POET GOES TO WOODS

Walk In The Woods Paintings | Fine Art America

The poet will ask the creatures of the wood:

“Do you love her?” and their answers

will be more proof that poems

need not be written. “But do you love her?”

chirps the busy wren.

“Do I need to write this down?”

“That depends on too many things.”

“How shall I start my poem?”

Is your poem the kind of poem that sings?”

The poet cannot decide what form

his poem will take. The wren

has confused the poet again.

Poems exist because the woods are deep

and poets never finish conversations there.

The poet returns by the path along the river

catching burrs and petals in his long black hair.

HER GIFT

The Grave (poem) - Wikipedia

There is no way to give and receive

properly; this is the great dilemma facing all.

When I’m invited and I must pick

a gift I feel defeated and sick.

Any civil, obligated exchange

makes me feel insufficient and strange.

Life is our gift but life

was given for what reason? She kissed me

three times. If I kiss her back twice, my lack

will tire out excuses, but counting out three

will be very dull of me.

And if my response is to kiss her four

times this might lead

to weariness and need

and she might not kiss me anymore.

Giving involves so much anxiety

Person after person closes up.

I always find it odd

when people stop giving, yet God

allows lives to be plundered

even though they prayed, obeyed, and wondered.

Now that I have lived awhile,

Gifts resemble a superficial smile.

We must work so hard

for a gift of glass, a shard.

I wrote poems to her who did not write poetry

and it filled her with absence and jealousy.

Do I count myself misunderstood

if my gifts were greater than her good?

She represented something better

than my kiss, than my letter:

She was God’s face. When I gave,

I filled with poems my own grave.

She received my poems with her eye

and then on my birthday

she did something sly—

she sent me a photo of flowers

she picked and arranged;

the picture of her bouquet

was a poem I could never throw away,

flowers I could never smell or touch.

A gift lasts forever

or isn’t very much.

She had figured out the gift to give

which duplicated mine.

I’m an idiot (who lost her). Her gift was a secret sign

she was more intelligent than I was; she was more divine.

Her gift was the best, but I failed to see

I’m a pitiful poet and should give up rivalry.

JUPITER

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Fly Me To The Moon / Various - Amazon.com Music

In that famous Frank Sinatra song
a dactylic is required, and “Jupiter” is pretty strong.
Poetry, I love you, because pop songs can be wrong.

“Yesterday” was the only song
To ditch “scrambled eggs” and come out really strong.
Poetry, I love you, because pop songs can be wrong.

There I was. Me and this dipthong.
Sounds were too important. I gave up on the song.
Poetry, I love you, because pop songs can be wrong.



IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE

KB, Author at

If you don’t believe in the divine,

all the better. It’s nothing like

what you think it is, anyway.

You don’t remember when you

glimpsed perfection; perfection

exists, but is never remembered.

Memory is for judgment and improvement,

a mere sorting mechanism for guards

and clerks or poets hurting for a word.

We cannot remember the divine.

Tasting but not tasting because the sweet

taste doesn’t stay. If you know what that’s like—

my divine hints might be working.

Pride, like memory, cannot know the divine.

Like the beauty you hate that someone else has

the divine beats down your pride. Sexuality

exists only because of the hidden deity

you kissed in a dream but do not remember.

The earthly things you worship

are laughed at by God. But once,

when we kissed, when we looked

at each other and were one,

I thought I saw Being lying

and heard the crying sun.

YOU RESENTED

Black And White Office Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

You resented their joy—

why were they happy-go-lucky

in the damn office?

In the workplace of missing dreams,

diets and cheap perfumes?

They had no reason to be happy

in those sterile rooms,

and following the long commute

and passwords failing, you certainly were not glad.

They say that love is mad,

but what of happiness where there should

be none? Isn’t that lunacy?

You stare at your computer handsomely

and think of what to do.

You darkly ponder their laughter.

You never realized

their joy was just for you.

THE MIND

Are we really sick? Yes. - by P.E. Moskowitz - Mental Hellth

The mind makes the involuntary sad.

We attempt to change things and fail.

Attempting to lose weight

we end up as big as a whale—

afloat in irreconcilable seas.

We decide at once to explore

why racists are happy.

We torture ourselves more and more.

We move around in the batter’s box

to break our slump

because that’s what Pete Rose

told us to do.

Because I am limited

I acted in a limited way,

didn’t you?

HURRICANE

Uttermost Accessories Vortex Modern Abstract Art 31317 - Yaletown Interiors  - Coquitlam, BC

When hurricanes kiss the northeast

in September, making New England

warmer than it’s supposed to be—

I love this, the way John Keats loved poetry.

Warmth and love, the refinement of verse,

these had no trouble finding my soul,

or did my soul already contain these?

It is like the wind, which is more,

and yet less, than air; do I breathe air

when whatever it is, is stopping there?

Breeze inside of breeze, as if

the weather already existed. A breeze

picks up from the south; we predict,

we predict, we predict.

We are not surprised. We are not surprised.

We are not surprised.

The hurricane makes sure our ears have no eyes.

COLLECTED POEMS OF DANIEL CHRISTOPHER RIFENBURGH REVIEWED

Isthmus: Dan Rifenburgh: 9780972943277: Amazon.com: Books

Paper Boats Collected Poems of Daniel Christopher Rifenburgh
Introduction by Richard Wilbur
Lazy Bayou Press 2021
Houston TX
166 pp

Reviewing is a perilous occupation. Reading a book in private, we can think anything we want, and most books are read in private.

Beyond selling books, the review is a reading of a book in public, for the public—and if the review is honest it should behave as if it were a reading in private. This is dangerous.

A private reading is an amateur reading—and amateurs tend to get into fights.

How much public does a book need? If a creed seeks converts, its book dies unless it is public.

The mother reads a book aloud to her child, but once the child can read, reading is mostly a private thing.

No particular book of poetry is read very much, anymore—and the poems which are read, Poe, Shakespeare, Rumi, are no longer reviewed.

