Sunday, November 13, 2011


by Ernest Hilbert

The sky is warm and heavy before rain.
You throw down anchors.  They till lines in soft
Mud, blooming muddy clouds.  You sometimes slow,
Sometimes speed, as you pass forest and plain.
In summer, mud smolders; in fall, leaves waft
Onto the deck.  The water rolls and glows.
At ports you take on granite, grain, sandstone.
Canals narrow and widen.  Locks buoy
And release.  The barge rests more deeply
In sluggish brown water.  You are alone.
It doesn’t seem to move but does; though free
It holds to its course, pulled toward the sea.
Memories gather, and thoughts become strange.
Between naps, the banks hardly seem to change.

Ernest Hilbert’s debut collection Sixty Sonnets (2009) was described by X.J. Kennedy as “the most arresting sequence we have had since John Berryman checked out of America.” Adam Kirsch wrote of Hilbert’s limited-edition chapbook Aim Your Arrows at the Sun  that, “like Robert Lowell, Hilbert is drawn to scenes of carnage, where the true face of humanity seems to reveal itself.” 

Hilbert’s poems have appeared in The New Republic, Yale Review, American Poetry Review, Parnassus, Boston Review, Verse, New Criterion, American Scholar, and the London Review. He attended Oxford University, where he edited the Oxford Quarterly. He was the poetry editor for Random House’s magazine Bold Type in New York City (1998-2003) and, more recently, of the Contemporary Poetry Review (2005-2010). He hosts the popular blog and video show E-Versed Radio. He is an antiquarian book dealer in Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife, an archaeologist.

I really love this poem,  have not yet received permission of the author but have reached out and hope to hear back soon.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

New Traditions ~ A. E. Stallings

Another Lullaby for Insomniacs

By A. E. Stallings

Sleep, she will not linger:
She turns her moon-cold shoulder.
With no ring on her finger,
You cannot hope to hold her.

She turns her moon-cold shoulder
And tosses off the cover.
You cannot hope to hold her:
She has another lover.

She tosses off the cover
And lays the darkness bare.
She has another lover.
Her heart is otherwhere.

She lays the darkness bare.
You slowly realize
Her heart is otherwhere.
There's distance in her eyes.

You slowly realize
That she will never linger,
With distance in her eyes
And no ring on her finger.


by A. E. Stallings

What butterfly—
Brain, soul, or both—
Unfurls here, pallid
As a moth?

(Listen, here's
Another ticker,
Counting under
Mine, and quicker.)

In this cave
What flickers fall,
On the wall?

Spine like beads
Strung on a wire,
Of our desire,

Moon-face where
Two shadows rhyme,
Two moving hands
That tell the time.

I am the room
The future owns,
The darkness where
It grows its bones.

The Mother’s Loathing of Balloons

by A. E. Stallings

I hate you,
How the children plead
At first sight—

I want, I need,
I hate how nearly
Always I

At first say no,

And then comply.
(Soon, soon

They will grow bored
Clutching your
Umbilical cord)—

Over the moon,
Should you come home,

They’d cease to care—
Who tugs you through
The front door

On a leash, won’t want you
And will forget you

On the ceiling—
A giddy feeling—

Later to find you,
Puckered, small,
Crouching low

Against the wall.
O thin-of-skin
And fit to burst,

You break for her
Who wants you worst.
Your forebear was

The sack of the winds,
The boon that gives
And then rescinds,

Containing nothing
But the force
That blows everyone

Off course.
Once possessed,
Your one chore done,

You float like happiness
To the sun,
Untethered afternoon,

Marooning all
You’ve left behind:

Their tinfoil tears,
Their plastic cries,
Their wheedling

And moot goodbyes,
You shrug them off—
You do not heed—

O loose bloom
             With no root
                              No seed.

A. E. (Alicia) Stallings is a poet who writes some of the most exciting lyric poetry today.  She rides the rules in an original way, finding a very modern music in traditional verse forms.   The MacArthur Foundation recognized her in this way:
A.E. Stallings
A.E. Stallings is a poet and translator mining the classical world and traditional poetic techniques to craft works that evoke startling insights about contemporary life.  In both her original poetry and translations, Stallings exhibits a mastery of highly structured forms (such as sonnets, couplets, quatrains, and sapphics) and consummate skill in creating new combinations of meter, rhyme, and syntax into distinctive, emotionally compelling verse.  Trained in classical Latin and Greek and currently living in Athens, she brings a wide knowledge of Greco-Roman literature, art, and mythology to bear on her imaginative explorations of contemporary circumstances and concerns. (More here.)
A. E. Stallings received an A.B. (1990) from the University of Georgia and an M.St. (1992) from the University of Oxford.  Her additional works include the poetry collection Archaic Smile (1999) and poems and essays in such publications as Poetry, the Atlantic Monthly, the Hudson Review, and the Yale Review.  She makes her home in Greece with her husband and two children and also serves as director of the poetry program at the Athens Centre in Athens, Greece.

Another Lullaby for Insomniacs appeared in Poetry Magazine in 2004, and had been previously collected in both Archaic Smile : poems, selected by Dana Gioia for the Richard Wilbur Award and published by University of Evansville Press, 1999 and again in Hapax: poems, published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2006.  Ultrasound appeared originally in Archaic Smile : poems, and can be found also in 32 Poems

A Mother's Loathing of Balloons was originally published in Poetry in 2009 and will be collected in upcoming Olives: poems, to be published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2012.

There is an insightful overview of her career in The Mezzo Cammin, Woman Poets Timeline Project.  Recently she joined Jeffrey Brown on the PBS Newshour for a conversation following her being named a 2011 MacArthur fellow.  Enjoy ~

(Poetry reprinted by permission)

Images ~

Artisan Poets

Ojimi Bead carving of Bird
East West Poetry will have its first anniversary soon and it's interesting to look back at how an idea found its form.  Originally I wanted to use the subtitle "Artisan Poets for a New Generation."  A little pretentious, I admit, so it was dropped ~ but I mention that here because it lies beneath the foundation of the site: the love of craft and well-crafted work.

There is a unique and interesting beauty in well-made, lyrical verse, and, over the past century, our world has been less rich for its loss. Mastering any art or magic it takes years of practice to produce works of grace. Though I'm just a journeyman, I have worked enough in my own way to appreciate the gifts, grit and tenured talent it takes to make lyrics appear both luminous and effortless.

I love well-crafted verse in the same way that I love a garden with stone steps and paths that bring me to standpoints where something unexpected is featured and so discovered or, if revisited, savored.  Carefully crafted poems can be as marvelous as an Ojime bead, a mile of detail in a quarter-inch of boxwood.  There is a thrill in the precision, the playfulness, the breathtaking finish.  It gives the stuff of language a crystalline structure ~ the poet compresses and condenses, then shapes it with a well-practiced hand.  

We are fortunate to live in a day when when some amazing poets are revisiting and refreshing the lyric arts, fortunate to live in a day when A. E. Stallings is writing for us.  Alicia ~ whose books are true delights ~ is young, playful, passionate and precise, crafting work that is architecturally advanced and filled with light.  Her sense of timing and ear for the music of the language are both challenging and refreshing.  Enjoy her Blackbird Etude below and look to the next posting to read more.

Blackbird Etude 

For Craig

The blackbird sings at
the frontier of his music.
The branch where he sat

marks the brink of doubt,
is the outpost of his realm,
edge from which to rout

encroachers with trills
and melismatic runs sur-
passing earthbound skills.

It sounds like ardor,
it sounds like joy. We are glad
here at the border

where he signs the air
with his invisible staves,
“Trespassers beware”—

Song as survival—
a kind of pure music which
we cannot rival.

A. E. Stallings's poem Blackbird Etude originally appeared in Poetry Magazine (2009) and will be collected in her forthcoming book, Olives: Poems, a TriQuarterly Books imprint, to be released by Northwestern University Press in the spring of 2012.

(Poetry reprinted with permission)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Moth on a summer night
By Jennifer O'Grady

Adrift in the liberating, late light
of August, delicate, frivolous,
they make their way to my front porch
and flutter near the glassed-in bulb,
translucent as a thought suddenly
wondered aloud, illumining the air
that's thick with honeysuckle and dusk.
You and I are doing our best
at conversation, keeping it light, steering clear
of what we'd like to say.
You leave, and the night becomes
cluttered with moths, some tattered,
their dumbly curious filaments
startling against my cheek. How quickly,
instinctively, I brush them away.
Dazed, they cling to the outer darkness
like pale reminders of ourselves.
Others seem to want so desperately
to get inside. Months later, I'll find
the woolens, snug in their resting places,
full of missing pieces.

Moth in a New Hampshire morning

Jennifer O'Grady
This delicate poem is originally from Poetry. I discovered it this morning from the Writer's Almanac's daily newsletter.  You can follow the link and hear the poem read aloud by Garrison Keillor - or read it aloud yourself.  It fills the mouth like a good wine - delightful, complex on the tongue, with a lovely long finish.  And if you read it aloud yourself, or to someone near you, you'll find yourself drifting back to it in days to come. 

Jennifer O'Grady is a graduate of the Columbia University Writer's program and the author of the volume of poetry ~ White, published by Mid-List Press and available through Amazon.  She describes the poems in the following way:

It occurred to me from something Mark said that we do not see colors (even as basic a color as white) in the same way. This realization impacted my experience of marriage and gave rise to my book's title poem. The attempt to come to terms with this fundamental and unalterable difference of perspective as it inhabits and shapes the most intimate of human relationships is a theme that runs through White. Stylistically, the poems of White are expressed through single-voice narrative as well as verse that juxtaposes two or more voices or texts to convey a divided and ambivalent consciousness. More that what is said in a poem, I am interested in what is not said, the pauses and silences, the space that flows around lines and between stanzas. It is within that space that much of our communication is made palpable, and the boundaries between self and other are illuminated. 

The two lovely images come from the design blog Hunters and Gatherers, whose mission is to 
...hunt for precious finds. Objects that represent timeless beauty and tell stories of time and place, taste and utility, integrity and influence. We're passionate about expanding our visual vocabulary and gather indigenous palettes, textures and forms that provide us with inspiration and application for our everyday lives.

