Thursday, September 29, 2005

week 1 Post 2

Having a Coke with You

pg. 209

Is even more fun that going to San Sebastian, Irun, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
Or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
Partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
Partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
Partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
It is hard to believe when I’m with you there can be anything as still
As solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
In the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth…

This poem really caught my eye, first because of its title and then when I started reading it I couldn’t stop. I don’t really understand what the speaker is trying to say, but I am pretty sure that he is writing to his girlfriend or some sort of a lover. This is a very romantic poem because of the beautiful things that are said to whom ever it is being written to. I like that he doesn’t just come out and say the word “love” over and over. Rather he says the small things that he likes about her or the way he feels when they are together. I like when he says “partly for my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt” (210). It adds a sense of comedy to the poem. He also makes a lot of references to different countries that I assume he and his lover have been to together. I think that he loves to travel with her and that’s what he is reminiscing about as he writes her this love poem.

Week 1 Post 1



I grew up bent over a chessboard.
I loved the word endgame.
All my cousins looked worried.
It was a small house near a Roman graveyard.
Planes and tanks shook its window panes.
A retired professor of astronomy taught me how to play.
That must have been in 1944.
In the set we were using, the paint had almost chipped off the black pieces.
The white King was missing and had to be substituted for.
I’m told but do not believe that that summer I witnessed men hung from telephone poles.
I remember my mother blindfolding me a lot.
She had a way to tucking my head suddenly under her overcoat.
In chess, too, the professor told me, the masters play blindfolded, the great ones on several boards at the same time.

I like this poem because it fuses a happy memory with a tragic one. The author jumps back and forth from how he came to play chess to the war that was going on at the same time. His use of description is also interesting in that he does not come right out and say there was a war. Actually, he does not even say the word war in the whole poem. Yet, after the fifth line the reader knows what is going on. He also gives the year 1944 to point out what year he learned to play chess, but at the same time lets the reader know which war. My favorite part is the description of the pieces of his chess board because it seems very innocent and meager and at the same time one of the author’s greatest memories. He tells us of his situation without literally telling us, but rather describing his surroundings. He also writes about his mother blindfolding him and relates that at the end to how the greatest chess players always blindfolded. There is some connotation to the last line that says “the great ones on several boards at the same time” (440) and I do not understand that.

Part Three: Love

Emily Dickinson (1830-86) Complete Poems 1924

Part Three: Love

You left me, sweet, two legacies--
A legacy of love
A Heavenly Father would content,
Had He the offer of;

You left me boundaries of pain
Capacious as the sea,
Between eternity and time,
Your consciousness and me.

This poem by Emily Dickinson provides two sides of love. The speaker says that the lover left two legacies one being love that would satisfy anyone even the "Heavenly Father" himself, and pain that goes as wide as the sea. The first stanza discusses the more happier side of love. The "legacy of love" is a strong way to describe what the lover left for the speaker. It goes on to say that "A Heavenly Father would content" with the offer. These lines describe the amount of love left behind. It is so large and immense that someone like God would be satisfied with the amount had he been given the offer. Such a love only one can wish for. An amount that can only mean that it's endless because God would want you to love Him endlessly. The second stanza sheds light on the pain that this lover also leaves behind. The lover puts boundaries on the pain that the speaker feels and the speaker compares it to the wideness or spaciousness of the sea; furthermore the speaker clarifies that the lines are drawn between eternity and time. The speaker wants to put an image to the void felt when the lover left so the speaker uses images to paint a picture for the reader to comprehend the amount of pain left.
The poem is about the two sides of love and the speaker describes each side with such vivid and extreme images to clarify the intensity of each side. Love is a two sided thing in my opinion. With the joy comes the pain. And though the love left behind was so satisfying, it also left such a large hole of pain. The poem's last line creates a deeper sense of the boundaries of pain. "Your consciousness and me" leaves an imprint on the reader. It brings the poem more meaning and depth rather it being just another love poem, it brings some thought. I looked at the last line and it made me think about the real intensity of the pain. Much of attention was focused on the last part of the poem because of that line.


Brilliant, this day – a young virtuoso of a day.
Morning shadow cut by sharpest scissors,
deft hands. And every prodigy of green –
whether it's ferns or lichens or needles
or impatient points of buds on spindly bushes –
greener than ever before. And the way the conifers
hold new cones to the light for the blessing,
a festive right, and sing the oceanic chant the wind
transcribes for them!
A day that shines in the cold
like a first-prize brass band swinging along
the street
of a coal-dusty village, wholly at odds
with the claims of reasonable gloom.

© 1999 Denise Levertov. from The Great Unknowing: Last Poems.
(found online on Modern American Poetry website)

I’d have to say that Leverton’s voice in her writing speaks to me better than many other poets. I read quite a few of her poems before getting to Celebration and was taken away by its elaborate and surprising beauty. The way she describes the sun raising, touching the land and effecting everything in it. The world just seems so alive. Almost more so than we generally think of it. The plants become active and stretch themselves out, reaching for light and warmth of the life given to them by the sun.

Often times when poets describe a situation they return to nature, the basic figure in our lives to draw up evidence for their meaning and interpretation. But Leverton does the exact opposite she is writing about the sun rising over a valley of trees and brush, and compares it to an old dusty town, an image of the Dust Bowl, desolate and lifeless. But as a “first-prize brass band” comes thundering through, shining in the sun and filling the air with loud, boisterous music, everything changes.

The line that really caught me was “Morning shadow cut by sharpest scissors, deft hands.” The imagery is just amazing. The sharp, lines of the tree braches and their exaggerated lined casting themselves on the ground. She continues throughout the poem using little metaphors to given the reader a deeper meaning and more powerful image of her setting.


by Guia K Monti

You cannot restrain

You cannot oblige my soul

To stay out of this,

You cannot ask me not to feel

Or say there is

Too much feeling.

It's not up to me

To blend the grains of emotion and sanity.

Freedom is all I need

To vent my anguish

Onto the deaf ears

Of a quiet wind.

This poem feels very quiet. I like the soothing and almost eerie mood that it gives. This mood seems to be set by the words like soul, stay, and feeling. These words bring out thoughts and emotions of quietness. Soul is a word that is different and apart from the real world. It is humbling to think about something that we know so little about. Stay is a word that seems to oppose activity and liveliness. Feeling is a word that provokes thought of all the times when we were moved by a set of events. It helps us sit and listen to our memories taking us out of our busy and urgent lives. Furthermore, the way that the lines are separated seems to slow down the reading and hence brings a calmer mood. On top of that, the poem ends with "a quiet wind" which quiets the mood of the poem even more. But at the same time this idea that the poem is quiet kind of puzzles me. I feel like the author is talking about the feelings between lovers (PASSION). Passion is not an idea that is very quiet to me. Passion brings thoughts of crazy risks and lots of actions. It's pretty strange. I kind of like this poem.
The Vow

When the lover goes,
the vow though broken remains,
that trace of eternity love
brings down among us stays,
to give dignity to the suffering
and to intensify it.

- Galway Kinnell

I was thumbing through The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry when this particular poem caught my eye. Most, if not all have had our hearts broken once so far in our lives and we all know that the healing process is one that is inevitable and often cruel. Often at the expense of a vow which has been broken, the one of love, loyalty and fidelity. Even the after the effects of blind love have faded, the ideal or eternal love will remain and will be sought after to fill the void created by loneliness. After the 'lover' has left, the promise of love will remain even in the heart of the grieving because there will always be another to love is my interpretation of the speaker's poem. In the line "to give dignity to the suffering and to intensify it" the speaker reassures people that although one individual has broken his/her vow, the concept of finding eternal love will prevail and provide a path towards healing, giving them hope. Its ironic that the vow in which can cause so much pain can also be as beautiful and worthy as of such anguish agony. The vow is often broken but static for love is a strong feeling if not a base of human nature.

Crutches by Nikki Giovanni

it's not the crutches we decry
it's the need to move forward
though we haven't the strength

women aren't allowed to need
so they develop rituals
since we all know working hands idle
the devil
women aren't supposed to be strong
so they devlop social smiles
and secret drinking problems
and female lovers whom they never touch
except in dreams

men are supposed to be strong
so they have heart attacks
and develop other women
who don't know their weaknessess
and hide their fears
behind male lovers
whom they religiously touch
each saturday morning on the basketball court
it's considered a sign of good health doncha know
that they take such good care
of their bodies

i'm trying to say something about the human condition
maybe i should try again

if you broke an arm or a leg
a crutch would be a sign of courage

people would sign your cast
and you could bravely explain
no it doesn't hurt- it just itches
but if you develop an itch
there are no salves to cover the area
in need of attention
and for whatever guilt may mean
we would feel guilty for trying
to assuage the discomfrot
and even worse for needing the aid

