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What Did You Do On Your Weekend In Vancouver? -- Mark Granier

Guest poem sent in by Sarah Hughes
(Poem #1445) What Did You Do On Your Weekend In Vancouver?
 Walked with the traffic-stream over a high
 humming bridge: airborne

 before a strange city, its lives
 crystallised, flickering with intelligence.

 Backcloth of ashgreen mountains,
 tangerine dusk, all the colours of elsewhere.

 The voices whispering you should be 21
 not 41  I crumpled up and let fall

 over the rail, little bits
 of flotsam that would find me later.

 Sat at the window in Kitto's Japanese restaurant,
 wrote nothing worth writing, thought

 nothing worth thinking, unless it was
 "I'm here... here... here..."

 (shadowface ghosting the glass)
 held by the carnival of passing faces,

 their tanned legs, their many hairstyles.
 When it came down to it, did nothing at all

 but come down to earth, in the air,
 finding myself at last on a bridge

 into a strange city.
-- Mark Granier
Note: The following words are in italics in lines 7 and 8:
      "you should be 21 / not 41"

This poem is I think about suddenly finding yourself on the brink of an
adventure that's all the more exciting because you don't know what's going
to happen around the corner (or across the bridge). A sudden awareness of
the possibilities of everyday life.


[Martin adds]

A lovely perspective on the City - I wish I'd known of this poem back when I
ran my Songs of the City theme [Poem #462, Poem #464, Poem #466]. The
imagery is a lovely blend of fantasy and cyberpunk (doubtless not the poet's
intention, but that's the first thing I thought of), cast into new
perspective by the italicised "you should be 21/ not 41". The poem's title,
with its allusion to the old favourite "What I Did on my Summer Vacation"
reinforces this return-to-youth strain.


Being Boring -- Wendy Cope

Guest poem sent in by Zenobia Driver
(Poem #1444) Being Boring
 If you ask me 'What's new?', I have nothing to say
 Except that the garden is growing.
 I had a slight cold but it's better today.
 I'm content with the way things are going.
 Yes, he is the same as he usually is,
 Still eating and sleeping and snoring.
 I get on with my work. He gets on with his.
 I know this is all very boring.

 There was drama enough in my turbulent past:
 Tears and passion-I've used up a tankful.
 No news is good news, and long may it last,
 If nothing much happens, I'm thankful.
 A happier cabbage you never did see,
 My vegetable spirits are soaring.
 If you're after excitement, steer well clear of me.
 I want to go on being boring.

 I don't go to parties. Well, what are they for,
 If you don't need to find a new lover?
 You drink and you listen and drink a bit more
 And you take the next day to recover.
 Someone to stay home with was all my desire
 And, now that I've found a safe mooring,
 I've just one ambition in life: I aspire
 To go on and on being boring.
-- Wendy Cope
The title of this poem caught my eye and I knew I just had to read it.
Somehow heading a poem 'being boring' promises an interesting poem (it
cannot be a confession, it has to be sarcy or humourous or something). Dunno
the theory of meter and all, but the words march along very briskly when I
read it aloud. I think the poem is something you can imagine some character
played by Emma Thompson reciting in a movie.


The Dry Salvages: Canto III -- T S Eliot

Guest poem sent in by Ravi Rajagopalan
(Poem #1443) The Dry Salvages: Canto III
 I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant -
 Among other things - or one way of putting the same thing:
 That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
 Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
 Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened.
 And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.
 You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,
 That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.
 When the train starts, and the passengers are settled
 To fruit, periodicals and business letters
 (And those who saw them off have left the platform)
 Their faces relax from grief into relief
 To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours.
 Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
 Into different lives, or into any future;
 You are not the same people who left the station
 Or who will arrive at any terminus,
 While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
 And on the deck of the drumming liner
 Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
 You shall not think 'the past is finished'
 Or 'the future is before us'.
 At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
 Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
 The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
 'Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging:
 You are not those who saw the harbour
 Receding, or those who will disembark.
 Here between the hither and the farther shore
 While time is withdrawn, consider the future
 And the past with an equal mind.
 At the moment which is not of action or inaction
 You can receive this: "on whatever sphere of being
 The mind of a man may be intent
 At the time of death" - that is the one action
 (And the time of death is every moment)
 Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
 And do not think of the fruit of action.
 Fare forward.
                O Voyagers, O Seamen,
 You who come to port, and you whose bodies
 Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
 Or whatever event, this is your real destination.'
 So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
 On the field of battle.
                Not fare well,
 But fare forward, voyagers.
-- T S Eliot
  The Dry Salvages - presumably les trois sauvages - is a small group of
  rocks, with a beacon, off the N.E. coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts.
  Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages.
  Groaner: a whistling buoy.
     -- [broken link]

I am sending in one of my favourite fragments of TS Eliot, which I have
loved for a long time, in memory of our very dear friend Sridevi Rao, who
passed away today after losing the battle with cancer. She was a great soul
- a very warm person, loyal friend, journalist and scholar, who had written
books on Zen and Adi Sankara, and lived a full life despite the threat of
cancer hanging over her head like the sword of Damocles all her life. The
Gods must have loved her very much for she was quite young when she died. It
hurts to refer to her in the past tense....This is to wish her well on her
journey. We love you and miss you.



The complete poem:
  [broken link]

Some discussion links:
  [broken link]

See also Poem #532 for another of the Quartets.

Let Me Think -- Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Guest poem sent in by Radhika Gowaikar
(Poem #1442) Let Me Think
 You ask me about that country whose details now escape me,
 I don't remember its geography, nothing of its history.
 And should I visit it in memory,
 It would be as I would a past lover,
 After years, for a night, no longer restless with passion,
 With no fear of regret.
 I have reached that age when one visits the heart merely as a courtesy.
-- Faiz Ahmed Faiz
I came across this while browsing the Poetry in Motion site.
[broken link]

Depending on the reader's mood this poem can be taken to be about many
things -- one's motherland, one's past lives and, indeed, one's past
loves. The overriding theme of time eroding every landscape holds for them

Reading (poetry) is, to a large extent, about seeing one's own self -- the
way it is at that moment in time -- in a mirror provided by the writer
(/poet). I rather like this particular mirror.


[broken link],6761,844795,00.html is a very
interesting article by Rushdie which has a lot about Faiz and other

[broken link] is also nice

Among School Children -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem sent in by Lucy Garrett
(Poem #1441) Among School Children

 I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
 A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
 The children learn to cipher and to sing,
 To study reading - books and histories,
 To cut and sew, be neat in everything
 In the best modern way - the children's eyes
 In momentary wonder stare upon
 A sixty-year-old smiling public man.


 I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
 Above a sinking fire,  a tale that she
 Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
 That changed some childish day to tragedy -
 Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
 Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
 Or else, to alter Plato's parable,
 Into the yolk and white of the one shell.


 And thinking of that fit of grief or rage
 I look upon one child or t'other there
 And wonder if she stood so at that age -
 For even daughters of the swan can share
 Something of every paddler's heritage -
 And had that colour upon cheek or hair,
 And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
 She stands before me as a living child.


 Her present image floats into the mind -
 Did Quattrocento finger fashion it
 Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind
 And took a mess of shadows for its meat?
 And I though never of Ledaean kind
 Had pretty plumage once - enough of that,
 Better to smile on all that smile, and show
 There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.


 What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap
 Honey of generation had betrayed,
 And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape
 As recollection or the drug decide,
 Would think her Son, did she but see that shape
 With sixty or more winters on its head,
 A compensation for the pang of his birth,
 Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?


 Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
 Upon a ghostly paradigm of things;
 Solider Aristotle played the taws
 Upon the bottom of a king of kings;
 World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras
 Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings
 What a star sang and careless Muses heard:
 Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.


 Both nuns and mothers worship images,
 But those the candles light are not as those
 That animate a mother's reveries,
 But keep a marble or a bronze repose.
 And yet they too break hearts - O presences
 That passion, piety or affection knows,
 And that all heavenly glory symbolise -
 O self-born mockers of man's enterprise;


 Labour is blossoming or dancing where
 The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
 Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
 Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
 O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
 Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
 O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
 How can we know the dancer from the dance?
-- William Butler Yeats
Saturday's poem by Harindranath Chattopadhyaya [Poem #1438] reminded me of
Yeats' poem Among School Children, which by some terrible omission you don't
yet seem to have on the archive.  The poems both deal with the relation
between the creator and the creation.

