Friday, August 31, 2012

A Little Advice from Adrienne on Writing a Poem

"I can’t write a poem to manipulate you; it will not succeed."
                                      - Adrienne Rich, 
                                          From her essay on poetic theory: " Someone is Writing a Poem"

Whenever I read Adrienne Rich, I wish I had time to read more.

Today, I asked my juniors to write a poem that is a conversation with either Thoreau or Emerson; the seniors, Frost or Emerson.  The assignment is simple address the famous poet in free verse - 14 lines.  The tone - conversational - or even critical.  They can quote, but not excessively: they can question, but they must ultimately argue a point.  A high-fiving homage has it's limitations in creativity, too.  It need not be inspirational; perhaps, ironic - and hopefully not cynical - which would be, thus, ironic given the optimism of Emerson.

Yet these three poets, were not always so, optimistic.  They certainly had their days and their fair share of loss and tragedy in their lives.  Yet they survived and endured.  They railed against conformity and imitation.  They found their voice through taking note of their lives - they wrote, they talked, they observed, they listened. 

Now, for my students, these assignments are daunting, frustrating, intimidating, and yes, scary.  Since I am not assessing whether they know the answers or how well they can memorize, parroting quotes or poems.  Emerson would not be happy if I did.  I am asking them to connect within - and transform his didactic essays (much in the way Whitman aspired to be the Emerson's "Poet) into their own words - beautiful words arranged in 14 simple verses.  

And as I tried to explain a conversation with a poet, I thought of an example: Allen Ginsburg's "A Supermarket in California" where he sees Whitman down the aisle and questions him.  

No cartoon light bulb over their head, my students seemed more confused with this example; their eyes  rather blank - and hungry before a late lunch on a Friday afternoon.  After class, I googled poems to poets, and found poems about poems - a wonderful list with links.  Yet meta-texts and Ars Poeticas...may only cloud the issue further.

A simple assignment: Write a poem.  Perhaps a letter - to these poets, and set it to verse - with consideration to enjambment and stanza breaks.  

Punctuation matters - no imitation of E.E. Cummings

For further inspiration, I share more Adrienne Rich (if you're still reading this post) - She is tough to truncate: click here for the full essay: 

I can’t write a poem to manipulate you; it will not succeed. Perhaps you have read such poems and decided you don’t care for poetry; something turned you away. I can’t write a poem from dishonest motives; it will betray its shoddy provenance, like an ill-made tool, a scissors, a drill, it will not serve its purpose, it will come apart in your hands at the point of stress. I can’t write a poem simply from good intentions, wanting to set things right, make it all better; the energy will leak out of it, it will end by meaning less than it says.

I can’t write a poem that transcends my own limits, though poetry has often pushed me beyond old horizons, and writing a poem has shown me how far out a part of me was walking beyond the rest. I can expect a reader to feel my limits as I cannot, in terms of her or his own landscape, to ask: But what has this to do with me? Do I exist in this poem? And this is not a simple or naive question. We go to poetry because we believe it has something to do with us. We also go to poetry to receive the experience of the not me, enter a field of vision we could not otherwise apprehend.

Someone writing a poem believes in a reader, in readers, of that poem. The “who” of that reader quivers like a jellyfish. Self-reference is always possible: that my “I” is a universal “we,” that the reader is my clone. That sending letters to myself is enough for attention to be paid. That my chip of mirror contains the world.

But most often someone writing a poem believes in, depends on, a delicate, vibrating range of difference, that an “I” can become a “we” without extinguishing others, that a partly common language exists to which strangers can bring their own heartbeat, memories, images. A language that itself has learned from the heartbeat, memories, images of strangers.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now by Mark Doty

Mark Doty inspired this post - and it was sheer luck that in my google search I found him.

He writes/speaks:

I want to begin with a quotation from the contemporary American poet Elizabeth Alexander. A little line or two of Elizabeth's provides an epigraph for my talk. This is a poem in which the speaker is a teacher who has grown frustrated with her class. The class believes that poetry is all rainbows and sweetness and love. And she says to them, "'Poetry,' I tell them, 'is the human voice, and we are of interest to one another. Are we not?'"