Students have no choice but to be a public for a book in school—a book presumably there because it has merit.

The amateur occupation of reviewing books outside the university is a lost art.

The deck is stacked. Poetry is either in the university or professionally sold.

Reviewing is either puff, or not done at all.

When the amateur reviewer meets a book with fine poems, like Paper Boats, Collected Poems by Daniel Christopher Rifenburgh, the only thing to do is quote one before there’s any trouble:

“Skip Tracer” pg. 72:

It’s 11 a.m. and I know what
He’s doing.
He was late at a singles bar
Last night. The women were

Depressing, but the band was loud.
Anyway, the gin and tonic,
And, this morning, the head full of cotton.
At 9 he called my mother’s house

In Florida, pretending to be a friend.
At 10, my last employer, that sod
Who, firing me, earnestly
Recommended God.

At 10:30, the electric company
Which powers that town I last saw
As amber lights in my rear-view mirror.
He’s on his tenth cigarette now,

Punching his thousandth button.
He’s not finding me.
I am in this poem,
Praying a prayer for him,

That he finds himself,
That we all find ourselves,
And can stand it.

Daniel Rifenburgh is hiding in his poem.

This is the most honored tradition in lyric poetry.

Petrarch did it rather obviously—you get the poet/poem together. Some object to this as “self-obsessed” or “shallow” but this objection misses the point. First, as a reader, you get more bang for your buck—you get both the verse and the source.

This is a Renaissance trope. You see it in Leonardo da Vinci—he says, “trust your eyes, not hearsay.” Post-renaissance, we don’t trust authority—we trust the experience of the amateur inventor/poet/scientist.

Shakespeare added to the Dante/Petrarch tradition with a certain slyness, where Shakespeare the man hides in his more complex and puzzling Sonnets.

Rifenburgh is doing this in the poem just quoted.

Rifenburgh’s Collected Poems is full of touchstones; many involve, to some degree, other poets. The third poem in the book is “after Rilke.” Poets are part of nearly every poem. I won’t bother to list them. There is no doubt from the poems Rifenburgh has lived a life, but in his poems a scholarly joy prevails.

The poet belongs in the company of great poets—this is what the scholar-poet (of which Rifenburgh is clearly one) understands; there is an island, and that “stacked deck” we mentioned before (you are either a university poet with a slight chance of fame, or not) drives the ambitious poet towards that island of poets—Neruda, Coulette, Villon, Vallejo, Poe, Milosz hiding in those cliffs in the sea.

What makes the first poem in the book, “To My Opposite Number In Samarkind,” delightful as a letter to a friend, is precisely what pulls it from poetry—the desultory, opinionated, friendly, meandering treasure trove of familiarity and inside jokes hinders what matters: the stand-alone unity of the poetic.

I describe a crossroads which is difficult to comprehend: I will spend hours with you on a walk, or over dinner, but this same quality in your poem—I refuse you. This is difficult to grasp, but it describes one of the most important poetic principles.

The poem “Hawthorne,” (pg. 37) features one of the loveliest and most delicate couplets we have ever had the fortune to read:

To seal the lid,
Lightly, with a period.

Richard Wilbur, in his introduction, mentions the beauty found in the third poem of the volume, “Turf Tract.”

Wilbur:

The poem moves fluently, and with great accuracy of tone, through a sequence of moods (including defensive mockery, irony, slangy idealism, disgust, rueful mimicry), and ends with a poignant lyric vision in which the “fleet hooves” of horses embody the beauty, striving and brevity of life.

They say poems on poems shouldn’t be written.

I say rather these are the best poems, and “Turf Tract” is an example—it uses the last word Shelley wrote, and this holds the whole poem together.

The second poem in the book, “Sestina: My Father’s Will,” has a dramatic clarity as it puts the poet’s father on stage. It is a sestina. No one can resist a sestina. Except me. Nothing prevents the sestina from reading like the plainest prose. An overrated form—even should all the fathers in the world protest.

“LSD & All” pg 18 looks back at the 60s, and this sequence of impressions is fleetingly wonderful:

The musicians die, one by one,
Like birds departing
For new latitudes of the sun.

Those times passed, too, for time
Has such a passing will.
Like great, slow millwheels

The decades roll.
Where the six o’clock chronicles
Appear on the screen and unscroll,

It’s a cooler eye is cast now
And that music
Lies deep under the hill.

The poem also includes an anecdote of the poet getting drafted and blowing up a used car on a tank range; masculine details inhabit Rifenburgh’s poems, which have not only a scholarly air but a sense of adventure and male camaraderie. I occasionally wish the poet would trust his simple, pure, poetic instinct more, the power of which the solemn lines above strongly attest. Not that we can’t have anecdotes of blowing up a car on a tank range. Details are delightful and necessary. And certainly, as Wilbur points out, presenting different moods is something this poet does exceptionally well.

We find this very quality (a strong poetic voice) in his poem dedicated to Wilbur, called “Voice” on pg 33:

Today I am proud of all poets everywhere,
Such is the mix of memory, muscle and air.

For my money, the best poem of the book may be the one on page 60.

Donald Justice Before A Soft-Drink Vending Machine

He’s put his two quarters in the slot
And pressed a button,
Then another
But, nothing.

Again he presses them,
Muttering, putting some muscle
Behind the heel of his hand,
The ire rising in him, finding

Its level, faltering,
Spent finally in a last muted
Jab and last muted curse, the eyeglasses
Edging further along the bridge of his nose.

He’ll not kick the machine
Nor report to the office across campus
For a refund. Upstairs
The students will be reconvening

To their workshop,
Sheaves of sestinas
On the table, their own
And those of past masters before them.

For a moment he stands speechless
Before the looming, mechanical cheat,
Full in the glare of its red-blue lights, there
In the otherwise dark passageway.

The two vertical masses
Front each other, so,
Then the poet turns and heads off
Toward what he can hope to know.

This is a mysteriously great poem, and by mysteriously I mean that it happened right in front of Rifenburgh, we have no doubt, so it belongs self-evidently to life, not poetry—and yet it triumphs as a poem on so many levels that it seems like a gift bestowed either by a higher power or pure accident, and, either way, it makes a mockery of creativity, human will, and even poetry itself—which is the point, I think, increasing by duplication the greatness of the poem.

The befuddled act is lovingly described before the students enter (they, too, are putting something—sestinas—in a slot) and then we go back to the “dark passageway” of poet and machine in their slightly comic, banal, face-off. There is nothing heroic about modern poetry or its workshops, and yet the modern Donald Justice poem (of which Rifenburgh’s poem itself is a glorious example) has an unmistakable poignancy, precisely in the way it is not heroic, except in its quiet, unspoken resistance to the encroaching machine-future.

Sometimes the machine—technology—is preferable. In “Homage to Henri Coulette” (pg 74) we get this stanza:

Poet, they will hand you a shovel,
A gun, a broom
And think it a favor.

“On A Portrait of John Keats” (pg 96) is the next great poem in the book.

It ends:

If you could go
Into his listening,

You would.

After reading “The Dead” on pg. 122 we must come face to face with the fact we are reading an extraordinary poet.

The dead don’t care for us.
They grimace as we file past,
Regretting they were once tender toward us.

They won’t assist us with probating their wills,
Much less carrying their heavy coffins.

Their wax faces are a reproach,
As if we are doing something (what,
We don’t know) quite wrong.

The dead sail on the morning tide
For Elysium,
Tennis racquets in hand,

Accusing us from the deck rails,
Leaving worm-holes trailing through
The pulp of our days, vacancies

We cannot fill with wine,
Nor with remorse,

And, from this shore,
One cannot even get at them
To slap them for their insolence.

No, it’s like this:
The dead repose long leagues from us.
Among golden isles and gentled hills,

Insufferably poised,
Marvelously self-contained,
And impossible to kill.

This poem has as much sublime wit as any poem ever written; with its light touch it mourns, laughs, destroys and resurrects.

Donald Justice (well, a poem of his) makes another appearance in “An Ice Cream Truck Goes By.” (pg 136) Poignancy and wit abound, perhaps a little too self-consciously this time, but it’s a strong poem.

“After Justice” is a rather long elegy for Justice and pulls out all the stops:

The moon tires of being the moon and becomes
A woman in shape of a guitar, a woman
Strumming goodbye at a bus stop, goodbye to the moon

There’s more than enough feeling in the poem, but it seems to miss the mark, because of excess of feeling, perhaps. The poem occurs on pg 154 and by now Rifenburgh has set the bar very high, if one has read the book straight through.

The casual yet poignant Donald Justice deserves the perfect elegy—somewhat casual, somewhat poignant. But there he is, angry, suppressing his anger, standing in front of that vending machine…

As for Rifenburgh, I’ll give Anthony Hecht the penultimate word, who spoke truthfully, I am sure, when he wrote:

“Mr. Rifenburgh’s work deserves wider notice, particularly when so much of scant merit is greeted with acclaim.”

Daniel Ribenburgh is a poet’s poet.

He talks to the great poets.

And is one of them.


DONNA

Storm Clouds Are Brewin' Painting by Methune Hively

It is poetry’s duty to make sure beauty does not fade away,
To join time and night, to make certain
Donna enjoys pleasures before day
Spreads the infinite colors on the curtain.

Poetry will hunt down Donna, replace with words
And ideas her delicacy of face and hand,
Write “her lovely memories are birds,”
While showing their wings’ shadows criss-crossing across the sand.

“Escape is impossible, but if there is no escape,
There is no bondage. The great blue holds us.”
I spoke this and made certain she heard.
Her reply? “We need something to discuss.”

She disagreed, was sweet and kind
In her disagreement, so I felt I was right.
But of course I understood I had been blind.
I fought her in my mind last night.

It is poetry’s duty to make beauty articulate.
It is poetry’s duty to make an end of words.
It is poetry’s sublimity to seize cunning wit
And hide it in the throats of hidden birds.
Donna travels. Rome sacrificed itself.
Every Greek citizen set their clock in sorrow
That she might be ambassador. Now each tale
Swears she wears white for a white tomorrow.

Donna gives us leave to go.
This is why we are not permanent,
Why the tear quickens, why we are not slow.
We have hurried here to find out what the symbol meant.

We have a chance to attach ourselves to this.
To have pure beauty, without a look, without a kiss,
And to be no longer tormented by the storm
Where things are sometimes cold and things are sometimes warm.

ART & LETTERS I4 INTERNATIONAL YOUNGER POETS, PHILIP NIKOLAYEV ED. REVIEWED

Poetry today is crying out for criticism. There is hardly an honest word said about poetry since Ezra Pound said he didn’t like the Russians or Thomas Brady said he didn’t like the Red Wheel Barrow and Thomas Brady doesn’t count because that was me.

Poetry is both the easiest and the most difficult thing to do. The shame of failure is two-fold: 1. Unable to do something which is easy 2. Bitter to discover our vanity had convinced us of immense self-worth, since actually writing great poems is a million-to-one long shot. Failure in poetry is unacceptable. Reviewers, take heed.

It is probably unwise to preface a review of young poets with these words—can young poets handle the truth? Do they deserve it?

Yes and yes.

Youth has everything going for it, especially failure, which is the best path to success. Every poet deserves a chance to understand failure. Also, truth is hardly the proper word—unless I mean “true to myself.”

I wrote (and still write) bad poems. The seduction is the ease of writing the inconsequential in a therapeutic trance. Also, poetry exists in a well (there is puffery but no true public) and therefore poetry expects a rescue crew—not condemnation.

To attempt honest criticism is the fantasy of a crank; honest is a goal of no possible joy—the expectation is kindness and cheering on. To fail to meet this expectation is both to fail to please and to fail generally.

Better to say nice things. The bad will fade away on its own.

But the bad does not fade away at all. It repeats itself in subsequent generations in the form of millions of poems (puffed with great effort) in millennia going forward.

There is a duty, then.

