Wednesday, September 24, 2008

To Seattle by train:

House forlorn,
its people fading
with its paint.

The old house -
bones picked clean
by time, wind.

Ghost towns?
Even the ghosts parched
by unending winds.

Rolling hills
grey-tan-brown after harvest -
yet every watering hole
filled with birds - in
end-of-summer contentment.

So few to bury
in the sweep of hills -
lone cemetery.

Yellow leaves, fall turning,
light up the hillside and valley
in spite of fog and rain.

Montana -
fenced buffalo roam and
antelope play.

Tall and spare,
pine hungry for sky
grows up not out.

Line of pines
edging the ridge -
first to fall?

A line of pines,
poised, waiting at the edge
like swimmers.

Frail toe-hold,
poised like swimmers,
a line of pines.

Worn dust paths -
generations of cattle
to the water hole.

At the museum, for a calligrapher:

Calm and focused,
mistakes will be fewer,
each mark true.

(Via Amtrak to Seattle, 9-08)

The understanding and appreciation for life that is present in [Paul] Zimmer’s newer poems is in its larval stage in his older poems. Instead of the comfort with mortality that we see in the last lines of a newer poem, “Desiderium” (“The unfaltering sunlit parade / Of faithful moving toward God” reminiscent of, though contrasting Sexton’s The Awful Rowing Towards God), we see a fear of death or growing old that precedes its acceptance.

Review of Passing to Sunlight Revisited by Melinda Wilson in Coldfront

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mr. [Stanley] Kunitz was regarded as a mentor to many poets, including two future poet laureates, Louise Gluck and Robert Hass, as well as Sylvia Plath.

"Essentially," he once said, "what I try to do is to help each person rediscover the poet within himself. I say 'rediscover,' because I am convinced that it is a universal human attribute to want to play with words, to beat out rhythms, to fashion images, to tell a story, to construct forms."

He added: "The key is always in his possession: what prevents him from using it is mainly inertia, the stultification of the senses as a result of our one-sided educational conditioning and the fear of being made ridiculous or ashamed by the exposure of his feelings."

(from Kunitz's obituary in the Washington Post, 2006)

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Layers, by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

"The Layers" by Stanley Kunitz from The Collected Poems. © W.W. Norton, 2000.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stanley Kunitz said, "Poetry is inseparable from my life force, and that began very early. It was a great gift, and it has sustained me through the years, and the losses that have attended those years."

He said, "The poem comes in the form of a blessing, like the rapture breaking through on the mind."

And, "Old myths, old gods, old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our mind, waiting for our call. We have need for them. They represent the wisdom of our race."

(in Writer's Almanac, July 28, 2008)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Needless to say, when I was writing "The Tollund Man" (the first draft came swiftly) I was not thinking of Wordsworth or Hesiod or Eliot or the Muses. When I call Wordsworth an example, I just mean to cite his poem "Resolution and Independence" as an instance of something constant in the poetic life, something indeed that is indispensable to it. Call it apt admonishment, call it contact with the hiding places, call it inspiration, call it the staying power of lyric, call it the bringing of memories that are luminous into the relatively dark world, call it what you like, but be sure it is what a poet's inner faith and freedom depends upon. And the myth of his own meaningfulness among those intelligent contemporaries depends upon it also.

Seamus Heaney in the Hudson Review

Friday, May 16, 2008

"I believe there is a moral
as well as
a physical grain in things,
and that our chief business is to discover
what we can of that pattern and to align ourselves with it.
...[To] search for an underlying order
even in the mess of human affairs
is less foolish than to accept chaos as the only truth."

Scott Russell Sanders, The Force of Spirit, p. 43,

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Earthy Anecdote"
by Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

Every time the bucks went clattering
Over Oklahoma
A firecat bristled in the way.

Wherever they went,
They went clattering,
Until they swerved
In a swift, circular line
To the right,
Because of the firecat.

Or until they swerved
In a swift, circular line
To the left,
Because of the firecat.

The bucks clattered.
The firecat went leaping,
To the right, to the left,
Bristled in the way.

Later, the firecat closed his bright eyes
And slept.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

"Be always at war with your vices,
at peace with your neighbors,
and let each new year find you a better man."

(Ben Franklin)