Of the photos of moths, they say, 
There are many memories that surface on warm summer nights in New Hampshire- memories of camp with the smell of campfires, countless stars in an inky night sky and moths scraping the screens and shadowing the porch lights. We have what seem like a trillion of them in NH and one seems more beautiful than the next in the light of morning. 
I think this speaks to what Jennifer was reaching for in her poem also.  Other poems of Jennifer O'Grady's on the web are Illuminated Page (Poetry), and How to Clean Practically Anything, (Poetry Daily, originally from Southwest Review).  I hope you enjoy ~  

(used with permission of the author)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Poems for members of Congress to read

Please read this delightful piece by Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, on how poetry may be just the thing to humanize the legislators in Washington.  I Yield My Time to the Gentleman From Stratford-Upon-Avon

He asked David Orr, poetry columnist for the Book Review, to select some good poems for members of Congress to read ~ here is a link to Bedside Table Suggestions for Congress


Friday, August 5, 2011

After the Storm ~ Chapel Hill, NC, 1985

by Corinna McClanahan Schroeder

He stepped onto the porch and lit his pipe,
inhaled the scent of pine. The hail had sheered
the needles from the trees — the ground now lost
beneath white stones. Sunset’s afterglow threw
its light up from the west, and in the east,
the petulant clouds retreated into black.
How rare, he thought, to see two sides of sky
instead of one blank scope. His pipe to lip,
he paused and listened to the hiss and crack
as the hail sublimed to mist. The vapor rose,
a slow, encroaching fog that masked the earth.
Inside, his wife was sleeping, belly burdened
with child — the undesigned result of love — while here,
the sublimation as form gave way to form. Fear swelled
inside his throat with father — that shape to come.

But overhead, between the east and west,
a distant star established his space, a mark
as ancient as his thoughts. Exhaling smoke,
he watched the fog disperse until no sign
remained — only the slow and steady whir
of summer pushing itself from day to day.

From Measure, Vol. II, Issue 2, 2009

Corinna McClanahan Schroeder
There is a small river that runs between the significant transitions in our lives that poets explore.  After the Storm is a remarkable rendering of one of these, capturing the moment with a quiet dignity.    

Corinna McClanahan Schroeder holds an M.F.A. from the University of Mississippi where she was the recipient of a John and Renée Grisham Fellowship.  She is currently a Ph.D. student in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California where she holds a Wallis Annenberg Endowed Fellowship.  

Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Tampa Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Cave Wall, and Linebreak. She is the recipient of a 2010 AWP Intro Journals Award in poetry and an honorable mention in Copper Nickel’s 2011 poetry contest, and she is currently a 2011 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship finalist. Read more by following these links ~ Pebble Lake Review, Barely South ReviewGlass:  A Journal of Poetry.  

(used with permission of the author)

Summer Stars

by Carl Sandburg

Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

I found this Carl Sandburg poem on E-Verse Radio and it seems to capture the gorgeous lazy music of a summer night. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


by April Lindner

At cruising altitude the earth comes clean,
the slapdash rummage sale of man-made things
and nature’s thousand tangled hues of green,
made tidy by the miles. Seen past our wings,
roads run straight, and silos glint like dimes,
each swimming pool slick as a polished gem.
Even mountain ranges, wild sublimes
of river, butte and canyon, figure trim
and tailor cut, their splendid disarray
mere patterns on a rug. Obedient
and orderly, the planet curls away,
its edges gently smudged, but on descent
it tugs us back, its noise and ample mess
as welcome as a lover’s sloppy kiss.

Coming into Cape Town
Coming back from Africa ~ so many hours on airplanes over amazing landscapes ~ I discovered April Lindner's wonderful poem Neat in one of my new favorite journals, Think Journal (click the name or the links on the right).  In my mind, this is the best type of contemporary verse - it's beautifully crafted, freshly observant, linguistically and metrically interesting and lovely. I'm looking forward to reading more! 

April Lindner‘s poetry collection, Skin, received the 2002 Walt McDonald First Book Prize from Texas Tech University Press. Her poems have appeared in The Hudson Review, The Paris Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Mezzo Cammin, and The Formalist, as well as in numerous anthologies and textbooks. With R. S. Gwynn, she co-edited Contemporary American Poetry, an anthology in Longman’s Penguin Academics series.  She teaches at St. Joseph's University and you can find details of her publications there. 

April Lindner
Visit her at her website April, look for her poetry collection Skin, or read selections of her work on the American Life in Poetry blog by Ted Kooser, on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, or a poem from Skin in the Writer's Almanac archive. 

(used with permission of the author)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

East West Poetry News

East West Poetry is now configured for mobile devices!  Let me know if you run across any issues.  Thanks ~ Jaye

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Advice from a Caterpillar

by Amy Gerstler (Dearest Creature)

Chew your way into a new world.
Munch leaves.  Molt.  Rest.  Molt
again.  Self-reinvention is everything.
Spin many nests.  Cultivate stinging
bristles.  Don't get sentimental
about your discarded skins.  Grow
quickly.  Develop a yen for nettles.
Alternate crumpling and climbing.  Rely
on your antennae.  Sequester poisons
in your body for use at a later date.
When threatened, emit foul odors
in self-defense.  Behave cryptically
to confuse predators: change colors, spit,
or feign death.  If all else fails, taste terrible.

I received Amy Gerstler's book Dearest Creature as a Mother's Day present and this was the first poem I read.  What a great gift! Read more about her at the Poetry Foundation.  I'll add more information about her when I have a free moment.  Enjoy ~

Friday, May 6, 2011


by Jaye Shore Freyer

Adults spoke an audible braille
I could mimic but just half comprehend ~
must have been that my mind was as green
as the fields of those afternoons ~
as untethered and untamed as a wren

Take Casualty Calls ~ a term 
common as weeds in my seventh year;
the soft southern arc in my inner ear 
knew call, that lazily stretched
its neighborly vowel, 
making a visit genteel;  
and casual's sensual sound 
rubbed its back like a cat 
slipping along the back of my throat,
carefully side-stepping my tongue.
Did I ask?  If I did, 
it was probably defined 
as 'work to be done'.  

Da Nang, Kwang Tri, Dong Ha 
the same ~ can still feel how they felt ~
rolling around in my mouth ~ 
colored balloons of sound
held by the slender twine of a pause ~
over and over again - hop scotch
jumping rope with friends,
pumping the swing 
till it tugged at it's reins

And then, what ended on the airport tarmac
was a beginning of a long silence,
not just for me but all of us.

Collage of my Dad, 1967
When I think about our current wars I think about my own family - the years when I was young and having a father see action seemed fun, exotic, important ~ a grade school child's view of the world.  It all changed when my father came back from Viet Nam and the fun fell out of it. I realized how badly I'd bungled understanding what was going on.  In the days before Google children were left to figure what grown-ups were talking about and my parents seemed to make a conscious effort to leave us to our childhood as much as they could. 

The events this week, with the capture/killing of Osama bin Ladin, triggered a recurring thought that my son and his friends were the age I was here when the towers went down, and I have wondered what they make of what they have (haven't ) understood about the events that course through their lives.  They seem so much savvier than I ever was but I'm curious to see how they capture their point of view for us  ~  I'm looking forward to hearing their voices ~ and know it may take years for this to happen as it has here for me. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Three by Kay Ryan


by Kay Ryan (from The Best of It ~ New Poems)

Unlike igneous
porphyry, famous
since the Egyptian
basin business,
periphery is no
one substance,
but the edges
of anything.
Fountains, for instance,
have a periphery
at some distance
from the spray.
On nice days
idle people circle
all the way around
the central spout.
They do not get wet.
They do not  get hot.
If they bring a bottle
they ket kicked out, but
generally things are mild
and tolerant at peripheries.
People bring bread the
pigeons eat greedily.


by Kay Ryan (from The Best of It ~ New Poems)
for E.B.

I thought you were
born to privilege,
some inherited advantage ~
like an estate framed
in privet edge,
or a better-feathered
shuttlecock for badinage,
or other French pretensions.
I never thought you knew about exhaustion ~
how we have to leap in the morning
as early as high as possible,
we are so fastened, we are so dutiful.

A Certain Kind of Eden

by Kay Ryan (from The Best of It ~ New Poems)

It seems like you could, but
you can't go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It's all too deep for that.
You've overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you're given
for control.  You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
you even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens.  But those things
keep growing where we put them ~
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us in thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.

Kay Ryan ~ poet
I discovered Kay Ryan for the first time a few days before she won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and since then how well-known and well-regarded she is - she was the poet laureate for the United States from 2008-2010, and has won countless awards.  She also has spent a career teaching in a community college and championing community college education - not the normal path of privilege.  I admire her independent voice and her courage.

I found her book,  "The Best of It", new and collected poems, on sale when our local Borders was going out of business.  What a lucky day it was for me.  I had not heard of her and I opened it expecting to be disappointed as I am by so many books of poetry I buy - but this one was different.  The first poem chosen at random was brilliant -- a cut gem of thought, and the next - and the next.   Her language is lyrical but tightly woven.  Her insights are clear and provocative.  Her poems are short - most 12 - 18 lines - with no waste, nothing frivolous.  She does what, in my mind, a poet should do - capture the moments we wish we could capture - but with grace, insight, agile intelligence, and the sort of music that comes from years of practice.

The Best of It ~ 2011
winner of Pulitzer Prize 
Annie Dillard says, "These are poems that inspire us with poetry's greatest gifts:  the music of language and the force of wisdom."

Here in a New York Times review when she was named poet laureate, Patricia Cohen writes, "Known for her sly, compact poems that revel in wordplay and internal rhymes, Ms. Ryan has won a carriage full of poetry prizes for her funny and philosophical work"  Recently, the New York Times reviewed this particular book and stated, "poems are as slim as runway models, so tiny you could almost tweet them. Their compact refinement, though, does not suggest ease or chic. Her voice is quizzical and impertinent, funny in uncomfortable ways, scuffed by failure and loss. Her mastery, like Emily Dickinson’s, has some awkwardness in it, some essential gawkiness that draws you close."

If you only buy one book of poetry this year it should be this one - I bet it will give years of pleasure ~ promise.   

Saturday, April 16, 2011

To an Old Philosopher in Rome

by Wallace Stevens

On the threshold of heaven, the figures in the street
Become the figures of heaven, the majestic movement
Of men growing small in the distances of space,
Singing, with smaller and still smaller sound,
Unintelligible absolution and an end -

The threshold, Rome, and that more merciful Rome
Beyond, the two alike in the make of the mind.
It is as if in a human dignity

Two parallels become one, a perspective, of which
Men are part both in the inch and in the mile.

How easily the blown banners change to wings...
Things dark on the horizons of perception
Become accompaniments of fortune, but
Of the fortune of the spirit, beyond the eye,
Not of its sphere, and yet not far beyond,

The human end in the spirit's greatest reach,
The extreme of the known in the presence of the extreme
Of the unknown. The newsboys' muttering
Becomes another murmuring; the smell
Of medicine, a fragrantness not to be spoiled...

The bed, the books, the chair, the moving nuns,
The candle as it evades the sight, these are
The sources of happiness in the shape of Rome,
A shape within the ancient circles of shapes,
And these beneath the shadow of a shape

In a confusion on bed and books, a portent
On the chair, a moving transparence on the nuns,
A light on the candle tearing against the wick
To join a hovering excellence, to escape
From fire and be part only of that which

Fire is the symbol: the celestial possible.
Speak to your pillow as if it was yourself.
Be orator but with an accurate tongue
And without eloquence, O, half-asleep,
Of the pity that is the memorial of this room,

So that we feel, in this illumined large,
The veritable small, so that each of us
Beholds himself in you, and hears his voice
In yours, master and commiserable man,
Intent on your particles of nether-do,

Your dozing in the depths of wakefulness,
In the warmth of your bed, at the edge of your chair,
Yet living in two world, impenitent
As to one, and, as to one, most penitent,
Impatient for the grandeur that you need

In so much misery; and yet finding it
Only in misery, the afflatus of ruin,
Profound poetry of the poor and of the dead,
As in the last drop of the deepest blood,
As it falls from the heart and lies there to be seen,

Even as the blood of an empire, it might be,
For a citizen of heaven though still of Rome.
It is poverty's speech that seeks us out the most.
It is older than the oldest speech of Rome.
This is the tragic accent of the scene.