A reviewer ought to be a critic who flushes out poison.

This can be done in a generous spirit, with learning and elan. The poison can be flushed out without having to look at the poison.

The duty can be a cheerful one, then.

Poets, be not afraid.

The first poet in 14 International Younger Poets (from the new and exciting Art and Letters press) is Avinab Datta-Aveng. He has the most pages in the volume. Perhaps because he has a book coming out from Penguin. We are not sure. His first poem has an intriguing title: “My Mother’s Brain.” The title could be tender, tragic or cheeky, depending.

It is a very impressive poem. It features excellent lines:

Unremembered line in my mind

Muttered mother I only heard murder

And an outstanding ending:

…small birds make
A line at the mouth of the gutter
Rushing with rain water.
Crowds clamor to see the view,
The unbearable beauty of the rest
Of the world renewed each time
By what you will never utter.

Greatness hits us right from the start!

Now I’d like to say a word about meaning.

As far as the meaning of poems, there are three kinds.

We don’t understand but understand we are not supposed to understand.

We don’t understand but we believe perhaps others do understand—we believe we may be missing something.

We understand.

A poem which reminds me of “My Mother’s Brain,” Bertolt Brecht’s “Vom armen b.b.,” belongs to the first type. The narrator smokes his cigar, intimates he is not a good person, says he was carried by his mother in the womb from the black forest to the town. We don’t finally understand exactly what the poem is trying to say, but Brecht makes it clear he doesn’t understand, either.

I put Datta-Areng’s poem (it is more complex than Brecht’s poem) in the second category. Unlike one and three, two might possibly be annoying to one without a good dose of negative capability.

Blake Campbell’s “The Millenials” is my favorite poem in the volume. The idea is realized and the versification is exquisite. I have italicized the best parts:

What tempts us to this world
That light has half-erased—
Distraction’s abstract toxins, love
Distilled for us to taste?

No silence here, no slumber;
No slackening this tide
Of lies and knowledge. We are left
Unable to decide

Between them. Sudden flashes
Scorch most of what coheres.
At once the distance shrinks and grows
And flickers with the years.

The cold blue light we live in
Unreels us by the yard
In strips of snapshots someone else
Will find and disregard.

To prove this triumph of “The Millenials” is no accident, from Blake Campbell’s”Prism:”

You say I’ll surely ace it. How the sun
Spends its abundance brightening your eyes,
Your beauty I have yet to memorize
From every angle. How could anyone?

This is not just good; it is Best of All Time good.

I should say something about rhythm.

A poet usually decides between “forms” or prose. “Free verse” is an unfortunate term—it clouds the topic.

T.S. Eliot and Ben Mazer, two masters of poetic rhythm—good for both verse forms and other kinds of poetry—dismissed free verse. Eliot: “it can better be defended under some other label.” And Eliot: “there is no freedom in art.” And Ben Mazer, in a remark after a poetry reading: “it all rhymes.”

The masters of poetic rhythm typically do not wish to discuss prosody.

“Scansion tells us very little.” —Eliot. And again, Eliot: “With Swinburne, once the trick is perceived, the effect is diminished.”

Leaving-out-punctuation is a trick to make prose sound like verse. As with the Swinburne-trick, however, a trick won’t sustain great poetry; rhythm is the secret, and everything besides is nothing but embellishment: rhyme, mood, syntax, idea. A certain completion involving the other elements is great, but without a rhythmic identity uniting the poem, it is dead. This is nothing but a reviewer’s opinion, but can it hurt to offer it?

Formalism—as it survived in the mid-20th century—seems to be finding its way back into poetry.

“Formalism,” as a precise term, like “free verse,” deludes us, as well, however. Check out every masterpiece of poetry. Shelley’s “Ozymandias” is far more like a pop hit by the Supremes than a lump in a museum. Rhythm, not form.

To repeat: poets see two paths: forms or free (prose). But the third way is rhythm—bursting the “forms” or breaking out of “prose;” this aspiration to music (which is what it is) is not properly defying prose, but visual art—the temporal counter to the spatial. If the poet is not able to struggle with these opposing and dancing vectors (music, speech, idea) in their mind at once, a dreary prose results.

I’m happy to report that none of the poets represented here suffers from the affliction of dreary prose.

Editor Philip Nikolayev, in his modest introduction, calls these poets simply poets “he is lucky enough to know.”

Philip Nikolayev keeps very good company.

The urgency of speech, whether in William Blake’s “Tyger” or Raquel Balboni’s “

Relics in disguise foamy mouths through the screen
you can always break into my room through the porch

You can always break into my car with your steel fist.

from “Twin Cars” is the engine. We may think Blake’s tyger is described, or Balboni’s porch, but it never is. Prose is the launch-pad and poetry rockets towards an image it never reaches. As Mazer says, “It all rhymes.” Emerson called Poe “the jingle man” pejoratively. But now we can finally begin to see Emerson’s remark as praise—as, in the early 21st century, poetry is refined into one of those narrow categories John Ransom said was Modernism (division of labor) itself. Romanticism is beginning to return (Swinburne hiding in the backseat perhaps) precisely in this way.

Describing something perfectly in a poem? To quote Blake Campbell, again, “How could anyone?” But rhythm can be perfect. It simply and actually can.

All the poets in 14 International Younger Poets have their individual charm.

Zainab Ummer Farook resembles William Carlos Williams.

Flamboyant in the shade of a clean slate,
we had three of our walls painted pink

Emily Grochowski, Gertrude Stein.

Avoided writing.
A void in writing.
A voided writing.

Chandramohan S, Marianne Moore.

Now, the history of humankind
Snores in my language.

Susmit Panda, Seamus Heaney

I found a curious bronze head by the lake,
and, baffled, showed it to the village folk

all lands glimmer upon the brows of kings.

Justin Burnett, Creeley, but “Witchcraft Heights,” more Williams.

In winter I stuck out from the snow—
Freezing in the gutted grot,

Regretfully, I recall
That innocent numbness,

When white adhered to white,
And I hid.

