Reading: November by Jane Shore

Jane Shore (b. 1947) is an American poet with a unique voice, often expressing her Jewish heritage. Don’t confuse her with a love of King Edward IV 🙂 I found a funny poem entitled ‘November’:

November
My north-exposed begonia the first frost
got to, spunky in its porcelain pot
splays out like spokes of an umbrella-
the pure giving up. It took me months
to like that plant, thriving
leaf-clumps pressed as lips press against
glass, towering above the huge green zoo
of Peperomia like the moony monster
eating Tokyo. That one: recalcitrant
on the sill. That one: its proud
explosions intruded like a hat in an audience.
I ripped the stems out whole, popping, oozing
syrup. They floated in the pie-tin above
the toilet like lilies on a tiny silver lake.
Thinking now of the guy who kidded me
for days, picked up and left me cold.

What a wonderful description of a dying begonia! It took me months to like it, and now this? But why did you expose him to the north? The poem is preparing for the dying lover or love, of course, but my mind hasn’t processed it yet. I just see the spunky frosty plant and the Peperomia’s lush leaves, the proud explosions of the intrusive species.

She kept the flowers (if I understand it correctly) for a while in the pie-tin above the toilet, to indulge in some romantic scene of lilies on a silver lake. The last two lines introduce the guy wo ‘kidded’ her, a consciously whimsical expression of the fact that he was an asshole. Don’t you think is a very effective way to drop an emotionl bomshell in poetry?

Reading: November by Jane Shore was originally published on Meandering home

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Reading: Old Couple by Charles Simic

Charles Simic (b. 1938) is an American poet born in Servia. His early childhood during World War 2 informed some of his poetry, that is said to be haunting and agonizing, but replete with gallows humor. He also wrote a lot of poems about everyday objects, such as spoons, knives and forks. I found this poem named Old Couple:

Old Couple
They’re waiting to be murdered,
Or evicted. Soon
They expect to have nothing to eat.

In the meantime, they sit.

A violent pain is coming, they think.
It will start in the heart
And climb into the mouth.
They’ll be carried off in stretchers, howling.

Tonight they watch the window
Without exchanging a word.
It has rained, and now it looks
Like it’s going to snow a little.

I see him get up to lower the shades.
If their window stays dark,
I know his hand has reached hers
Just as she was about to turn on the lights.

A little sentimental, but very effectful. The old couple is preparing to die in tough times. Is it war? Or are they people of a minority that according to some fanatics, “doesn’t belong” where they live, a situation that was not uncommon in former Yugoslavia? I don’t know, but I see the couple sitting there, thinking about that violent pain that starts in the heart. Heartbroken perhaps, that they must end like this, and so painful it becomes painful to even talk about it. Howling, did you hear that, Alan Ginsberg? while carried off in (on?) stretchers.
The expectation of a little snow after the rain is incredibly tender and prepares for the emotional suckerpunch in the final stanza. Just be honest, isn’t it beautiful? When it stays dark, the poet knows his hand has reached hers before she could turn on the lights.
One day, of course, the window will stay dark for another reason. The couple will be dead. But in the mind of the poet it will be dark because the couple is holding hands.

Reading: Old Couple by Charles Simic was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams

Something light and exhilarating today. William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) was a New York poet important voice of modernism and symbolism, who was celebrated by Ginsberg and the Beats for his accessibility. For our growing anthology, I read what is probably the most famous post-it note of American culture:

This is just to say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I was considering this poem alongside the famous “Red Wheelbarrow” (upon which much depends, glazed in rain, besides the white chickens etc). This one is a bit funnier. So, what is there to say? Ice cold plums for breakfast? Do I have to look up the meaning of the plum in historical symbolism?

The plumeater had planned to spend the night with a woman but left early because of some disappointment. The woman might have been sweet and cold, and hence, inedible, so WCW helped himself and devoured her plums. What turns a man off in a frigid woman can captivate us when it appears as fruit that a man can bite in. Such is my highly subjective masculine reading of this scribble, what’s yours?

Reading: This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: After Love by Sara Teasdale

Today I discover a short gem written by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933), who wrote a lot of love poetry and committed suicide at the age of 48. I came across this timeless poem about passion:

After Love
There is no magic any more,
We meet as other people do,
You work no miracle for me
Nor I for you.

You were the wind and I the sea —
There is no splendor any more,
I have grown listless as the pool
Beside the shore.

But though the pool is safe from storm
And from the tide has found surcease,
It grows more bitter than the sea,
For all its peace.

A very simple first stanza says what most of us feel who have experienced the end of a love affair. Magic and miracles gone, but are the former lovers still together, for example in marriage? Perhaps, she employs that wonderful metaphor of the pool beside the seashore. The elements don’t play with each other any more, danger has been banned ‘from storm’ (the ‘you’ in the poem is the wind, does the storm mean he was getting abusive?)

The pool has found ‘surcease’ (a beautiful word) but that makes it only more bitter than the sea. I don’t really see the bitterness of the sea, but do see how that pool turns into a reeking rotting puddle of listlessness. Standing water that, the longer it stands, the less inviting it gets to take a splash and revive the old magical wind-and-sea passion.

Reading: After Love by Sara Teasdale was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Sad steps by Philip Larkin

I browsed a digital collection of Larkin (1922-1985) to get an idea of his poetry. Returning appears to be the theme of aging, or in the words of this biography, “A sense that life is a finite prelude to oblivion underlies many of Larkin’s poems”. The man himself said “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth”. So I select a poem called sad steps for today:

Sad steps
Groping back to bed after a piss
I part the thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

Four o’clock: wedge-shaped gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-pierced sky.
There’s something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through the clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate—
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.

I like how the poem begins with a piss, and how the man (“a piss” implies a man, doesn’t it?) is parting the thick curtains to look outside, to glance at the world from his prison. He suprised he is by the rapid moving clouds (time flies!) and the cleanliness about the moon that doesn’t care and will shine in exactly the same way when we will all be long gone.

4am. I know the kind of moonlight and understand Philip well when he thinks the whole thing laughable. The moon dashes in the next stanza through the clouds and the arrogant moon is like a cannon killing us, its light turning the world into a deadly place by sharpening the roofs.

Outcry of ridiculousness, behind us rage the wolves of memory, ahead of us the cold moonlight. And all is so immense (we hear Pascal’s famous sentiment here). The far-reaching singleness up there, the gaze of the moon (?) that confronts us with the relentless reality of meaningless.

A reality that youth can handle, with strength and pain. And the only consolation, or even redemption, for Larkin seems to be the fact that this youthfulness will still exist ‘for others’ after we’re gone.

In ‘love again’ we hear that funny, let’s call it Larkin-touch, again:

Love again: wanking at ten past three
(Surely he’s taken her home by now?),
The bedroom hot as a bakery,

Reading: Sad steps by Philip Larkin was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: La fausse morte by Paul Valéry

Paul Valéry (1971-1945)

I found a short poem in a remarkable translation by Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody:

The Faux Death
Humble, tender, against the charming tomb,
______Unfeeling monument
That out of shadows, leavings, offered love
______Conjures your weary grace,
I fall, dying against you, dying — Yet,

No sooner fallen across the low grave
Whose lawn littered with ashes summons me,
Life reawakens in her seeming death;
She shakes, reopens lambent eyes, and bites,
And wrenches from my chest still other deaths
……….Dearer than life.

The chaining of adjectives doesn’t work as well musically as in French, where we hear a mantra of -ment. A charming tomb, well the tone of the poem is set. Is the poète visiting a graveyard in the night-time? The tomb has its grace because of all the drama of abandonment and the love that lavished, and the protagonist is dying too and lies down. What the translation misses is the ambiguity of the word ‘abats’, which also means offal or giblets in French.

So, our tombsleeper lies there, summoned by his surroundings where ashes are spread, and what happens next will blow your mind. It’s a ‘seeming death’, in which life returns. La vie – frémit: Eyes are opened, I am lightened and life bites me in a forceful inverse of vampire fantasy affirmed by the awkward full rhyme with ‘mort’. The translation with lambent eyes and wrenching from the chest is well done and makes this Valéry seem part of a Keatsian canon.

By lying down and playing dead at graves, life rears its beautiful head and purges all those morbid fantasies (nouvelles mortes) that he holds dearer than life. Perhaps at the end he reaffirms life itself? (But thank heavens the poem doesn’t think it needs to say that, or other lines that dissolve it into marketable kitsch.

Here is the original French, that I quote because the translation takes some liberties:

Humblement, tendrement, sur le tombeau charmant
Sur l’insensible monument,
Que d’ombres, d’abandons, et d’amour prodiguée,
Forme ta grâce fatiguée,
Je meurs, je meurs sur toi, je tombe et je m’abats,

Mais à peine abattu sur le sépulcre bas,
Dont la close étendue aux cendres me convie,
Cette morte apparente, en qui revient la vie,
Frémit, rouvre les yeux, m’illumine et me mord,
Et m’arrache toujours une nouvelle mort
Plus précieuse que la vie.

Reading: La fausse morte by Paul Valéry was originally published on Meandering home