Poetry Special – (December 2013 / 13.23)
Artist, Robin Grotke, received an MA in Anthropology/Museum Studies from the University of Denver. Her background in the museum field allowed her to observe visual artistic expressions and the processes for their creation, thus further providing a means of learning about various societies and cultures. The museum environment also helped cultivate Grotke’s creativity which led her to photography as an inspiring, galvanizing medium for communication and expression. Grey with Warm Lights, 2012, was taken in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Two Hundred Tenth from American Ghazals
Having French kissed figurative winter, his ambition
was to navigate Antarctica lui-meme.
When Socrates proclaimed, “Know thyself,”
(Trust me on this): he did not mean you.
What is the difference between an aphrodisiac
and being absolved of worry over mutual funds?
Re-carpeting a place that first needs to be smudged
by sage and such, confines the heir apparent.
Frankincense for the relief of pain
turns unequivocally golden.
Sheila E. Murphy’s book American Ghazals will appear this year from Otoliths Press (Qld, Australia). In addition, Continuations 2, the second volume of Murphy’s collaborative poem sequence with Douglas Barbour, is due this spring from the University of Alberta Press. The Press bought out the first volume of this work in 2006. Murphy lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where she actively consults, researches, teaches, writes, and draws. She was reared in a home filled with music, and her first training was on flute performance.
There are characters I omit;
there are characters that exist in this
city; for instance
to start the list : the widow I see each
morning from my perch
on the el platform her uniform : black
top skirt stockings shoes
her pearl earrings glint beneath her dyed perm
poof she unhinges
the back gate shuffles across the blacktop
hangs laundry against
the cinder bricks; and then there is Iris
and Arkhe the twin
sisters Iris as tall as Olive Oil
always in her rain
coat to hide her golden wings points a gray
bun and chin hollow
cheeks as she pushes their cart; Arkhe small
as Selene Luna
trash picks cans and glass with her dangly arms
wings ripped hair as frizzy black as her speech
hiss and screech. One time
they argued two doors down Iris purse-clutched
backed against the gate
while Arkhe flailed cursed in high-pitched vowels.
look further down the list for the morning
constants : Paperman
Ulysses or his son Telemachus
who sits on Father
Duffy’s island roller blades off headphoned
in wait while red jump-
suits clean the pavement all suds and buckets
and hose. And since we
have left my Greek ‘hood it would be easy
to omit mister
homeless man sitting in the 49th
St station singing
boi come along here now my battyboi.”
It would be a crime
to omit La Paisa old green beard
or orange beard the Queen
of Queens his criss-cross-dress a leprechaun
meets oompa loompa
meets Oz munchkin he speaks French? Portuguese?
and tints Carinho
his toy poodle to match his beard. It rides
atop a carriage?
a stroller? a stage as if it were some
ancient bride pushed down 5th Ave or Surf Ave
a billowing trail
of metallic skirts and a parrot perched
on his kerchiefed head
like the boy in Bryant Park who at lunch
parades his parrot
forefinger leashed from claw to wrist and girls
coo take pictures slip
numbers. And in all of Wonderland how
could I miss mister
wizard wearing trainers and forest green
robes as he casts spells
from the curls of his sheep’s wool beard a red
sash tied to his brown
pointy hat flutters past the skull crystal
no rubber band ball
and bells at the end of his staff. To end
my list? Well the man
I flirted with at Quest Diagnostics
black berry wallet
held in a gun holster hip-slung and how
an instant like he
becomes a constant with me and my nurse
says “Why you look so
nervous?” needle pricks. “’Fraid I gonna hurt
you?” Vein slip. “I might.”
Matthew Hittinger is the author of Skin Shift (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2012) and three previous chapbooks. He lives and works in NYC. You can read more of his work at matthewhittinger.com.
Thora and the Philosophers
Snow ahead, and Guinness, Clancys for the weekend.
And geese, twenty plus, their sad
untilitarian excitable lingo and their passion, seem
much to marvel yes, so much the taps
and teething-toys of the creation, compositions toning
our own poor instruments. Just to be
crossing, then, these bridges Mind made known
for that purpose! But what should
a language build, would such fingers knead, voices
corroborate, by cries or by deep fictions,
by self-studies maybe, drawn toward / away
then home to such arresting,
whispering Father?/ Lord?, who designs
the links, the rules of engagement,
for our sorting.
