Saturday, April 18, 2009

Another Poem That Changed Things --

In 2002 I remember reading the work of an online poet that I admired in The Adirondack Review. I wanted very much to replicate the feat as I felt that their review (TAR) had some fine poetry. In the fall of 2003 they were kind enough to publish: "Place Du Canada", which I still feel is one of the better poems I have written. It's one of the few poems that I've penned which makes a political statement and espouses views which I still believe in. If any of you have read Mordechai Richler's now infamous (at least in these parts) article "O Quebec!" in the New Yorker: May 30, 1994 you might understand whereof I speak. Anyway "this is all she wrote":


What might this town square have looked like
in another era - when this bench was not here;
its green slats supporting the weight of a culture

that we tried to bring with us, when we docked
at Pier 21, but could not fit in our suitcases
without handles. Now I sit in the mapled shade
and consider. Where would we have put it?

The plaque below the statuary is a reminder
that the Father's of Confederation had fought
for the sole possession of this land. When
Montreal fell during a revolutionary war,

Quebec's allegiances were for the taking,
but would not become another Cajun state -
the francophone roots showing through
the bleached bones of an English presence.

Our flag flutters above the tips of trees,
the red and white - minus the blue.

First published in the “Adirondack Review” – Fall 2003 Vol. V, No. 2

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Segue Into an Explanation of Sorts

There is a good reason why I include this poem by Billy Collins. Collins made poetry accessible and fun. He made me realize that a poet didn't have to take themselves so seriously to be successful. Poetry need not be all "sullen craft". That there is room for self-deprecation and parody. In sharp contrast to the poetry heavies Collins came across sort of as the "Woody Allen" of poetry. Even his physical presence kind of reminded me of the comedic director. His sardonic wry humour is unmistakeable even in the way he entitles his poems i.e.: Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty,I Pause To Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles ; I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of "Three Blind Mice"; & Another reason why I don't keep a gun in the house.

His poetry made me realize that I could incorporate my sense of humour (if you want to call it that) and still be considered a serious poet. Somehow, when I think about the term "serious poet" the term seems to be a walking contradiction. Poets seem to so serious that they're funny. I'll come back to this when I stop laughing...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Of Course There's Always Billy

Introduction to Poetry
Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More Poems That Changed... - A Couple by Strand

Eating Poetry
Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

Keeping Things Whole
Mark Strand

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Yeah I Know... I Know...Whatever Happened to the Other 29 Poems That Changed my Life?

Poem Number Two

It isn't often that any piece of art really speaks to you. Check that -- not only speaks to you but swears at you in archaic languages. So when you come across anything that strums your inner being like a cello you had better take note. Such was the case when I encountered this poem back in my freshman year in highschool. Albeit I was no "lonely teenage broncing buck -- with a pink carnation and a pickup truck," I could easily connect with this poem:

From Childhood's Hour
Edgar Allan Poe

From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then—in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent or the fountain,
From the red cliff or the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed my flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

Poem Number Three

Somewhere in the fray of literary pursuit I came across another example of narrative poetry that made a mark on tabula rasa. Stuck (at the time) in the formal verse universe I took Byron to task by reading The Prisoner of Chillon. What follows is an excerpt and in particular a stanza which seemed to transcend (at least for this reader at that point in time) its literal implication:

It might be months, or years, or days -
I kept no count, I took no note -
I had no hope my eyes to raise,
And clear them of their dreary mote;
At last men came to set me free;
I ask'd not why, and reck'd not where;
It was at length the same to me,
Fetter'd or fetterless to be,
I learn'd to love despair.
And thus when they appear'd at last,
And all my bonds aside were cast,
These heavy walls to me had grown
A hermitage - and all my own!
And half I felt as they were come
To tear me from a second home:
With spiders I had friendship made,
And watch'd them in their sullen trade,
Had seen the mice by moonlight play,
And why should I feel less than they?
We were all inmates of one place,
And I, the monarch of each race,
Had power to kill - yet, strange to tell!
In quiet we had learn'd to dwell;
My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are: - even I
Regain'd my freedom with a sigh.

Poem Number Four

Well highschool was a literary awakening of sorts. It was a time when I was introduced to many of the classics. Steinbeck's The Pearl, Shakespeare's MacBeth, Orwell's 1984--- the list went on. And I remember quite vividly Mr. Palesch's (my Sec III english teacher) avid love of poetry. He revelled in presenting us with literary conundrums. Thanks to him I was introduced to a certain Mr. Cummings and I could not believe my eyes or my ears for that matter.

Spring is like a perhaps hand

by E. E. Cummings


Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

30 Poems That Changed My Life

Well here I am again with much less fanfare and a little more estranged from poetry than I've been in some time. Albeit, I have not been immersed in ars poetica for the last while... (in its stead) I have been pursuing other personal interests. I thought that this month of April which in the past I usually dedicated to my own poetry I might post some of the poetry which over the course of my life had affected me (for better or worse).

The first selection is a poem that I first read in the third or fourth grade (at St. Rita's Elementary - a now defunct primary school in Montreal thanks to the effect of Bill 101 and an out-migration of anglos from Quebec in the late seventies and eighties). I was asked by my english teacher - Mr. Simcoe - to recite it to an audience. It was my first exposure to poetry and even though I did not comprehend the full extent of the poem's significance (even then) I enjoyed the cadence, pace and the inflection of sounds produced by this piece. It might be a bit pedantic by my current standards & poetic sensibilities, but it did serve the purpose of setting me on the road to find out:

The Highwayman
(Alfred Noyes: 1880-1958)

The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding--
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.

He'd a French cocked hat on his forehead, and a bunch of lace at his chin;
He'd a coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of fine doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle; his boots were up to his thigh!
And he rode with a jeweled twinkle--
His rapier hilt a-twinkle--
His pistol butts a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred,
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter--
Bess, the landlord's daughter--
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim, the ostler listened--his face was white and peaked--
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord's daughter--
The landlord's black-eyed daughter;
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say:

"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart; I'm after a prize tonight,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light.
Yet if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."

He stood upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the sweet black waves of perfume came tumbling o'er his breast,
Then he kissed its waves in the moonlight
(O sweet black waves in the moonlight!),
And he tugged at his reins in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon.
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy's ribbon over the purple moor,
The redcoat troops came marching--
King George's men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord; they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets by their side;
There was Death at every window,
And Hell at one dark window,
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had bound her up at attention, with many a sniggering jest!
They had tied a rifle beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
"Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her. She heard the dead man say,
"Look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though Hell should bar the way."

She twisted her hands behind her, but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it, she strove no more for the rest;
Up, she stood up at attention, with the barrel beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing, she would not strive again,
For the road lay bare in the moonlight,
Blank and bare in the moonlight,
And the blood in her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love's refrain.

Tlot tlot, tlot tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hooves, ringing clear;
Tlot tlot, tlot tlot, in the distance! Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding--
The redcoats looked to their priming! She stood up straight and still.

Tlot tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment, she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight--
Her musket shattered the moonlight--
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him--with her death.

He turned, he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o'er the casement, drenched in her own red blood!
Not till the dawn did he hear it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs in the golden noon, wine-red was his velvet coat
When they shot him down in the highway,
Down like a dog in the highway,
And he lay in his blood in the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

And still on a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a gypsy's ribbon looping the purple moor,
The highwayman comes riding--
The highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard,
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred,
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter--
Bess, the landlord's daughter--
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.