This is quintessential Yeats: dense, allusive, intense and erotic; obsessed
with death, desire, age, religion and art.  It's wonderful stuff.  Read it
out loud and feel the hairs rise on the back of your neck.

Some notes on the text might be helpful:

Verse 2:
"a Laedean body" : see also Leda and The Swan & No Second Troy (both on
Minstrels).  Yeats is referring to the love of his life, Maud Gonne (mostly
unrequited).  In many of his poems she appears as a figure from Greek
mythology (as well as being as beautiful as Leda, whom Zeus loved in the
form of a swan, she is also often likened to Helen of Troy because she is
fierce and warriorlike).  See also the completely gorgeous poem: "He Wishes
For the Cloths of Heaven."  How did the girl resist?

"Plato's parable" and "natures blent / into a sphere from youthful
sympathy":  Plato said that everyone on earth before birth formed part of a
sphere.  At birth we are split in half and we spend the rest of our life
searching  to find our mate - the other half of the sphere.  In some cases
the whole was female, in other cases male, in other cases half and half.
Hence he explained homosexuality and heterosexuality.  Sweet, no?  It's
commonly thought that he might not have put this theory forward totally

Verse 3:
"daughters of the swan": see Leda and the Swan again.  Yeats is finessing
the likeness to Leda - she looks like one of Leda's daughters.  See the poem
for the rather passionate circs of the conception.

The remainder of the poem contrasts human life with art, philosophy and
religion.  It sets up a contrast (often seen in Yeats' poetry) between the
permanence yet hollowness of art ("old clothes upon old sticks to scare a
bird") and the often disappointed/frustrated mortality of man's life (I am
particularly keen on the notion of a baby as a shape that the "honey of
generation" has betrayed into life and which the young mother wouldn't think
worth the trouble of giving birth to, were she to see him with 60 winters on
his head.  Please also note that the 60 winters is a reference back to Yeats
himself in the 1st verse - Yeats is counting himself among those not worth
giving birth to).  Also interesting to note the capitalised "Son" - allusion
to religion.

Verse 7  asserts that art is triumphant over life - it mocks life in its
perfection and breaks hearts.  Don't you love the line "But keep a marble or
a bronze repose"?

Verse 8 is the answer to all the above.  It creates a triumphant synergy
between art and its creation - man in the act of creation is drawn into the
immortality of the creation and the creation, although pure and perfect,
must depend on the man.  The process is natural and entirely unforced.
Therefore the two are one and interdependent.  Also absolutely glorious
poetry:  "O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, / How can we know
the dancer from the dance?"

This theme of the interdependence of man and art and the power of art to
transfigure mortality is explored in many of Yeats' poems.  I recommend
Lapis Lazuli, Sailing to Byzantium and Byzantium in particular, as some of
the greatest poetry ever written as well as sophisticated analyses of this
dichotomy.  See also Proust's A La Recherche de Temps Perdu for the world's
longest ever discussion on the point.

Love to all,

Lucy Garrett

Hic Jacet Arthurus Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus -- Francis Brett Young

Guest poem sent in by Mike Lynd
(Poem #1440) Hic Jacet Arthurus Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus
 Arthur is gone . . . Tristram in Careol
 Sleeps, with a broken sword - and Yseult sleeps
 Beside him, where the Westering waters roll
 Over drowned Lyonesse to the outer deeps.

 Lancelot is fallen . . . The ardent helms that shone
 So knightly and the splintered lances rust
 In the anonymous mould of Avalon:
 Gawain and Gareth and Galahad - all are dust.

 Where do the vanes and towers of Camelot
 And tall Tintagel crumble? Where do those tragic
 Lovers and their bright eyed ladies rot?
 We cannot tell, for lost is Merlin's magic.

 And Guinevere - Call her not back again
 Lest she betray the loveliness time lent
 A name that blends the rapture and the pain
 Linked in the lonely nightingale's lament.

 Nor pry too deeply, lest you should discover
 The bower of Astolat a smokey hut
 Of mud and wattle - find the knightliest lover
 A braggart, and his lilymaid a slut.

 And all that coloured tale a tapestry
 Woven by poets. As the spider's skeins
 Are spun of its own substance, so have they
 Embroidered empty legend - What remains?

 This: That when Rome fell, like a writhen oak
 That age had sapped and cankered at the root,
 Resistant, from her topmost bough there broke
 The miracle of one unwithering shoot.

 Which was the spirit of Britain - that certain men
 Uncouth, untutored, of our island brood
 Loved freedom better than their lives; and when
 The tempest crashed around them, rose and stood

 And charged into the storm's black heart, with sword
 Lifted, or lance in rest, and rode there, helmed
 With a strange majesty that the heathen horde
 Remembered when all were overwhelmed;

 And made of them a legend, to their chief,
 Arthur, Ambrosius - no man knows his name -
 Granting a gallantry beyond belief,
 And to his knights imperishable fame.

 They were so few . . . We know not in what manner
 Or where they fell - whether they went
 Riding into the dark under Christ's banner
 Or died beneath the blood-red dragon of Gwent.

 But this we know; that when the Saxon rout
 Swept over them, the sun no longer shone
 On Britain, and the last lights flickered out;
 And men in darkness muttered: Arthur is gone . . .
-- Francis Brett Young
Note: The Latin reads: "Here Lies Arthur, the Once and Future King"

This poem by Francis Brett Young makes the hair on the back of my neck stand
on end!  It offers a different perspective on the King Arthur legend,
showing us that even if the courtly stories of Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur
are merely romantic nonsense there may be sufficient importance in the
underlying historical truth for the legend still to be worth knowing and

Francis Brett Young was born in 1884 and died in 1954.  He was a novelist,
short-story writer and poet, and was born in born in Halesowen,
Worcestershire, England. His father was a doctor and his mother also came
from a medical family so it was natural that Francis trained at Birmingham
University to become a physician. He started a practice at Brixham, Devon,
in 1907 and married the following year. His wife was a singer and he
accompanied her as well as setting poems to music for her. During the First
World War he saw service in Africa in the Medical Corps but was invalided
out in 1918, no longer able to practise medicine.  The couple went to live
in Capri until 1929 but travelled widely, including trips to South Africa,
the United States and summers in the Lake District of England.  They
returned to live in England from 1932 and settled at Craycombe House,
Fladbury, Worcestershire. At the end of the Second World War he moved to
South Africa, dying in Cape Town in 1954. His ashes were returned to England
and are in Worcester Cathedral.

Further details to be found at:

and at:

Best wishes,
Mike Lynd

Gacela of the Dark Death -- Federico García Lorca

Guest poem sent in by Tom Walsh
(Poem #1439) Gacela of the Dark Death
   I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
 I want to get far away from the busyness of the cemeteries.
 I want to sleep the sleep of that child
 who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

   I don't want them to tell me again how the corpse keeps all its blood,
 how the decaying mouth goes on begging for water.
 I'd rather not hear about the torture sessions the grass arranges for
 nor about how the moon does all its work before dawn
 with its snakelike nose.

   I want to sleep for half a second,
 a second, a minute, a century,
 but I want everyone to know that I am still alive,
 that I have a golden manger inside my lips,
 that I am the little friend of the west wind,
 that I am the elephantine shadow of my own tears.

   When it's dawn just throw some sort of cloth over me
 because I know dawn will toss fistfuls of ants at me,
 and pour a little hard water over my shoes
 so that the scorpion claws of the dawn will slip off.

   Because I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
 and learn a mournful song that will clean all earth away from me,
 because I want to live with that shadowy child
 who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.
-- Federico García Lorca
          (Translated by Robert Bly)

The Blake poem [Poem #1431] reminded me of this poem, because it's part of an
LP, recorded in the early 70s, by Joan Baez, called "Baptism." During the later
60s, this was a fervent anti-war poem, as were the ballads of Baez and Phil
Ochs. I think the images are striking: the scorpion's claws, the sleep of
dreaming, hanging apples.


Shaper Shaped -- Harindranath Chattopadhyaya

Guest poem sent in by Subroto Mukerji
(Poem #1438) Shaper Shaped
 In days gone by I used to be
 A potter who would feel
 His fingers mould the yielding clay
 To patterns on his wheel;
 But now, through wisdom lately won,
 That pride has gone away,
 I have ceased to be the potter
 And have learned to be the clay.

 In other days I used to be
 A poet through whose pen
 Innumerable songs would come
 To win the hearts of men;
 But now, through new-got knowledge
 Which I hadn't had so long,
 I have ceased to be the poet
 And have learned to be the song.

 I was a fashioner of swords,
 In days that now are gone,
 Which on a hundred battle-fields
 Glittered and gleamed and shone;
 But now I am brimming with
 The silence of the Lord,
 I have ceased to be sword-maker
 And have learned to be the sword.

 In by-gone days I used to be
 A dreamer who would hurl
 On every side an insolence
 Of emerald and pearl.
 But now I am kneeling
 At the feet of the Supreme
 I have ceased to be the dreamer
 And have learned to be the dream.
-- Harindranath Chattopadhyaya
Harindranath was the quintessential Bengali intellectual -- wealthy, high born,
highly strung, temperamental, eccentric, coruscatingly brilliant but
(pardonably) egoistic, proud of his abilities, but wasting them by his
self-destructive tendencies (such as his compulsive philandering). He was
marvellously gifted with an array of outstanding abilities, mostly
underutilised. Artist, poet, dramatist, actor, philosopher and metaphysician,
Chattopadhyaya is typical of the towering intellects that have emerged from
urban Bengal over the last two centuries.

His father, Aghoranath Chattopadhyaya, was a scholar of
Sanskrit, Greek, Hebrew, Persian and English, and Harindranath 'caught the
bug' from him. The senior Chattopadhyaya was principal of the famous Nizam's
college at Hyderabad, now capital of Andhra Pradesh. His daughter
(Harindranath's sister) happened to be Sarojini Naidu, the legendary
'Nightingale of Bengal', and herself a fine poet, freedom fighter and
stunning orator.

In later life--as worldly men are oft wont to do--Harindranath came face to
face with his mortality and shed his egoism by an almost relieved surrender
to the Supreme. This poem is a frank admission of his foolish obsession with
himself, in sheer neglect of the Self. Humility followed Self-Realisation
and brought with it a glimpse of the larger purpose of the Spirit.
It is this surrender of the towering genius of Harindranth before his Maker
that brings a lump to the throat...and forewarns all us mortals, so wrapped
up in our own puny little egos, that to shed the obsession with self is to
enter into the arena of a Greater Consciousness, where a transcendent
experience awaits the awakening soul.

Subroto Mukerji

My Father -- Yehuda Amichai

Guest poem sent in by Raj Palaniswamy
(Poem #1437) My Father
 The memory of my father is wrapped up in
 white paper, like sandwiches taken for a day at work.

 Just as a magician takes towers and rabbits
 out of his hat, he drew love from his small body,

 and the rivers of his hands
 overflowed with good deeds.
-- Yehuda Amichai
I saw this some months ago on the subway I take to work, part of the "Poetry
in Motion" series, that originated in New York and is now in several other
cities.  The first two lines are so powerful, anything said about them would
not do any justice. My father has been, unfortunately, just a memory for
many years, but an extremely alive and significant one. He would have turned
68 a few days ago, and I was reminded of this poem on his birthday.

Poetry in Motion® is a program that was developed by the Poetry Society of
America and the MTA New York City Transit in 1992 to make bus and subway
riding a more pleasurable and enlightening experience. Inspired by a similar
program in the London Underground, the program places poem-placards in the
spaces usually reserved for advertisements in subway cars and buses. Since
its founding 10 years ago, the program has expanded to 14 cities across the
country, reaching 13 million people daily. It is funded by the NEA.

Raj Palaniswamy

I Cannot Live with You -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1436) I Cannot Live with You
 I cannot live with you,
 It would be life,
 And life is over there
 Behind the shelf

 The sexton keeps the key to,
 Putting up
 Our life, his porcelain,
 Like a cup

 Discarded of the housewife,
 Quaint or broken;
 A newer Sevres pleases,
 Old ones crack.

 I could not die with you,
 For one must wait
 To shut the other's gaze down,--
 You could not.

 And I, could I stand by
 And see you freeze,
 Without my right of frost,
 Death's privilege?

 Nor could I rise with you,
 Because your face
 Would put out Jesus'.
 That new grace

 Glow plain and foreign
 On my homesick eye,
 Except that you, than he
 Shone closer by.

 They'd judge us--how?
 For you served Heaven, you know
 Or sought to;
 I could not,

 Because you saturated sight,
 And I had no more eyes
 For sordid excellence
 As Paradise.

 And were you lost, I would be,
 Though my name
 Rang loudest
 On the heavenly fame.

 And were you saved,
 And I condemned to be
 Where you were not,
 That self were hell to me.

 So we must keep apart,
 You there, I here,
 With just the door ajar
 That oceans are,
 And prayer,
 And that pale sustenance,
-- Emily Dickinson
It's difficult to have a "favourite" Emily Dickinson poem, because
every one of her poems is radiant with intensity, so that reading her
collected works (as i've been doing this week) is like watching a
beautiful crystal shatter into a million exquisite pieces, each shining
brilliant in the sunlight.

If I had to pick a favourite though, it would be this one - not because
it's the most accomplished of her work, but because somehow it's always
seemed to me the most desperate, and therefore the most heartfelt. This
is the most despairing a love poem has ever been, even a Dickinson love
poem. I love the matter of factness of the first stanza, the spine
chilling casualness of "Old ones crack". Strangely, it's a starting
that always drives me taut with rage, with indignation, like I want to
break open every locked shelf and smash all the china in the world. And
I love the way Dickinson goes on to throw away line after memorable
line ("My right of frost / Death's privilege" or "Only the door ajar /
that oceans are").

But if this is an overwhelmingly sad poem, it is also an incredible
love poem. Dickinson surrenders to everything, accepts every part of
the hopeless truth, every aching mile of her seperation, but never lets
her love waver. Hers is a sinewy and courageous passion, one that I
cannot help be moved by. And because of it, this is a great poem.


Preacher, Don't Send Me -- Maya Angelou

Guest poem sent in by Mukul Hinge
(Poem #1435) Preacher, Don't Send Me
 Preacher, don't send me
 when I die
 to some big ghetto
 in the sky
 where rats eat cats
 of the leopard type
 and Sunday brunch
 is grits and tripe.

 I've known those rats
 I've seen them kill
 and grits I've had
 would make a hill,
 or maybe a mountain,
 so what I need
 from you on Sunday
 is a different creed.

 Preacher, please don't
 promise me
 streets of gold
 and milk for free.
 I stopped all milk
 at four years old
 and once I'm dead
 I won't need gold.

 I'd call a place
 pure paradise
 where families are loyal
 and strangers are nice,
 where the music is jazz
 and the season is fall.
 Promise me that
 or nothing at all.
-- Maya Angelou
Just thought I'd submit a poem by Maya Angelou that I really like because its
extremely soulful (especially the last verse. I think it reflects the trauma
that she faced in her childhood and adolescence...

More information about Ms Angelou can be found on

Mukul Hinge

[Martin adds]

This poem has a beautiful, swinging rhythm that despite its apparent
simplicity has to have been carefully crafted. I loved it until the last
verse, which was disappointingly trite (though it ties in with the 'nothing'
references running through a few recent poems).


A Fine Thing -- Rosemary Dobson

Guest poem sent in by Michelle Chapman

The recent Wallace Stevens poem entitled "The Snow Man" immediately brought
this poem to mind.
(Poem #1434) A Fine Thing
 To be a scarecrow
 To lean all day in a bright field
 With a hat full
 Of bird's song
 And a heart of gold straw;
 With a sly wink for the farmer's daughter,
 When no one sees, and small excursions;
 Returning after
 To a guiltless pose of indolence.

 A fine thing
 to be a figurehead
 with a noble brow
 On a ship's prow
 And a look to the end of the world;
 With the sad sounds of wind and water
 And only a stir of air for thinking;
 The timber cutting
 The green waves, and the foam flashing.

 To be a snowman
 Lost all day in deep thought
 With a head full
 Of snowflakes
 And no troubles at all,
 With an old pipe and six buttons,
 And sometimes children in woollen gaiters;
 But mostly lonely,
 A simple fellow, with no troubles at all.
-- Rosemary Dobson
This poem may not show the same depth and complexity of Wallace Stevens, but
for me it raises the same themes... it has a gently nostalgic tone, it is
easy to engage with, and yet underneath the cheerful self sufficiency of its
images it, too, carries the same unspoken themes identified in the Wallace
Stevens poem: "the misery of human condition; the natural, emotional bond
between man and nature, the "emptiness within" of the twentieth century
man." Where the Stevens poem ends with a desolate, inevitable emptiness "the
same wind ... blowing in the same bare place", Rosemary Dobson's snowman is
an optimistic figure, untroubled by his loneliness. Satisfied to be nothing.
Wanting nothing more. A hopeful acceptance of the emptiness within which may
yet lead to ... something (as it does for the scarecrow)!

