The formal poetry website The Chained Muse has published my ghazal “The Triumph of Roses” (reprint) on Christmas Day, a gift and also an auspicious shot of luck for 2019. This link will bring you the Roses Ghazal and also give you my ghazal “In Egypt” with a wonderful and appropriate photo, published there last October. This is an up-and-coming venue for formal poetry. Please check it out!!
Category Archives: Formal Poetry
The hyperactive (publishing up a storm) and wonderful site Rhythm & Bones’ zine dedicated to the dark side, Dark Marrow, has published two of my poems: “Metamorphosis” and “Frost My Heart.” These are definitely dark poems, formal ones (a sonnet with variations and a rondeau), which fit the site’s description: “featuring your twisted visions and nightmares, your traumas you can’t shake, the ghosts that haunt your daydreams…” If this is what you need at this moment, there is much more to fit that mood here.
Timothy Murphy, formalist poet of the heart, will be long remembered for his inimitable style and formal mastery, the sheer volume and energy of his creative output, his contributions to the poetry community, his love of hunting and of the land, his open attitude about being both gay and conservative, and his strongly-felt re-conversion to Catholicism in his later years. One can’t easily sum up a life really, but this thoughtful review of his most recent poetry collection, Devotions (North Dakota University Press), helps. As does this obituary. And maybe the best of all is this interview, where Murphy talks about the moment, quite a miraculous one at that, when everything changed. Inspiring, no matter what your point of view on faith or politics. Beyond that, let his poetry speak:
The night you died, I dreamed you came to camp
to hear confession from an Eagle Scout
tortured by forty years of sin and doubt.
You whispered vespers by a hissing lamp.
Handlers, allowing you to hike with me,
followed us to the Bad Axe waterfront
down a ﬁrebreak this camper used to hunt.
Through all I said you suffered silently.
I blamed the authors of my unbelief:
St. Paul, who would have deemed my love obscene,
the Jesuit who raped me as a teen,
the altar boy when I was six, the grief
of a child chucked from Eden, left for dead
by Peter’s Church and all the choirs above.
In a thick Polish accent choked with love,
Te Dominus amat was all you said.
Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, and that night he visited me in a dream. This dream recurred three times. The last time was April 15, 2007—the night Pope Benedict XVI accosted American bishops over the matter of clerical sexual abuse—when this poem came to me in its entirety. I rose and immediately typed it. In every instance the dream was identical, and John Paul’s words were the same. Te Dominus amat is Latin for “God loves you.”— TM)
”Mizar” and “Alcor” in Winter
Cirrus dispersed. As a black night grew colder,
clearer, I spied the binary in the handle
of the Big Dipper dangling above my shoulder,
a pinprick twinkling by a blinding candle.
Absent the moon, its boreal corona,
I watched the stars rise east of Ellendale,
Guelph and Ludden, then wheel above Verona
and sleeping friends who farm near Englevale.
A thousand miles of road: I’d shunned the pavement
which bears the burdens I no longer ferry,
the cargo of material enslavement.
Six eagles hunted small game on the prairie.
An Arab prince’s fortunes once were measured
by blooded foals, by sons his wives could dandle,
by tributary quatrains to be treasured
and his eyesight: a pinprick by a candle.
My sonnet “Love Is Hell” is now up at Better than Starbucks (scroll down the page for my poem), an online zine for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, reviews, and more, where you’ll find separate sections for each genre and style, including formal poetry (such as sonnets and villanelles), free verse, haiku and Japanese forms, and light verse, as well as fiction, etc., so you can freely browse or zero in on what interests you. The section for “interviews” has an imaginative interview with William Blake, attended by Blake’s wife. Much worth your time on this site! Please check it out.
J.D. McClatchy is a name I kept running into everywhere but which had not been attached to any particular poetry. As if he was more of an essayist or critic. I should have thought “librettist,” a title which he earned over and over again with his many well-received libretti. But in fact he was first and foremost a poet, and a masterful one at that, particularly with form. This article describes him as a “thrilling, passionate” teacher who made his students focus first on form, which gave at least the writer of that article the understanding of the effective power of restraint (form). Quoting him from an interview in The Paris Review, the article gives us his take on the value of form:
“It’s like adoring the open sea, the clash of elemental forces, the overpowering scale of water and sky, the sleek majesty of sloops, the billow of sail and pull of line—and wanting to study and pay homage to it all by building a model of a favorite boat—and then deciding to do it inside a bottle,” he said.
Exactly. I love this guy.
More on his life and work can be found here. As longtime Editor of the Yale Review, and recipient of many awards and grants, he certainly made his mark in the art of poetry. His subject matter penetrates beneath his poetry’s polished exterior. Here are a couple gems:
To steal a glance and, anxious, see
Him slipping into transparency—
The feathered helmet already in place,
Its shadow fallen across his face
(His hooded sex its counterpart)—
Unsteadies the routines of the heart.
If I reach out and touch his wing,
What harm, what help might he then bring?
But suddenly he disappears,
As so much else has down the years…
Until I feel him deep inside
The emptiness, preoccupied.
His nerve electrifies the air.
His message is his being there.
I like trees because they seem more resigned
to the way they have to live than other things do.
Here the oak and silver-breasted birches
Stand in their sweet familiarity
While underground, as in a black mirror,
They have concealed their tangled grievances,
Identical to the branching calm above
But there ensnared, each with the others’ hold
On what gives life to which is brutal enough.
Still, in the air, none tries to keep company
Or change its fortune. They seem to lean
On the light, unconcerned with what the world
Makes of their decencies, and will not show
A jealous purchase on their length of days.
To never having been loved as they wanted
Or deserved, to anyone’s sudden infatuation
Gouged into their sides, to all they are forced
To shelter and to hide, they have resigned themselves.
The great poet, former Poet Laureate, and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Wilbur died last October 2017, and so we remember him, noting that the world is enriched by his legacy. Known for his formal style and mastery of the craft, as well as his treatment of powerful and enduring subject matter, he was not so much a proponent of formal poetry over free verse as some imagined, but rather he displayed in his poetry the power that working in formal techniques can bring to wide-ranging observations on the modern world. An excellent assessment of his work and some commentary on its varied reception in the “poetry world” is here. That article gives us this beautiful assessment:
“All of his great poems, in fact, are about living in ambiguity, about negotiating what might appear to be mutually exclusive alternatives—heaven and earth, elegance and violence, the thinking mind and the brute fact of the world.”
Could this not be a hallmark of all great poetry??
So on to some of his work. Wilbur has written so many truly strong poems, but this is one that never fails to get to me.
BY Richard Wilbur
After the clash of elevator gates
And the long sinking, she emerges where,
A slight thing in the morning’s crosstown glare,
She looks up toward the window where he waits,
Then in a fleeting taxi joins the rest
Of the huge traffic bound forever west.
On such grand scale do lovers say good-bye—
Even this other pair whose high romance
Had only the duration of a dance,
And who, now taking leave with stricken eye,
See each in each a whole new life forgone.
For them, above the darkling clubhouse lawn,
Bright Perseids flash and crumble; while for these
Who part now on the dock, weighed down by grief
And baggage, yet with something like relief,
It takes three thousand miles of knitting seas
To cancel out their crossing, and unmake
The amorous rough and tumble of their wake.
We are denied, my love, their fine tristesse
And bittersweet regrets, and cannot share
The frequent vistas of their large despair,
Where love and all are swept to nothingness;
Still, there’s a certain scope in that long love
Which constant spirits are the keepers of,
And which, though taken to be tame and staid,
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Which has the quality of something made,
Like a good fiddle, like the rose’s scent,
Like a rose window or the firmament.
We all know “Love Calls Us to theThings of This World,” perhaps his most famous and well-read poem. This too is right up at the top.
Boy at a Window
Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a God-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to paradise.
The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
Though frozen water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.
Thrilled to find my sonnet “The Buoy” is up on Autumn Sky Poetry Daily today here. Please check it out!
How often do we run across a poet whose work takes our breath away? As it happens, perhaps more often than expected, there being so many poets writing now, there being such an exponential increase in the human population, and in particular the civilized portion thereof. Yet I feel I’ve missed painfully more of them than I should. One of the most glaring “misses” of these is the work of poet Alice Oswald, possibly the greatest living poet, according to Charlotte Runcie.
I suppose one could say her poetry can be described as “formal,” if that word means not shying away from the use of rhyme, even if it occurs on the end of lines. But her poetry is in my view uncategorizable, totally unique, an original voice. Characterized by great intuitive leaps and stunning connections, and I should say a sense of truth being laid bare in startling yet haunting ways, I am entranced, humbled, enlightened, uplifted, flabbergasted, and quietly transported by her work.
This is just a sample:
Full-Length Portrait of the Moon
By Alice Oswald
She could be any woman at all,
caught off-guard on-guard.
With her hands stroking or strangling and maybe
with her intentions half-interred.
But she is as she is. Her gaze is always
filing away at its cord.
And what she’s really after
is you to love her.
She forgets who she is.
She could be so small
she almost has no smell.
She feels like anyone at all.
When you walk up to her,
she keeps quite still,
but what she answers to
is never loud enough to know.
Eaten away by outwardness,
her eyes are empty.
They could be watching you
or not. They work indifferently,
like lit-up glass and if you ask
why she won’t speak, why should she?
When what she really wants
You know what women are like:
Kay, Moira, Sandra.
They move through a dark room,
peering round under
the hoods of their names.
She could be either of those.
She scarcely knows.
She goes on thinking something
just over your shoulder.
This could be the last night
before you lose her.
But what’s the use
of saying one thing or another.
When what she’s really after
is you to love her.
And this, which led me to her. Someone coughed, and there she was.
By Alice Oswald
I heard a cough
as if a thief was there
outside my sleep
a sharp intake of air
a fox in her fox-fur
the grass in her black gloves
barked at my house
just so abrupt and odd
the way she went
in the heart’s thick accent
in such serious sleepless
trespass she came
a woman with a man’s voice
but no name
as if to say: it’s midnight
and my life
is laid beneath my children
like gold leaf