The gorgeous print literary journal Lily Poetry Review has published a beautifully-written review of To Love the River in its Summer issue. Due to family issues, I haven’t been very active posting things of late, but hope to do more now. The review is written by Editor-in-Chief Eileen Cleary, author of the heartbreaking and powerful book Child Ward of the Commonwealth (Main Street Rag, 2019). She writes “To Karami, poetry is music and as such is composed rather than written.” And “to explore luminous spaces in the hands of this capable and imagistic poet is a true pleasure.” How can I thank you, dear reviewer, for such a thrilling review? And the journal itself is a thing of beauty, full of poems that open up worlds to the imagination. Well worth a subscription.
In honor of the first landing and walking of a human on the moon on July 16, 1969, with the Apollo 11 space program, here’s my poem “Moon Landing”:
Past the craters’ cutthroat edges, a calculus
of wings unfurls. Our minds tighten ship
through gutwrench math toward the plain of shadows,
our words mere nuts and bolts. No miracles
until the deed is done. Split-second jams
conveyed in jargon to the gods of Houston,
with us, with us — an aura of omniscience
far from where they smoke and stare at screens.
Roger—can you see us? Roger—tell us
where the metal butterfly’s approach
will touch the myth, the mirror, violate
the mover of the tides we left behind.
In blackdrop space, the blue/white marbled globe
beams a bright pang on this gray-scale world
so desolate no ghosts or fossils haunt
the place we plunge toward. Trajectories
morph, equations go awry. The roughed-up
desert seas, gaps of annihilation
we grip in practiced hands and potent codes.
Against the graves and gravity, we scan
for flatness down breathless degrees, deploy
a subtle physics, gear, grace of God,
touchdown. We’re in black and white. Alive.
The gods unclench their fists and spit their gum—
our footfalls sink into the regolith
that yields our perfect prints in perfect gray.
Marie Ponsot, who died on July 5, 2019, at the age of 98, left a legacy of elegantly crafted, deeply meaningful and yet entirely unique poetry in five collections, winning the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Robert Frost Medal, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for Lifetime Achievement, among others. From the Washington Post article regarding her death,
Reflecting on Ms. Ponsot’s work, the poet and critic Susan Stewart once wrote: “What she has written of her relation to the night sky — ‘it becomes the infinite / air of imagination that stirs immense / among losses and leaves me less desolate’ — could be claimed by her readers as a description of her own work…
Married to the painter Claude Ponsot, she wrote her first poetry collection dedicated to him, and titled it True Minds, taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. They had seven children, and when they divorced in 1970, she published her second book of poetry entitled Admit Impediment, also taken from the same sonnet: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ admit impediments.” This is the sort of imaginative wordplay one can find in her work, not without its subtle humor either.
She retreated from publishing for about 25 years, although she continuously wrote poetry. She said it just “didn’t occur” to her to publish. There’s also an element of deep humility in her life and voice, which also rings confidently and with both gusto and acumen.
This poem I found particularly gorgeous:
This Bridge, Like Poetry, Is Vertigo
In a time of dearth bring forth number, weight, & measure.– William Blake
Describing the wind that drives it, cloud
rides between earth and space. Cloud
shields earth from sun-scorch. Cloud
bursts to cure earth’s thirst. Cloud
–airy, wet, photogenic–
is a bridge or go-between;
it does as it is done by.
It condenses. It evaporates.
It draws seas up, rains down.
I do love the drift of clouds.
Cloud-love is irresistible,
Deep above the linear city this morning
the cloud’s soft bulk is almost unmoving.
The winds it rides are thin;
it makes them visible.
As sun hits it or if sun
quits us it’s blown away
or rains itself or snows itself away.
It is indefinite:
This dawns on me: no cloud is measurable.
Make mine cloud.
Make mind cloud.
The clarity of cloud is in its edgelessness,
its each instant of edge involving
in formal invention, always
at liberty, at it, incessantly altering.
A lucky watcher will catch it
as it makes big moves:
up the line of sight it lifts
until it conjugates or
its unidentical being intact
though it admits flyers.
It lets in wings. It lets them go.
It lets them.
It embraces mountains & spires built
to be steadfast; as it goes on
it lets go of them.
It is not willing.
It is not unwilling.
Late at night when my outdoors is
indoors, I picture clouds again:
Come to mind, cloud.
Come to cloud, mind.
(Note the wordplay here, evident throughout her poetry.)
Writing poems by hand and putting down ideas on scraps of paper or napkins between changing diapers and all the labor-intensive work that goes with raising children, she is a very sympathetic character, a teacher, translator, essayist and critic. Her poetry shows formal dexterity, imagination, and a delightful spirit.
Here is a beautiful sample of her more formal poetry and her depth of understanding:
What women wander?
Not many. All. A few.
Most would, now & then,
& no wonder.
Some, and I’m one,
Wander sitting still.
My small grandmother
Bought from every peddler
Less for the ribbons and lace
Than for their scent
Of sleep where you will,
Walk out when you want, choose
Your bread and your company.
She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”
She looked fragile but had
High blood, runner’s ankles,
Could endure, endure.
She loved her rooted garden, her
Grand children, her once
Wild once young man.
As best they can.
They say “it comes in threes,” which always struck me as slightly humorous. So I laugh, in a good way, when I say that three entirely different publications have published my photography at about the same time, the first two I’ve mentioned in the two previous posts, and the third is a photographic piece in the illustrious Fourth & Sycamore online zine, here. Thrilled to have my work on that wonderful site!!! Also check out the other poetry and art there.
