Why this?

The occasional poem of my own and a generous helping of work by others that I find inspiring. Site is named for a beloved book by one of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, whose fanciful work lights--and delights--my soul.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Here

(I like this woman's likening of this poem to an Edward Hopper painting: the "lonely scenery.")

The sun that silvers all the buildings here
Has slid behind a cloud, and left the once bright air
Something less than blue. Yet everything is clear.
Across the road, some dead plants dangle down from rooms
Unoccupied for months, two empty streets converge
On a central square, and on a nearby hill some tombs,
Half buried in a drift of wild grass, appear to merge
With houses at the edge of town. A breeze
Stirs up some dust, turns up a page or two, then dies.
All the boulevards are lined with leafless trees.
There are no dogs nosing around, no birds, no buzzing flies.
Dust gathers everywhere--on stools and bottles in the bars,
On shelves and racks of clothing in department stores,
On the blistered dashboards of abandoned cars.
Within the church, whose massive, rotting doors
Stay open, it is cool, so if a visitor should wander in
He could easily relax, kneel and pray,
Or watch the dirty light pour through the baldachin,
Or think about the heat outside that does not go away,
Which might be why there are no people there--who knows--
Or about the dragon that he saw when he arrived,
Curled up before its cave in saurian repose,
And about how good it is to be survived.

--Mark Strand

Our Masterpiece Is the Private Life

For Jules

I

Is there something down by the water keeping itself from us,
Some shy event, some secret of the light that falls upon the deep,
Some source of sorrow that does not wish to be discovered yet?

Why should we care? Doesn’t desire cast its
rainbows over the coarse porcelain
Of the world’s skin and with its measures fill the
air? Why look for more?


II

And now, while the advocates of awfulness and sorrow
Push their dripping barge up and down the beach, let’s eat
Our brill, and sip this beautiful white Beaune.

True, the light is artificial, and we are not well-dressed.
So what. We like it here. We like the bullocks in the field next door,
We like the sound of wind passing over grass. The way you speak,

In that low voice, our late night disclosures . . . why live
For anything else? Our masterpiece is the private life.


III

Standing on the quay between the Roving Swan and the Star Immaculate,
Breathing the night air as the moment of pleasure taken
In pleasure vanishing seems to grow, its self-soiling

Beauty, which can only be what it was, sustaining itself
A little longer in its going, I think of our own smooth passage
Through the graded partitions, the crises that bleed

Into the ordinary, leaving us a little more tired each time,
A little more distant from the experiences, which, in the old days,
Held us captive for hours. The drive along the winding road

Back to the house, the sea pounding against the cliffs,
The glass of whiskey on the table, the open book, the questions,
All the day’s rewards waiting at the doors of sleep . . .

--Mark Strand

Thursday, October 28, 2010

And this: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/downloads/kayryan.repetition.pdf

And this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TluXqMY1K-A

Why We Must Struggle

If we had not struggled
as hard as we can
at our strongest
how will we sense
the shape of our losses
or know what sustains
us longest or name
what change costs us,
saying how strange
it is that one sector
of the self can step in
for another in trouble,
how loss activates
a latent double, how
we can feed
as upon nectar
upon need?

--Kay Ryan

Crown

Too much rain
loosens trees.
In the hills giant oaks
fall upon their knees.
You can touch parts
you have no right to—
places only birds
should fly to.

--Kay Ryan

A Plain Ordinary Steel Needle Can Float on Pure Water

--Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Who hasn't seen
a plain ordinary
steel needle float serene
on water as if lying on a pillow?
The water cuddles up like Jell-O.
It's a treat to see water
so rubbery, a needle
so peaceful, the point encased
in the tenderest dimple.
It seems so simple
when things or people
have modified each other's qualities
somewhat;
we almost forget the oddity
of that.

--Kay Ryan

Slant

Can or can't you feel
a dominant handedness
behind the randomness
of loss? Does a skew
insinuate into the
visual plane; do
the avenues begin to
strain for the diagonal?
Maybe there is always
this lean, this slight
slant. Maybe always
a little pressure
on the same rein,
a bias cut to everything,
a certain cant
it's better not to name.