i really want to say something about all of us
am i shouting i want you to hear me

emotional falls always are
the worst
and there are no crutches
to swing back on

I really like the subject matter of this poem, the idea that people are constantly trying to be strong and hide their inner problems. I feel that is this something that many of us experience at one point in time. I like the lines that make this poem feel like a rough draft or a train of thought. Lines such as "i'm trying to say something about the human condition/ maybe I should try again" I feel are very exposing, like the poet is allowing us to see into her thought process as she writes this. I think it's interesting how she says "men are supposed to be strong/ so they have heart attacks." It's funny because it's a contradictory sentence, and I think it's a great way of showing what she feels our culture's values are: how physical/external pain is acceptable, but emotional/internal pain should be kept hidden. I also like the flow of this poem, where she starts out with a broad statement and then goes into details of how people act in society, and then in the end bluntly says what the poem is about. I feel like the poem starts out more flowly and poem-like and the tone gets more desperate and less storytelling as the poem goes on as she is really trying to communicate this idea to the reader. This struck me as very effective and emotional. Her tone is also very teasing some of the time in lines like "since we all know working hands idle the devil" and "it's a good sign of health doncha know." She throws in these cliche sayings or phrasings I think as a way of painting a picture of who is upholding these societal values.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

journal entry #1

A Muse of Water by Carolyn Kizer

We who must act as handmaidens
To our own goddeess, turn too fast,
Trip on our hems, to glimpse the muse
Gliding below her lake or sea,
Are left, long-starring after her,
Narcissists by necessity;


Water itself is not enough.
Harness her turbulence to work
For man: fill his reflecting pools.
Drained for his cofferdams, or stored
In reservoirs for his personal use:
Turn switches! Let the fountains play!


Discover the deserted beach
where ghosts of curlews safely wade:
Here the warm shallows have your feet
Like tawny har of magdalens.
Here, if you care, and lie full-length,
Is water deep enough to drown.

There were so many poems to choose from that I simply chose this poem because it spoke of some sort of "muse" and I wanted to continue on with that kind of theme as a sort of extension to Thursday's piece of poetry discussed. For starters, this poet, Carolyn Kizer, appears to be a very strong feminist. It's almost humorous how much she talks degradingly of men's roles and more specifically - his role in a woman's life. I chose these three stanzas out of twelve (one from the beginning, middle and end) because it shows how Kizer, no matter what she's describing, always finds a way to link it back to water. Water is used as an analogy, metaphor, literary object as well as just simple description. I really liked, for the kinds of feelings portrayed, how she didn't overuse her exclamation points. There are two stanzas in particular in which the last line of every stanza has two exclamaintion points, both of which are found at the end of similar sentence/prose structures. The last stanza, especially the last line, seemed to put such a damper on the lightness of one's idea of water or of a muse. I do, however, find the gentler words mixed with the harsher, less abstract words to be effective and refreshing for a reader like myself (one who doesn't know what to expect). Ultimately, I was really inspired by how Kizer used her "muse of water" to portray what appeared to be deep feelings of inner feminist strength and cathartic womanly "venting".

Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos
by Yusef Komunyakaa

Terra-cotta shrines for loved ones
Who died to hurt us. We rehearse
Their tunes & display their favorite
Colors in a labyrinth of unwinding rooms

Through inner sancta where baroque
Gargoyles open their eyes to scare away
Evil. Plaster of Paris
& paper-mache dusted with glitter.

We season The Last Supper
With salt brushed from bodies
Temporal & unreliable as amaranth
Scenting The Mission District.

Halloween skeletons earn the weight
Of ivory & facade, resting
Like some beautiful accident
On a dice maker's workbench.

When first reading this poem, I immediately took note to a cynical mood throughout the piece. I am not very familiar with the names of poetic devices, but I really liked how the author started off serious with "Terra-cotta shrines for loved ones" and then starts the next line with "Who died to hurt us." When I first read that I took it seriously, but when I really thought about it, I got the sense that the author was trying to make a sort of dark joke. Loved ones don't really die to hurt us, however the result usually is that their death causes us a great deal of pain. To continue with the sense of cynicism, the author continues with these sorts of remarks, once again a mood that is light in a comedic sense but at the same time rather dark, writing of how "We season The Last Supper With salt brushed from bodies". When reading the poem, I had to look up the word amaranth, apparently the author is describing the plant from which the people derive the dye for all their illustrious masks. I like how the poem as a whole has a mood that mirrors that of the holiday of which it speaks. Halloween is a time in which we take some of the darkest aspects of our human existance: death, monsters, evil, and things that scare us, and wear them in a light of comedy and joviality. The mood of this poem captures that and portrays it in what I would consider a pretty accurate manner, contrasting the darkness with a comedic light.

Alzheimer's: The Wife by C.K. Williams

She answers the bothersome telephone, takes the message, forgets the message, forgets who called.
One of their daughters, her husband guesses: the one with the dogs, the babies, the boy Jed?
Yes, perhaps, but how tell which, how tell anything when all the name tags have been lost or switched,
when all the lonely flowers of sense and memory bloom and die now in adjacent bites of time?
Sometimes her own face will suddenly appear with terrifying inappropriateness before her in a mirror.
She knows that if she's patient, its gaze will break, demurely, decorously, like a well-taught child's,
it will turn from her as though it were embarrassed by the secrets of this awful hide-and-seek.
If she forgets, though, and glances back again, it will still be in there, furtively watching, crying.

As this poem is found in our course book, Contemporary American Poetry, on p. 430, it caught my eye while I was browsing through it. The title itself caught my eye just because it seemed so direct and straight forward on the subject of the poem. While reading this poem brings back memories of what I had learned in previous biology classes about Alzheimer's disease, it also brings to mind the hardships that I had to go through with my grandfather. Throughout the poem, the reality of Alzheimer's disease has struck the family hard and has ultimately disrupted the harmony of it as a whole. When C.K. Williams writes "when all the lonely flowers of sense and memory bloom and die now in adjacent bites of time?" it seems as if there is no hope for those who have Alzheimer's disease. In general, this poem has a sad and mellow tone throughout its entirety and subsequently creates a sense of sympathy for those who are dealing with the disease. As Williams writes about the stages of Alzheimer's disease and some of the situations that this couple goes through, it is only obvious of his sorrow that he has for people going through this. The imagery in the beginning of the poem when Williams writes about how "she answers the bothersome telephone, takes the messages, forgets the message, forgets who called," allows the mind to wander and truly think about how it is to have this disease. The comparison with "The Wife" to a "well-taught child," is not something that generally comes to mind when you think of someone with Alzheimer's disease. I think that Williams poem brings out the direct and subtle truth of Alzheimer's disease. After reading this poem, I had read the small paragraph containing his autobiography and had realized that Williams' poems were generally focused on those who were less fortunate in society.

1st poetry entry

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell Contemporary American Poetry pg. 58

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
I woke to black flak and night mare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
I read a bit about this poet and learned that some of his best work is about World War II which is what this particular poem is about. What I absolutely love about this poem is the way in which the poet shows the speaker in life and soon places him in the after-life. Just as he does this, he also shows the transition of the speaker from his mothers arms to that of the claws of war. In this case the speaker is a soldier who is drafted into the air force during World War II. The soldier's mother, aware of the war and the danger her son may be put in if drafted, worries and probably dreams of her son's future. He then "fell" out her dreams as her the mother's worries come true. The soldier is then place in the "Belly" of an airplane as a gunner and killed in action. The poem doesnt reflect any big changes of emotion and gives us a feel of how cruel and heartless the phenomenon of war is. It has a constant mood throughout which I believe adds to the feeling about how people are as meaningless as assets and useless once we stop breathing. Once the soldier is killed he is simply replaced as the blood and sweat that he put into his job were washed away with a hose. This poem inspires saddness and anger with the image of a mother being robbed of her son to place him in a situation of suffering and where he is no more than an object just like the planes and tanks used.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the mease-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

I want to step though the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as as another possiblity,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver

This poem was found in our class book, Contemporary American Poetry, and I found it after perusing the book for some time. While reading, I was surprised by the tone of the poem. The title, When Death Comes, inspired images of death, darkness, and depression in my mind. It was pleasing to realize that by the end of my reading, the author was actually writing about making an impact on this earth before we leave it. Instead of being a grim reading, the poem left me yearning to lead an admirable life that would be remembered for years to come. I know that we have discussed cliches in class already, and I do not mean to be when I say that the title of the poem had me shuddering and worried that I would end up sadder for having read the poem. I am now happier and glad for having read the poem.
I also liked the similes that were used in the poem. I enjoy reading when I can close my eyes and vividly see the words on the pages come alive through my own images and pictures. Death is likened to the, "hungry bear in autumn," and as such shows me a view of death which is not so morose. Through the poem I saw death as something that comes and takes at random just like a bear will take down its prey with no preinclination. Thinking of death like that helps partially understand, the question of, "Why did that person have to die." It is not because of any specifc reason, but just like the bear it takes whatever it is within its grasp. The last of the line strikes me intensely, "I don't want to end up simply having visited this world." Hopefully with some effort, my life will not end in any questions of being simply a visit.

