Sunday, April 1, 2012

National Poetry Month 2012

April is, once again, National Poetry Month.  I know you can hardly restrain you excitement. Once again, as we have for the past few years, Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout will celebrate with a poem every day of the month. 

Our esteemed panel of judges—me—will select verse strictly by whim and caprice.  There will be a mix of favorite and familiar poets, and hopefully, some stuff that is new.  I tend to run light on classical poetry, and almost never post translations.  This is narrow minded of me, but it’s my blog. 

I tend to run heavily to “modern poets” and Americans with a smattering of Brits, Irish, Welsh, and Scotts.  I do make a conscious attempt for balance and inclusiveness in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity.  I am actively looking for younger and contemporary poets, but I am not an academic and don’t read any of the little magazines where obscure poets typically get printed so my “cutting edge” is, at best, a dull butter knife.  I am certainly open to suggestions if you have poetry you are passionate about.  

Although I have considered it, I will not accept submissions from authors.  I don’t have time to “curate” a contest.  And, to tell you the truth, whatever the ambitions of the writer, a lot of poetry that gets submitted to contests, web pages, little magazines, and vanity press operations is excruciatingly terrible.  I don’t have the patience to wade through the dreck in search of the diamond in the rough.

At some point, I will inflict my own poetry on you once again.  It may not rise above the dreck that I fear to read from a slush pile, but it is my dreck, and my blog.  I know it isn’t fair, but tough shit.

We’ll inaugurate the month with a poet and poem introduced to me just yesterday via a Facebook link to Ministrare the blog of the Rev. Sean Dennison, who has been announced as the candidate for the ministry at my congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry.  The good Rev. simply proclaimed, “And now, I’m in love with this poem.”  And so am I. 

The work of Barbara Das was new to me, even though she is my almost exact contemporary.  Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, she attended Simmons College earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon.  She has won a brace of major poetry awards and fellowships, including the Guggenheim.  She has taught writing and poetry across the country and currently lives and works in San Antonio, Texas where she is Director of Trinity University Press.  Das’s most recent collection is The Last Skin published in 2010 by Penguin Poets. 

You Can’t Have It All

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.

Barbara Das

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