--Kay Ryan

The Edges of Time

It is at the edges
that time thins.
Time which had been
dense and viscous
as amber suspending
intentions like bees
unseizes them. A
humming begins,
apparently coming
from stacks of
put-off things or
just in back. A
racket of claims now,
as time flattens. A
glittering fan of things
competing to happen,
brilliant and urgent
as fish when seas
retreat.

--Kay Ryan

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Next Time

I

Nobody sees it happening, but the architecture of our time
Is becoming the architecture of the next time. And the dazzle

Of light upon the waters is as nothing beside the changes
Wrought therein, just as our waywardness means

Nothing against the steady pull of things over the edge.
Nobody can stop the flow, but nobody can start it either.

Time slips by; our sorrows do not turn into poems,
And what is invisible stays that way. Desire has fled,

Leaving only a trace of perfume in its wake,
And so many people we loved have gone,

And no voice comes from outer space, from the folds
Of dust and carpets of wind to tell us that this

Is the way it was meant to happen, that if only we knew
How long the ruins would last we would never complain.

II

Perfection is out of the question for people like us,
So why plug away at the same old self when the landscape

Has opened its arms and given us marvelous shrines
To flock towards? The great motels to the west are waiting,

In somebody’s yard a pristine dog is hoping that we’ll drive by,
And on the rubber surface of a lake people bobbing up and down

Will wave. The highway comes right to the door, so let’s
Take off before the world out there burns up. Life should be more

Than the body’s weight working itself from room to room.
A turn through the forest will do us good, so will a spin

Among the farms. Just think of the chickens strutting,
The cows swinging their udders, and flicking their tails at flies.

And one can imagine prisms of summer light breaking against
The silent, haze-filled sleep of the farmer and his wife.

III

It could have been another story, the one that was meant
Instead of the one that happened. Living like this,

Hoping to revise what has been false or rendered unreadable
Is not what we wanted. Believing that the intended story

Would have been like a day in the west when everything
Is tirelessly present—the mountains casting their long shadow

Over the valley where the wind sings its circular tune
And trees respond with a dry clapping of leaves—was overly

Simple no doubt, and short-sighted. For soon the leaves,
Having gone black, would fall, and the annulling snow

Would pillow the walk, and we, with shovels in hand, would meet,
Bow, and scrape the sidewalk clean. What else would there be

This late in the day for us but desire to make amends
And start again, the sun’s compassion as it disappears.

--Mark Strand

Exorcism

"As a young poet, poetry was for him no doubt an escape, a release. It was a way of discovery, discovery of self and the world. It was the magic power of words. It was too, he often thought when older, the exorcism of personal demons who must leave the spirit when the tormented unwilling host to them learns to say their names."

--Robert Hayden

Intelligent metaphor

"Metaphor is a process of comparing and identifying one thing with another. Then, as we see what things have in common, we see the general meaning they have. Now, the ability to see the relation between one thing and another is almost a definition of intelligence. Thinking in metaphors--and poetry is largely this--is a tool of intelligence. Perhaps it is the most important tool."

--Louis Simpson

The Radio Animals

The radio animals travel in lavender
clouds. They are always chattering, they
are always cold. Look directly at the
buzzing blur and you'll see twitter, hear
flicker—that's how much they ignore the
roadblocks. They're rabid with doubt.
When a strong sunbeam hits the cloud,
the heat in their bones lends them a
temporary gravity and they sink to the
ground. Their little thudding footsteps
sound like "Testing, testing, 1 2 3" from a
far-away galaxy. Like pitter and its petite
echo, patter. On land, they scatter into
gutters and alleyways, pressing their
noses into open Coke cans, transmitting
their secrets to the silver circle at the
bottom of the can. Of course we've wired
their confessionals and hired a translator.
We know that when they call us Walkie
Talkies they mean it scornfully, that they
disdain our in and outboxes, our tests of
true or false.

--Matthea Harvey

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shy animals

"At the beginning of human history, as we struggled to light fires and to chisel fallen trees into rudimentary canoes, who could have predicted that long after we had managed to send men to the moon and aeroplanes to Australasia, we would still have such trouble knowing how to tolerate ourselves, forgive our loved ones and apologise for our tantrums?"

