Poem-A-Day: Hafiz (Persia/Iran)

A second poem for you today (which will bring me to being caught up from my missed days earlier in the month) —

Here’s another poem from the collection Mala of the Heart, which remains one of my favorite books of meditative poetry ever. (Thanks again, Nicole!) This poem is by Hafiz of Persia (now Iran). Instead of my interpretation or response to the poem, though, this time I would love to read your responses to it in the comments below. What does it make you think of? Share an anecdote it reminds you of.

Even
after
all this time
the sun never says to the earth,

“You owe me.”
Look what happens
with a love like that–
it lights the whole
world.

***

Hafiz (ca. 1320-1389) was born in the garden city of Shiraz. It is said that after the early death of his father, Hafiz worked for a bakery, where he caught sight of Shakh-e Nabat, whose incredible beauty moved him to write and sing of his love for her. During a forty-night vigil to win this girl’s love, Hafiz had a vision of an angel, whose beauty led Hafiz to realize that God was infinitely more beautiful than any human form. The angel revealed where Hafiz could find a spiritual master. Hafiz then met and became a disciple of Attar of Shiraz, who led Hafiz to union with God. Like other great Sufi poets, Hafiz employed imagery to express his longing and love for the divine.

This biographical information is quoted from Mala of the Heart.

Poem-A-Day: William Shakespeare (and World Book Day)

Happy Shakespeare’s (presumed) birthday!

ALSO IT IS WORLD BOOK DAY TODAY! I wonder if there’s a coincidence? (See my note at the end of this post for more on this.)

Not gonna lie, I love most of Shakespeare’s work that I’ve ever read. (Except Titus Andronicus. Holy cats I dislike that play. And Julius Caesar. What a nightmare that was to teach.)

His sonnets are an absolute technical marvel. Sonnet 29, in particular, reminds me of what it feels like to be in mid-life crisis, or even just that No Man’s Land where you’re neither worth objectfying (thank goodness for small favors, right?) nor are you really even visible to most of the world (bah).

Except.

Except, except, except.

When you have wonderful people in your life. Stable relationships. Things to be proud of and happy about.

That’s just not such a bad place to be, after all.

Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

***

William Shakespeare is the sort of legendary writer who is so popular people don’t even want to like him, but who also makes cynics and skeptics think he couldn’t possibly have written so much awesome stuff because he didn’t have a fancy education. Poppycock, stuff and nonsense. Sorry, Sir Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe and anyone else some dusty prof decides to sally forth out of jealousy. Imma go with that man was just a genius. Peace out.

***

Now, about World Book Day. In an effort to send more books out into the world, I am giving away copies of Finis. (up to ten) to anyone who asks for one and gives me their (U.S.) address. (I will send them out to other countries quite happily, but you’ll need to pay for postage on those.) You have until this weekend to do it. Cheers!

Poem-A-Day: Marie Marshall

Nearly every year I feature a poem by Marie Marshall in this series. I love the way she continually pushes boundaries and expectations in her work. I even teach one of her poems in my AP class. You can find my review of her collection Naked in the Sea here.

I particularly like this poem, “cursive,” which I read on her blog recently, because it has such music, and because it reminds me of how detrimental and ultimately self-sabotaging unkind or unhelpful teachers can be. How many times in my career have I read personal essays by my students about teachers they’d had in the past who were insulting or demeaning to them, who baldly explained they weren’t good enough for this or that, who made sure they understood their work was not enough, not good enough, not full enough of effort, not right?

And how often have I heard students say that those hurtful things inspired them to be just that much better, to show the haters up and prove how good they really were?

In high school I had one particular history teacher who was, hands-down, one of the best I’d ever taken a class from. I even took his elective seminar on the Civil War my senior year, not because I had any interest in that era in history and not because I wanted to do a college-level seminar class on it and not even because I needed another history class — none of those were true — but because he was just that good a teacher. And when the time came for me to apply to colleges and I wanted to go to William & Mary (his alma mater, incidentally), he said he would write me a recommendation letter but that I had two really big strikes against me. First, I was from Texas rather than Virginia. Second, I was a woman.

I didn’t go to William & Mary. I didn’t even apply. (If I had gone there, perhaps I would have met my dear friend and writing partner Sarah a lot sooner, because that’s where she was.)

