Category Archives: I Like

Father Time and Mother Earth / A Marriage on the Rocks

For this month’s look at a poem about a famous person, James Merrill’s “The Broken Home

I love this sonnet sequence, James Merrill’s elegant, rueful, beautiful take on his childhood and his parents. This is a different angle on a famous person poem than the others I’ve pointed to so far this year, since Merrill is talking about himself and his family rather than a far-off celebrity, but since his father was the Merrill of Merrill Lynch and since the poet himself is one of the 20th century biggies, it counts.

I first heard “The Broken Home”, rather than read it, Continue reading

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Not Knowing vs Knowing

I picked up the novel The Martian by Andy Weir at our first Independent Bookstore Day stop, and the sum total of what I knew about it before buying it was:

  • The cover is orange.
  • I’ve seen people really engrossed in it on the bus.
  • I’ve seen it on several bookstores’ Staff Recommends shelves.
  • It has something to do with an astronaut left behind on Mars.
  • The first chapter begins:

LOG ENTRY: SOL6

I’m pretty much fucked.

That’s my considered opinion.

Fucked.

And then I spent a whole Saturday (that I hadn’t intended to spend reading) not being able to put it down. Could NOT put it down. Had other things to do. Should have been doing them. Didn’t. Couldn’t put it down.

Continue reading

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Random Books, Forgotten Poems, Funny Podcasts, and A Forklift Whose Beep Has Lost Its Tone

Pop Culture Happy Hour, the awesome NPR pop culture podcast hosted by Linda Holmes, ends each podcast with a round-the-table of “What’s making us happy this week.” And one of the things that’s making me happy this week is their Oscars Omnibus podcast (all about the nominated pictures) — an even more awesome than usual feast of smart, clever people being intelligent and entertaining about pop culture from high to low.

Other things that are making me happy this week: having been reminded of a poem I’d somehow forgotten about, Philip Levin’s “This Be the Verse” (the one that begins “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”), the two books I’m reading, The Bullpen Gospels, recommended by a friend last summer because I liked Scott Simon’s Home and Away so much, and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, a mystery with, as the blurb promised, a heroine who’s a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Eloise, which I picked up at Mercer Street Books on a jaunt to lower Queen Anne last weekend.  Continue reading

“Nobody Dies Like Humphrey Bogart”

Sliding in with just over an hour of January to spare (in my time zone anyway), the first installment of 2015’s monthly series, which for this spin around the sun will look at poems about famous people. (Previous years having covered poems about Music, Animal poems, and poems —I was really hewing to the literal idea my first year of blogging, apparently—about Months).

I already know this topic’ll let me work in Linda Bierds, Ai, some more William Matthews, and a Frank O’Hara, maybe that great Barbara Hamby sonnet about Marlene Dietrich if I can find it again. I already fear it’ll devolve into a 12-part argument with myself about how much a reader needs to know about a poem’s subject (or be told in the poem, and how to do that) to really enjoy it/get it. Continue reading

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Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window

My review of Jeffrey Bean’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window is up at Smartish Pace, check it out. (Spoiler: I think it’s great.)

 

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I previously wrote about Bean’s poem “Minor Seventh” for June’s music poems post.

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Que Sera Sera

A. Van Jordan’s “Que Sera Sera — this month’s Music Poems post. Oh, this is a great poem. The music descriptions are great, the stream-of-consciousness build of momentum is great, the dual layer descriptions of the experience of being pulled over for “driving while black” are great, the circular pull back at the ending is great. For instance look at how many different ways you can read the words “light” and “color” and “within your flesh” and “you’re on your feet” in this passage, after the speaker, who has been listening “to what / sounds like Doris Day shooting / heroin inside Sly Stone’s throat” (this song) while driving through Black Mountain, North Carolina, is pulled over by a police officer, and the questioning makes his hands “want to ball into fists.”

But, instead, I tell myself to write a letter
to the Chief of Police, to give him something
to laugh at over his morning paper,
as I try to recall the light in Doris Day’s version
of “Que Sera Sera”—without the wail
troubling the notes in the duet
of Sly and Cynthia’s voices.
Hemingway meant to define
courage by the nonchalance you exude
while taking cover within your flesh,
even at the risk of losing
what some would call a melody;
I call it the sound of home.
Like when a song gets so far out
on a solo you almost don’t recognize it,
but then you get back to the hook, you suddenly

recognize the tun and before you know it,
you’re putting your hands together; you’re on your feet—
because you recognize a sound, like a light,
leading you back home to a color:

rust. […]

And then the poem goes into its long and excellent dive into memory around the color rust. Great stuff.

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Matthea Harvey’s “The Oboe Player”

This month’s Music Poem post, Matthea Harvey’s “The Oboe Player” from her 2000 collection Pity the Bathtub its Forced Embrace of the Human Form.

“His lips are full, but to play he must fold them in, / make a tight line of those wet curves” begins Matthea Harvey‘s sensual “The Oboe Player”. “It is shocking to see / them sprout out again when he finishes playing a long note” it continues, opening a poem full of luxurious descriptions.

The poem moves between the audience’s reactions to the power of the oboe player (“Those who pick / at their programs wish his solo were over, others look down / thinking he would only have to look at a bundle of green twine / and it would burst into flower”), the other musicians’ and the conductor’s reactions (“The conductor who approached the podium resolving / to rein him in abandons his brisk baton strokes, succumbs / to swaying”).

And the oboe player’s relationship with his own playing: Continue reading

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Minor Seventh

For this month’s music poem, a look at Jeffrey Bean’s “Minor Seventh“, which segues neatly into a review of Jeffrey Bean’s 2009 book Diminished Fifth.

Minor Seventh” is a prose poem, it’s a list, and it is built (built of various materials, built so it holds up, and built in the way you talk about someone in very good shape being built). And like all the best list poems the items in it cohere, surprise, make sense logically and make sense in the other ways amalgams make sense (the “poetry” kind of making sense).

And so too do the sounds. They cohere, surprise, make sense and make sense. Listen to how, at the beginning of “Minor Seventh,” the ks and rs and ns in ricochet, kitchen, mixolydian run together then modulate into the ns, ms and fs of Mississippi, blues, smokestacks, hymns, grief, hiss, then swing back to timber and trucks and crawling:

Foghorns, grackles, wheat fields sighing in wind. The night hawk’s ricochet. You better come on in my kitchen. Mixolydian trumpet runs boiling up the Mississippi turning into urban blues and smokestacks over Gary, Indiana. Hymns. Grief. The hiss of sprinklers in timber yards, brawl of log trucks crawling up Mt. Hood. […]

It’s hard to talk about a poem like this without devolving into analogies of music in your description, but it really does work that way, Continue reading

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Poetry Month Favorites: A Recap

Each day in April, on account of National Poetry Month, I tweeted a tidbit about a poem that means something to me personally (not just that I admire or recognize the greatness of).

It’s funny how often in a conversation with a stranger (or in last week’s case, a barista) in which it comes up that you write poetry the stranger (or barista) says something about not knowing anything about poetry and not understanding it at all, but then a few beats or a bit later, inevitably, the stranger (or barista) remembers a poem they really liked. In a high school class, say, or from college, or heard read at a wedding or funeral that stuck with them. Every time it seems the first reaction is backing away, but then there’s always at least one that they remember, that means something to them. Does poetry just have the worst marketing ever?  That everyone’s first reaction is to back away? (Until they remember there was at least one time they didn’t have to?)

Anyway, I thought maybe I’d see some style thread running through them all, other than a basic love of words, but I think that analysis might be for someone farther removed to pull. But here’s how those 30 stand in relationship to me. Continue reading

And so it is.

For this month’s Music post, I point you to A.E. Stallings again (and why not?), this time to  “Listening to Peter and the Wolf with Jason, Aged Three.”

I don’t know how she does it, is part of why I re-read Stallings, how she uses such formal (here rhyming triplets for goshsakes) forms but sounds so natural and contemporary so, yes I’ll say it (and why not?) accessible. Shouldn’t this poem be sort of boring? But it’s not.

It’s a small domestic moment, the action of “Listening to Peter and the Wolf with Jason, Aged Three,” taking place at present, and the detailed look it’s given, quite perfectly described — but not at length. I mean the moment, the listening to the music, the speaker’s reaction to the child’s grave and logical pronouncement, is not expanded to make some much larger point or dwelled upon philosophically, expounded or held up from all angles. Continue reading

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