Category Archives: Poetry

Remembering Timothy Murphy: 1/10/1951-6/30/2018

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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:

Agape

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.

**************
(Notes:
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.

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Alicia Ostriker’s “The History of America” for 4th of July


On this 4th of July, aka Independence Day, we think — hopefully — about freedom, which should mean, on this of all holidays, freedom from oppression, tyranny, freedom of speech, religion, and the press, freedom which comes from the rule of law, which does NOT mean “law and order” or “police state,” as Trump would have it, but rather means NO ONE is above the law, certainly not the president or any of his cabinet, certainly not members of Congress or the judiciary, all of whom are public servants. With a president who has never acknowledged publicly that he too is subject to the law, who taunts the freedoms made part of the Constitution in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, promoting only the second amendment, which he thinks means everyone must be armed with assault weapons, or at least be able to exercise their “right” to wield such weapons. But then, the history of America has always had its overbearing side.

And no one has expressed this more eloquently than Alicia Ostriker in her breathtaking poem “The History of America.” If America has national treasures, Ms. Ostriker is certainly one of them, having written a lifetime of enduring poetry on the most vital subjects of our time.

The History of America

—for Paul Metcalf

A linear projection: a route. It crosses
The ocean in many ships. Arriving in the new
Land, it cuts through and down forests and it
Keeps moving. Terrain: Rock, weaponry.
Dark trees, mastery. Grass, to yield. Earth,
Reproachful. Fox, bear, coon, wildcat
Prowl gloomily, it kills them, it skins them,
Its language alters, no account varmint, its
Teeth set, nothing defeats its obsession, it becomes
A snake in the reedy river. Spits and prays,
Keeps moving. Behind it, a steel track. Cold,
Permanent. Not permanent. It will decay. This
Does not matter, it does not actually care,
Murdering the buffalo, driving the laggard regiments,
The caring was a necessary myth, an eagle like
A speck in heaven dives. The line believes
That the entire wrinkled mountain range is the
Eagle’s nest, and everything tumbles in place.
It buries its balls at Wounded Knee, it rushes
Gold, it gambles. It buys plastics. Another
Ocean stops it. Soon, soon, up by its roots,
Severed, irrecoverably torn, that does not matter,
It decides, perpendicular from here: escape.

A prior circle: a mouth. It is nowhere,
Everywhere, swollen, warm. Expanding and contracting
It absorbs and projects children, jungles,
Black shoes, pennies, blood. It speaks
Too many dark, suffering languages. Reaching a hand
Toward its throat, you disappear entirely. No
Wonder you fear this bleeding pulse, no wonder.

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New Sonnet at Better than Starbucks


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.

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Fady Joudah: Powerful Voice for Truth


The discovery of Palestinian-American poet Fady Joudah is something earth-shaking, huge, both indelible and too quickly passing, like the flight of a bird. A practicing physician who devoted significant time to Doctors Without Borders, a man who takes his causes and compassion seriously, he was selected by Louise Glück in 2007 for the Yale Younger Poet Series Prize for The Earth in the Attic. (Did anyone else notice Louise Glück has great taste?) His work as a doctor shows up in his poetry in startling ways. He has also translated two books of Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry, and was a finalist for the 2008 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Among other awards and achievements. Recognition for work such as that below, where truth is shown as something that understands a bludgeon to the head cannot be understood or mitigated by a bludgeon to the head.

And for this month of Ramadan, this poem,

The Tea and Sage Poem

By Fady Joudah

At a desk made of glass,
In a glass walled-room
With red airport carpet,

An officer asked
My father for fingerprints,
And my father refused,

So another offered him tea
And he sipped it. The teacup
Template for fingerprints.

My father says, it was just
Hot water with a bag.
My father says, in his country,

Because the earth knows
The scent of history,
It gave the people sage.

I like my tea with sage
From my mother’s garden,
Next to the snapdragons

She calls fishmouths
Coming out for air. A remedy
For stomach pains she keeps

In the kitchen where
She always sings.
First, she is Hagar

Boiling water
Where tea is loosened.
Then she drops

In it a pinch of sage
And lets it sit a while.
She tells a story:

The groom arrives late
To his wedding
Wearing only one shoe.

The bride asks him
About the shoe. He tells her
He lost it while jumping

Over a house-wall.
Breaking away from soldiers.
She asks:

Tea with sage
Or tea with mint?

