NaPoMo 7 – Wind

Click here to see this poem with the proper lines and spacing Wind


The long and winding road
winding winds all the way to
unwind all the way to
winds blow, blow winds blow
      ye merry lassies
      get your brooms get ‘em out
      we’ll ride the wind tonight

Ride the windup
ride the winding wind
all the way to
unwind rewind dewind     upwind of
the Salem      downwind of
Three Mile Island      the wind here
will be toxic no matter

which way it winds      wind, wind, windup
this great global clock, winddown
the revving of a billion engines winding up to
pillage ten billion acres, poison black sludge winding
down to the river to the sea where winding winds blow
it all the way to me

where I’ll close the window against the wind,
wind my way down the stairs to watch the weather
channel and wonder whether today I am downwind
or upwind of the poisons riding their winding winds

Winding wind, blow me blow me blow me away
         away ye merry lassies
         get your brooms get’em out
         we’ll rind the wind tonight

NaPoMo April 7 – notes toward a poem

and by “notes toward” I mean the ideas that may underlie a poem someday. I used to write just like this—have a deep-something-to-say, write it in short lines with rich language and be done. But that’s like scribbling some lyrics and claiming to have a song!

But poem-a-day is a difficult pace and often means “poem first draft a day.” Today’s poem first draft is historically based: on this date in 1927, the first city-to-city television broadcast occurred. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover was in DC and his audience was in New York. After some moments of Profound Blather about the greatness of this tool, the real entertainment came on—a comedian in blackface. I think that the music of this poem wants to be a sonnet. Its got bits of rhythm going, and the internal turns and twists of a sonnet. We’ll see.

the transmission of sight, for the first time in the world’s history
(Herbert Hoover, opening statement of the first city-to-city television broadcast)

Proudly announced on the first television broadcast, D.C. to NYC
Directly after: a comedian in blackface
And so it goes
And so it’s gone ever since, blackface, womanface, childface,
redneck face, youcantrustmeface, with the transmission of sight
masks glued on, a new way to profit from prejudice so now
my country’s vicious idiocy can be spread
as capitalist-gospel truth
How I’d like to pretend language rises above that fray but
what language rises higher than billboards or blimps?
We make a new way to communicate, we make a new way to lie,
telling you a story and selling you a story just sweet
phonemic first cousins, truth a matter of road to hell,
good intentions, how arrogant we poets can be, complacently believing
we are somehow different from tv

consider what must be happening when we set out to produce a poem

There are no more two distinct brain sides than there are two distinct genders. Why would that surprise anyone who’s ever created anything?

from “A Moment’s Thought” by Ellen Bryant Voigt in her excellent collection The Flexible Lyric

The recent bicameral (and thoroughly Nietzschean) model—right brain for intuition, emotion, art, and music; left brain for logic, rational thought, and language—is already outdated; such neat divisions were never verified except in pathology. In its place has come the concept of “modularity,” of a lifetime of data not stored on labeled shelves in the closet but processed multiply by distinct networks of differing functions: this very sentence as you read it is dismantled by your brain into its component parts—one set of ganglions taking care of the nouns, another the verbs; another flashing up your own shelf, in your own closet at home, from the image depot; a separate hardwired board parsing out the syntax you may have been born to; the brain’s musicians tuning up to the lexical and syntactical repetitions I’m using; and a brand new neural pathway extending itself like algae shot with Rapid-Gro to accommodate this new word “modularity” and its baggage, “modules” and “modern” and “insularity” and “modular housing” and even, from the rhyming crew, “nodules,’ even “noodles.” Thought, it seems, is not the linear storage and retrieval system we know from computers. [So] consider what must be happening when we set out to produce a poem, a complex construct made from intuition, observation, experience, erudition, music, memory, and feeling—what Coleridge called “the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, motions, language.”

The Language Issue – Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill

The Language Issue
Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill
translated by Paul Muldoon

I place my hope on the water
in this little boat
of the language, the way a body might put
an infant

in a basket of intertwined
iris leaves,
its underside proofed
with bitumen and pitch,

then set the whole thing down amidst
the sedge
and bulrushes by the edge
of a river

only to have it borne hither and thither,
not knowing where it might end up;
in the lap, perhaps,
of some Pharaoh’s daughter.