Rosemary Dobson is an Australian poet, born in Sydney in 1920. She has
published 13 books of poetry but is relatively unknown outside academic


Sites on Rosemary Dobson:

Winter -- Anonymous

Guest poem sent in by Dave Fortin
(Poem #1433) Winter
 Wind piercing, hill bare, hard to find shelter;
 Ford turns foul, lake freezes.
 A man could stand on a stalk.

 Wave on wave cloaks the land's edge;
 Shrill the shrieks from the peaks of the mountain;
 One can scarce stand outside.

 Cold the lake-bed from winter's blast;
 Dried reeds, stalk broken;
 Angry wind, woods stripped naked.

 Cold bed of fish beneath a screen of ice;
 Stag lean, stalks bearded;
 Short evening, trees bent over.

 Snow is falling, white the soil.
 Soldiers go not campaigning.
 Cold lakes, their color sunless.

 Snow is falling, white hoar-frost.
 Shield idle on an old shoulder.
 Wind intense, shoots are frozen.

 Snow is falling upon the ice.
 Wind is sweeping thick tree-tops.
 Shield bold on a brave shoulder.

 Snow is falling, cloaks the valley.
 Soldiers hasten to battle.
 I go not, a wound stays me.

 Snow is falling on the slope.
 Stallion confined; lean cattle.
 No summer day is today.

 Snow is falling, white the mountain's edge.
 Ship's mast bare at sea.
 A coward conceives many schemes.
-- Anonymous
The recent winter and snow related poems made me think of this one, from a
13th c. Welsh manuscript (but probably dates from the eleventh century or
earlier).  It's a reminder that winter meant much more than pretty snowflakes
and scenic landscapes in pre-industrial times.  To most folks winter was a
lean time, full of hardships.  I also like this poem as it has the sub-theme
of the wounded warrior who is stuck at home unable to fight while his supposed
friends fight a winter battle (or is he the scheming coward of the last
stanza?).  Like the Old English "Wanderer" and "Seafarer", the poet leaves us
guessing at what's going on, which is part of what makes this so intriguing.

This translation is from the Oxford Book of Welsh Poetry in English.  Just to
give a taste of the alliteration and rhyme schemes, here's the last three
stanzas in the original Middle Welsh:

Otid eiry, toid ystrad;
Dyfrysynt cedwyr i gad;
Mi nid af, anaf ni'm gad.

Otid eiry o du rhiw;
Carcharor gorwydd, cul biw;
Nid annwyd hafddydd heddiw.

Otid eiry, gwyn goror mynydd;
Llwm gwydd llong ar for;
Mecid llwfr llawer cyngor.

Dave Fortin

The Snow Man -- Wallace Stevens

Guest poem sent in by Cristina Gazzieri
(Poem #1432) The Snow Man
 One must have a mind of winter
 To regard the frost and the boughs
 Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

 And have been cold a long time
 To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
 The spruces rough in the distant glitter

 Of the January sun; and not to think
 Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
 In the sound of a few leaves,

 Which is the sound of the land
 Full of the same wind
 That is blowing in the same bare place

 For the listener, who listens in the snow,
 And, nothing himself, beholds
 Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
-- Wallace Stevens
Among Stevens's poems this has always been my favourite, even if, whenever I
tackle the commentary of it, I find it difficult to focus exactly on the
theme and especially, the message of the poem. I think, the difficulties of
interpretation come from the contradictory elements. For example, the first
part has its evocative appeal; the images of the trees "crusted" with snow,
the junipers "shagged" with ice, the spruces "rough" in the "glitter" of the
sun is not simply the description of nature of an observer who, "beholds
nothing that is not there". It is not an objective picture of a snowy
landscape; it is artistic, poetic appreciation of the outside world, and,
therefore, in a sense, just the denial of seeing "nothing that is not

I think, one of the themes of the poem is just the approach towards reality,
the conflict between the rational consciousness of the existential "void",
between the will to see things as they are, and the innate human tendency to
create worlds (even poetic ones), to reinterpret what we see in artistic (or
philosophical, or moral) terms. After reading the poem one wonders who the
"snow man" is. I think it is a negative term of comparison; it is what man
cannot be, what a poet can surely never become. Much more is suggested, if
not discussed: the misery of human condition; the natural, emotional bond
between man and nature, the "emptiness within" of the twentieth century man.
In the end there is the enigma of the interpretation of the first line. "One
must have a mind of winter" to look at the spectacle of winter nature and
not to think of human condition.

What is the meaning? Is it an invitation in philosophical and artistic terms
to look at reality without superimposing interpretations on it?  Or is it a
deduction that only "snow men" can do so? That real men create the
landscape, the "reality" they see, artistically, conceptually, morally?


[Martin adds]

The last line reminds me of the following passage from Chesterton's Father
Brown story "The Wrong Shape":

  "When that Indian spoke to us," went on Brown in a conversational
  undertone, "I had a sort of vision, a vision of him and all his universe.
  Yet he only said the same thing three times. When first he said 'I want
  nothing,' it meant only that he was impenetrable, that Asia does not give
  itself away. Then he said again, 'I want nothing,' and I knew that he
  meant that he was sufficient to himself, like a cosmos, that he needed no
  God, neither admitted any sins. And when he said the third time, 'I want
  nothing,' he said it with blazing eyes. And I knew that he meant literally
  what he said; that nothing was his desire and his home; that he was weary
  for nothing as for wine; that annihilation, the mere destruction of
  everything or anything--"

A very different take on the same basic idea.


London -- William Blake

Guest poem sent in by Katherine E. Hudson
(Poem #1431) London
 I wander thro' each charter'd street,
 Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
 And mark in every face I meet
 Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

 In every cry of every Man,
 In every Infant's cry of fear,
 In every voice, in every ban,
 The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

 How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
 Every black'ning Church appalls;
 And the hapless Soldier's sigh
 Runs in blood down Palace walls.

 But most thro' midnight streets I hear
 How the youthful Harlot's curse
 Blasts the new born Infant's tear,
 And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.
-- William Blake
I was talking about this poem with a friend this evening and went to the
Minstrels site looking for it.  I was surprised by its absence, as I think
it's one of Blake's best-crafted efforts.

Though I like Blake a lot for his views, commitment, and occasional
memorable phrase (not to mention his art), I don't really think he was a
first-rank poet. But "London" hangs together beautifully in terms of
coherent and powerful imagery as well as rhyme and meter.  Two metaphors in
the poem are especially heart-rending:  "the hapless Soldier's sigh/ Runs in
blood down Palace walls" and "the youthful Harlot's curse/.  . . /Blights
with plagues the Marriage hearse."  (Though, bearing in mind the risk of
veneral disease, the latter may not be metaphor so much as acknowledgment of

Much could also be said about how this poem expresses Blake's enduring
concern with issues of personal freedom and social justice--e.g.,
restrictive laws, hypocrisy in organized religion, poverty and the evils
that flow from it, including disease (testicular cancer was recognized in
Blake's time as an occupational hazard of chimney-sweeps) and prostitution.

Katherine E. Hudson

Not only the Eskimos -- Lisel Mueller

More on snow:
(Poem #1430) Not only the Eskimos
 Not only the Eskimos
 We have only one noun
 but as many different kinds:

 the grainy snow of the Puritans
 and snow of soft, fat flakes,

 guerrilla snow, which comes in the night
 and changes the world by morning,

 rabbinical snow, a permanent skullcap
 on the highest mountains,

 snow that blows in like the Lone Ranger,
 riding hard from out of the West,

 surreal snow in the Dakotas,
 when you can't find your house, your street,
 though you are not in a dream
 or a science-fiction movie,

 snow that tastes good to the sun
 when it licks black tree limbs,
 leaving us only one white stripe,
 a replica of a skunk,

 unbelievable snows:
 the blizzard that strikes on the tenth of April,
 the false snow before Indian summer,
 the Big Snow on Mozart's birthday,
 when Chicago became the Elysian Fields
 and strangers spoke to each other,

 paper snow, cut and taped,
 to the inside of grade-school windows,

 in an old tale, the snow
 that covers a nest of strawberries,
 small hearts, ripe and sweet,
 the special snow that goes with Christmas,
 whether it falls or not,

 the Russian snow we remember
 along with the warmth and smell of furs,
 though we have never traveled
 to Russia or worn furs,

 Villon's snows of yesteryear,
 lost with ladies gone out like matches,
 the snow in Joyce's "The Dead,"
 the silent, secret snow
 in a story by Conrad Aiken,
 which is the snow of first love,

 the snowfall between the child
 and the spacewoman on TV,

 snow as idea of whiteness,
 as in snowdrop, snow goose, snowball bush,

 the snow that puts stars in your hair,
 and your hair, which has turned to snow,

 the snow Elinor Wylie walked in
 in velvet shoes,

 the snow before her footprints
 and the snow after,

 the snow in the back of our heads,
 whiter than white, which has to do
 with childhood again each year.
-- Lisel Mueller
 From "Alive Together: New and Selected Poems", published 1996.

