Saturday, December 31, 2011

If a Clown

- Stephen Dunn

If a clown came out of the woods,

a standard-looking clown with oversized

polka-dot clothes, floppy shoes,

a red, bulbous nose, and you saw him

on the edge of your property,

there’d be nothing funny about that,

would there? A bear might be preferable,

especially if black and berry-driven.

And if this clown began waving his hands

with those big white gloves

that clowns wear, and you realized

he wanted your attention, had something

apparently urgent to tell you,

would you pivot and run from him,

or stay put, as my friend did, who seemed

to understand here was a clown

who didn’t know where he was,

a clown without a context?

What could be sadder, my friend thought,

than a clown in need of a context?

If then the clown said to you

that he was on his way to a kid’s

birthday party, his car had broken down,

and he needed a ride, would you give

him one? Or would the connection

between the comic and the appalling,

as it pertained to clowns, be suddenly so clear

that you’d be paralyzed by it?

And if you were the clown, and my friend

hesitated, as he did, would you make

a sad face, and with an enormous finger

wipe away an imaginary tear? How far

would you trust your art? I can tell you

it worked. Most of the guests had gone

when my friend and the clown drove up,

and the family was angry. But the clown

twisted a balloon into the shape of a bird

and gave it to the kid, who smiled,

let it rise to the ceiling. If you were the kid,

the birthday boy, what from then on

would be your relationship with disappointment?

With joy? Whom would you blame or extoll?

Friday, December 30, 2011

How to be Happy: Another Memo to Myself

- Stephen Dunn

How to be Happy: Another Memo to Myself

You start with your own body
then move outward, but not too far.
Never try to please a city, for example.
Nor will the easy intimacy
in small towns ever satisfy that need
you have only whispered in the dark.
A woman is a beginning.
She need not be pretty, but must know
how to make her own ceilings
out of all that’s beautiful in her.
Together you must love to exchange
gifts in the night, and agree
on the superfluity of ribbons,
the fine violence of breaking out
of yourselves. No matter,
it’s doubtful she will be enough for you,
or you for her. You must have friends
of both sexes. When you get together
you must feel everyone has brought
his fierce privacy with him
and is ready to share it. Prepare
yourself though to keep something back;
there’s a center in you
you are simply a comedian
without. Beyond this, it’s advisable
to have a skill. Learn how to make something:
food, a shoe box, a good day.
Remember, finally, there are few pleasures
that aren’t as local as your fingertips.
Never go to Europe for a cathedral.
In large groups, create a corner
in the middle of the room.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read Poetry

- Stephen Dunn

Relax. This won't last long.
Or if it does, or if the lines
make you sleepy or bored,
give in to sleep, turn on
the T.V., deal the cards.
This poem is built to withstand
such things. Its feelings
cannot be hurt. They exist
somewhere in the poet,
and I am far away.
Pick it up anytime. Start it
in the middle if you wish.
It is as approachable as melodrama,
and can offer you violence
if it is violence you like. Look,
there's a man on a sidewalk;
the way his leg is quivering
he'll never be the same again.
This is your poem
and I know you're busy at the office
or the kids are into your last nerve.
Maybe it's sex you've always wanted.
Well, they lie together
like the party's unbuttoned coats,
slumped on the bed
waiting for drunken arms to move them.
I don't think you want me to go on;
everyone has his expectations, but this
is a poem for the entire family.
Right now, Budweiser
is dripping from a waterfall,
deodorants are hissing into armpits
of people you resemble,
and the two lovers are dressing now,
saying farewell.
I don't know what music this poem
can come up with, but clearly
it's needed. For it's apparent
they will never see each other again
and we need music for this
because there was never music when he or she
left you standing on the corner.
You see, I want this poem to be nicer
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I'll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.
The poem is saying that to you now.
But don't give anything for this poem.
It doesn't expect much. It will never say more
than listening can explain.
Just keep it in your attache case
or in your house. And if you're not asleep
by now, or bored beyond sense,
the poem wants you to laugh. Laugh at
yourself, laugh at this poem, at all poetry.
Come on:

Good. Now here's what poetry can do.

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There's an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You're beautiful for as long as you live.

Monday, September 5, 2011


- Jane Hirshfield

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs--all this resinous, unretractable earth.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rebus- Jan Hirshfield


You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus-slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life-
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?


Monday, August 1, 2011

A Daily Joy To Be Alive Jimmy Santiago Baca

A Daily Joy To Be Alive
Jimmy Santiago Baca

No matter how serene things
may be in my life,
how well things are going,
my body and soul
are two cliff peaks
from which a dream of who I can be
falls, and I must learn
to fly again each day,
or die.

Death draws respect
and fear from the living.
Death offers
no false starts. It is not
a referee with a pop-gun
at the startling
of a hundred yard dash.

I do not live to retrieve
or multiply what my father lost
or gained.

I continually find myself in the ruins
of new beginnings,
uncoiling the rope of my life
to descend ever deeper into unknown abysses,
tying my heart into a knot
round a tree or boulder,
to insure I have something that will hold me,
that will not let me fall.

My heart has many thorn-studded slits of flame
springing from the red candle jars.
My dreams flicker and twist
on the altar of this earth,
light wrestling with darkness,
light radiating into darkness,
to widen my day blue,
and all that is wax melts
in the flame-

I can see treetops!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wait- By Galway Kinnell

Wait, for now.

Distrust everything, if you have to.

But trust the hours. Haven't they

carried you everywhere, up to now?

Personal events will become interesting again.

Hair will become interesting.

Pain will become interesting.

Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.

Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,

their memories are what give them

the need for other hands. And the desolation

of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness

carved out of such tiny beings as we are

asks to be filled; the need

for the new love is faithfulness to the old.


Don't go too early.

You're tired. But everyone's tired.

But no one is tired enough.

Only wait a while and listen.

Music of hair,

Music of pain,

music of looms weaving all our loves again.

Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,

most of all to hear,

the flute of your whole existence,

rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

Galway Kinnell


- Paul Blackburn

My poetry may not be typically American, or at least in matter, not
solely so: but I think it does make use of certain techniques which, even
when not invented by American poets, find their particular exponents
there in contemporary letters, from Pound & Doctor Williams, to younger
writers like Paul Carroll or Duncan or Creeley.

Techniques of juxtaposition.
Techniques of speech rhythms,
sometimes very intense,
sometimes developed slowly, as
one would have
conversation with a friend.

Personally, I affirm two things:
the possibility of warmth & contact
in the human relationship :
as juxtaposed against the materialistic pig of a technological world,
where relationships are only "useful" i.e., exploited, either
psychologically or materially.

20, the possibility of s o n g
within that world: which is like saying 'yes' to sunlight.

On the matter of song: I believe there must be a return toward the
musical structure of poetry, just as there must be, for certain people at
least, a return to warmth within a relationship.

However impractical that may seem in a society controlled in some of its
most intimate aspects by monstrous, which are totally irresponsible,
corporations, organized for the greatest gain of the most profit: and whose
natural growth, like that of any organism, is toward monopoly,
self-support, self-completion, self-
and eventually self-competition and self-destruction.

In a world that is so quickly losing its individuals, it can only be the
individuals who persist, who can work any change of direction, i.e. control
the machines, or destroy them.

Machines can be very beneficent as means

to a better
(materially better)
life, as either
democratizing or socializing agents.
But as a means to control for the limited number of men who now own them,

(but the president or general manager of the corporation
really owns nothing but his own salary (and his power) so that
even the controlling minds of these gigantic corporate machines
are irresponsible. That is, not subject to the effects
of their own decisions)

the personnel, the individuals
are replaceable, all the way to the top. The machine, the organisation, has
itself created the position and will function without the individual, has,
in that sense created the person to fill the 'p o s i t i o n'
and its own needs) so that
when, in these upper reaches, the 'organisation' the machine itself
becomes master, it can only mean disaster, global and particular.

I do not claim that a greater frequency of rhyme than is now made use of
in American poetry will, in time, set things right.

Only that if a man could sing the poems his poets write

- and could understand them - and if

the poets would sing something from their guts, rather than
the queasy contents of same,
then that man would stand a better
chance, of being a whole man, than
him who stands or sits and says but 'Yes' all day.

Enough man to stand where it is necessary to take a stand.

To give
and man enough to receive, LOVE,
when he finds it offered.

To take the sun and the goods of the earth, while it lasts.
and to
fight in whatever way he can
the monstrous machines that try, and will try, to

o b l i t e r a t e him, for

$1 more.

Pangur Bán

Translated from the ninth-century Irish poem by Seamus Heaney

Pangur Bán and I at work,
 Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
 His whole instinct is to hunt,
 Mine to free the meaning pent.

More than loud acclaim, I love
 Books, silence, thought, my alcove.
 Happy for me, Pangur Bán
 Child-plays round some mouse's den.

Truth to tell, just being here,
 Housed alone, housed together,
 Adds up to its own reward:
 Concentration, stealthy art.

Next thing an unwary mouse
 Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.
 Next thing lines that held and held
 Meaning back begin to yield.

All the while, his round bright eye
 Fixes on the wall, while I
 Focus my less piercing gaze
 On the challenge of the page.

With his unsheathed, perfect nails
 Pangur springs, exults and kills.
 When the longed-for, difficult
 Answers come, I too exult.

So it goes. To each his own.
 No vying. No vexation.
 Taking pleasure, taking pains,
 Kindred spirits, veterans.

Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
 Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
 Day and night, my own hard work
 Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.

Of Some Renown

- Jean L. Connor

For some time now, I have

lived anonymously. No one

appears to think it odd.

They think the old are,

well, what they seem. Yet

see that great egret

at the marsh's edge, solitary,

still? Mere pretense

that stillness. His silence is

a lie. In his own pond he is

of some renown, a stalker,

a catcher of fish. Watch him.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Monet Refuses the Operation

- Liesel Mueller

Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


- Lisel Mueller

In Sleeping Beauty's castle
the clock strikes one hundred years
and the girl in the tower returns to the
So do the servants in the kitchen,
who don't even rub their eyes.
The cook's right hand, lifted
an exact century ago,
completes its downward arc
to the kitchen boy's left ear;
the boy's tensed vocal cords
finally let go
the trapped, enduring whimper,
and the fly, arrested mid-plunge
above the strawberry pie,
fulfills its abiding mission
and dives into the sweet, red glaze.

As a child I had a book
with a picture of that scene.
I was too young to notice
how fear persists, and how
the anger that causes fear persists,
that its trajectory can't be changed
or broken, only interrupted.
My attention was on the fly;
that this slight body
with its transparent wings
and lifespan of one human day
still craved its particular share
of sweetness, a century later.