So this is "Tide of Voices." In the early 1940s, the psychologist Abraham Maslow constructed a hierarchy of basic needs, a famous description of what human beings require. Above all else, he said, we need to be safe. When you're out of danger you can think about food and water, and when you have those things you can think about shelter, and once you have that you can turn to your emotional needs. When you're safe, fed, out of the weather, and loved, he thought, then you can turn your attention to a more complex human need and desire to create.

Full Transcript:
Just as Mark Doty turns to Elizabeth Alexander, I turn to Mark Doty as my (extended) epigram.  When Doty shares hierarchy of basic needs, I think of Mr. Davies and his talk on thoughtfulness.  I wonder where "thoughtfulness" lands in this hierarchy of an adolescent's needs.   A girl mentioned how a spider distracted her as it crawled along her pew - her fear - her arachnophobia challenging the fulfillment of her basics needs.  Another student says she was distracted by another student that whispering in the ear of another student - the irony.  A lecture on "thoughfulness" ignored.  Those that are thoughtful, listen.  Those that are not, do not.  Perhaps a few students crossed the chasm of oblivion to enlightened "thoughtfulness".
Just as Mark Doty turns to Elizabeth Alexander, I turn to Mark Doty as my (extended) epigram.  When Doty shares hierarchy of basic needs, I think of Mr. Davies and his talk on thoughtfulness.  I wonder where "thoughtfulness" lands in this hierarchy of an adolescent's needs.   A girl mentioned how a spider distracted her as it crawled along her pew - her fear - her arachnophobia challenging the fulfillment of her basics needs.  Another student says she was distracted by another student that whispering in the ear of another student - the irony.  A lecture on "thoughfulness" ignored.  Those that are thoughtful, listen.  Those that are not, do not.  Perhaps a few students crossed the chasm of oblivion to enlightened "thoughtfulness".
So how does one become more "thoughtful" - age, maturity, awareness, experience, personal connection?
Poetry brings awareness.  And poetry "fuses the outer voice with the inner voice" (Doty).
I find it hard not to quote extensively as a I read and listen to Mark
That inner voice is certainly related to the voice we use when we talk to the world and reflect in it, but they aren't the same thing. I doubt any of us sounds to other people the way we sound in our own heads. Poetic voice is an attempt to make a version of that illusive inferiority, to bring it into the light of the page. Or maybe, more accurately, to fuse the inner voice with the outer one in order to make a speaking presence on the page that feels like ourselves.
Poetry makes us listen.  Through listening, we become thoughtful.  Writing poetry is like Emerson's advice to listen "within"and "Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string."

Mark Doty reads Revenge by Taha Muhammad Ali (which led me to find the poet on youtube and copy this transcription below):
Mark Doty reads Revenge by Taha Muhammad Ali (which led me to find the poet on youtube and copy this transcription below):
Mark Doty reads Revenge by Taha Muhammad Ali (which led me to find the poet on youtube and copy this transcription below):
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I'd rest at last
and if I were ready -
I would take my revenge!
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who'd put
his right hand over
the heart's place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they'd set -
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn't bear his absence
and who his presents thrilled.
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school...
asking about him
and sending him regards.
out to be on his own -
cut off like a branch from a tree -
without mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I'd add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness -
nor the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I'd be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street - as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.
St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle, October 7, 2006)
Listen to Taha Muhammad Ali read his poem
Doty concludes:
Doty concludes:
We must listen to be "thoughtful" and what better way to share our voice than through poetry.
Listen to the poetry all around you.  

At times ... I wish
But if it came to light,
Likewise ... I
Or if he had
But if he turned
~ Taha Muhammad Ali ~
(Read by Taha Muhammad Ali and translated by Peter Cole,

It is revenge, of course, that brought the great corporate monuments of New York City down into the dust. And revenge that fueled the seemingly endless, capricious war-making that has followed. There is no end to revenge in sight but here on the page, within one life, a life which presents some excellent reasons the speaker might want revenge, might be moved to strike back. The chain of reprisal is ended for the duration of the poem and in whatever ways the text goes on reverberating in the minds of its readers and listeners.