And you - it is you that speak it, without speech,
The loftiest syllable among loftiest things,
The one invulnerable man among
Crude captains, the naked majesty, if you like,
Of bird-nest arches and of rain-stained-vaults.

The sounds drift in. The buildings are remembered.
The life of the city never lets go, nor do you
Ever want it to. It is part of the life in your room.
Its domes are the architecture of your bed.
The bells keep on repeating solemn names

In choruses and choirs of choruses,
Unwilling that mercy should be a mystery
Of silence, that any solitude of sense
Should give you more than their peculiar chords
And reverbations clinging to whisper still.

It is a kind of total grandeur at the end,
With every visible thing enlarged and yet
No more than a bed, a chair and moving nuns,
The immensest theatre, and pillared porch,
The book and candle in your ambered room,

Total grandeur of a total edifice,
Chosen by an inquisitor of structures
For himself. He stops upon this threshold,
As if the design of all his words takes form
And frame from thinking and is realized.

Wallace Stevens wrote this incredible poem for his former Harvard philosophy professor, George Santayana, who had influenced him deeply.  Santayana spent his final years in Rome.  He is perhaps best known today for the his remark that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This is a poem that never tires of being reread - beautifully written admiration from one person to another.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Black Lines

by Jaye Freyer

It was here I heard the loon's long lay,
A piercing moving melody, a voice foreign and strange
A visitor strangely alone, swimming
on the currents of the lake.
Here my thoughts fly forth
in the weighted willing wonder of a song
Rhetoric and logic left behind
Like the body of this heavy awkward bird
Whose voice is to the wilderness
What my thoughts are to a complicated earth ~
A sleek and sensuous singing to the others of my kind
An echo of a lyric music launched from lean black lines

Kandinsky's 'Black Lines' from
the Guggenheim Museum collection.
I was fortunate enough to see a loon up close on an Adirondack lake and its song was hauntingly beautiful.  Not long before I had seen this painting, Black Lines, by Vasily Kandinsky; the colors bursting from the black lines made me think of both the song of the loon and about poetry - how something incredible can burst out of few little black lines on a page.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Annie Dillard ~ Metaphysical Model with Feathers

What I know of dimension
Is an old suspicion:
That time is a crack as long
And thin as a wing.

Time is whole and fully fledged always.
We discover its fullness; we pace it out blind on the wing.
We live in time's quills as senseless as lice.
And the eagle - the petrel? -- and the petrel,
Rock Peter walking on water, the petrel
Full noiselessly flies.  It plies
The created ages; it beats the boundless along,
Rising without  surcease, spiraling down,
Sliding breastbone bent and feeling
The inbound curve of the real.

If time cruises the breadth of the timeless,
Perpendicular, buoying its wings, then
We may guess the style of the rest:

This is the shape of the one god, holy,
Who generates the ages, rapt,
Who tolerates time as a hole in its side,
A petrel blind and churning.  This
Is the one god, flailed by wings,
And this is the one time, this raveling hole,
Swift in god and voiceless, black beak shut.

I love what Annie Dillard dares here - most of all I love her language.  It is the language of the poem that has helped it stay with me all these years.  The sonic beauty - it can walk along beside you - you can feel the steady stride and when it steps into a dance.

I remember taking dance lessons and how difficult it was to follow another person's lead.  You may have the steps worked out in advance for a particular type of dance but doing it with someone was different than doing it theoretically.  Two breaths have to find a unison within the work of the music.  Working with a poem seems very much like that to me - you meet the poem hand to hand and you step through it together as though it were a dance.  Within that model, this poem is one of my favorite dances.  I love the music in the language and the dance.  I like how she takes on big themes and though I'm not sure I agree or even understand with what is going on in this poem intellectually (it made much more sense to me in my twenties than it does now), I still continue to like the dance.

Metaphysical Model with Feathers by Annie Dillard appeared in the The Atlantic Monthly vol. 242 (October 1978): 82.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Lines composed a few miles above the 92nd Street Y, on visiting a Rae Armantrout reading during a tour of the publication of her book Versed,  March 12, 2009.

  by Jaye Freyer

Poet as dark & light as the day & night
Unfiltered & indiscriminate -- effervescent:
Thought occurs, rises up, finds height & breaks.
In the blink of an eye, is in this day

No demands:  no hammers, bolts, chisels, beams
No blueprints; no canvas tightly stretched, pre-sketched,
No thoughts of voice, footnotes, context,
No resources spent - save but the moment
That it took to write.

Just a moment
That may or may not replicate
Like the seer writing poems upon leaves
Three thousand years ago on a hill in Greece
Blowing them from palm to wind
Those poems still
On occasion

I listened to a podcast by Poetry Magazine in 2009 where a young broadcaster stated that Rae Armantrout was the most dangerous poet in America.  I was immediately gripped with a desire to see her.  Happily she was scheduled to do a reading at the 92nd Street Y a few weeks later and I bought tickets for the family.  I was completely surprised by the person who Rae Armantrout was, as well as by her poetry (which I liked a great deal).  I wrote these lines a few days later.  

