Poem-A-Day: John Donne (again)

John Donne wrote his fair share of love poetry, some of it racy. If you saw yesterday’s poem by him, you know that even his spirituality could be infused with passion of more than one sort. It’s no great stretch to imagine that anyone who feels things so deeply might also feel deep pain, deep anger, even deep resentment.

In the poem “Witchcraft By A Picture,” Donne expresses the leavings of trauma from a failed affair, but I invite your commentary on what’s happening in this poem. What witchcraft? Why witchcraft? How does he leave things?

***

Witchcraft By A Picture

 

I fix mine eye on thine, and there
Pity my picture burning in thine eye;
My picture drown’d in a transparent tear,
When I look lower I espy;
Hadst thou the wicked skill
By pictures made and marr’d, to kill,
How many ways mightst thou perform thy will?

But now I’ve drunk thy sweet salt tears,
And though thou pour more I’ll depart;
My picture vanished, vanish all fears
That I can be endamaged by that art;
Though thou retain of me
One picture more, yet that will be,
Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.

 

Poem-A-Day: John Donne

So for some of us, this is a holy weekend. Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday — and some of us were paying attention to Maundy Thursday too. For some of us, there will be a lot of candy involved. Resuming the indulgence in our recent sacrifices. Eggs. Springy animals. Wearing white again. Meeting up with friends, coping with family. Commenting on the beautiful weather. Prayer. Reflection. Chocolate, chocolate everywhere, and not an ounce uneaten.

When I think about holy poems, I turn to John Donne, one of my favorite poets of the English Renaissance. His trajectory through life led him to become a priest in the Church of England, but he was a poet first, and one whose attention to matters carnal was just as pronounced as his attention to matters spiritual later.

Good Friday is about passion. When I was growing up in the Catholic Church, that word carried with it challenging baggage: it was both a thing to love and a thing to despise, a thing to aspire toward and a thing to fear. No matter how you sliced the connotation, it was a basket full of conflicting images, conflicting impulses, conflicting directives.

In my Catholic school, at Good Friday service, a boy from the eighth grade was selected each year to the dubious honor of playing Christ in the Stations of the Cross. He was led through the Stations before the entire student body, the faculty, the administration; he carried a wooden cross larger than he was; he was guided by two of his male peers, dressed as acolytes; by the end of the service they had stripped his white robes to his waist, so that he would stand before the community, pale and freckled chest bared, arms draped over the cross leaning against his back, his eyes always — always — lowered in what felt to me more like shame than prayer. We were silent, watching, more still in our observation than children ever otherwise were.

The spiritual passion of John Donne’s poetry at times rivaled the carnal passion of his love poetry from before he accepted the cloth. The following sonnet exemplifies this same contradiction I learned through a life both spiritual and linguistic: that passion can be hideously exalting, gloriously demeaning, both a craving and a deeply felt pain.

***

Batter my heart, three-person’d God

 

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

***

For some astute analysis of this poem, check out the Interesting Literature blog.

Poem-A-Day: Ani diFranco (again)

Here’s another poem-set-to-music by Ani diFranco. This one is from a live performance, possibly the same version as on her live double album Living In Clip (which is one of those take-with-me-if-I’m-stranded-on-a-deserted-island albums, by the way, so definitely check it out if you’re interested in hearing more of her music).

In “Not So Soft,” Ani takes on inequity.

Poem-A-Day: Ani diFranco

So, the connection and crossover between poetry and song is storied and long. I think it was Paul Otremba, in a poetry workshop I was taking, who once suggested (and I’m paraphrasing) that if the song lyrics could stand on their own, if they didn’t need the experience of the music behind them to be meaningful or have an impact, they were probably also poetry. This seems like as wonderful an explanation as any I’ve ever heard about where these two forms overlap.

One of my favorite artists, without question, is the incomparable Ani diFranco. I love her work. Sometimes her albums (and her concerts) offer us a bit of spoken-word poetry, and because I’m keen to demonstrate that poetry comes to us in sometimes unexpected places and unexpected ways, tonight I’m sharing this song/poem of hers.

“Tamburitza Lingua” appears on the Reveling/Reckoning double album. It captures, adeptly, the existential angst of life in America at the apprehensive end of the last century and precarious dawning of this one, intertwined with the existential angst also of being a human of a particular mindset, age, and consciousness. I think you’ll understand this as you listen to the words, which are backed up deftly with a minimalist score that increases the feelings in the poem in an unexpectedly catchy, but never kitschy, way. (As a side note, a “tamburitza” is a mandolin-like instrument played in Slavic regions, and “lingua” means resembling or a part of a tongue.)