"My employer had made good on the promise of a proper desk. It turned out to be an ideal spot in which to do some work, for it rendered the idea of writing so unlikely as to make it possible again. Objectively good places to work rarely end up being so; in their faultlessness, quiet and well-equipped studies have a habit of rendering the fear of failure overwhelming. Original thoughts are like shy animals. We sometimes have to look the other way--towards a busy street or terminal--before they run out of their burrows."

--Alain de Botton

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hurtling consciousness

"I think literature is best when it's voicing what we would prefer not to talk about. ... In my style, the idea is that it's more ornate because that's what consciousness is. To the extent that it hurtles, that it's circular and hurtling, it's because that's how I feel consciousness is, that's what it's like to be a person. You don't have these perfectly transparent, simple thoughts. You have thoughts that are all cluttered up, like overused bookshelves. Do I think there's content that's important and even essential in those sentences? Absolutely I do."

--Rick Moody here

Friday, October 15, 2010

Anna Kamienska

"Writing down your thoughts is both necessary and harmful. It leads to eccentricity, narcissism, preserves what should be let go. On the other hand, these notes intensify the inner life, which, left unexpressed, slips through your fingers. If only I could find a better kind of journal, humbler, one that would preserve the same thoughts, the same flesh of life, which is worth saving. ... Moreover the writer invents himself as a character in this form. He shapes himself from the shards of the everyday, from the truth of that daily life. Which is also a truth not to be scorned."

"My poems are more my silence than my speech. Just as music is a kind of quiet. Sounds are needed only to unveil the various layers of silence."

"Anxiety is creative. Confusion is not creative."

"From the start I had a great desire to change the language, for example, to replace the word 'grace' with something else. I was annoyed by the word 'humility' and many other words, which I hadn't used in a long while. It seemed to me that 'faith' was also a matter for the dictionary. Of course, language is a system of metaphors and contains the whole experience of farming communities, migrant peoples, various social orders, monarchy, slavery, serfdom. We've grown used to many words, forgetting that they're only metaphors, though in their own time they were actively metaphoric, new discoveries. I thought that ceaseless linguistic invention was required even in the realm of faith. Thinkers must be poets. ... I'm slowly relinquishing my claims in linguistic matters, though, and I humbly return to faith and to humility, since these are word-vessels so saturated with content through ages of thought and use that to abandon them would be the act of a heedless parvenu."

--Anna Kamienska in Poetry

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More Hayden

"In poetry you are really solving x, looking for the unknown quantity. You are trying to say what cannot be said any other way--and, in some poems, you are trying to say what really cannot be said at all." --Robert Hayden, referencing Auden's process

"I object to strict definitions of what a poet is or should be, because they usually are thought up by people with an axe to grind--by those who care less about poetry than they do about some cause. We're living in a time when individuality is threatened by a kind of mechanizing anonymity, and by regimentation. In order to be free, you must submit to tyranny, to ideological slavery, in the name of freedom. And obviously, this is the enemy of the artist; it stultifies anything creative... Poetry, all art, it seems to me, is ultimately religious in the broadest sense of the term. It grows out of, reflects, illuminates our inmost selves, and so on. It doesn't have to be sectarian or denominational." --Hayden

"I think that today when so often one gets the feeling that everything is going downhill, that we're really on the brink of the abyss and what good is anything, I find myself sustained in my attempts to be a poet and my endeavor to write because I have the assurance of my faith that this is of spiritual value and it is a way of performing some kind of service." --Hayden

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Wild Swans at Coole

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

--W.B. Yeats

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wowed

Feeling ridiculously lucky to have had the opportunity to spend the day here. Hard to imagine a more enriching experience poetry-wise, considering I got to listen to some of my favorite contemporary poets a) go on and on about craft and b) in conversation w/ each other. Mark Strand and Kay Ryan were highpoints: both enthralled and invigorated (you could see this on so many faces), and were hilarious in the best/slyest sense. Sharon Olds and Billy Collins were also great, if more predictable.

I sadly missed an on-time arrival (underestimated the Brooklyn-Newark commute/first time taking PATH--drat), which would’ve allowed me to attend the presumably great session "I Only Laugh When It Hurts: Wit and Humor in Poetry" (I did get there in time to hear Collins read “Litany,” which was niiice); then there was the botched “me w/ Billy Collins” photo opp (girl whose name I didn’t get: my camera’s not complicated! sigh), but hey.