Here’s to all those who are made, even if unintentionally, to feel less than. And dear gods, I hope I’m never the one who gives you that impression.

cursive

When we practiced our cursive, the sea

was white and the wave-caps were blue,

the ocean effectively in negative; Ws

were shore-break ripples, while the run

of lower case Rs were Triton’s anger.

I refused common Es and Ss, became

alone a celebrant of rollers, breakers,

priestess of the breath of endless brine,

I knew only the hiss and heart, the salt.

Teacher told me in fact I wrote nothing;

page by page, I wrote till I drowned her.

***

Here is Marie’s bio, which is most charming in first person. No picture available.

Hi, I’m Marie Marshall. I’m Scottish, middle-aged, and on a good day I bear a slight resemblance to the Log Lady in Twin Peaks. I didn’t start writing until my late forties, I’ve had three novels and two collections of poetry published, one of the latter getting a nomination for the T.S. Eliot Prize, but that’s as far as it got. A whole bunch of psychological stuff makes me a very private person, so I’ve tried to use my pathological reclusiveness to create a kind of mystique about myself – I want my poetry to speak for me, to tell you anything you need to know about me. If that sounds a bit pretentious and po-faced, then I guess I’ve only got myself to blame. ’Scuse me, I have a date with a gin bottle, the moon, a Cossack, and a Kickapoo…

Poem-A-Day: Adam Holt

If you’ve followed this series in years past, you’ve seen a few poems from Adam Holt before. He’s one of my colleagues and critique group members (we usually work on fiction in that group), but he also writes some really lovely poetry.

His poem “Cerulean,” tonight’s featured poem, was recently used as inspiration for a piece of visual art in the Color:Story Exhibition.

Adam Holt with artist Marlo Saucedo, who used “Cerulean” to create a visual narrative piece of Adam’s work for this year’s Color:Story Exhibition.
https://www.marlosaucedo.com/

Cerulean

When the poet grows older
He can no longer tell the girl that her eyes
are the color of old world cerulean.

He must instead drink cerulean
And lay in the noonday sun
Until it glistens on his skin.

Or he must run steam through the color
And drink the rich effluence
Until his heart nearly explodes.

But if he were to try to tell the girl of her eyes, he would say:
Your eyes were a color but I will not say its name.
Your eyes were the weight of fog.
Your eyes were the Mediterranean the morning you left
And did not want to.

The ancient Greeks did not have a name for this color,
So why should I say it?
They could not process indigo to create it
So their painters, who knows how their mosaics looked?
And the poets?
They called the water wine-dark,
And they did not mean the Mediterranean was the color of wine.
No, it was the motion and feeling and texture,
and anyway,
no one in any era needs to speak the true color of the wine-dark sea.
It is not the same from one beach to the next.
Two people stare into the water —
the billionaire on his yacht
and the refugee boarding a raft —
Opulence and desperation are the colors of their seas,
And those are not the color I see.

Therefore I will never name you nor the color of your eyes
To another living soul.
They drown me in dreams
I wake up gasping for breath.
Smiling.
Glad I do not have to board any boat
but this memory.

That is how the old poet thinking young tries to say the color of her eyes,
Wide and wonderful as they were and are and ever more shall be.
It would be nice, I think sometimes, to go back to the way it was before
when I employed words
rather than today
when I allow words I never speak
to repurpose me for their own goals.
They’ve taken on too much power,
Or I’ve given it to them willingly because I know
Their beauty outshines my purposes.

Still
when no one is listening
in the deep watches of the night
On a train ride down the coast
A train, not a boat, where we both do our best thinking
I may someday whisper
Into the still air
The color of your eyes. Listen for it, dear.
Only I trust
You will hear whatever color you most need to hear.
Whatever you heard, here is what I spoke:
Transient blue.

***

Adam Holt is a novelist, singer-songwriter, and poet. He was a featured poet for the

photo by BA Moye

Houston Public Library’s Public Poetry Series, and most recently his work was featured in the Color:Story2019 art exhibition. Lone Star Rambler is the name of his band, and their album Stars and Wonder was released in 2017. The Tully Harper Series, his YA sci-fi series, is a near-future novel meant to inspire young readers’ interest in human space exploration. He is as an instructor at Writespace and The Kinkaid School. He lives in Houston, Texas. More info on his work: http://adamholtwrites.com

Poem-A-Day: Karen Paul Holmes

If you’ve been following this series this year, you’ll know that I missed a couple of days recently due to family events, and I’m trying to get caught up in a relaxed way that doesn’t inundate you with a bunch of posts all at once.

