Featured Poet: Emily Dickinson

This isn’t technically a Women Writers Wednesday review, but I have to give a shout-out today, on a Wednesday, on Earth Day, to Emily Dickinson. She has been known to many as one of the greatest American poets, or as “The Belle of Amherst,” or as “that crazy lady in the white dress locked in her house all her life.” (True story, I knew someone who referred to her like that, not out of abject disrespect so much as out of frustrated curiosity.)

No matter what you call her, she was and remains a force majeure of American letters. The more I read of her work throughout my life, the better I can appreciate the depth of her intellectual and poetic gifts.

Today I came across one of her poems I had not seen before. Since it’s Earth Day, I wanted to feature a poem about nature, and this seemed like a good one to include. It’s number as 668 in the source I encountered (PoemHunter.com).

 

***

668

 

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

 

***

 

What can I tell you about Emily Dickinson that you don’t probably already know? How about this: one of my favorite National Poetry Month posters ever is from 2005 — incidentally, the month my daughter was born — and was designed by Chip Kidd. It features Emily Dickinson’s dress on a black background and a marvelous quote from her letters. “Nature is a haunted house — but Art — is a house that tries to be haunted.”

 

Emily Dickinson NPM 2005

 

Advertisements

Featured Poet: Adam Holt

Tonight’s poem is by a cross-genre writer, Adam Holt. He writes poetry and also YA sci-fi novels. His second book in a trilogy about the teenage son of an astronaut is launching this month (pardon the pun).

In fact, there’s a book launch party this Saturday, in case you’re in the Houston area and want to come to it, at Space Center Houston. Let me know if you want more details.

 

***

 

not even nothing exists

 

I. Zerolessness

 

not even nothing exists

the existence of nothing itself is

unfathomable

let me develop this idea

that was never thought

 

the ink in the pen used by this hand

that wrote these words

that contained these ideas

not only never existed

but never will, never could

 

a nothing is at least a thing

against which something can exist

the mind can grasp this

 

but not even nothing?

the idea is not an idea at all

but a lack of an idea

or a lack of a lack

and now we are back

to trying to develop an idea

that the mind cannot grasp:

not even nothing exists.

 

II. And

 

a man walks into a bar

and orders

nothing

but there are no glasses to put it in

(if nothing is an it which it is not nor never will be)

….did i say there was a bar?

he walked in but never sat down

on that stool that never existed

He

Walked

Bar

Nothing

i tell you i spoke none of this

this world that contains this city

where your apartments holds this

you

never came to exist

never had a never to exist against

 

III. Yet

 

here is the pen the ink the you

the will that runs these rhymes

what then can we say about their existence?

a man walks into a bar

and there he finds

nothing

to order. he has found at last….

he

walked

bar

loneliness, maybe

he knows there is something

existing against nothing

 

IV. Then

 

three million light year away

from the nothing bar

where people discuss the absence of the numinescence

three million light years away

which in the design of things may not be far at all

from the nothing bar

three million light years away

there is an immense swirling eyeless colorless hole

that swallows whole stars

as a boyscout eats kettle corn

three million miles away

there is an immense swirling eyeless colorless hole

in the fabric of the universe

that ate an entire nebula

without even the slightest belch

turning what was into what will never again be

every nothing has a nothing to exist against.

 

V. Infinite

 

take this force

immense swirling eyeless colorless hole

multiply it by an unfathomable number

and you cannot equal the force of

the spirit that moved over the thoughtless waters

and in one word achieved

unthinkable

unmistakable

knowable

existence:

BE.

every nothing has a something 

to exist against. 

what jokes must he tell

perched on his stool 

sipping from a cup full of anti-matter? 

 

***

 

Adam Holt taught English for a decade before devoting himself to writing as a profession. He is an independent writer who funded two YA novels through Kickstarter. His Tully Harper Series explores the intrinsic hope of human space travel. His poetry has similar, more spiritual intent. Victor Hugo, CS Lewis, Seamus Heaney, and Rick Riordan are among his favorite authors.

Featured Poet: Janice D. Soderling

You know what I love best about tonight’s poem? It reminds me of Emily Dickinson, someone whose work I admire not just because of its complexity, but also because the woman who wrote it led such an intellectually rich but societally challenged life.

What does this poem make you think of? For me, it calls to mind “A narrow fellow in the grass” and “Eden is that old-fashioned House.” It’s rhyming done well, modern and brief, serene yet slightly punchy. Does this sound like a contradiction? It does to me, but still, it’s how I feel about it. And in my head, in my gut, it makes sense.

 

***

Quiet Things

Let the poem be a still thing. –W.S. Graham

Like the fall of one bright feather
from the eagle’s taloned clutch.
Down it drifts in pretty weather,
troubling no ear overmuch.

Or like the rushing stream gone dry.
Or like the netted butterfly.
Or like the slither of small snakes.
Or like a heart that slowly breaks.

 

***

 

Janice D. Soderling has published poetry, fiction and translations at Mezzo Cammin, Rattle, The Rotary Dial, Light, Think, Alabama Literary Review, Hobart, Per Contra, Glimmer Train, Evansville Review and way over a hundred other print and online journals. She is assistant fiction editor at Able Muse. Janice hails from the United States but lives in Sweden.

Featured Poet: Fady Joudah

The world is too much with us. This poem, which I think about often, is a reflection of that.

***

Mimesis

My daughter
.                        wouldn’t hurt a spider
That had nested
Between her bicycle handles
For two weeks
She waited
Until it left of its own accord

If you tear down the web I said
It will simply know
This isn’t a place to call home
And you’d get to go biking

She said that’s how others
Become refugees isn’t it?

***

Fady Joudah is a Palestinian-American poet and physician. He is the 2007 winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition for his collection of poems The Earth in the Attic. “Mimesis” appears in his book Alight, published by Copper Canyon Press.

Featured Poet: Kaye Starbird

I didn’t post a poem yesterday because it was the Orange-Belt Fairy Princess Badass‘ birthday. (She’s now a yellow belt, by the way.) And since I’m a working mom who throws her kids birthday parties and even bakes them cakes (that often look as if they’ve been drawn by Dr Seuss), I was too busy on a weekday to post. I had every intention of doing so, but I also figured you’d live if I skipped a day.

This cake's primary ingredient is love, and its three layers are held together with Type A overcompensation for being a mom who has two jobs, teaching and authoring. Okay, not actually. It's really Cool Whip.
This cake’s primary ingredient is love, and its three layers are held together with Type A overcompensation for being a mom who has two jobs, teaching and authoring. Okay, not actually. It’s really Cool Whip. My daughter wanted to decorate it herself, so she placed the candles.

When I was in fourth grade (as my daughter is now), I read this poem in my Literature class textbook, and for some reason it stuck with me — and has for all these years. But finding this poem, when all I could remember was a title and the first stanza and last two lines (because how could I forget them?), was a challenge. Hooray for the Internet and crowdsourcing information! I was able to track down the text of this poem here on someone’s blog. Et voilà.

***

.

Tuesday I Was Ten

.

Tuesday I was ten, and though
The fact delights me plenty,
It sort of startles me to know
I’m now a half of twenty.

 

It’s nice to own a bigger bike
With brakes along the wheels
And figure skates (the kind I like)
And shoes with little heels,

 

And have a real allowance, too,
To make me wise and thrifty;
But still, I can’t believe (can you?)
I’m now a fifth of fifty!

 

Although an age like ten appears
Quite young and un-adventure-y,
My gosh! In only ninety years
My age will be a century!

.

***

.

Kaye Starbird lived from 1916-1993. I know nothing else about her except that she wrote this adorable poem. “Tuesday I Was Ten” was published in 1963 in Never Cross A Crocodile. Enjoy.

Featured Poet: Vivekanand Jha

With the ramp-up of the 2016 presidential campaign lately, I’m already anticipating the news cycle misery to come. Shouldn’t we limit our campaign season to just a few months? I really think that would be a good idea. Other countries have that. We should have that, too.

Anyway, all this preemptive fatigue reminds me of this poem by Vivekanand Jha.

***

Toxin-Tipped Words

Our politicians, merchants
of vibrant, electoral democracy,
are cultivating a novel poll weapon
of toxin-tipped words,
flooding the lexis with new entrants
of vices and venoms.

It’s not the first time, new thing;
only medium of discourse has changed.
We can understand their disquiet,
sudden harmonic imbalances and fear.
The festival of fleece near,
they rehearse to chant the satanic verse,
seeking salvation for selves
spitting befooling words.

The new gutter dialogue
carries limitless sewage,
stinking a rotten egg-like smell,
words leaving their tongues
as aimless as the boat
without oars and rudder.

A pompous journey on a felonious fling,
through the sewers of language,
setting the course of the nation to capsize
into the water woes of hazy politics.

