Friday, April 18, 2014

17 of 30: "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop and I are birthday buddies, each of us born on the eighth of Februaries seventy-eight years apart, though we missed witnessing each other's live selves by a decade, roughly.

This well-known villanelle was a poem I taught to my Community High School students in 2011, one hundred years after Bishop's birth. It's more than one of my favorite poems, more than a stellar villanelle. It's influential on a grand scale, spectacularly whole.

It's "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop:
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

— Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
17 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

16 of 30: "The Quiet World" by Jeffrey McDaniel

I'm obsessed with this next poem: It was originally published in 1998, though it feels especially contemporary with its premise of a daily allotment of words one speaks in some sort of parallel present. It's clever, honest and sweet all at once.

Enter "The Quiet World" by Jeffrey McDaniel:
In an effort to get people to look
into each other’s eyes more,
and also to appease the mutes,
the government has decided
to allot each person exactly one hundred
and sixty-seven words, per day. 
When the phone rings, I put it to my ear
without saying hello. In the restaurant
I point at chicken noodle soup.
I am adjusting well to the new way. 
Late at night, I call my long distance lover,
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.
I saved the rest for you. 
When she doesn’t respond,
I know she’s used up all her words,
so I slowly whisper I love you
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line
and listen to each other breathe.
16 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

15 of 30: "You Can Have It" by Philip Levine

I heard the great Philip Levine read this poem at Rackham Auditorium in Ann Arbor a couple years ago. Needless to say it had an impact. Here's "You Can Have It" by Philip Levine:
My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop
one by one. You can have it, he says. 
The moonlight streams in the window
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone. 
Thirty years will pass before I remember
that moment when suddenly I knew each man
has one brother who dies when he sleeps
and sleeps when he rises to face this life, 
and that together they are only one man
sharing a heart that always labors, hands
yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps
for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it? 
All night at the ice plant he had fed
the chute its silvery blocks, and then I
stacked cases of orange soda for the children
of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time 
with always two more waiting. We were twenty
for such a short time and always in
the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt
and sweat. I think now we were never twenty. 
In 1948 in the city of Detroit, founded
by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes
of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died,
no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace, 
for there was no such year, and now
that year has fallen off all the old newspapers,
calendars, doctors’ appointments, bonds,
wedding certificates, drivers licenses. 
The city slept. The snow turned to ice.
The ice to standing pools or rivers
racing in the gutters. Then bright grass rose
between the thousands of cracked squares, 
and that grass died. I give you back 1948.
I give you all the years from then
to the coming one. Give me back the moon
with its frail light falling across a face. 
Give me back my young brother, hard
and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse
for God and burning eyes that look upon
all creation and say, You can have it.
15 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Monday, April 14, 2014

14 of 30: "OCD" by Neil Hilborn

I first read a Neil Hilborn poem in the late summer of 2011, while I was reading through the slush pile of submissions for a literary magazine I started after college called Orange Quarterly. Two years later, a new Hilborn poem surfaced across the internet and blew everyone's socks off. 

For this Monday in April, here is the brilliant performance of "OCD" by Neil Hilborn:

14 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

13 of 30: "Crush" by Ada Limón

Sometimes a poem hits you like a tetherball to the head.

I first read this next poem in a copy of The New Yorker at the Northwestern Michigan College Writing Center office in the early summer of 2009. The poem makes me feel like I'm in Eden. And as a University of Michigan student in 2010, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview the poet, Ada Limón, asking her questions about the poem itself, publishing it, inspiration, writing a book, social media, MFA programs and more.

Ada's book Sharks in the Rivers (Milkweed Editions, 2010) is still one of my favorite collections of poetry. I love coming back to it over and over again. For this special Sunday (special mostly due to the new Mad Men on tonight), here is the poem called "Crush" by Ada Limón:
Maybe my limbs are made
mostly for decoration,
like the way I feel about
persimmons. You can’t
really eat them. Or you
wouldn’t want to. If you grab
the soft skin with your fist
it somehow feels funny,
like you’ve been here
before and uncomfortable,
too, like you’d rather
squish it between your teeth
impatiently, before spitting
the soft parts back up
to linger on the tongue like
burnt sugar or guilt.
For starters, it was all
an accident, you cut
the right branch
and a sort of light
woke up underneath,
and the inedible fruit
grew dark and needy.
Think crucial hanging.
Think crayon orange.
There is one low, leaning
heart-shaped globe left
and dearest, can you
tell, I am trying
to love you less.
13 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

12 of 30: "On Last Lines" by Suzanne Buffam

I had to share another standalone Buffam poem from her brilliant collection The Irrationalist. I absolutely adore this poem, "On Last Lines" by Suzanne Buffam:
The last line should strike like a lover's complaint.
You should never see it coming.
And you should never hear the end of it.
12 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Friday, April 11, 2014

11 of 30: "Mrs. Midas" by Carol Ann Duffy

I was lucky enough to witness in person Carol Ann Duffy read this poem at the University of Michigan Museum of Art back in 2010. I love the brilliance of a poem from the perspective of Midas' wife. Enjoy the favorite for today, "Mrs. Midas" by Carol Ann Duffy:
It was late September. I’d just poured a glass of wine, begun
to unwind, while the vegetables cooked. The kitchen
filled with the smell of itself, relaxed, its steamy breath
gently blanching the windows. So I opened one,
then with my fingers wiped the other’s glass like a brow.
He was standing under the pear tree snapping a twig. 
Now the garden was long and the visibility poor, the way
the dark of the ground seems to drink the light of the sky,
but that twig in his hand was gold. And then he plucked
a pear from a branch. – we grew Fondante d’Automne –
and it sat in his palm, like a lightbulb. On.
I thought to myself, Is he putting fairy lights in the tree? 
He came into the house. The doorknobs gleamed.
He drew the blinds. You know the mind; I thought of
the Field of the Cloth of Gold and of Miss Macready.
He sat in that chair like a king on a burnished throne.
The look on his face was strange, wild, vain. I said,
What in the name of God is going on? He started to laugh. 
I served up the meal. For starters, corn on the cob.
Within seconds he was spitting out the teeth of the rich.
He toyed with his spoon, then mine, then with the knives, the forks.
He asked where was the wine. I poured with a shaking hand,
a fragrant, bone-dry white from Italy, then watched
as he picked up the glass, goblet, golden chalice, drank. 
It was then that I started to scream. He sank to his knees.
After we’d both calmed down, I finished the wine
on my own, hearing him out. I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears: 
how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst. He tried to light a cigarette; I gazed, entranced,
as the blue flame played on its luteous stem. At least,
I said, you’ll be able to give up smoking for good. 
Separate beds. in fact, I put a chair against my door,
near petrified. He was below, turning the spare room
into the tomb of Tutankhamun. You see, we were passionate then,
in those halcyon days; unwrapping each other, rapidly,
like presents, fast food. But now I feared his honeyed embrace,
the kiss that would turn my lips to a work of art. 
And who, when it comes to the crunch, can live
with a heart of gold? That night, I dreamt I bore
his child, its perfect ore limbs, its little tongue
like a precious latch, its amber eyes
holding their pupils like flies. My dream milk
burned in my breasts. I woke to the streaming sun.

So he had to move out. We’d a caravan
in the wilds, in a glade of its own. I drove him up
under the cover of dark. He sat in the back.
And then I came home, the woman who married the fool
who wished for gold. At first, I visited, odd times,
parking the car a good way off, then walking. 
You knew you were getting close. Golden trout
on the grass. One day, a hare hung from a larch,
a beautiful lemon mistake. And then his footprints,
glistening next to the river’s path. He was thin,
delirious; hearing, he said, the music of Pan
from the woods. Listen. That was the last straw. 
What gets me now is not the idiocy or greed
but lack of thought for me. Pure selfishness. I sold
the contents of the house and came down here.
I think of him in certain lights, dawn, late afternoon,
and once a bowl of apples stopped me dead. I miss most,
even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch.
11 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

10 of 30: "On Evolution" by Suzanne Buffam

This tiny poem stands on its own so strongly I thought it was worth sharing by itself. From the book The Irrationalist, here's "On Evolution" by Suzanne Buffam:
Place your face
Into your hands.
A perfect fit!
10 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

9 of 30: "Summary Wednesday" by Matthew Pennock

There's this excellent essay by Camille Rankine called "Do What You Do, Love What You Love." With work and poems on the brain, today's poem is "Summary Wednesday" by Matthew Pennock:
Half the girls in this train car wear gold earrings, large and oval, bisected
         by their names in script. They are yours because you name them,
         your Lekenya, your Mirellie, your Yesenia.

Excessively ornate, almost illegible, like your grandmother's cramped
         handwriting in a Hallmark card with loopy golden cursive relaying
         every detail of the rest home in Orlando

where her former pastor now resides—the year of establishment,
         the founder's name, what the food is like, how once someone moves in,
         they have no plans of ever moving again. 
Tomorrow, you settle on a plan for breakfast, you settle on banana. You are
         not hungry. It sits there on the desk still in peel, nervous for inevitable
         disrobing. Stare at Banana. You sit there. It is afraid.
9 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

8 of 30: "A Lovely Love" by Gwendolyn Brooks

Tonight, the most beautiful sonnet, "A Lovely Love" by Gwendolyn Brooks:
Let it be alleys. Let it be a hall
Whose janitor javelins epithet and thought
To cheapen hyacinth darkness that we sought
And played we found, rot, make the petals fall.
Let it be stairways, and a splintery box
Where you have thrown me, scraped me with your kiss,
Have honed me, have released me after this
Cavern kindness, smiled away our shocks.
That is the birthright of our lovely love
In swaddling clothes. Not like that Other one.
Not lit by any fondling star above.
Not found by any wise men, either. Run.
People are coming. They must not catch us here
Definitionless in this strict atmosphere.
8 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Monday, April 7, 2014

7 of 30: "The Wish Answered" by Tung-Hui Hu

Happy Monday and happy birthday to my brother Ryan, who's twenty today.

I thought I'd share a funny little poem by the vastly talented Tung-Hui Hu, with whom I was fortunate to workshop poems my senior year at the University of Michigan. I was so struck by this poem when I first read it four years ago that I taught it to my class of ninth grade students at Community High School in Ann Arbor the following semester. They loved the poem, too, the haphazard humor and how casual yet honest it felt.

From the book Mine, here is "The Wish Answered" by Tung-Hui Hu:
Several years ago I discovered
how easily love and food are confused,
when I thought I was in love with someone
but really it was a skipped lunch,
forgive me, I was young,
passions being what they were
were somewhat equivalent, mixed-up,
the highest anything,
stars without firmament, colors huddled
in the back shelf of a dark closet.
And even when I got my wish,
her sitting in front of me,
all I could think about
was cannoli, biscotti.
How embarrassing! My stomach
growled and my heart leapt.
7 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

6 of 30: "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden

For this particular Sunday, today's poem is "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden:
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
6 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

5 of 30: "Poem" by Frank O'Hara

"The next poem's called 'Poem,'" Frank O'Hara laughs as he introduces this favorite in a fantastic recording from September 1964.

I read "Poem" for the first time in a class at the University of Michigan called "Contemporary American Poetry and 'The Personal'" when I was twenty. I memorized it immediately for an "Intro to Poetry" class I was taking concurrently. Reciting it again now, I still revel in O'Hara's voice. There's a dreaminess, a dizziness to "Poem" that I fall for every time.

Here's the perfect favorite poem for a Saturday, "Poem" by Frank O'Hara:
Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to see you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up
5 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Friday, April 4, 2014

4 of 30: "Notes on Discovery: Dismantling a Clock" by Perry Janes

I'm in love with today's poem, which twists together time, electricity and love for one powerful poem in the voice of inventor Nikola Tesla. The poem's epigraph reads: Nikola Tesla. Austrian Polytechnic School; Graz, Austria. 1875.

It was written by an exceptional young poet and filmmaker, Perry Janes, who was a University of Michigan student winning Hopwood awards right and left when this poem was published in The Collagist in 2010. Check out his award-winning film work, too. My favorite poem for this first Friday in April is "Notes on Discovery: Dismantling a Clock" by Perry Janes:
I’ve broken in
and the body knows it. 
                         I only meant to check the time 
when one clock-hand embraced the other
like boys I used to know
                        all tenderness
and I smashed and smashed
and smashed the brass 
                         It was meant to be a gift
for a girl with olive hair,
but now I’ve freed these needles I can’t
put them back. I can’t help 
but imagine how her dress falls in folds
like a curtain, releasing
the same drama I’ve rehearsed for 
                         so many times: my hands 
turning on her breasts, spinning gears
between her legs, confused at finding
something whole. Built. Not needing
to be fixed. Nights, 
I would try to explain my dreams
of electricity.
                         How I run
the charge through my flesh and bite
my teeth to close the circuit,
lungs like iron bellows
and I wish, only, that I could wake
to feel her in my bones,
that singing 
                         What is it
about the split seams of impossible
wheelwork that love me? My heart quickens 
for them. God help me 
should something more beautiful
fall into my hands,
                         these hands.
4 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

3 of 30: "Table" by Richard Tillinghast

At one of the 2011 Bear River Writers' Conference faculty readings overlooking Walloon Lake, my workshop leader Richard Tillinghast read several wonderful poems, including this one, which rendered a wave of awe from the entire audience.

For this third day of April, here is the poem "Table" by Richard Tillinghast:
A man filled with the gladness of living
Put his keys on the table,
Put flowers in a copper bowl there.
He put his eggs and milk on the table.
He put there the light that came in through the window,
Sounds of a bicycle, sound of a spinning wheel.
The softness of bread and weather he put there.
On the table the man put
Things that happened in his mind.
What he wanted to do in life,
He put that there.
Those he loved, those he didn't love,
The man put them on the table too.
Three times three make nine:
The man put nine on the table.
He was next to the window next to the sky;
He reached out and placed on the table endlessness.
So many days he had wanted to drink a beer!
He put on the table the pouring of that beer.
He placed there his sleep and his wakefulness;
His hunger and his fullness he placed there.
Now that's what I call a table!
It didn't complain at all about the load.
It wobbled once or twice, then stood firm.
The man kept piling things on.
3 of 30. Happy National Poetry Month!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

2 of 30: "My beautiful soul" by Laura Kasischke

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I'm handpicking my favorite poems. Today I'd like to share excerpts of "My beautiful soul" by Laura Kasischke. Originally published in The Kenyon Review, the poem is from Laura's collection Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon Press, 2011).
The wind has toppled the telescope
over onto the lawn:
So much for stars.
Your brief shot at the universe, gone. 
Laura writes both poetry and fiction, and two of her novels have been made into feature films. "My beautiful soul" ends with the purest paradoxical thought:
Thank you, thank you, bless you, beautiful
lady with your beautiful soul. . .
It is as if I have tossed a postcard
of the ocean into the ocean. 
My stupid dollar, my beautiful soul.
2 of 30. Happy April!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

1 of 30: "Poetry" by Monica Ferrell

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I'd like to handpick some of my favorite poems and share them here. First, the contemplative sonnet "Poetry" by Monica Ferrell:
There is nothing beautiful here
However I may want it. I can’t
Spin a crystal palace of this thin air,
Weave a darkness plush as molefur with my tongue
However I want. Yet I am not alone
In these alleys of vowels, which comfort me
As the single living nun of a convent
Is comforted by the walls of that catacomb
She walks at night, lit by her own moving candle.
I am not afraid of mirrors or the future
—Or even you, lovers, wandering cow-fat
And rutting in the gardens of this earthly verge
Where I too trod, a sunspot, parasol-shaded,
Kin to the trees, the bees, the color green.
1 of 30. Happy April!