Bits of Boland

From an interview with Eavan Boland at Caffeine Destiny:

The title “Against Love Poetry” recalls in some ways the title of one of your other books, “Outside History”. Do you see part of the poets work to write about things that happen outside of recorded culture?

It certainly feels to me that it’s on the margins, at the edges that a poet can make one kind of eco-system. Not the only one, of course. Poets have written at the center, in courts, at the seat of power. But that’s one kind of poetry. The idea of a poetry which can fathom silences, follow the outsider’s trail – that draws me in. In a country like Ireland it was possible to see the difference between the past and history – how one was official and articulate and the other was silent and fugitive. I suppose I was drawn to the past, rather than to history.  [more interview]

A poem from Against Love Poetry:

Quarantine

In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking-they were both walking-north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and a woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Eavan Boland on the poem and the book, from the same interview:

It was a series of separate poems. I didn’t consciously connect them. They began to be connected as they accumulated, as I saw the same images and ideas coming back again. These are marriage poems – I’ve been married thirty-two years. They’re also poems that are in an argument with traditional or conventional love poetry. It was hard to manage the different strands. But there’s a poem in the sequence of marriage poems in the book – there’s eleven of them in all – called “Quarantine”. And that was a shaping poem for me. It’s about an incident in Ireland in the nineteenth century: A man and a woman left the workhouse at the time of the 1847 famine. It was in Carrigstyra in West Cork. Those were very desperate times -there was famine fever and starvation. This incident must have been like hundreds of others and would probably have been forgotten but it was left as an anecdote by a man writing sixty years later. The man and woman walked north, back to their cabin. They died that night. In the morning when they were found, her feet were against his chest. He had tried to warm them as she died – as they both did. When I thought of that account, when it came into the poem in the sequence, it was no longer a local, Irish incident. It had become a dark love story, and an exemplary one. And that tied together things for me. All the things I wanted to get at – the stoicism of dailyness, the failure of conventional love poetry- all came together there.

From an interview with Elizabeth Schmidt at American Poet:

Schmidt: You mentioned the lyric is the lingua franca of Irish poetry. To what extent do you feel, if at all, that your ideas about feminism–the way those ideas have infused your work–have created a transnational poetics, a sort of lingua franca that addresses, for example, the domestic visions that women of a certain class everywhere can share?

Boland: I’m a feminist. I’m not a feminist poet. I’ve said somewhere else that I think feminism has real power and authority as an ethic, but none at all as an aesthetic. My poetry begins for me where certainty ends. I think the imagination is an ambiguous and untidy place, and its frontiers are not accessible to the logic of feminism for that reason. So I don’t really think it’s created that poetics you speak of, in exactly that way. Where feminism has influenced and anchored my view of things is in the making of a critique. And it’s one of the things I’m most uneasy about, looking back: that so much women’s poetry pre-existed that critique. I think it needs a critique. Feminism is certainly a part of a book like Object Lessons.  [more]

From In a Time of Violence:

The Pomegranate

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me. 
                              It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry.I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.

From Can Poetry Console a Grieving Public:

When Yeats wrote his essay “The Galway Plains,” he said, “There is still in truth upon these level plains a people, a community bound together by imaginative possessions.” If the poet can stay close to the idea of those imaginative possessions, then undoubtedly he or she can represent their loss. The problem is that poetry has, for almost a hundred years, shown suspicion of those very “imaginative possessions.” It has—at least in some quarters—guarded the rights to the private imagination fiercely, and resisted the obligations of the public one. There are reasons for that. 20th-century poetry, in the aftermath of the modernist initiative, was committed to new idioms of experiment and increasingly skeptical of the popular reader. Was that a mistake? Does the cultivation of the private imagination now seem too willful, too insular?  [all of it]

A final poem, from Domestic Violence:

Atlantis – A Lost Sonnet

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades,
not to mention vehicles and animals—had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city—

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.

You can listen to an interview with Eavan Boland here

Project: unknown

Reality, what can we do with it? Where is it in words?
Just as it flickers, it vanishes. Innumerable lives
unremembered. Cities on maps only,
without that face in the window, on the first floor, by the market,
without those two in the bushes near the gas plant.
Returning seasons, mountain snows, oceans
& the blue ball of the earth rotates
- Czesław Miłosz
Lecture IV
sam&sara motel

via whiskey river

Bitter Grace

From The Lemon Trees by Eugenio Montale:

You realize that in silences
things yield and almost betray
their ultimate secrets.
At times, one half expects
to discover an error in Nature,
the still point of reality,
the missing link that will not hold,
the thread we cannot untangle
in order to get at the truth.

You look around. Your mind seeks,
makes harmonies, falls apart
in the perfume, expands
when the day wearies away.
There are silences in which one watches
in every fading human shadow
something divine let go.

Found at Bitter Grace Notes

The rest of the poem is here

cross-posted at ellusive …

Stopping Bulldozers

A pacifist, which is what I am, can be the strongest resister, and pacifism the most defiant form of resistance. Same with language usage: I mix the old and the new to engage with a debate about protection, preservation, conservation, and respect of the “natural” world. I am aware of the problems these words carry in terms of implying complicity, because I am a poet rather than a speech writer. For me, because of this, poems can stop bulldozers. Not because they just say “stop bulldozer,” but because the intricacies of language challenge, distract, and entangle the bulldozer. I am using a semantics not of analogy, but of opposition. My words are intended to halt the damage—to see what shouldn’t be seen, to declare and challenge it.  

More from John Kinsella’s Vermin: A Notebook here

American Vortex

On Ginsberg’s Wichita Vortex Sutra:

“Wichita Vortex Sutra” originated as a kind of proto-podcast that Ginsberg intoned into an Uher tape recorder while traveling across the American heartland in the winter of 1966. Though the language of the poem is specific to the Vietnam War (which was escalating at the time), it certainly speaks to the conditions of 2006 — not only in its refrain about how empty language started, but cannot end, a military action, but also in its riff on the contradictions between distant Asia and the Middle American conservatism that has enabled a war there; in its alarm at the numbing impact of global telecommunications and the media preoccupation with statistics; in its despair at the hypocritical politicians and corporations that are profiting from the war. Fragments of the poem first appeared in the May 27, 1966, issue of LIFE, and the full text later debuted in a City Lights “Pocket Poets” collection entitled Planet News.

Ginsberg’s journey to Kansas, which he undertook in a Volkswagen van purchased with Guggenheim grant money, stemmed from his long-standing fascination with the state (in “Howl,” he mentions Kansas as the place where “the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet”). In one sense, Ginsberg felt that Kansas was politically representative of Middle American support for war and the military-industrial complex — a stereotype that presaged its current “red state” reputation by several decades. But beyond political generalizations, Ginsberg saw Kansas as the mystic center of America, celebrated by Whitman in Leaves of Grass (“chants going forth from the center, from Kansas, and thence equidistant / shooting in pulses of fire ceaseless to vivify all”). The poet saw Wichita, the ultimate destination of his road-trip poem, as the symbolic heart of this transcendental American vortex.   [more]

From The Last Anti-War Poem by Rolf Potts at The Believer

From “On ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’” -

With admirable sincerity and making no bones about it, Ginsberg attempts to assume the role called for by Shelley in the celebrated if somewhat petulant assertion that poets are “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”  Ginsberg assumes this role when he attempts to legislate by declaring the end of hostilities in Viet Nam. . . .  What makes this assertion so original is the means by which Ginsberg strives to give validity and authority to his act of legislation: he declares the end of the war by making a mantra. . . .

Does the mantra work? . . .  [more]

Paul Carrol

Hearing Ginsberg read “Wichita Vortex Sutra” during the war was exhilarating. In a large audience the declaration of the war’s end was collectively purgative. The text of the poem retains that fragile, deluded but dramatic effectiveness because it registers its unresolvable ambiguities with such clarity. [more]

Cary Nelson

Wichita Vortex Sutra

Philip Glass

Wichita Vortex Sutra, Allen Ginsberg (audio)

Ginsberg’s Anti-War Poem

From Wichita Vortex Sutra -

O but how many in their solitude weep aloud like me–
                     On the bridge over the Republican River
                                almost in tears to know
                                           how to speak the right language–
                     on the frosty broad road
                                uphill between highway embankments
                     I search for the language
                                          that is also yours–
                                almost all our language has been taxed by war.
Radio antennae high tension
           wires ranging from Junction City across the plains–
           highway cloverleaf sunk in a vast meadow
                                lanes curving past Abilene
                                          to Denver filled with old
heroes of love–
                                to Wichita where McClure’s mind
                                          burst into animal beauty
                                          drunk, getting laid in a car
                                                     in a neon misted street
                                                               15 years ago–
           to Independence where the old man’s still alive
           who loosed the bomb that’s slaved all human consciousness
                             and made the body universe a place of fear–
Now, speeding along the empty plain,
                      no giant demon machine
                                visible on the horizon
           but tiny human trees and wooden houses at the sky’s edge
                      I claim my birthright!
                                reborn forever as long as Man
                                          in Kansas or other universe–Joy
                      reborn after the vast sadness of War Gods!
A lone man talking to myself, no house in the brown vastness to hear,
                      imaging the throng of Selves
                                 that make this nation one body of Prophecy
                                          languaged by Declaration as
                                                     Happiness!
I call all Powers of imagination
           to my side in this auto to make Prophecy,
                                                                         all Lords
                      of human kingdoms to come
Shambu Bharti Baba naked covered with ash
                      Khaki Baba fat-bellied mad with the dogs
Dehorahava Baba who moans Oh how wounded, How wounded
           Sitaram Onkar Das Thakur who commands
                                                       give up your desire
Satyananda who raises two thumbs in tranquility
           Kali Pada Guha Roy whose yoga drops before the void
                       Shivananda who touches the breast and says OM
Srimata Krishnaji of Brindaban who says take for your guru
           William Blake the invisible father of English visions
            Sri Ramakrishna master of ecstasy eyes
                       half closed who only cries for his mother
Chaitanya arms upraised singing & dancing his own praise
            merciful Chango judging our bodies
                       Durga-Ma covered with blood
                                    destroyer of battlefield illusions
                       million-faced Tathagata gone past suffering
            Preserver Harekrishna returning in the age of pain
Sacred Heart my Christ acceptable
                       Allah the Compassionate One
                                           Jahweh Righteous One
                                     all Knowledge-Princes of Earth-man, all
            ancient Seraphim of heavenly Desire, Devas, yogis
                                     & holymen I chant to–
                                            Come to my lone presence
                                                    into this Vortex named Kansas,
I lift my voice aloud,
            make Mantra of American language now,
                             I here declare the end of the War!
                                         Ancient days’ Illusion!
                     and pronounce words beginning my own millennium.
Let the States tremble,
            let the Nation weep,
                       let Congress legislate it own delight
                                  let the President execute his own desire–
this Act done by my own voice,
                                          nameless Mystery–
published to my own senses,
                               blissfully received by my own form
            approved with pleasure by my sensations
                       manifestation of my very thought
                       accomplished in my own imagination
                               all realms within my consciousness fulfilled
            60 miles from Wichita
                                          near El Dorado,
                                                     The Golden One,
in chill earthly mist
            houseless brown farmland plains rolling heavenward
                                                                        in every direction
one midwinter afternoon Sunday called the day of the Lord–
            Pure Spring Water gathered in one tower
                                  where Florence is
                                                        set on a hill,
                                  stop for tea & gas

