New work up – Psalms and Piyyutim

I’m starting to upload a new section of work – more psalms about assorted subjects from my daily life, and piyyutim, or prayer poems. The latter are, so far, a genre I’m calling “collages,” poems created by weaving together words from many different poets to create one piece that is a kind of dialogue about a topic between writers of very different eras and languages. I have two of these so far, one with ocean images, and one with river images (I’m a Pisces, whaddya want from me??). I plan to have more over the next few months.

For reasons unknown, I can’t get wordpress to make a new tab for this section at the top of my home page, so you can find it here:Psalms and Piyyutim

Rumi on writing poetry

Listen to presences inside poems,
Let them take you where they will.

Follow those private hints,
and never leave the premises.


This is how it always is
when I finish a poem.

A great silence overcomes me,
and I wonder why I ever thought
to use language


from The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks

Machado Last night I had a dream / has my heart gone to sleep?


15 Last Night I Had a Dream Antonio Machado Last night I had a dream-- a blessed illusion it was-- I dreamt of a fountain flowing deep down in my heart. Water, by what hidden channels have you come, tell me, to me, welling up with new life I never tasted before? Last night I had a dream-- a blessed illusion it was-- I dreamt of a hive at work deep down in my heart. Within were the golden bees straining out the bitter past to make sweet-tasting honey, and white honeycomb. Last night I had a dream-- a blessed illusion it was-- I dreamt of a hot sun shining deep down in my heart. The heat was in the scorching as from a fiery hearth; the sun in the light it shed and the tears it brought to the eyes. Last night I had a dream-- a blessed illusion it was-- I dreamed it was God I’d found deep down in my heart. 16 Has my heart gone to sleep? Has my heart gone to sleep? Have the beehives of my dreams stopped working, the waterwheel of the mind run dry, scoops turning empty, only shadow inside? No, my heart is not asleep. It is awake, wide awake. Not asleep, not dreaming-- its eyes are opened wide watching distant signals, listening on the rim of the vast silence.

both from Selected Poems translated by Alan Trueblood

more on grammarians and libertines

from Alan Trueblood’s introduction to his translation of Selected Poems of Antonio Machado

“In my view, translators cannot be divided, as they often are, into two bands: the academic and the creative. This book is, among other things, an attempt to close a supposed gap.”

“Translation, as disciplined re-creation, cannot but sharpen one’s perceptions of the many-faceted creative activity that has preceded it. […]I have sought to give Machado’s voice an English embodiment without surrendering too much of its Spanish timbre. My aim, like that of most literary translators, has been to enlarge the experience of poetry open to English-speaking readers by unblocking one more current of expression originating outside their traditional domain.”

Afroditi of the Flowers at Knossos


Leave Kriti and come here to this holy
temple with your graceful grove
of apple trees and altars smoking
with frankincense.

Icy water babbles through apple branches
and roses leave shadow on the ground
and bright shaking leaves pour down
profound sleep.

Here is a meadow where horses graze
amid wild blossoms of the spring and soft winds
blow aroma

of honey. Afroditi, take the nectar
and delicately pour it into gold
wine cups and mingle joy with
our celebration.

Varieties of Ecstasy

again, from Barnstone’s intro to his Sappho translations, all things for me to consider as I’m writing blessings.

“The fragments of Sappho’s poems contain the first Western examples of ecstasy, including the sublime, which the first-century Longinos recognized and preserved for us. They also include varieties of ekstasis briefly alluded to in these pages: the bliss of Edenic companionship, dancing under the moon, breakfasts in the grass; the whirlwind blast of love; the desolation and rage of betrayal; the seizure and paralysis before impossible love; and as all her ordinary senses fail, the movement near death–the ultimate negative ecstasy.

considering love poetry

I’ve never been able to stand most love poetry (or most love songs, for that matter). Too much is just trite, too much is just sappy and pathetic (including, sadly, too much of my own!), and some of it is just outright creepy, predatory, and violent. I once had a male lover who held my waist-long hair around my neck and quoted a Browning poem about a man strangling his mistress. I wasn’t being strangled, or seriously threatened, but still — umm, ick, and I got rid of the hair and the male lovers not so long after that.

Anyway, now that I’m thinking about poetry pretty much all the time. Recently a lot of that focus on has been on Sappho, in case you’d not noticed in recent postings. I’m loving Willis Barnstone’s translation, and in particular his incredibly thoughtful introduction. (I’m sure the notes are great too, but generally more than I need to know as a poetic, not linguistic, reader). He has a passionate defense for reading her love poems as openly sexual and lesbian, with a great review of how attempts to hide this have distorted our understanding of her and of poetry in general. In the midst of that, though, he says this:

(Much of the world’s love poetry is homoerotic, and in ancient Greek poetry, the majority of love poems by known male poets, from Ibykos to Pindar, are addressed to other men)

Which has left me wondering about the connection between this and love poems in general. If so many of the models held up to us as “great love poems” have always been homoerotic/gay male homosexual, is it any wonder that so much of it feels completely inauthentic to me as a woman? For heterosexual men writing, at least in theory, to women, how have these models confined and defined their emotional reality? And how many love poems have ever been to an actual person and not to some muse, some unrequited passion viewed from a distance as perfection incarnate, some ideal of a lover utterly separate from the messy reality we are all as humans?

What would an authentic heterosexual love poetry be? Lesbian love poetry, allowed to develop outside of the models foisted on us? I’m really curious now about contemporary gay male love poetry, written from within a time and place where “gay” is a social identity, not just a sexual identity within a different social role.

For right now, I’m sitting with one small fragment of a fragment of Psapfo’s writing, a bit that may well be my next literary tattoo:

for praying
this word:
I want