 Many poets have used multiplicity of meaning to lend ambiguity (and
hopefully depth) to their poems, but rarely has the multiplicity itself
been the subject of a poem. The danger here is that the poem descends
into mere boring repetition, a shopping list of definitions. Fortunately
for us, Ms Mueller avoids the pitfall adroitly, with unexpected
metaphors ("rabbinical snow" is my favourite), literary and historical
references, and (at the very end) an unabashed appeal to nostalgia.
Notice how the descriptions become steadily more allusive as the poem
goes on; this adds to the impact of what would otherwise have been a
rather predictable ending.


PS. The LINGUIST mailing list has this to say about the number of words
meaning 'snow' in various Eskimo languages:

Winter Reigns -- Mary Youngquist

Guest poem sent in by Ajit Narayanan
(Poem #1429) Winter Reigns
 Shimmering, gleaming, glistening glow--
 Winter reigns, splendiferous snow!
 Won't this sight, this stainless scene,
 Endlessly yield days supreme?

 Eying ground, deep piled, delights
 Skiers scaling garish heights.
 Still like eagles soaring, glide
 Eager racers; show-offs slide.

 Ecstatic children, noses scarved--
 Dancing gnomes, seem magic carved--
 Doing graceful leaps. Snowballs,
 Swishing globules, sail low walls.

 Surely year-end's special lure
 Eases sorrow we endure,
 Every year renews shared dream,
 Memories sweet, that timeless stream.
-- Mary Youngquist
The most important criterion for good wordplay has always been 'transparency'
-- how good the content is when it's viewed independent of the structure. I'm
told that Georges Perec's book 'La Disparition', for example, garnered rave
reviews from Parisian critics[1], who praised it as a modern masterpiece, many
of them not realizing that Perec had composed the entire book without a single
'e'. I don't read French, however, and consequently, _my_ standard for
transparency in wordplay is set by this poem by Mary Youngquist. An elegant,
very readable and very naturally constructed poem which masks a surprisingly
difficult structure that the poet has most skillfully imposed on it. Can you
guess what it is?

I wish I could find out more about Mary Youngquist. I've read only two of
her works, one of them being this one, and have been very, very impressed.
The other is a poem about California (sort of), which is part of this
article (another ingenious exercise in wordplay, by the way; read it)
[broken link]
Any further information, or links to other works of hers, would be most


[1] [broken link] contains some, but you
have to know French, of course.

The answer: Each word -- including the title and the author's name --
begins with the last letter of the preceding word. Sounds like an easy
constraint? -- try writing even one complete sentence that way and you'll
realize the amount of skill it took to make this poem as coherent as it

[Martin adds]

Not the easiest typographic constraint to observe, even neglecting grammar,
rhyme, equal line extents, scansion, name[1] etc. Craftsmanship,
poetry - Youngquist's stanzas - sonorous, smooth - highlight them

[1] Nice extra.

Octopusses -- Simon Goodway

Guest poem sent in by Anustup Datta
(Poem #1428) Octopusses
 I don't know what the fuss is,
 Cooking's easy if you try.
 Just take two octopusses
 And you've got an octopi.
-- Simon Goodway
By rights, Nash should have written this. I had never heard of Simon Goodway
before I stumbled onto this little gem, and I still don't know anything
about him, but anyone who can bake an octopi out of octopusses in four lines
surely knows a thing or two about poetry. This bit of whimsy ranks way up
there with the best of Hein and Dahl - and as I had mentally promised myself
that this review should not exceed the poem, that's it. Just run it on a day
when you feel bluer than the sky.


[Martin adds]

Don't worry, I'm not feeling blue - just thought I'd run it :)

Nash has (unsurprisingly) done something vaguely similar - see Poem #848.
And on octopi, Steven Pinker has this to say: "The -us in octopus is not the
Latin noun ending that switches to the -i in the plural, but the Greek pous
(foot). The etymologically defensible octopodes is not an improvement".

Out of Control -- Neil Young

Guest poem sent in by Zenobia Driver
(Poem #1427) Out of Control
 Once, high on a hill, there was a song
 Nothing was wrong, that's when time stood still
 Now lovers are caught, tied in their dreams
 Bound in their thoughts, wrapped in the depth of their love

 If I can hold on to you
 If I can hold on to you

 Somewhere near the end, lovers pretend
 Fake what they feel, take what they get from love
 Start missing the drive, staying alive
 Four out of five, without the feeling of love

 If the sky is fire and hell is blue
 If all of our dreams won't come true
 If the sky is fire and hell is blue
 I'll cover you, I'll cover you

 Sky is fire, hell is blue
 Sky is fire, hell is blue

 That's why I'm out of control
 Tear myself down, build myself up, tear myself down again
 I'm talking to you, trying to get through
 Don't want to hide, lost in the mirror of love

 If I can hold on to you
 If I can hold on to you
-- Neil Young
Heard this CSNY song this morning and thought i would submit it. its not
great poetry, but its nice.

Funny thing is, the song is titled 'Out of Control', but the tune and rhythm
are very serene and calm and peaceful; the words also seem very calm and
measured and not very out of control - either in rhythm or in meaning. So
the title doesnt exactly match the rest of it.

I liked the way falling out of love is described - 'Somewhere near the end,
lovers pretend'. Also the 'Tear myself down, build myself up, tear myself down
again' part - describes the confusion nicely.

Basically I liked the song and now I'm trying to give commentary to explain
why I liked it. Can't think of anything more to write.

Zenobia D. Driver


The Hill -- Nissim Ezekiel

(Poem #1426) The Hill
 This normative hill
 like all others
 is transparently accessible,
 out there
 and in the mind,
 not to be missed
 except in peril of one's life.

 Do not muse on it
 from a distance:
 it's not remote
 for the view only,
 it's for the sport
 of climbing.

 What the hill demands
 is a man
 with forces flowering
 as from the crevices
 of rocks and rough surfaces
 wild flowers
 force themselves towards the sun
 and burn
 for a moment.

 How often must I
 say to myself
 what I say to others:
 trust your nerves--
 in conversation or in bed
 the rhythm comes.

 And once you begin
 hang on for life.
 What is survival?
 What is existence?
 I am not talking about
 poetry. I am
 talking about
 and calling it
 I say: be done with it.
 I say:
 you've got to love that hill.

 Be wrathful, be impatient
 that you are not
 on the hill. Do not forgive
 yourself or other,
 though charity
 is all very well.
 Do not rest
 in irony or acceptance.
 Man should not laugh
 when he is dying.
 In decent death
 you flow into another kind of time
 which is the hill
 you always thought you knew.
-- Nissim Ezekiel
Thanks to Vinod Krishna who sent me today's poem,
saying "The poet Nissim Ezekiel has just passed away. I thought it would be
appropriate to submit a poem by him".

I hadn't come across the poem before - my knowledge of Ezekiel was, sadly,
confined to two of his almost trademark renditions of Indian English, and
the ubiquitous "Night of the Scorpion", all from that marvellous anthology
"Panorama". Today's poem is very different in tone - at once exhortatory and
philosophical, so that while it is not the stirring call to action that,
say, Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" [Poem #38], it is
nonetheless a thought-provoking poem.

The temptation is to call the poem unoriginal, because so many of the
elements seem familiar from other poems. But the overall poem is far from
derivative, with passages like

         Do not forgive
         yourself or other,
         though charity
         is all very well.

that shock the reader with a reversal of the popular connotations of words
like 'forgiveness' and 'charity', and

         What is existence?
         I am not talking about
         poetry. I am
         talking about
         and calling it

with the ambiguous value judgement of individual fragments belying the
purposefulness of the verse.

A fitting epitaph for the man, definitely.



An epitaph:
  [broken link]

For a short discussion and bio of his literary life see:
[The article by a Prof Vinay Lal of UCLA is in pdf format].