Father / Lord: You weigh wise nights awake, measure
out this end of winter sunlight at half-past,
and, by eight, this state-wide grey, this drizzle and sleet,
with whom for audience, these kids
maybe, who’ve lived a little more, fretting the bandwidth,
the penultimate gaming, so that we might improvise,
appreciate, in our unhurried much, so that, Source / Origin,
unhurried maybe’s another start, prayer
another start on yawning bees and saturations, on work
to be done and barrels out, detours
to throw us off, and ( now ) another accident, after
that load earlier, flattened
in time between, charred indescribable, like
nobody here can put
The caddy behind me’s had enough. The sleet
peppered, prickly pond enough
of the most terrible oxygen, of the lanes we believe
too narrow for some dreamers. Who
thinks to brake, or thinks how braking complicates,
imagines whole families say, keeping
an eye out sheltering, and, under bridges, riders, in
adventuring spring, with better minds, I’m sure,
than to inspire, reviewing these roofless local stones,
these places you might have sold antiques from,
peddled sandwiches from at the mid-century, where
drizzle’s the only customer, spending, as drizzle
will, in half a century, among the spent farm homes,
white barns, white homes and brick, white
railed fences, wheat, and snowed over stubble, where
living’s re-read, re-formed, the living
are put away, and put away, as replicas. Think how
the late-running buses burn and bear
toward capitals, seeking, you should know, a language
out if not an eloquence, something to speak
the day’s delight, to weigh the results, the refrains,
or to catch up on the project, while
the antique owners straighten shoppes, to serve
the next spring customers,
replacing the blown bulbs, or darkening down
for good, serving alike the lines, and
the lengths of memory.
Robert Lietz is the author of eight published collections of poems, including Running in Place, At Park and East Division, The Lindbergh Half-century (all three with L’Epervier Press,) The Inheritance (Sandhills Press), and Storm Service (Basfal Books). Basfal also published After Business in the West: New and Selected Poems.
Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.
T.S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages”
To know, not in the skeptic mind,
but in the unassuming heart,
that there’s a mindful God would be
a comfort deeper than our certain
death. Such hope must open love
beyond the tensioned force of jawed doubt
that feeds on common disappointment.
To envy faith, to envy love —
is there a fate more hateful? Choices
scatter like stars. Too many.
Should one choose the brightest? One
so dim it might be the afterimage
of a light too bright to face?
The worlds revolve, unseen. They stream out,
numberless, and wait for us,
veiled by so much space and time.
Work by Gary Hardaway has appeared at Gumball Poetry, Manifold, Silkworms Ink, Connotation Press, cur.ren.cy, and Divine Dirt Quarterly. He currently lives in Plano, Texas and has earned his living as an urban planner and architect.
Malala Gets Dressed for School
blackbird in a pink gown
a cup without a bottom
still it holds water
blackbird in white satin
feathers plucked and strewn
across the world
something moving in the corner
like a nightmare
as the sun comes up
Grace Andreacchi is an American-born novelist, poet and playwright. Works include the novels Scarabocchio and Poetry and Fear, Music for Glass Orchestra (Serpent’s Tail), Give My Heart Ease (New American Writing Award) and the chapbook Berlin Elegies. Her work appears in Horizon Review, The Literateur, Cabinet des Fées and many other fine places. Grace is also managing editor at Andromache Books and writes the literary blog AMAZING GRACE. She lives in London.
An Essay by Bill Yarrow
Looking a Little More Closely at Love Poems: Herrick and Roethke
WHENAS in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free;
O how that glittering taketh me!
Herrick’s famous poem “Upon Julia’s Clothes”1 is not so much about Julia as it is about Herrick, the undisguised speaker in the poem. This poem has celebrated sonics and is wonderful to read aloud—all those sensuous “s”es in the opening stanza: “whenas,” “silks,” “goes,” “methinks,” “sweetly, flows,” “liquefaction,” “clothes”; the soft “a” assonance and “t” consonance in “that liquefaction”; the memorable repetition “then, then….” Julia’s clothes just flow over her, her clothes like water flowing over her form—how lovely!
