For this last “Months” post of the year — and please don’t take this as a knock against December poems (I thought about mentioning W. S. Di Piero’s “Chicago and December,” or Linda Bierds’ “The Neon Artist in December,” or Kenn Nesbitt’s kids’ poem “December 26.” or any number of excellent poems about snow) — I just must revel for a moment longer in Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales (because the rule is you have until New Year’s Day to finish up the Christmas books). I love it for all its wonder and humor and nostalgia, but even more so for the language, which alternates between lush, luxuriously alliterative figurative passages like,
All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.
(such a joy to say aloud), and the simpler telling of what happened,Continue reading “December”
It’s the last day of November already! So a very brief mention of two very nice November poems.
I love, in Rita Dove’s “November for Beginners,” that very accurate description of November’s atmosphere, “So we wait, breeding / mood, making music / of decline.” “Breeding mood”! Perfect. And I’ll even give her the exclamation points at the end, because we do, we really do, in November, promise that when spring comes we’ll act the fool, just like that. The language in Dove’s poem is lovely — listen to all those “i” sounds at the end of the first stanza — twigs, burning, in, glistening, give — even the diphthong in rain. I also really like the title. It adds a nice deeper twist to an otherwise simple(ish) poem.
Bernadette Mayer’s line about “Trying to tango remorselessly” in “Kristin’s Dream in November” also fits November’s ill-fitting weather. Dream poems are tough, primarily I don’t like them, a bit of a personal pet peeve I guess. It’s so hard to get across the multiple weirdnesses of dreams without flying off into too-gauzy territory. Also? Most dreams are really boring if you weren’t the one dreaming them. But though “I followed people but maybe / They weren’t people,” which is certainly dream-like, is not necessarily super-interesting, it’s followed by “it was ethical / To follow them over the edges of the balloons,” and that “it was ethical” is just great, what a lovely way to position the dreamer in the dream. As is “over the edges of the balloons.” That’s an image that makes perfect sense until you start to try to parse it, to determine what “edge” means with a balloon. Is it like going over the edge of a cliff, over one of those garlands of balloons? The edge of a bunch of single balloons like we used to think ships would over the edge of the world? And so on. I like the poem’s alliteration too, the “right move in relation to the movements” and the “sphere where” and the “woke like a knock.”
I love the month of October. I love the high-blue-beautiful-sky days and the slower, lower, gray sky days. October is really the only month of fall we get in the Northwest — after that it’s pretty much just rainy winter. October, when we get our brief glimpse of trees turning colors. October, with its way of reveling in transition. October, cold at night but still mild enough during the day to affect whatever you were planning on doing not at all. October, still with some thin sun left for us.
“October” is a not-uncommon poem title. “October” by Bill Berkson has a nice take on the manifold nature of the month. I like the just slightly surreal quality of the images, they’re just slightly turned from dead-on (“warm / and loving like a death grip on a willing knee” and “snow bleeds softly from her shoes,” etc.).
And Jacob Polley’s “October” has a beautiful distinction between a day time blue sky contrasted with that “bluer home-time dark.” It’s a lovely meditation Continue reading “October”
September: Autumn (“and gathering swallows twitter in the skies”), time for school again (or for skipping school (“We / thin gin”) or for staying home sick (like “little Peggy Ann McKay”)), for remembering September 11th (“the photograph halted them in life”), time for apple picking (“the scent of apples: I am drowsing off”) and for dinner dates with apple pie (“there are very huge stars, man”), for watching harvest moons (“As a beautiful friend / Who remembers”) . . .
August is kind of an odd month, summer ending, a little melancholy, a little heavy feeling, (especially if it’s an afternoon when you’re listening to the Assassination of Jesse James soundtrack and Antony & the Johnsons, and even when the weather isn’t ungodly hot). August is vacation month, although “No One Goes to Paris In August,” where “Nobody has time like this” and days grow “Late with shade, low, low, long.”
On an August afternoon you might sport a “floppy existential sky-blue hat” and say to your woman, “Woman, I got the blues” and “Sweet Mercy, I worship / the curvature of your ass” and “For us there’s no reason the scorpion / has to become our faith healer.” (“Woman, I Got The Blues” by Yusef Komunyakaa, in Copacetic and his collecteds.) Or on an August afternoon you might sit down for a long, and hi-larious, yarn like David Lee’s “The Tree” (in Day’s Work and A Legacy of Shadows .)