A photograph of Nissim Ezekiel is at:

The Ecclesiast -- John Ashbery

Guest poem sent in by Matthew Brooks
(Poem #1425) The Ecclesiast
 "Worse than the sunflower," she had said.
 But the new dimension of truth had only recently
 Burst in on us. Now it was to be condemned.
 And in vagrant shadow her mothball truth is eaten.
 In cool, like-it-or-not shadow the humdrum is consumed.
 Tired housewives begat it some decades ago,
 A small piece of truth that is it was honey to the lips
 Was also millions of miles from filling the place reserved for it.
 You see how honey crumbles your universe
 Which seems like an institution – how many walls?

 Then everything, in her belief, was to be submerged
 And soon. There was no life you could live out to its end
 And no attitude which, in the end, would save you.
 The monkish and the frivolous alike were to be trapped
             in death's capacious claw
 But listen while I tell you about the wallpaper –
 There was a key to everything in that oak forest
 But a sad one. Ever since childhood there
 Has been this special meaning to everything.
 You smile at your friend's joke, but only later, through tears.

 For the shoe pinches, even though it fits perfectly.
 Apples were made to be gathered, also the whole host of the
             world’s ailments and troubles.
 There is no time like the present for giving in to this temptation.
 Once the harvest is in and the animals put away for the winter
 To stand at the uncomprehending window cultivating the desert
 With salt tears which will never do anyone any good.
 My dearest I am as a galleon on salt billows.
 Perfume my head with forgetting all around me.

 For some day these projects will return.
 The funereal voyage over ice-strewn seas is ended.
 You wake up forgetting. Already
 Daylight shakes you in the yard.
 The hands remain empty. They are constructing an osier basket
 Just now, and across the sunlight darkness is taking root anew
 In intense activity. You shall never have seen it just this way
 And that is to be your one reward.

 Fine vapors escape from whatever is doing the living.
 The night is cold and delicate and full of angels
 Pounding down the living. The factories are all lit up,
 The chime goes unheard.
 We are together at last, though far apart.
-- John Ashbery
While I have known of John Ashbery for some time (I love "The Instruction
Manual"), I confess that I sought out this poem because the last stanza is
quoted in Philip Pullman's novel "The Amber Spyglass," the last book in the
trilogy "His Dark Materials."

I had to read this poem a few times before I started to grasp its
self-contained reality - a quality I both like and resist. I like the shift
in narration - at first it is addressed to a generic reader and later to an
intimate "you," the "my dearest" of the poem. More than that, I like the
epic scale of this poem; it focuses on solitary, subtle emotional changes
and moments against a landscape of seas, years, voyages, angels, dreams, and
death. I still struggle with some of what must be Ashbery's private
meanings, but I find new things in this poem whenever I read it. I am not
sure if I love it, but I love the journey it takes me on -- it is chastening
in the best, most sacred sense, and the last line reconciles so much.


The River -- Pare Lorentz

Guest poem sent in by Flavia Iacobaeus :

I thought perhaps that this text/poem might be interesting. It wasn't
intended as a poem, but as a voice-over for a newsreel, but I've always read
it as one. It's long, but worth it.
(Poem #1424) The River
 From as far West as Idaho,
 Down from the glacier peaks of the Rockies,
 From as far East as New York,
 Down from the turnkey ridges of the Alleghenies,
 Down from Minnesota, twenty-five hundred miles,
 The Mississippi River runs to the Gulf.
 Carrying every drop of water that flows down two thirds the continent,
 Carrying every brook and rill, rivulet and creek
 Carrying all the rivers that run down two thirds the continent,
 The Mississippi runs to the Gulf of  Mexico.
 Down the Yellowstone, the Milk, the White and Cheyenne;
 The Cannonball, the Musselshell, the James and the Sioux:
 Down the Judith, the Grand, the Osage and the Platte,
 The Skunk, the Salt, the Black and Minnesota;
 Down the Rock, the Illinois and the Kankakee,
 The Allegheny, the Monogahela. Kanawha, and Muskingum;
 Down the Miami, the Wabash, the Licking, and the Green,
 The Cumberland, the Kentucky, and the Tennessee;
 Down the Ouchita, the Wichita, the Red, and Yazoo ...
 Down the Missouri three thousand miles from the Rockies;
 Down the Ohio a thousand miles from the Alleghenies;
 Down the Arkansas fifteen hundred miles from the Great Divide;
 Down the the Red, a thousand miles from Texas;
 Down the great Valley, twenty-five hundred miles from Minnesota,
     Carrying every rivulet and brook, creek and rill,
 Carrying all the rivers that run down two-thirds the continent ...
 The Missisippi runs to the Gulf.
 New Orleans to Baton Rouge,
 Baton Rouge to Natchez,
 Natchez to Vicksburg,
 Vicksburg to Memphis,
 Memphis to Cairo ...
 We built a dike a thousand miles long.
 Men and mules, mules and mud;
 Mules and mud a thousand miles up the Missisippi.
 A century before we bought the great Western River, the Spanish and the
   French built dikes to keep the Missisippi out of New Orleans at flood stage.
 In forty years we continued the levee the entire length of the great alluvial
 That mud plain that extends from the Gulf of Mexico clear to the mouth of the
 The ancient valley built up for centuries by the old river spilling her floods

 across the bottom of the continent ...
 A mud delta of forty thousand square miles.
 Men and mules, mules and mud ...
 New Orleans to Baton Rouge,
 Natchez to Vicksburg,
 Memphis to Cairo ...
 A thousand miles up the river.
 And we made cotton king.
 We rolled a million bales down the river for Liverpool and Leeds&.
 1860: we rolled four million bales down the river,
 Rolled them off Alabama,
 Rolled them off Mississippi,
 Rolled them off Louisiana,
 Rolled them down the river!
 We fought a war.
 We fought a war and kept the west bank of the river free of slavery forever.
 But we left the old South impoverished and stricken.
 Doubly stricken, because, beyond the tragedy of war, already the frenzied
   cotton cultivation of a quarter of a century had taked toll of the land.
 We mined the soil for cotton until it would yield no more, and then moved
 We fought a war, but there was a double tragedy ... the tragedy of land twice
 Black spruce and Norway pine,
 Douglas fir and Red cedar,
 Scarlet oak and Shagbark hickory,
 Hemlock and aspen ...
 There was lumber in the North.
 The war impoverished the old South, the railroads killed the steamboats,
 But there was lumber in the North.
 Heads up!
 Lumber on the upper river.
 Heads up!
 Lumber enough to cover all Europé.
 Down from Minnesota and Wisconsin,
 Down to St. Paul;
 Down to St. Louis and St. Joe ...
 Lumber for the new continent of the West.
 Lumber for the new mills.
 There was lumber in the North and coal in the hills.
 Iron and coal down the Monogahela.
 Iron and coal down the Allegheny.
 Iron and coal down the Ohio.
 Down to Pittsburgh,
 Down to Wheeling,
 Iron and coal for the steel mills; for the railroads driving
 West and South, for the new cities of the Great Valley ...
 We built new machinery and cleared new land in the West.
 Ten million bales down to the Gulf ...
 Cotton for the spools of England and France.
 Fifteen million bales down to the Gulf ...
 Cotton for the spools of Italy and Germany.
 We built a hundred cities and a thousand towns:
 St. Paul and Minneapolis,
 Davenport and Keokuk,
 Moline and Quincy,
 Cincinnati and St. Louis,
 Omaha and Kansas City . . .
 Across to the rockies and down from Minnesota,
 Twenty-five hundred miles to New Orleans,
 We built a new continent.

 Black spruce and Norway pine,
 Douglas fir and Red cedar,
 Scarlet oak and Shagbark hickory,
 We built a hundred cities and a thousand towns ...
 But at what a cost!
 We cut the top off the Alleghenies and sent it down the river;
 We cut the top off Minnesota and sent it down the river;
 We cut the top off Wisconsin and sent it down the river.
 We left the mountains and the hills slashed and burned,
 And moved on.
 The water comes downhill, spring and fall;
 Down from the cut-over mountains,
 Down from the plowed-off slopes
 Down every brook and rill, rivulet and creek,
 Carrying every drop of water that flows down two-thirds the continent,
 1903 and 1907,
 1913 and 1922,
 Down from Pennsylvania and Ohio,
 Kentucky and West Virginia,
 Missouri and Illinois,
 Down from North Carolina and Tennessee ...
 Down the Judith, the Grand, the Osage, and the Platte
 The Rock, the Salt, the Black, and the Minnesota,
 Down the Monogahela, the Allegheny, Kanawha and Muskingum
 Down the White, the Wolfe, and the Cache,
 Down the Kaw and Kaskaskia, the red and the Yazoo,
 Down the Cumberland, the Kentucky, and the Tennessee ...
 Down to the Mississippi.
 New Orleans to Baton Rouge ...
 Baton Rouge to Natchez ...
 Natchez to Vicksburg ...
 Vicksburg to Memphis ...
 Memphis to Cairo ...
 A thousand miles down the levee the long vigil starts.
 Thirty-eight feet at Baton Rouge
 River rising.
 Helena: river rising.
 Memphis: river rising.
 Cairo: river rising.
 A thousand miles to go,
 A thousand miles of levee to hold ...
 Coastguard patrol needed at Paducah!
 Coastguard patrol needed at Paducah!

