Poem-A-Day: William Shakespeare

If you’ve read my National Poetry Month series before, you know that I like to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth- and deathday with one of his poems. This year it’s with one of my favorite of his sonnets, number 116. This poem has been read at many a literary wedding (mine included) and earned a well-deserved jolt of popularity after Emma Thompson’s utterly brilliant adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility came out in theaters.

Romantics everywhere, enjoy.

***

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
.     If this be error and upon me proved,
.     I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

***

When looking for an image of Shakespeare, I found several, and one was even of a reasonably good-looking man, but there’s no guarantee it’s accurate. In fact, this engraving and the funerary monument on The Bard’s grave are the only two likenesses of him that can be verified as accurate. So.

William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 (baptized) – 23 April 1616) was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon”. His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. You can learn more on his Wikipedia page, which is where I got the rest of this paragraph, because — like John Donne — Shakespeare is not in any realistic position to email me his bio.

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Poem-A-Day: Marie Marshall

I always want to post a poem in April by Scotland-based Marie Marshall because she does such wonderful and thought-provoking work. She also defies description — as in she literally defies it, which you may glean from her unconventional bio below. Her poetry and poetic style evolve and seek to push formal boundaries. She also writes fiction and posts it at her blog from time to time and has a few books out.

Probably the less I say the better. I think she would appreciate your having the chance to parse out her work for yourself.

***

Today’s poem

 

 

“I was sevened and all
willowed-out, left and
bereft, reeling, punch-

loved; take an honest
hour to tour me; thumb
my spine, read what’s

implied by the rises &
falls, find where scars
crisscross to deviate.”

High over Spitzbergen
it moved from aurora to
real morning, the song
of dying stars, the roll
and the tumble chasing
birds – all the cries and
clattering wingbeats, a
rite of drunken daytime
– a knife in a nightside.

The poet had no spare
change for the beggar,
offered him verses in

coin stead; in reply he
refused a jingle about
grandma and her re-use

of plastic bags, made a
demand for the harder
currency, broken word.

***

Poem-A-Day: Christy Cobb

This is a short poem from Christy Cobb, a woman I met this spring in a poetry workshop. I really loved it when she read it in class, and she was kind enough to let me include it in this year’s series. I especially like how, in this poem, she uses spare, impactful language. There’s both a seriousness and an undertone of wry humor in the way this poem is constructed that just knocks me out. It actually reminds me of one of my favorite-ever poems, “Moses” by Lucille Clifton, in the way it uses economical language and packs a wallop at the end.

***

Roses & Hemlock

Oh, the spiteful snide shit
I say to you
And the silver-tounged saccharine shit
You say to me
Could grow a garden
Both beautiful and deadly

***

Christy Cobb is a Louisiana native living in Texas. She is an educator who sometimes writes poetry.

Poem-A-Day: John Donne

First, let me apologize for not posting a Poem-A-Day yesterday or last night. I fully intended to, but we had a birthday party for our aforementioned newly minted teenager last night, and it ran a bit longer than expected, and I was already wrecked from this week at work, so I just sort of forgot and went to bed before I could post. Oops.

So today, I will post TWO Poems-A-Day! Yes, you read that correctly —  a bonus poem is your reward for suffering through my error. I’ll post one this morning and another one later today so they don’t crowd up on each other.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time — or if you just follow along every April — you know that I’m a big fan of the poetry of John Donne. He writes about love in an extremely frank way: not with the formality one might expect of the Seventeenth Century, nor with the reservedness one might expect of someone who later became a priest. His thoughts on the matter are raw and passionate and earnest and — occasionally — mischievous. I also like that Donne’s language requires the reader to wrestle with it just a bit. It’s not like Gerard Manly Hopkins or anything, but you do have to be thinking while you read Donne’s work if you want to get anything out of it.

