Poetry Feed

The Red Wheelbarrow and Other Poems

The Red Wheelbarrow and Other PoemsThe Red Wheelbarrow and Other Poems by William Carlos Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 2015 at the Yale Writer's Conference in my Memoir Intensive group, Williams's granddaughter was also a member, working on a memoir of her grandfather. So I feel a more intimate connection with the great poet. One evening our group went to the beach house on the Sound of another member of the group, and it was pointed out that Williams had lived nearby.

This fine little book selects highlights from his works. He had a keen sense of attention to the world around him and a joyful use of words, most obvious in the title poem, which I remember discussing at length in some college class.

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American Primitive

American PrimitiveAmerican Primitive by Mary Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Today I had the day off, so I spent the day reading a wide array of things, including this early volume of Mary Oliver's poetry. As always, there are some great lines and passages ("Joy is a taste before it's anything else"). And I admired where the homoeroticism was strong in this work and puzzled how even with that she was America's favourite poet for so many decades. Her ability to describe wild nature--in the outside world and in our own bodies--is exceptional.

We'll be doing a four week worship series based on Mary Oliver poems this summer, concluding with Pride Sunday. She was not only America's beloved poet, she was one of our greatest spiritual writers and greatest queer writers. So interesting that she combined all of those in one person.

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The Queerness of Mary Oliver

When Mary Oliver died last week, I missed seeing explorations of her as a queer artist, so I was glad for this piece written by Jeanna Kadlec on the role of queer desire in Oliver's poems, including some of her most familiar ones.  An excerpt:

Take “Wild Geese,” perhaps her most beloved poem. “Wild Geese” is distinctly, uniquely queer. In the poem, the speaker gives the reader permission to inhabit their body: to be present in it, to know and own what they want without shame. Harder to do than it sounds, as any queer can tell you. Brandon Taylor has written about how this poem speaks to validating the reader’s worthiness. For me, someone who grew up in the evangelical church, the experience of reading “Wild Geese” has often been about receiving permission to desire within my own body: I do not have to be good; I do not have to repent.


A Stranger's Mirror

A Stranger's Mirror: New and Selected Poems 1994-2014A Stranger's Mirror: New and Selected Poems 1994-2014 by Marilyn Hacker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two things stand out about this poetry collection. First is the way that she works within a wide variety of traditional forms--sonnet crown, ghazal, glose, pantoum, etc.--yet does not write stuffy poetry. I'm rarely drawn to poetry this structured, yet hers has a vitality.

Second is the international flavor of her work. She is an American Jewish lesbian living in France who has studied Arabic language and literature. The new poems that begin this collection are written in response to recent upheavals, including the Syrian Civil War.

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Drifting Flowers of the Sea

Drifting Flowers of the Sea

by Sadakichi Hartmann 

 

Across the dunes, in the waning light,
The rising moon pours her amber rays,
Through the slumbrous air of the dim, brown night
The pungent smell of the seaweed strays—
From vast and trackless spaces
Where wind and water meet,
White flowers, that rise from the sleepless deep,
Come drifting to my feet.
They flutter the shore in a drowsy tune,
Unfurl their bloom to the lightlorn sky,
Allow a caress to the rising moon,
Then fall to slumber, and fade, and die.

White flowers, a-bloom on the vagrant deep,
Like dreams of love, rising out of sleep,
You are the songs, I dreamt but never sung,
Pale hopes my thoughts alone have known,
Vain words ne’er uttered, though on the tongue,
That winds to the sibilant seas have blown.
In you, I see the everlasting drift of years
That will endure all sorrows, smiles and tears;
For when the bell of time will ring the doom
To all the follies of the human race,
You still will rise in fugitive bloom
And garland the shores of ruined space.


Doveglion: Collected Poems

Doveglion: Collected PoemsDoveglion: Collected Poems by Jose Garcia Villa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At this best, this Filipino-American modernist poet is the successor of John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins in the way their poems express a complex spirituality. Doveglion (Villa's pen name) does not settle, but wrestles with God, as in this poem:

God fears the poems of
Such as I!
Who am neither blind
Nor sly:

For that though I praise Him
I accuse!
His inhuman Godhood
I refuse.

For that though I seek Him
I repel Him!
Repulsion so great
As to unnerve Him.

Dissolution of God
Is my end:
That His Nullity
I may forfend.

Dissolution of the
Spermless God:
To the Aristocracy
Of the Living Blood.

His poems also experiment with punctuation and spacing. Such as this one:

Crisp,is,God's,anger--
It,cracks,with,Tenderness.
He,is,so,much,Sun,
He,must,in,the,end,caress.

I,caused,His,anger,once,--
He,smote,the,dark,into,me,fierce!
But,then,it,broke--
He,placed,me,again,amongst,His,peers!

Note: he writes about plenty of things other than God, those are just the poems I was most drawn to.

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Lions and Lobsters and Foxes and Frogs: Fables from Aesop

Lions and Lobsters and Foxes and Frogs: Fables from AesopLions and Lobsters and Foxes and Frogs: Fables from Aesop by Ennis Rees
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our local art museum gift shop was selling a variety of children's versions of Aesop's fables. I thought it would be good to get one, as Sebastian didn't have a volume of the fables. This one looked the most interesting to me with its drawings and strange, clever rhyming scheme. So far, Sebastian has taken to it. I look forward to discussing the ethical lessons of the fables as he grows, but right now just letting them rest as story.

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Facing Us

 Facing US

Amanda Johnston  

 

after Yusef Komunyakaa

 

My black face fades,
hiding inside black smoke.
I knew they'd use it,
dammit: tear gas.
I'm grown. I'm fresh.
Their clouded assumption eyes me
like a runaway, guilty as night,
chasing morning. I run
this way—the street lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the back of a police van
again, depending on my attitude
to be the difference.
I run down the signs
half-expecting to find
my name protesting in ink.
I touch the name Freddie Gray;
I see the beat cop's worn eyes.
Names stretch across the people’s banner
but when they walk away
the names fall from our lips.
Paparazzi flash. Call it riot.
The ground. A body on the ground.
A white cop’s image hovers
over us, then his blank gaze
looks through mine. I’m a broken window.
He’s raised his right arm
a gun in his hand. In the black smoke
a drone tracking targets:
No, a crow gasping for air.