 200 boats - wanted at Hickman!
 200 boats wanted at Hickman!
 Levee patrol: men to Blytheville!
 Levee patrol: men to Blytheville!

 2000 men wanted at Cairo!
 2000 men wanted at Cairo!

 A hundred thousand men to fight the old river.
 We sent armies down the river to help the engineers fight a battle on a two
   thousand mile front:
 The Army and the Navy,
 The Coast Guard and the Marine Corps,
 The CCC and the WPA,
 The Red Cross and the Health Service.
 They fought night and day to hold the old river off the valley.
 Food and water needed at Louisville: 500 dead, 5000 ill;
 Food and water needed at Cincinnati;
 Food and water and shelter and clothing needed for 750,000 flood victims;
 Food and medicine needed at Lawrenceburg;
 35,000 homeless in Evansville;
 Food and medicine needed in Aurora,
 Food and medicine and shelter and clothing for 750,000 down in the valley.
 Last time we held the levees,
 But the old river claimed her valley.
 She backed into Tennessee and Arkansas
 And Missouri and Illinois.
 She left stock drowned, houses torn loose,
 Farms ruined.

 1903 and 1907,
 1913 and 1922,
 We built a hundred cities and a thousand towns ...
 But at what a cost!

 Spring and fall the water comes down, and for years the old river has taken a
   toll from the Valley more terrible than ever she does in flood times.
 Year in, year out, the water comes down
 From a thousand hillsides, washing the top off the Valley.
 For fifty years we dug for cotton and moved West when the land gave out.
 For fifty years we plowed for corn, and moved on when the land gave out.
 Corn and wheat; wheat and cotton ... we planted and plowed with no thought for

 the future ...
 And four hundred million tons of topsoil,
 And four hundred million tons of our most valuable natural resources have been

   washed into the Gulf of Mexico every year.
 And poor land makes poor people.
 Poor people make poor land.
 For a quarter of a century we have been forcing more and more farmers into
 Today forty percent of all the farmers in the great Valley are tenants.
 Ten percent are share croppers,
 Down on their knees in the valley,
 A share of the crop their only security.
 No home, no land of their own,
 Aimless, footloose, and impoverished,
 Unable to eat even from the land because their cash crop is their only
 Credit at the store is their only reserve.
 And a generation is growing up with no new land in the West ...
 No new continent to build.
 A generation whose people knew King's Mountain, and Shiloh;
 A generation whose people knew Fremont and Custer;
 But a generation facing a life of dirt an poverty,
 Disease and drudgery;
 Growing up without proper food, medical care, or schooling,
 "Ill-clad, ill-housed, and ill-fed" ...
 And in the greatest river valley in the world.


 *There is no such thing as an ideal river in Nature, but the Missisippi is out

 of joint.*
 *Dust blowing in the West ... floods raging in the East ...*
 *We have seen these problems growing to horrible extremes.*
 *When we first found the Great Valley it was forty percent forested.*
 *Today for every hundred acres of forests we found we have ten left.*
 *Today five percent of the entire valley is ruined forever for agricultural
 *Twenty-five percent of the topsoil has been shoved by the old river into the
 Gulf of Mexico.*
 *Today two out of five farmers in the valley are tenant farmers - ten percent
 of them sharecroppers living in a
      state of squalor unknown to the poorest peasant in Europé*
 *And we are forcing thirty thousand more into tenancy and cropping every
 *Flood control of the Missisippi means control in the great Delta that must
 carry all the water brought down
     from two-thirds the continent*
 *And control of the Delta means control of the little rivers, the great arms
 running down from the uplands.
     And the old river can be controlled.*
 *We had the power to take the valley apart; we have the power to put it
 together again.*

       In 1933 we started, down on the Tennessee River, when our Congress
  created the Tennessee Valley Authority, commissioned to develop navigation,
  flood control, agriculture, and industry in the valley; a valley that carries
  more rainfall than any other in the country; the valley through which the
  Tennessee used to roar down to Paducah in flood times with more water than
  any other tributary of the Ohio.
       First came the dams.
       Up on the Clinch, at the head of the river, we built Norris Dam, a great

  barrier to hold water in flood times and to release water down the river for
  navigation in low water season.
       Next came the Wheeler, first in a series of great barriers that will
  transform the old Tennessee into a link of fresh water pools locked and
  dammed, regulated and controlled, down six hundred fifty miles to Paducah.
         But you cannot plan for water unless you plan for land: for the cut-
  over mountains ... the eroded hills ... the gullied fields that pour their
  waters unchecked down to the river.
       The CCC, working with the forest service and agricultural experts, have
 started to put the worn fields and hillsides back together; black walnut and
 pine for the wornout fields, and the gullied hillsides; black walnut and pine
 for new forest preserves, roots for the cut-over and burned-out hillsides;
 roots to hold water in the ground.
       Soil conservation men have worked out crop systems with the farmers of
 the Valley ... crops to conserve and enrich the topsoil.
       Today a million acres of land in the Tennessee Valley are being tilled
       But you cannot plan for water and land unless you plan for people.
 Down in the Valley, the Farm Security Administration has built a model
 agricultural community. Living in homes they themselves built, paying for them
 on long term rates the homesteaders will have a chance to share in the wealth
 of the Valley.
       More important, the Farm Security Administration has spent thousands of
 dollars to farmers in the Valley, farmers who were caught by years of
 depression and in need of only a stake to be self-sufficient.
       But where there is water there is power.
       Where there's water for flood control and water for navigation, there's
 water for power ...
       Power for the farmers of the Valley.
       Power for the villages and cities and factories of the Valley.
       West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missisippi, Georgia and
       Power to give a new Tennessee Valley to a new generation. Power
  enough to  make the river work!

 We got the blacks to plant the cotton and they gouged the top off the valley.
 We got the Swedes to cut the forests, and they sent them down the river.
 Then we moved our saws and our plows and started all over again;
 And we left a hollow-eyed generation to peck at the wornout valley;
 And left the Swedes to shiver in their naked North country.
 1903, 1907, 1913, 1922, 1927, 1936, 1937 ...
 For you can't wall out and dam two-thirds the water in the country.
 We built dams but the dams filled in.
 We built a thousand mile dike but it didn't hold;
 So we built it higher.
 We played with a continent for fifty years.
 *Flood control? Of the Missisippi?*

 Control from Denver to Helena;
 From Itasca to Paducah;
 From Pittsburgh to Cairo ...
 Control of the wheat, the corn and the cotton land;
 Control enough to put back a thousand forests;
 Control enough to put the river together again before it is too late ...
 Before it has picked up the heart of a
     continent and shoved it into the Gulf of Mexico.
-- Pare Lorentz
Notes: The text/poem belongs to a 1937 motion picture by the Farm Security
  Administration of the Department of Agriculture. It's written/directed by
  documentary filmer Pare Lorentz.

I have loved this text since I first read it, and it has taught me a lot
about the differences between Europe (where I live) and America (it really
is a *continent* and not a, a gathering of nations with a common past).

It also enlighted the history of the States in a way different enough to
startle me into really looking at it. However much I've poked around,
though, I can't find a clear answer to what I most want to know; this was
published in 1937.  What has happened to the Missisippi valley since then?

Flavia ()

[Martin adds]

Given my stance on 'prose with interesting line breaks' masquerading as
poetry, I thought I'd explain my decision to run today's piece. As Flavia
says, that this is not, superficially, a 'poem, but neither is it prose -
as a documentary voiceover, it belongs to a different genre altogether, one
that comes close to drama, but does not coincide with it. And while not
written as a poem, today's text was definitely written with poetic intent,
and, indeed, adheres to many of the conventions of poetry - the richly
connotative language, the dense imagery, the use of verbal effects like
repetition for emphasis that go far beyond the limits of their usage in
prose, and even pointmaking wordplay like "And poor land makes poor
people./ Poor people make poor land."

