Simon Armitage

Image result for poems by simon armitage

While I’ve never heard of him, Simon Armitage has apparently been making quite the splash in the UK over the last 20 years. I find his educational background interesting as he originally got his first degree in Geography and second in Social Work, where as the biography on the Poetry Foundation tells us:

“He studied the impact of televised violence on young offenders. He went on to work as a probation officer for six years before focusing on poetry. Of course, his crowning achievement was becoming the Oxford Professor of Poetry in 2015, and currently works at the University of Leeds. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature. The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Armitage was named the Millennium Poet in 1999 and a Commander of the British Empire in 2010.”

He is famous for his new translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Odyssey. For more information on his work, check out the poet’s personal website. I’m curious to read his book Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way, where he literally depended on the strangers of others to support himself as he hiked, and read poetry for his supper, the 256 mile route through England and Scotland. 

I chose “To His Lost Lover” from The Book of Matches, 1993 and “I Kicked a Mushroom” from his latest collection, The Unaccompanied, 2017. 

“To His Lost Lover”

Now they are no longer
any trouble to each other

he can turn things over, get down to that list
of things that never happened, all of the lost

unfinishable business.
For instance… for instance,

how he never clipped and kept her hair, or drew a hairbrush
through that style of hers, and never knew how not to blush

at the fall of her name in close company.
How they never slept like buried cutlery –

two spoons or forks cupped perfectly together,
or made the most of some heavy weather –

walked out into hard rain under sheet lightning,
or did the gears while the other was driving.

How he never raised his fingertips
to stop the segments of her lips

from breaking the news,
or tasted the fruit

or picked for himself the pear of her heart,
or lifted her hand to where his own heart

was a small, dark, terrified bird
in her grip. Where it hurt.

Or said the right thing,
or put it in writing.

And never fled the black mile back to his house
before midnight, or coaxed another button of her blouse,

then another,
or knew her

favourite colour,
her taste, her flavour,

and never ran a bath or held a towel for her,
or soft-soaped her, or whipped her hair

into an ice-cream cornet or a beehive
of lather, or acted out of turn, or misbehaved

when he might have, or worked a comb
where no comb had been, or walked back home

through a black mile hugging a punctured heart,
where it hurt, where it hurt, or helped her hand

to his butterfly heart
in its two blue halves.

And never almost cried,
and never once described

an attack of the heart,
or under a silk shirt

nursed in his hand her breast,
her left, like a tear of flesh

wept by the heart,
where it hurts,

or brushed with his thumb the nut of her nipple,
or drank intoxicating liquors from her navel.

Or christened the Pole Star in her name,
or shielded the mask of her face like a flame,

a pilot light,
or stayed the night,

or steered her back to that house of his,
or said “Don’t ask me how it is

I like you.
I just might do.”

How he never figured out a fireproof plan,
or unravelled her hand, as if her hand

were a solid ball
of silver foil

and discovered a lifeline hiding inside it,
and measured the trace of his own alongside it.

But said some things and never meant them –
sweet nothings anybody could have mentioned.

And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,
about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.

 

IKickedAMushroom

Advertisements

Kwame Alexander

Image result

I’ve been wanting to read him for awhile, ever since I heard about his Crossover verse novel. So in honor of National Poetry Month, I grabbed a copy of Crush: Love Poems for teens and loved it, because it showed all the different aspects of love and not just the mushy bits. Plus you gotta love any volume that includes Neruda, as I adore his 100 Love Sonnets.  Below are two of my favorite poems (especially the second one) from Crush, 2007.

“I Want You”

 

to think of me      as

Ellington thought of jazz and

Ella thought of scat     as

Lady Day thought of loss and 

Luther thought of love

 

yes, think of me

as the first aria and

the last allegro

in this symphony

of life

 

in other words

let this ancient language of love

be the music

that keeps you 

humming through the night

 

that keeps you

dancing

naked

on the

floor

 

“The Examination (AKA The Before-You-Holla Quiz)”

 

Can you study my heart, and learn to love me with your mind?

Can you lift my spirits, bench press my burdens, exercise my intellect?

Can you get deep like Atlantis, precise like Google, outstanding like 

a Serena Williams serve?

Can you love me like a book of poetry, read me over and over,

uncover the magic between my lines? 

Can you solve me like a quadratic equation, recite Neruda in Spanish?

Forget sexy, can you bring SmartBack?

Can you flirt with me like an E. Ethelbert Miller poem, tease me like

a Bossa Nova song?

Can you sweet-talk me with cotton candy on a rainy day, love me

like Nikki Giovanni loves Tupac?

Can you speak to me with your mouth closed? 

Can you kiss me 100 times with your eyes open? 

Can you love me…with your mind? 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon Olds

Image result for sharon olds

I discovered her poetry in one of my poem-a-day emails, but had never heard of her before. According to biography on the Poetry Foundation, she has won “the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award. Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry which graphically depicts family life as well as global political events.” The first poem, Pine Tree Ode, “a photo shoot becomes the occasion for a deeper encounter with the natural world.”

“Pine Tree Ode”

by Sharon Olds, 2016

I was sitting on the top stones of a wall—can you
get even closer to the tree, he said, so I went
inches from the trunk of the tallest of the ones
we’d been standing among like small children
among the legs of the grown-ups.
Now, the side of my face was almost
against the bark, intimate,
I could see where its growing had pulled its surface
open, into wooden lozenges, like
stretch marks, I could not feel it breathe
but I felt it alive beside me, a huge
ant running down, and stopping, and turning
its feelers, in the air, between us, and then
walking so fast it seemed to be pouring back
up. Then I looked, up, along
the branchless stem, into the canopy,
to the needles fanning out in bunches
eating the sun. And the length of it seemed like
bravery, like strong will,
a single, whole, note, like a tenor’s
cry, sustained, as if a tree were
a spurt from the earth, a heart’s gush.
And the ants flowed from ground to sky,
sky to ground. I don’t know where the ants
had been, or their ancestors had been, the noon
the tornado came through, wall of water
a hundred and thirty miles an hour,
solid ferocious grey static.
The tree stood. And now I sat up straight
beside it, feeling my way back
through species, and species, toward the pine, and toward
the ones we both descended from, the
fern, the green cell—the sun,
the star-stuff we are made of.

The second one, After Making Love in Winter, from May 1987,  is about the emotional changes a mature woman goes through after a sexual encounter. To see more on the analysis, check out this article

 

Roald Dahl

I love Roald Dahl’s books for children. Yes, he also wrote books for adult, something most people do actually forget and they are not suitable for children either. As his biography on Poetry Foundation states,

“He started writing for adults after crash landing in the Libyan desert after joining the RAF in Nairobi, Kenya. He wrote the screenplay for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. He lost his father and sister at a young age, along with two of his five children with his first wife. Perhaps because of his family experiences, Dahl’s writing is darkly funny and staunchly loyal to a child’s sense of fairness, magic, and revenge.” 

Image result for the bfg

My favorite Roald Dahl books are The BFG (my absolute favorite), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Matilda, The Witches, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. 

The Dentist and the Crocodile

BY ROALD DAHL, 1989 from the book Rhyme Stew
The crocodile, with cunning smile, sat in the dentist’s chair.
He said, “Right here and everywhere my teeth require repair.”
The dentist’s face was turning white. He quivered, quaked and shook.
He muttered, “I suppose I’m going to have to take a look.”
“I want you”, Crocodile declared, “to do the back ones first.
The molars at the very back are easily the worst.”
He opened wide his massive jaws. It was a fearsome sight—
At least three hundred pointed teeth, all sharp and shining white.
The dentist kept himself well clear. He stood two yards away.
He chose the longest probe he had to search out the decay.
“I said to do the back ones first!” the Crocodile called out.
“You’re much too far away, dear sir, to see what you’re about.
To do the back ones properly you’ve got to put your head
Deep down inside my great big mouth,” the grinning Crocky said.
The poor old dentist wrung his hands and, weeping in despair,
He cried, “No no! I see them all extremely well from here!”
Just then, in burst a lady, in her hands a golden chain.
She cried, “Oh Croc, you naughty boy, you’re playing tricks again!”
“Watch out!” the dentist shrieked and started climbing up the wall.
“He’s after me! He’s after you! He’s going to eat us all!”
“Don’t be a twit,” the lady said, and flashed a gorgeous smile.
“He’s harmless. He’s my little pet, my lovely crocodile.”

Margarita Engle

Image result for margarita engle

I first discovered Margarita Engle‘s work with her verse novel, The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano and The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, both of which were excellent in describing fascinating events and people I knew nothing about and I adored them both. Engle is the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate for 2017-19. Based on the author’s note, the poem/verse novel I have selected Drum Dream Girlis:

“inspired by the childhood of a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers. In 1932, at the age of ten, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga performed with her older sisters as Anacaona, Cuba’s first “all-girl dance band.” Millo became a world-famous musician, playing alongside all the American jazz greats of the era. At age fifteen, she played her bongó drums at a New York birthday celebration for U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, where she was enthusiastically cheered by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. There are now many female drummers in Cuba. Thanks to Millo’s courage, becoming a drummer is no longer an unattainable dream for girls on the island.”