Sumit Chaudhary, Robert Penn Warren, Marvin Bell, Auden.

feeling from dazzle so far removed
into the arms of things that move.

Paul Rowe, Dylan Thomas.

upon the crumpled glass of Aegean twilight;
volcanic wasps rise, sulfurous effusions,
mercurial breath that carves the crater, admits the flood,
shapes the ochre crescent, mirrors what’s above.

Shruti Krishna Sareen, Baudelaire.

In a riot of colour, the lawn is ablaze
The red silk cotton tree seen half a mile away
Hanging brooms of bottle brush scarlet sway
The waxy crimson poppy petals glaze

Andreea Iulia Scridon, Plath.

When they listen to my somniloquy,
the angels weep in compassion for my misery.
They erase the veins on my legs,
put back together my head,

Kamayani Sharma, Mark Strand.

His face slipping out of doorways ajar,
Like keys falling from Manilla envelopes.

Samuel Wronoski, Jorie Graham.

Otherwise, the day was practical and made of minutes
when nothing happened whatsoever.

Blake Campbell, Bishop, Ransom, Roethke.

The sleeping earth retains her tiny lives,

And even stripped of leaves, the paper birch
Subsists on what has been and what is lost.
But what in other living things survives.

Raquel Balboni, Leslie Scalapino, Ashbery, Eliot

To get to the end of the endless thinking and write it
down again from the beginning.

Avinab Datta-Areng, Geoffrey Hill

On a terrace an old man squints
At the sun, as if trying hard
To pay attention to his genealogy,
To the point at which a rupture occurred.

The resemblances I mention are by no means definitive—it only applies to this volume and springs from my own limited knowledge; poetry is a world in which you don’t need to know a poet directly to be influenced by them, or, occasionally, be them.

Every poet must ask themselves: am I in the wave? Or is the wave me?

In the context of this question, 14 International Younger Poets is a delight.

Thomas Graves, Salem MA August 17th 2021

THE FOUNTAIN

Fountain at Mariinsky Park, Kiev, Ukraine

The fountain’s sound entertained us downtown—
Where you chose a green bench for us to sit on.
The occasional loud bus blared behind us—where vines
Tried to hide the street. You said the small white flowers were scentless.

We sat facing eight vertical streams laughing on a small green.
The cloudless sky slowly grew dark as we
Emptied our minds of what was in them, but no,
Minds are never empty, though conversation wanes
When what is brought out perhaps should not have been said.
Reasons for speaking and not speaking
(The flowers were scentless!)
Will plague us until we’re dead.

THE CHASTE LADY’S MAN

Thomas Brady | Scarriet

Was it morals or misunderstanding?

I see you coming in for a landing

But always missing.

You liked her, but there wasn’t any kissing.

They would stop you in the street

Or they would agree to meet

If you asked, but you hardly tried.

You judged and hid what you thought inside—

As wildly negative body language betrayed

The docile egotist that you were.

You thought you were better than her.

Your standards were so high

The muse passed you by.

She could have helped you, but you

Knew you were lonely and you knew your loneliness was true.

You defined yourself as so much better

So that even towards yourself you were bitter.

And when you forgave yourself, at last,

You struggled in bad poems to understand the past.

You could have loved the one you wanted

Had you not hated everyone you wanted.

Both beautiful and ugly, you didn’t see

The one you wanted was the one writing this poem—oh God it’s me.

MY SOUL WAS SOOTHED

Art Classes and Workshops | Home | Beach Art Center | Florida

My soul was soothed
By a scene of a family,
Men and women with hats on
Playing cards by the sea—

Perhaps Uncle Martin did not want to be there;
Maybe Aunt Grace hates her job, Martin, and life.
But this was no concern of mine,
This strife.

All seemed so happy there!
With two children playing in the green water:
Their freckled son,
Their dimpled daughter.

How I longed to be them:
Forever on the land.
Forever by the water.

WHEN NEW TECHNOLOGIES EMERGE

The Art of Joseph Mallord William Turner - The Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing  Overboard the Dead and Dying - Typhoon Coming On), 1840...

When new technologies emerge
And a new generation is on the verge
Of becoming ascendant, the old one
Remembers the airplane, the ship, the sun.
The old infrastructure provides
Robert Frost with the new. Big Tech rides
Into its new being, a product
Of itself. We neither guess nor predict. We are.
The sun loses out to a distant, communicating star.
The ship still brings things here,
But there’s a different wavelength to the beer.
The poet and the professor now work for IT.
I don’t know them. And they don’t know me.

THE ONLY POINT TO LIFE IS THE AESTHETIC ONE

black, white, train, fog, lonely, woman, sad, female, black and white, girl  | Pikist

The only point to life is the aesthetic one,
A melody decided upon
In the way you speak, in the way you move your arms.
How will you support your breasts?
Will you shave today?
No one is looking over your shoulder,
No one is thinking of you quite the way you actually are.
They want you to convince them of something,
Anything, as long as you look at them directly
And tell them first that nothing is wrong.
They would be hypnotized, politely,
At the train station on some autumn afternoon.
They don’t really have any place to go.
As long as you can be artistic, you’ve won.
As long as you can draw the idea quickly, they will love you,
The one who is not really there,
The one they don’t really know.
The only thing is, you can’t linger,
You have to let them get to their destination
And be distracted by the distances.
You must already be there and help them in that way.

AGING GRACEFULLY

Gilded Boxes of the Italian Renaissance – Laura Morelli: Art History, Art  Historical Fiction, Authentic Travel

I give you my box of years.
Limit is the source of all our tears.
We are limited in so many ways
But the limit most limiting is our days.


You were thirty-nine.
We danced and drank wine.
There are less years in your box.
Pilfered by the crow and stolen by the fox.
Now you are fifty-three.
You are no longer beautiful to me.

First there was hate and blame,
Until looking in the mirror I admitted
My face was not the same.
You had every right to turn the page
Because of my old age.

Now look in the box,
The old, beautiful box!
The box holds less years:
Mozart, regrets, rondos, tears.

IF YOU CATCH THE KAREN-19 VIRUS

Thousands protest against COVID-19 health pass in France | Reuters

Defend Yoko Ono and Jimmy Carter to the death.
Know every -ism is everywhere
and when pressed, can give an example.
Permit not one risk, germ,
joy, or idea-which-destroys-another-idea to exist.
Feel personal grievance and pain at
the expense of any reasoning which
might get to the bottom of grievance and pain.
Glory in the authority of psychiatrists,
news anchors, health care experts, popular TV
actors, chefs, nature scientists, and far-left rich people.
Understand more than anyone and censor
anyone if they don’t shut up.

THE WEB

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, il Guercino - Old Master Paintings 2010/04/21  - Realized price: EUR 1,042,300 - Dorotheum

There is so much wrong in the past,
So much unfinished revenge that waits.
The historian would be killed
Should he truly venture there.

One thing keeps the historian from harm.
Art protects; taste, refinement, these are
The army, the security, the police.
Simple learning will lead one to
The howling hounds, the shameful facts.

And therefore when you plunge into
The smoky realms of art, do not be surprised
When you find bitterness and authority,
Secretive wit, deranged hostility,
Each seminar a genteel lesson in power
Which to learn requires hidden knives,
A good sharpened branch for your research,
Several magic numbers,
A cry to match theirs,
A philosophy that murders.

The gloom of Baudelaire is no affectation,
No writer’s tic. The horror of the plot
Is no show, no accident. The appalling
Lack of taste covered up in taste,
The dead floating in a beautiful web,
Is the unforgiving labyrinth you must learn from
To defend you from the more simple disgust,
The straightforward terrorists of mere learning.
Do not imagine Emily Dickinson will be sweet
Or invite you in or tell you a single thing.
Those who love Minerva must not look.
Silences, odors, perfumes, the good
Who are now exiled, may they inspire you!
In a den of dissembling serenity determine
Who they are, who they are, who they are.

FROWNED UPON

2019 Gualala Salon and Salon des Refusés – Gualala Arts

I think if I hold very still,
The Battle of Waterloo,
The Salon des Refuses,
World War One and World War Two,
Will pass by without harming me.

The elegance of passivity
Is praised in poetry
And even in books of history
Florid scholars agree:
If he had done nothing
He would have been saved.

But when it came to you
I couldn’t wait. I had to do
Something. Drowning,
I swam until I reached you—
Waiting, private, frowning.

HERA

File:Helen of Sparta boards a ship for Troy fresco from the House of the  Tragic Poet in Pompeii.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

This was no ordinary woman.
She grabbed me on the shoulder
Saying, “What, man, are you afraid of girls?”
True, I had been afraid of women,
And used Ovid’s sarcastic wisdom,
The trick of fancy and the vision
Of women most men indulge in
To overcome tales of love
Which that Italian fanatic once trilled nicely of:
Freezing and burning together,
Devoted to the death of all ordinary senses
For adoration’s sake.
To abandon ourselves to woman’s grace
Is to become something else, like Elvis, to shake
In a music of ecstasy
Which the popular mind winds frivolously.
But I was humble, too, and not outspoken—
I had lived some years, had my heart broken,
And so with Ovid and Dante’s ghosts and experience at my side
I was fully prepared to simply smile
And turn away, or stare her down, or even deride
This unfashionable effrontery
Which, in fact, humbled me in school once
When I was a romantic dunce—
Then the girl was just being cruel.
But this one was furious and amorous and everything at once
And she looked me in the face and my defenses fled
And I thought, “Is she mad?”
What’s that hauteur from?
Then I thought, “I’ll humble her in bed
If that’s what she wants. What does she want
And who the hell does she think she is?”
She was beautiful and had the lips
Which only become more beautiful in mockery
And eyes made, it seemed, to gleam in mockery,
And her closeness made my mind weak:
Had I insulted her? No, I knew this was amour,
The kind that makes Ovid plan and Petrarch poor
And Mars give up his arms for Venus
And mistily tugs at roaming Odysseus.
A challenge directly from an entrancing woman,
A come-on, a dare, a love more than human,
A sorceress hurling modesty and decorum to the wind
In hopes of ruining and pleasuring a male.
She was mad, radiant, in full sail
And tired of being the passive woman,
An altar piece, a substitute for a male vision,
The butt of a man’s sarcastic wisdom.
She repeated her gibe and kissed me on the lips
And I became Helen and she, a fleet of ships—
Tall of sail, roaring, armed for war,
Far away from everything on the ocean.

STREAM OF SNAKES

7 Amphibious ideas | snake art, snake, chinese painting

Cold clear stream,
Shadowed by trees—
I had a dream
Which made my soul freeze.
Snakes of all colors—
Bright, fine, colors—
Were swimming upstream
In my dream.

Swimming upstream
In my dream,
Swimming upstream
In my dream.

I was careful
As I stood by the stream,
I was fearful
As I looked at the stream.
I saw the snakes swimming,
Swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming,
Hideously, sinuously, swimming
In my dream.

The snakes were as long as I.
I wished to step back.
I sensed an attack
In my dream.
I feared an attack.
I tried to step back
In my dream.

All at once my reason for a feeling flew.
All at once my reason for a feeling flew.
I stepped in the stream,
On a stone in the stream.
I made a small, triumphant cry.
And the snakes went by
With invisible eyes.

I was in the middle of the stream
In my dream.

I was not unhappy to be in the stream,
To be standing on a rock in my dream.

But with the fright of a dream
Inside another dream
I looked down to my horror,
O! Horror of horror!
A giant snake curled
Under the stone where the clear water swirled,
A giant snake, asleep,
Right under my feet,
In the middle of the stream.
The giant snake
Asleep in the clear stream.

My life threatened,
The dream ended.

The snake of my dream haunts me,
Its silent form taunts me,
The snake which had no intention of swimming upstream
In my dream.

