I greatly enjoyed M Stone’s found poem “My Life By Water”, constructed using… well, you can follow the link to find out – and does it matter? It stands on its own merits as an evocative piece of writing with some interesting juxtapositions.
MY LIFE BY WATER
I rose from marsh mud.
I knew a clean man
in the great snowfall.
Consider at the outset—
I am sick with the Time’s
Keen and lovely man,
I lost you to water, summer.
Now in one year
my life is hung up.
something in the water.
Along the river,
traces of living things.
On what would have been my father’s 87th Birthday this poem by Robert Wrigley seems fitting. It captures something of the tension between the worlds of literary endeavour and the practical, literal workaday world ; a world with, as Wrigley writes, its own evocative vocabulary and moments of poetry:
My father loved every kind of machinery,
relished bearings, splines, windings, and cogs,
loved the tolerances between moving parts
and the parts that moved the parts,
the many separate machines of machinery.
Loved the punch, the awl, the ratchet, the pawl.
In-feed and out-feed rollers of the thickness planer,
its cutter head and cutters. The barrel and belt sanders,
the auger, capstan, windlass, and magneto.
Such a beautiful vocabulary in his work, words
he knew even if often he did not know
how they were spelled. Seals, risers, armatures.
Claw, ball-peen, sledge, dead-blow, mallet,
hammers all. Butt, mitered, half-lap,
tongue and groove; mortise and tenon,
biscuit, rabbet, dovetail, and box: all joints.
“A poem is a small (or large) machine
made of words,” said William Carlos Williams.
“To build the machine that makes the machine,”
said Elon Musk. Once my father repaired
a broken harpsichord but could not make it sing.
The chock, the bore, the chisel. He could hang a door,
rebuild an engine. Cylinders, pistons, and rings.
Shafts, crank and cam. Hand-cut notches
where the hinges sat. He loved the primary feathers
on the wings of a duck, extended and catching air,
catching also the tops of the whitecap waves
when it landed. Rods, valves, risers, and seals.
Ailerons and flaps, yaw control in the tail.
Machinery, machinery, machinery.
Four syllables in two iambic feet. A soft pulse.
Once I told him what Williams said,
he approached what I made with deeper interest
but no more understanding in the end.
The question he did not ask, that would have
embarrassed him to ask, the question I felt sure
he wanted to ask, the one I was too embarrassed
to ask for him, was “What does it do?”
Eventually the machine his body was broken,
and now it is gone, and the mechanically inclined
machine in his head is also gone,
and most of his tools. The machines that made
the machines are gone too, but for a few
I have kept in remembrance. A fine wood plane
but not the thickness planer, which I would not know
how to use. A variety of clamps I use to clamp
things needing clamping. Frost said
“poetry is the sort of thing poets write.” My father
thought it was the sort of thing I wrote,
but what mattered to him was what it did.
What does it do, and what is it?
A widget that resists conclusions.
A crank that turns a wheel
that turns. A declaration of truth
by a human being running at full speed
in a race with no one, toward nowhere
except away from the beginning and toward arrival.
Once my father watched the snow
and noted how landing on the earth it melted.
He said, “It’s snow that doesn’t know it’s rain.”
From the Summer 2018 issue of Temz Review here is a sonnet (of course) by Joanna Cleary. I like its ironic treatment of contemporary lit crit certainties. And of course, the poem itself subverts the title:
The Sonnet is Dead
By Joanna Cleary
The sonnet is dead; we’ve talked it to death.
Love is complicated, political.
And what could be more complicated than
a sonnet? They are always ironic,
my professor said sternly to the class.
Always. The idea is ironized
in the sestet. I was still half-asleep,
retracing my pen over the octave,
thinking that it first could have been written
on a day as rain-splattered as today,
and the poet could have walked home slowly
with both feet wet from stepping in puddles
as sunlight appeared in the sky again
to touch water drops shining on cobwebs.
From The Writing Disorder
If I Knew Braille
If I knew Braille, perhaps I could read
the graffiti of purple-mouthed limpets clinging
to old, sea-washed boulders
the secret Bibles of zebra mussels clinging to dry-docked boats
the last, profound gasps of snails and slugs dried out in clumps
on the sun-baked pavement in front of my house.
There may be language in the teetering piles of droppings
the rabbits have scattered throughout my yard
written in squirrel on the skin of half-nibbled tulip bulbs
lifted from the ground and carried into the trees
in the fresh pattern of teeth marks gnawed into the table leg
by the dog. I am missing too many important things
because I don’t know how to read.
History gathers up in a swirl of images
seemingly unconnected as individual incidents
clumping together to form a definite picture
of a species or race or culture.
