Poem-A-Day: Edgar Allan Poe

Today’s my daughter actual birthday, so I asked her what her favorite poem is, and she said “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. She likes its rhythm and rhyme scheme and the fact that “it’s a creepy story,” which she pronounced with an adorable grin.

So here you go! Read it out loud by candlelight. It’s a totally different experience.

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
        Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow — sorrow for the lost Lenore —
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
.          Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me — filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door —
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; —
.          This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you” — here I opened wide the door; —
        Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!” —
.          Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore —
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; —
.          ‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —
        Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
        Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning — little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door —
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
.          With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered — not a feather then he fluttered —
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before —
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
        Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore —
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
        Of ‘Never — nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
        Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
.          She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite — respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
        Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted —
On this home by Horror haunted — tell me truly, I implore —
Is there — is there balm in Gilead? — tell me — tell me, I implore!”
.          Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us — by that God we both adore —
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
.          Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked, upstarting-
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
.          Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
        Shall be lifted — nevermore!

***
This version of the poem is from the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, September 25, 1849. It is generally accepted as the final version authorized by Poe. Earlier and later versions had some minor differences.

***

Edgar Allan Poe is considered by many to be a pioneer, at the very least, in both the short story form and the horror genre. He led a troubled life, which should be no surprise to anyone who has read his work, suffering through personal loss and substance abuse. It’s quite possible he drank himself to death. One of the most important things I ever learned about the craft of writing, in junior high, was a bit of advice from him: when you’re trying to create a mood or tone in a story, draft the manuscript and then remove everything from it that doesn’t contribute to that mood or tone. Words to work by. If you want to find some entertainingly weird pictures of him, Google “edgar allan poe images.” Have fun.

 

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Poem-A-Day: Galway Kinnell

My sophomores are doing the Dear Poet project this year; it’s the first time I’ve taught it, but I’ll be doing it for my foreseeable future teaching years, I think, because it has been wonderful. My students engage with a newish poem by one of the chancellors of the Academy of American Poets, and then write a letter in response to the poem, to the poet. Maybe one or two of them might even get a response from the poet. You never know.

One of the historical poets included as part of the warm-up activities is Galway Kinnell, for his poem “The Gray Heron.” I did not know that poem before this project, but now every time I read it or my students discuss it, I like the poem more and more. I just love the way the imagery carries the comparison of the lizard to stone almost all the way to the poem’s suddenly magic-realist ending.

The Gray Heron

It held its head still
while its body and green
legs wobbled in wide arcs
from side to side. When
it stalked out of sight,
I went after it, but all
I could find where I was
expecting to see the bird
was a three-foot-long lizard
in ill-fitting skin
and with linear mouth
expressive of the even temper
of the mineral kingdom.
It stopped and tilted its head,
which was much like
a fieldstone with an eye
in it, which was watching me
to see if I would go
or change into something else.

***

Galway Kinnell was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1927. He had an illustrious career which included military service, teaching, a seven-year stint as a chancellor for the Academy of American Poets, meaningful work in the Civil Rights Movement, and a list of publications as long as my arm. He died in 2014. You can learn more about him here.

Poem-A-Day: Shaindel Beers

The thing that gets me is that sometimes people ask questions in the guise of getting to know you, but it’s clear they’re really just challenging you.

The thing that gets me is that sometimes people dismiss women’s poetry because it encompasses a whole range of human experience they just don’t have access to, and they feel that’s a threat to their perceived apexhood.

The thing that gets me is that I won’t ever stop adding poems like this to my April series until people no longer need to be educated about feminism, and not even then, because then everyone will just get it and the poems will be meaningful to them, too, and not just to some of us.

Why, look, it’s another poem I absolutely love!

I Am Not a Narrative for Your Entertainment

The male poet asks, Why are you single? What’s
the narrative? like I’m a show he’s been meaning
to catch up on. The male poet says, Remember  

the sexy poems you used to write? You’re not
writing mommy poems now, are you? I want
to tell him even my mommy poems are too sexy

for him, especially too sexy. I know because
the tongues that have flickered over my C-section
incision have told me. My abdomen, like Zeus’s

head, has sprung warriors. And if that’s not sexy
then nothing goddamned is. I want to tell him
I’m single because I’m a beautiful disaster.

Not the Little Match Girl but the whole fireworks
factory ablaze. You can watch me burn for miles,
hear about it on the national news. My every move

is a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter.
You just didn’t know because you’d been blocked
from my universe.

***

Shaindel Beers is author of the poetry collections A Brief History of Time (Salt Publishing, 2009), The Children’s War and Other Poems (Salt, 2013), and Secure Your Own Mask (White Pine Press, 2018). Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, and serves as poetry editor of Contrary.

Poem-A-Day: Lynn Melnick

I have to admit I’ve been distracted lately. My daughter’s birthday is this week; the Orange-Belt Fairy Princess Badass is turning fourteen. While it’s enough that organizing the festivities (as well as coordinating everything else going on in my life both personal and professional, and wow, there’s a lot of that) has taken up most of my attention, I can’t let go of the scratchy little tickle in the back of my brain that reminds me she’s becoming more and more a young adult every day, and not just because she can raid my closet now and look better in my clothes than I do.

I can’t put the brakes on this train and wouldn’t if I could. We all know adolescence is a time of Figuring Things Out, and that can be a messy process. And I wish there were things I could still protect her from. Not gonna lie, if I could go back in time and not give her a cell phone in middle school, I’d absolutely do it in a heartbeat. If I could pare down the internet to make it less about entertainment and politics and nonsense, I would. But some genies just won’t go back in their bottles. And even the stress of this morass has got me mixing metaphors, so I’ll just get to the poem and then get back to catching up everything else on my “ever-expanding, self-spawning to-do list.” (And thanks to David Jón Fuller for that gloriously apt phrase.)

This poem by Lynn Melnick always makes me think of my daughter. And my mother. And everything else about the water we swim in.

.

Twelve.

When I was your age I went to a banquet.
When I was your age I went to a barroom
.
and bought cigarettes with quarters
lifted from the laundry money. Last night
.
I did all your laundry. I don’t know why
I thought this love could be pure. It’s enough
.
that it’s infinite. I kiss your cheek when you sleep
and wonder if you feel it.
.
It’s the same cheek I’ve kissed from the beginning.
You don’t have to like me.
.
You just have to let me
keep your body yours. It’s mine.
.
When I was your age I went to a banquet
and a man in a tux pinched my cheeks.
.
When I was your age I went to a barroom
and a man in a band shirt pinched my ass.
.
There is so much I don’t know about you.
Last night I skipped a banquet
.
so I could stay home and do your laundry
and drink wine from my grandmother’s glass.
.
When I was your age boys traded quarters
for a claw at my carcass on a pleather bench
.
while I missed the first few seconds of a song
I’d hoped to record on my backseat boombox.
.
When I was your age I enjoyed a hook.
You think I know nothing of metamorphosis
.
but when I was your age I invented a key change.
You don’t have to know what I know.
.

***

Lynn Melnick is the author of the poetry collections Landscape with Sex and

photo credit: Timothy Donnelly

Violence (2017) and If I Should Say I Have Hope (2012), both with YesYes Books, and the co-editor of Please Excuse This Poem: 100 Poets for the Next Generation (Viking, 2015). Her poetry has appeared in APR, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and A Public Space, and her essays have appeared in LA Review of Books, ESPN, and the anthology Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture.

.
A former fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers and previously on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, she currently teaches poetry at Columbia University and the 92Y, and works with saferLIT. Born in Indianapolis, she grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Brooklyn.

Poem-A-Day 2019: Robin Reagler

In my professional life, I’ve had very few bosses or supervisors who were women, and all of them have been excellent. One of my first female bosses, when I was a writer-in-residence through Writers in the Schools here in Houston back in the 1990s, was Robin Reagler. She modeled for me the best qualities of a leader as someone who guided with good cheer and friendliness on the best days and genuine compassion and humor when I made mistakes. She inspired me to work my best, and when an outstanding professional opportunity came along and I had to leave WITS, she understood and helped make my transition as smooth and seamless as it could be. Robin was someone I knew I would want to emulate when it became my turn to hold a position of authority.

I’ve worked for bosses who gave me nightmares with their ego-driven nonsense and anger management problems. I’ve worked for ones who were a hot mess of disorganization or self-unawareness. I’ve worked for people who didn’t command a shred of respect.

Robin was the antidote to all of that. She’s also a marvelous poet, and I love that she contributes to this series on my blog. Her poem “Crumbs” appears in the Mutabilis Press anthology The Enchantment of the Ordinary, and when I heard her read it at the launch, I knew we needed it for April this year.

 

Crumbs
.
If you transpose this one afternoon
into the open Galveston then
it’s no surprise that future
love begins its slow rumble
.
like a wave. That’s why the seagulls
go wild over a handful of crumbs
hurled high into the air, and a sweet
January breeze takes its time
.
creating a crest of meaning
like a celebrity signature in the sand.
My daughters build tremendous
sand castles protected by moats
.
in concentric circles, a symbolic
safety. Once I understood a lot more
than I do now, before the awesome
tore its way into my heart.
.
***
.
Robin Reagler is the author of TEETH & TEETH, winner of the Charlotte Mew Prize selected by Natalie Diaz (Headmistress Press, 2018), and DEAR RED AIRPLANE (Seven Kitchens Press, 2011, 2018), chosen for the ReBound Series and re-issued with a foreword by Laura Mullen. Reagler’s poems have been published in dozens of journals, including Ploughshares, American Letters & Commentary, Pleiades, VOLT, Iowa Review, and Colorado Review. She lives in Houston, Texas, and serves as the Executive Director of Writers in the Schools (WITS). She was recently elected chair of the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Board of Trustees.

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Poem-A-Day 2019: Kabir (India)

I’m sorry I didn’t post a poem last night. My cousin Vali fronts a metal band called Black Market Tragedy, and last night they were playing a rare acoustic show at the House of Blues, and I didn’t get home until much later than anticipated.

The band was awesome. No regrets, none whatsoever.

I’ll give you an extra poem this weekend, when I have a little more time.

A friend of mine from grade school and high school, Nicole, gave me a book last year for my birthday called Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems. It contains fragments of beautiful poetry, sometimes centuries old, that I found just lovely to read and meditate on in the evenings. Here’s one of the poems that resonated with me the most, and continues to do so, especially now, when I’m frankly having a particularly stressful time at work. It would have done wonders for some of my family members back in the day, too.

This meditation is from Kabir of India.

 

If you circumambulated every holy shrine in the world
ten times,
it would not get you to heaven
as quick
as controlling your
anger.

***

Kabir Das (ca. 1440-1518, India) was raised by a Muslim family of weavers, though legend has it that his birth mother may have been a Brahmin widow. Kabir became a disciple of the Hindu bhakti saint Ramananda at an early age, and his name is often interpreted as “Guru’s Grace.” Though a great mystic and contemplative, Kabir never abandoned a worldly life. He sought to bridge the religious cultures yet was denounced by mainstream religious leaders during his lifetime. At Kabir’s death, his body turned to flowers, and his Hindu and Muslim followers each took half to perform last rites. A saint in the bhakti and Sufi tradition, Kabir expressed through his poetry self-surrender, divine love, and inward worship of the beloved with the heart.

Biographical information quoted from Mala of the Heart, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt.

Poem-A-Day 2019: Sandi Stromberg

I have some close friends, Scott and Paula, who live in the northeast now but who are from Texas. Scott’s dad and stepmom have a marvelous goat ranch and bed and breakfast out near Wimberley, Texas, in the Hill Country. When my husband and I and Scott and Paula and a lot of our close friends were all in our twenties we used to go out to the ranch every year to help clear some of the land of unnecessary cedar that was starving the narrow waterways, the streams and creeks and waterfalls. We all had desk or computer jobs, and a weekend of physical landscape labor every January was just what we thought we needed to reset ourselves.

In actuality, what we needed was time in the Hill Country, time spent on a cold, sunny landscape bright with a winter sun in a turquoise sky. We needed a bumpy ride over caliche roads, a truck’s jaunt across a bridge over a narrow tributary of the Blanco, a bonfire in the large fire pit at night while we rocked on the enormous porch and peeked at Milky Way in the freezing black sky. We needed to wander the tall grasses, a weather eye out for coyotes and mountain lions, with the shepherding dogs and each other. We needed to come back near the house to feed and pet the goats and hold their kids, to pick burrs out of our socks, to sit up all night talking books and art and Lyle Lovett and k.d. lang. We needed breakfast casseroles with three types of corn in them and Paula teaching me to make a tartine at night. We needed time to sit, time to nap. I needed time to wander off to a corner with my journal and write while Paula painted my portrait for practice.

Almost twenty years later, when we go back to visit our friends at the ranch, we still wander the land and look at the cedar bough graveyards we built, now brittle bleached by age and the elements, and take a small sliver of pride at the rushing waterfalls and streams and creeks we helped resuscitate. When we aren’t having a drought year, anyway. The Great Pyrenees, those huge shepherding dogs, are used to us now. The goats are still sweet and loud and make us squeal with delight, especially now when we take our our kids to see theirs. And never fear, the cedar just goes on and on.

We need spaces like this, even in our urban lives, our urban inner landscape, just to have a moment to sit in a rocking chair with nothing pressing upon us. It’s the only way, sometimes, we can figure out how to relax.

I love this poem tonight, from the gracious and excellent Sandi Stromberg; it reminds me of faraway friends and a place and people I hope to get back to soon.

Wimberley Winter

Country music two-steps around a worn
leather couch. Flickers of yellow and orange
rise from smoldering logs. And my pen glides
across the lined page, gathering thoughts.
Outside, drizzle fogs the air. Ice crystals
drop from leaf tips onto the redwood deck,
tinkling as clear and harmonious
as a triangle.
.                                     All is so right
with my world, I would stop time in the middle
of this moment, snuggle into an endless
Hill Country winter. But when the flames fall
into their embers, and the ice crystals melt,
my blood rushes on.
                                   I anticipate—
the way the sycamore dreams of spring buds
or the stag, drinking at Cypress Creek, aspires
to more points on his antlers. The way
a mother holds her breath, watching
her child’s life unfold, step by step.

***

Sandi Stromberg is the mother of two sons, whose steps she still anticipates, one a director of motor-yacht development in France, the other a musician/composer in Singapore. She has been an award-winning magazine feature writer, editor, poet, and translator over the past 40 years. Her poem “The English Student” was recently published in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Her poetry has been published in many small journals and anthologies, most recently in the Ekphrastic Review. For 10 years, she served on the board of Mutabilis Press, during which time she edited Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston.