Saturday, May 31, 2008
So here I am, this bearded nut, buying old books and digging up poems by poets I’ve never heard of or just barely read, and taking delight in their old-new voices. But, for the record, I do read the work of my contemporaries. Some of it is tolerable; some is even quite good; a frightening amount of it is perfect, lifeless, and dull. And it makes me think, For artificial flowers, there must also be artificial hummingbirds.
Hasbrouck and the Rose
Hasbrouck was there and so were Bill
And Smollet Smith the poet, and Ames was there.
After his thirteenth drink, the burning Smith,
Raising his fourteenth trembling in the air,
Said, ‘Drink with me, Bill, drink up to the Rose.’
But Hasbrouck laughed like old men in a myth,
Inquiring, ‘Smollet, are you drunk? What rose?’
And Smollet said, ‘I drunk? It may be so;
Which comes from brooding on the flower, the flower
I mean toward which mad hour by hour
I travel brokenly; and I shall know,
With Hermes and the alchemists—but, hell,
What use is it talking that way to you?
Hard-boiled, unbroken egg, what can you care
For the enfolded passion of the Rose?’
Then Hasbrouck’s voice rang like an icy bell:
‘Arcane romantic flower, meaning what?
Do you know what it meant? Do I?
We do not know.
Unfolding pungent Rose, the glowing bath
Of ecstasy and clear forgetfulness;
Closing and secret bud one might achieve
By long debauchery—
Except that I have eaten it, and so
There is no call for further lunacy.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, I devoured
The mystic, the improbable, the Rose.
For two nights and a day, rose and rosette
And petal after petal and the heart,
I had my banquet by the beams
Of four electric stars which shone
Weakly into my room, for there,
Drowning their light and gleaming at my side,
Was the incarnate star
Whose body bore the stigma of the Rose.
And that is all I know about the flower;
I have eaten it—it has disappeared.
There is no Rose.’
Young Smollet Smith let fall his glass; he said,
‘O Jesus, Hasbrouck, am I drunk or dead?’
By Phelps Putnam, from The Oxford Book of American Verse, Oxford University Press, New York (third printing, 1952).
A new poem, “Marriage Vow,” is the latest addition to Songs and Letters.
Friday, May 30, 2008
A successful trip to Goodwill yesterday to look for a sturdy half-gallon bowl led inevitably to a quick stop in their used book section — and the lucky discovery of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, a 770-page hardcover for which I paid $3.99 — the same price as the bowl. According to the dust jacket, the volume “marks a distinct literary event, the first collection in a single volume of all of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. The editor, Thomas H. Johnson, the author of Emily Dickinson: An Interpretive Biography, and editor of Emily Dickinson’s letters, has assembled a reading text containing all of her 1775 poems.” And a little further down: “A searing strength of language and an economy of words which recalls Oriental literature overshadow the vivid but gentle lyricism of most of her anthologized work.”
The book (Little, Brown and Company, 1960, eleventh printing) also contains a Subject Index and an Index of First Lines.
And here is Poem 730, from Page 358, ca. 1863:
Defrauded I a Butterfly —
The lawful Heir — for Thee —
Another entry (Ariel, by Sylvia Plath) added to And I Quote.
Eleven more words added to Robert Burns: A Glossary of Scottish Terms. My favorite in this batch: Plack, an old Scotch coin, the third part of a Scotch penny, twelve of which make an English penny.
Funk and bunk get along famously, as the Conversation continues.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Because they are friends
summer leaves her door open
and night wanders in
From Songs and Letters, originally published August 18, 2007.
A new poem titled “Short Poem for Summer” added to Collected Poems.
An entry on William Morris added to And I Quote, my “ragged supplement” to Favorite Books & Authors. (I’m way behind on this section. Books are stacked up all over the place.)
In the Forum: the approximate meaning of “funk.”
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Sir, say no more.By Trumbull Stickney, from The Oxford Book of American Verse, Oxford University Press, New York (third printing, 1952).
Within me ’t is as if
The green and climbing eyesight of a cat
Crawled near my mind’s poor birds.
A beautiful presentation of my short story, “A Lesson to Remember,” appeared in the May 24, 2008, Arts & Culture section of the Armenian Reporter. Photos: Hilma Shahinian.
A new poem, “Give Us This Day,” added to Songs and Letters.
Twenty-seven words beginning with the letter P added to the Burns Glossary. A penny wheep is a small beer.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
‘next to of course god america I
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country ’tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?’
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
From The Oxford Book of American Verse, Oxford University Press, New York (third printing, 1952).