Poetry's work is to make people real to us through the agency of the voice. "'Poetry is the human voice,' I tell them, 'and we are of interest to one another. Are we not?'" When people are real to you, you can't fly a plane into the office building where they work, you can't bulldoze the refugee camp where they live, you can't cluster-bomb their homes and streets. We only do those things when we understand people as part of a category: infidel, insurgent, enemy. Meanwhile, poetry does what it does, inscribing individual presence, making a system of words and sounds to mark the place where one human being stood, bound in time, reporting on what it is to be one. In the age of the collective of mass culture and mass market, there's hope in that.

Tina Chang, the young poet who is one of the new voices here this weekend, is the co-editor of an anthology being published by W. W. Norton. The book is called Language for a New Century: Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond. The title of this book represents my deepest hope for our art. May poetry indeed be a language for a new century. A way to place value on the dignity, specificity, and beauty of individual lives. A way to resist the streamlining diminishment of categories and generalizations. A way to speak, a way to be heard.

It is these last lines that conclude my point (however, obscure it has become by my over-quoting): 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - Robert Frost

    Robert Frost's poem 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' was written in 1922 at his house in Vermont and then published in 1923 in his collection of poems called New Hampshire. Frost wrote this poem right after staying up all night writing his longer poem of the collection "New Hampshire". The words came to him as he went outside to watch the sunrise.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening 

By Robert Frost

  Whose woods these are I think I know.   
  His house is in the village though;   
  He will not see me stopping here                                         
  To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

    This four stanza poem by Robert Frost consists of a very simplistic style of poetry. Because of the absence of deeper meanings and poetry humor, 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' reaches out to a larger and more diversified audience. The speaker stops by some woods on a snowy evening and is compelled by the lovely attractions to stay longer but he has 'promises to keep' and a long way to go before he can rest. I think Frost composes this poem with a very unique method. Within each stanza the last word of the first line rhymes with the last words of the second and the third lines leaving the third line to rhyme with the last word in the first line of the next stanza.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wind and Window Flower

"Wind and Window Flower" was written and Published in 1913. It appeared in A Boy's Will; the collection attempts to show "the various stages of a young man's outlook on life" (page 129).  Although the critic believed that Frost wasn't very successful for the entire book, "Wind and Window Flower" seems to succeed at depicting one of the stages. Parini does not give specific background to this poem, rather he talks only about the entire collection, A Boy's Will. 

Wind and Window Flower
Lovers, forget your love,
And list to the love of these,
She a window flower,
And he a winter breeze.

When the frosty window veil
Was melted down at noon,
And the caged yellow bird
Hung over her in tune,

He marked her through the pane,
He could not help but mark,
And only passed her by
To come again at dark.

He was a winter wind,
Concerned with ice and snow,
Dead weeds and unmated birds,
And little of love could know.

But he sighed upon the sill, 
He gave the sash a shake,
As witness all within
Who lay that night awake.

Perchance he half prevailed
To win her for the flight
From the firelit looking-glass
And warm stove-window light.

But the flower leaned aside
And thought of naught to say,
And morning found the breeze
A hundred miles away.

My Thoughts on the Poem:
"Wind and Window Flower" is a love poem about love that isn't realized, until it's too late, and thus can never be. The winter breeze is head over heels in love with the flower, but every time the tries to get the flower's attention she doesn't realize it. When the flower realizes that she loves the wind, he has already blown away from her, never to return. This poem is very human, rather than portraying two souls finding love that last's and is magical, it shows the much more common situation in which love doesn't work out. The Poem doesn't try to show that everything will be rainbows and gumdrops in the end, but rather that things may go wrong, and that things don't always work out.