Maybe not so lovely.
What’s the poem really about? Julia in silks, that is to say a negligee, her bosom bouncing (“that brave vibration”) as she walks. The silk “glitters” as her naked breasts bounce beneath it.
To see more clearly the real situation of this poem, notice the two unusual words in the poem, one in each stanza: “liquefaction” in stanza one and “vibration” in stanza two.
These words are different in tone from the words (“silks,” “sweetly,” “free,” glittering”…) in the rest of the poem. “Liquefaction” and “vibration” come from science, not romance.
So what are those laboratory words doing in the poem? To me, they suggest a scientific, that is to say an observational, quality in the poem. The poem is a science experiment: Herrick the subject, Julia the object.
Notice there is no interaction between Julia and Herrick. Julia thinks she is alone. Thus she walks carefree, in her nightclothes. But Herrick, at a distance, is watching Julia, staring at Julia, spying on Julia and, the point of the poem, measuring his sexual arousal as he watches her breasts “vibrate” “bravely” (“each way free”) beneath her silks. The focus is on Herrick: “O how that glittering taketh me!” If we perhaps don’t see Herrick quite as a stalker, it is hard not to see him as a voyeur.
There are many more Julia poems by Herrick, upon all aspects of Julia: “Upon Julia’s Breasts,” “Upon the Nipples of Julia’s Breasts,” “Upon the Roses in Julia’s Bosom,” “Upon Her Arms,” “Upon Julia’s Sweat,” “On Julia’s Breath,” “Upon Julia’s Voice,” “The Candour of Julia’s Teeth,” “Upon Her Blush,” “Julia’s Petticoat,” “Upon Julia’s Riband,” “Upon Julia Unlacing Herself,” “Upon Julia’s Hair Filled With Dew,” “On Julia’s Picture,” “Her Bed,” “Upon Her Weeping,” “Another Upon Her Weeping,” “To Julia,” “Upon His Julia,” “Art Above Nature: To Julia,” “Another On Her,” “How His Soul Came Ensnared,” “His Last Request to Julia.” These are just a few.
I must not forget Julia’s legs!
Here is Herrick’s poem “Her Legs”:
FAIN2 would I kiss my Julia’s dainty3 leg
Which is as white and hairless as an egg.
Memorable poem! This is a poem wholly comprised of one rhyming iambic pentameter couplet, quite regular except for that initial inversion “Fain would” where the accent, lustily, falls on “fain.” Notice again that the poem is about Herrick (“Fain would I kiss my Julia’s … leg”), not really about Julia except insofar as she provides the requisite body part. The egg simile is quite celebrated, the “white” expected but the “hairless” exciting and shocking. The small poem’s gustatory sensuality might suggest Herrick as a sexual adventurer, but consider the surprising “Kisses Loathsome” in which French kissing is just not Herrick’s cup of tea.
I abhor the slimie4 kisse
(Which to me most loathsome is.)
Those lips please me which are plac’t
Close, but not too strictly lac’t5:
Yielding I wo’d6 have them; yet
Not a wimbling7 Tongue admit:
What sho’d8 poking-sticks make there,
When the ruffle is set elsewhere?
In other words, he’s simply not interested in tongues as substitutes for penises (“poking-sticks”). He’ll poke, but only the “ruffle,” located “elsewhere.” Freud would have had a field day with this poem, particularly its repressed subtext: the “wimbling Tongue” could, of course, be hers as well as his, but Herrick doesn’t go there. Again, the poem is just about him, and him as agent—the poker, not the poked.
But Herrick is not anti kissing. See “Kissing Usury,” “The Kiss. A Dialogue,” add “A Kiss,” where Herrick defines a kiss as “The sure, sweet cement, glue, and lime of love.” All those “s”es in “sure,” “sweet,” and “cement9”; all the “l”s in “”glue,” and “lime,” and “love.”10
What I love about Herrick is not his repellent egocentrism, but his endings, which are quite wonderful. Herrick well knew the importance of last lines; he understood and practiced what every good poet must know and achieve: how to stick the landing.
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part
“Delight in Disorder”
And found (Ah me!) this flesh of mine
More like a Stock then [sic] like a Vine
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.