Seeing as it’s a weekend upon which various spring holidays are happening, the timing of which holidays has very much to do with the spring equinox and when the moon is full — if you want to know more about that, leave a comment and I’ll explain it — I thought a poem about planting would feel right, right about now.

This poem by Karen Paul Holmes first appeared in Still: The Journal and is also included in her book No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin, 2018).

If You Plant a Bradford Pear

Plant five in a line
along a road in Georgia
against a February sky
with clouds melding into light.

Clusters of white flowers
will foretell spring, petals will fall
instead of snow.

Plant them against a blue sky,
a chest-gripping blue, where
the black-silver river brews rocks.

Where the trees present you
with autumn’s gamut—like these
on the shortcut to Jasper:
four Bradfords stippled
green, purple, bronze-red.
The fifth, a crimson upturned heart.

Every season they will sway
psalms for you, keep you mindful
of those who stood by you
in your blaze.

***

Karen Paul Holmes has two full-length poetry collections, No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin, 2018) and Untying the Knot (Aldrich, 2014). She was chosen a Best Emerging Poet by Stay Thirsty Media and included in their 2019 poetry volume. Other publications include Prairie Schooner, Valparaiso Review, Tar River Poetry, Poet Lore, and many more.

Poem-A-Day: Jenna Le

I was talking to my students this past week about the logical fallacy that is the ad hominem attack, and “stay in your lane” came up. Such nonsense, and ironic at that.

Did you read my post from yesterday? If so, you know why I’m posting this poem today.

To a Physician Killed by Gun Violence

You climbed the stairs to middle age
and just beyond, your footsteps trained
to make no creaking noise, your veined
hand mute upon the balustrade

so that your snoring spouse, his cage
of matted hair propped on a doubled
plinth of pillows, could sleep untroubled,
your daughter with her snaking braid

doze undisturbed when you returned
from work. You wore your own hair short,
like shadow—nothing here to court
notice, to creak or squeak or glint

or gleam. Those seeing you discerned
no youth, no unformed possibility;
they only saw someone who willingly
did the work until she didn’t.

***

Jenna Le is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011) and A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Indolent Books, 2018; 1st edition published by Anchor & Plume Press, 2016), which won 2nd Place in the 2017 Elgin Awards. Her poems have also appeared in AGNI Online, Bellevue Literary Review, Denver Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Massachusetts Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and West Branch.

Poem-A-Day: Saba Husain

I was driving to work when I first heard the news of the Columbine shooting. I was driving to a school where I was going to teach young people how to write poems and tell their stories. I was driving to a place where we never worried about anything more serious during a fire drill than how long we would be standing in the sun before the all-clear. I was driving down a tree-lined Houston street, enjoying the gorgeous weather, listening to the breaking news on the radio of something I could not have fathomed before.

This weekend is the 20th anniversary of that heinous tragedy, one which for many Americans was the first of its horrible kind, the hallmark of a wretched new reality. If I had a time-turner, oh the things I would change.

Like Homemade

One boy said it was like
cotton candy  
.                           moist bits
.                           on face and arms
warm batter
.                       splattered on walls
smudged notebooks
splayed in the halls
                  From under the desk
the ceiling appeared
.                                muffin-pocked
the air hard
like taffy at the point of no return
.                           crackling caramel
the light
of a hundred-thousand suns
piercing the classroom window
.                           maple sugar
when it burns

***

Saba Husain is a poet from Houston. She has published poems in Cimarron Review, Barrow Street, Natural Bridge, The Texas Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol VIII: Texas, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Anklebiter’s Press: Kill Line, Mutabilis Press: The Enchantment of the Ordinary, and Jaggery Lit. She was a finalist for the 2014 New Letters Poetry Prize and received the Lorene Pouncey Memorial Award at Houston Poetry Fest. Saba went back to school to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing at University of Houston, after her three girls had completed their undergraduate education. She grew up in Karachi, Pakistan.