A friend in college, a classical scholar, likened poets' endeavors to the oracle at Delphi who (I thought he said) wrote her prophesies in verse on laurel leaves and cast them to the wind for the fortunate to find.  I must have made some of that up because I can't find any such description for the activities of the Delphic Oracle on the internet but I love the image - the idea that the writing of a poem will, for the most part, have no more impact on anything than a leaf cast on the wind.  

Turn that thought over a few times and it starts to become interesting.  Coming across a leaf with a poem written on it would be interesting but that any leaf passing by may be inscribed with a poem seems intriguing - and what if all leaves are inscribed with something of a mystery to be deciphered - that would be transformative.  Metaphysically, a poem of a stranger may 'land' for me today but on another day be unreadable, and so it would not 'land'; that when a poem really 'lands' it is an epiphany, an other-worldly bit of light that comes in like a gift.  The image has always been a favorite of mine as it speaks volumes to the quiet nature of this sort of writing. 

I featured what I liked best about Rae's poetry - what seems so effervescently effortless.  She may really toil with her poems but they have a lightness of being that is compelling.  She has attracted some mighty minds to write about what she is writing about - with good reason I guess - but I would advise rather than reading about her writing to just read it or listen to her reading by clicking her name in the title above or save the scroll and click here Rae's Poetry Reading.  

A Resemblance (from Versed) by Rae Armantrout  

As a word is
mostly connotation,

matter is mostly


(The same loneliness
that separates me

from what I call
”the world.”)


Quiet, ragged
skirt of dust

encircling a ceramic



”Are you happy now?”


Would I like
a vicarious happiness?


Though I suspect
yours of being defective,


Sunday, March 20, 2011

On this first day of spring

Chickadee in spring trees

A bird the color of the tree and trees
The grays and browns and bits of black
As though the tree itself had chirped
Let loose a bit of itself to hop
about and discover flight

I saw a chickadee this morning in some still bare trees and was captivated by its marvelous spirit.  I wrote these lines I'm sharing now.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Beat it Back with Beauty

by Jaye Freyer

Beat it back with Beauty
Be an architect of something brighter
In the choice between being the singer
Of the song and the song ~ be the singer
Lift the fragile greens from the water
Let the beetle rest a moment on your finger 
With each breath you take give life a chance
Be a bridge, a harbinger

First Spring Flowers in Garth Woods yesterday March 5th
Margaret asks for a poem to brighten a rainy day.  Not sure this will do it but I wrote it on a rainy day when I was also reacting to the intense negativity that was saturating the day to day world.  In a moment of equally intense naivete I thought if we could each just turn the negative to a positive, instead of throwing stones use them to build bridges or shelters, lend our shoulder to a solution - a year later these eight lines still echo with a bit of brightness for me, so perhaps they will for you too.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lost and Found

by Wislawa Szymborska
from her book Could Have (1972)

I lost a few goddesses while moving south to north
and also some gods while moving east to west.
I let several stars go out for good, they can't be traced.
An island or two sunk on me, they're lost at sea.
I'm not even sure exactly where I left my claws,
who's got my fur coat, who's living in my shell.
My siblings died the day I left for dry land
and only one small bone recalls that anniversary in me.
I've shed my skin, squandered vertebrae and legs,
taken leave of my senses time and again.
I've long since closed my third eye to all that,
washed my fins of it and shrugged my branches.

Gone, lost, scattered to the four winds. It still surprises me
how little now remains, one first person sing., temporarily
declined in human form, just now making such a fuss
about a blue umbrella left on a bus.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


by Wislawa Szymborska

So much world all at once – how it rustles and bustles!
Moraines and morays and morasses and mussels,
the flame, the flamingo, the flounder, the feather –
how to line them all up, how to put them together?
All the thickets and crickets and creepers and creeks!
The beeches and leeches alone could take weeks.
Chinchillas, gorillas, and sarsaparillas –
thanks do much, but all this excess of kindness could kill us.
Where’s the jar for this burgeoning burdock, brooks’ babble,
rooks’ squabble, snakes’ squiggle, abundance, and trouble?
How to plug up the gold mines and pin down the fox,
How to cope with the lynx, bobolinks, streptococs!
Take dioxide: a lightweight, but mighty in deeds:
what about octopodes, what about centipedes?
I could look into prices, but don’t have the nerve:
These are products I just can’t afford, don’t deserve.
Isn’t sunset a little too much for two eyes
that, who knows, may not open to see the sun rise?
I am just passing through, it’s a five-minute stop.
I won’t catch what is distant: what’s too close, I’ll mix up.
While trying to plumb what the void's inner sense is,
I'm bound to pass by all these poppies and pansies.
What a loss when you think how much effort was spent
perfecting this petal, this pistil, this scent
for the one-time appearance, which is all they're allowed,
so aloofly precise and so fragilely proud.

(translated from Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak      
 and Clare Cavanagh)        

You will like this article from the New York Times (March 16, 2002), a review of a poetry event at Cooper Union celebrating Polish poets.  Not only does it give a helpful pronunciation of Ms. Szymborska's name (vee-SWAHV-ahh shimm-BOR-skah), it also includes this terrific assessment by the reviewer, Sarah Boxer:

The thrill of the night was Ms. Szymborska's poem 'Birthday,' which Ms. Czyzewska [a Polish actress] recited in Polish with great trilling rrr's. It's safe to say that more than half the room had no idea what she was saying, but they were won over by the sloshing, comical meter, which sounded something like a loud washing machine speaking in Dr. Seuss's relentless rhythms.

Find this poem and many others by Wislawa Szymborska at SUNY Buffalo's InfoPoland (Information about Poland on the Web).  See the posting for Under A Certain Little Star below for more links to Szymborska's work as well as biographical information and reviews.

Under a Certain Little Star

by Wislawa Szymborska

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity in case I'm mistaken.
Don't be angry, happiness, that I take you for my own.
May the dead forgive me that their memory's but a flicker.
My apologies to time for the quantity of world overlooked per second.
My apologies to an old love for treating a new one as the first.
Forgive me, far-off wars, for carrying my flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
My apologies for the minuet record, to those calling out from the abyss.
My apologies to those in train stations for sleeping soundly at five in the morning.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing sometimes.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing in with a spoonful of water.
And you, O hawk, the same bird for years in the same cage,
staring, motionless, always at the same spot,
absolve me even if you happen to be stuffed.
My apologies to the tree felled for four table legs.
My apologies to large questions for small answers.
Truth, do not pay me too much attention.
Solemnity, be magnanimous toward me.
Bear with me, O mystery of being, for pulling threads from your veil.
Soul, don't blame me that I've got you so seldom.
My apologies to everything that I can't be everywhere.
My apologies to all for not knowing how to be every man and woman.
I know that as long as I live nothing can excuse me,
since I am my own obstacle.
Do not hold it against me, O speech, that I borrow weighty words,
and then labor to make them light.

(translated by Joanna Trzeciak)
Find more poems and the biography of Wislawa Szymborska at

view with a grain of sand
I've been in love with Wislawa Szymborska's work for several years.  I'm bringing this to the blog for Stephanie who asked for a poet to read.  Szymborska's not only easy to read but easily one of the best poets today.  She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996 and her book view with a grain of sand, can be found in most bookstores. 

Here is a link to the review for view with a grain of sand, Szymborska's 'View': Small Truths Sharply Etched, by Adam Gopnik for NPR.  Also, here is an ArtsBeat blog post in the New York Times by Barry Gewen called A Poem for the Pentagon, that includes ~

I’m not much for modern poetry, but I like Szymborska because of her compassion, her humility and her warm good humor. What’s more, you don’t need a Ph.D. in literature to understand her. Once I was comparing notes with a friend much more literary than I about modern poets we enjoyed reading: Philip Larkin, of course, and then we both said, simultaneously, “Szymborska.” [read more]

I Am Myself Three Selves at Least

by Jennifer Sweeney

I am, myself, three selves at least,
the one who sweeps the brittle
bees, who saves the broken plates

and bowls, who counts to ten,
who tends the shoals,
who steeps the morning’s Assam leaves

and when day is wrung
tightens clock springs.
And yes, the one who sat through youth
quiet as a tea stain, whose hand

went up and knees went down,
whose party dresses soaked with rain,
who dug up bones
of snakes and mice

and stashed them inside baby jars—
who did not eat,
but did not starve.
And the self who twists the fallen

dogwood sticks into her hair,
who knows the trick of grief
is there is nothing such as sin

and neither good to part
the air, whom autumn claims
skin by skin.

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer K. Sweeney.  Selected from How to Live on Bread and Music,
published by Perugia Press, Florence, Massachusetts.

Jennifer Sweeney
Stephanie ~ you asked for a recommendation of a poet to read.  It's a pretty hard request because there are a lot of good ones both current and former - but I bring this poem by Jennifer Sweeney to the blog because I think you will like it and all the other poems in her book.

Jennifer Sweeney won a pretty significant award last year (2009 James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets) and when you read her work you'll see why.  She has an original voice and knows how to craft memorable poems.  This is the second poem I've put up from Perugia Press (see Melody Gee's page), a press that has been publishing the work of women since 1997.  Please take the time to get to know both these poets and visit the Press' website to be introduced to other writers.   

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Poet Speaks of Art

Cezanne's Ports  (L'Estaque by Paul Cezanne, 1883-1885)

by Allen Ginsberg
Paul Cezanne, L'Estaque (1883-1885)

In the foreground we see time and life
swept in a race
toward the left hand side of the picture
where shore meets shore.

But that meeting place
isn't represented;
it doesn't occur on the canvas.

For the other side of the bay
is Heaven and Eternity,
with a bleak white haze over its mountains.

And the immense water of L'Estaque is a go-between
for minute rowboats.

This poem by Allen Ginsberg was used by Harry Rusche of the English Department at Emory University for a course on paintings and poems.   Click here to read more.  Read below for another - a poem by Edward HirschEdward Hopper and the House by the Railroad .  (This painting is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art  and the The Cezanne painting L'estaque is also in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art)

The House by the Railroad by Edward Hopper (1925)

House by the Railroad by Edward Hopper (1925)

by Edward Hirsch

Out here in the exact middle of the day,
This strange, gawky house has the expression
Of someone being stared at, someone holding
His breath underwater, hushed and expectant;

This house is ashamed of itself, ashamed
Of its fantastic mansard rooftop
And its pseudo-Gothic porch, ashamed
of its shoulders and large, awkward hands.

But the man behind the easel is relentless.
He is as brutal as sunlight, and believes
The house must have done something horrible
To the people who once lived here

Because now it is so desperately empty,
It must have done something to the sky
Because the sky, too, is utterly vacant
And devoid of meaning. There are no

Trees or shrubs anywhere--the house
Must have done something against the earth.
All that is present is a single pair of tracks
Straightening into the distance. No trains pass.