“To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”
Then, Julia, let me woo thee,
Thus, thus come unto me;
And when I shall meet
Thy silv’ry feet
My soul I’ll pour into thee.
“The Night-Piece, to Julia”
Ah, Herrick! Ah, the Solipcism of Lubricity!
3 “delicate and pretty” but also “choice, delicious, and tasty.” “Tasty” is the sense Herrick has in mind here
7 wimble: “a handheld tool used for boring holes”
9 Would Freud read “semen” in “cement”?
10 For the sensuality, the tongue movement, of the letter “L,” see all the “l”s in “Lady, shall I lie in your lap?” in Hamlet.
I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed11, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek).
How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin;
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing we did make).
Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved).
Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I’m martyr to a motion not my own;
What’s freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways).
Many readers, both male and female, go gaga over Roethke’s “I Knew a Woman”12 with its famous opening line “I knew13 a woman lovely in her bones.” The opening line, however, reveals a lustful speaker (“a rake” in his own words) inflamed (and consumed) by outward beauty, entirely intoxicated by the woman’s appearance, not just indicated in “lovely in her bones,” but also in “when she moved, she moved more ways than one14,” the woman as “a bright container15,” with “that undulant white skin,” “full lips,16” “flowing knees,17 “several parts,18” and “one hip quiver.19” Her “choice virtues”—physical virtues, clearly, as the gods might remark on the beauty of Aphrodite—when sung in chorus should be sung “cheek to cheek.” Projection here. Notice also the choice of “choice”—lubricious word, as in “choice cut of meat.” Choice virtues indeed!
Same thing with the choice of “shapes”—“the shapes a bright container can contain!” All her pleasing shapes.
If this woman was not just a body, the poem might begin “I knew a woman lovely in her brain…” but that’s not what the poem is about.
“How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin…”
She is the aggressor, teaching him “Turn,” “Counter-turn,” “Stand,” and “Touch”—the dance of intimacy. Let’s be clear: the speaker is a teacher; the woman is his student. That’s why all the emphasis is on her teaching him. There is a subtle pun in the presence of “prof” in “proffered”: “I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand.” She becomes the prof who has her professor eating out of her hand. “Nibbled” is a sickening, Hamletesque detail. “Meekly” is grotesquely self serving. He’s a docile horse.
More punning in “She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake20,” but notice the curve of the sickle (another manifestation of “container”) which will cut down his standing rake.
“I, poor I”—I don’t know about you, but I find that phrase particularly nauseating, especially when I consider the real situation (teacher/student sex) of this poem.21
“But what prodigious mowing we did make.”
Let’s be clear here: mowing = fucking. What kind of sex did they have? Roethke and the speaker (Is there a separation? Do I need to make a separation?) make that clear: “Coming22 behind her for23 her pretty sake.”
“Love likes a gander, and adores a goose24:”
More puns. Gander: to look at. Goose: “prod in buttocks.”
“She played it quick, she played it light and loose.”
Here: “played it quick,” “played it light”—mere physical coupling, no emotional attachments. “Loose” as in a loose woman25.
“Let seed26 be grass, and grass turn into hay”
A philosophical statement but rooted in puns. Seed = semen. Hay implies mowing, sexual congress to come.
“I’m martyr to a motion27 not my own”
In other words, I can’t control my desires.
“What’s freedom for?”
Freedom = sex. Having sex is “To know eternity”? Yes, something in that.
“a shadow white as stone”
White shadow? White stone? Seems meaningless—stone there perhaps only for the rhyme.28
“But who would count eternity in days?”
That is, why use days to count eternity when we could, instead, use sexual encounters.
“These old bones live to learn her wanton29 ways.”
Again: her wanton ways.” She was the aggressor. He, with his “old bones” (and old boners, I guess), was the helpless victim. Right.
“I measure time by how a body sways.”
Lovely line except when we understand that for this speaker, a body swaying is not dancing, but sexual intercourse. But of course, that’s how he measures time. That’s how all sexual predators measure time.
“I Knew a Woman” might as well entitle the poem “I Screwed My Student.”
Personally, I detest this poem. But if you love it, go ahead and love it.
—What is it exactly that you love in this slimie “love” poem?