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Poetry Poetry Bookshelf

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

In Jewish tradition, after someone dies, it is customary to bring food to those left behind and to sit with them in a practice known as shiva. It shouldn’t be that surprising to find food associated with grief. Food is in its way a form of showing love and support that it may bring succor to the sorrowful. Named after a poetry quote of Derek Walcott’s, (“And I thought, O Beauty, you are the light of the world!”), the memoir Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander reads like a mixed media form of artwork. Interspersed within its pages, prose poetry sidles up against essay, reporting, and finally, recipes. In this chronicle of the life of Alexander’s husband, the chef and artist, Ficre Ghebreysus, his untimely death comes across as punctuation out of place.

A few years ago, I attended a lecture Alexander gave on Lucille Clifton’s poetry just after Kevin Young’s tome of Clifton poetry had been published. While Alexander describes writing World bit by bit and then threading it together as one story, I am struck by the poetic influences that she turned to during its writing, namely Clifton and Rilke. But also, the acknowledgements section names her editor’s initial suggestion to write this story.

When I first heard about the release of World, I knew I wanted to snatch it up immediately, both interested in how a poet would approach memoir and wanting to see how food wove into a memoir about loss. This book is an anthem of her husband’s vivacity to live. It also is a chronicle of what it looks like to come out of the fog of grief in hard won healing. Alexander comments that she didn’t want to give into nostalgia. She says of writing World,

“I believe that poets write ‘as poets,’ with utmost attention to each word, the rhythms of the writing, and its musicality.”

Her sections written in parts of one poem feature prose poetry so evanescent that it took a deep amount of restraint not to highlight the entire passage. Every word is essential.

Categories
Poetry

Writing Recipe Headnotes for the Heart

Writing Recipe Headnotes - Words as Honey

Words can stick like dried honey to a countertop, catching any stray bit of paper towel. They can swirl and fuse into a person like stirring a spoonful of honey from a jar into a hot mug of tea. Sometimes we can be so carefree with our words, forgetting this quality they possess that rivals the handiwork of honeybees. Sometimes, we linger on words spoken a long time ago, letting them marinate within us that our response might tenderize until the right time.

One evening this past winter, a chill pierced the air that could penetrate even the thickest Ugg boots or puffy jacket. I had set out cross-town in San Francisco to attend a poetry reading and arrived early knowing the race might be on for the metered parking spots, free after 7 p.m. It had been months, since I had attended a reading. It didn’t help that I was a walking ball of influenza, all half-used tissues and sniffles, wrapped in layers of black outerwear. I kept to myself until I couldn’t keep myself from seeking out people to talk to, visually apologetic for my sorry state but not so disapproving of my health that I would let it keep me from indulging in listening to some favorite poets inflect their poems with their voices. To read a poem aloud is to give it new breath and life, to discover another side of it like unexpectedly catching someone you love doing something kind for a stranger. We crave igniting our aural capabilities. In that way reading a poem on the page and hearing the author pause in different spots than the line breaks on a page which stop the eye is akin to releasing the poem anew.

What pulled me out of bed and into the bookstore reading that night were the poets lined up to read from recent collections and getting to see Chard de Niord, who with Jacqueline Gens, had co-created the MFA Poetry program at New England College, of which I am an alumnus. The evening’s reading began. Peter Everwine read softly, his vowels long and his consonants clustering around each other. I craned forward then, determined not to miss one word and surprised as my eyes glistened as if on command when he finished reading a poem that caught me in its net and held me in the quiet space just after a poem finishes and before people begin clapping. The imagery kept me cornered in his mother’s kitchen, my eyes fixed on her rag rug that served as a striking symbol of grief. Chard de Niord stepped forward and read with tenderness, leaning ever so slightly on the podium, caught in the current of words he had penned but had taken on their own life. Alejandro Murguía spoke of finding love in Paris, even as the listener knew early on that this love would not last, even as the listener ate the clues of foreshadowing that would take the beloved back to Caracas. Forrest Gander told a story describing the human need for connection with such fluency it left me breathless.

When the reading ended, I sat there, still soaking in the words and truths relayed in the small span of an hour, feeling changed. With glassy eyes and still sniffling my way through a purse-sized pack of tissues, I introduced myself to another poet in this room made up mainly of poets. As we navigated our introductions, I described the food poetry that’s kept my attention the reading regimen of cookbooks and poetry books. He scoffed, not meanly, but said, “What good writing can there be in cookbooks?”

It’s been many months since that poetry reading and the scoffing poet’s words continue to bubble up within me like a tomato sauce that simmers for several hours, letting the ingredients concentrate. What I think the scoffing poet was missing that night, is that cookbooks possess their own possibility for weaving a good narrative or lyrical play of language if done well. What I think the scoffing poet was pointing to that evening is an innate need to push the Word forth. As someone who jots recipes down on scraps of paper pocked with sauce in my kitchen and occasionally shares them in this spot of the internet, I, too am perplexed by the formulaic qualities of recipe-writing, but then, just as quickly, I can be dazzled by a writer who displays a sense of voice with clarity of instruction and the right choice of evocative detail. I think that might just be as hard as writing a really good humorous poem. The key is to not muddle the method with so much self that it is cloying, but instead, to also not be afraid to step out of the norms of recipe diction (within the parameters of a publishing house style guide).

The scoffing poet’s words pushed me forward to consider what good writing looks like in a recipe, while adhering to a recipe’s particular requirements. I can certainly attest to the necessity of tightening language even after it seems like a belt that’s been cinched one rung too snug before Thanksgiving supper. In my own experience, crafting a cookbook reminds me so much of sitting among sheaves of poems strewn on the ground, determining how they thread together into a chapbook and in which order. Writing a recipe requires the concision of language that poetry already understands. The heart of the writer and their personality often come out in head notes.

If I could continue the conversation with the scoffing poet, I would underscore the opportunity in head notes. They can give explanation for any oddities that might throw off a home cook in the instructions. They also sometimes tell a story that threads the recipe into the larger narrative of life. Poetry and poetic devices with their keen eye of economy can disturb the status quo of the ho hum head note. Is it be possible for a cookbook to win a Pulitzer Prize or a National Book Award? It is a question I brought up to a friend that elicited a guffaw for my bravado. I look forward to clapping aloud for the food writer who clinches that golden apple, if it is one that can be extended to members of the cooking community. That it hasn’t been done yet is impetus for cookbook writers to set writing goals as high as recipe testing limits. There is much yet to excavate.

Categories
Poetry

Surprises by Maxine Kumin & a Tribute

Red Bell Peppers_annelies zijderveld_9597

SURPRISES
by Maxine Kumin from “Nurture” published by Penguin Books, 1989.

This morning’s red sun licks dew from the hundred
California peppers that never set fruit in
my Zone-Three garden. After fifteen summers

of failure why this year do I suffer
the glut of inordinate success? They hang
in clustered pairs like newly hatched sex organs.

Doubtless this means I am approaching
the victory of poetry over death
where art wins, chaos retreats, and beauty

albeit trampled under barbarism
rises again, shiny with roses, no thorns.
No earwigs, cutworms, leaf miners either.

Mother’s roses climbed the same old latticework
trellis until it shattered under their weight
and she mourned the dirtied blossoms more, I thought,

than if they’d been her children. She pulled on
goatskin gloves to deal with her arrangements
in chamberpots, pitchers and a silver urn.

I watched, orphan at the bakeshop window.
It took all morning. Never mix species
or colors,
she lectured. It cheapens them.

At the end of her long life she could reel off
the names of all the cart horses that had
trundled through her childhood, and now that I

look backward longer than forward, nothing
too small to remember, nothing too slight
to stand in awe of, her every washday

Monday baked stuffed peppers come back to me
full of the leftovers she called surprises.

Stuffed Red Peppers | Annelies Zijderveld

When you’re a young poet starting out- this title still applies to me today- both tentative in your line breaks and brash in the conflicting belief that everything you write is good or hingeing on drivel, rhythm is found in repeated drafts and revisions.

One sultry summer in New Hampshire I had the privilege of landing in the living room of poet Maxine Kumin whose dog, Rosie trotted quietly from person to person, trying to make sense of all these new friendly fixtures in her familiar space. We each brought a poem to read aloud and Maxine gave us feedback on them, as well as talking a bit about her own writing process. To look back on this experience now and give it its full due is something that has taken several years to comprehend.

It can happen that in writing or photography or painting or singing or whatever form of creativity you pursue regularly, you get stymied by a cutting comment. Perhaps the discouragement comes from a keen desire for perfection that is not easily gained and does not come fast enough so you move on to something else assuming if it can’t be perfect, then, why bother? Working your way through negative feedback can be bristling and paralyzing. It can be said that the idea of “thick skin” applies to just such a circumstance. Take comfort in “Surprises,” then, as Kumin says, “After fifteen summers /of failure why this year do I suffer / the glut of inordinate success?”

It happened tonight that a writer whose work I admire shared a past experience of presenting written work to a colleague who tore it apart. I asked her how she got past that experience, to which she responded, I didn’t write for three years. It may seem extreme, but I get that impulse 100 percent. I also understood (and so did she) that the need to write eclipsed the quagmire that what’s written might not be good or perceived as being any good by someone else. We write because we must, right?

Maxine Kumin passed away February 7th at home in New Hampshire. I would envision her last moments to be what we would hope for anyone we care for- that they are spent with those they love encircling her bed. In learning of her death, I burrowed down again in her story and poems.

At a young age, she started writing poetry and has remarked that, “I didn’t stop writing poetry just because Wallace Stegner said I was a terrible poet. I went underground.” Thus began a friendship and writing workshop practice I always admired after Maxine and poet Anne Sexton met at the Boston Center for Adult Education in the 1950s. That the two of them workshopped poems on the telephone showed a diligence and created within me a desire to find a kindred spirit with whom I could share my work. This friendship between two prolific poets and their ability to figure out how to work on the work underscores the importance of community (even a community of two) for writers used to the solitary act of sitting at a desk typing away. It also inspired a friend of mine and I to attempt to bridge the great divide from Alaska to California to workshop poems using whatever technology is at our fingers.

Maxine’s love for animals is seen in the richness of detail of many of her poems. That she won a Pulitzer prize and is also known for her activism on behalf of women’s rights and minorities only adds to the importance of her vast body of work. A pink post-it note skims the top page of her poem “Surprises” in the book, “Nurture.” It seems a fitting poem to share at such a time as this. The story she tells is one that is universal and timeless. Why is it that sometimes when we court success, it does not come calling and other times when we couldn’t expect it, it comes? I think of her comment of looking “backward longer than forward, nothing / too small to remember, nothing too slight / to stand in awe of” and find her essence encapsulated there. Just as unscrewing the top of a red pepper can yield a surprise of stuffed proportions, in “Surprises,” she reminds the reader to be prepared for the things to come that can’t be expected. Her generosity and kindness live on through her poems and the indelible mark she left on so many young and old poets’ lives personally.  While I met her just one time, she showed real grace and a passion for the written word that spurs me on. Rest in peace, Maxine.

maxine kumin_2007

Categories
Notes from the Kitchen

Redo’s and Reckonings

The sun is hiding like a child playing hide and go seek. These mornings, darkness greets my lumbering body coercing its way from sleep. Along the linoleum floor in the kitchen, my feet pad and slap, as my arm reaches for the light switch.

It is morning. It is night.

Darkness stands like two bookends to each day and the sunlight has become the book I’m reading voraciously. In a week I will stumble into the yawning maw of another year. It befuddles me in the way that only the end of the year creep can. I’m doing a dance with a buddha’s hand, a different one, mind you than the one who invited me onto the floor.

We survey each other. The end I’d planned for it is not the one I’m planning to tackle after all. Sometimes it’s important to change course or let the food continue revealing and inspiring.

In poetry, the poem is often found in revision. At times, the initial poem ends up being a pre-write only, an exercise for getting at the main thing itself. Sometimes all that remains of an initial poem is a single strong line or the solid bits, underlined scraps and pieces strewn throughout. Sometimes it involves starting from the end of the poem and writing backwards. Does that make the initial poem a failure- not at all. It is a necessary thing and the departure from the original is just as important as the initial stab.

The buddha’s hand and I survey each other and I now understand what I had originally planned no longer serves.

Instead, I wait. We continue the dance.

I put the poem in the drawer for a day or two and then pull it back out, reading it again with eyes that bring a new day’s light and the two bookends of darkness as filters.

buddha's hand

Categories
Poetry Poetry Bookshelf

Honeycomb by Carol Frost

BOOK REVIEW- Honeycomb by Carol Frost

This time it started with bees.

We were hunkered down in the Great Hall listening to poet and faculty member, Carol Frost, share a few poems from her newly released book “The Queen’s Desertion.” As she began to read the apiary poems, I found myself transfixed and caught like a fly in the spider’s carefully crafted web of a really good metaphor. With head cocked, as I find myself when deeply engrossed in a writer’s words, I visualized the bees lost and wandering and could see a shadow of the mother in the emotional crevasse of the daughter’s language. I bought the book and pored over its contents finding myself coming back to the bee poems and thinking about what it means to lose one’s way.

At the time and far away, I watched a different scenario playing out in a different state but with many similarities to note: the quizzical expressions, the mindless repetitions of subject matter, the growing confusion with the world around. As this played out the times I happened to be inTexas, I found the transformation beguiling in the worst possible way. It reminded me of a room in which a person is locked without a key. It reminded me of bees far from home, disoriented and unable to find their way back.