Humorous answers in the name of Dickinson, Emerson, Hemingway, Twain, Dali, and Timothy Leary to the age-old question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” added to Useless Information, along with a link to several more.
A sixteen-word poem, “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” added to Songs and Letters.
Notes on Sappho and Trumbull Stickney added to You Don’t Say.
It was bound to happen eventually. On his way to the Forum, W.H. Auden left his face out in the rain.
Monday, May 26, 2008
As a whirlwind
swoops on an oak
Love shakes my heart
The Oxford Book of American Verse, chosen and with an introduction by F.O. Matthiessen, Oxford University Press, New York (third printing, 1952).
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Saturday, May 24, 2008
I write on a computer surrounded by stacks of old books, the manuscripts of which were composed by hand or on a manual typewriter. On the small makeshift table to my right are an inexpensive printer-scanner-copier and an old Royal typewriter. Behind them are a large ashtray that belonged to my father and an unopened pack of Urartu cigarettes, purchased in Armenia by my brother in 1986. Significant? Hardly. Perhaps. Evidently so.
I sometimes doubt
If they have not indeed the better part—
These poets, who get drunk with sun, and weep
Because the night or a woman’s face is fair
By Amy Levy, 1884, A Minor Poet. From “Poets and Poetry,” the introduction to The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors, Volume IV (1910).
The Blind Beauty, by Boris Pasternak, translated by Manya Harari and Max Hayward, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York (1969). Play.
The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors (Volume II, 1639-1729), edited by Charles Wells Moulton, “assisted by a corps of able contributors,” Henry Malkan, Publisher, New York (1910).
The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors (Volume III, 1730-1784), edited by Charles Wells Moulton, “assisted by a corps of able contributors,” Henry Malkan, Publisher, New York (1910).
The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors (Volume IV, 1785-1824), edited by Charles Wells Moulton, “assisted by a corps of able contributors,” Henry Malkan, Publisher, New York (1910).
The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors (Volume VI, 1855-1874), edited by Charles Wells Moulton, “assisted by a corps of able contributors,” Henry Malkan, Publisher, New York (1910).
The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors (Volume VII, 1875-1890), edited by Charles Wells Moulton, “assisted by a corps of able contributors,” Henry Malkan, Publisher, New York (1910).
The William Michaelian Papers
Just added: “Beauty Still Exists in the World,” a four-page paper about my work written by a high school student for her college writing class (dated 15 May, 2008).
Also, the aforementioned pack of cigarettes.
A short note added to News and Reviews about “Beauty Still Exists in the World.”
All thirty words beginning with the letter N added to the Burns Glossary.
Leaving Highway 17½ and entering the universe next door, as the endless truck ride continues.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Of a very gentleFrom Sappho, translated by Mary Barnard, University of California Press (1965). For more on Barnard, go here.
little girl I once
watched picking flowers
Three Novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable), by Samuel Beckett, Grove Press, New York (1955, 1956, 1958).
The Earthly Paradise, (Part IV), by William Morris, Longmans, Green, and Co., London and Bombay (1903). “Author’s Edition.” University Press: John Wilson & Son, Cambridge. Poem.
A new short poem, “Sermon,” added to Songs and Letters.
In the Forum: Stravinsky, Next Exit.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
In this town
where I was born,
tonight my only friends
are the crickets
Anon., from Haiku Harvest, Japanese Haiku Series IV, translation by Peter Beilenson and Harry Behn, decorations by Jeff Hill. The Peter Pauper Press (1962).
Master, what of the keys
that go untouched?
For the sake of these,
we must conceive of silence.
From Another Song I Know, Cosmopsis Books (2007).
The Teacher’s View: “Crickets,” John Cage’s 4'33", and seeing the world differently through Aram Saroyan’s poems.
Robert Burns: A Glossary of Scottish Terms: finished the M’s; the final batch includes mools, which means “the earth of graves, dust, clods.”
In the Forum: when all else fails, there’s always Bakersfield.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I’d rather share a good poem than point out the defects in what I think is a bad or weak one. And I’d much rather write a poem than give in to despair. Poems are good companions. They’re everywhere, and each is a herald of its own potent existence — magic before, and magic after it enters the imagination. And what is a good poem? The true spirit and mission of every word. The light in your eyes, shining in the name of stars.
* * *
Springtime, and pollen everywhere:
If I stand beneath
that old pine tree, I will turn
yellow in no time!
