American Poetry

Wednesday Poem-Donald Justice

Variations On A Neo-Classic Theme

It’s not a landscape from too near.
Like sorrows, they require some distance
Not to bulk up larger than they are.
The risk is, backing off too far.
But finger trees are hand from here.
The wounds of mines, the growth of pines
Both appear and disappear.
There’s but a shagginess remains,
An olive or a purple haze,
That nice, unshaven atmosphere
Of averages faces, average hills.

Whatever goats are dancing there,
Being all invisible,
Animate objects of a will
Contemplative without desire,
Suffer no vertigo at all
But dance until our spirits tire,
Or dine forever, or until
The speculative garbage fail–
Tin cans and comic books–which small
Imaginary campers there
Forgot against this very hour.

Donald Justice

Weekend Poems Around A Theme-Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens & Robert Frost

Luck is not chance (1350)

Luck is not chance—
It’s Toil—
Fortune’s expensive smile
Is earned—
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
We spurned—

Emily Dickinson

To A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Wallace Stevens

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Monday Poem-Richard Eberhart’s ‘The Groundhog’

The Groundhog

In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook,
And mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.
Inspecting close his maggots’ might
And seething cauldron of his being,
Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
I poked him with an angry stick.
The fever arose, became a flame
And Vigour circumscribed the skies,
Immense energy in the sun,
And through my frame a sunless trembling.
My stick had done nor good nor harm.
Then stood I silent in the day
Watching the object, as before;
And kept my reverence for knowledge
Trying for control, to be still,
To quell the passion of the blood;
Until I had bent down on my knees
Praying for joy in the sight of decay.
And so I left; and I returned
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained.
But the year had lost its meaning,
And in intellectual chains
I lost both love and loathing,
Mured up in the wall of wisdom.
Another summer took the fields again
Massive and burning, full of life,
But when I chanced upon the spot
There was only a little hair left,
And bones bleaching in the sunlight
Beautiful as architecture;
I watched them like a geometer,
And cut a walking stick from a birch.
It has been three years, now.
There is no sign of the groundhog.
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped a withered heart,
And thought of China and of Greece,
Of Alexander in his tent;
Of Montaigne in his tower,
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.

Richard Eberhart

Every summer…

Friday Poem-Robert Pinksy

A Long Branch Song

Some days in May, little stars
Winked all over the ocean. The blue
Barely changed all morning and afternoon:

The chimes of the bank’s bronze clock;
The hoarse voice of Cookie, hawking
The Daily Record for thirty-five years

Robert Pinsky

That’s Long Branch, New Jersey.  I think I got this one posted with a few hours left, here, in May.

Friday Poem-Wallace Stevens

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens

Throw something at it and see if it sticks.  I like Helen Vendler’s interpretation….

What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land?  Import European learning and literature “atop” it?

The nature/culture divide?  Nature is wonderful but it is to culture where we must return.  If you are an artist, you turn towards direct experience in this land, but…you also turn to that which inspires you…European learning and thought….the products of other cultures.

Midweek Poem-Wallace Stevens

The Poems Of Our Climate

I
Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations – one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.

II
Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.

III
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

See Also:  Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The Jar

A Few Thoughts On Dave Jordano’s ‘Detroit Nocturne’

Detroit Nocturne‘ found here.  Via Mick Hartley.

I’m partial to ‘Joey’s Meatcutter Inn, Bar & Grill 2017‘:

Joey's Meatcutter's Inn, Eastside, Detroit 2017

Immediately, I think of Edward Hopper: The lonely cityscape at night or the familiar glow of gas station lights cast into the American wilderness.  The eye might want to linger among the colors, shapes and clouds even though the mind knows this is pretty much an empty street in a ‘post-industrial’ zone.

Perhaps it has do with another strand of expression:  The break into free verse from past forms.  The move from American Romanticism to Modernism which occurred this early past century.  William Carlos Williams produced many good poems from a process of earnest, scrapbook-style intensity in trying to discover, redefine, and order a new poetic form within a modern ‘urban landscape.’

The individual artist is quite alone in the task he’s set before himself, and like much of modernism, it’s a rather big task. 

Pastoral

When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best of all colors.

No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation

William Carlos Williams

Do you believe any of that to be of vast import to the nation.  Are you no one?

Another one of Jordano’s photos which stuck out was: ‘Church Rectory With Lightning, Eastside, Detroit, 2016

https://chrisnavin.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/b784b-6a00d83451ebab69e201b8d2e873dc970c-pi.jpg?w=740

Perhaps I’m not wrong in having called Halloween horror still and movie images to mind (it’s my mind, after all, so maybe I’m just thinking of Devil’s Night).  I really enjoy the light on the dumpster and the side-front rectory wall. There seems to be a little more mood here, more drama, so maybe Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘psychological intensity,’ surrealism, and terror are more appropriate for comparison.

Poe was a bit mad, after all, despite his fascinatingly untamed and powerful imagination.  He achieved a uniqueness and completeness of vision few artists do.  Maybe there’s a bit of the sullen, self-aggrandizing earnestness in him of the teenager (J.D. Salinger); the desire to shock, delight and terrify.

The mind is as though a chamber, the horror rising to fever pitch, the lush rhyme matching an increasingly desperate search for truth and beauty in the world (Poe had very much his own Romantically inspired metaphysics).

Alone

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—

Nice photos, Dave.  Thank you.

As previously posted:

Via Curbed Detroit. (via David Thompson)

70 photos of the abandoned, foreboding Temple.  Mysterious symbols and a certain sad grandeur that’s come to represent Detroit these days.

-Photographer Ben Marcin has a series called ‘Last House Standing.’ Solitary row-homes…the only ones left on the block.

From Buzzfeed: ‘Why I Bought A House in Detroit For $500:’

How did Detroit get here? Very comprehensive and easy to navigate.

More from Megan McArdle on the behavior that comes with pension bonuses.Charlie LeDuff, Detroit’s populist, citizen journalist’s youtube channel here.  At least he’s sticking around.

Are you looking at beautiful photos and feeling sorry for Detroit, and yourself?  See Time Magazine’s photo essay by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre (less porn-like, more thoughtful).

Hipster hope, artists, collectivists and small business types can’t save it either:  A Short Culture Wars Essay-Two Links On Detroit & ‘Ruin Porn’

GM is not a municipality, but good money got put in, probably after bad and it reeks of politics: From The Detroit News: ‘How The Treasury, GM Stock Deal Got Done’

Modernism At The Movies

You Can Have It

My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop
one by one. You can have it, he says.

The moonlight streams in the window
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone.

Thirty years will pass before I remember
that moment when suddenly I knew each man
has one brother who dies when he sleeps
and sleeps when he rises to face this life,

and that together they are only one man
sharing a heart that always labours, hands
yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps
for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it?

All night at the ice plant he had fed
the chute its silvery blocks, and then I
stacked cases of orange soda for the children
of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time

with always two more waiting. We were twenty
for such a short time and always in
the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt
and sweat. I think now we were never twenty.

In 1948 the city of Detroit, founded
by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes
of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died,
no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace,

for there was no such year, and now
that year has fallen off all the old newspapers,
calendars, doctors’ appointments, bonds
wedding certificates, drivers licenses.

The city slept. The snow turned to ice.
The ice to standing pools or rivers
racing in the gutters. Then the bright grass rose
between the thousands of cracked squares,

and that grass died. I give you back 1948.
I give you all the years from then
to the coming one. Give me back the moon
with its frail light falling across a face.

Give me back my young brother, hard
and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse
for God and burning eyes that look upon
all creation and say, You can have it.

Philip Levine

Repost-A Reaction To Jeff Koons-For Commerce Or Contemplation?

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Two ways around postmodernism, nihilism?: Through postmodernism? One is Allan Bloom Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’…A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;.

Monday Poem-Donald Justice

Bus Stop

Lights are burning
In quiet rooms
Where lives go on
Resembling ours.

