Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "The Undertaking" by Louise Gluck

The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime.
There you are - cased in clean bark you drift
through weaving rushes, fields flooded with cotton.
You are free. The river films with lilies,
shrubs appear, shoots thicken into palm. And now
all fear gives way: the light
looks after you, you feel the waves' goodwill
as arms widen over the water; Love

the key is turned. Extend yourself -
it is the Nile, the sun is shining,
everywhere you turn is luck.

by Louise Gluck

This is a beautiful poem, rich in its simplicity and yet awash with imagery of light and water. It can be interpreted in a number of ways, but I imagine it as the final journey, like an ancient Egyptian, the "you" is floated off down the Nile, with all the troubles of life washed away in the embrace of a peaceful death.

I love that image: "The river films with lilies" and how the "you" of the poem feels "the waves' goodwill". Beautifully economic and, paradoxically, expansive.

For more information about poet, Louise Gluck, see:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "The Dormouse and the Doctor" by A. A. Milne

There once was a Dormouse who lived in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)
And all the day long he'd a wonderful view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)

A Doctor came hurrying round, and he said:
"Tut-tut, I am sorry to find you in bed.
Just say 'Ninety-nine', while I look at your chest...
Don't you find that chrysanthemums answer the best?"

 The Dormouse looked round at the view and replied
(When he'd said "Ninety-nine") that he'd tried and he'd tried,
And much the most answering things that he knew
Were geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).

The Doctor stood frowning and shaking his head,
And he took up his shiny silk hat as he said:
"What the patient requires is a change," and he went
To see some chrysanthemum people in Kent.

The Dormouse lay there, and he gazed at the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue),
And he knew there was nothing he wanted instead
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

The Doctor came back and, to show what he meant,
He had brought some chrysanthemum cuttings from Kent.
"Now these," he remarked, "give a much better view
Than geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

They took out their spades and they dug up the bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red),
And they planted chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
"And now," said the Doctor, "we'll soon have you right."

The Dormouse looked out, and he said with a sigh:
"I suppose all these people know better than I.
It was silly, perhaps, but I did like the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

The Doctor came round and examined his chest,
And ordered him Nourishment, Tonics, and Rest.
"How very effective," he said, as he shook
The thermometer, "all these chrysanthemums look!"

The Dormouse turned over to shut out the sight
Of the endless chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
"How lovely," he thought, "to be back in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)."

The Doctor said, "Tut! It's another attack!"
And ordered him Milk and Massage-of-the-back,
And Freedom-from-worry and Drives-in-a-car,
And murmured, "How sweet your chrysanthemums are!"

The Dormouse lay there with his paws to his eyes,
And imagined himself such a pleasant surprise:
"I'll pretend the chrysanthemums turn to a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)!"

The Doctor next morning was rubbing his hands,
And saying, "There's nobody quite understands
These cases as I do! The cure has begun!
How fresh the chrysanthemums look in the sun!"

The Dormouse lay happy, his eyes were so tight
He could see no chrysanthemums, yellow or white.
And all that he felt at the back of his head
Were delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

And that is the reason (Aunt Emily said)
If a Dormouse gets in a chrysanthemum bed,
You will find (so Aunt Emily says) that he lies
Fast asleep on his front with his paws to his eyes.

by A. A. Milne

I thought it was time for something delightful and child-like. A nice poem to read aloud to young children if they are home sick from school.

For more about the life of A.A. Milne, see:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Happiness" by Raymond Carver

So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

by Raymond Carver

I'm a big Carver fan, both of his poems and his short stories. He had a really unique knack of getting right to the heart of things, simply, directly and achingly beautifully. This poem captures the fleeting and ephemeral nature of happiness perfectly I think.

For more information on Raymond Carver, see:


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Anseo" by Paul Muldoon

When the Master was calling the roll
At the primary school in Collegelands,
You were meant to call back Anseo
And raise your hand
As your name occurred.
Anseo, meaning here, here and now,
All present and correct,
Was the first word of Irish I spoke.
The last name on the ledger
Belonged to Joseph Mary Plunkett Ward
And was followed, as often as not,
By silence, knowing looks,
A nod and a wink, the Master's droll
'And where's our little Ward-of-court?'

I remember the first time he came back
The Master had sent him out
Along the hedges
To weigh up for himself and cut
A stick with which he would be beaten.
After a while, nothing was spoken;
He would arrive as a matter of course
With an ash-plant, a salley-rod.
Or, finally, the hazel-wand
He had whittled down to a whip-lash,
Its twist of red and yellow lacquers
Sanded and polished,
And altogether so delicately wrought
That he had engraved his initials on it.

I last met Joseph Mary Plunkett Ward
In a pub just over the Irish border.
He was living in the open,
In a secret camp
On the other side of the mountain.
He was fighting for Ireland,
Making things happen.
And he told me, Joe Ward,
Of how he had risen through the ranks
To Quartermaster, Commandant:
How every morning at parade
His volunteers would call back Anseo

And raise their hands
As their names occurred.

by Paul Muldoon

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Dispatch from the Fringe" (a VideoPoem) by Paul E. Nelson

Here's a cool VideoPoem from Paul E. Nelson, a Seattle-based poet, writer and radio interviewer.

His achievements are too numerous to mention, but you can find out more about him here:

Here's a bit of information from his own blog:

"Over 26 years, Paul E Nelson has interviewed poetic luminaries such as Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, Robin Blaser, Sam Hamill, Wanda Coleman, Eileen Myles, Jerome Rothenberg, Sam Hamill and George Bowering. As host of a whole-systems public affairs radio interview program, he also interviewed authors and activists who understand the shift from a mechanistic ethos to one of process, partnership and interconnection."

Credit for Video: Kyle McCormick, videographer

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "After the Last Bulletins" by Richard Wilbur

After the last bulletins the windows darken  
And the whole city founders readily and deep,  
Sliding on all its pillows
To the thronged Atlantis of personal sleep,

And the wind rises. The wind rises and bowls  
The day’s litter of news in the alleys. Trash  
Tears itself on the railings,
Soars and falls with a soft crash,

Tumbles and soars again. Unruly flights  
Scamper the park, and taking a statue for dead  
Strike at the positive eyes,
Batter and flap the stolid head

And scratch the noble name. In empty lots  
Our journals spiral in a fierce noyade  
Of all we thought to think,
Or caught in corners cramp and wad

And twist our words. And some from gutters flail  
Their tatters at the tired patrolman’s feet,
Like all that fisted snow
That cried beside his long retreat

Damn you! damn you! to the emperor’s horse’s heels.  
Oh none too soon through the air white and dry  
Will the clear announcer’s voice
Beat like a dove, and you and I

From the heart’s anarch and responsible town  
Return by subway-mouth to life again,  
Bearing the morning papers,
And cross the park where saintlike men,

White and absorbed, with stick and bag remove  
The litter of the night, and footsteps rouse  
With confident morning sound
The songbirds in the public boughs.

by Richard Wilbur

I think this poem is wonderful because the poet has taken what would seem to be an unlikely subject, paper litter, and produced something quite beautiful and magnificent.

And maybe I'm being a word nerd, but I get a bit of a frisson when I come across a new word I've never encountered before. In Line 2, Stanza 4, a "noyade" is, according to the Webster's Dictionary, "an execution carried out by drowning". Apparently, it sprang from the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

And knock me down with feather and call me an ignorant peon, but I've never encountered the noun, "anarch" ( Line1, Stanza 7) before which the Collins Dictionary defines as "(archaic) an instigator or personification of anarchy".

I love the journey described in this poem, a kind of rake's progress of wind-whipped trash. There are so many fantastic images in this poem that startle and delight the reader. Don't you just love "the thronged Atlantis of personal sleep" or "And some from gutters flail / 
Their tatters at the tired patrolman’s feet"? And the next day, as the poem closes, the cycle begins all over again.

For more about the poet, Richard Wilbur, see:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "The Great Figure" by William Carlos Williams

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

by William Carlos Williams
I love the way this poem manages to convey such an intense and vibrant image of a firetruck (or fire engine as we call them in New Zealand) racing to an emergency with such economy, in such a pared-down use of words.
For more information about the poet, William Carlos Williams, see: