Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

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I keep thinking about this poem, today. Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, read it in one of my favorite movies, Dead Poets Society.

I also keep thinking about all of the great artists we’ve lost recently. Writers and actors. Some to depression, some not. All huge losses that have left a profound silence behind.

I’ve explored the relationship between the artist and depression a few times in my blog postings (The Creative Soul and Depression, What Music is Supposed to Do, and With a Little Help from my Friends), trying to better understand this disease that seems more prevalent among our creative communities. I’ve struggled with depression and I know many other writers who’ve voiced the same struggle.

This year, depression left its mark on some loved ones very close and very dear to me. The only thing I know to do for them is to listen.

And listen some more.

Maybe throw in a few dozen hugs just for the hell of it. Anything to tell them that I know this sucks, that I love them, appreciate them, and that I’m in this with them for the long haul. I hope if you’re struggling with depression that you find someone to listen to you. Please don’t stop until you do.

I leave you with the words of Walt Whitman, which, if you’re anything like me, you’ll hear in your head read in the voice of  John Keating.

O Captain, my Captain! We will all miss you, dearly.

O Me! O Life!

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I,

            and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle

             ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and the sordid crowds I see

            around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me inter-

           twined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring – What good amid these, O me,

             O life?

                                                  Answer

That you were here – that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

- Walt Whitman

The Academy of American Poets have declared April National Poetry Month, so I’m here to share my latest poetry read with you. Also, a reminder that April 24th is  Poem in Your Pocket Day where poetry fans throughout the United States select a poem, carry it with them, and share it. Join it the fun by tweeting about your poem of choice on Twitter this year at #pocketpoem.

OKLAHOMA POEMS… AND THEIR POETS
edited by Nathan Brown

I met Nathan Brown, the current Oklahoma Poet Laureate, and editor of this anthology, during a summer course I took from the University of Oklahoma that was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a few years ago. I actually wrote about meeting him here. Nathan put together this fantastic book of poems about Oklahoma by some well-known poets from Oklahoma to give readers a taste of what Oklahoma is like, in all its many subtle forms. And what an amazing job he did.

(Not to play favorites, but our own Anna Myers has a talented son who writes poetry. Ben Myers contributes a poem entitled “Deep Fork”. Ben is a phenomenal poet whose work I’ve reviewed right here on this blog and if you haven’t read his books you must go out a procure them now or you’ll regret it deep in your soul forever. Okay, maybe playing a little favorites.)

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An anthology edited by Nathan Brown, the 2013 – 2014 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma. It includes poems “about” Oklahoma that are written by natives, ex-pats, and visitors alike. These poems are an honest, and sometimes raw, look at the state’s past and present by way of three chapters titled: People, Places, and Odds & Ends. Among the poets represented are Pulitzer winners Stephen Dunn and N. Scott Momaday, as well as Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo, George Bilgere, Ron Padgett, and many others.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)

As someone who has always felt like an outsider, one who could not easily identify with a particular group comfortably, I’ve struggled to place myself somewhere – to understand where I come from.

What are my roots? Who are my people?

I’ve always thought of myself as some homogenized American mutt, with no special culture to speak of – a slice of white bread in a world of whole grain artisan loaves.

Void of nutritional value.

Tasteless.

Boring.

Strangely, this poetry collection helped me see glimpses of my childhood, reminding me of things I’d forgotten through its portrayals of rural life, the deep connection to the land and weather, the sense of community when tragedy strikes, and even the naked bigotry and oppression portrayed in some poems. These are some of the forces that molded me. This is where I come from. I am pieces of all of them, in some ways – the good and the bad. These are my people.

Here is an example of one the poems that sparked a sense of nostalgia for me. A short, but brilliant poem by Joey Brown

 

MERIDIAN, OKLAHOMA

Three boys wake up in a town that’s not really

a town, weighted down by the early morning

summer, and breathe sour sulphur from the refinery

that clanks and churns or whatever refineries do

to make someone some little bit of money.

It’s not them, not their house, so what do they care

but for the nagging smell.

Three boys pump their bicycles on the highway

past the yard of rusted-up drill bits. You’d be afraid

for them were this a highway anywhere else. In the

convenience store they take two Cokes and an

orange Fanta from the lay-down cooler. They like the

pop & sigh the bottle opener makes. When the door

opens again, the air conditioner pleads.

Three boys wait in the parking lot but don’t know

they’re waiting. Sit astride the bikes, bottles clinking

here and there, don’t speak. They stare at the white

day reflecting off the school across the road,

blistering their eyes. You just know they don’t

imagine the size of it all. They can’t. One of them

keeps firecrackers leftover in his pocket.

 

Just a simple summer afternoon in a small town, but holy cow, did this light up my brain with a flood of memories and sensory images!

How had I forgotten that we used to live two doors down from a small fire station? In the summer time, we would always go over there and bug the crap out of hang out with the firefighters. Not really for very long, just to say ‘hi’ and snag a super frosty Coke or orange Crush from their lay-down cooler, just like in this poem. It only cost a quarter and it was so cool to get pop in a bottle.

And we would ride our bikes everywhere. All over town, on busy streets, from sun up to sun down. On the best days, we’d end up at Champlain Pool. We’d swim all day – jumping off the high dive and dreading adult swim. Ah! Some of my best summer memories. All uncorked by a simple poem.

And there is a fantastic poem by George Bilgere entitled “Cordell”, that I truly love, and not just because the title has a familial connection for me. It’s all about a first solo road trip on a grasshopper green motorcycle. It’s a little long to share the whole thing here, but I encourage you to find it and read it. Well worth the search.

Here’s just a few lines to give you a taste:

For the first time

I pondered the venous skin

of a map and chartered a route from Burns Flat

to Cordell, a little town

on the Oklahoma plains. The day

was sparkling and unrehearsed, the air

cool in the morning, and for the first time

I went out on the public roads alone,

despite having no license, the world

for the first time passing by in a rush

at the tips of my handlebars,

a pick-up passing now and then,

the farmer inside raising the index finger

of his left hand precisely

one inch above the wheel, a man

greeting me as a man

for the first time,

 

It goes on and on and I could just drink it up like a cool glass of iced tea.

How that poem brought me back to the day I got my driver’s license and the freedom that was now mine. And all the crazy adventures I had with my friends out on the open road. When you’re from a small town, sometimes there’s nothing to do but pile into your car with your friends and drive. Sometimes you end up at the lake, sometimes you end up at a keg party in a wheat field, and sometimes you just end up in trouble.

Best not tell about that last one.

There are several poems that talk of the land and weather where you can almost smell rain in the air right before a good thunderstorm.

Here’s beautiful one by N. Scott Momaday.

 

 THE LAND

The first people to enter upon it

Must have given it a name, wind-borne

      and elemental,

Like summer rain.

The name must have given spirit to the land,

For so it is with names.

Before the first people there must have been

The profound isolation of night and day,

The blazing shield of the sun,

The darkness winnowed from the stars -

The holy havoc of myth and origin,

True and prophetic, and inexorable,

Like summer rain.

What was to become of the land?

What was the land to become?

What was there in the land to define

The falling of the rain and the turning of the seasons,

The far and forever silence of the universe?

A voice, a name,

Words echoing the whir of wings

Swelled among the clouds

And sounded on the red earth in the wake

      of creation.

A voice. A name.

Oklahoma.

 

Just gorgeous imagery.

I always learn so much from reading poetry. This book brought me closer to home than I realized I needed to go. It’s a well-chosen collection, diverse in topic and voice and all very, truly Oklahoma. I hope you’ll take the time to read it yourself.

One more great thing about this book is that the proceeds benefit the Oklahoma Humanities Council.

Learn more about Nathan Brown here.

Follow Nathan on Facebook here.

To further my education and to expand my literary horizons, I have made it a point to add a good dose of poetry into my reading schedule every year. I don’t pretend to be an expert in poetry; I know nothing of rhyme and meter. I do know what sounds gorgeous to my ear, and what offends it. I tend to like a poet’s work because it moves me, period. I especially love reading local poets from right here in Oklahoma. Benjamin Myers holds a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf not only because he’s the uber-talented son of my friend and fellow writer, Anna Myers, but because his poetry is just plain beautiful.

lapse americanaHis latest book of poetry, Lapse Americana, feels like a slice of home, and it’s just as rich with the flavors of his native Oklahoma as his first book, Elegy for Trains. Whether he’s exploring the emotional depth of the gravediggers in “A Production of Hamlet” or the meaning and significance of nothing in “None of This” or the meaning of everything in “The Tardy Ones”, his writing is effortless and evocative.

Brief description of Lapse Americana:

The twin ravens, Thought and Memory, of Norse myth are reborn as American crows to fly an interweaving pattern or remembering and forgetting through the pages of Lapse Americana. Born out of the poet’s childhood during the Pax Americana and situated within the war and economic lapse of the new century, these poems explore memory and amnesia, faith and doubt, presence and absence. They are rooted in rural, working class experience as well as in the poetic traditions of America, Europe, and China. By turns formal and jazzy, confessional and coy, these poems speak of the universal by focusing on the particular, insisting with simultaneous emphasis upon the value of remembering and of embracing forgetfulness. (Book description from publisher’s website.)

Here’s one from Lapse Americana that aptly describes some of our tumultuous spring weather, one to which many who live here can readily relate :

Tornado

Toward evening the clouds began

circling each other like dogs.

A light like the golden skin

of the sun itself fell

steady as rain before rain

and puddled between round bales

uncollected in the pasture.

.

Then the utility poles

were a row of broken teeth

up the highway to town,

.

and once again

the ordinary light.

The way he describes the light before a storm is just fantastic. Here’s another one of my favorite poems:

 

Talking to My Racist Friend

I read somewhere that all the sunlight

smacking the earth

at any moment

weighs as much

as a cruise ship,

.

which makes me

wonder

how much the darkness

in this conversation

with you

must weigh:

.

Eight semis stacked in a pyramid

and balanced on a teacup?

The Empire State Building

sopping wet?

All the dirt in Oklahoma?

.

Or maybe a cruise ship

of its own,

with doe-eyed passengers

waving

dumbly from the deck

as they sail obliviously off

to kiss the sullen iceberg.

Amazing, right? I know you’ll want to read more. To order this book, visit the New York Quarterly Books website here. To learn more about Benjamin Myers, visit his page on NYQ here. You can also visit his blog here.

I lost one of my mother figures recently and it has been a slow process of mourning to regain my footing. I say one of my mother figures because my own mother isn’t in the picture; I need as many positive mother figures in my life to fill that vast and empty void as I can get. One is now missing and it has thrown my planets out of alignment. Everything is still rotating and revolving in my universe, just more wobbly than normal, trying to compensate for the hole, the empty space.

I promise to get back to regular posting soon, but for now I leave you with a poem that breaks my heart every time I read it.

There Are Four Wounds, Miguel

by E.A. Mares

The sand hill cranes rise, wheel

and turn above the Rio Grande. Their wings

flash in the sun and their wavering V

floats north and then is gone.

There is a fourth wound, Miguel,

the silence these birds leave in their wake.

The tree house in my father’s cottonwood

warps into something like a photograph

left too long in the sun.

all children having grown and gone.

There is a fourth wound, Miguel,

the silence of the tree house planks.

Once I saw a guitar burnt and blackened by fire.

The strings were gone, the bridge destroyed,

the neck and body only dark shadows.

There is a fourth wound, Miguel,

a silence where once there was music.

One by one the days slip into history,

and where there was a voice

there are only documents, evidence

that my daughter once walked this land.

Now she leaves footprints only in memory.

There are fours wounds, Miguel,

the wound of life,

the wound of love,

the wound of death,

the wound of silence.

I was inspired by a couple of thought-provoking books of poetry I read this past week by fellow Oklahoma writer Nathan Brown and wanted to share them with you. I met Nathan Brown a few years ago while taking a summer extension course through the University of Oklahoma that was set in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a week long immersion course in the culture and writing of the Southwest. It was taught by Robert Con Davis-Undiano; Nathan was there helping teach the course. For the class, I was introduced to writers completely new to me like Rudolpho Anaya who wrote Bless Me Ultima and Elena Avila who wrote Woman Who Glows in the Dark and to E.A. (Tony) Mares who wrote the most amazing book of poetry With the Eyes of a Raptor after the death of his daughter that I found so moving I couldn’t stop gushing about it even when he was right there in front of our class. That’s right; our group was the only one that had to do their presentation in front of the actual author.

No pressure there.

Tony, as we were told to call him, was very generous with his critique of our presentation. We also had the pleasure of his company at dinner later that evening where we heard him read his own work. He did a much better job than we did. Not every day was spent in the classroom, we also went to museums, ate fantastic local food, and watched a great flamenco performance. I loved every minute of it.

I stumbled across Nathan’s website this past year and remembered that he wrote poetry, too. He’d read something of his during our week in Santa Fe. I got in touch with him and found out how to purchase his books. The first one I read, Not Exactly Job, is a sometimes irreverent but always sincere response to the Old Testament book of Job. From the preface of the book, Nathan says, “The very form and lyrical essence of the Book of Job is poetry. And this fact…this problem…lies at the core of the difficulties I’ve had over the years with conservative theology when it comes to the nature of interpretation. Poetry is, and has always been, ‘something else’ – a ‘something else’ that is filled with metaphor, idiom, double meaning, and hidden intent. To look at it literally…destroys it.”

After an intro like that, I had to read on. Here’s one of my favorite passages from Not Exactly Job:

This…Thing

But where can wisdom be found?                              28:12

Where does understanding dwell?

That is the question…so much more so

than “To be…or not to be…”

Shakespeare missed other things as well.

But this -wisdom and understanding-

what Solomon prayed for over riches

and fame-what I prayed for,

because of Solomon, and am now

paying the price-this…thing

that Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin

were murdered for possessing-

this…thing we are told to seek, yet

when we do, it seldom brings peace-

the best among us…often…going

slowly insane from the incessant

rumble of its quiet thunder.                                        28:13-15

Heavy, heady stuff. And yet, haven’t we all had thoughts like this before? Maybe just me…

The second book, Suffer the Little Voices (which was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award in 2006), is a little darker.  We find our poet searching for answers and asking some tough questions, showing doubt in things he was raised to believe in, not afraid to say that he doesn’t know the answers himself. I found myself echoing many of those same doubts and questions. I have a very vivid memory of sitting in the front pew of my church with the rest of my youth group – something I started us doing after hearing someone complain that we always sat in the back and never paid attention; I was a rebel even in church. I was looking around at the congregation one Sunday as we were all just vacantly repeating words back to the minister like autobots that should have been – in my opinion – shouted out with feeling and deep emotion. A big hairy doubt monster began to grow in my brain that day. I wondered what in the hell we were doing. What did all of this mindless rhetoric mean if no one was really paying attention? I started contemplating even scarier questions that I really didn’t know the answers to, that I was afraid to even say out loud.

Nathan Brown’s not afraid to ask those questions or let us peak into his imperfect thoughts. That is something I love about poetry. It can tap into the heart of any issue, get right down into the truth of the emotions, no matter how unpretty they may be. Real emotions make for great writing. We can all learn something from the poets.

Here is one of my favorite passages from Suffer the Little Voices:

Broken

I’ll write from the bottom,

stack letters and words-

maybe even enough punctuation-

around my feet at the base

of this dry well-

stepping up a layer at a time-

until piles of broken literature

raise my head to the surface.

There’s little light down here.

but I only need a little-

enough to be able to read

the piles of broken literature

written by others.

To see how they got out-

what they did when they

got back to the surface.

Have you ever had moments of doubt? Lost faith in something you believed in? Is this something you can use in your writing?