Also, I like Newark! The little I saw of it, and on crisp sunny days, seems. Only non-airport time I’ve spent there…

Anyway, wanted to share some words I found particularly inspiring--

“Poetry has to have a cadence; otherwise it’s just prose chopped up.” --Mark Strand

“What’s mysterious is why you are the way you are. What about you leads you to write the way you do. … It takes a long time to sound like yourself. It takes a long time to be yourself.” --Mark Strand, on finding/settling into one’s writing voice

“I think you think clearest when you’re not overly excited. … I’m trying to create [in composing a given poem] a written artifact that will allow other people to feel. … I don’t have a concrete notion of the feeling I’m transmitting [though poetry].” --Mark Strand, on writing while not in the midst of some emotional experience/grief/distraction (Related/paraphrased: As poets, we get to revisit misery--the memory of it--while avoiding the actual experience of misery.)

“Where a poem leads you should be both surprising and inevitable.” --Mark Strand

“I think of a house as a great big skull to roam around in.” --Kay Ryan, on describing her ideal writing environment: a big empty house (Related: Ryan often begins writing sessions by spending ten or so minutes reading high-minded/intellectual stuff--nothing “gluey,” in her words. She mentioned Joseph Brodsky’s and Milan Kundera’s essays.)

“I think it’s important to begin w/ very little.” --Kay Ryan, on the value of breaking big material down into smaller/manageable components, then writing about these

“Our writing is always better than we are.” --Kay Ryan, quoting… Kundera?

“As soon as you write a word, that word has friends (rhymes, metaphors, etc.).” --Kay Ryan

“For me, rhyme is extremely bewitching. … Rhyme started happening to me, just as writing started happening to me. … Rhyme makes language cohere to itself.” --Kay Ryan

“Strike while the iron is iron. --Kay Ryan, on doing it now, today, because tomorrow iron may not be iron/things will be different

“I think you always have to kindof go off half-cocked.” --Kay Ryan, on the value of writing about something before you know everything/most things about it

“Be as clear as you possibly can be.” --Kay Ryan, addressing young poets in particular; value of not obscuring intention out of fear/desire to follow some trend

“I think I fear that we can never see anything--never get enough information.” --Kay Ryan

“Nobody can ever go back and tell you how something was made, which I think is kindof great.” --Kay Ryan, on the temporal-ness of creating

“We struggle to ‘get’ them, and then they strangle us.” --Kay Ryan, re: ways of creating that work for us, until they become a sortof tyranny

“I had a visceral reaction to any sortof guidance. … I think it’s important to allow a lot of space for yourself [in creating].” --Kay Ryan

“Being a poet is about valuing the periphery.” --Billy Collins

“You have to come to the realization that no one cares about what you say or think. … [Poetry] is about getting strangers to love you. … Readers don’t care about the poet; they care about the poetry.” --Billy Collins

“If we really, really focus--try to be accurate about what we’re seeing. Accuracy, accuracy.” --Sharon Olds, on the importance of clarity in poetry

“When I can put my pen down. When it no longer calls me back.” --Sharon Olds, on knowing a poem is done

“Verbal rhythm: you either have it or you don’t. It’s hard to teach.” --Billy Collins, on whether/not poetry can be taught

“Either you’re thrilled by your ability to connect two disparate things, or you’re not.” --Billy Collins, on metaphor

--

Ultimate takeaway from the day: value of fearlessness in one’s writing practice. Beauty (and maturity) in clarity, as this is the only way one will be heard.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Quotable

"We do not know whether today we are busy or idle. I have seemed to myself very indolent at times, when, as it afterward appeared, much was accomplished in me." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

"It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way." --Rollo May

"As I get older, my mind gets clearer. When I was your age, my dear young man, I greatly feared that when I got to be in my fifties--and now, you see, I'm in my sixties--that it would be curtains, curtains, Jack. There wouldn't be anything left, you know? But I am delighted to discover that I have more ideas. Say sunrise and I can fill up pages." --Robert Hayden

"Being human cannot be borne alone. We need other presences. We need soft night noises--a mother speaking downstairs. ... We need the little clicks and sighs of a sustaining otherness. We need the gods." --John Updike

"Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact." (ha!) --George Eliot

"God's first language is silence. Everything else is a translation." --Thomas Keating

Sunday, October 3, 2010

October

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

--Robert Frost