Now the stranger returns to this place daily
Until the house begins to suspect
That the man, too, is desolate, desolate
And even ashamed. Soon the house starts

To stare frankly at the man. And somehow
The empty white canvas slowly takes on
The expression of someone who is unnerved,
Someone holding his breath underwater.

And then one day the man simply disappears.
He is a last afternoon shadow moving
Across the tracks, making its way
Through the vast, darkening fields.

This man will paint other abandoned mansions,
And faded cafeteria windows, and poorly lettered
Storefronts on the edges of small towns.
Always they will have this same expression,

The utterly naked look of someone
Being stared at, someone American and gawky.
Someone who is about to be left alone
Again, and can no longer stand it.

[will add more in time - feel free to suggest one that is new to the course list!)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Atlantic Avenue Treasure

by Jaye Shore-Freyer

There were buttons on the basin carved
With griffins’ golden wings spread high
Woven round with thorn bush bleeding
Black against the night.
Your pale hands rubbed up the gleam.
We picked our way across the basement rooms
Of the antique shops on Atlantic Avenue
Dark and messy, dust-filtered lights
Endless boxes tumbling from the crumbling
Shipwrecked shelves at the bottom of this ocean.
So little there’d been dated, marked or cared about,
And those tins of buttons were as cheap as beach glass.
But for you and I these tins and boxes stashed in the backwash
Of the merchant’s habitats were treasure chests and have borne
For us the steadfast finds ~ true pearls, single china cups,
Hand-carved and stamped trinkets, and burnished frames
Coins from countries long forgotten, bits of wonder
tumbled from their source, fantastic flotsam
For the museum that was our Brooklyn home

This was written when Atlantic Avenue was lined with run-down Antique stores.  Probably isn't like that any longer.  My friend and I would spend occasional Saturday's poking around looking for treasure.  I still have some of the treasures we found.  

The Blue Japanese Lantern Fades

Blue Japanese Lantern  
by Jaye Shore-Freyer

The broken blue Japanese lantern fades.
(Keep yourself out of it!)
(Keep yourself out!!!) 
There are books on the shelves
& the cigarette burns
& the broken blue Japanese lantern
Fades & the cigarette burns & the smoke fills the room
(There’s no air in here) (There’s no air!)
((There’s no air in here)) (((There’s no air)))
The smoke rises & curls
Then is blown by the furls
From the lungs then
The long ash falls down on the carpet.
A car scurries under a street light
& Stops.
The electric light
On a long brass pole
With a parchment shade
Sheds the potted geranium with light.
The green plaid Mayan spread
On the couch embraces the sight.
Along the cream-colored wall, through the door
Bittersweet hangs like a Chinese noise
But this side of the room is dark
& The broken blue Japanese lantern fades.
The blue Japanese lantern fades.       


Roger and Angelica

Odilon Redon's Roger and Angelica 

by Jaye Shore-Freyer

Who was Roger and who was Angelica?
And how was it Odilon Redon
Came across them in his 70th Year?
Here are flowers visible at night
Within the phosphorescent light,
The passion of his aging sight,
The horse with wings that Roger rides
Though waves of flames and plumes engulf
Is larger than the light he and the horse must cross
To find his sweet Angelica beneath
The purple precipice.
Her pale flesh glows in the night.
And what has brought Angelica to dance
Beneath this starry sight?
What of the spear that Roger bears -
Is it borne in fear or something else?
Here Odilon has turned the darkness and the light
Into something else - something
wild ~ both captured and released.

This is one of several poems I've written of a painting.  This wonderful work hangs in the Museum of Modern Art.  It was included in the Armory Show of 1913.  We are a month shy of the 98th anniversary.    Click this link to visit a virtual recreation of the Armory Show, an installation created by Shelly Staples for the American Studies program at the University of Virginia.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Picnic with M'Emile

by Jaye Shore-Freyer

Your stout staid stance breaks
Into a comic elastic dance
For the kids shouting M’Emile! M’Emile!

With a dash & a growl & a spring you stand
Rumbling God of the Stream, rising
With fire & root & wind bound in
To a glorious ravenous shout to scare
The kids into volcanous laughs & screams

Then you leap to the rock-stuttered bank
& climb aground like a normal man. You stride
Here, stride there, and stare at the kids, concerned
Adult at their frantic fits. Then you flip them a private
Wink & walk with a wide warm laugh to us.

Portrait of a wonderful fellow who I met at the Auberge des Quatre Saisons in the Catskills.  He loved to tease my friends' children and his spirit delightful.

Railway at Murnau

Wassily Kandinsky's Railway at Murnau

by Jaye Shore-Freyer

Before you we’re at once reminded of our breath,
Asked to be still and let our eyes
Explore the movement of the brush,
Let you work your task with us,
Lay the busy thoughts aside, 
linger at an easy rest,
Eyes, hips, hands, breast ~ 
be still and present

Wonder comes when blood and breath
Mix within the breast to flow
Into the roots of an unwritten thought
Wrought like yours upon another continent
For eyes like ours to draw their drink.
Like the earth beneath a shallow slow canal
Let the vision seep until we’re drenched
With the colors of the paint
And rest beneath this wide reflection
Rich and silently aware
Of all the life that happens here.

I saw this painting at the Guggenheim during the first Kandinsky retrospective and couldn't walk away from it.   Something mysterious happens when you connect with a painting, it somehow skips the intellectual  part of the process and goes right to the heart.  I fumbled around here trying to describe it and fell back on an environmental image I found in the beautiful Princeton area canals that spoke of peace and saturation.