Excerpt from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken --
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an Albatross:
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners' hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.

"God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus! --
Why look'st thou so?" -- With my cross-bow
I shot the Albatross.

The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.

This is a poem I read in high school and it stuck with me. I love the irony of everything: The mariner shoots the bird that gave his fellow seamen good-luck, the old mariner is the only one of his shipmates to survive even though he caused them all bad luck, the Bridegroom becomes sad on his wedding day, etc. I enjoy the foreboding tone of the poem because it deviates from most other poems, which are usually more whimsical. The darkness of it all is interesting because in the end it makes the characters stronger and wiser. The subtle rhymes allow the poem to be a story while also having a poetic flow at the same time. I like the dynamics between all the characters and their environment; how they all react to one another and respect the old mariner, and how they understand the sea as its own entity. The poem is filled with descriptive images and metaphors that allow readers to see and feel the mariner's story. The poem includes many other literary devices to enhance the story, such as the repetition of "the ice" to illustrate magnitude of ice. At last there is no closure because the mariner had passed on his sadness to the unsuspecting bridegroom, although there is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that he benefited from the experience.

Poetry entry

Hawk by Mary Oliver, Contemporary American Poetry pg 415-416

This morning
the hawk
rose up
out of the meadow's browswe

and swung over the lake-
it settled
on the small black dome
of a dead pine,

alert as an admiral,
its profile
distinguished with sideburns
the color of smoke,

and I said: remember
this is not something
of the red fire, this is
heaven's fistful

of death and destruction,
and the hawk hooked
one exquisite foot
onto a last twig

to look deeper
into the yellow reeds
along the edges of the water
and I said: remember

the tree, the cave,
the white liliy of resurection,
and that's when it simply lifted
its golden feet and floated

into the wind, belly-first,
and then it cruised along the lake-
all the time its eyes fastened
harder than love on some

unimportant rustling in the
yellow reeds-and then it
seemed to crouch high in the air, and then it
turned into a white blade, which fell.

This poem really caught my attention because it has to do with nature, which I love, but also because it talks about the danger of animals as well. The hawk is seen as majestic and beautiful, and the speaker admires it a great deal, but the speaker also states-"
and I said: rememberthis is not something of the red fire, this is heaven's fistful of death and destruction". The speaker knows all too owell of the destructive power a hawk has. how its claws can be like a fist of death to many animals. The author uses much imagery in the poem to convey her thoughts, words such as "small black dome" to portray a decaying pine and "heavens fistfull of death" to show the hawks claws as something to be feared. A similie is used to compare the hawk as "Alert as an amiral...distinguished with sideburns." this similie shows how a hawk is always aware of its surroundings just like an admiral of the sea, an admiral with sideburns no less. The last part of this poem is a metaphor that describes the hawk as a "white blade". This image of a sword slashing to the ground shows the true destructive power of the hawk, a swod crashing into its victim. Other things to note are the four line stanzas and the slanting of each line simmilar to the looks af a bird wing. All in all this poem was very fun to read and i could tell the author knew how great hawks really are.

Poem Entry

Emily Dickinson (1830-86) Complete Poems 1924
Part One: Life
I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us--don't tell
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets and this poem is one of my favorite poems. I can connect with the way the speaker feels about being in public and having to put yourself out there in front of the mercy of society. It was always difficult for me to speak in public and I feel that it is some times it's a hassle to have to be noticed people. I like the quiet solitude sometimes. This poem by Emily Dickinson suggests that she does not like to be in the public eye. In fact, she did not publish most of her works. A relative found her poetry after she had passed away and started publishing them. There is rhythm in her poem and though the endings do not rhyme, because of the way she wrote it, there is a pace to it. The speaker is weary of the public attention and much rather be a "nobody" then to be "somebody" announcing himself or herself to society all the time. She also states that if majority were to find out that there were "nobodies" living among them, then they would be outcasted. The speaker compares being a somebody to being a frog. Frogs usually croak and make a racket in the night. Therefore, to be somebody is like being a frog croaking for attention. The speaker speaks with enthusiasm to the audience and is proud to be a nobody.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Pliny I & II by Dan Chiasson

I stepped on a bird this morning. It had fallen between
     two parked cars. My boot-heel made it make a quiet,

sobbing noise, not at all like birdsong. It was
     brittle and soft at once, like matchsticks inside

chewing gum. As a child in Rome, I dreamed someday
     I would be Emerson's "transparent eyeball." I tried

different ways to disappear: I wore a football helmet
     everywhere. What I found out was: you can't

be a transparent eyeball in a football helmet.
     I feel better in the dark. I compare the dark

to chocolate: some rich, naughty substance covering
     my body. That would be invisible — to be dipped in chocolate.

That's no football helmet. What if pain turned
     the bird inside out, what if its own scale were volcanic?

You've got to get yourself dirty to imagine it.
     You've got to get down on all fours and bark.

I became a tiny eye to see into the eye of a sparrow,
     a cricket's eye, a baby's eye; when I looked

at the night sky I made my eye as big as history, for
     the night sky is a kaleidescope of past-times,

as noted astronomer Carl Sagan said. I watched TV and
     made my eye a TV: lidless, rash gazer at whatever happens,

casting shadows of what happens for the neighbors,
     whose eyes are the size of windows, my windows, and sharpen

their sight to voluptuous desire, voyeur voyeur
     pants on fire. Anything half-seen becomes what's on,

becomes the neighbors' newscast, lotto drawing, rerun.
     How do you know a child had died, except by watching

trays of casseroles brought in, the old sit down,
     peoples' bodies doing as bodies will against the wall?

This poem is currently up at Poetry Daily (see links--a new poem every day!) The poet is one of my favorite young poets currently writing, especially because he was MY TA in my first poetry class in college. What I really like about this poem is the way that Chiasson combines a very clear, conversational, inviting tone with constantly inventive, interesting imagery and story-telling. Pliny the Elder and Younger were, I believe, a father-son team of Roman scientists/writers. One of them, I think the Younger, was killed when Mount Etna errupted. If anyone knows better, feel free to correct this in comments!

1758 by Emily Dickinson

Love can do all but raise the Dead
I doubt if even that     
From such a giant were withheld
Were flesh equivalent

But love is tired and must sleep
And hungry and must graze
And so abets the shining Fleet
Till it is out of gaze.    

I love this Emily Dickinson poem mostly for how quietly it says really big things. I think you can sense that there is a huge loss, or many huge losses, lurking in the background of this speaker's experience. I don't think the poem is talking about just any love or just any dead person, although its ideas can be applied generally: I think that the idea of love's enormous longing to be reunited with someone who is gone seems to come out of a specific, personal sense of the pain of death. In the second stanza, I also love the very subtle way that metaphors are used: in the first two lines, love becomes a creature, and then specifically, with "graze," an animal (I see it as a sheep, but maybe that's just me), and then the poem locates this animal on a shore watching ships (symbolically linked to "the Dead") as they sail out of sight. This beautiful, pastoral picture (which Dickinson paints entirely through her use of verbs, amazingly) subtly provides an antidote, or at least a balance, to the poem's sadness.

Meditation at Lagunitas by Robert Hass

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

This is one of my favorite poems. I first read it when I was in college and was reading a lot of literary theory, and I really connected with the beginning of the poem, where it talks about "the new thinking" and how sad it is to understand everything in terms of an ideal of purity that is never reachable. I also really like the images in the poem, and the way it moves around from topic to topic, each one vividly rendered through concrete description: the tone of the voice, the little fish, the bread, the blackberries, all connected by the line of the speaker's thought and through the poem's conversational tone. The poem seems to me to affirm the value of the particular in the face of theories that tell us to think about everything as cold and abstract. I also really like the way that it makes this philosophical point in terms of a very human story, with characters, scenes, emotions, and sense-words. Obviously, this is only one of millions of ways to write a poem about an idea, but it is a way that works really well here because it uses specifics to make the idea personal and avoid cliches.

I'm going to make my responses a bit shorter than yours should be, in order to do a couple of examples.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Welcome to the Writing 30 online journal. If you're a student enrolled in my section of the class, you will be using this site to post responses to poems you read. I'll put up a couple of examples within the next few days. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email.