Friday, January 24, 2014

Death of Marilyn Monroe, by Sharon Olds

Marilyn Monroe
The ambulance men touched her cold
body, lifted it, heavy as iron,
onto the stretcher, tried to close
the mouth, closed the eyes, tied the
arms to the side, moved a caught
strand of hair, as if it mattered,
saw the shape of her breasts, flattened by
gravity, under the sheet,
carried her, as if it were she,
down the steps. 
These men were never the same. They went out
afterwards, as they always did,
for a drink or two, but they could not meet
each other's eyes. 
Their lives took
a turn-one had nightmares, strange
pains, impotence, depression. One did not
like his work, his wife looked
different, his kids. Even death
seemed different to him-a place where she
would be waiting, 
and one found himself standing at night
in the doorway to a room of sleep, listening to a
woman breathing, just an ordinary
Death of Marilyn Monroe, by Sharon Olds.

The Death of Marilyn Monroe is a reading by Matthew von Baeyer, and I had added it to my playlist of `Poetry Readings I Love.  I don't know why I did, except maybe I loved the photos and the music.  I have to get on the horn again, and do my own reading of this poem.  Which I do love.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
     Only this, and nothing more.' 
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
     Nameless here for evermore. 
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
     This it is, and nothing more,' 
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
     Darkness there, and nothing more. 
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
     Merely this and nothing more. 
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
     'Tis the wind and nothing more!' 
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
     Perched, and sat, and nothing more. 
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
      Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.' 
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
     With such name as `Nevermore.' 
But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
     Then the bird said, `Nevermore.' 
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
     Of "Never-nevermore."' 
But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
     Meant in croaking `Nevermore.' 
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
     She shall press, ah, nevermore! 
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
     Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.' 
`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
     Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.' 
`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?'
     Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.' 
`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
     Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.' 
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
     Shall be lifted - nevermore!
The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe.

Christopher Walken's reading prowess is at its best, and perfectly suited for the horror of this poem.  It is one of my favorite readings.

Monday, January 20, 2014

When You Are Old, by William Butler Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
When You are Old, by William Butler Yeats.

It makes sense, as I read somewhere, that this is Yeats' love poem about Ireland.  But I love this reading by Matthew Macfadyen, because it's a heartfelt rendering of the poem, simply as a love poem.  I love the lady to whom he reads it, and her momentary soft look, amid the rise and cackle of campfire.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Poem Beginning with a Line, by Lisa Jarnot

And how terrific it is to write a radio poem
and how terrific it is to stand on the roof and
watch the stars go by and how terrific it is to be
misled inside a hallway, and how terrific it is
to be the hallway as it stands inside the house,
and how terrific it is, shaped like a telephone,
to be filled with scotch and stand out on the street,
and how terrific it is to see the stars inside the radios
and cows, and how terrific the cows are, crossing
at night, in their unjaundiced way and moving
through the moonlight, and how terrific the night is,
purveyor of the bells and distant planets, and how
terrific it is to write this poem as I sleep, to sleep
in distant planets in my mind and cross at night the
cows in hallways riding stars to radios at night, and
how terrific night you are, across the bridges, into
tunnels, into bars, and how terrific it is that you are
this too, the fields of planetary pull, terrific, living
on the Hudson, inside the months of spring, an
underwater crossing for the cows in dreams, terrific,
like the radios, the songs, the poem and the stars.
Poem Beginning with a Line by Frank Lima, by Lisa Jarnot.

Lisa Jarnot
Lisa Jarnot

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lake Echo, Dear, by CD Wright

Is the woman in the pool of light
really reading or just staring
at what is written

Is the man walking in the soft rain
naked or is it the rain
that makes his shirt transparent

The boy in the iron cot
is he asleep or still
fingering the springs underneath

Did you honestly believe
three lives could be complete

The bottle of green liquid
on the sill is it real

The bottle on the peeling sill
is it filled with green

Or is the liquid an illusion
of fullness

How summer’s children turn
into fish and rain softens men

How the elements of summer
nights bid us to get down with each other
on the unplaned floor

And this feels painfully beautiful
whether or not
it will change the world one drop
Lake Echo, Dear, by CD Wright.

C. D. Wright
CD Wright

Monday, January 13, 2014

Incision, by Jillian Weise

The nape of my neck is a tell.
Otherwise you wouldn't notice
with the layers of clothes: shirt,
vest, scarf, coat.

Undressed, it's a solitary hole
in the middle of a white wall, you
can't help but stare, what picture
hung there, what of, what color?

It gets worse than this, you'll
want to see how far down it goes.
The circular incision top and bottom,
a line contained by points.

The seal of an envelope, opened.
Incision, by Jillian Weise.

On the surface of it, Incision may be about a surgery the speaker had just had.  The coat and scarf are perhaps those of a doctor, the scarf a metaphor of stethoscope.  The white wall may be that of a hospital.  A scar is often a curiosity for us: Sometimes we cannot help but stare, and we want to know what happened.  But for the speaker herself, it is an opening-up that is discomforting.  Beyond the physical, Incision is a personal, emotional experience.  This opening-up is more than an invasion of privacy, rather it is a cutting into what ought to stay private between her and someone with whom she is intimate ("an envelope, opened").

