Thursday, April 30, 2015

#npm15 -- Deb Hallowell and we're not done yet ...

Hey ... did you notice I missed a few days there? Life got a little crazy busy. I forgot to post one day, and simply ran out of time the next.

But, never fear, I will give you the full month's worth of poems -- even if it takes me a few days in May! Because I have saved some of the best for last, the work of amazing poets in my Writers Workshop.

Today, this visual beauty by a woman I'm honored to call my friend, the incredibly talented, smart, kind and huggable Deb Hallowell. The words, the birds -- there is beauty in our lives every day, everywhere, just waiting to be recognized:

Monday, April 27, 2015

#npm15 -- Two from You!

Every once in a while, someone will say to me: I don't like poetry. And I wonder, how is that possible? That's like saying you don't like food. There are so many varieties, so many flavors, how can you not like any of them?

Today, a wonderful example of that. Vicki suggested the first poem:

After A While 
by Veronica Shofstall

After a while you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
and company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child
And you learn to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn that even sunshine burns
if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure
that you really are strong
and that you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
with every goodbye you learn...

You like that? Yay! You don't like it? Totally cool. Maybe you'll prefer Erin's suggestion: The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It's a longer poem, so just click on the link to read!

Friday, April 24, 2015

#npm15 -- Among the Things He Does Not Deserve

Here's a quick National Poetry Month creativity exercise for you -- write a list poem. Start with a topic. Any topic. Let's say, life advice. What to do while waiting for a friend at a bar. Reasons you love Sunday. Places you want to go. Places she should have taken you. 

Or, all the things he does not deserve ...

Among the Things He Does Not Deserve
by Dan Albergotti

Greek olives in oil, fine beer, the respect of colleagues,
the rapt attention of an audience, pressed white shirts,
just one last-second victory, sympathy, buttons made
to resemble pearls, a pale daughter, living wages, a father
with Italian blood, pity, the miraculous reversal of time,
a benevolent god, good health, another dog, nothing
cruel and unusual, spring, forgiveness, the benefit
of the doubt, the next line, cold fingers against his chest,
rich bass notes from walnut speakers, inebriation, more ink,
a hanging curve, great art, steady rain on Sunday, the purr
of a young cat, the crab cakes at their favorite little place,
the dull pain in his head, the soft gift of her parted lips. 

From The Boatloads
© BOA Editions, 2008

Coming up next week: Poetry from my writers workshop buddies, and more poems suggested by CI readers. Here's to a great weekend -- go write!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

#npm15 -- My Favorite Poet

Those of you who know me well might guess that my favorite poet is e.e. cummings. Or Robert Frost. Perhaps Dorothy Parker? I love 'em all. But none of them compare with my first and favorite poet: Lillian Sokoloff.
This is from her 90th birthday.
What a cutie!
Let me tell you a story about Mom, who celebrates her 94th birthday today. When she was a young woman, she was offered a job writing greeting cards for Hallmark.

Janet: "Why didn't you take the job, Mom?"
Mom: "I didn't want to write for them, Janet. They had too many rules."

God bless her. Here's a poem from Mom that has been published in several magazines and in The Kansas City Star. She wrote it according to her own rules:

On Criticism
by Lillian Sokoloff

Too quick are we to criticize,
Too slow are we to praise,
The comings and the goings
Of other people's ways.

If only we would stop to think
Before the words come out,
Perhaps a nicer thought would come
For us to talk about.

So next time you are tempted
Unkind things you are about to say,
Stop, reflect, remember,
What you have read today.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

#npm15 -- On Turning Sixty

I love coloring books. I don't just color within the lines -- I trace the lines, outline them with a darker color. Creativity with boundaries, with rules, gives me the wonderful freedom of structure.

Given that, it's no wonder that haiku is a favorite of mine, and the poetic form I chose for today:

On Turning Sixty
by Jan Sokoloff Harness

I hold the railing
now when I go down the stairs.
Aware. Not afraid.


Earlier in the month, my friend Connie asked for a poem that I wrote years ago -- she first read it in The Kansas City Star, back in the good old days when the paper still had a Poetry Corner. So here -- by popular request! -- is that poem:

Found Poem: Rural Route 20, Oklahoma
by Jan Sokoloff Harness, June 2006

An unintentional poet summed it up
on a swinging sign
outside an auto parts store
near Tulsa.

Jesus is Lord
Everything is for sale

Amen, brother.
Amen and hallelujah.

Ya gotta love Etsy. Find this here

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

#npm15 -- Michael Blumenthal, Here You Are

I haven't read enough of Michael Blumenthal's work, but I like what I've read! That's part of the joy of National Poetry Month -- finding new poets.

Here You Are

It’s such a relief to see the woman you love walk out the door some nights
for it’s ten o’clock and you need your eight hours of sleep
and one glass of wine has been more than enough
and, as for lust – well, you can live without it most days
and you are glad, too, the Ukrainian masseuse you see every Wednesday
is not in love with you, and has no plans to be, for it is the pain
in your back you need relief from most, not that ambiguous itch,
and the wild successes of your peers no longer bother you
nor do your unresolved religious cravings or the general injustice
of the world, no, there is very little, in fact, that bothers you these days
when you turn first to the obituaries, second to the stock market,
then, after a long pause, to the book review, you are becoming
a good citizen, you do your morning exercises, count
your accumulated small blessings, thank the Lord
that there’s a trolley just outside your door your girlfriend
can take back home to her own bed and here you are
it is morning you are alone every little heartbeat
is yours to cherish the future is on fire with nothing
but its own kindling and whatever is burning in its flames

it isn’t you and now you will take a shower and this is it. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

#npm15 -- e.e.cummings i thank You God for most this amazing

Happy Monday! Today's National Poetry Month poem was suggested by two wonderful women -- Terri and Cheri. (Terri and Cheri. That's poetic right there ...) You know I love e.e. cummings and this poem is the perfect start to most this amazing week!

i thank You God for most this amazing 
by e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing 
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees 
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything 
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth 
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay 
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing 
breathing any-lifted from the no 
of all nothing-human merely being 
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Illustration found on Etsy!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Fun and #npm15: Judith Viorst

If the only thing Judith Viorst had ever written was the name of her popular children's book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, she'd be certifiably wonderful. But, of course, that's only one of her many writing accomplishments.

My dear friend Hedy, who walks in beauty and simply makes the world a better place by being, suggested this Viorst poem. Thanks, Hedy, and happy weekend everyone!

A Whole Other Stage

I've reached the stage where my lawyer, my broker, my allergist, 
   and my president are all  significantly younger than I.
 I've reached the stage where I recognize, when I am buying new 
   living room drapes or a new set of dishes, that  they're  likely to 
   be the last ones I'll ever buy.
And when I'm starting to tell my friends some really terrific story,
   and I ask them whether I've told  them this story before, and no 
   matter what story I've started to tell, they say yes.
I know that I have reached a whole other stage.

I've reached the stage where I find that most of the spaces I used to 
     park in are now too small for my car.
I've reached the stage where I'm no longer able to call myself
    middle aged because that's where my children are.
And when going to see two movies at two separate theaters on the 
   same day, followed by by eating a sausage-and-anchovy pizza, is
   what I'm defining as orgiastic excess.
I know that I have reached a whole other stage.

I've reached the stage where a lot of the reading I'm doing is at
   the market checking salt-free and fat-free and expiration dates.
I've reached the stage where nobody bothers to look at my driver's
   license when I purchase tickets at senior rates.
And when I'm out of town and I phone my husband at six A.M., 
   and I ring and ring but he doesn't answer the phone, and my
   first thought is not infidelity but cardiac arrest,
I know that I have reached a whole other stage.

I've reached a stage where people with whom I once
   discussed Marcel Proust are discussing inheritance taxes and
   living wills.
I've reached the stage where I couldn't leave my house for
   twenty-four hours unaccompanied by eight different kinds of  pills.
And when I have to admit that, offered the choice, I'd -
   unhesitatingly- give up a wild rapture with Denzel
   Washington for a nice report on my next bone density test,

I know that I have reached a whole other stage.
-- Judith Viorst, from Suddenly Sixty and Other Shocks of Later Life

Thursday, April 16, 2015

#npm15 -- Rod McKuen, Twenty-Five

I'm not gonna lie. When I thought about doing this National Poetry Month series of posts, I immediately considered a Rod McKuen poem. Why? He was the first poet I "discovered" outside of the classroom. I loved his poetry, his albums. I loved his raspy voice. Mom even took me to see him perform once.

But the literati typically sneer at McKuen, so I waffled. Then I read the news of his death, and that made the decision for me.

I've mentioned before that any landing you walk away from is a good landing. Any poet who inspires you to love and read poetry is a good poet.

Twenty-Five / The Coming of the Rain
by Rod McKuen

Where were we
when the coming of the rain
made us turn from conversation to the window?

In mustard fields maybe,
                   or the love jungle,
and as we talked
we were with others, not ourselves.

I was thinking of old birthdays and holidays gone wrong
                      and pretty people seen on streetcars
          but never met.
Selling soda bottles to pay for movie matinees.
               I was twelve.
     Tarzan was the man I most resembled in those days.
How can I have grown so old without once swinging on a vine?
                Did you think of party dresses
    and high school plays
                    or hallways full of lovers not yet met?

The mind is such a junkyard;
                      it remembers candy bars
                                       but not the Gettysburg Address,
Frank Sinatra's middle name
                but not the day your best friend died.

If in your mind there is some corner
      not yet occupied with numbers you may never need,
remind your memory of the day
                      we turned to watch the rain
    and turning back forgot
             that we belonged to one another.

--- from Listen to the Warm, 1967

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

#npm15 -- Ozymandias

What would a National Poetry Month collection be without a few classics? The great and wonderful Bud suggested the sonnet Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. And it does seem an appropriate choice, as we "look forward" to another political season.

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Sidenote: Every version of the poem I looked at had some variation in capitalization and punctuation -- all of which matter a great deal in poetry. Let's hope this is close to what Shelley had in mind. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

#npm15: Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher

You may know Raymond Carver for his short stories -- which are wonderful. I also love this poem he wrote, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis:

What the Doctor Said
by Raymond Carver

He said it doesn't look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I'm glad I wouldn't want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when  you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I'm real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn't catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him 
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who'd just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong

I had the pleasure of meeting Carver's widow, the poet Tess Gallagher, years ago -- back in 1994. And, now that you've read the above poem, you'll more fully appreciate this sample of her beautiful work. 

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do. 
I bring the arms of his shirt 
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done. 

Tess Gallagher, from Moon Crossing Bridge

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Fun and #npm15: Eating Poetry with Roz Chast

Poster designed by Roz Chast, with a line from Mark Strand's "Eating Poetry"
P.S. If you haven't read "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" by Roz Chast, you need to do that. Now. Today. Because it's really, really, really, really good. Really.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

#npm15: Yehuda Amichai

I Know A Man

I know a man
who photographed the view he saw
from the window of the room where he made love
and not the face of the woman he loved there.

Yehuda Amichai
Translated by Chana Bloch 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

#npm15: Stop all the clocks

My buddy Maureen suggested Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden for our National Poetry Month observance, describing it as possibly the most beautiful love poem.

It is absolutely heart-rending. Poem below; video online.

Funeral Blues
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

#npm15: Shel Silverstein wishes Eva a happy birthday!

My baby sister Eva is celebrating her birthday today! And, she doesn't have a card in the mail from me because I lost it. That's right. Spent the typical 30 minutes wandering around the Hallmark store reading every sister card, chose the perfect one, bought it.

Lost it.

So, for now, here's your birthday card, Eva! Happy birthday from me via the wonderful Shel Silverstein:

For Sale
One sister for sale!
One sister for sale!
One crying and spying young sister for sale!
I'm really not kidding.
So who'll start the bidding?
Do I hear a dollar?
A nickel?
A penny?
Oh, isn't there, isn't there, isn't there any
One kid who will buy this old sister for sale,
This crying and spying young sister for sale?

If you think it was easy growing up with me, think again. Eva and I shared a bedroom until I left for MU. I would lock her out frequently, even though there was no lock on the door. I walked over her bed, whether she was in it or not. I took her with me sometimes when I went out with friends, but grudgingly. Very grudgingly. On the other hand, I adored her completely and still do.  Happy birthday, Eva! I promise I'll find the real card eventually ... 

Lovely photo by the lovely Leslie Adams

Monday, April 6, 2015

#npm15: Ogden Nash

Happy Monday! To start the week off, I'm going to sneak in two short poems by one fascinating poet, Ogden Nash. The first is an example of the humorous poetry often associated with Nash:

A Word to Husbands
To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it; 
Whenever you’re right, shut up. 

The second contains a closing line that has stayed with me over the years, a line I reflexively remember whenever someone says, Well, he had a good long life ... 

Old Men
People expect old men to die, 
They do not really mourn old men. 
Old men are different. People look 
At them with eyes that wonder when… 
People watch with unshocked eyes; 
But the old men know when an old man dies.

Friday, April 3, 2015

#npm15: Pablo Neruda

Thanks to all the CI readers who suggested poems for inclusion in our National Poetry Month celebration! First up, my buddy Karol and her buddy Jessica, who both suggested poems by Pablo Neruda.

Karol's choice? Tonight I Can Write (The Saddest Lines). And Jessica pointed us toward:

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,   
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:   
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,   
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries   
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,   
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose   
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,   
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,   
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,   
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.
Pablo Neruda, “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII” from The  Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, edited by Mark Eisner. Copyright © 2004 City Lights Books.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#npm15: Dorothy Parker

What can I say about Dorothy Parker? I've loved her poetry, short stories and reviews since I was a teenager. She hung out with the guys. She defined wit. She defied expectations.

Bottom poetic line? She makes me laugh:

If I don't drive around the park,
I'm pretty sure to make my mark.
If I'm in bed each night by ten,
I may get back my looks again.
If I abstain from fun and such,
I'll probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

#npm15: Cascando by Samuel Beckett

National Poetry Month is here! Whoo hoo!!! As promised, I intend to post a poem every day this month, including the ones you suggested. Thanks so much to all of you who sent poems my way.

I'm going to start the celebration with a long-time favorite. Some poems leave a mark. I first read Cascando by Samuel Beckett when I was in college. Not long after, my grandmother died. Maybe that's why the phrase, "there is a last even of last times" stayed with me. There is a last hug, a last look, a last smile -- and we rarely know when the last of last times will be.

Another plus for this poem? For a writer, it's hard to find a line or word more accurate and descriptive than wordshed.


why not merely the despaired of
occasion of

is it not better abort than be barren

the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives

saying again
if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love

the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love love thud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words
terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending
I and all the others that will love you
if they love you

unless they love you