There is much to be embarrassed of, proud of,
things to distance ourselves from
and things to claim heritage to.
Outside, crows flock in the snow-covered yard
and I wonder if they know they are capable of math
and basic human speech. I join them in the snow
wish myself wings and the will to leave
scatter seeds on the ground and ask them to stay.
Language must suffice.
under a sweet June sky
stung with stars and swept back by black leaves
a beautiful woman nearly killed me.
her lovely face to the stars, the wild sky….
No: years ago,
under a sweet, June sky
strung with stars and swept back by black leaves
under this sky
broad, bright, all rung around
with rustling elders—or intoxicating willows,
or oaks, I forget—
under this sky,
a beautiful woman killed me, nearly.
I say beautiful. You had to see her.
and turned a lovely shell of her ear
to the swirl of stars
and the moon
smudged as a wingtip in one tree, not far.
Yes: she scraped my back bloody against a rough trunk.
Yes: she flung back her lovely face
and her hair, holding me down,
and the tree shook slowly, as in a mild, persistent laugh
and the moon high in that black tree
swung to and fro …
there were millions of stars
up where she stared past us,
and one moon, I think.
My friend, who loves poetry truly, says too much
nature taints my work.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Too many birds, stars—
too much rain,
too much grass—
so many wild, bowing limbs
howling or groaning into the natural night …
and he might be right. Even here.
That is, if tree were a tree.
That is, if star or moon or even beautiful woman
craning the shell of her ear
were what they were.
They are, I think, not.
No: and a poem about nature contains anything but.
When they descended to us, they were a cloud of stars
sweeping lightly. They sang to us urgently
about our lives,
they touched us
with a hundred thousand hair-soft, small legs—
and held down by such hungers, we let them cover us,
this beautiful woman, this me,
who couldn’t move,
who were stung—do you hear?—
who were stung again, were covered that quickly, crying
to each other
to fly away!
… I just can’t erase
the exquisite, weeping language
of the wasps, nor her face in starlight
and so tranquil under that false, papery, bobbing
just minutes before,
nor then the weight
of her whole natural body
pinning down mine
until we both cried out for fear, and pain,
and still couldn’t move.
Language must suffice.
First, it doesn’t. Then, of course,
it does. Listen, listen.
What do you hear? This nearly killed me.
I’ll never know
why she didn’t just whisper Here they come, warn Move!
cry They’ll kill us!
Yes: I will save you …
Yes: I love you too much to watch you suffer!
But it’s all I recall, or now need.
And, anyway, I loved her, she was so beautiful.
And that is what I have had to say
before it’s too late,
before they have killed me,
before they have killed you, too,
or before we have all become something else entirely,
which is to say
before we are
Comment sections have a bad press, and one can understand when even the most innocuous YouTube video can have all sorts of rabid anger unleashed below. Sometimes, however, comments can do what they supposed to do in the early years of the Internet; be a genuinely illuminating conversational source, a place one learns even more from the wisdom of crowds (not a phrase that has been getting much airing in recent years, has it?)
It’s been a while since I linked to anything on First Known When Lost, Stephen Pentz’s gem of a blog. First Known When Lost is made by Mr Pentz’s individual sensibility; his affinity with nature and with poets deemed unfashionable. I have discovered much from him, especially conquering my prejudices against writers who I had not actually read but had generally absorbed a critical antipathy to. And when the online world seemingly has transformed from an exciting frontier of creativity to an echo chamber of hype and hate
The comments on First Known When Lost are of a very high standard and Mr Pentz is scrupulous in replying to comments.
This comment from Bruce Floyd (with a bit of Eliot also) is worth reading in its own right. For me, humility is at the root of science and religion and art and indeed any human endeavour. Anyway, here is the comment:
The second part of Eliot’s “East Coker”–from the “Four Quartets– clearly asserts that the knowledge gained from experience is of “limited value.” Eliot, late in his life, understands that the “autumnal serenity / And the wisdom of age” are not to be found..He concludes that “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire / Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”
We stand pitifully mortal and profoundly ignorant under the stitched heavens, certain that our perception of our the universe, of our purpose, of ourselves is an illusion. Stevens tells us to beware of “the lunatic of one idea.”
The ideologue, his strident cries rending the stillness, howls into a vacuum. When the wisest know next to nothing, should not we cease our blustering and at long last [realise] that the only wisdom within our grasp during our stay in the insoluble mystery of who and where and when we are is the wisdom of humility?
from “East Coker”
What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.
That was a way of putting it – not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us,
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge inposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
but all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.