Jillian Weise
Jillian Weise

Friday, January 10, 2014

Empreintes, by Abdellatif Laâbi

(image credit)
Si l'on pouvait écrire
just en apposant
ses empreintes digitales
sur la page
cela éviterait
le mal que l'on se donne
pour rechercher l'originalité
à n'importe quel prix
Empreintes, by Abdellatif Laâbi.
Translating this tiny poem involved much thought and discussion. We struggled for some time with the title: in the original French, it's 'Prints' not 'Fingerprints' (though that word crops up in the third line). But 'prints' in English has far wider connotations than in French. So we stuck with 'Fingerprints'. 
Most of our efforts centred on trying to make our final version sound as 'light' and colloquial as the original - as close to ordinary speech in English.
I love how the Poetry Translation Centre worked at translating such a poem.
If only we could write
just by laying
our fingerprints
on the page
this would avoid
the hurt we incur
in the quest for originality
regardless of the cost
Fingerprints, as literally translated by Andre Naffis-Sahely.
If we could write
simply by placing
on a page
it would relieve
the pain we endure
trying to be original
at any price
Fingerprints, by The Poetry Translation Workshop.

Portrait photo of Abdellatif Laâbi
Abdellatif Laâbi

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Forms of Resistance, by Emily Berry

(image credit)
Is this mountain all rock, or are there any villages on it?
These are some of the things I said to her. 
We bake because it is a way of overcoming.
In the journey of zest, I see myself. 
On the news every day people are standing up screaming
or lying down screaming while others remain calm. 
She pointed out that I had not made eye contact
with her at all. Then I cried properly in a short burst. 
This is the worst example of any circumstance ever,
noted a journalist in his notebook. 
Let butter and chocolate be a wish not to die!
I implored the bain-marie. She likened me to a sieve. 
I clutch all my poems to my chest and count them
again and again. I am kneeling like a small dog. 
What’s going on with this modern world
and the right wife not even knowing 
what the left wife is doing? Now all you have to do
is cut off the legs. After an absence, after a hard task, 
after the way the hand turns, like this —
There was so much I couldn’t contain. 
She asked me how I was feeling in my body
at this moment; I said tense in my whole trunk area. 
A strong smell of white wine. She said it came from
an impulse that she often used to have when she first 
started practicing. She said she believed feelings
are held in the body. She asked me what was going on 
with my breath and I realized I was sort of holding it.
Like the boxes in the cupboard. “Enough” can get bigger. 
How much bigger, though? When I say
I’ve had enough, how will you know when to stop?
The Forms of Resistance, by Emily Berry.

Clearly the speaker answers her own opening question:  The mountain may be made of rock, but indeed there are villages on it.  There may be all sorts of resistance, but there is such life teeming within her, so as to ease such resistance.  Becoming a sieve is what counseling has done for her, and counselors often see that as a good thing.  But in the complexity and vulnerability of life, she asks her ending questions.

Emily Berry
Emily Berry

Monday, January 6, 2014

Nicola Behrman Turns to Poetry for Sustenance

How Nicola Behrman Got Complete Strangers to Write Poems to Her

How Nicola Behrman Got Complete Strangers to Write Poems to Her

This photo and postcard were printed in an article, that I ran into on Twitter - How Nicola Behrman Got Complete Strangers to Write Poems to Her.  I love what Behrman did:
Over Thanksgiving 2010, visiting my parents in Chicago, I was suffering from a nasty case of lyme disease. Yup. Totally gross! Feeling super low energy and down in the dumps, I reached out to my friends and asked them to send me their favorite poems to cheer me up, and then on a whim, I asked them to write it out by hand and send it to me in the mail in California. After I sent the request I felt a little stupid to be hones, but by the time I had returned home the following week (in this insane fast-paced 21st century world where most of us can’t find the time to respond to our emails) there were three poems waiting for me on my doorstep.
I can imagine how enthralling it was, and is, to see poems and stories come to her mailbox.  Not Inbox, mind you, but physical letters and postcards that arrive at her doorstep.

Elisha Levin, the sender of the photo and postcard, noted:
I sent this poem to Nicola in response to a message that she was going though a tough time. Little did we–all her “people”–know these poems would spark Poetry Post. Well actually, if you know Nicola you would absolutely know that it would, indeed, spark Poetry Post. ‘Trust’ was sent to me by my now-husband during our long-distance courtship. I’ll probably get into trouble for publicly saying this–because he is quite shy about this–but back when we were dating, I almost always woke up to a song or poem or love letter in my inbox. So when I thought about what to send Nicola, I went back to this poem he had sent me. For me it was a reminder, on the days I was tormented by the distance of our love, to ‘trust’ in my relationship. For Nicola, it quite obviously was a reminder to ‘trust’ that she would get out of something that felt agonizing at the time.
Behrman commented further:
I have revisited this beautiful poem often over the past few months and pondered how it is often so much easier not to trust. For on the road to the deep, fulfilling sense of trust that so many of us yearn for, there is a region of no-mans-land, of vulnerability, where we know intellectually the benefits that may lay ahead, but where we still fear the loss of control and the feeling of safetly we will have to sacrifice in order to cross that threshold. But as we have all been told a thousand times and know in the deepest regions of heart, this is precisely where the good stuff happens, and so we trek onwards.
Reference: No. 8 Poetry Tuesday | Trust.