With sage, he says,
Sweet scent, bitter tongue.
She makes it, he drinks.

*******

And for this past month of re-awakened violence in a place called Gaza, where violence is never allowed to sleep, always blamed on those who are killed, or we might say, chopped down. This poem:

Sleeping Trees

By Fady Joudah

Between what should and what should not be
Everything is liable to explode. Many times
I was told who has no land has no sea. My father
Learned to fly in a dream. This is the story
Of a sycamore tree he used to climb
When he was young to watch the rain.

Sometimes it rained so hard it hurt. Like being
Beaten with sticks. Then the mud would run red.

My brother believed bad dreams could kill
A man in his sleep, he insisted
We wake my father from his muffled screams
On the night of the day he took us to see his village.
No longer his village he found his tree amputated.
Between one falling and the next

There’s a weightless state. There was a woman
Who loved me. Asked me how to say tree
In Arabic. I didn’t tell her. She was sad. I didn’t understand.
When she left. I saw a man in my sleep three times. A man I knew
Could turn anyone into one-half reptile.
I was immune. I thought I was. I was terrified of being

The only one left. When we woke my father
He was running away from soldiers. Now
He doesn’t remember that night. He laughs
About another sleep, he raised his arms to strike a king
And tried not to stop. He flew
But mother woke him and held him for an hour,

Or half an hour, or as long as it takes a migration inward.
Maybe if I had just said it.
Shejerah, she would’ve remembered me longer. Maybe
I don’t know much about dreams
But my mother taught me the law of omen. The dead
Know about the dying and sometimes
Catch them in sleep like the sycamore tree
My father used to climb

When he was young to watch the rain stream,
And he would gently swing.

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My Poem Published in Literary Mama

My poem “Happy Mother’s Day”, which is in an invented form that utilizes only the letters in the title (full description of form is on poem’s page), has been published on the wonderful mother-centric site Literary Mama. Please check it out! (And the other fine poems, essays, articles, and stories on the site.) Pictured: flowers from my Mother’s Day bouquet.

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Arrested for a Poem: Dareen Tatour, Poet of Resistance

The long-standing question “Does Poetry Matter?” has found a resounding answer in the affirmative in the arrest, trial, and conviction — and its aftermath — of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour for a poem, the writing and publication of which was determined by an Israeli court on May 3, 2018 to constitute an act of terror and “incitement to violence.” This is almost 3 years after her arrest in October of 2015, during which time she had been in various forms of detention, starting with prison and then house arrest under severe restrictions in an apartment far from her home town, and, after an outcry from PEN, Israeli writers and artists, and other people and international organizations, finally a judge allowed house arrest in her home town with the same previously imposed ban on internet usage and electronic monitoring that restricted her movements. All this for a poem, or actually a small group of poems. Yes, the world says, poetry matters.

As Ms. Tatour said, “My trial ripped off the masks. The whole world will hear my story. The whole world will hear what Israel’s democracy is. A democracy for Jews only. Only Arabs go to jail. The court said I am convicted of terrorism. If that’s my terrorism, I give the world a terrorism of love.”

Further, “I cannot live without poetry,” Tatour told Haaretz. “They want me to stop writing. For me to be a poet without a pen and without feelings.”

Her attorney, Gaby Lasky, decried the “criminalization of poetry” in which translation and interpretation played a large part, asserting “When the state tries people for poetry, that derogates from the cultural richness of all society.”

Perhaps the best witness would be Tatour’s poetry itself.

Detaining a Poem

One day,
they stopped me,
shackled me,
tied up my body, my soul,
my everything…

Then they said: search her,
we’ll find a terrorist within her!
They turned my heart inside out—
my eyes as well,
rummaged through even my feelings.
From my eyes they drew a pulse of inspiration;
from my heart, the ability to sketch out meanings.
Then they said: beware!
She’s hiding weapons deep in her pockets.
Search her!
Root out the explosives.
And so they searched me…

Finally, they said, accusing me:
We found nothing
in her pockets except letters.
We found nothing except for a poem.

(Translated from the Arabic by Andrew Lever)

*********

I Will Not Leave

By Dareen Tatour

(Translated by Jonathan Wright)

They signed on my behalf
And turned me into
A file, forgotten
Like cigarette butts.
Homesickness tore me apart
And in my own country I ended up
An immigrant.

I abandoned those pens
To weep over the sorrows
Of the inkwells.
They abandoned my cause and my dream
At the cemetery gates
And that person who’s waiting
Laments his luck
As life passes.

Besiege me,
Kill me, blow me up,
Assassinate me, imprison me.
When it comes to my country,
There’s no backing down.

*******

Perhaps the best witness would be the poem for which she was convicted:

Resist, My People, Resist Them

Resist, my people, resist them.

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine.

I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,”

Never lower my flags

Until I evict them from my land.

I cast them aside for a coming time.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the settler’s robbery

And follow the caravan of martyrs.

Shred the disgraceful constitution

Which imposed degradation and humiliation

And deterred us from restoring justice.

They burned blameless children;

As for Hadil, they sniped her in public,

Killed her in broad daylight.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.

Pay no mind to his agents among us

Who chain us with the peaceful illusion.

Do not fear doubtful tongues;

The truth in your heart is stronger,

As long as you resist in a land

That has lived through raids and victory.

So Ali called from his grave:

Resist, my rebellious people.

Write me as prose on the agarwood;

My remains have you as a response.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist, my people, resist them.

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My Poem “To Love the River” in Noctua Review

The Noctua Review, a print AND online (with Issu) literary magazine, has published my poem “To Love the River” in its current issue which has the theme “instinct”. You can find it using the table of contents on the front. Please check it out, as well as the other fine poetry, fiction, and art.

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Karen An-Hwei Lee: Poet of the Intelligent Soul

Finding a balanced approach to matters of the soul, or spirituality, is no easy task, but one of vital importance for poets so inclined, and certainly Karen An-Hwei Lee is such a poet. Cole Swensen referred to Lee’s collection In Media Res as her “dictionary of faith,” noting

It slowly pieces together the life of a woman moving toward God, a god that accrues, just as language does, by adding bits meaningful in themselves into ever larger, though unprecedented, structures.

And she describes Lee’s language as “always a bit out of place, in the way that a grand piano would be out of place in parking lot—it’s a sheer delight, and it enriches everything for miles around.“

So we’ll let the poems speak for themselves.

Dream of Ink Brush Calligraphy

In prayer:
quiet opening,
my artery is a thin
shadow on paper—
margin of long grass,
ruderal hair, sister to this
not yet part of our bodies
your lyric corpus of seed
in rough drafts of pine ash,
chaogao or grass calligraphy
in rough drafts of pine ash—
your lyric corpus of seed
not yet part of our bodies:
ruderal hair, sister to this
margin of long grass,
shadow on paper,
my artery is a thin
quiet opening
in prayer.

The poem above reminded me of when I wanted to learn calligraphy — inkbrush calligraphy no less — and took two years of Chinese in college, bought special brushes and read all about it, in the search of something like the moment, the ideal of a t’ai chi of meditation so powerful and encapsulating that I could memorize a mountain or a flower and encrypt their images on paper in a few fluid strokes. Or write Chinese characters of ineffable beauty. She sums what was behind this desire with “your lyric corpus of seed/ not yet part of our bodies…”

And this prayer, one of many she’s penned:

Prayer for a Bamboo-Flowering Famine

Every half century, the synchronous flowering of bamboo causes famine in parts of India.

May we blossom every fifty years
without afflicting the people.

May our seedpods nourish rodents
who roam our groves

without rebuking lands with famine.
May sweet potatoes and rice save us.

May ginger and turmeric flourish
to the bitter distaste of rats

while tresses of bamboo flowers
changeling white wasps

load the groves with seed
in rare perennial synchrony.

May our sisters flower en masse
hundreds of square miles apart

in the pale night. May our shoots
pray a silent vision of healing,

our rhizome-laden memories:
Yes, we share our hunger

only once on this earth, my love.
Let us bless our fruit and multiply.

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My Ghazal “Delivery” Up Today at SWWIM Every Day!

My ghazal “Delivery” is up today at the SWWIM Every Day site!!! Please check it out.

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Remembering J.D. McClatchy: 1945-2018

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:

Mercury Dressing

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.

——————————-

Resignation

I like trees because they seem more resigned
to the way they have to live than other things do.
—Willa Cather

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.

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