His love poetry is not the only work of his I like, of course; “Holy Sonnet X” is maybe one of my favorite poems in the entire historical pageant of literature. Today I’m sharing with you one of his love poems, though. It’s a poem that embraces the ferocity of desire within the limits of propriety. If you’d like to read an incisive critical analysis of it, click here.

***

The Ecstasy

Where, like a pillow on a bed
A pregnant bank swell’d up to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
Sat we two, one another’s best;

Our hands were firmly cemented
With a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string;

So to’ intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.

As ’twixt two equal armies fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls (which to advance their state
Were gone out) hung ’twixt her and me.

And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.

If any, so by love refin’d
That he soul’s language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,

He (though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take
And part far purer than he came.

This ecstasy doth unperplex,
We said, and tell us what we love;
We see by this it was not sex,
We see we saw not what did move;

But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mix’d souls doth mix again
And makes both one, each this and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poor and scant)
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love with one another so
Interinanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.

We then, who are this new soul, know
Of what we are compos’d and made,
For th’ atomies of which we grow
Are souls, whom no change can invade.

But O alas, so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They are ours, though they are not we; we are
The intelligences, they the spheres.

We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses’ force to us,
Nor are dross to us, but allay.

On man heaven’s influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air;
So soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair.

As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot which makes us man,

So must pure lovers’ souls descend
T’ affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal’d may look;
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.

And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change, when we’are to bodies gone.

***

Since Donne couldn’t provide me with an author bio himself, I snagged this from Wikipedia:

John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet and cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons. His poetry is noted for its vibrancy of language and inventiveness of metaphor, especially compared to that of his contemporaries.

Poem-A-Day: More BSPs

Every year the library at my school has a Book Spine Poetry contest during April; I’m the judge. Every year I’m delighted and amazed at the incredible creations our students and faculty come up with.

This year we had a 1st Place winner and an Honorable Mention at the faculty level. They’ve given me permission to share theirs with you.

The Honorable Mention went to a BSP by Kate Lambert, who made a poignant comment on the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey — the effects of which are still being felt by many, many people in our city and in our school community.

dark water rising / leave no one behind / homegoing / hopeless / we are not ourselves

And the 1st Place winning Book Spine Poem goes to Harlan Howe, not only because it’s really good, but also because it is the longest BSP I’ve ever seen that was still coherent and cohesive. You don’t normally see ones nearly this long still be making any sense by the end.

things I can’t forget / a shattered peace / when / the last librarian / reached / the book thief / after relentless pursuit / the battle / nothing less than war / return to me / one thing stolen / before she ignites / the ground beneath her feet

If you have any book spine poems — they really are easier than they seem like they should be — just go to a bookshelf and start picking out phrases randomly until something catches — please feel free to post them in the comments below or send them to me.

Poem-A-Day: Justin Jamail

I come from a ridiculously large family. There aren’t very many writers in it, and even fewer poets. Besides me, I’m not sure there are any other academically trained poets in our branch (meaning immediate to five generations, from my great-grandparents’ generation to my children’s) other than my cousin Justin. His first book of poems has just come out — and you should absolutely go out and get a copy now, I’ll wait — and he will even be reading in Houston on May 21st at 7 p.m. at Brazos Bookstore. So, you know, if you’re in the area, come join us. He’ll also be reading in Montclair, New Jersey, on April 25th at 7 p.m. at watchung booksellers.

(And if you’re in my family and reading this and know who else among us is an author of literature of any sort, then hey, please let me know.)

In the meantime, please enjoy this marvelous poem by Justin Jamail. Every time I read it I enjoy it even more. Remind me some time to tell you a bunch of stories about him.

***

The Book of Praise
.                – after Sidq Jaisi

My God! This line has no peer – truly
it is not the beginning of a poem but the rising
of the sun! Such felicity, I am sure, cannot
be humanly acquired – the creation itself
is less astonishing. We must have a new calendar
for who now could do anything with pride
beyond the scope of this monument? Yes, yes,
it is true, and the volta of this sonnet, is it not
like the shaking of the earth? Oh, but our joy
now is equaled by grief for our future selves
who in a few moments must endure the end
and by pity for our ancestors who could not
have known the extent of earthly perfection,
though they deceived themselves and felt glad.

***

photo by Amber Reed

Justin Jamail is the author of the book Exchangeable Bonds and his poems have appeared in Hanging Loose, Ladowich, The Hat, and many other journals. He is the Deputy General Counsel of the Metropolitan Opera. He grew up in Houston and now lives in Montclair, NJ.

Poem-A-Day: Lee Herrick

Today is my daughter’s birthday. We have an official teenager in the house now. It’s pretty exciting to watch her grow, as it always has been, but particularly because she is growing into an outspoken young woman, finding peace in herself every now and then and finding purpose in positive activism. She’s aware of the world and knows what she would do to fix the problems with it.

She is utterly baffled by the nonsense around us.

She’s an amazing artist — watch for her Etsy shop this summer, my friends — and she has marched in more protests than I have. She believes in her causes, and they are some very fine causes: women’s rights/human rights, gun reform, climate change correction, anti-bullying campaigns, LGBTQ rights. She stands up for what matters to her, even in her classes sometimes, where she’s not the most popular kid but wow, she knows how to speak her truth.

One day maybe I’ll tell you about how, at the March For Our Lives last month, she posed for a picture with the police chief and led a group of kids in a chant of “Am I next?” until it became just a little too hard to bear.

Anyway, I’m not focusing on those things today, but instead just on my awesome kid and how much I love her and how adorable it is when she video chats with her sweet friends and we have to tell her it’s time to hang up and she rolls her eyes and says yeah okay and we tell her friends good night and they tell us good night and she hangs up and I marvel at how tall she has grown this year and how long her hair has gotten and how incredible and baffling it is that she likes to style it like mine sometimes.

And if I’m honest, I’m also focusing a little bit on the occasional kindness of the random world: on this poem, and how it came to me.

Last year, when I was curating my April series here, I went looking for poems about birthdays and found “How to Spend a Birthday” by Lee Herrick on the Poetry Foundation website. I looked him up and asked if I could use this poem for my series on my daughter’s birthday. I explained that her father’s last name is Herrick, too, and that he grew up not too far from where this poet lives. Not the same family, as far as we can tell, but hey, what a coincidence.

He didn’t get my message in time for me to use it then, but when he did, he was so gracious and said I could, so I saved it for today. The poem is from This Many Miles of Desire (2007).

***

“How to Spend a Birthday”

Light a match. Watch the blue part
                                                             flare like a shocked piñata
                                            from the beating
                                            into the sky,
                                                             watch how fast thin
wood burns & turns toward the skin,
the olive-orange skin of your thumb
                                                             & let it burn, too.
Light a fire. Drown out the singing cats.
Let the drunken mariachis blaze their way,
streaking like crazed hyenas
over a brown hill, just underneath
a perfect birthday moon.

***

Lee Herrick is the author of Scar and Flower, forthcoming from Word Poetry Press in January 2019. He is the author of two previous books of poems, Gardening Secrets of the Dead (WordTech Editions, 2012) and This Many Miles from Desire (WordTech Editions, 2007). He is a Fresno Poet Laureate Emeritus (2015-2017) and his poems have been published widely in literary magazines, anthologies, and textbooks including The Bloomsbury Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, The Normal School, The Poetry Foundation online, From the Fishouse online, ZZYZYVA, Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley, 2nd edition, The Place That Inhabits Us: Poems from the San Francisco Bay Watershed, One for the Money: The Sentence as Poetic Form, and Indivisible: Poems of Social Justice, among others.​ He currently serves on the leadership team of The Adoption Museum Project.

He has traveled throughout Latin America and Asia and has given readings throughout the United States. He was born in Daejeon, South Korea, adopted at ten months old, and raised in the East Bay and later, Central California. He lives with his daughter and wife in Fresno, California. He teaches at Fresno City College and in the MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.