There are other videos of this song which are perhaps more interesting to watch, but I’m not really focused on that. This is a beautiful image, the lyrics show up like a moving poem over it, and the audio is good. Please to enjoy.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=tamburitza+lingua&qpvt=tamburitza+lingua&view=detail&mid=608041E006FCCCF07D49608041E006FCCCF07D49&FORM=VRDGAR

Poem-A-Day: Sarah Blake (again)

Remember that searing poem by Sarah Blake yesterday? Here’s another one. I love how the poem weaves together a child’s impulse, some interesting knowledge, a captivating animal, and a comment on human society in just a few lines. It’s poems like these, short but punchy ones, that I think demonstrate one of the great powers of poetry: to make us see and understand and appreciate and wonder all in the economical space of a moment.

***

Throats

 

My son howls at the fox. I guess
the long snout is enough, the body

we associate with a dog, doggish,
even the terrier next door throws

back his head, howling at us when
we come close. I always feel like

it’s an invitation, over the fence,
the vulnerability of the neck, and I

learned wolves howl to rally, to unite.
I can imagine that a silent pack would

be quicker to disband than one that
offered themselves like that, throats

bared, always saying to each other,
Me too, me too.

***

Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West and the forthcoming collection, Let’s Not Live on Earth (both from Wesleyan University Press). An illustrated workbook accompanies her first chapbook, Named After Death (Banango Editions). In 2013, she was awarded a literature fellowship from the NEA. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and son. http://www.sarahblakepoetry.com

Poem-A-Day: Sarah Blake

Lately I’ve been exploring myth poetry and fairy tale poetry with my Creative Writing students. These are ekphrastic forms, responding in some way to some other art that has gone before –– in these cases, the art being cultural and literary. It’s amazing stuff, and I love it, and they seem to as well. In fact, every year I teach these, the myth poems and fairy tales poems my students write are sometimes their best work to date.

So I recently came across this myth poem, which offers the reader such a smooth transition from dreamlike story to gut punch. If you enjoyed Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s poem last week, even though this poem by Sarah Blake is stylistically different, my guess is you’ll dig on this one, too.

***

Aphrodite’s Dreaming

A shark bites my hip
and I watch the blood
curl out into the sea.

Poseidon pushes him
away and runs his hand
over the teethmarks, each
a little frown.

He’s having me
for tea, and everyone
is naked. He says, That’s
how fish are. Don’t be so

embarrassed. But that’s
not the right word.
I stir my tea with his
trident. I stir my tea

with his crown. I stir
my tea to forget
how he touches me,
knowing soon I’ll wake.

***

Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West and the forthcoming collection, Let’s Not Live on Earth (both from Wesleyan University Press). An illustrated workbook accompanies her first chapbook, Named After Death (Banango Editions). In 2013, she was awarded a literature fellowship from the NEA. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and son. http://www.sarahblakepoetry.com

Poem-A-Day: Sarah Freligh

“So I Call My Mother On Sunday” by Sarah Freligh is one of those poems that’s just so spot-on about families and about life that I don’t know how I could possibly say anything to introduce it that would be worth its truth.

***

SO I CALL MY MOTHER ON SUNDAY

every Sunday, though I don’t say
how are you anymore because I know
she’s dying and each day will be worse
than the day before. Her liver’s rotting
the way an apple goes bad, swelling
as it softens and maybe smells sweet
as fruit does before you toss it.
I ask her how the weather is, snowing
like crazy here, about the traffic
at the bird feeder. She likes to watch
the small birds, chickadees and nuthatches,
not so much the sparrows though
today she says the minister’s there
and she’s planning her funeral. She wants
to be cremated. She wants an urn
and the family to bury her, no one else
in attendance. A memorial service, maybe
sandwiches after. It’s been snowing
every day for a week now, I say, we’re knee
deep in it. Did you hear me, she says
and I tell her it’s such heavy snow
to shovel every hour I get so tired
of shoveling, god, I want to cry.

***

Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis. Other books include A Brief Natural History of an American Girl, winner of the Editor’s Choice award from Accents Publishing, and Sort of Gone, a book of poems that follows the rise and fall of a fictional pitcher named Al Stepansky. Her work has appeared in Sun Magazine, Hotel Amerika, BOAAT Journal, Rattle, on Writer’s Almanac, and anthologized in the 2011 anthology Good Poems: American Places. Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.