* * *
Yesterday I found a stack of old notes about an inch thick — possible story titles scribbled on the backs of business cards, snippets of overheard conversation on squares of salvaged printer paper, scenes, doodles, drawings. A few pieces are stapled or clipped together. Some have writing on both sides. Judging by the general tone and subject matter — they were so dusty that I didn’t read them all — I’d say the notes were made between six and eight years ago. One reads, Write a story about “Cabbage Soup.” Another says, Read about the history of printing. Fascinating stuff. I put them back where I found them.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
This is the way things are.
Here is the grass,
So green and coarse, so sweet and delicate,
But with some brown rubble in it.
There are the houses all along the street,
The concrete blocks of walls,
Somehow so dreary,
Ugly, yet familiar,
The slate roofs and the shingles,
The lawns, the hedges and the gables,
The backyards with their accidental structures
Of so many little and familiar things
As hen houses, barns.
All common and familiar as my breath,
All accidental as the strings of blind chance,
Yet all somehow fore-ordered as a destiny:
The way they are,
They are the way they are!
From A Stone, A Leaf, A Door, by Thomas Wolfe. Arranged in verse by John S. Barnes. Charles Scriber’s Sons, New York (1945).
An inspiring batch of M words added to the Robert Burns Glossary. Midden-creels are dunghill baskets. Mess John means “the clergyman.”
An incomplete note (published 1948) about Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977) added to You Don’t Say.
As the Conversation Continues, my file is enroute to the Antique and Junk Poem Shop. And believe me, that’s where it belongs.
One of my poems and the first paragraph of the William Michaelian article at Wikipedia is included in this blog from Russia on StumbleUpon. (Viewable without membership as long as it remains on Page 1.)
Monday, May 19, 2008
From now on, I think I’ll make notes on the books I almost buy, but don’t, when I visit a used bookstore. They could include title, author, publisher, and price, and also mention the typography and binding, and even the way certain books smell. I should have formed the habit long ago. I wonder why I didn’t. Then again, I have made notes on the people I’ve seen in bookstores. Or perhaps observed would be a better word.
A Stone, A Leaf, A Door, poems by Thomas Wolfe, selected and arranged in verse by John S. Barnes, with a foreword by Louis Untermeyer. Hardcover. Charles Scriber’s Sons, New York (1945).
The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, by Nikos Kazantzakis. Translated by Kimon Friar. Illustrated by Ghika. Hardcover. Simon and Schuster, New York (1958).
Three poems and the country roads of my childhood are part of a new Notebook entry.
A new poem, “Light Cannot Pass,” added to Songs and Letters.
In the Forum: Cabinet Three, Drawer Five, Withheld Confessions.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
I’d like to return for a moment to Tina Tau McMahon’s chapbook, Eating the Foam, which I listed as a recent acquisition in this post. I found the title in a local used bookstore, and was immediately drawn to the poet’s premise of daily writing — having lived by that rule myself for so many years now that I’ve actually lost count. Tina Tau McMahon takes nice advantage of her self-imposed opportunity to notice and remember that nothing is really commonplace if it is carefully examined, and that everyday happenings are doorways to self-understanding. Listen to this poem, which is found on Page 34 (there is no table of contents; the first poem begins on Page 2, the last ends on Page 71):
I am not empty
like a flower, or a shaman
but more like a well
that fills with water from somewhere
deep, dark and underneath
the threaded roots of things,
down among the stones,
between the slabs that hold up
the world. Perhaps the well
has its own emptiness, a space
it makes in its long deep heart
for the water to rise up into.
As the water rises, falls, cold,
clear, drinkable, lucid, I wonder
about the other things
that I might wish to be:
a mountain, a bird, snow,
a squirrel light footed on the snow,
a woman with small children
Lovely — and all the more so when you remember that this poem might not have come into being if its author hadn’t committed herself to the daily task of setting down her thoughts. Her experience then, at that moment, at that time when her children were small, and which cannot be repeated — now belongs to the reader as well.
Cover art: Kathryn Cramer
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Question: What do Sir John Barleycorn, Robert Burns, Jack London, and Theodore Roethke have in common?
Answer: Beautiful disorder.
My Papa’s Waltz
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.
You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
By Theodore Roethke (1908-1963). Quote: “I am overwhelmed by the beautiful disorder of poetry, the eternal virginity of words.”
In the Forum: Theodore Roethke’s “beautiful disorder” and poems that glow in the dark.
Notes on Sir John Barleycorn, Bar-le-Duc jam, and Jack London’s John Barleycorn (talk about disorder!) added to You Don’t Say.
Friday, May 16, 2008
There was a little girl, she had a little curlBy Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from The Best Loved Poems of the American People, selected by Hazel Felleman (editor for fifteen years of the Queries and Answers page of The New York Times Book Review), Doubleday & Company (1936).
Right in the middle of her forehead;
And when she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad, she was horrid.