Drum Dream Girl

BY MARGARITA ENGLE, 2015
On an island of music
in a city of drumbeats
the drum dream girl
dreamed
of pounding tall conga drums
tapping small bongó drums
and boom boom booming
with long, loud sticks
on bit, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.
But everyone
on the island of music
in the city of drumbeats
believed that only boys
should play drums
so the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming
quiet
secret
drumbeat
dreams.
At outdoor cafés that looked like gardens
she heard drums played by men
but when she closed her eyes
she could also hear
her own imaginary
music.
When she walked under
wind-wavy palm trees
in a flower-bright park
she heard the whir of parrot wings
the clack of woodpecker beaks
the dancing tap
of her own footsteps
and the comforting pat
of her own
heartbeat.
At carnivals, she listened
to the rattling beat
of towering
dancers
on stilts
and the dragon clang
of costumed drummers
wearing huge masks.
At home, her fingertips
rolled out their own
dreamy drum rhythm
on tables and chairs…
and even though everyone
kept reminding her that girls
on the island of music
have never played drums
the brave drum dream girl
dared to play
tall conga drums
small bongó drums
and big, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.
Her hands seemed to fly
as they rippled
rapped
and pounded
all the rhythms
of her drum dreams.
Her big sisters were so excited
that they invited her to join
their new all-girl dance band
but their father said only boys
should play drums.
So the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming
and drumming
alone
until finally
her father offered
to find a music teacher
who could decide if her drums
deserved
to be heard.
The drum dream girl’s
teacher was amazed.
The girl knew so much
but he taught her more
and more
and more
and she practiced
and she practiced
and she practiced
until the teacher agreed
that she was ready
to play her small bongó drums
outdoors at a starlit café
that looked like a garden
where everyone who heard
her dream-bright music
sang
and danced
and decided
that girls should always
be allowed to play
drums
and both girls and boys
should feel free
to dream.

Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve known about Rainer Maria Rilke for years (though I’ve not read much of his work), and I think I discovered him in a movie, though I can’t for the life of me remember which one. I find it fascinating that he was friends with the sculptor Auguste Rodin and was his secretary while he lived in Paris. According to this biography of him, “At the time of his death his work was intensely admired by many leading European artists, but was almost unknown to the general reading public. His reputation has grown steadily since his death, and he has come to be universally regarded as a master of verse.” 

I liked the visual imagery of the foot washing in Pieta, so I picked that one for Thursday’s poem. 

Pietà 

by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1945
Translated by Galway KinnellAnd so I see your feet again, Jesus,
which then were the feet of a young man
when shyly I undressed them and washed them;
how they were entangled in my hair,
like white deer in the thornbush. 

And I see your never-loved limbs
for the first time, in this night of love.
We never lay down together
and now we have only adoring and watching over.

But look, your hands are torn–:
beloved, not from me, not from any bites of mine.
your heart is open and anyone can enter:
It should have been the way in for me alone.

Now you are tired, and your tired mouth
has no desire for my aching mouth–.
O Jesus, Jesus, when was our hour?
Now we both wondrously perish.

In honor of today being Friday the 13th, I found this poem (also again liked the visual imagery at the end with the amber eyes). 

Black Cat

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926), 1923 

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

Robert Browning

I have a soft spot for Romantic Era poets, like Browning and Keats. There I fully admit this. For me, Robert Browning, though he was a poet in his own right, will always be the husband to Elizabeth Barrett Browning (who wrote Sonnet 43: How Do I Love Thee?) for me. The poem I have selected, I’ve never read before, and thankfully there was a lot of information on it. 

It’s called My Last Duchess and is an “Ekphrasis, which means ‘Description’ in Greek. An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning. A notable example is “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” by John Keats.” The poem is a fictional account of the Duke of Ferrara during the Italian Renaissance showing a painting of his dead wife as a beautiful young woman to some visitors (the emissary of a Count and also us as the readers) and then tells her story. As the guide for the poem states,  “Using conversational couplets and telling punctuation, Browning gives us a study of violence, a test of the rivalry between words and images, and a battle between the male and female gaze.” The SparkNotes discussion of the text has this to say about how the poem engages the reader “The poem calculatedly engages its readers on a psychological level. Because we hear only the Duke’s musings, we must piece the story together ourselves. Browning forces his reader to become involved in the poem in order to understand it, and this adds to the fun of reading his work. It also forces the reader to question his or her own response to the subject portrayed and the method of its portrayal.”

My Last Duchess 

BY ROBERT BROWNING, 1842
FERRARA
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, 
Looking as if she were alive. I call 
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands 
Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said 
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read 
Strangers like you that pictured countenance, 
The depth and passion of its earnest glance, 
But to myself they turned (since none puts by 
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) 
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, 
How such a glance came there; so, not the first 
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not 
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot 
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps 
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps 
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint 
Must never hope to reproduce the faint 
Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff 
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 
For calling up that spot of joy. She had 
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad, 
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er 
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast, 
The dropping of the daylight in the West, 
The bough of cherries some officious fool 
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 
She rode with round the terrace—all and each 
Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked 
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked 
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name 
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame 
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill 
In speech—which I have not—to make your will 
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this 
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, 
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let 
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse— 
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose 
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, 
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without 
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; 
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet 
The company below, then. I repeat, 
The Count your master’s known munificence 
Is ample warrant that no just pretense 
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; 
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed 
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go 
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, 
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, 
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!