Blackberry Eating

Blackberry Eating
by Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched, or broughamed
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry eating in late September.

On adjectives

a continuation of my poetic love affair with Ellen Bryant Voigt

and because it makes me think, hard, about how language works

Nouns are the strongest parts of speech; without nouns, there is no poem, maybe no language: if language points to or names, then the nomen is language. The noun is the source of the image—a verb needs an agent. Nouns collapse the distance between language and the external world, and carry tremendous syntactical power.

Adjectives, on the other hand, can be weak, dispensable, hollow or predictable. If you consider an apple, are not all the usual adjectives assigned to already part of your image? Red (maybe yellow), crisp, sweet, tart, juicy—listing these adds nothing to our understanding of apple-ness. Discussing Robert Haas’s “Meditation at Lagunitas,” Voigt explains:

After all, “tender” is more amorphous than tenderness, “thirsty” less commanding than thirst, wonder more solemn and convincing that “wonderful,” despair a good deal more respectable than “desperate.” The debasement of adjectives is more widespread now than at the turn of the century, their descriptive prowess weakened by the direct image of photography, film, and television, their value judgments grown suspect in the sake of advertising’s unsupported claims. Anything, it would seem, can be GREAT! WONDERFUL! SPLENDID! if we say it is, whereas most people probably still wish to believe that “greatness,” “wonder,” and “splendor” have some objective standards, some specific denotations, even if we can’t agree on what they are.

But adjectives can be much more than this, can define more than they describe. Because adjectives can be subjective, not fixed, they can become vital to a poem’s tone and meaning. The lyric, in particular, needs adjectives, just as discursive poems need nouns and narrative poems need verbs. From Plath’s “Ariel,” for example, come these: substanceless blue, brown arc, dark hooks, black sweet blood mouthfuls, red eye. This list alone is the feeling, the tone, of the poem.

Adjectives can also reverse or alter the surface meaning of the poem. Voigt’s explanation of this, in a poem I love, is the string of three adjectives at the end of William Carlos Williams:

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

And which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Without that last sentence, there is no poem. In a brilliant arrogance, the final assertions—delicious/so sweet/and so cold—both justify and undercut “Forgive me.” Pleasure first, virtue second, oh surely you understand.

Adjectives can describe, they can limit, they can serve precision. They can contradict, correct, or amplify the possible meanings within the noun. More than that, adjectives restore the eye, and the “I,” to the poem: they supply tone, the context without which nouns can be imprecise, incomplete or misleading.

In short, adjectives not only annex precision and clarity, for more exact meaning, and add nuance and resonance, for evocation of emotion; in their amplifications of tone they acknowledge the poet’s subjective presence in the poem. […] Adjectives moderate between nominal fixity (the world’s facts) and mutability (change enacted on them); they strengthen the noun by adding response to fact, by limiting or expanding the noun, and by admitting into the poem the human sensibility that is apart from the world, thereby putting the yearning self in alignment with the world.


If music is both sound and feeling, then adjectives are a crucial source of music in our poems, meditative or narrative or lyric. […] Because of its subjective nature its presence in the poem is the hardest to earn; craft does not put it there so much as vision, intuition, temperament, perhaps even character.

new work – On finding a kindred spirit in Sappho, then

On finding a kindred spirit in Sappho, then knowing too much anthropology to trust my own instincts Elliott batTzedek I have had not one word from her Frankly I wish I was dead Sappho (Barnard translation) Times change cultures change languages change but the human heart remains the same. As if! As if we don’t foolishly scrawl our ignorance across everything we encounter: Kilroy was here to claim that he knows that you are just like him. As if the world weren’t bigger than big "Shakespeare in the bush" and all that etc etc etc Maybe it is only this foolishness that stays the same: a need for analogy soldered to an evolutionary tangle reading into what we can’t remotely understand a meaning to feed our own need— the need of our time our culture our language, our heart.

