I adore these closing stanzas from this poem by Marie Howe:
For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.
The underneath —that was the first devil.
It was always with me.
And that I didn’t think you — if I told you — would understand any of this —
She is one of those all-too-rare poets who can read her work with a fluidity and a clarity that doesn’t sound forced. It was such an honor to edit and produce this interview with her for On Being.
Source: SoundCloud / On Being
“A poet is the ‘Amen’ before the utterance of prayer.”
~Dominique Ashaheed from Denver, Colorado
What a magnificent, strong figure, and a lyrical voice to boot. I only wish I could’ve made it to the Women of the World Poetry Slam finals this past week!
(Big thanks to City Pages for the layout.)
Hafiz: “A Man Married to a Blind Woman”
A man married to a blind woman told her how
beautiful she was every day. And whenever he said
that, she smiled, and her whole body relaxed.
They lived alone at a small remote oasis where
few ever stopped. And whenever someone did he
made sure that no one ever saw his wife,
for a person could openly gasp at her appearance
because she was deformed.
Her husband’s voice and that of her sister, who
would a few times a year visit, were the only
ones she really knew. And she loved her simple
life on the little farm they had.
Appearances, and our relationship, you should
know the truth of those by now:
If you woke next to me on any day, I would say
to you what he so often did. My dear, you are so
This poem was excerpted from Daniel Ladinsky’s “A Year with Hafiz: Daily Meditations.” I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Someone told me you were Lakota, Hunkpapa, descendants of Rain in the Face and Sitting Bull.
You were sullen, and angry and wouldn’t look up …
But as you left the courtroom, unreasoned, I blurted
You have a beautiful name.
And you looked up right at me and smiled.
—Franklin Knoll, from his poem “Swift Yellow Bird,” about a 14-year-old boy with whom he tried to connect while serving as a Hennepin County District Judge for 18 years. The retired judge now writes poetry as a way to work through all the pain and suffering he witnessed.
Read more about him in Gail Rosenblum’s wonderful column in the Star Tribune.
The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
There is something very comforting about ritual. I have friends who go to church or sit at the Zen center. I respect that. The ritual of writing fills that need for me. Writing has been a kind of spiritual devotion for me. Listening to language, feeling stories unfold and poems arrive, being present to the page – I do not think of it as a career, I think of it as a devotion. That is a big difference to me.
This PBS NewsHour segment with poet Carl Dennis and his reading of “The God Who Loves You” still moves me. My wife and I read his collection Practical Gods to each other back then (gosh, that was 2002!) and remain all the better for it.
The God Who Loves You
It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you’d be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week—
Three fine houses sold to deserving families—
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you’d have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you’re living
On any scale of satisfaction.
And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.
You don’t want that, a large-souled man like you
Who tries to withhold from your wife the day’s disappointments
So she can save her empathy for the children.
And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You’d have enjoyed over there higher in insight
Than the conversation you’re used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You’re spared by ignorance?
The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him
Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven’t written in months. Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you’ve witnessed,
Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.
I only hope that PBS will offer this as an mp3 file some day rather than in just RealAudio.
Tom Waits reads Charles Bukowski. Nirvana. A pairing of the gods.
The election is over, and it seems like now is as good occasion as ever to turn to poetry. Non? Who better to turn to than Elizabeth Alexander, the poet who wrote and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s inauguration.
She sees poetry as providing the language that elevates and emboldens rather than demeans and alienates. And, despite these times when more and more of the world requires hard data and the certainty of facts, Ms. Alexander tells us what poetry works in us — and in our children — and why it may become more relevant, not less so, in hard and complicated times.
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
I think Lawrence Joseph just awakened me. No coffee needed. How about these lines from “So Where are We?”:
Ten blocks away is the Church of the Transfiguration,
in the back is a Byzantine Madonna –
there is a God, a God who fits the drama
in a very particular sense. What you said –
the memory of a memory of a remembered
memory, the color of a memory, violet and black.
Source: SoundCloud / Ted Hodgkinson
Now isn’t this fascinating! We’re all well acquainted with the only photo of Emily Dickinson known to exist, the daguerreotype of her as a 16-year-old girl taken in 1847 (right).
Now, it appears a second daguerreotype of the reclusive poet has made its way to Amherst College by way of a dedicated collector. But this one, taken in 1859, shows her in a different light as a young woman in her mid-20s sitting with a friend, Kate Scott Turner:
“If the daguerreotype is eventually accepted as Dickinson, it will change our idea of her, providing a view of the poet as a mature woman showing striking presence, strength, and serenity. She (whoever she is) seems to be the one in charge here, the one who decided that on a certain day in a certain year, she and her friend would have their likenesses preserved. In fact, even if this photograph is not of Dickinson and Turner, it has still been of use in forcing us to imagine Dickinson as an adult, past the age of the ethereal-looking 16-year-old we have known for so many years.”
The Guardian reports on the extent to which the daguerreotype has been analyzed right down to the “corneal curvature” and the “hair cowlick.” Don’t you just love a mystery? Here’s your chance to be the verifying link.
So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read in school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is.
It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.
Sylvia Boorstein Reads Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet”
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps the huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of frightening ourselves with death.
During our show this week, Krista Tippett asked Sylvia Boorstein to read the Pablo Neruda poem she always carries with her. Quite a few listeners have asked where they can hear “Keeping Quiet” again, so here she is reciting the poem in front of a live audience in suburban Detroit.
Sometimes it’s the simple act of reading a poem that inspires so many to listen deeply and share what they felt.