***

Dr Vivekanand Jha is a translator, editor and award winning poet. He is the author of five books of poetry. He has also authored one critical book on the poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra and edited nine critical anthologies on Indian English Writing. His works have been published in more than 100 magazines round the world. Moreover his poems have been published in more than 25 poetry anthologies. He has more than 25 research and critical articles published in various national and international anthologies and referred journals. Recently he has edited a poetry anthology, The Dance of the Peacock, featuring 151 Indian English poets and published by Hidden Brook Press, Canada. He is son of noted professor, poet and award winning translator Dr. Raja Nand Jha (Crowned with Sahitya Akademi Award, New Delhi). He is the founder and chief editor of two literary journals, VerbalArtPhenomenal Literature. Read his blog at http://www.poetvjha.wordpress.com.

Women Writers Wednesday 4/15/15

Tonight, as Women Writers Wednesday and Poet-A-Day collide so beautifully, enjoy a review of Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars in a thoughtful review by Christa M. Forster. You can read one of Christa Forster’s poems from last year’s Poem-A-Day series here.

***

My God, It’s Full of Duende

A Review of Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars

 

What do you need to know about Tracy K. Smith’s third book of poems, Life on Mars, before you read it? Do you need to know that it won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry? Maybe you need to know that her two previous books — The Body’s Question and Duende — won the Cave Canem Prize and the James Laughlin Award, respectively. Maybe all you need to know is that any poet bold enough to title a book Duende better be worth her salt. Trust me (and the Cave Canem, James Laughlin and Pulitzer prize committees): Tracy K. Smith is worth it.

 

In the first poem in Life on Mars, “The Weather in Space,” Smith announces what kind of multiverse she’s writing from: our very contemporary one. In the present, which now more than ever feels simultaneously like the future and the past, “When the storm / Kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing / After all we’re certain to lose, so alive — / faces radiant with panic.” Right after this, Smith begins the book again with the poem “Sci-Fi,” which alludes to an impending, existential cosmic storm: our technology’s distractions and demands — specifically our rapacious social media — have seduced us away from our necessary solitudes and productive boredoms, resulting in a psychosocial landscape that bodes the kind of loneliness visible in every sex club. Smith illuminates this emotional apocalypse in stunning, declarative couplets with the command of a matriarch-savant:

 

There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.

 

History, with its hard spine & dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,

 

Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.

 

Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,

 

Having outlived every threat, will gratify
Only the mind, which is where it will exist.

 

For kicks, we’ll dance for ourselves
Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.

 

In this first half of “Sci-Fi,” the reader recognizes the distinct grip of Smith’s poetic capabilities. Her poems swing musically from image to philosophical statement to narrative, to image again. Her mastery affects the reader with a cumulative weight that must be born; the weight is painful, but, even more than that, deeply and strangely pleasurable. In the multi-sectioned tour-de-force, “My God, It’s Full of Stars,” Smith’s felicitous angst recalls another end-of-an-era writer: William Shakespeare. Here’s section 4 — in its entirety — from this poem:

 

4.

In those last scenes of Kubrick’s 2001
When Dave is whisked into the center of space,
Which unfurls in an aurora of orgasmic light
Before opening wide, like a jungle orchid
For a love-struck bee, and then gauze wafting out and off,
Before, finally, the night tide, luminescent
And vague, swirls in, and on and on….

 

In those last scenes, as he floats
Above Jupiter’s vast canyons and seas,
Over the lava strewn plains and mountains
Packed in ice, that whole time, he doesn’t blink.
In his little ship, blind to what he rides, whisked
Across the wide-screen of unparcelled time,
Who knows what blazes through his mind?
Is it still his life he moves through, or does
That end at the end of what he can name?

 

On set, it’s shot after shot till Kubrick is happy,
Then the costumes go back on their racks
And the great gleaming set goes black.

 

* * *
A lesser poet might have ended this section with the foreboding question. After all, isn’t this what everyone wants to know: Does one’s life end at the end of what one can name? But she is not a lesser poet. With Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith establishes herself in the pantheon of visionary poets. Her impulse to look at and name history — the history of her era, which is our era — is richly rewarding and generative; in fact, her work is full of that ineffable life-blood of solitude and wonder — full, that is, of duende.

***

Christa Forster: Writer, Teacher, Performer whose goal is to make life more meaningful for herself and others through Education and Art. Follow her on Twitter @xtaforster.