Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Tuesday Poem: "How Fast Do You Dig" by Sean Joyce

For Federico Garcia Lorca

How fast do you dig
when the sweet fat moon is climbing high
and the air whispers in the trees
How fast do you dig
when you dig your own grave
how fast

How slow do you dig
when the stars are out and the men with the guns
stretch out on the grass
When they roll cigarettes and they wait for you
how slow do you dig
how slow

When the young one offers to roll you a smoke
How slow do you dig
How long is the night
How deep is the grave
of a poet.

Sean Joyce is a Marriage and Funeral Celebrant and a Writer. 

Sean grew up in Galway in the west of Ireland and lived in London and Spain before moving to Christchurch in 1975. 

His poems have appeared in a NZ Poetry Society Anthology, The PressSnorkel, Catalyst, VoicePrints (a Canterbury Poets Collective anthology) and others. His short stories have been published by The Press and by Fish Publishing, Bantry, County Cork, Ireland.

Sean is currently Secretary of the Canterbury Poets Collective.

I first heard Sean read his poetry at a Canterbury Poets Collective reading in the much-loved, but sadly gone, Madras Cafe. I confess I'm a sucker for an Irish accent, but Sean's irrepressible spirit and joie de vivre comes through in his work and when he steps up to the lectern, he soon has the audience in the palm of his hand. Of the poetry that I've heard Sean read, I'm always struck by his emotional honesty and his directness. His work is sometimes spare, but he chooses his words carefully and his poems cut right through to the heart of the matter that he is addressing.

For more on Federico Garcia Lorca whom Sean has dedicated this poem to, see:

After you've enjoyed Sean's poem, do check out the many wonderful poetic offerings of my fellow Tuesday Poets at www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com

Friday, 19 July 2013

Even the Losers Get Lucky Some Times (with apologies to Tom Petty)

A lot of people think I'm weird because music infiltrates most, if not all, aspects of my life. I couldn't live without music. That is not hyperbole. Physically, I would endure without music, but spiritually I would be a dried husk. Ever since I was a babe in arms, I've loved music from the home-made lullabies my parents sang me to the well-known children's songs that played on the children's session on the radio.

A lot of what happens in my life reminds me of particular songs. It amuses and befuddles my youngest son who doesn't know whether to be embarrassed or laugh when his father responds in song to some question he has posed or statement he has made.

And so I was thinking about how human society views success. Quite rightly, it is lauded and celebrated. But what of the statistically bigger portion of the human population who must lose in order for a much smaller proportion of the human population to win.

One day, I was vacuuming and playing Tom Petty's hits collection, Anthology, very loudly on the stereo. I love Tom's no-nonsense Southern rock'n'roll. The man is poetic and often underrated in the lyrical department. And, of course, one of the songs was Even the Losers Get Lucky Some Times.

That made me think of how many of us live our lives with very little chance of winning a Nobel Prize, an Olympic medal, Lotto or any of the many standard bearers of achievement, high or otherwise. But as we make our way through our lives with their minor triumphs and petty disappointments, we often miss the very things that make us winners, albeit on a modest scale.

When a child is born to us, healthy and full of promise, we are winners. When someone compliments us on something we wear or our garden or praises us for something we did at work, we are winners. When we surf that wave to the best of our ability, when we do a kindness for another human being or animal, when we get out of bed and go for a run or do some exercise, when we phone a distant friend or loved one, when we are kind and gracious to our children, when we do the right thing morally when the going is tough and temptations are all around, we are winners. Every day in many small ways that we often overlook, the losers get lucky.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Remorse for Intemperate Speech" by W.B. Yeats

I ranted to the knave and fool,
But outgrew that school,
Would transform the part,
Fit audience found, but cannot rule
My fanatic heart.

I sought my betters:  though in each
Fine manners, liberal speech,
Turn hatred into sport,
Nothing said or done can reach
My fanatic heart.

Out of Ireland have we come.
Great hatred, little room,
Maimed us at the start.
I carry from my mother's womb
A fanatic heart.

W.B. (William Butler) Yeats is, I would hazard a guess, a prominent poet of the twentieth century who hardly needs any introduction, but you can read about his life and work here:


I love this poem because I feel that it encapsulates the Irish anguish of the soul in a very pithy way. Poetry can cut to the heart of matters in a few lines whereas it may take an entire essay in prose to explain what Yeats is describing here.

Yeats explains, as perhaps only Yeats can, what such things as potato famines and their struggles against oppressors has done to do the Irish psyche. It could be argued that it is from this spiritual and cultural milieu that the Irish propensity for such extreme opposites as terrorist bombing and Nobel Prize-winning poetry spring.

When you have enjoyed reading Yeats' poem, please take the time to check out some of the fine offerings from my fellow Tuesday Poets as well as the wonderful poem at the hub:


Thursday, 11 July 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Preludes" by T.S. Eliot

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

And then the lighting of the lamps.

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

I would imagine that the great twentieth-century poet, T.S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot needs no introduction, but if you would like to know more about him:


I love this poem because Eliot makes magic out of the ordinary. In his rich imagery, he evokes all those small, insignificant human rituals that precede the going to bed, the getting out of bed, the going to work and the coming home from work. He weaves out of the ordinary days and the ordinary lives of many of his fellow humans almost a hymn to the human spirit.

Now go and explore all the wonderful poems of my fellow Tuesday Poets and the hub poem at



Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Thanking my Mother for Piano Lessons" by Diane Wakoski

The relief of putting your fingers on the keyboard,   
as if you were walking on the beach
and found a diamond
as big as a shoe;

as if
you had just built a wooden table
and the smell of sawdust was in the air,   
your hands dry and woody;

as if
you had eluded
the man in the dark hat who had been following you   
all week;

the relief
of putting your fingers on the keyboard,   
playing the chords of
         in an afternoon when I had no one to talk to,
         when the magazine advertisement forms of soft sweaters   
         and clean shining Republican middle-class hair
         walked into carpeted houses   
         and left me alone
         with bare floors and a few books

I want to thank my mother   
for working every day
in a drab office
in garages and water companies
cutting the cream out of her coffee at 40
to lose weight, her heavy body
writing its delicate bookkeeper’s ledgers
alone, with no man to look at her face,   
her body, her prematurely white hair   
in love
         I want to thank
my mother for working and always paying for   
my piano lessons
before she paid the Bank of America loan   
or bought the groceries
or had our old rattling Ford repaired.

I was a quiet child,
afraid of walking into a store alone,
afraid of the water,
the sun,
the dirty weeds in back yards,
afraid of my mother’s bad breath,
and afraid of my father’s occasional visits home,   
knowing he would leave again;
afraid of not having any money,
afraid of my clumsy body,
that I knew
         no one would ever love

But I played my way
on the old upright piano
obtained for $10,
played my way through fear,
through ugliness,
through growing up in a world of dime-store purchases,   
and a desire to love
a loveless world.

I played my way through an ugly face
and lonely afternoons, days, evenings, nights,   
mornings even, empty
as a rusty coffee can,
played my way through the rustles of spring
and wanted everything around me to shimmer like the narrow tide   
on a flat beach at sunset in Southern California,
I played my way through
an empty father’s hat in my mother’s closet
and a bed she slept on only one side of,
never wrinkling an inch of
the other side,

I played my way through honors in school,   
the only place I could
       the classroom,
       or at my piano lessons, Mrs. Hillhouse’s canary always   
       singing the most for my talents,
       as if I had thrown some part of my body away upon entering   
       her house
       and was now searching every ivory case
       of the keyboard, slipping my fingers over black   
       ridges and around smooth rocks,
       wondering where I had lost my bloody organs,   
       or my mouth which sometimes opened
       like a California poppy,
       wide and with contrasts
       beautiful in sweeping fields,
       entirely closed morning and night,

I played my way from age to age,
but they all seemed ageless
or perhaps always
old and lonely,
wanting only one thing, surrounded by the dusty bitter-smelling   
leaves of orange trees,
wanting only to be touched by a man who loved me,   
who would be there every night
to put his large strong hand over my shoulder,
whose hips I would wake up against in the morning,   
whose mustaches might brush a face asleep,
dreaming of pianos that made the sound of Mozart   
and Schubert without demanding
that life suck everything
out of you each day,
without demanding the emptiness
of a timid little life.

I want to thank my mother
for letting me wake her up sometimes at 6 in the morning   
when I practiced my lessons
and for making sure I had a piano
to lay my school books down on, every afternoon.
I haven’t touched the piano in 10 years,
perhaps in fear that what little love I’ve been able to
pick, like lint, out of the corners of pockets,
will get lost,
slide away,
into the terribly empty cavern of me
if I ever open it all the way up again.
Love is a man
with a mustache
gently holding me every night,
always being there when I need to touch him;
he could not know the painfully loud
music from the past that
his loving stops from pounding, banging,
battering through my brain,
which does its best to destroy the precarious gray matter when I   
am alone;
he does not hear Mrs. Hillhouse’s canary singing for me,
liking the sound of my lesson this week,
telling me,
confirming what my teacher says,   
that I have a gift for the piano   
few of her other pupils had.
When I touch the man
I love,
I want to thank my mother for giving me   
piano lessons
all those years,
keeping the memory of Beethoven,
a deaf tortured man,
in mind;
            of the beauty that can come
from even an ugly

From Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962–1987 by Diane Wakoski
Reprinted by permission of Black Sparrow Books,
an imprint of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.
Copyright © 1988 by Diane Wakoski

Interested readers can link to the book's page on the publisher's website: 

if they would like to know more about the poet, the publisher or if they would like to know where to buy this or other books by Diane Wakoski.

Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962–1987 was the winner of the William Carlos Williams Award of the Poetry Society of America.

Diane Wakoski wrote of the poems in this collection: "My themes are loss, justice, truth, transformation, the duality of the world, the possibilities of magic, and the creation of beauty out of ugliness. My language is dramatic, oral, and as American as I can make it. I am impatient with stupidity, bureaucracy, and organizations. Poetry, for me, is the supreme art of the individual using language to show how special, different, and wonderful his perceptions are. With verve and finesse. With discursive precision. And with utter contempt for pettiness of imagination or spirit." 

You can read more about Diane Wakoski's life and work here:


I must admit that I was not aware of the poet, Diane Wakoski, until a poetry-loving friend sent me a copy of the poem featured above. I was immediately entranced by her wonderful, fresh imagery and the fragile beauty of the narrative that she sustains throughout this poem. The poem is rich and bristling with so many possibilities of meaning and interpretation. It is a poem that you can return to again and again and always be rewarded with new layers of meaning and poignancy. Diane Wakoski is a fearless poet who is not afraid to bare some of her soul in her poetry. I will certainly be seeking out more of her work to enjoy.

Reading this poem, I think that if I could write a poem a tenth as good as this one, I would go to bed a happy man.