The quiet lives
That follow us—
These lives we lead
But do not own—

Stand in the rain
So quietly
When we are gone,
So quietly . . .
And the last bus
Comes letting dark
Umbrellas out—
Black flowers, black flowers.

And lives go on.
And lives go on
Like sudden lights
At street corners

Or like the lights
In quiet rooms
Left on for hours,
Burning, burning.

Donald Justice

Saturday Poem-John Crowe Ransom

Blue Girls

Twirling your blue skirts, travelling the sward 
Under the towers of your seminary, 
Go listen to your teachers old and contrary 
Without believing a word. 

Tie the white fillets then about your hair 
And think no more of what will come to pass 
Than bluebirds that go walking on the grass 
And chattering on the air. 

Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail; 
And I will cry with my loud lips and publish 
Beauty which all our power shall never establish, 
It is so frail. 

For I could tell you a story which is true; 
I know a woman with a terrible tongue, 
Blear eyes fallen from blue, 
All her perfections tarnished — yet it is not long 
Since she was lovelier than any of you.

John Crowe Ransom

Four Poems & A Short Story Collected Throughout The Years-Aging

Men At Forty

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it moving
Beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practises tying
His father’s tie there in secret

And the face of the father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.

Donald Justice

IV

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.

William Butler Yeats

Whole poem here (Vacillation).

An Old Man

In the inner room of the noisy café
an old man sits bent over a table;
a newspaper before him, no companion beside him.

And in the scorn of his miserable old age,
he meditates how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, the art of the word, and good looks.

He knows he has aged much; he is aware of it, he sees it,
and yet the time when he was young seems like
yesterday. How short a time, how short a time.

And he ponders how Wisdom had deceived him;
and how he always trusted her—what folly!—
the liar who would say, “Tomorrow. You have ample time.”

He recalls impulses he curbed; and how much
joy he sacrificed. Every lost chance
now mocks his senseless prudence.

…But with so much thinking and remembering
the old man reels. And he dozes off
bent over the table of the café.

C.P. Cavafy (translation from the Greek found here).

The Old Fools

What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It’s more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can’t remember
Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there’s really been no change,
And they’ve always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
Watching the light move? If they don’t (and they can’t), it’s strange;
                               Why aren’t they screaming?

At death you break up: the bits that were you
Start speeding away from each other for ever
With no one to see. It’s only oblivion, true:
We had it before, but then it was going to end,
And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower
Of being here. Next time you can’t pretend
There’ll be anything else. And these are the first signs:
Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power
Of choosing gone. Their looks show that they’re for it:
Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines –
                               How can they ignore it?

Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
Inside your head, and people in them, acting
People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms
Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,
Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting
A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only
The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning,
The blown bush at the window, or the sun’s
Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely
Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live:
Not here and now, but where all happened once.
                              This is why they give

An air of baffled absence, trying to be there
Yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving
Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
Of taken breath, and them crouching below
Extinction’s alp, the old fools, never perceiving
How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
The peak that stays in view wherever we go
For them is rising ground. Can they never tell
What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night?
Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout
The whole hideous inverted childhood? Well,
                             We shall find out.

Philip Larkin

It’s barely twelve pages long, dear reader.

What are you doing with your time and imagination?

You’re fine, Mr. Corte.  In fact, you’re looking a little better than yesterday…:

‘Giuseppe Corte didn’t need anything, but he began to chat freely with the young woman, asking for information about the clinic. In this way, he learned about the hospital’s unique practice of assigning its patients to different floors in accordance with the gravity of their illness. On the seventh floor, the top floor, only the very mildest cases were treated. Those whose forms of the illness weren’t grave, but who certainly couldn’t be neglected, were assigned to the sixth floor. More serious infections were treated on the fifth floor, and so on and so forth. Gravely ill patients were housed on the second floor; and on the first floor, those for whom all hope had been abandoned.’

You probably spent a lot of energy when younger, wishing to be older, and as you get older, find yourself spending time wishing you were younger.