and do it all again 🙂

rattles and stares

The subject line is from “Stebbin’s Gulch,” a poem in Mary Oliver’s Blue Horses. I read aloud all the poems in the book to my honorary mama last month, and will be reading “Owl Poem” at her memorial service in June.

(She would’ve grinned at the video at the Owl Poem link, too — especially on the day before Easter.)

She was not a simple woman, and she was so much fun. JR Solonche’s elegy for a “simple” woman at Autumn Sky is also providing pleasure to me this morning. Simplicity contains such multitudes.

The word simple for me is inextricably bound to Kentucky, where I was raised, where an arrangement of “Simple Gifts” was part of my first experience of singing in an SATB chorus, where my dad used to take guests to Shaker Village, and where public school teachers are protesting the legislature’s late-Thursday-night pension shenanigans. The system in my home county (where some of my former classmates are themselves now educators) issued a succinct yet eloquent statement about closing schools yesterday. #APensionIsAPromise

Knott Memories (Bill Knott, 1940-2014)

My first class with Bill Knott consisted of him harranging the students about how difficult writing poetry in form is and how we would all want to drop out and how people just sign up for the class but can’t see it through. I had taken the class specifically because it would be acceptable to write in meter and alliteration and so there was pretty much nothing he could say that was going to make me change my mind. I was so intent on the course material—and proving him wrong—that I can’t tell you how many people dropped the class and didn’t show for the second meeting.

The ironic thing about Bill was that he was an excellent teacher—you just had to weather out the storm. (And sometimes I got very angry about that storm.) Whether you reached the eye or some other calm, I was never sure. But I will never forget the classes where he composed in rhyming iambic pentameter on the spot, writing stuff up on the blackboard and not erasing as he went. He spent hours going over student work in class talking about where stresses fall in English words and how those places are affected by the context and meaning of the sentence.

Another strong memory of Bill is how he acted at readings. Poems were infinitely valuable—you could tell by the way he read them—and he would interrupt himself when a new audience member came in late so that he could hand them printouts of his work. I’m sure in the greater context of the po-biz that might have meant something else but, not being in that whirlwind, all I saw was someone who cared so much about poetry he wanted everyone to have it.

Thomas Lux’s introduction to I Am Flying Into Myself: Selected Poems, 1960-2014 both upholds and expands my viewpoint on Knott. Lux writes (page xxvi) “In my opinion, Knott did not become an exceptional poet because he was an orphan, because of abuse, because of poverty, because of illness, because of any kind of suffering. Everybody suffers. Knott became an exceptional poet despite these things.” He continues (page xxvi) “Knott possessed a wide range of subject matter, a long working life, and a prodigious work ethic.” To show that, Lux tells us (page xxix) “Knott published twelve print books between 1968 and 2004—with small presses, university presses, and major houses.” The Unsubscriber was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giraux, and it still strikes me as amazing how Bill scribbled all over the title page of my copy with his dedication, as if the pen marks were trying to cover over the famous publishing house. Lux closes his introduction by mentioning how Bill met Randall Jarrell’s criteria requirement regarding lightning for being a poet many times over but I appreciate this statement as an attempt to summarize Bill more: (page xxx) “He is one, in a school of one, among the American poets.”

And then, of course, there is re-reading his poems now that he’s gone. Bill’s book The Unsubscriber is one of the few books I have been able to use successfully to interest non-poet non-poetry-reading readers in poetry.

I admire the wordplay, which really ought to be word play so that you see both the “word” and the “play”. Bill wrote in “Step on It”:

Passing the threshold one
does not reach
the threshyoung.
Language

contains words
which contain words
that contain us
who contain no words

prior to birthsill—

I admire the pithy in all of Bill’s work. His poem “Flash” is, in its entirety:

Photographs—
lightningbolts which,
their shadows having caught up with them,
perish.

There are too many here, and too many in Lux’s selections—and unlike most contemporary poetry books, with Bill’s work it is A-OK to just open to a page and read the poem—that just lift my head-hairs and beg for a second reading. I’m going to close with another short one, because it seems to say a lot to me, both about people in general and Bill in specific.

WRONG

I wish to be misunderstood;
that is,
to be understood from your perspective.