The extraordinary poet Louise Glück has won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, a very well-deserved honor. The New York Times interviewed her here. The most stunning excerpt from that interview, very telling of the kind of transformative poet she is, is this statement about aging, which she describes as “a new experience” from the point of view of the artist as “an adventurer”:
“You find yourself losing a noun here and there, and your sentences develop these vast lacunae in the middle, and you either have to restructure the sentence or abandon it. But the point is, you see this, and it has never happened before. And though it’s grim and unpleasant and bodes ill, it’s still, from the point of view of the artist, exciting and new.“
Her incredibly prolific body of work is so impressive, it’s hard to choose just one poem, but here is one that was particularly meaningful to me.
The Empty Glass
BY Louise Glück
I asked for much; I received much.
I asked for much; I received little, I received
next to nothing.
And between? A few umbrellas opened indoors.
A pair of shoes by mistake on the kitchen table.
O wrong, wrong—it was my nature. I was
hard-hearted, remote. I was
selfish, rigid to the point of tyranny.
But I was always that person, even in early childhood.
Small, dark-haired, dreaded by the other children.
I never changed. Inside the glass, the abstract
tide of fortune turned
from high to low overnight.
Was it the sea? Responding, maybe,
to celestial force? To be safe,
I prayed. I tried to be a better person.
Soon it seemed to me that what began as terror
and matured into moral narcissism
might have become in fact
actual human growth. Maybe
this is what my friends meant, taking my hand,
telling me they understood
the abuse, the incredible shit I accepted,
implying (so I once thought) I was a little sick
to give so much for so little.
Whereas they meant I was good (clasping my hand intensely)—
a good friend and person, not a creature of pathos.
I was not pathetic! I was writ large,
like a queen or a saint.
Well, it all makes for interesting conjecture.
And it occurs to me that what is crucial is to believe
in effort, to believe some good will come of simply trying,
a good completely untainted by the corrupt initiating impulse
to persuade or seduce—
What are we without this?
Whirling in the dark universe,
alone, afraid, unable to influence fate—
What do we have really?
Sad tricks with ladders and shoes,
tricks with salt, impurely motivated recurring
attempts to build character.
What do we have to appease the great forces?
And I think in the end this was the question
that destroyed Agamemnon, there on the beach,
the Greek ships at the ready, the sea
invisible beyond the serene harbor, the future
lethal, unstable: he was a fool, thinking
it could be controlled. He should have said
I have nothing, I am at your mercy.
Mark your calendars for this Saturday at 11 a.m. for a virtual reading Via Zoom of the winning sonnets in the Maria Faust Sonnet Contest, which includes my sonnet “The Worth of August”! If all goes well I will read my sonnet; a family health crisis that came up unexpectedly means I’m not sure I can do this, but hope I can. And if I can’t , they have wonderful readers from among the judges and actors from the Shakespearean Festival acting company. The other winners are quite an impressive group, including poets Gail White, Barbara Loots, and Richard Meyer (who’s frequently won prizes in this contest). Not to ignore the others, including the top three prizewinners. It’s a fantastic event, so don’t miss it. Just click the link above. So excited to be a part of this great tradition!
Poetry International has published my review of Adeeba Shahid Talukder’s Kundiman Prize-winning debut full-length poetry collection Shahr-e-Jaanaan: City of the Beloved (Tupelo Press, 2020), a truly gorgeous unforgettable book available at Tupelo Press and Barnes & Noble and elsewhere (including you-know-who – let’s try other places first).
Check out the review!
My history of the ghazal form, “Ghazal Culture: Exalted Nomads and Love’s Elusive Gate,” has been published on The Chained Muse! The history is quite surprising, how a form that developed out of a desert Arab tradition flowered in Bollywood, influenced such diverse cultures as Persia, Afghanistan, and Western Europe, and has been written in myriad languages, even instrumental in the development of a modern, commonly used language. Please check it out!
One of the complaints common among non-English majors is that poetry today is often inaccessible, sacrificing general audiences for academic ones, or that the qualities of rhyme and meter have been sacrificed on the altar of modernism and free verse. Martin Elster, however, simply writes the kind of poetry he writes, both formal and rhyming, because as a musician this is what he intuitively prefers. His is a unique voice, and his new book Celestial Euphony gives us poetry that is not self-consciously “accessible,” but rather engages the reader with a rare sort of clarity and art, bringing us perspectives on nature, science, and human nature that are wrought with the intent of conveying them in the best way possible. So below is the press release from the publisher for his book, which can be purchased here.
We’re pleased to announce the release of Martin Elster’s new poetry collection, Celestial Euphony. Many of you might know him by his pen name, Miles T. Ranter, under which he participates in our weekly poetry contests. In addition to winning many of our contests and earning an honorable mention in many more, Martin has seen his work published in numerous publications and anthologies, and has won or placed in several poetry competitions. Celestial Euphony is available in paperback and Kindle.
“Martin’s fluid movement among various frames of reference— from astrophysics to musicology to botany to etymology—creates a structure of sheer imaginative play, which frames his utterly humane eye. His poetry explores the lyrical, intellectual, affective forces of language, while staying rooted in sensitive subjectivity. Martin is a joyous craftsman!”