Furthermore, I think voiceovers share a very important element with poetry -
the strong role of time as an integral element. Today's script is paced as
finely, and as effectively as any poem I've read - the rhythms of speech, of
image and of story are all woven into a tapestry upon which the narrative is
embroidered with precise control. Maybe not a "poem", but definitely poetry.



  Some more facts, a extract from the poem as well as a related article
  named "Saving the Good Earth: The Mississippi Valley Committee and Its
  Plan" can be found at:

  Nicely formatted html copy of the script:


Out of Danger -- James Fenton

Guest poem sent in by Linda Fernley
(Poem #1423) Out of Danger
 Heart be kind and sign the release
 As the trees their loss approve.
 Learn as leaves must learn to fall
 Out of danger, out of love.

 What belongs to frost and thaw
 Sullen winter will not harm.
 What belongs to wind and rain
 Is out of danger from the storm.

 Jealous passion, cruel need
 Betray the heart they feed upon.
 But what belongs to earth and death
 Is out of danger from the sun.

 I was cruel, I was wrong -
 Hard to say and hard to know.
 You do not belong to me.
 You are out of danger now -

 Out of danger from the wind,
 Out of danger from the wave,
 Out of danger from the heart
 Falling, falling out of love.
-- James Fenton
I really liked 'The Ideal' (Poem #1380) and it reminded me of another Fenton I
read several years ago from his Out of Danger collection. So poignant in its
simplicity, it will strike a chord with anyone who's ever fallen out of love -
a strange combination of sadness and relief.


My Library -- Lucy Maud Montgomery

Guest poem sent in by Jeffrey Sean Huo
(Poem #1422) My Library
 It is small and dim and shabby -- just one old, low-corniced room,
 With the plaster stained and broken and the corners lost in gloom:
 And one square, uncurtained window, where a sea-born sunset shines
 In a glow of chastened splendor though grand cathedral pines.
 But 'tis dear and sacred to me, plain and dusky tho' it be,
 For the best of friends and comrades hither come to meet with me.
 And I welcome them right gladly when the lingering daylight falls
 On the old, familiar faces of my books along the walls.

 Matchless tales of lands far distant; ballads of an olden day,
 Full of fire and faith and fervor that no time can steal away:
 Songs of many gracious poets: rare old essays richly blent
 With the legendary lore of orient and occident:
 Tales of wonderful adventures in the merry years of yore,
 And of half-forgotten battles lost and won by sea and shore;
 Classic myth and stately epic, born of earth-old joy or pain --
 All the centuries have left us, I may gather here again.

 Here with hosts of friends I revel who can never change or chill;
 Though the fleeting years and seasons they are fair and faithful still!
 Kings and courtiers, knights and jesters, belles and beaux of far away,
 Meet and mingle with the beauties and the heroes of to-day.
 All the lore of ancient sages, all the light of souls divine,
 All the music, wit and wisdom of the gray old world is mine,
 Garnered here where fall the shadows of the mystic pineland's gloom!
 And I sway an airy kingdom from my little book-lined room.
-- Lucy Maud Montgomery
Lucy Maud Montgomery is most famous for the book 'Anne of Green Gables' and
subsequent novels; but in her lifetime she also wrote hundreds of poems, of
which "My Library" is one.  I think, in three heartfelt verses, Montgomery
captures wonderfully the affection and passion that all who call ourselves
lovers of books and stories know.


[Martin adds]

I am reminded, too, of Guest's "Story Time" [Poem #733], with its similar
"there is no frigate like a book"[1] theme. What sparkles through in both
poems is the appeal not just to the imagery but to the language of the old,
familiar tales - the "legendary lore of occident and orient", the "shadows
of the mystic pineland's gloom" would appear affected elsewhere, but are not
only accepted but positively demanded in the books to which the speaker
refers. The license to use them here comes not just from the poem, but from
its subject matter.

[1] and I note we've not run that one yet!

the trash can -- Charles Bukowski

Winding up the computer poetry theme, here's a poem suggested by
Salima Virani
(Poem #1421) the trash can
 this is great, I just wrote two
 poems I didn't like.

 there is a trash can on this
 I just moved the poems
 and dropped them into
 the trash can.

 they're gone forever, no
 paper, no sound, no
 fury, no placenta
 and then
 just a clean screen
 awaits you.

 it's always better
 to reject yourself before
 the editors do.

 especially on a rainy
 night like this with
 bad music on the radio.

 and now--
 I know what you're
 maybe he should have
 trashed this
 misbegotten one

 ha, ha, ha,
-- Charles Bukowski
        (From Betting on the Muse - Poems and Stories
         Black Sparrow Press, 1996.)

I know we've just had a poem by Bukowski, but I was specifically on the
lookout for something on the role of computers in the creative process, and
when Salima sent me today's wonderful little piece, I knew I had to run it.
The light, perfectly balanced verse captures very well, the fluidity, almost
I could say the liberation, that the computer affords the wordsmith -
nothing is permanent unless you want it to be[1], erasing a word, a line, an
entire poem is no harder than a click of a button.

Words on paper have a definite inertia to them - the crossed out lines track
their way indelibly across the sheet, a visible and increasingly messy
record of a work's revision history. Contrast the aesthetic freedom of

         paper, no sound, no
         fury, no placenta
         and then
         just a clean screen
         awaits you.

And the poem itself definitely reflects that freedom, the lines pouring
forth with careless abandon until they reach a hilariously antipoetic
conclusion that made me laugh out loud. A fitting ending to the theme, I
think. Ha, ha, ha. Ha.


[1] or sometimes, tragically, even if you do - see Poem #1420 :)

Hemingway Never Did This -- Charles Bukowski

Guest poem sent in by John K. Taber , who writes:
(Poem #1420) Hemingway Never Did This
 I read that he lost a suitcase full of manuscripts on a
 train and that they never were recovered.
 I can't match the agony of this
 but the other night I wrote a 3-page poem
 upon this computer
 and through my lack of diligence and
 and by playing around with commands
 on the menu
 I somehow managed to erase the poem
 believe me, such a thing is difficult to do
 even for a novice
 but I somehow managed to do

 now I don't think this 3-pager was immortal
 but there were some crazy wild lines,
 now gone forever.
 it bothers more than a touch, it's some-
 thing like knocking over a good bottle of

 and writing about it hardly makes a good
 still, I thought somehow you'd like to

 if not, at least you've read this far
 and there could be better work
 down the line.

 let's hope so, for your sake
-- Charles Bukowski
Let's not quibble with Buk, and tell him about unerase commands, ok? The
point is, the matter of fact use of the computer in a poem.

I've been interested for years now in poems that incorporate the computer.
Contemporary poets don't usually condemn the machine, as liberal arts people
did when I was a student. Machines have stopped being Blake's "dark, Satanic
mills" and are accepted as part of the landscape. Once in a while, even,
machines are accepted too enthusiastically.

There was another I recall, can't remember the poet, but it went something
like "Green be thy screen!" It was the poet's gratitude for the convenience
of the computer for her in writing poems. Again, as Martin observed, some of
these poems quickly date. I'm old enough that green screens are strongly in
my memory, but I daresay many readers today have never seen a monochrome

There is Brautigan's "Machines of Amazing Grace." I didn't cotton to his
poem because for me there is something chilling about benevolent machines
watching over me. [I didn't cotton to it either, mostly because it did
nothing for me, and because I can only take Brautigan in very short poems -

Still, there is a bunch of poems, enough I think to make an anthology.

John K. Taber

[Martin adds]

The thing I noticed about today's poem is that it is, in a sense, the mirror
image of the Jonas piece [Poem #1418] that introduced the theme.  Whereas
Jonas treated computers as a metaphor, using them as a poetic device to
illumine the age-old themes of love and loss, in Bukowski's poem the
computer is the *subject* of the work, a mundane fact of life that is in
turn illumined by the poem's metaphors. And, of course, an occurrence that
most readers can empathise with :)

Incidentally, while I was googling Bukowski (with whom I was unfamiliar), I
came across the following gem:

  some people never go crazy.
  what truly horrible lives
  they must lead.
     -- Charles Bukowski

Apropos of nothing - I just wanted to share it.



  Biography (a trifle clumsily written, but detailed, and with several links
  after it):

  A nice Bukowski site: