Wednesday, April 30, 2014

National Poetry Month—The End

It’s over.  The end.  All kaput.  This is the last of the National Poetry Month entries for 2014.  And it’s been sort of a whirlwind.  Instead of featuring one poet or one poem a day this year, I mostly featured poems grouped around themes.  That opened up new possibilities, new voices but left room to hear even more from some beloved and familiar voices.  It mixed the classic with the almost shiny-new, the famous and the obscure.  And there was plenty of room for poets with above average melatonin in their complection and various genders, sexes, and plumbing arrangements. 
Some folks must like what they have seen.  My poetry posts usually don’t draw flies.  But maybe the poetry geeks out there finally discovered this joint, because this month’s post had a daily average readership considerably higher than my average and some spiked considerably above that.  Could it be that we are actually succeeding in getting folks to read poetry?
We will celebrate with some poet’s random thoughts on The End, whatever it means to them.

Wislawa Szymborska was the 1996 Nobel Prize Lauriat in Literature.  Her work reflected the tumultuous times she lived through in her native Poland.  She survived World War II  working on the railways and narrowly avoided being sent to a Nazi forced labor camp. After the war she studied and began working as an illustrator and began composing poetry.  At first she was a loyal member of the Polish United Workers’ Party—Communists—even when her first book of verse was rejected because it “did not meet socialist requirements.”  However she grew estranged and disconnected from the regime.  By 1966 she had left the party and had established connections with underground dissidents.  In the ‘80’s here work was being published in the underground samizdat periodical Arka under the pseudonym Stańczykówna, as well as to the Paris-based opposition magazine Kultura. When she died at her long-time Kraków home in 2012 at the age of 88 she was mourned as national treasure.

The End and the Beginning

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.
Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.
Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.
From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.
Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Wislawa Szymborska

Another Eastern European—they seem drawn to such themes—Czesław Miłosz was Lithuanian by ethnicity and a Polish citizen by accident of the map.  During World War II he was part of an underground socialist movement in Poland and was later honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Israel.  After the war he rose to become Polish Minister of Culture but was soon disillusioned by Stalinism and defected to the West settling in the United States where he became a distinguished academic and continued to write poetry.  When he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980 most Poles and Lithuanians had never heard of him because his work had long been banned.  Later he was hailed as a hero.  But in death Polish right wingers threatened to disrupt his funeral because he had not publicly—although he had privately—reconciled with Catholicism and because he had signed public statements defending the rights of Gay and Lesbians.

A Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

Czesław Miłosz

Americans are not immune from end of time musings.  John Haines, once the Poet Laureate of Alaska, mused on the close of a century and millennium.

A Poem for the End of the Century

I am the dreamer who remains
when all the dreams are gone,
scattered by the millennial winds
and sacked by the roadside.

The solar clock hand stopped:
confusion and fury on the street
—so much idle paper
shredded and tossed aside.

The small, dim shops of the tourist
trade are shuttered and locked ...
Nightfall, and the buyer turns away.

One more stolen fortune spent:
another century gone
with its fits and desolations—
I leave my house to the creditor wind.

Tell me if you know my name,
whose face I wear, whose stored-up
anger fades to a tentative smile.

I am the one who touches fire,
who rakes the leaves to watch them burn,
and who says once more to himself
on this calm evening of earth:

Awake! The stars are out,
mist is on the water,
and tomorrow the sun will return.

—John Haines

The gifted poet Robert Creeley probably had better days than when he wrote this.  Actually folks were rather fond of him.

The End

When I know what people think of me
I am plunged into my loneliness.  The grey

hat bought earlier sickens.
I have no purpose no longer distinguishable.

A feeling like being choked
enters my throat.

—Robert Creeley

And finally, there is love.  Yes, it too has to end.  Often sloppily.  Or does it.  Jan Heller Levi wonders….

Waiting for This Story to End Before I Begin Another

All my stories are about being left,
all yours about leaving. So we should have known.
Should have known to leave well enough alone;
we knew, and we didn’t. You said let’s put
our cards on the table, your card
was your body, the table my bed, where we didn’t
get till 4 am, so tired from wanting
what we shouldn’t that when we finally found our heads,
we’d lost our minds. Love, I wanted to call you
so fast. But so slow you could taste each
letter licked into your particular and rose-like ear.
L, love, for let’s wait. O, for oh no, let’s not. V
for the precious v between your deep breasts
(and the virtue of your fingers
in the voluptuous center of me.)

Okay, E for enough.

Dawn broke, or shattered. Once we’ve made
the promises, it’s hard to add the prefix if. . . .
But not so wrong to try.
That means taking a lot of walks,
which neither of us is good at,
for different reasons, and nights up till 2
arguing whose reasons are better.
Time and numbers count a lot in this. 13
years my marriage. 5 years you my friend.
4th of July weekend when something that begins
in mist, by mistake (whose?), means too much
has to end. I think we need an abacus to get our love
on course, and one of us to oil the shining rods
so we can keep the crazy beads clicking,
clicking. It wasn’t a question
of a perfect fit. Theoretically,
it should be enough to say I left a man
for a woman (90% of the world is content
to leave it at that. Oh, lazy world) and when the woman
lost her nerve, I left
for greater concerns: when words like autonomy
were useful, I used them, I confess. So I get
what I deserve: a studio apartment he paid the rent on;
bookshelves up to the ceiling she drove
the screws for. And a skylight I sleep alone
beneath, and two shiny quarters in my pocket
to call one, then the other, or to call one

twice. Once, twice, I threatened to leave him—
remember? Now that I’ve done it, he says
he doesn’t. I’m in a phonebooth at the corner of Bank
and Greenwich; not a booth, exactly,
but two sheets of glass to shiver between.
This is called being street-smart: dialing
a number that you know won’t be answered,
but the message you leave leaves proof that you tried.
And this, my two dearly beloveds, is this called
hedging your bets? I fish out my other
coin, turn it over in my fingers, press
it into the slot. Hold it there. Let it drop.

—Jan Heller Levi

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Rummage Sale at Tree of Live UU in McHenry

The Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry, will have a Rummage Sale May 1 to 3.  Among the items for sale are high quality furniture; china; art and decorative pieces; top caliber and clean clothing for men, women, and children; electronics, books, and like new toys.
Doors will be open from 10 am to 5 pm on Thursday, May 1; 10 am to 1 pm and again from 4 to 8 pm on Friday, May 2; and 10 am to 1:30 pm Saturday, May 3.  On Saturday remaining large items will be on sale for half price and clothing and smaller items can be had for $2 a bag.
Proceeds go to the work of the congregation and 10% will be donated to the Direct Assistance Program of the Woodstock Area Community Ministry (WACM) which provides emergency assistance to people who fall between the cracks of other social services.
For details or for further information on the sale contact Judy Stettner at 815 893-0232 or email

National Poetry Month—On the Wine Dark Sea

Dutch Boats in a Gale  J. M. W. Turner 1801

I grew up where the tang in the air at dawn was sagebrush, not salt water, where the vast rolling expanse was the high prairie sloping away from the Big Horns toward the Powder River, and where most of the year you can wade across almost any water without getting your belt wet.  I have never lived by the shore or, except for a childhood Sunday excursion to Catalina Island, ever been on the ocean.
Despite my landlubber status, it is easy to see the lure of the sea, its lore, its call to mysterious adventure.  So many poets have felt that call.
Sometimes called an elegy to himself, this famous poem my Mathew Arnold could have also made the cut for the death poems entry the other day.  In fact the sea and death often seem inseparable especially in the days when many who sailed never returned to port.
Dover Beach
The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; — on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
—Mathew Arnold
Walt Whitman, of course, caught the hurly-burly of the ships of the world crowding the harbor of old New York, is thrilled by the wide world they represent—and by the sailor boys come ashore.  But he dare not forget the many never come to harbor again.

Song for All Seas, All Ships

To-day a rude brief recitative,
Of ships sailing the Seas, each with its special flag or ship-signal;
Of unnamed heroes in the ships—Of waves spreading and spreading, far as the eye can reach;
Of dashing spray, and the winds piping and blowing;
And out of these a chant, for the sailors of all nations,
Fitful, like a surge.

Of Sea-Captains young or old, and the Mates—and of all intrepid Sailors;
Of the few, very choice, taciturn, whom fate can never surprise, nor death dismay,
Pick’d sparingly, without noise, by thee, old Ocean—chosen by thee,
Thou Sea, that pickest and cullest the race, in Time, and unitest Nations!
Suckled by thee, old husky Nurse—embodying thee!
Indomitable, untamed as thee.

(Ever the heroes, on water or on land, by ones or twos appearing,
Ever the stock preserv’d, and never lost, though rare—enough for seed preserv’d.)


Flaunt out O Sea, your separate flags of nations!
Flaunt out, visible as ever, the various ship-signals!
But do you reserve especially for yourself, and for the soul of man, one flag above all the rest,
A spiritual woven Signal, for all nations, emblem of man elate above death,
Token of all brave captains, and all intrepid sailors and mates,
And all that went down doing their duty;
Reminiscent of them ‘twined from all intrepid captains, young or old;
A pennant universal, subtly waving, all time, o’er all brave sailors,
All seas, all ships,
—Walt Whitman

Stephen Crane was a youthful phenom as writer.  One of his seminal experiences was being shipwrecked and cast a-sea in an open boat in storm tossed waters.  Although he was quickly rescued, it led to his classic story of survival The Open Boat and poetry like this.

The ocean said to me once
The ocean said to me once,
Yonder on the shore
Is a woman, weeping.
I have watched her.
Go you and tell her this—
Her lover I have laid
In cool green hall.
There is wealth of golden sand
And pillars, coral-red;
Two white fish stand guard at his bier.

“Tell her this
And more—
That the king of the seas
Weeps too, old, helpless man.
The bustling fates
Heap his hands with corpses
Until he stands like a child
With a surplus of toys.”
—Stephen Crane
Morning by the Sea by Claude Monet

Carl Sandburg was no sailor.  After he relocated from the Midwest to North Carolina, he learned to the shore and tide pools.  His ocean is unconcerned with commerce, or even human experience.  It is its own true thing.

From the Shore

A lone gray bird,
Dim-dipping, far-flying,
Alone in the shadows and grandeurs and tumults
Of night and the sea
And the stars and storms.

Out over the darkness it wavers and hovers,
Out into the gloom it swings and batters,
Out into the wind and the rain and the vast,
Out into the pit of a great black world,
Where fogs are at battle, sky-driven, sea-blown,
Love of mist and rapture of flight,
Glories of chance and hazards of death
On its eager and palpitant wings.

Out into the deep of the great dark world,
Beyond the long borders where foam and drift
Of the sundering waves are lost and gone
On the tides that plunge and rear and crumble

—Carl Sandburg
Lillian Moore, best known as a brilliant children’s and young adult writer, editor, and publisher, also walked the beaches.
Beach Stones
When these small
clear pools and
nets of weed

teased by spray

they glowed
glinted sunsparks on
their speckled

Spilled on the
they were
wet-sand jewels
still flecked with

gray stones
dry and dim.

Why did we bring them home?

—Lillian Moore

Everett Hoagland was of late the Poet Lauriat of New Bedford, Massachusetts, that old home port to whalers, clipper ships,  and  fishermen.  The sea has always called to him and recently he compiled and edited Ocean Voices:  An Anthology of Ocean Poems.

At East/West Beaches

The day night was born
we searched for time and sea-
smoothed fragments of blue, green,

brown bottles. Glass
cleared of gloss
made of man-
and woman-
made fire

and sand
made from
stone, made
from rock, made
from cosmic dust. We

fringed the lips of under-
tow with footprints the waves
redeemed from the firm, wet
shore. We gathered and gave each other
milk white moonstones, aeons
old obsidian, pebbles trans-

lucent as sucked rock
candy and rolled up our jeans in the raw
salty mist. The sun sank into

a violet-lipped quahog, and grit-edged
night opened like a mussel. Under
lacquered, pearly black
light of moonrise we crossed
over a sandbar
into camp

by duned scrub
beach rose. The night day
was born we turned
around and found
no footprints.

—Everett Hoagland

We will close with Mary Oliver, another lover of beaches.

Ocean, a poem
I am in love with Ocean
lifting her thousands of white hats
in the chop of the storm,
or lying smooth and blue, the
loveliest bed in the world.
In the personal life, there is
always grief more than enough,
a heart load for each of us
on the dusty road. I suppose
there is a reason for this, so I will be
patient, acquiescent. But I will live
nowhere except here, by Ocean, trusting
equally in all blast and welcome
of her sorrowless, salt self.

—Mary Oliver