"Into My Own" 
by Robert Frost 

   "Into My Own" was written and published in 1906 when Frost came to a realization that he would rather be with Elinor and be oblivious to her actions as opposed to being separated ( Parini 49). Parini refers to Frost's desperation and yearning for love leading into the poem's reference. The poem exposes Frost's self-discovery and questioning of motives of not only himself, but everyone else he had grown up with. "Into My Own" digresses from the imagery of shadows and gloom onto a touchy subject that Frost wishes to abandon recollection of. 

 Listen to my reading of:

"Into My Own"

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as 'twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.
I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.
I do not see why I should e'er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him they knew--
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

    When first looking at the poem "Into My Own" at the beginning of Lathem's collection of Frost's work, I would have never guessed the reference to his Elinor without reading Parini's biography. Personally, I believe that Frost is talking about the trees as if they were Elinor and the effect/strain she has on him. The tree's appear so dark in the mind of Frost because he casts a shadow over them, forcing the things that he does not want to know or see to be out of sight, assuming that they would be out of mind as well. The open land Frost talks about seems to be an open mind, ready to accept what has happened around him that he has chosen to block out, but remains mysterious. He questions his motives for returning and then realizes that there is nothing tying him to his home besides his spouse, exposing his self-conscious mannerism. While writing this poem, Frost begins to convince himself that there is no use for him and that staying would only leave him to more hurt. Without knowing Elinor, the reader of this poem would continue to question the source of his depression.

"Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost

 "Fire and Ice" is one of the  Robert Frost's most famous poems. It was published by Harper"s Magazine in December 1920. At that time, there was a debate going on about whether the world will be ended either through“permanent ice age” or “incineration". Through the poems, Robert Frost gave his opinion on the end of world.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

With only nine lines, the poem by Robert Frost shows two things that will bring the world to an end, they are fire and ice. When I read this poem, the most noticeable literary device used in Robert Frost poems is symbolism. What does Frost want to convey in this poem?  Through my understanding, fire is the symbol of desire and the ice is the symbol of hate. Fire is capable of igniting and destroying everything that stands in its way. So is the desire. The desire of money impels the mobs to rob the bank. Ice is cold, as we all know. So is the hatred. People full of hatred tend to be meaner and colder to the other people. Through his poem, I am able to see the deeper meaning of the elements that will ultimately destroy the world.  Robert Frost predicts the end of world in his own way. 2012 almost ends, we might see what will truly end the world.

A Dream Pang

“A Dream Pang” by Robert Frost
This poem was written in and published in 1913 along with other poems and during that time, Parini quotes from a critic, “These poems are intended by the author to possess a certain sequence, and to depict the various stages of a young man’s outlook on life…(these poems) did not rise above the ordinary” (129). As in, this poem is not as successful. During this time, Frost had been spending time with Elinor.
A Dream Pang
I had withdrawn in forest, and my song
Was swallowed up in leaves that blew alway;
And to the forest edge you came one day
(This was my dream) and looked and pondered long,
But did not enter, though the wish was strong:
You shook your pensive head as who should say,
‘I dare not—too far in his footsteps stray—
He must seek me would he undo the wrong.

Not far, but near, I stood and saw it all
Behind low boughs the trees let down outside;
And the sweet pang it cost me not to call
And tell you that I saw does still abide.
But ’tis not true that thus I dwelt aloof,
For the wood wakes, and you are here for proof.
Personal Reflection
My first guess was that this was a dream, hence the title. Not a bedtime dream but more of a day dream, or a wish. Frost is wanting or wishing for something he can’t have, “And to the forest you came one day (this was my dram) and looked pondered long/ But did not enter though the wish was strong” what comes to mind is Elinor. His wishes she would want him as much as he wants her. That dream or whatever he is dreaming “does still all abide” as in continue. I am not sure about the last two lines but my gist of this poem is it’s a dream. And according to Disney, a dream is a wish your heart makes.

"Flower Gathering" by Robert Frost

"Flower Gathering" - Robert Frost

"Flower Gathering" was published in Frost's book of poetry; A Boy's Will in 1913. At the point in time when he decided to craft this poem, Elinor was pregnant with Frost's child, and "Frost went for long walks in the woods and meadows around Allenstown, sometimes with Elinor for company but often not; at this stage of her pregnancy, it was difficult for her to take extended walks, especially when climbing was involved"(Parini 56). Frost felt remorseful about abandoning his wife on these walks; his "guilt over going without her was caught in 'Flower Gathering'" in the beginning four lines. The third and fourth lines even go so far as to incriminate Elinor for "going a little way just to make him feel bad about continuing on"(Parini 57) his lonesome journey to gather flowers for his pregnant wife.

(page 12-13 in The Poetry of Robert Frost)

Listen to my reading of:

 Flower Gathering

I left you in the morning, 
And in the morning glow 
You walked a way beside me
To make me sad to go.
Do you know me in the gloaming,
Gaunt and dusty gray with roaming?
Are you dumb because you know me not,
Or dumb because you know?

All for me? And not a question
For the faded flowers gay
That could take me from beside you
For the ages of a day?
They are yours, and be the measure
Of their worth for you to treasure, 
The measure of the little while
That I've been long away.

I firmly agree with Parini's interpretation of the poem, especially knowing the fact that Frost's beloved wife was, in fact, pregnant at the time "Flower Gathering" was written. The questions in the poem seem to be rhetorical questions toward Elinor; chastising Elinor for how she forces him to feel as if he is being selfish as he embarks alone on a walk which Elinor would love to accompany him, only to be greeted upon his return with a beautiful bouquet of hand-picked flowers. The context that the poem relates to provides an interesting, almost fight-like mental scenario between Elinor and Frost to envision when comprehending it. Prior to gaining knowledge through Robert Frost: a life by Jay Parini, my views on "Flower Gathering" would have differed greatly.

Not Quite Social

"Not Quite Social" was first published in March 1935 for the Saturday Review of Literature, for which Frost had been sending a few poems here and there for publication.  Later published in the book A Further Range, this poem was one of the last lone poems Frost wrote before creating another collection in a book.  He had recently traveled to Santa Fe and given a poetry reading which encouraged him to publish a new book, considering the amount of poems he had written and that his last book was already 3 years old (published in 1928).  Frost also noted that this poem goes with "The Lost Follower", another one of his poems.

(can be found on page 306 of the Robert Frost poetry book)

My Reading of:

              Not Quite Social

Some of you will be glad I did what I did, 
And the rest won't want to punish me too severely 
For finding a thing to do that though not forbid 
Yet wasn't enjoined and wasn't expected clearly. 

To punish me over cruelly wouldn't be right 
For merely giving you once more gentle proof 
That the city's hold on a man is no more tight 
Than when its walls rose higher than any roof. 

You may taunt me with not being able to flee the earth. 
You have me there, but loosely as I would be held. 
The way of understanding is partly mirth. 
I would not be taken as ever having rebelled. 

And anyone is free to condemn me to death 
If he leaves it to nature to carry out the sentence. 
I shall will to the common stock of air my breath 
And pay a death-tax of fairly polite repentance.

I read this poem for the first time when I was on duty last week in Wood House.  Over the last week, we prefects have been teaching the Freshmen the rules and making sure they get everything right.  Of course, sometimes rules are broken and when I read this poem, it connected with me because it relates to crime and misdemeanor.  The poem's voice is that of the poet, who has committed a crime and speaks about forgiveness, punishment, and imprisonment.  These things relate to the duties and responsibilities I have at Wood House (well at least the first two).  The poem goes through the stages of a crime we have to think about being forgiving and understand that there maybe was a reason behind the actions.  Then the second and third stanza talk about punishment and captivity. He brings up how cruel punishment is unjust and also proposes that an imprisoned man is not that much less free than anyone else.  Finally, he talks about nature being a sufficient death penalty for those holding hatred for the crime.  I enjoyed reading this piece because it takes the judgment process and makes you think about society and what we have created.

