Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Robert Bly’s book, Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, is one of my favorites. It was first published in 1985 and explores the relationship that men and women build together in love and commitment to one another; the “third body” that they share and nurture together.

I’m not normally one for love poems, as they tend to often go awry with sentimentality, becoming cloying rather than transcendental; however, Bly’s poems in this work are the transcendental type. By the term transcendental, I refer to their ability to transcend experience but not human knowledge. They explore the realizations and sustainability that love brings at a depth of experience few can match. They contain a zen-like quality in their connection with nature. Most are short, which I prefer, and quite poignant. Pablo Neruda is the only other poet I have encountered who can match Bly’s ability to examine the subject of love in such exquisite concentration.

Some of my favorites from Loving a Woman in Two Worlds include the following:

The Minnow Turning

Once I loved you only a few minutes a day.
Now it is smoke rising, the mushroom left by
                the birch,
and horse’s forefoot, the way the minnow stirs silver
as he turns, carrying his world with him.

The Conditions

What we have loved is with us ever,
ever, ever!
So you are with me far into the past,
the oats of Egypt . . .
I was a black hen!
You were the grain of wheat
I insisted on
before I agreed to be born.


It was among ferns I learned about eternity.
Below your belly there is a curly place.
Through you I learned to love the ferns on that bank,
and the curve the deer’s hoof leaves in sand.

There is an interesting bit about the poems in this book in interview 7 on this website as well.



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My grandfather was a veteran of the Korean War, and my father dedicated 22 years to the U.S. Army, so I have nothing but the utmost respect and love for our armed forces and our veterans. Let’s learn from and never forget our current and past conflicts.

Capturing this sentiment, this poem is by Carl Sandburg:


PILE the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work–
                           I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                            What place is this?
                            Where are we now?

                             I am the grass.
                             Let me work.

–Sandburg, Carl. 1918. Cornhuskers.



Sandburg addresses several themes in this poem. First, after people kill each other in recurring wars, they let nature cover up the terrible result. Second, people forget the lessons of history. As a consequence, they repeat the mistakes that caused past wars. Third, people forget the fallen heroes of war after the years pass and the grass covers the battlefield. And last, nature is dispassionate and ineluctable, even in wartime.

The battles included refer to occurances of great carnage, as indicated in the following:

Austerlitz: Major battle of the Napoleonic wars, fought on December 2, 1805. Nearly 25,000 men died. Austerlitz is in the present-day Czech Republic.

Waterloo: The final battle of the Napoleonic wars, fought near Waterloo, Belgium, on June 18, 1815, and resulting in more than 60,000 casualties.

Gettysburg: Major battle of the U.S. Civil War in which Union forces defeated Confederate forces near the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 1-3, 1863, resulting in 45,000 to 50,000 casualties.

Ypres (pronounced E pruh): Town in Belgium that was the site of three major World War I battles (October-November 1914, April-May 1915, and July-November 1917) that resulted in more than 850,000 German and allied casualties.

Verdun: Indecisive World War I battle between the French and the Germans fought at Verdun, France, from February to December, 1916. Total casualties numbered more than 700,000.

Wine From These Grapes

Wine From These Grapes


Like myself, Edna St. Vincent Millay was a pacifist. The poem below was originally included in her book called Wine From These Grapes and is a beautiful example of her objection to WWII.


Conscientious Objector

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

–Edna St. Vincent Millay

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A wonderful resource on the haiku is a website by Jane Reichhold simply called Haiku. Ms. Reichhold is the founder of AHA Books Publishing Company and is a leader among haiku writers.

You can also find Jane Reichhold speaking on haiku in this video, and bringing to light some interesting points about the English version of haiku, which is actually too long with its seventeen syllables because Japanese sound units are much shorter than English syllables. You will find one of her haikus in the following:

sea lions bark
their breath comes ashore
as mist

Another fabuolus resource is the American Haiku Archives, where you will find, according to their site, the world’s largest collection of haiku and related poetry books and papers outside Japan.

Of course, no mention of haiku would be complete without Basho:

Ah, summer grasses!
All that remains
of the warrior’s dreams.

-Translated by R.H. Blyth.

In my search for a painting of Basho, I found The SOLAR Haiku Project, which is also proving to be an interesting place to have a look around and read some haiku.

And last but not least, my personal favorite to leaf through when I’m in need of a good haiku is The Haiku Anthology by Cor Van Den Heuvel.

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I’ve just found out that some of my haiku’s have been selected for publication in the June issue of the online journal Four and Twenty, and this inspired me to wander around the vast Internet checking out what’s available concerning this wonderful and often surprising little form of poetry. In my search, I came across many standard offerings of the haiku in traditional format and subject; however, one truly surprising use of the haiku form came from an NPR blog.

I absolutely love when individuals not directly involved with poetry or literature, bring it into their classrooms, lectures, and even exams. In this case, the NPR blog post by Chana Joffe-Walt features an economics professor called Stephen Ziliak who has quite the fascination with haiku (for good reason). This inspired Joffe-Walt to challenge her readers to craft recession haiku’s in the comments section, creating a modern and relevant use for a traditional form and a great outlet for frustration. So far, the response is a whopping 190 haiku comments and counting. Fabulous!

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quipuArthur Sze’s poem “Before Sunrise” was one of the first I’d read of his that really grabbed me. 

 This poem is deeply imbedded in New Mexico, where Sze currently resides, and sets the tone for the book. Frequently, the poems reflect life in New Mexico, and we often find references to “gold,” “yellow,” “bones,” and “time,” that first appear here, throughout the rest of the book.  It is the marriage of the everday with the metaphisical, with zen, with botany, philosophy, and history that catapults the reader through Sze’s poetry.  




Before Sunrise

The myriad unfolds from a progression of strokes–
one, ice, corpse, hair, jade, tiger.

Unlocking a gate along a barbed wire fence,
I notice beer cans and branches in the acequia.

There are no white pear blossoms by the gate,
no red poppies blooming in the yard,

no lepiota naucina clustered by the walk,
but–bean, gold–there’s the intricacy of a moment

when–wind, three-legged incense caldron–
I begin to walk through a field with cow pies

toward the Pojoaque River, sense deer, yellow, rat.
I step through water, go up the arroyo, find

a single magpie feather. This is a time
when–blood in my piss, ache in my nose and teeth–

I sense tortoise, flute where there is no sound,
wake to human bones carved and strung into a loose apron.

© 1998

The first poem in his book, Quipu, it is our introduction to this particular poem cycle. One that is based on an Incan system of knotted cords used to record and store important cultural information. Each strand might represent anything from corn or weapons to the male or female population. The word quipu means knot or to knot. They were literally the cultural memory of the civilization.

Some interesting further reading can be found here.


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Check out this wonderful reading from one of my favorite poets, Arthur Sze, on YouTube. Take special notice of the way he uses pauses and the emphasis he places on certain words. Sze has a very particular style of reading. In the way he annunciates or shapes each of the words carefully and with purpose, he brings the reader into the space of the poem with him.

Here also is some great biographical information, access to more poems, a bibliography, and suggestions for further reading.

My absolute favorite work by Sze is Quipu, published in 2005 by Copper Canyon Press (an independent, nonprofit publisher specializing in poetry and a fabulous place to buy your books).

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I could hardly believe my eyes this morning when I read in the Mason Gazette that one of my fellow Mason alums and classmates, J. Michael Martinez (MFA ’06), has been awarded the very prestigious, 2009 Walt Whitman first-book prize for poetry by the Academy of American Poets.

As part of the award, the academy will arrange to publish the winner’s poetry collection and distribute the book to thousands of academy members. The award also includes a $5,000 cash prize and a one-month residency at the Vermont Studio Center, the largest international artists’ and writers’ residency program in the United States.

Michael received the award for his book-length collection of poems, “Heredities,” which is due to be published in Spring 2010 by Louisiana State University Press.

Juan Felipe Herrera, a poet, playwright, children’s book author, and novelist chose the book from among 1,000 anonomous entries. The book has recieved much acclaim from the academy and Michael’s peers eagerly await its publication.


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