Allen Ginsberg

Adrienne Rich: No ‘Hostage of Power’

From Christopher Soden at the Dallas GLBT Arts Examiner:

AdrienneRich-smallConsidering the literary canon of Lesbian writers, perhaps none have had the pervasive impact and influence of poet Adrienne Rich, who entered the scene early, but continued to learn and evolve as she gained recognition and accolades for her modulated, angry, confrontational, articulate, yet subtle verse. Not that Rich only addressed defiant feminist gender politics. Much of her poetry has a reflective, wistful feel about it. No one (who gave it much thought) would accuse her of monotony or polemics. Married to Harvard economist Alfred H. Conrad in 1953, they had three sons before the epiphany of her actual orientation was fully realized, the territory of her writing symbiotic with her journey of self-discovery.

A pretty good summary of Rich’s poetic career follows here.

Adrienne Rich at Modern American Poetry

Rich interviewed by Don Swaim in 2008 at Wired for Books

On Adrienne Rich at bookslut

A list of online criticism for Adrienne Rich

Underweavings

Darwin's Finches
1 
My mother always called it a nest, 
the multi-colored mass harvested

from her six daughters' brushes, 
and handed it to one of us

after she had shaped it, as we sat in front 
of the fire drying our hair.

She said some birds steal anything, a strand 
of spider's web, or horse's mane,

the residue of sheep's wool in the grasses 
near a fold

where every summer of her girlhood 
hundreds nested.

Since then I've seen it for myself, their genius—
how they transform the useless.

I've seen plastics stripped and whittled 
into a brilliant straw,

and newspapers—the dates, the years—
supporting the underweavings.

2 
As tonight in our bed by the window 
you brush my hair to help me sleep, and clean

the brush as my mother did, offering 
the nest to the updraft.

I'd like to think it will be lifted as far 
as the river, and catch in some white sycamore,

or drift, too light to sink, into the shaded inlets, 
the bank-moss, where small fish, frogs, and insects

lay their eggs. 
Would this constitute an afterlife?

The story goes that sailors, moored for weeks 
off islands they called paradise,

stood in the early sunlight 
cutting their hair. And the rare

birds there, nameless, almost extinct, 
came down around them

and cleaned the decks 
and disappeared into the trees above the sea.
Deborah Digges

Bird of Mine

I have a Bird in spring
Which for myself doth sing —
The spring decoys.
And as the summer nears —
And as the Rose appears,
Robin is gone.
Yet do I not repine
Knowing that Bird of mine
Though flown —
Learneth beyond the sea
Melody new for me
And will return.
. . .
Then will I not repine,
Knowing that Bird of mine
Though flown
Shall in a distant tree
Bright melody for me
Return.
- Emily Dickinson

Death of a Poet

I am very saddened by the suicide of poet Deborah Digges.  Her book on a journey with her difficult teenaged son is one of the most courageous pieces of writing I know of – only just slightly less courageous than the journey itself.  It gave me hope when I had little faith in my own much critisized mothering.

In recognizing Digges’ death, Edward Byrne posted this, written by Digges, on his blog, One Poet’s Notes:

“Once I asked myself, when was I happy?
I was looking at a February sky.
When did the light hold me and I didn’t struggle?”

And this.  I can do no better:

And here’s reaction from Tufts University where Digges taught.