Wednesday, September 28, 2011

and he takes and he takes and he takes

It's the fourth anniversary of my friend Ben's death. He died in a drowning accident in 2007. He would have been 27 this year.

Ben was bright and brilliant and full of life, and there's not much else I can say besides I miss him. 

Here's Sufjan Stevens' "Casimir Pulaski Day." Ben introduced me to Sufjan, and it's a fitting song.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Here were the words of the Blind Poet

This one I picked up from, because I didn't have a poem in mind for today.  You could play "name that poem" with the references in here...I put some at the bottom.

An Octave Above Thunder
Carol Muske-Dukes

  ... reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience.

--T. S. Eliot,
"What the Thunder Said"


She began as we huddled, six of us,
in the cellar, raising her voice above
those towering syllables...

Never mind she cried when storm candles
flickered, glass shattered upstairs.
Reciting as if on horseback,
                   she whipped the meter,

trampling rhyme, reining in the reins
of the air with her left hand as she
stood, the washing machine behind her
              stunned on its haunches, not spinning.

She spun the lines around each other,
her gaze fixed. I knew she'd silenced
a cacophony of distractions in her head,
              to summon what she owned, rote-bright:

                             Of man's first disobedience,
                                        and the fruit...
                              of the flower in a crannied wall
                              and one clear call...

for the child who'd risen before school assemblies:
eerie Dakota rumble that rolled yet never brought
rain breaking over the podium. Her voice rose,
                        an octave above thunder:

When I consider how my light is spent--
I thought of her light, poured willy-nilly.
in this dark world and wide: half-blind, blind,
a widening distraction Getting and spending
 we lay waste our powers...Different poem, a trick!

Her eyes singled me out as the wind slowed.
Then, reflective, I'd rather be / a Pagan
 suckled in a creed outworn / than a dullard
                         with nothing by heart.

It was midsummer, Minnesota. In the sky,
the Blind Poet blew sideways, his cape spilling
rain. They also serve! she sang, hailing

as I stopped hearing her. I did not want to
stand and wait. I loathed nothing so much
as the forbearance now in her voice,
              insisting that Beauty was at hand,

but not credible. I considered
how we twisted into ourselves to live.
When the storm stopped, I sat still,

Here were the words of the Blind Poet--
crumpled like wash for the line, to be
dried, pressed flat. Upstairs, someone called
                   my name. What sense would it ever

make to them, the unread world, the getters and spenders,
if they could not hear what I heard,
              not feel what I felt
              nothing ruined poetry, a voice revived it,


"Of man's first disobedience" --Milton, Paradise Lost
"of the flower in a crannied wall" -- Tennyson, "Flower in a crannied wall"
"One clear call" -- Tennyson, "Crossing the Bar"
"When I consider how my light is spent" 
 "in this dark world and wide" 
                       --Milton, Sonnet 19, "On His Blindness"
"Getting and spending/we lay waste our powers" 
"I'd rather be / a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn

             -- Wordsworth, "The World is Too Much with Us"
"They also serve"
"stand and wait"
                 --Milton, Sonnet 19, "On His Blindness" 
"The Blind Poet" could be an allusion to Homer or to Milton (at the end of his life), but perhaps also to Tiresias, the blind prophet and a voice in The Waste Land. And the number of allusions here make it seem like she is paying homage to Eliot.

Friday, September 23, 2011

hold on to that... something

If yesterday made me sad, today had to go up somehow. So, things that made me happy today:

I've only seen about a half a season of Glee, and that was because one of my housemates liked to watch it. But Sesame Street! And Journey! And...oh, it makes me wish I were a kid.

And this, because it made me laugh and smile and stuff:

That's all. It's raining here in Philly, and fall has arrived.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

(not) beyond reasonable doubt

I am anti-death penalty in general, for a variety of reasons. The Troy Davis case in particular makes me sick to my stomach, especially because I know that there are more Troy Davises out there.

