Monday, April 27, 2009

Elizabeth Bishop's Vision

"Off and on I have written out a poem called 'Grandmother's Glass Eye' which should be about the problem of writing poetry. The situation of my grandmother strikes me as rather like the situation of the poet: the difficulty of combining the real with the decidedly un-real; the natural with the unnatural; the curious effect a poem produces of being as normal as sight and yet as synthetic, as artificial, as a glass eye."

... thanks to the heroic Jeannie Vanasco for sending this.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My Last Poem by Manuel Bandeira

I would like my last poem thus

That it be gentle saying the simplest and least intended things
That it be ardent like a tearless sob
That it have the beauty of almost scentless flowers
The purity of the flame in which the most limpid diamonds are consumed
The passion of suicides who kill themselves without explanation.

- translation from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Bishop

Note: In 1951, poet Elizabeth Bishop received a $2,500 travel grant to circumnavigate Latin American. She landed in Santos, Brazil that fall, intending to stay two weeks, she lived there fifteen years.

James Linville will be...

I'll be posting admired poems, and thoughts on poetry, here again soon.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Retribution by Nicole Burdette


He turned around like Orpheus and fire was everywhere

I can’t remain here he said
Clumsy and hell-bent
He gave her chocolates wrapped in white
And paced in small spaces

It’s a tough racquet – confessing
As a wolf rises in the heart
He won’t escape his father’s sins this time around
Or his brother’s

Walking down hereditary roads reluctant and slow
It’s an incandescence that only blood knows
Distant like he was for all his success and sorrow
He closes his eyes, with their white Irises
There’s hardly a soul left in eyes that blue

He swears he’ll put his hand in the fire for her
He reads the Greeks define truth
As ”what is not forgotten”
And listens to what’s false

Like twigs broken on a trail
A voice distracts him
He says good-bye and - looks back
As the fog lowers on the other side of the world
Plunged into the water, down fast – helpless, lightless
Down an isle of cypress

Trailed by the furies, who so loudly follow him
He begs them to remember;
“I once led sailors to their destination safely
I drown out the temptation of sirens
I knew the seas”

Now across the ocean that reaches far east
He walks across this eternal prairie
And remembers the fruits of the desert; apricots, roses and peaches
And riding in an elevator in Monterey
A dove-drawn picture flooded with memory and cunning desire


At home visitors come home in from the rain
He’s praying for Dutch courage
Standing under a stoic flag
Why is his devotion so numb?

He remembers the night she sent him into a storm
These supposed Eden’s ride like waves under him
Captured by lust and bedeviled by simpatico
He finds he can not hide this anymore than a fugitive
Can hide himself

The scene changes again
Further down – past the volcano
Are oxcarts and dirty, closed gates
The crowds have had the romance beaten out of them
They mill on the cobblestones
Plaintive and damaged

It was never a question of character
He’d always find what was distinguished in what other people overlooked
But this cloud that hovered tonight, boy
Was surely the shadow of the world
The royal palms and bent coconut palms swung and snapped
Only the paper weights – whose use had seemed minimal
Before, decorative at best
now saved all he had left

He usually picked words
And saved them for another time
Words like ambrosia or deterred
At a loss of words so often
He found it best to do the other thing
And chips fall where they may

Like the genetic creasing of a Stetson hat
Dirty and trampled on – a gift from a relative
Then there’s words again
The ones he’d actually put down
And ones he spoke
He even spoke her words sometimes
It was getting hard to know the difference


Old letters just left
To love like that, sloppy, and have it spill over –
To divulge like that and vanish
Letters, in a box, in a closet, in an attic, in the sky
He didn’t like to be buried like that

The forest was not far off but full of erotic suspicion
Better to watch the towering abandonment of the surf
As it piles up on the beach
It’s been a pilgrimage (defined in 1750 as)
A ‘confused voyage of devotion’

He’d not have altitude sickness this time
He’d grown used to the heights
And surrendered to the falls
He knew humanity could not be objective
And that he had survived the waste
And extravagance of his own tolerance

After a lifetime of black dogs – retribution came
Like an obedient rebel
Even the scholar of fainting American meadows
is witness

He stands behind a heavy door
The wild honeysuckle perfume is potent
It drowns out the mixture of passionflowers and orchids
Even the hummingbirds from Brazil
Or the hours in the afternoon playing chess
Against his infant thoughts of locusts and mulberries
Behind the grove of oak and beeches
He’s living a noble lie; the nobility of impulse
Which was always as chaotic as the void surrounding him

His Olympian detachment –
His crudeness worthy of a turbulent sky
He’d have to exercise courtliness to understand savagery
He had loved
Out there among the Dutch elms and mango trees of exile
He knew, as Einstein said, that
“The moon exists even if no one is watching it”

Posted with the author's permission

Sunday, June 10, 2007

On sad suburban afternoons of autumn by Reginald Gibbons

On sad suburban afternoons of autumn,
       the piercings, leather and tattoos that bought
these bungalows from mixing bowls and golf
       barbeque and drink beer, watch football, eat,
laugh like ponies--everything has changed
       and not a lot except which music blares
through the meat-scented smoke and streaks of sun.
       Big motorcyles drip dark staining oil
where Oldsmobiles once waited between breakdowns.
       Slightly aslant on windows are the self-
adhesive souvenirs of stadium concerts
       by rockers getting osteoporosis;
T-shirts advertise five-pointed leaves;
       kids are neglected in the age-old ways,
unkempt and shrieking as they run--or older,
       buy their own weed, sneak drinks, ditch school and fuck.
In front yards, back yards, alleys and dead ends
       may all these signs convince the distant gods--
or Fate, or The Fates, an absent "G-d," a Christ
       somewhere or other, not right here, an Allah
with gnashing prophets, or a great magician,
       or the chance events that can destroy a life--
that there's no need to bring down any more
       than customary miseries and brief
illusions of good luck on such old, young,
       different, same, frail creatures of a day.

first appeared in Ontario Review #62
republished with author's permission

Thursday, June 7, 2007

6 by Catullus, translated by Peter Green

Flavius, that sweetie of yours (Catullus speaking)
must be totally inelegant and unsmart-
you couldn't keep quiet otherwise, you'd tell me.
Fact is, it's just some commonplace consumptive
tart you're mad for, and you blush to say so.
Look, your nights aren't solitary: silence
won't help out when your own bedroom shouts it--
stinking Syrian perfume, all those garlands,
both your pillows, on each side of the bed, all
rumpled, and the gimcrack bedstead shaken
into sharp creaking, loud perambulation!
It's no good, no good at all, your saying
nothing. Why? You wouldn't look so fucked out
if you weren't up to some inept adventure.
So, whatever you've got there, nice or awful,
tell us! I'm after you, man, and your lovebird,
want to ensky you both in witty poems.

posted with permission of the translator

Monday, May 21, 2007

Series #22 (white) by Page Starzinger

Oil and gesso on canvas    Robert Ryman, 2004


As if it were still the 17th century, when conscious
just entered the English language, meaning secret and shameful:


the whitewash of brushstrokes over black. It was like erasing
to put white over it,
Ryman says, but gives no hint of what—


everything we have words for is dead.
No wonder, Nietzche said, I forget; so it repeats, like a series


of couplets: In Hebrew darkness is not unrelated to childlessness.
Being 47, unmarried, without children and in love with men who don’t


is not a choice. It’s a compulsion. Last night I dreamt that I was a little
dressed in white, running behind a boy, down a dirt road,


searching for a home, and because we couldn’t tell which was best
we stopped at any house. It was owned by a blind man.


In Jane Eyre, it is after Rochester is blind in a fire that burns his house
      to the ground
that he is finally free to marry Jane. And in the paintings,


what is present is what matters. And what is present
is not white paint, but paint that reflects white,


a lightwave, a stream of minute packets of energy photons.

first appeared in Colorado Review, Spring 2007
republished with author's permission