I never had a chance to study directly under Carol Frost, but her work continues to teach me about the lyrical beauty of language as well as the opportunities available through syntax. The bee poems first recorded in “The Queen’s Desertion” became fully realized in “Honeycomb,” her most recent collection with its raw emotional under-girding of loss upon loss. At points, you get sick of the bees but even their repetition reflects back on the nagging reality of alzheimer’s and is an effective device. Frost asks “Is it so terrible to outlive the mind?” in her poem “Abandoned bee boxes piled on each other at meadow end…” As a reader you sense the frustration of being unable to change the situation unfolding.

And that is the universal appeal of a collection of poems centered on alzheimer’s. She questions what is valuable in “She wears geegaws from relatives” wondering if “Old, did Helen wear diadems? / Did she know glass from diamonds?” Here, she juxtaposes the classical figure of Helen from the Iliad with her mother, wondering if she too had difficulty ascribing value from jewels to the commonplace. Frost queries the life being lived now and what it means to make the most of it. “We feed her chocolate because / she likes chocolate and she / forgets” – the small moments of sweetness contrast strongly against the pervasive bitterness of a situation that knows one end.

Reckoning with alzheimer’s resembles the grieving process and includes denial, loss, anger, and depression. To come to grips with what is impossibly difficult in the beginning to accept, for all involved in “Pearly, flying hair” she states “She is dancing. We won’t say / she’s dying.” Occasionally, Frost speaks of couching the situation as a “little problem with time and space.” This denial, this staving off of the final prognosis is wrenching. As a reader, you feel the frustration of loss which she depicts well in describing what it is to lose one word only to be followed by another – “[h]oneycomb, goddess, death, fate and the human heart, / they lived in her until too many words / flew like birds”. You feel the despair and deepening rift for both daughter and mother throughout the collection. In “I remember the psychiatrist’s exam-” the reader is brought into the room as the psychiatrist asks the mother to draw a clock. Through a simple task, the extent of forgetfulness is uncovered leaving her mother exposed to the glare of what no longer exists. Frost describes it as a “dark, cruel / moment when she found out- / mind a papery hive sliced / open, herself furious.” This suggestion of the asp comes up again later in the collection and serves as a good point of reference for anger.

The asp plays an interesting sub-character to the bees. Nearing the end of the collection, this image crops up in the poem “She saw that the tortured dream wrestled to the floor”. In it, the poet reckons with her mother experiencing “punishment / for hallucination” and tries to reconcile with where the fantasies came from. Against the current of queries from her brother, the poet, in her “quiet, reprimanding” pits a “yellow asp stinging the black heart.” This uses the same colors of the bees but the asp has a different connotation. Set up against trying to understand hallucination, she knows the truth and it stings.

Signature Frost style for me includes deeply lyrical poetry, references to classical literature or art, experimentation with syntax and using the title as the first line in the poem. These are evident in “Honeycomb” but the taut narrative keeps the pages turning. Her use of ellipsis hints at the dragging on of time and days in the nursing home in “(For the ones” where “clocks are wound…. / The last hour is a song or wound….” Several times, she employs double colons to confer a sexuality and frustration. In “If her falling to quiet” reads “of flowers:: to rain” Again, the reader finds in the afterword, “sea and grasses mingled:: / there was no hell after all / but a lull before it began over:: flesh lying alone:” When encountering death, it is not so strange to question life- both what it means and what it now must look like. The afterword is particularly powerful in accomplishing that sense of loss. Where there once were two colons, there is now only one and Frost continues breaching the line “flesh lying alone:” with single colons, showing life does go on and fits into the world in “the grace of waves, of stars, and remotest isles.”

“Honeycomb” features Frost at her finest with writing that is strong and evocative. The reader feels a certain sense of voyeurism in tender moments of her mother’s degeneration, coming to grips with what is: a daughter encapsulating what sets the days apart, a mother declining into Lethe orStyx, comforted in the poem “What makes her quiet”, a doll.

So “Now, now, / let her rock her doll.”

Categories
Recipes

“254” by Emily Dickinson

Back in Sunday school class many moons ago, we memorized Bible verses. That simple act of committing words to memory acted as both a game and challenge to my budding brain. If you didn’t go to Sunday school or attend church, how did memorization play its part in your life growing up?

What about now?

