Archive for September, 2006

What the Gravedigger Needs

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

Teuva, Finland


rubber boots

leather gloves

iron spear to loosen up the frozen ground



length of rope

board to prevent mourners falling in

bicycle to go from grave to grave

Rachel Loden
New American Writing
Number 24, 2006


Is a list a poem?  This poem makes it hard to argue otherwise.  The items are well chosen, the list brief and pointed and powerful.  Some have obvious uses, and are left undescribed, some you fill in by yourself (rope to lower the coffin in) and others are described for you, but in terms simple and short enough that they compel imagination anyway.  This poem was a real gem, to me.  I can tell partly because now I want to imitate it.

Verse Daily: Cat Nap by Asa Boxer

Friday, September 29th, 2006

Enjoying rest, the feral house-cat wears her twilight coat, curls up,
and disappears among the waves of a rumpled blanket. So softly does she sleep,
it seems birds could fold safely into her paws, mice slip out of her pockets.
But in her brain, the owl flicks awake the dim lanterns of its eyes.

The mice stash their tiny beds safely under the boards of the hardwood floors.
The birds have worried in the eaves, tucking in their quiet nests, weaving whirlwinds
of twigs, pine needles, and string from the forest’s busy kitchen, where the fall
is cooking up a dreadful storm; mixing in every wild spice the forest can afford.

The woodpecker has peppered the trees and peppered the air with its knocking.
By ant-back, bee-sock, and squirrel-cheek, the forest is getting carried away.
The forest is shedding and shifting while the cat twitches an ear, listening
as the porcupine munches the main beam of the house down to the sweet core.

When the main beam snaps and the house leans with a groan of steel and wood,
when its hidden shelters crack and betray the mice at their gnawing, the eyelids
of the cat will split, her eyes break open, her claws slip out. She’ll leap at the bird,
toy with the mouse, and hunt till the buzz of the forest is caught.


It was the prosy quality of this poem that initially drew me to it. I think it allows for the lyrical quality of its stanzas. This is indicative in lines such as, “The forest is shedding and shifting while the cat twitches an ear, listening …” Also, the slant rhymes (see: whirlwinds / afford; wood / bird) afford the poem a whimsical property appropriate to its subject matter.
What I enjoyed most about this poem is all the animal imagery throughout. It sounds cheesy but birds “weaving whirlwinds,” “porcupine[s] munching,” and the concept of “forest’s busy kitchen” made me grin (in a good way).

A short short poem

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

I wrote this poem over summer and i’d love to hear some feedback on it.

yes, it’s a true story:

clean out yr car

In my trunk, I have a shoe.
One shoe–I lost its brother
moving I think, but I keep it
in case I find the other.

Poetry Daiy: Monkey Mind by Steve Orlen

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

When I was a child I had what is called an inner life.
For example, I looked at that girl over there
In the second aisle of seats and wondered what it was like
To have buck teeth pushing out your upper lip
And how it felt to have those little florets the breasts
Swelling her pajama top before she went to sleep.
Walking home, I asked her both questions
And instead of answering she told her mother
Who told the teacher who told my father.
After all these years, I can almost feel his hand
Rising in the room, the moment in the air of his decision,
Then coming down so hard it took my breath away,
And up again in that small arc
To smack his open palm against my butt.
I’m a slow learner
And still sometimes I’m sitting here wondering what my father
Is thinking, blind and frail and eighty-five,
Plunged down into his easy chair half the night
Listening to Bach cantatas. I know he knows
At every minute of every hour that he’s going to die
Because he told my mother and my mother told me.
I didn’t cry or cry out or say I’m sorry.
I lay across his lap and wondered what
He could be thinking to hit a kid like that.

I think this is an interesting poem. The title seems to me to be doing alot of work; I think of a monkey jumping all over the place, and a child on the monkey bars. This child/speaker certainly had a curious mind, hopping from one idea to the next. Orlen also writes that “I know he knows At every minute of every hour that’s he’s going to die” which makes me think that the child’s curious mind didn’t know that it should stop–it ceased only because it was hit.