Notes on Paul Celan and translating

from a lecture on Saturday by Mihaela Moscaliuc

Paul Celan was a Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor whose family was killed as first the Soviets and then the Germans occupied his land. He grew up in what was then Romania, speaking German at home, later Russian and Romanian in school. His parents were deported in 1942, and later he was sent to a labor camp. After he was liberated from the camp, he ended up in Paris, trying to use writing to reflect the horror and the loss, and, I think, to save himself. He wrote poems still very highly regarded by critics, that have been translated in to many languages. But, like so many other survivors, the crushing weight of the violence was unbearable, and he eventually took his own life. Celan wrote in German, even though he spoke 8 languages, because it was, he said, the only language that he could write poetry in, but German haunted him at the same time.

All of which is background to what really interested me – the discussion about languages, history, trauma, and meaning. Mihaela described Celan’s German as “a language informed by history.” That is, Celan could not write in German without simultaneously knowing that his mother’s killers spoke to her in German before her murder. In Celan, she said, we have intra-lingual translation — two different Germans, the formal, literary German he learned as a child, and the traumatized German he wrote in as an adult, and that in profound ways these are different languages. Consequently, his poems are really tricky to translate, because he stretches and warps the language, trying to make meaning from the horror and emptiness. She described one critic who said of Celan, “words are inscribed into his poems like wounds.”

Words inscribed like wounds — this is such an accurate description of so many other writers, too. I’m thinking of Gloria Anzuldua, Sylvia Plath, some of Adrienne Rich, so many lesbian poets and so much writing about violence against women. And having to stretch and warp our own language because it cannot convey what has happened to us.

One of my poet cohorts, Monica, says of herself that English is her second language, but she hasn’t yet remembered her first. Which is the point of the saying, made trite as it became a t-shirt slogan, “I speak patriarchy, but it isn’t my mother tongue.”

I have only one language — what are the ways it can’t convey what my life has meant?

Celan had 8 languages, and still struggled with a horror too big for all of them.

This is where poetry is the revolution, because we shape language, and ride it when we can’t grasp it enough to shape it.

Paul Celan

Paul Celan

Notes on Dickinson, Poetry and Language

from our afternoon lecture by Anne Marie Macari

-language is hypothesis and experiment
-poetic language expands our boundaries
-metaphor is instinctual groping

Dickinson’s definition of “redemption” is those things that force us into immediate experience, to the embodied, physical realm

Dickinson would improvise for hours on the keyboard, and was a singer with perfect pitch — no surprise that her poems are strong musical compositions, with lines of harmony and dissonance, and cannot be understood aside from this. The rhythm, the pacing — you have to pay attention to these, for they can change and shape the “surface” meaning of the words.

In many of Dickinson’s poems, she casts herself as a rival to God as a creator (Surprised? That whole “lonely spinister of Amhearst” crap has so limited how most of us understand Emily)

The male critics who spend all their time searching for men in Dickinson’s life, limited by their assumption that some man somewhere has to be connected to such creative brilliance, have “Dickinson Envy,” Anne Marie says.

Dickinson has, in the words of one biographer exploring gender politics, “a power disembodied from its user.” Dickinson claims so much power in her poetic voice, challenging religion, god, men, but at the same time is distant from that power. No surprise, given when she lived. Rich’s essay on this in On Lies, Secrets and Silences comments that, in a masculine-assumptive world, “active willing and creation in women are forms of aggression.”

Anne Marie talked about the often astounding endings of Dickinson’s poems, lines that turn the poem, and often social order, inside out. She described these as “guillotine endings” — the poem has its head chopped off. Martin Espada, in a workshop, talked about creating poems where the last line automatically makes the eye bounce back to the beginning to start over. That made total sense to me, but the endings that crack open the world also appeal to me – such different ideas, such different poems.

A Dickinson poem I didn’t know:

I reason, Earth is short-
and Anguish- absolute-
And many hurt,
But, what of that?

I reason, we could die-
The best Vitality
Cannot excel Decay,
But, what of that?

I reason, that in Heaven-
Somehow, it will be even-
Some new Equation, given-
But, what of that?

Anne Marie Macari

Anne Marie Macari