In exploring MFA poetry programs several years back, I researched the virtues of one program over another. Hours spent reading poets I *might* get to study with led to this nifty excel grid compiled of pluses and minuses, of stars and notes to self. One item that I starred for the MFA program at NEC consisted of a simple exercise that separated them from the others. The program required each student to memorize a poem per semester. This may not seem like a big deal, you’d say, poets memorize poems. To this I would counter and conjecture that the poetry they memorize is most likely their own.

When the semester began so did the poetry recitations. Students pulled aside one of the teachers to rattle off the poem in between seminars. Others recited them at the beginning of workshops in front of fellow students, one of which held the poem in hand and provided word prompts in case of flubs.

I think it holds an important place for each of us. Memorization stretches the muscle of the mind and tests my mettle. It lets the music of the poet and poem being memorized become part of us and perhaps even subconsciously suggest music for our own work. It asks us the hard questions: “Will I hang with the poem and let its rhythms coax their way into the recesses of my brain? Will I do the work to remember this in a week, a month, a year or is this going into the stores of short term memory?

Emily Dickinson inevitably holds a place in the library of most poets. My MFA friend Michelle deeply espoused Emily Dickinson and even began looking like her, albeit with blonde hair.  During my first semester at NEC, our band of poets carpooled to Amherst for a poetry reading. After the reading, most of us headed back to our cars and back to the campus. Later that evening, in the dorms, friends Sherry and Mercedes talked about wandering over to the graveyard after the reading and stumbling in the dark looking for the grave of  Emily Dickinson with two other poets. This later turned into a poem penned by Joe Gouveia and painted a story that kind of made me wish I’d been in their car.

Poem 254, “Hope is the thing with feathers” stands out among the poems memorized during my MFA program. This compact poem’s building weight lingers long after the final stanza “it asked a crumb of me” is read. Early on the poem brings to mind a bird and the freedom of wings and flight along with the tittering of a joyfulness. The second stanza edges into darker terrain as it must when hope is involved. Even in the midst of the storm, her language still evokes a certainty that is not completely sorrowful. But that changes in stanza three, as she positions “chillest land” and “strangest sea” as examples of where she has heard hope. This stanza has an overriding sentiment of loneliness to it that makes me the reader sad. It’s as if after all the things that hope can do and in which it can prevail, it doesn’t reach fruition for the speaker in the poem.

Scrawled by hand on a robin’s egg blue notecard above my desk hangs “254.” This poem’s importance to me cannot be underscored enough. The words came to me while lying still for an hour and a half recently in a plastic tube for an MRI. “Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul…” Aside from the classical music playing through headphones, the rag covering my eyes from seeing the curve of plastic inches from my face and my arms fallen against the narrow sides of the tube walls, against all of these things came Emily Dickinson’s words. And then a litany of prayers of gratitude for the people populating my life and giving me hope.

the complete poems of emily dickinson

254
by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune-without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Categories
Recipes

“Tucson” by Stephen Dunn

Poetry curated. Believing poetry can change the world, the intention here is to introduce and discuss compelling poems. My desire is to invoke a sense of longing in you to find a poem and a poet whose work speaks to your soul. When it happens, it can set your skin ablaze. In a good way.

Recently, my friend Jay came over for a Sunday afternoon poetry workshop. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while- enough time had passed to learn he is working on a screen play and I’m recently married. As we settled into our workshop time, we kicked it off with writing prompts. Later we exchanged poems, providing feedback and the conversation expected during a workshop. I highly regard him as a friend who writes poems in form and meter with litheness of pen, and he shared some tips for me as I set out in my exploration of writing in rhyme and meter.

If you ever get the chance to ask a poet what they are reading and what is inspiring them, stand back. The answers are mellifluous! Jay shared the poem below with me and I in turn am sharing it with you. Poetry is like that- it’s meant to be shared.

The poem “Tucson” by Stephen Dunn is not the kind of poem that shimmers with adjectives. I think the spare description in this narrative poem builds such a fantastic tension that’s augmented in the line “but I’m not important.” – the narrator wants all eyes on the scene unfolding. Even the line length seems like a stilted dance with some short lines and others that are long in this tight poem. The poet builds the climax by naming the frailty of the human body instead of naming the fight breaking out. “I’d forgotten / how fragile the face is, how fists too / are just so many small bones.” The dexterity of this line really calls out the humanity that is the point in this poem because there are a lot of people in the poem. And they are “Mexicans, Indians, whites.” The deft way the woman in question moves on to dance with another woman after the fight breaks out points to fights being a regular occurrence. Even the narrator’s hands “were fidgety, damp.” This poem encapsulates place by naming it after a city and using the scenario of a bar fight to describe the tensions among its inhabitants.

It’s an interesting way to consider writing a poem. If you were to write a poem about your city, how would you structure it? Where would it take place and what would be the core essence of your city you would want as a grand take-away?

______________________________

Tucson
by Stephen Dunn from “Loosestrife

A man was dancing with the wrong woman
in the wrong bar, the wrong part of town.
He must have chosen the woman, the place,
as keenly as you choose what to wear
when you dress to kill.
And the woman, who could have said no,
must have made her choice years ago,
to look like the kind of trouble
certain men choose as their own.
I was there for no good reason myself,
with a friend looking for a friend,
but I’m not important.
They were dancing close
when a man from the bar decided
the dancing was wrong. I’d forgotten
how fragile the face is, how fists too
are just so many small bones.
The bouncer waited, then broke in.
Someone wiped up the blood.
The woman began to dance
with another woman, each in tight jeans.
The air pulsed. My hands
were fidgety, damp.
We were Mexicans, Indians, whites.
The woman was part this, part that.
My friend said nothing’s wrong, stay put,
it’s a good fighting bar, you won’t get hurt
unless you need to get hurt.

Categories
Poetry

Meter and Flow

iambic pentameter drawn

Sometimes I’m too quick to make a judgement.

Up until recently, I have been quite biased and worming my way out of ignorance when it comes to the function of rhyming in poetry. If I had to put a finger on it, I think it might have something to do with ease and lack of complexity. Writing poetry that rhymes somehow seems easy and quaint, a crime story that neatly wraps up in an hour segment like CSI.

Where is the drama of the undeterred line? Where too, the building anticipation of how and where the poem is going to end up? Part of this long-held bias is I have an uncanny knack for guessing end words in songs. It’s not hard: think of something that fits the context and rhymes. Done. I’m working my way out of this particular ignorance and nose-snubbing for one main reason-

Beck and I have begun tackling songwriting as a couple.

When we first started dating, part of his wooing ritual included a guitar and songs written for me. He didn’t know it was part of the wooing exactly, (okay maybe he knew), but music is one of my favorite languages- one my dad began teaching me in my earliest days. I joke that even before my gift of gab, I sang. I look to music as a balm and catalyst. Some wounds exist that only music can massage.

As our wedding date neared, Beck and I met for band practice. He played this incredibly melodic music full of minor keys and driving rhythms. A pallor veiled his face, a moodiness entered his eyes and I found him as beguiling and bewitching as ever. One evening, he casually asked me if I could help him write lyrics. I vehemently responded, “No way- I’m a poet, not a songwriter…”

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

On any given day away from our working selves, Beck sits in the living room strumming out new riffs in old-to-us now songs. Other times, I am baking or cooking as he sits and plays in the kitchen. One such occasion, I hummed a playful line of words mirroring each other in a nonsensical way. And it stuck.

I have begun rethinking the art of meter, of rhyming and flow. A good off-rhyme in a poem clinches my interest; a good story in a song cocks my head. This challenge makes me rethink the error of my thoughts- poetry is music and music is poetry set to song, but there is more to it than that. My original work tends to be lyrical, but the thought of setting it to music leaves me stumped.

Over a month ago, I enrolled myself in a new b-course using “Rhyme & Reason” as textbook. To help with listening and rhythm, I’m supplementing with Gerard Manley Hopkins. He is the king of consonance and makes me want to rhyme my lines, to delve deeper into the way sound and word position influence the ear.

And friends, it is slow going.

I’m diving into scansion – listening to English as if for the first time, trying to weasel my pronunciations into iambic pentameter and coming up short. I’m plying my writing group, Tayve, Dee, Steven and Terry for tips on writing in rhyme and form. But here’s where all of this gutting of self and opinion is so very right: I am awakening the wonder – becoming ever more smitten *and sometimes admittedly frustrated* with language.

I am measuring and weighing my words in meter and flow.

Categories
Recipes

Poetry Curated: “Daisies” by Louise Glück

I know what you’re going to say, “Annelies, it’s not April anymore. Poetry month has passed us by.” I agree with you on the first point. The latter point would require conversation.

Life is rife with poetry- why subject it to only one month’s notice?

I have wrestled with the suitability of posting other people’s poems here, notably poems published in books. Hence why, it is now almost the end of June and I am just rolling around to sharing my second poem from my curated selection of poems for Poetry Month.  My desire is to invoke a sense of longing in you to find a poem and a poet whose work speaks to your soul.

There is no attempt at copyright infringement intended, just a wanting and trying to share the infectious thing that is poetry, so we shall proceed, unless and until I am asked to remove the poems.

The collection of poems found in “The Wild Iris” by Louise Glück is radiant. The persona poems within embody such lush beauty.  I’ve selected “Daisies” below as part of poetry curated. What I particularly appreciate about this poem is how the line length and syntax sort of arrest you. It’s not an easy poem to get through and this is akin to the struggle between the natural world and the industrial that occurs everyday. Don’t believe me? Try taking a long leisurely walk outside during your lunch break tomorrow rather than the typical one you might partake of behind the desk. In this poem, the natural world resembles something “sentimental” but it demands all of you. We give up our hold and the hold of the natural world upon us far too easily.

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Wild Iris by Louise Gluck

 

Daisies
by Louise Gluck, from “The Wild Iris”

Go ahead: say what you’re thinking. The garden
is not the real world. Machines
are the real world. Say frankly what any fool
could read in your face: it makes sense
to avoid us, to resist
nostalgia. It is
not modern enough, the sound the wind makes
stirring a meadow of daisies: the mind
cannot shine following it. And the mind
wants to shine, plainly, as
machines shine, and not
grow deep, as, for example, roots. It is very touching,
all the same, to see you cautiously
approaching the meadow’s border in early morning,
when no one could possibly
be watching you. The longer you stand at the edge,
the more nervous you seem. No one wants to hear
impressions of the natural world: you will be
laughed at again; scorn will be piled on you.
As for what you’re actually
hearing this morning: think twice
before you tell anyone what was said in this field
and by whom.

Categories
Recipes

“Daisies” by Louise Glück

I know what you’re going to say, “Annelies, it’s not April anymore. Poetry month has passed us by.” I agree with you on the first point. The latter point would require conversation.

Life is rife with poetry- why subject it to only one month’s notice?

I have wrestled with the suitability of posting other people’s poems here, notably poems published in books. Hence why, it is now almost the end of June and I am just rolling around to sharing my second poem from my curated selection of poems for Poetry Month.  My desire is to invoke a sense of longing in you to find a poem and a poet whose work speaks to your soul.

There is no attempt at copyright infringement intended, just a wanting and trying to share the infectious thing that is poetry, so we shall proceed, unless and until I am asked to remove the poems.

The collection of poems found in “The Wild Iris” by Louise Glück is radiant. The persona poems within embody such lush beauty.  I’ve selected “Daisies” below as part of poetry curated. What I particularly appreciate about this poem is how the line length and syntax sort of arrest you. It’s not an easy poem to get through and this is akin to the struggle between the natural world and the industrial that occurs everyday. Don’t believe me? Try taking a long leisurely walk outside during your lunch break tomorrow rather than the typical one you might partake of behind the desk. In this poem, the natural world resembles something “sentimental” but it demands all of you. We give up our hold and the hold of the natural world upon us far too easily.

________________________________________________

Wild Iris by Louise Gluck

 

Daisies
by Louise Gluck, from “The Wild Iris”

Go ahead: say what you’re thinking. The garden
is not the real world. Machines
are the real world. Say frankly what any fool
could read in your face: it makes sense
to avoid us, to resist
nostalgia. It is
not modern enough, the sound the wind makes
stirring a meadow of daisies: the mind
cannot shine following it. And the mind
wants to shine, plainly, as
machines shine, and not
grow deep, as, for example, roots. It is very touching,
all the same, to see you cautiously
approaching the meadow’s border in early morning,
when no one could possibly
be watching you. The longer you stand at the edge,
the more nervous you seem. No one wants to hear
impressions of the natural world: you will be
laughed at again; scorn will be piled on you.
As for what you’re actually
hearing this morning: think twice
before you tell anyone what was said in this field
and by whom.

Categories
Poetry Poetry Bookshelf

Astoria by Malena Mörling

BOOK REVIEW- Astoria by Malena Morling

When I conceived of the idea behind the name of this blog, it felt a bit cheeky- an inside joke with myself of a life lived en route. At the time, I found myself a tea-wallah, jettisoning from one end of the country to the other all in the name of flavonoids and theanine.

During the pinnacle of those traveling years, I found myself in New York often, getting to experience the city as an adult not as a pre-teen on a family trip. The city pulsated with energy from the street providing its own soundtrack to the veritable throng of people packed onto sidewalks moving forward. In New York, something ignited inside of me- you can’t help but be thrust into the fire. Its energy feeds your own. Anything can happen there and that sense of possibility can catapult you into the unexpected if you let it.

Once, after wrapping up a gift trade show and packing away our exhibit and teas, I hustled over to a reading across town celebrating Galway Kinnell’s birthday, hosted by other famed poets like Gerald Stern. I squeezed my way into the back of the lecture hall and waited in line four people behind actress Michelle Williams as she gushed her appreciation for his work before it was my turn to wish him a happy birthday and get my book signed.

Another time, after attending a Q&A chat between Eater founder Ben Leventhal and Frank Bruni, I learned Anthony Bourdain was signing books. Without thinking about it too much, I wormed my way into that line, getting a book signed for Olga, a big Bourdain fan.

The city lives in transit and somehow in my mind’s eye when I think of it now as I’m back in the city by the Bay, New York City waits awake and diligent in the night for the coming morning and the people that will polka dot its streets and subway channels.

The energy that made my pulse quicken while in New York City ripples through Malena Mörling’s collection “Astoria“. She references cars, trains, bicycles and walking. She is writing as if in transit and as you read her poems, you find yourself in transit too. But it doesn’t stop there. Her language is spare and evocative. It is full of questions that linger in the air. The destination is often unknown. The journey is heightened by the incidentals. It is in transit. In “If there is another world,” she posits “If there is another world, / I think you take a cab there- / or ride your old bicycle / down Junction Blvd.”

After selecting a graduate studies program for poetry, I found myself surrounded by poets I admired and whose work I respected including Malena Mörling. While we never had a chance to work together beyond a workshop or two, her easy and observant manner made her someone whose company I  enjoyed as we both shared  a love of travel, art and international poetry.

Many of her poems in “Astoria” are set in an urban landscape and where some might write an easy gritty backdrop, instead she finds beauty in unexpected places. From “131st Street”:

“Or it is possible you’ll glimpse in passing / a warm and loving exchange / between two strangers / reflected / for a single moment / in an ornate bureau mirror / traveling on a flatbed truck / stopped at a red light here on 131st Street-”

Underneath the everyday rubric are the metaphysical insights like this one from “Wallpaper” where she connects world to self: “On one hand, / the wallpaper / of the world / and the wallpaper / of the mind / are separate / layers of / what is seen / and unseen.

One of the reasons I suggest reading “Astoria” as part of my curated reading list during National Poetry Month is her ability to transform the mundane into the magical by entertaining wonder and curiosity. And aren’t we all in need of a bit of wonder and curiosity? I think it’s not something that is actively encouraged or cultivated enough as adults.

“It’s amazing / we’re not / more amazed. / The world / is here / but then it’s gone / like a wave / traveling toward / other waves.”

Categories
Recipes

“The Guitar” by Federico Garcia Lorca

Poetry.

Maybe the last time you picked up a book of poems (if ever) was in high school. You might think they’re boring, inaccessible or just not for you and I’m not one to disagree with the last point. But hear me out for a moment: I have a hunch that given the right poem or hearing the right poet is akin to listening to your favorite musician for the first time. It’s a discovery, an epiphany of a world you didn’t know existed and you feverishly want more. Poetry as an artform does make its way into speeches, newspaper articles and particularly when paired with music, into song. So maybe it’s not poetry you’ve written off, just the idea of it.

April is national poetry month and I would like to be your curator composing my own Annelies anthology of poems. This is not your Norton’s Anthology, and by now, if you stop here often, you might notice I’m a fan of multicultural food, traveling to other parts of the world and international poetry. Shoot, I’m an associate editor for Poetry International, a fantastic annual journal of poems from around the world.

And I want to get you excited about, if not think twice about poetry.

I guarantee every poem will probably not resonate with you and that’s okay. But just maybe, you will hear something that rings true to you. Something that makes your pulse quicken or even makes you tear up. My appreciation for poetry’s complexity and simplicity only grows with time.

If you stick with me through the month, I will share a panoply of poems and think it will be quite a journey.  I may try to pair up poems with recipes- the story-telling need not stop because the form is shorter or different.

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The Guitar
Federico Garcia Lorca from Lorca & Jimenez

The crying of the guitar
starts.
The goblets
of the dawn break.
The crying of the guitar
starts.
No use to stop it.
It is impossible
to stop it.
It cries repeating itself
as the water cries,
as the wind cries
over the snow.
It is impossible
to stop it.
It is crying for things
far off.
The warm sand of the South
that asks for white camellias.
For the arrow with nothing to hit,
the evening with no dawn coming,
and the first bird of all dead
on the branch,
Guitar!
Heart wounded, gravely,
by five swords.