Poetry Daily: Haircut

Monday, September 25th, 2006


I sit on the dock for a haircut and watch

as summer spreads out, relieving the general,

indiscriminate gray, like a mouthful of gin

spreading out through the capillaries

of my brain, etherizing everything

it is too painful to think or say,

as I dangle my feet in the water,

like bits of a man. On the goldenrod,

Japanese beetles are holding an orgy.

The green snake throws off its enameled skin.

And somewhere — invisible as the avenues

of the dead — a little door is left open for love,

pushing and pulling at each of us, as the water

pushes and pulls at my young gray hairs.



I think there are alot of mingling life and death images in here that somehow carry this poem afloat. The poem seems to twist at leaving the “little door” open for love, as the poem doesn’t even need to state that, and it could have sunk, and maybe it did for you, but I think that the image of the summer sun over the water takes care of it for me. The poem sort of starts out as a reminder that we’re all alone and as tiny and broken as this man on the dock, but then life continues on, and your hair keeps growing, and this man has let some love reach him through the act of handing over the scissors to a friend. I like how the poem both ends and starts on the dock, yet has narrowed down from just a man on the dock, to “young gray hairs.”

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

from Robert Pinsky’s “Impossible to tell” (the 1st 6 stanzas):

Slow dulcimer, gavotte and bow, in autumn,
Bashõ and his friends go out to view the moon;
In summer, gasoline rainbow in the gutter,

The secret courtesy that courses like ichor
Through the old form of the rude, full-scale joke,
Impossible to tell in writing. “Bashõ”

He named himself, “Banana Tree”: banana
After the plant some grateful students gave him,
Maybe in appreciation of his guidance

Threading a long night through the rules and channels
Of their collaborative linking-poem
Scored in their teacher’s heart: live, rigid, fluid

Like passages etched in a microscopic cicuit.
Elliot had in his memory so many jokes
They seemed to breed like microbes in a culture

Inside his brain, one so much making another
It was impossible to tell them all:
In the court-culture of jokes, a top banana.

its funny, I actually came across this poem when I was watching the simpsons the other day, robert pinksy was visiting the college where lisa was pretending to be a student and read (well, read some of) “impossible to tell.” I had never heard anything by Pinsky so I googled him and found the poem (which is pretty long, by the way). I think what drew me into it was not only hearing Pinsky read it (he really was a guest on the show) but the sound in general; his vocab is crazy. i had to look up “ichor” (it has something to do with pathology), and i think Basho is a japanese artist.

From VerseDaily

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

How Long Do You Think the Human Race Will Exist?

I don’t worry much about humanity,
my wife replies. I think that we’ll evolve.
Ecclesiastes tells me all is vanity,

that nothing new will happen for eternity,
and yet. . .I think we’re starting to dissolve.
I don’t worry—much. About humanity:

what will be lost, if we’re lost? Not infinity.
What now revolves around us will revolve.
Ecclesiastes tells me all is vanity:

one person saves a mint, one saves a manatee,
ho-hum go on—do something, get involved,
don’t worry much about humanity,

decide upon some charity, a sanity.
But there are sweet things: sex, worship, resolve. . .
Ecclesiastes tells me all is vanity.

Science predicts that bees or giant ants will be
Earth’s next bigwigs. No egos, none to solve
for “I.” Don’t worry much about humanity,
Ecclesiastes tells me. All is vanity.

While I liked the poem’s subject, I don’t much like the line repetition (not much a Dylan Thomas fan for that reason either). I think that so much more can be said with new lines and that the reptition may have some point in structure it has never done much for me.

9/9, Thinking of My Brothers East of the Mountains

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

Each year on this auspicious day, alone and foreign
here in a foreign place, my thoughts of you sharpen:

far away, I can almost see you reaching the summit,
dogwood berries woven into sashes, short one person.

-Wang Wei

Translated by David Hinton

I’ve always been a person who likes short poetry, and short poetry has always found a welcome home in Asia, it seems. The longer a poem gets, the more I can’t help but wonder why it’s a poem at all, rather than prose. Economy is crucial, to me.

The language here is very simple, but telling. Sharpening a thought can mean that it’s more clear, but it can also mean that it is now more able to cut. I think both meanings are intended, here.

The note explains that it is a ritual, on the ninth day of the ninth month, to go up the mountain and sip wine. His absence is felt more keenly during a broken habit, a feeling I know well enough.

Adhesive Force (TT quote)

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

pg. 45:

“Connections are not stated, yet we know the three statements are connected. The are connected because the same poet wrote all three. That is, they are products of one vision that, along with style, becomes the adhesive force. This adhesive force will be your way of writing. Assume the next thing belongs because you put it there. The real reason may be clearer later.”

i think this is a very important thing to remember when reading and writing poetry. in putting together the various lines that make up a poem, it is to be assumed that the poet has an overarching idea that holds together all the lines and all the ideas; what Hugo calls the “adhesive force”. in reading a poem, we assume that all statements are related, and that by understanding their relation, we can understand the meaning/significance of the poem. it is important to remember that most readers will carry this assumption into reading the poem, thus we must make sure we have a unifying force running throughout our poem. obviously, we should have some kind of idea of the poem’s subject and theme, but i think it is also important to have consistent tone so that different elements don’t seem out of place and confuse the reader in his or her attempts to unlock the meaning of the piece.

Patrick Phillips, “What Happens”

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

What Happens


What happens never happens on its own.
The future and the past collide.

I’ve known a radio to go on playing
the song that it was playing

just before my father’s Pontiac began to slide—
the past so stubbornly persistent

even Jimi Hendrix would not stop wailing
just because my face was broken

and the rain was blowing
through what had been a windshield—

spot-lit figures clutching their knees
and sobbing in the grass

as Jimi shrieked and shrieked out of the past,
until finally I found the knob

I’d cranked in my euphoria, just before
the gods let loose their wrath.


And sometimes what happens
must happen more than once,

as when my friend died and the news
reached me in a cabin on a hillside,

where I presided over row
after row of sleeping campers.

The head counselor had whispered
through a moth-flecked screen,

then stood beside the stump
where I sat smoking and crying

and talking about what happened
until there was nothing left but sleep.

But by the time I was awakened
I’d forgotten, and for an hour

he was alive somewhere.
And I was showered, shaved,

and halfway down the mountain
when a twig snapped, and he died.

And sometimes what happens
doesn’t even happen,

like when it was time
for my wife to push

and she pushed so hard
the screen flatlined.

So hard the heart stopped
and the whole room began

to flash and beep, like on TV.
Nurses streamed through doors

and in an instant we were childless.
We wandered through our days.

The doctors worked and worked
and nothing happened.

And it was then I knew for sure
that nothing cares for us.

And I was changed.
And I have never been the same

though I’ve learned
to pretend I do not know

what can happen and un-happen
in no more time than it would take

an angel or a devil to descend into my wife,
and pass through her into my son,

who was miraculously born into this world,
where everywhere and always

hearts are stopping for no reason.
and for no reason, starting up again.


i found this poem very powerful, especially in the first section. i was pulled in by the lines “even Jimi Hendrix would not stop wailing / just because my face was broken”. the entire poem has a certain bluntness about it, but i think this line is particularly striking because of the idea of a broken face. this general, ambiguous description is far more effective and jarring than pinpointing a particular facial injury, and becomes all the more effective when the catastrophe of the crash is paired with the persistence of the radio in spite of the destruction and trauma. the rest of the poem adds to the tone set in the first section, and by the end, it becomes a very succesful reflection on the transcience of life and also of death. one aspect that somewhat distracted me however, was the pairing of the two lines together. i can understand how this technique is used to lend rhythm to the poem, but i can’t decide whether or not it would have been better without this sort of sing-songy rhthym. as is, i think it helps the flow, and makes certain lines and elements of the narrative stick out, however, i can’t help but think that for the subject matter, it would be much more dramatic without this division. but maybe the only reason it’s dramatic at all is because of this juxtaposition?