Matthew Kirshman, author of The Magic Flower & Other Sonnets
“Stepping into Martin Elster’s work, I’m taken by its rhythms and musicality. These are poems to read aloud, savor their sounds, and enjoy a meandering walk through the world around us.”
Frank Watson, editor of Poetry Nook and author of The Dollhouse Mirror, Seas to Mulberries, and One Hundred Leaves
Through ballades and ballads, acrostics and ghazals, sonnets and Sapphics—both lighthearted and ruminative—the evocative poems in this collection portray the sights and sounds of our natural and manmade environments, the plants and animals everywhere around us and our relationship with them, sometimes pleasant and beautiful, often harmful and ominous.
There are poems about terrestrial musicians and interstellar musicians, the songs of spring peepers and katydids, the plight of spiders and polar bears, humans in love and at war, songbirds vying with urban cacophony, lonely dogs and ghostly dogs, and very serious musings about the huge and mysterious cosmos that we are all a part of and how we click with it.
About the Author
Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, is a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Aside from playing and composing music, he finds contentment in long walks in the woods or the city and, most of all, writing poetry, often alluding to the creatures and plants he encounters.
His career in music has influenced his fondness for writing metrical verse, which has appeared in 14 by 14, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better than Starbucks, Cahoodaloodaling, Eye to the Telescope, Lighten Up Online, The Centrifugal Eye, The Chimaera, The Flea, The Speculative Edge, THEMA, and numerous other journals, e-zines, and anthologies.
His honors include Rhymezone’s poetry contest (2016) co-winner, the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition (2014) winner, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s poetry contest (2015) third place, and four Pushcart nominations.
A sample poem is below:
Waiting for Dawn atop Butterfly Mountain
A dilapidated lepidopteran
dying atop The Mountain of Butterflies
holds out her wings to the darkness — wings as thin
as the mist that swirls beneath monsoonal skies —
and pictures the tea farm women, who often glow
like painted sawtooths dotting the plantation;
and, wallowing in the Mahaweli’s flow,
trumpeting in carefree conversation,
elephants plashing, washing away all worry.
Unlike them, she’s alone here on this rock,
a decent rock on which to dream. No hurry
to flee the fleeting memories that flock
like the birds of Sinharaja: the cunning jackal,
the whistling thrush, the fish in every lake
(which lure the hungry to come with boats and tackle
and float on magic molecules that slake
the roots of rice), the din of Devon Falls
reverberating through a green expanse
where a muntjac barks, a magpie calls and calls,
and footsteps crack the chrysalis of her trance —
men climbing toward her haven. Soon the sun
will oust the night. Slowly she beats her wings,
wings like frozen wood as, one by one,
they gain the hilltop, quicker as someone sings
a hymn to dawn, then darts away as a bell
blossoms like an orchid on the height
and, rising with the most resounding knell,
fades like the constellations at first light.
As a part of their Tiferet Tifs section, Tiferet Journal, one of the prime journals for spiritual writing, has published my brief essay “Faith” as a part of that series. Being published in Tiferet is a longstanding dream of mine, so I’m especially happy about this. A little more about the series as well as how to subscribe, or even get a sample issue of their beautiful journal, here. Or, for more details on subscribing, check out this page.
My ghazal “Delivery,” originally published on the wonderful SWWIM website, has now been published in the Orison Anthology, which I now hold in my hands!! SWWIM, which is based in Miami and publishes poetry by women, nominated my poem for the Orison Anthology, a prestigious anthology of spiritual writing which also holds an annual contest for poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. It’s a huge and unexpected honor to have my poem included!! A copy of the Anthology can be purchased here, where you will also find (my name among) the names of contributors, including contest winners.
Ecstatic doesn’t even describe it. My poetry collection, To Love the River, has been reviewed in Atticus Review, and it is indeed a gratifying review for a book into which I put my whole self. All my appreciation to the reviewer, Nicole Caruso Garcia, for taking the time to consider and appreciate my poetry in such a fine venue. Also a fine poet in her own right, it means so much that she considered it worth her time. My thanks to Atticus Review as well for publishing the review; especially as I have a publicity deficit (common among poets, alas). Being online also means the review is accessible to more people. She states:
She skillfully toggles between micro and macro, zooms in on an insect level, then pulls back to let readers see the constellations.
Like the core pieces in a museum’s collection, Karami’s ghazals alone make the experience worth the price of admission.
With its lovely inventive title, “Life Only as Water Current,” this review is a thing of beauty for which I am deeply grateful.
Atticus Review is itself a wonderful venue for poetry, fiction, CNF, and mixed media, as well as reviews and interviews. It’s well worth your time to look through the whole site.
And for those who are interested, now is a good time to consider giving the gift of poetry; the review touches on the high points of my book and gives you a fair assessment of what’s inside. I will sign and send a personally signed copy with free shipping for those who contact me in the next two weeks either via email sihamkarami at gmail dot com or follow me on twitter @sihamkarami and I will follow you back where you can send me a direct message regarding purchase of a signed copy of my book. Of course, there’s always Amazon and Kelsay Books’ site as well, but without signature and paying for shipping. All this is also on the “Books” tab above. One feels somehow not-right to promote one’s own book, but such is the fate of the lesser-known poet. A small blip in the sea. For which such reviews are lifeboats.