Late August can also be “a pressure drop, / rain, a sob in the body,” and it’s a good time, they say, to plant iris, or just to sit in the backyard, where “Nothing is endless but the sky. / The flies come back, and the afternoon / Teeters a bit on its green edges,/ then settles like dead weight / Next to our memories.”
July is a good time for lying down in green grass, in a graveyard perhaps, like in Kazim Ali’s “July,” where there’s a pause before the next thing, and if you look at it long enough, with a friend, the sky changes —”came down in breaths to my lips and sipped me.”
In July, the windows are always open, as in William Matthews’ “Morningside Heights, July,” and one hears, like it or not, “a clatter of jackhammers” and someone “yelling fuck in Farsi” and a couple having a break-up conversation, and it all makes one feel a little strange, “hollower than a bassoon.”
Albert Goldbarth’s “Sentimental” begins in July but winds up, with it’s wonderful-sounding language, (“What if some chichi streetwise junkass from the demimonde / gave forth with the story of orphans forced through howling storm / to the workhouse”) going quite elsewhere, as thoughts are wont to do. Continue reading “July”
It’s June! It’s summer! Or, well, it will be soon…Not yet glorious summer in this neck of the woods. June for the Northwest is blue skies & 80′ with a nice breeze for a maximum of two days in a row, bookended by weeks of regular old gray & 60′ with sprinkles. Layer, shed, layer, shed, layer…
In July, summer is a real season, though even then “summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” Right now summer is just a feeling, just like “the hour things get / To be excellently pointless, like describing the alphabet,” as Joshua Clover’s “An Archive of Confessions, A Genealogy of Confessions” goes. Or, as Laurie Sheck puts it in “No Summer as yet,” “No summer as yet, but it will come with its bright pieces of whatever.”Continue reading “June”
Whoops! I neglected to do a “Months” post for May. Here, belatedly, are two May poems — “Ending” by May Swenson (heh), and “You May Leave a Memory, Or You Can Be Feted By Crows” by Dick Allen, which you will note has the word May in the title (heh again).
“Ending” is sort of a silly poem, a Dr. Sueussian, or perhaps more Shel Silverstein-ian, reincarnation/death meditation. What I like about this poem is basically that, that insouciant-but-still-saying-something tone, as well as the idea of the inner self as a little clear bug. And May, the month, is a little silly anyway. An extension of April’s showers without yet June’s blue skies.
“You May Leave a Memory…” refers to this painted scroll, “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains.” It’s a nice portrait; I like the man in this poem. There’s quite a tradition of American poets writing about Chinese artists, some of which are very lovely poems, worth seeking out (as, of course, are the Chinese artists).
It’s April. Fields of flowers, tons of rain, loss and renewal, and poetry.
I love Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Spring,” not just for its oh-so-quotable (and I often do) “April / comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers,” but for what precedes it — “It is not enough that yearly, down this hill / April / Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.” I love how angsty and dark it is, teenagery — even as it describes spring beauty (“The smell of the earth is good” and “the redness / of little leaves opening stickily”) there are maggots eating brains, and not just underground either. It’s a delicious mix of darknesses. She doesn’t deny beauty, it just isn’t enough.
For April rain we turn to Langston Hughes’ “April Rain Song.” Not a complicated poem in thought, but it has a wonderful rhythm.
A consequence of rain is of course mud, and mud makes the world mudlicious, Continue reading “April Comes Like an Idiot”
March in Portland means weather of every kind (hail, sun, snow, rain, freezing, 60°) in a single day on most days. The weather in March poems ranges too. In Lizette Woodworth Reese’s Mid-March “It is too early for white boughs, too late / For snows” and “The days go out with shouting.” Swinburne‘s March is a “master of winds, bright minstrel and marshal of storms that enkindle the season they smite,” but William Matthew’s March is hot, with thick air — “Nothing can ease the March heat / nor make it stay.”
In Elizabeth Spires’ “Ocean City: Early March” the month is moody and gray with storm. Dickinson, however, invites March in,
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –
I got your letter, and the Birds –
The Maples never knew that you were coming –
I declare – how Red their Faces grew –
But I think my favorite Continue reading “March”