"A Peck of Gold" by Robert Frost

Golden Gate Bridge

Parini's Thoughts

     As the first poem mentioned in Robert Frost: A Life by Jay Parini, it's clear that "A Peck of Gold" has a special place in the hearts of both Frost and Parini. Frost published this poem at the age of 54 in 1928, reportedly looking back on his memory of San Francisco, the city where his life began. Parini writes that in the poem, "Frost would register some of the atmosphere of that city by the sea" (Parini 7). Even with the Gold Rush long over, the city was still hustling and bustling with people. Speaking of San Francisco, Frost said, "The excitement of the place appealed to my father. He was part of it. There was gold dust in his eyes, you might say" (7). After his father's death, Frost moved to Massachusetts, but he would always marvel at the impression that San Francisco had on him.

"A Peck of Gold" by Robert Frost

 Dust always blowing about the town,
Except when sea-fog laid it down,
And I was one of the children told
Some of the blowing dust was gold.

All the dust the wind blew high
Appeared like god in the sunset sky,
But I was one of the children told
Some of the dust was really gold.

Such was life in the Golden Gate:
Gold dusted all we drank and ate,
And I was one of the children told,
'We all must eat our peck of gold.'

Personal Reflection

     The main thing that struck me in this poem was the image that Frost was able to create within the reader's mind. I could imagine the fog as it overtook the city and the sunset in all of its beauty. Frost's time spent in his birthplace was limited. He moved across the U.S. at the young age of 11. Born in Belgium, I too had this same experience when I moved to the U.S. at the age of 2. This poem shows the impact the San Francisco had on Frost in his short time there. He remembers stories of the Gold Rush, and demonstrates the impacts that it had on the city. Unluckily, I don't have memories of the city that I was born in. I wish that I had stored-up memories of Brussels in my brain so that I could write a poem just like Frost did. I guess I'll just have to wait until I go back to visit.

Hear me read the poem:


Robert Frost wrote Spring pools in 1926. Frost at this time was alone as Elinor had gone to Pittsfield to look after Marjorie who had become very unwell. Frost was only teaching one day a week at this time, this allowed a lot of time for his poetry. This is what Frost needed as he was worried about his future as an author due to lack of poetry he had published recently.

Spring Pools

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods --
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

 The first thing that attracted me to this poem was the way Frost uses strong imagery to illustrate his obsoleting emotions. He does this by linking the negativity in his life with the dying flowers and his hope, through the life cycle of nature.  I believe he is using this imagery to represent his hope for his daughter. He uses the dying flowers to signify how she is currently unwell, however expresses his anticipation for her recovery in the second stanza by describing the flowers coming back to life. The use of ‘buds’ again indicate ‘a fresh start’ and health which is what he will be longing for. This imagery could also be a reflection of his career and his anticipation that he will become more successful.

A Peck of Gold -R. Frost

The 1870's was the height of the Silver mining burst that happened after the Gold Rush had died down in San Francisco. Parini believes that "Given Will Frost's romantic mine-set, San Francisco was just the place for him." Also connecting Robert Frost's comment about his father, "The excitement of the place appealed to my Father. He was a part of it. There was gold dust in his eyes, you might say," to his poem "A Peck of Gold". (Parini 7).

A Peck of Gold
Click here to listen!

Dust always blowing about the town,
Except when sea-fog laid it down,
And I was one of the children told
Some of the blowing dust was gold.

All the dust the wind blew high
Appeared like gold in the sunset sky,
But I was one of the children told
Some of the dust was really gold.

Such was life in the Golden Gate:
Gold dusted all we drank and ate,
And I was one of the children told,
"We all must eat our peck of gold".

My impressions of the poem are varied and lean more towards the impressions Frost's childhood had on him. He obviously grew up in San Francisco, where his father was hungry for money, as arguably most were.  The city is known for being foggy quite frequently, which would suggest that the gold dust that rolls in with the fog is significant. Personally, the poem creates a beautiful image of the city as one might think (valley like, the giant red bridge jutting out of the bay), then laced with little gold specks strung about. For me, good poetry can create a vivid image, just as Frost has done here for me.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sonnets, and more sonnets.

Sonnet - Billy Collins

All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here wile we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.

Included in the book, Sailing Around the Room: New and Selected Poems. Purchase from Amazon (here).

Yesterday's class....

I already have forgotten how it came up, the debate between whether it is skinning or peeling potatoes.  Yet it sparked a memory of Seamus Heaney's poem in memory of his mother: from Clearances 3, a sonnet:

When all the others were away at Mass 
In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984 

When all the others were away at Mass 
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes. 
They broke the silence, let fall one by one 
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron: 
Cold comforts set between us, things to share 
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water. 
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes 
From each other's work would bring us to our senses. 

So while the parish priest at her bedside 
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying 
And some were responding and some crying 
I remembered her head bent towards my head, 
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives-- 
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

From Clearances 3
By Seamus Heaney

The alliteration of peeling potatoes wins over the violent and harshsounding skinning.  We think of diction - the word choices a poet makes.  

"West-Running Brook", "Design" and more.

Listen to Scottish Poet Don Paterson read and analyze Frost's "West-Running Brook"  as well as "Design."

West-Running Brook

‘Fred, where is north?’
‘North? North is there, my love.
The brook runs west.’
‘West-running Brook then call it.’
(West-Running Brook men call it to this day.)
‘What does it think it’s doing running west
When all the other country brooks flow east
To reach the ocean? It must be the brook
Can trust itself to go by contraries
The way I can with you — and you with me –
Because we’re — we’re — I don’t know what we are.
What are we?’
“Young or new?
“We must be something.
We’ve said we two. Let’s change that to we three.
As you and I are married to each other,
We’ll both be married to the brook. We’ll build
Our bridge across it, and the bridge shall be
Our arm thrown over it asleep beside it.
Look, look, it’s waving to us with a wave
To let us know it hears me. ”
“Why, my dear,
That wave’s been standing off this jut of shore –”
(The black stream, catching a sunken rock,
Flung backward on itself in one white wave,
And the white water rode the black forever,
Not gaining but not losing, like a bird
White feathers from the struggle of whose breast
Flecked the dark stream and flecked the darker pool
Below the point, and were at last driven wrinkled
In a white scarf against the far shore alders.)
“That wave’s been standing off this jut of shore
Ever since rivers, I was going to say,’
Were made in heaven. It wasn’t waved to us. ”
“It wasn’t, yet it was. If not to you
It was to me — in an annunciation. ”
“Oh, if you take it off to lady-land,
As’t were the country of the Amazons
We men must see you to the confines of
And leave you there, ourselves forbid to enter,-
It is your brook! I have no more to say. ”
“Yes, you have, too. Go on. You thought of something. ”
“Speaking of contraries, see how the brook
In that white wave runs counter to itself.
It is from that in water we were from
Long, long before we were from any creature.
Here we, in our impatience of the steps,
Get back to the beginning of beginnings,
The stream of everything that runs away.
Some say existence like a Pirouot
And Pirouette, forever in one place,
Stands still and dances, but it runs away,
It seriously, sadly, runs away
To fill the abyss’ void with emptiness.
It flows beside us in this water brook,
But it flows over us. It flows between us
To separate us for a panic moment.
It flows between us, over us, and with us.
And it is time, strength, tone, light, life and love-
And even substance lapsing unsubstantial;
The universal cataract of death
That spends to nothingness — and unresisted,
Save by some strange resistance in itself,
Not just a swerving, but a throwing back,
As if regret were in it and were sacred.
It has this throwing backward on itself
So that the fall of most of it is always
Raising a little, sending up a little.
Our life runs down in sending up the clock.
The brook runs down in sending up our life.
The sun runs down in sending up the brook.
And there is something sending up the sun.
It is this backward motion toward the source,
Against the stream, that most we see ourselves in,
The tribute of the current to the source.
It is from this in nature we are from.
It is most us. ”
“To-day will be the day….You said so. ”
“No, to-day will be the day
You said the brook was called West-running Brook. ”
“To-day will be the day of what we both said.”


I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth --
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth --
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small. 

What is Autopoiesis? Don Paterson talks of Autopoiesiswas originally presented as a system description that was said to define and explain the nature of living systems

Middlebury's Bread Loaf on Frost