A new poem, “Time for Church,” added to Songs and Letters.
Ten more words added to the Burns Glossary.
In the Forum: poetry titles wanted.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
The cat ate a bird(first publication)
but left behind these feathers,
raised by the cool wind.
Added four fun fool-related definitions, beginning with the now obsolete fooliaminy, to You Don’t Say. Source: my “new” dictionary, published in 1924.
Added twenty-one words to Robert Burns: A Glossary of Scottish Terms. A maskin-pat is a tea-pot.
Those amiable St. Lawrence Area Poets mentioned once again in the Forum.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
They approached him as if his mindFrom Songs and Letters, first published January 7, 2008.
were a cactus, when it was really a colorful
old bus on its way through the desert.
Mustaches take on lives of their own, as the erudite, in-depth literary analysis continues.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
O my God, what am IFrom “Poppies in October,” part of a collection of poems titled Ariel, by Sylvia Plath, Harper & Row (1966).
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.
The last twenty words beginning with L added to the frequently visited Robert Burns glossary. Lug means “the ear.” Lugget caup means “eared cup.”
A short note on Francisco de Figueroa, Spanish master of blank verse, and a note on blank verse itself, added to You Don’t Say.
Mention made in News and Reviews of a Farsi-language blog that includes my drawing of Richard Brautigan.
More nonsense in the Forum.
Monday, May 12, 2008
If you practice an art faithfully, it will make you wise, and most writers can use a little wising up. — William SaroyanRecently Acquired:
Eating the Foam, poems by Tina Tau McMahon (2000), cover art by Kathryn Cramer. (Copyright page contains Saroyan quote.) Poems “written between August 1999 and September 2000 as part of a practice of writing a poem every day.”
Ariel, poems by Sylvia Plath, Harper & Row (1966), introduction by Robert Lowell. Purchased “As is” for $1.95, with copious notes in two different hands.
A strange little poem, “Misunderstood,” added to Songs and Letters.
As The Conversation Continues, some things can be seen only with the naked mind.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
A confident, nattily-dressed frog smoking a fat cigar, by Glen Ragsdale (1955-1974). Title: “Billy.” Signed by the artist. On granite, about half an inch thick, worn smooth by the Kings River in California.
Related Items: “Letter to a Friend,” from Songs and Letters (Vol. 1); “Not Dying,” from Songs and Letters (Vol. 2).
More L’s added to the Burns Glossary.
A short entry about “Deor’s Lament,” an ancient Anglo-Saxon poem, added to You Don’t Say.
An exceptionally long acceptance in the Forum.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
All the lovers in bliss,Reprinted from private correspondence with the poet’s kind permission.
All the babies in pain,
My joy runs through my sadness
Like wind through rain.
Subjects: suffering and the gift and joy of everyday experience; navigating the real and imaginary realms (see previous post); the importance of work and its healing power.
In the Forum: the speed of light and the speed of thought, relatively speaking.
Friday, May 9, 2008
What does a poet remember? Everything — especially what he imagines, including his own tenuous reality.
From a piece possibly titled “Another Letter Home,” as yet unwritten. Accompanied by one pencil drawing on plain white printer paper. Part of the William Michaelian Papers, Pile Near Bookshelf, Items Both Real and Imagined.
What do a seven-year-old boy born in the eighteenth century and Einstein have in common? Time will tell, as the blabbing continues.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
The birds are in his treesFrom Selected Poems, by Khatchik (Archie) Minasian (1913-1985), Ashod Press (1986). Book includes introduction by William Saroyan to Minasian’s The Simple Songs, The Colt Press (1950), and afterword by Aram Saroyan, recipient of the 2008 William Carlos Williams Award for his book, Complete Minimal Poems, Ugly Duckling Presse.
among the leaves
feeding on the early plum and peach.
Soon they will be off
in the morning sky
and he will be with them.
A brief description and link to the Fresno Bee’s centennial presentation of the life and times of William Saroyan added to Highly Recommended.
A thank-you note to an old friend and a bit about the Saroyan-Minasian-Michaelian connection added to News and Reviews.
A new poem, “Summer Service,” added to Songs and Letters.
Anonymous authors, illustrators, and translators discussed in the Forum, along with Poe’s first collection of poems.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
I cannot tell you how it was;From Goblin Market and Other Poems, Dover (1994), a selection of fifty-three poems from standard editions.
But this I know: it came to pass
Upon a bright and breezy day
When May was young; ah, pleasant May!
As yet the poppies were not born
Between the blades of tender corn;
The last eggs had not hatched as yet,
Nor any bird forgone its mate.
I cannot tell you what it was;
But this I know: it did not pass.
It passed away with sunny May,
With all sweet things it passed away,
And left me old, and cold, and grey.
A new poem, “Bible Study,” added to Songs and Letters.
Fourteen lovely terms added to the Burns Glossary. Sin lint was i’ the bell means “since flax was in flower.”
In the Forum: It’s all Greek to me.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Ah, no! ah, no!From The Frogs, by Aristophanes, trans. Benjamin Bickley Rogers, included in Fifteen Greek Plays, Oxford University Press (1943).
Loud and louder our chant must flow.
Sing if ever ye sang of yore,
When in sunny and glorious days
Through the rushes and marsh-flags springing
On we swept, in the joy of singing
Or when fleeing the storm, we went
Down to the depths, and our choral song
Wildly raised to a loud and long
A bit more on frogs in You Don’t Say, compliments of Aesop, Ovid, and Milton.
Monday, May 5, 2008
For an extensive and growing collection of work by contemporary Armenian poets and past masters in Armenian, English, and French, visit the Armenian Poetry Project.
On warm summer nights
the little ones climb the walls —
they think they are frogs.
Then August comes
and the ditch runs wide.
Full of bugs,
across the lawn.
That old bearded one
looks like my grandfather,
but he jumps like
my son —
into the shadows,
where someone is singing.
Added to Songs and Letters May 4, 2008.
Aristophanes is next as the croaking continues.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
I know only the bare rocks of today.
In these lies my brown sea-weed—
green quartz veins bent through the wet shale;
in these lie my pools left by the tide—
quiet, forgetting waves;
on these stiffen white star fish;
on these I slip bare footed!
Whispers of the fishy air touch my body;
“Sisters,” I say to them.
From Early Poems, Dover (1997), a selection of poems from various original editions.
Goblin Market and Other Poems, by Christina Rossetti, Dover
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce, Dover (1994).
Early Poems, by William Carlos Williams, Dover (1997).
The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Gustave Doré, Dover (1996)
Robert Burns Glossary: still working on the L’s.
Frogs take center stage in the Forum.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
To read thirty translations of Basho’s famous frog haiku followed by a splash of commentary by Robert Aitken, go here.
A twenty-one-word poem, “Eastern Philosophy,” added to Volume 19 of Songs and Letters.
A humorous quote from Three Men in a Boat (1889), by Jerome K.
Jerome, added to Useless Information.
Forum update: Vonnegut is one of many notables interviewed in Legends of Literature. And then, of course, there’s Basho’s frog.
Friday, May 2, 2008
The Water I Carry
by Dale Hobson
Cover art by Alan Casline
Benevolent Bird Press (2008)
It isn’t hard to imagine Thoreau reading this beautiful little chapbook to the sound of the ice howling and cracking on Walden Pond. I like all eleven poems. I especially admire the Whitman-like delivery of “Water Prayer,” which contains rhythmic, visual lines such as “It dripped from the icicle tip to the well. It burst / from wombs of women and spattered shoes of drunks.” I love the observation and detail — the praise of water, the celebration of it, the eternal present-tense all-pervasive timelessness of it. Reading Hobson, there’s no doubt he’s on intimate terms with rural St. Lawrence County in upstate New York. And while he’s no stranger to sidewalks, he remains acutely aware of what lies beneath.
Long before life had shown me sickness, separation, hard times, and loss, I loved music in a minor key. I still do. I set this down here, as a wanderer might put down his bundle, to rest and marvel at the little he owns. . . .From “Music in a Minor Key,” originally published in Songs and Letters August 1, 2005.
Brief notes about the Children of Ler (Irish legend) and Chills and Fever, a volume of poems by John Crowe Ransom, added to You Don’t Say.
As The Conversation Continues, Vonnegut “laughs easily, starting with a chuckle that works its way into an explosive, wheezing, coughing sputter brought on from years of chain-smoking.”
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Review copies of your books and periodicals are welcome. To have your titles listed and possibly quoted or reviewed in Recently Banned Literature, please use the email address at the bottom of this page to obtain a current physical mailing address. Links to online or electronically published titles will also be considered.
This is my sorrow,From The New Spoon River (1924), by Edgar Lee Masters.
O my beautiful flowers:
That I did not sow you
In better soil.
The Burns Glossary now contains fifteen more terms. “Laggen” is the angle between the side and bottom of a wooden dish.
A new poem, “Lord Have Mercy,” is the latest addition to Songs and Letters.
It’s déjà vu all over again in the forum.
What a pleasant surprise to find a link to my poem, “Crows over a Cornfield” (Songs and Letters), here.