IN A CLOUD OF LOVE

Clouds / Renaissance Art Prints - Global Gallery

In a cloud of love,
I am able to see
My desire’s end.

In a passion too intense—
For friendship—
I see my friend.

SCARRIET REVIEW: ON THE WAY-NEW AND SELECTED POEMS BY RUTH LEPSON

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A man must partly give up being a man with women-folk” —Robert Frost

This is like taking off a tight dress that I love” —Ruth Lepson

What is poetry? Obviously it is more than the poetry, but to what extent?

To make it a great deal more than the poetry, the poetry is paradoxically diminished—and this is the soul of modern art, which is the mother of modern poetry—whose name is freedom: art is self-sufficient; moral and aesthetic concerns are excluded. Nothing defines the poem except the poem. No standards exist.

The pure intelligence of the reader enjoys the modern poem.

Living With People

Talking is something.
And tables, talking at tables.
Eating and painting and what walls.
What are they asking.
What am I looking at.
A person talking and eating.
I’m looking at the eyes
that don’t look at me.
The foot-tapping,
the hungry person,
what is being eaten.

This is the first poem in Ruth Lepson’s New and Selected Poems. It is a wonderful honor and privilege to review a poet’s selected poems; one needs to be a critic, not just a reviewer, to review a selected; you are not only reviewing poems, but a life.

What do I mean by “the pure intelligence of the reader enjoys the modern poem?”

As I stated, I’m reviewing a life—it might be a tad reductive to say I’m reviewing the poet as a person.

And yet one could answer that age-old question ‘what is poetry’ by saying ‘it’s an expression of what the poet likes.’ And to keep it simple we can include what they dislike as what they wish to be gone and so it all comes under the category of ‘what the poet likes.’

To review a book of poems is to say: here’s what this person likes.

But I do think ‘person’ (and what they might enjoy) is reductive—I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say I am reviewing Ruth Lepson’s life. A unique life.

It takes “intelligence” to understand a life.

Let’s read this poem, again:

Living With People

Talking is something.
And tables, talking at tables.
Eating and painting and what walls.
What are they asking.
What am I looking at.
A person talking and eating.
I’m looking at the eyes
that don’t look at me.
The foot-tapping,
the hungry person,
what is being eaten.

“Living With People” is full of life.

“Talking is something” nearly defines poetry itself; a poem is a “talking” which is a “something.”

But none of this pedantry exists in Lepson’s line.

Only someone else’s “pure intelligence” could find it, and the line could denote something else entirely; in a dry sort of way it could mean, “Talking is really something. What would life be without talking?” But it doesn’t have to mean this, either.

Yet obviously, and pleasantly, without any coercion, it hints at a life to begin a poem, “Talking is something.”

“And tables, talking at tables” introduces ceremonial life (eating at table)—as well as (and this is rather subtle, I admit) a ceremony of poetry (its tradition of word-resemblance: talking, table.)

After introducing all this in just the first two lines, the poet adds even more: “eating” (biology) and “painting” (art, work).

It now seems reasonable to contain all of it: “walls” and with all that is now going on—“talking” at “tables” in a ceremonial fashion, a consciousness of biological function, of art, of work—it doesn’t feel unusual that doubt and wonder should enter: “what walls./What are they asking./What am I looking at.”

And with these questions, naturally, a bit of alienation (too strong a word, probably—there’s no hyperbole or pretense in the poem) arrives: “I’m looking at the eyes/that don’t look at me.” This could indicate elaborate social anxiety, or rivalry, or could be merely the observation of someone’s eyes at an angle.

“The foot-tapping” introduces the impatience of the world, the worm in the garden, time, ambition, hostility, sorrow.

And finally, the moral question (or is it moral?): “what is being eaten.” And all that involves.

This is what I mean by the “pure intelligence” reading a modern poem.

This poem, like most modern poems, “tells” us nothing. And yet “Living With People” is a history of the world. Not just Ruth Lepson’s world. The world.

One could peruse “Living With People” and think one need not write another poem, again, ever; it says everything.

And yet in terms of poetry and its tradition, it is a marvelously plain and simple poem.

Deceptively so.

If one were just settling into a seat at a poetry reading and were distracted to a slight degree, and one heard “Living With People” read out loud, one’s response might very well be, “Wait? What? Tables. Walls. Eaten. Huh?”

To be honest, “Living With People” would not lend itself well to a recital before an audience. A performance requires the opening bars of the familiar song eliciting cheers from the crowd, followed by the middle of the song continuing at some length until the climax of the expected conclusion.

“Living With People” is an example of modern poetry—it is more than poetry, it is free of ‘having to be poetry’ and to the degree that this is so, as a poem qua poem, it is diminished.

“Living With People” introduces us to Ruth Lepson as an extremely sensitive person who appreciates dining and conversation. It is more than just a poem. The poem quietly shows us the poet. The person. The life.

To understand even more fully what I mean when I say “pure intelligence” is necessary to read modern poetry, it might help to glance at an example of pre-modern poetry.

The classical poem lacks the freedom of the modern poem. The “old” poem tells us exactly how to read it. It cuts a path through the rock—and this is the path we must follow.

Here’s a random excerpt from Bennett Cerf’s An Anthology of Famous English and American Poetry (Conrad Aiken edited and introduced the American side) published by The Modern Library (Random House), the 1945 edition which restored the poems of Ezra Pound (he had been censored in the earlier edition):

Go, dumb-born book,
Tell her that sang me once that song of Lawes:
Hadst thou but song
As thou hast subjects known,
Then were there cause in thee that should condone
Even my faults that heavy upon me lie,
And build her glories their longevity.

This is a completely different world. (One stanza from Pound is enough to see this.)

We wrestle with the syntax unfolding the poem in strict and narrow terms.

Pound’s poem is trying to sing. It is tradition-bound.

This book belonged to my father growing up; I happened to find it recently as I was going through old poems of mine.

Compared to Pound, Lespon is free.

It feels like Pound is imprisoning himself in poetry to get free of life—while it feels like Lepson is looking honestly at the prison which is life—by becoming freer in her poetry.

