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The Word -- Tony Hoagland

Guest poem submitted by Rachel Morarjee:
(Poem #1969) The Word
 Down near the bottom
 of the crossed-out list
 of things you have to do today,

 between "green thread"
 and "broccoli" you find
 that you have penciled "sunlight."

 Resting on the page, the word
 is as beautiful, it touches you
 as if you had a friend

 and sunlight were a present
 he had sent you from some place distant
 as this morning -- to cheer you up,

 and to remind you that,
 among your duties, pleasure
 is a thing,

 that also needs accomplishing
 Do you remember?
 that time and light are kinds

 of love, and love
 is no less practical
 than a coffee grinder

 or a safe spare tire?
 Tomorrow you may be utterly
 without a clue

 but today you get a telegram,
 from the heart in exile
 proclaiming that the kingdom

 still exists,
 the king and queen alive,
 still speaking to their children,

 - to any one among them
 who can find the time,
 to sit out in the sun and listen.
-- Tony Hoagland
I stumbled across this poem today, in a book given to me by a friend in
Afghanistan, where I now live, and where the stream of news is endlessly
depressing. It was a reminder, that each one of us, whereever we live,
needs a gentle prod to remember that within the daily grind of modern
life, "pleasure/ is a thing / that also needs

This poem is from Tony Hoagland's first anthology Sweet Ruin, and is
perhaps the most unalloyed and directly sweet poem he has written, in
contrast to much of his other work which addresses the bitter humour of
disillusion and the heart's struggle to clamber over the accumulated
detritus of disappointment -- and does it with a light humourous touch.

Sweet Ruin won the 1992 Brittingham Prize in Poetry and Hoagland has
since published two other books, Donkey Gospel, and What Narcissism
Means to Me. On the back of the last book it said he teaches at the
University of Houston, but I wasn't able to check online from here today.


The Old Fools -- Philip Larkin

Guest poem submitted by Radhika Gowaikar:
(Poem #1968) The Old Fools
 What do they think has happened, the old fools,
 To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
 It's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
 And you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember
 Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
 They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
 Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
 Or do they fancy there's really been no change,
 And they've always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
 Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
 Watching the light move? If they don't (and they can't), it's strange;
                        Why aren't they screaming?

 At death you break up: the bits that were you
 Start speeding away from each other for ever
 With no one to see. It's only oblivion, true:
 We had it before, but then it was going to end,
 And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
 To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower
 Of being here. Next time you can't pretend
 There'll be anything else. And these are the first signs:
 Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power
 Of choosing gone. Their looks show that they're for it:
 Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines -
                        How can they ignore it?

 Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
 Inside your head, and people in them, acting
 People you know, yet can't quite name; each looms
 Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,
 Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting
 A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only
 The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning,
 The blown bush at the window, or the sun's
 Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely
 Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live:
 Not here and now, but where all happened once.
                        This is why they give

 An air of baffled absence, trying to be there
 Yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving
 Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
 Of taken breath, and them crouching below
 Extinction's alp, the old fools, never perceiving
 How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
 The peak that stays in view wherever we go
 For them is rising ground. Can they never tell
 What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night?
 Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout
 The whole hideous inverted childhood? Well,
                        We shall find out.
-- Philip Larkin
The last two poems brought to mind this one. As in some of his other
poems, Larkin starts brashly, perhaps even offensively. But by the time
he is done we are given an intimate view of what it must be like to
"have lighted rooms / Inside your head" and "trying to be there / Yet
being here." The analogy of death with a "peak" is quite unusual (I am
sure I have never seen it before) and works perfectly with "the constant
wear and tear / Of taken breath." The last line is pure Larkin. It is
rather a long poem, but we are in good hands. Do read it aloud.


A Winter Ode to the Old Men of Lummus Park, Miami, Florida -- Donald Justice

Guest poem submitted by David W:
(Poem #1967) A Winter Ode to the Old Men of Lummus Park, Miami, Florida
 Risen from rented rooms, old ghosts
 Come back to haunt our parks by day,
 They crept up Fifth Street through the crowd,
 Unseeing and almost unseen,
 Halting before the shops for breath,
 Still proud, pretending to admire
 The fat hens dressed and hung for flies
 There, or perhaps the lone, dead fern
 Dressing the window of a small
 Hotel. Winter had blown them south--
 How many? Twelve in Lummus Park
 I counted, shivering where they stood,
 A little thicket of thin trees,
 And more on benches, turning with
 The sun, wan heliotropes, all day.

 O you who wear against the breast
 The torturous flannel undervest
 Winter and summer, yet are cold,
 Poor cracked thermometers stuck now
 At zero everlastingly,
 Old men, bent like your walking sticks
 As with the pressure of some hand,
 Surely they must have thought you strong
 To lean on you so hard, so long!
-- Donald Justice
Donald Justice might be my favorite poet.  It's difficult to say for
sure, but I can say that his work has influenced me more than any
other's.  He is the "master of nostalgia", but I think that the intimacy
and elegance of his work are the major allures for me.  Here is one of
my favorites. It isn't anthologized as much as some others.

If anybody has ever used the word "heliotropes" with more effect, I
haven't seen it.  He slips that Latinate polysyllable in, but you might
notice it's a little lonely.  The simplicity of his language may be part
of what makes it feel intimate.  One of his more popular poems "Men At
Forty" is similar in this respect.

If you are interested, here is a short bio for Justice:


[Minstrels Links]

Donald Justice:
  Poem #503: Anonymous Drawing
  Poem #1343: Poem to be read at 3am
  Poem #1647: Men at Forty

Hello In There -- John Prine

Guest poem submitted by Rama Rao:
(Poem #1966) Hello In There
 We had an apartment in the city,
 Me and Loretta liked living there.
 Well, it'd been years since the kids had grown,
 A life of their own left us alone.
 John and Linda live in Omaha,
 And Joe is somewhere on the road.
 We lost Davy in the Korean war,
 And I still don't know what for, don't matter anymore.

 Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger,
 And old rivers grow wilder ev'ry day.
 Old people just grow lonesome
 Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello."

 Me and Loretta, we don't talk much more,
 She sits and stares through the back door screen.
 And all the news just repeats itself
 Like some forgotten dream that we've both seen.
 Someday I'll go and call up Rudy,
 We worked together at the factory.
 But what could I say if asks "What's new?"
 "Nothing, what's with you? Nothing much to do."

 So if you're walking down the street sometime
 And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
 Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
 As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello."
-- John Prine
I am  a little surprised not to see John Prine on the Minstrels. Hailed
by some on his debut as "the next Dylan " he has had many of his folksy
lyrics sung by other famous singers. As the developed world including
America ages, with larger percentages of older people in their
populations, this poem captures some of the increasing loneliness they
feel. The stanza contrasting old people to old trees and old rivers is
particularly powerful.

A John Prine bio is available at

Rama Rao.

To Virgins, to Make Much of Time -- Robert Herrick

Guest poem submitted by Nandini Krishnamoorthy:
(Poem #1965) To Virgins, to Make Much of Time
 Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
 Old time is still a-flying
 And this same flower that smiles today
 Tomorrow will be dying.

 The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
 The higher he's a-getting,
 The sooner will his race be run,
 And nearer he's to setting.

 That age is best which is the first,
 When youth and blood are warmer;
 But being spent, the worse, and worst
 Times still succeed the former.

 Then be not coy, but use your time,
 And, while ye may, go marry;
 For, having lost but once your prime,
 You may forever tarry.
-- Robert Herrick
I was surprised that Minstrels had not run this famous Herrick poem. My
first recollection of the poem is from "Dead Poets Society", Robin
Williams reading it to the students. It's one of those poems that stays
with you forever and a wonderful joy in re-discovering it.