The lovely publisher and online venue Animal Heart Press is featuring my poetry and photography on on their site starting today, June 10, for one week!!! Today’s featured poem is “In the Interim.” Check the site daily for more poetry, photography, poetry readings from my new book To Love the River, an interview, and for a finale, a short film!! Huge thanks to Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Horan, Assistant Editor Amanda McLeod, and the whole AP team. A dream to work with!!!
Updates: Friday, June 14, I read selections from my book, To Love the River!
Thursday, June 13 (as well as Tuesday June 11), poetry and photography posted.
Wednesday, June 12, interview with Amanda posted. Please check it out!
When it comes to form, nobody does it like Terence Hayes: he understands the larger view of form as a Force that can drive a point right into your heart. In this New Yorker article, author Dan Chiasson says that the sonnet, a form Hayes calls “part music box, part meat grinder,” became the poet’s vehicle of choice for his recent book, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin , because for him,
the sonnet offered an alternative unit of measurement, at once ancient, its basic features unchanged for centuries, and urgent, its fourteen lines passing at a brutal clip.
In the book, the American sonnet both contains and assaults his assassins: “I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison, / Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.” The form itself being the brainchild of “the L.A. poet Wanda Coleman, who died in 2013 and who coined the term ‘American sonnet.‘” Who considered the term as referring to a more “improvised” sonnet that used jazz techniques and musical patterns.
The language is powerful and immediate, exuding worlds and threats. This is what sets Hayes apart: the combination of power, poetic skill (unique use of craft), unrelenting content, and an intensity of heart that drives all this into a tour de force of words closing in on flesh.
All cancers kill me, car crashes, cavemen, chakras,
Crackers, discord, dissonance, doves, Elvis,
Ghosts, the grim reaper herself, a heart attack
While making love, hangmen, Hillbillies exist,
Lilies, Martha Stewarts, Mayflower maniacs,
Money grubbers, Gwen Brooks’ “The Mother,”
(My mother’s bipolar as bacon), pancakes kill me,
Phonies, dead roaches, big roaches & smaller
Roaches, the sheepish, snakes, all seven seas,
Snow avalanches, swansongs, sciatica, Killer
Wasps, yee-haws, you, now & then, disease.
A list that also serves as ammunition, a kind of automatic fire that thrills with its sheer brilliance and expanse of imagination. And also with its truth, how he disgorges the racist and white supremacist attitudes made flesh in the form of Donald Trump and his followers. To which this collection is addressed, among other things.
“This word can be the difference between knowing / And thinking. It’s the name people of color call / Themselves on weekends & the name colorful / People call their enemies & friends.”
These poems all happen in the mind, which has been portioned into zones called “I” and “you.” Both assume countless different roles, but what remains constant is their reliance upon each other and their tendency to flip positions. This makes the work morally ambiguous in ways some readers will resist: I suspect that not everybody will recognize “blackness” as any part, even a rejected part, of Trump, a man whose loathing of black people seems unabashed.
Yes, “Hayes isn’t describing canonical melancholy, the pined-for vision of mortality that poets sometimes indulge in. He fears a more immediate kind of danger, which can’t be aestheticized or glorified in verse. “You are beautiful because of your sadness,” Hayes admits. And yet: “You would be more beautiful without your fear.”
In the form he invented:
The Golden Shovel
Please check out the new issue of the fantastic Poetry and art site Kissing Dynamite, where I am the featured artist. You can find my photos in the gallery, and of course read this month’s selection of fine poetry. Huge thanks to Editor Christine Taylor for featuring my work. Don’t miss it!!
Rare indeed is the scientist-poet, gifted in language and math/ scientific thinking at the same time, but this describes Rebecca Elson, featured in this post on the Brainpickings site, a gift from one-woman-curator Maria Popova. Elson’s stellar scientific career, for which she was a natural genius, was cut short by 9/11 funding crises and the scientific patriarchy which did not give women their due at the time. At that point she turned to poetry; and the result is amazing, a collection of poetry, essays, and other writings selected by those who knew her and published as A Responsibility to Awe in 2001. She died at the age of 39 in 1999.
Despite her untimely death, she returned to scientific inquiry and is remembered most for her scientific contributions (52 scientific research papers), although her poetry also remains popular and was highly praised even at its publication: The Economist named her book as one of the best of the year in 2001.
Since I myself wanted to be both a poet and astronomer at the age of 9, Elson’s work holds a particular fascination to me. And as I attempted to explain relativity in college by having people on my dorm floor act it out (or at least one dramatic aspect of it), at which point I had an epiphany about it, I was particularly drawn to this poem of hers from the book:
Forget the clatter of ballistics,
The monologue of falling stones,
The sharp vectors,
And the stiff numbered grids.
It’s so much more a thing of pliancy, persuasion,
Where space might cup itself around a planet
Like your palm around a stone,
Where you, yourself the planet
Caught up in some geodesic dream,
Might wake to feel it enfold your weight
And know there is, in fact, no falling.
It is this, and the existence of limits.
Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry has published my poem “Angels” in their 2019 issue (in print only). It’s a gorgeous issue with much fine poetry including some of the best poets writing today, as well as thoughtful reviews and interviews. The cover by the painter Rick Mullin is also amazing. Huge thanks to editor extraordinaire Mary Ann B. Miller, for including my poem among the many exceptional poets, and for including a wider range of spiritual writing, Catholic and non-Catholic (such as myself). You can order a copy here. The issue is well worth it!