Here is the most purely “aesthetic” poem in Lepson’s book:

Where Seagulls Fly

It’s good to walk the dog
When he finally meets
The black cat down the street.
Years, each tiny lesson.

The way seagulls seem to fly at times
against the wind and into the clouds.
It’s a white day, white and gray.

It’s good to live where seagulls fly,
thick clouds over the gray house.
Spring wind, first night on the porch,
dandelions white,
close to the end of something.

Even when Lepson rhymes (almost never) she’s subtle; “Seagulls” shows her usual reticence awash in strange joy (“It’s good to walk the dog,” “It’s good to live where seagulls fly”) with her typical socially-charged ambiguity (“dog…meets…cat…tiny lesson”) and Lepson’s characteristic hint of stoic heartbreak (“Spring wind…close to the end of something”).

“Where Seagulls Fly” is from Lepson’s third collection of poems, I Went Looking For You, and from that collection onward, she becomes more voluble, leaving behind the minimalism of her second work, Morphology.

Morphology features charming one-line poems such as

The film is a train

I Went Looking For You contains Lepson’s Anne Sexton poem (Ruth took a class with her).

I quote it in full:

Anne Sexton on the Cover

Your cigarette could be a piece of chalk.
(You were telling us This class was saving your life.)
Bracelets handcuff you, hands raised to heaven.

Puffed up hair, full of smoke. Your eyebrows plucked,
pleading. You’re smiling, shoulders bare,
yet your legs are crossed tightly, snakes coupling.

Your dress: swirls of chocolate and vanilla, mud and snow.
Fingernails short, fingers long,
limbs, long, desire, long, longer than
a garden party at which you are this evening’s star.

Your name, plastered across your lap on the book jacket,
wraps you in a golden bow. Today in Harvard Square,
the statue of seated Sumner wore an apron of snow.
I was tired of the gender of things, you wrote.

A glass of booze next to you, nearly empty.
It’s summer, you’re divorced, the thick ring,
it’s huge stone slid to the side
on your right hand now.

But if I hadn’t known you, what would I see?
A long, thin, woman, hopeful, sad, poised
against rejection. Or a strong one,
politic, sure of her next move.

They want blood, you said after your last reading.
Voyeurs. I’m never going to read again, and it was true—
I immerse myself in your biography; you were
famous for your false self, I’m looking for you.

Lepson mentions a number of poets in her book; memorable, indeed, is this sustained focus on Sexton.

I Went Looking For You might be my favorite section from Ruth Lepson’s Selected. It also has the poem “Motion Sickness, Preoccupation,” of which I’ll quote just a bit:

The woman next door listening
to the Moonlight Sonata and, simultaneously, a soap opera.

****

I felt like a sack of sugar, leaking. Your girlfriend
looked like a cross
between Barbara and George Bush.

I Went Looking For You ends with this poignant poem, which finds the poet more accessibly autobiographical than usual (or at least it feels that way):

The Day Of Our Divorce Hearing

you treated me to lunch, a spaghetti place.
We had never been so kind to each other.
When you said I’m still a slob, we laughed.
After lunch, we stood in the parking lot.
You said, you have the last word,
but I said, No, I’m tired of being
the one who sums things up.

You get the last word.
But you couldn’t think of one.
So off you went to our silver car,
I to our red one.
It’s three years later.
And even that’s just a story now.
Lately I don’t feel as if I lived with you.
But I remember our kindness that day,
when it no longer mattered.

Again, we see the uncanny ability of the poet to say not just a lot—but to rip the veil from life—with a few words.

She has little to say about her relationships—were her partners brilliant, bookish, workaholics who failed to appreciate her? This is from “Another Sunset,” the fifth poem in the book:

You read on the beach
about medicine and art;
you sweat all over the magazine;
you cover your eyes
with it: there is pressure
over the bridge of your nose.
Meanwhile, I am drowning.
You have no notion,
and after I drown,
I walk back and don’t say
too much about it.

“You sweat all over the magazine” at the beach artfully describes an obsessive reader.

Lepson doesn’t “say too much about it.” She doesn’t rant or complain in her poems. Instead we get scintillating poetry like this, also from her first collection, Dreaming In Color:

“now that you left…this is like taking off a tight dress that I love.”

Probably the strongest burst of emotion we get from the poet of almost surreal restraint is this one—from Ask Anyone, her fourth collection—from an untitled poem towards the end of the Selected section, before we get to the new poems:

“I’m peeling carrots and I almost start crying isn’t that funny…I was doing everything for you I’m not really peeling carrots am I isn’t that funny fuckhead”

As we can see from this, she is not always a poet of restraint.

Nine new poems grace the last part of On The Way, New and Selected, including “Motet for Mom.”

From Ben Mazer’s introduction: “Ruth’s mother was a Lithuanian Jew, a mathematician, a sculptor, and a Hebrew teacher…”

To quote briefly from “Motet for Mom,” a delightful dialogue:

“Do you believe in God, Mom?”
“A little.”

Lepson is not quite the pure poet at the end of the book that she was at the beginning; she offers passing opinions on John Kennedy, Longfellow, solitary confinement, and factory farming—she’s earned that right as a poet of brevity, subtlety and grace; I don’t mean to imply that when she speaks her mind momentarily here and there it mars the book in any way—it would be insulting to say it shows “development”—she is at the height of her powers (one that honestly approaches ‘major poet’ status) throughout the book.

Her new poems are more explorative, intellectually forceful, and extroverted, even as they retain Lepson’s beautiful, grounded, melancholy. From “Evenings:”

I don’t want to be original.
Life’s too white these days, it’s
all I can do to concentrate on that.

Comparisons swim by like swans.
They’re too far away.

The publisher, MadHat Press, is to be congratulated for bringing out this volume—for me it puts Ruth Lepson in the company of Creeley and Sexton.

To end my review of this beautiful book, Ruth Lepson deserves the last word. This is how “Evenings” ends:

Flickers of dreams
Surface in the evenings.



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