Here's what I've been reading:

From The Guardian: Troy Davis execution goes ahead despite serious doubts about his guilt

From The Nation: The Killing of Troy Davis

Also from The Nation, a look at the drugs used in lethal injection and their rather sketchy origins: The Executioner's Dilemma

From Racialicious: RIP Troy Davis

A view from the other side of the ocean: The Custody Sergeant
The death penalty is final. Even after 21yrs in prison there is still considerable doubt about the Troy Davis case. If we can't get to the truth in 21 years then it gives us a great example that ultimately, no matter how sure we are, we can still be very, very wrong.
A more meta look at racial bias and the death penalty from the Equal Justice Institute:

Each year in Alabama, nearly 65% of all murders involve black victims, yet 80% of the people currently awaiting execution in Alabama were convicted of crimes in which the victims were white. Only 6% of all murders in Alabama involve black defendants and white victims, but over 60% of black death row prisoners have been sentenced for killing someone white. (emphasis mine)
I think, also, what this highlights is the fact that Troy Davis is a symptom of a host of larger issues--though I am loath to say that, because we're talking about a man's life right here. But there are more meta-issues here: whether the death penalty is actually real justice; the very real reality that race makes a difference in sentencing; the also real reality of police coercion. And the list goes on.

There was a spontaneous protest in Philly last night. The coverage from the Philly Inquirer includes a quote from an acquaintance of mine:
In front of City Hall, protesters complained that police were aggressive toward the crowd.
"They were unnecessarily rough, but I stood my ground," said Cambria Hooven, a social worker. "I'm an advocate for my kids - that's why I'm here. Any one of them could be Troy Davis."
 I feel the need to re-re-re-re-quote (heh) Seamus Heaney, because it's at moments like these that I feel the world is beyond redemption:
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.
Or perhaps, just this: miserere nobis.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

this is your fate: to live

I promise that in the next week, I will post something other than poetry. But because it's Tuesday, and because this is lovely, have an untitled poem by Pedro Salinas.

Wake up. Day calls you
to your life: your duty.
And to live, nothing else.
Root it out of the glum
night and the shadow
that covered your body
for which light waits
on tiptoe in the dawn.
Stand up, affirm the straight
simple will to be
a pure vertical virgin.
Test your body's metal.
Cold, heat? Your blood
will say it against the snow,
behind the window.
The color
in your cheeks will say it.
And look at the world. Rest
doing no more than adding
your perfection to another day.
Your task
is to carry your life high,
play with it, hurl it
like a voice to the clouds
so that it may retrieve the lights
already gone from us.
This is your fate: to live.
Do nothing.
Your work is you, nothing else.

(translated by Willis Barnstone)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

All things counter, original, spare, strange

Tuesday already? What?

Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of my go-to poets, partially because of his use of "sprung rhythm" and his general playfulness with words. Partially it's also because I went to his church, St. Aloysius, when I studied at Oxford for a semester.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things--
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                     Praise Him.

And just because it's fun to hear it aloud:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

all shall be well

This is what I wrote last year about September 11, and I don't have much of a desire to repeat myself. In lieu of anything profound, I'm going to post these things that I've found:

And then this:

(...because who doesn't like children's choirs?)

Or if your tastes run more to the professional side...

Friday, September 9, 2011

this badland beyond my ken

Stuff I've been reading:

From Truth-Out: Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult

From the Chronicle of Higher Ed: Let's Get Serious About Cultivating Creativity

From the Washington Post:  PAPA Festival highlights Christianity, anarchism and community spirit

From the blog Red-Letter Christians: Moving on the Block: What White People Can Do About Racism


Perdido Street Station, China Miéville: It's...fantastical. Weird. Bizarre. I read a review that says that one reads this book for the prose more than the plot. The prose is certainly kind of wonderful and voluptuous and a bit overwhelming--as is the world that Miéville builds. For example:

New Crobuzon was a city unconvinced by gravity....The city thrust upwards massively, as if inspired by those vast mountains to the west. Blistering square slabs of habitation ten, twenty, thirty storeys high punctuated the skyline. They burst into the air like fat fingers, like fists, like the stumps of limbs waving frantically above the swells of the lower houses (55).
Miéville weaves his story into this world, giving us flawed, sometimes despicable, characters. The main thrust of the plot is this: Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is a scientist who's something of a rogue. He is visited by a (half-bird, half-human) garuda, who has had his wings cut off as punishment for a crime. The garuda, Yagharek, enlists Isaac in his search to fly again, and in researching flight, Isaac accidentally unleashes a monster into the city. There's one main twist at the end that was surprising enough that I had to re-read it. Perdido Street Station is not a happy book. I wouldn't suggest it if you want something uplifting. But it's sure as hell worth reading.

Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler: Butler sets this story in a dystopian United States, in which the government has fallen apart and people live in walled communities that protect them from the outside. The protagonist, Lauren Olamina, suffers from a condition called hyperempathy, in which she feels others' pain. She's been raised Baptist--her father is a pastor of sorts--but she develops her own religion called Earthseed, in which the principle tenet is "God is Change." When her community is destroyed, she leaves and starts a journey north, picking up people as she goes and trying to convert them to Earthseed. 

Dystopian fiction's gotten bigger these days--we can see that in books like The Hunger Games and The Road. Parable of the Sower was written a bit earlier (1993). There's a second book, Parable of the Talents, and Butler had been planning a third book, but she died before she could write it (which is a shame). Butler was a pioneer of science fiction, especially as she was one of the few African-American women writing in the field.

I just started Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. It's a bit of a departure from what I've been reading.

Anyway, bits and pieces, hints and guesses, all that. I am happy for the sunshine after a week of rain.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"sorrow chain'd my tongue"

The first official Poetry Tuesday!

This is Ann Eliza Bleecker's "Written in the Retreat from Burgoyne." I chose this one because 1) I often focus on 20th-century poets and I wanted something different and 2) in grad school, I wrote my last paper for my Futures of American Poetry class on Bleecker (specifically on this poem), looking at the ways her poetry and life intersect with modern trauma theory.

Bleecker was a colonial poet. She lived from 1752 to 1783, and she experienced quite a lot of grief in her short life. She lost many family members, including her daughter Abella, her mother, and her sister, as they were driven from their home during the American Revolution.

Her daughter Margaretta also became a poet.

So, without further ado:

Written in the retreat from Burgoyne

Was it for this, with thee a pleasing load,
I sadly wander'd thro' the hostile wood;
When I thought fortune's spite could do no more,
To see thee perish on a foreign shore?

Oh my lov'd babe! my treasure's left behind,
Ne'er sunk a cloud of grief upon my mind;
Rich in my children---on my arms I bore
My living treasures from the scalper's pow'r:
When I sat down to rest beneath some shade,
On the soft grass how innocent she play'd,
While her sweet sister, from the fragrant wild,
Collects the flow'rs to please my precious child;
Unconscious of her danger, laughing roves,
Nor dreads the painted savage in the groves.

Soon as the spires of Albany appear'd,
With fallacies my rising grief I cheer'd;
'Resign'd I bear,' said I, 'heaven's just reproof,
'Content to dwell beneath a stranger's roof;
'Content my babes should eat dependent bread,
'Or by the labour of my hands be fed:
'What tho' my houses, lands, and goods are gone,
'My babes remain---these I can call my own.'
But soon my lov'd Abella hung her head,
From her soft cheek the bright carnation fled;
Her smooth transparent skin too plainly shew'd
How fierce thro' every vein the fever glow'd.
---In bitter anguish o'er her limbs I hung,
I wept and sigh'd, but sorrow chain'd my tongue;
At length her languid eyes clos'd from the day,
The idol of my soul was torn away;
Her spirit fled and left me ghastly clay!

Then---then my soul rejected all relief,
Comfort I wish'd not for, I lov'd my grief:
'Hear, my Abella!' cried I, 'hear me mourn,
'For one short moment, oh! my child return;
'Let my complaint detain thee from the skies,
'Though troops of angels urge thee on to rise.'

All night I mourn'd---and when the rising day
Gilt her sad chest with his benignest ray,
My friends press round me with officious care,
Bid me suppress my sighs, nor drop a tear;
Of resignation talk'd---passions subdu'd,
Of souls serene and christian fortitude;
Bade me be calm, nor murmur at my loss,
But unrepining bear each heavy cross.

'Go!' cried I raging, 'stoick bosoms go!
'Whose hearts vibrate not to the sound of woe;
'Go from the sweet society of men,
'Seek some unfeeling tyger's savage den,
'There calm---alone---of resignation preach,
'My Christ's examples better precepts teach.'
Where the cold limbs of gentle Laz'rus lay
I find him weeping o'er the humid clay;
His spirit groan'd, while the beholders said
(With gushing eyes) 'see how he lov'd the dead!'
And when his thoughts on great Jerus'lem turn'd,
Oh! how pathetic o'er her fall he mourn'd!
And sad Gethsemene's nocturnal shade
The anguish of my weeping Lord survey'd:
Yes, 'tis my boast to harbour in my breast
The sensibilities by God exprest;
Nor shall the mollifying hand of time,
Which wipes off common sorrows, cancel mine.