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A Favorite Poem 
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I warn you this poem is long, kind of intense, and it is supposed to be centered. It hangs on the wall of the agency where I work. I have read it many times and copied it by hand and with a keyboard. In working here my heart sometimes feels like one of those oxen in the poem above that Saffron shared, but words like these help me practice regard and love for all the people I work with and respect for the diversity of people's experiences in general.

The Courage to Heal
A Tribute
by
Ellen Bass

We were five in a plaid dress with a little white collar.
We were nine, it was after school in the garage, the smell
of motor oil and cut grass through the open window.
We were twelve, fourteen, sixteen in our own beds, in seersucker pajamas,
the rain pelting down and running through the gutters.

It was a neighbor, a priest, a stranger, our father, our mother.
It was every day. It was when he got drunk.
It was before our class trip to the state capitol. When our mother
was in the hospital giving birth. Just once.

We were left for dead.
We were barely scratched.
We were found in a coal bin, so wild they couldn't catch us to wash, to comb our hair.
Nothing showed.

We lay at the bottom of the stairs. We found ourselves
looking down from a corner of the ceiling.
We found ourselves out on a limb of the maple tree,
in the night sky, up in the stars, where it was cool and there was so much empty space.

We found ourselves in our own beds where it was morning
and our clothes were laid out neatly on the chair,
our mothers prompting us to come for breakfast.

We told an English teacher with straight brown hair
clasped at the nape with a silver barrette.
We told our mother who slapped us once across the face and closed herself like a fist.
We told by carving our skin like a pumpkin.
We never told.

We slept clutching a plaster statue of the Virgin Mary.
By day, we couldn't concentrate. The long division
on the blackboard smeared in our minds.
We memorized everything. Our handwriting
an exact replica of Palmer cursive, only smaller.

We ate to erect a bulwark. We wouldn't eat.
We didn't want bodies. We didn't want to be a part of the
food chain


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-- Chuang-Tzu (c. 200 B.C.E.)
as quoted by Robert A. Burton


Wed Oct 08, 2008 9:41 pm
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Is that about what I think it's about? I didn't intend to read it, then read it all...



Wed Oct 08, 2008 11:10 pm
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Thanks for reading it all, Interbane.

I don't know for sure what you think it's about, but if it's about what most people don't like to talk about and say, "Is that what I think it's about?" instead... yep. That's what it's about, okay.


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-- Chuang-Tzu (c. 200 B.C.E.)
as quoted by Robert A. Burton


Fri Oct 10, 2008 6:08 pm
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One of the Washington Post's "Poet's Choice" columns Saffron posted (thanks, Saffron) quoted form W.D. Snodgrass's "April Inventory." It's jumping the seasonal gun, but I'll post this poem because I like it. Incidentally, does anyone know the title of a poem by Theodore Roethke containing the line, "I have know the inexorable sadness of pencils."?

April Inventory
by W. D. Snodgrass

The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven't learned
A blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.

The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every year,
Bloom gradually out of reach.
The pear tree lets its petals drop
Like dandruff on a tabletop.

The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
This year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.

The tenth time, just a year ago,
I made myself a little list
Of all the things I'd ought to know,
Then told my parents, analyst,
And everyone who's trusted me
I'd be substantial, presently.

I haven't read one book about
A book or memorized one plot.
Or found a mind I did not doubt.
I learned one date. And then forgot.
And one by one the solid scholars
Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars.

And smile above their starchy collars.
I taught my classes Whitehead's notions;
One lovely girl, a song of Mahler's.
Lacking a source-book or promotions,
I showed one child the colors of
A luna moth and how to love.

I taught myself to name my name,
To bark back, loosen love and crying;
To ease my woman so she came,
To ease an old man who was dying.
I have not learned how often I
Can win, can love, but choose to die.

I have not learned there is a lie
Love shall be blonder, slimmer, younger;
That my equivocating eye
Loves only by my body's hunger;
That I have forces true to feel,
Or that the lovely world is real.

While scholars speak authority
And wear their ulcers on their sleeves,
My eyes in spectacles shall see
These trees procure and spend their leaves.
There is a value underneath
The gold and silver in my teeth.

Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,
We shall afford our costly seasons;
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.



Mon Oct 13, 2008 7:18 pm
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DWill wrote:
One of the Washington Post's "Poet's Choice" columns Saffron posted (thanks, Saffron) quoted form W.D. Snodgrass's "April Inventory." It's jumping the seasonal gun, but I'll post this poem because I like it. Incidentally, does anyone know the title of a poem by Theodore Roethke containing the line, "I have know the inexorable sadness of pencils."?


Do I get a prize?


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As in a magic bath
are unpeeled
to the sharp pit
so long concealed
--May Swenson


Mon Oct 13, 2008 7:40 pm
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Quote:
Incidentally, does anyone know the title of a poem by Theodore Roethke containing the line, "I have know the inexorable sadness of pencils."?


Here's the poem DWill:

Dolor

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.



Mon Oct 13, 2008 11:41 pm
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Thank you, Rosie. Maybe you recognized the line. But I also know, now, that the internet can search for phrases as well as titles. This seems too easy to me! There was an article in the Altantic Monthly recently (didn't read it), but the writer's point was that google is making us dumb! Don't know about that, but it sure is a different world when we can "look something up" with just a fragment to go on. It seems the internet may encourage a very broad range of knowledge, but shallow in depth. The musings of a pre-computer, card catalogue-type guy.
DWill

P.S. The poem iitself is very pre-computer, has a 1950s quality about it, with its multigraph and mucilage and the "duplicate grey standard faces." The computer seems to have the effect of lessening standardization, has led to tailoring to our own personal preferences, encouraged individuality. That's the other side of the coin.



Tue Oct 14, 2008 6:15 pm
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Si, DWill, I cheated and looked up the line, yep, it's certainly a weird new way to read poetry. I'm young and the young are supposed to be hip and computer savvy, but I'm still only half-convinced of the virtue of the internet (ha, virtue, perhaps it has none!). I agree with you that information received instantly on the internet is got shallowly and perhaps forgotten an instant later. We are probably among the last few generations who could determine not to use the internet, but most people who have the option to use it opt to. Including me, but I'm still not altogether comfortable that I do.



Sat Oct 25, 2008 3:17 am
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It is amazing how well informed we can now be through the internet, as long as we are skeptical users of the information we find. 20 years ago, we would have had to each own a huge library to have only a fraction of this information at our fingertips. I'm sure the internet is like the other inventions that have had a revolutionary effect, having side effects that we can complain about even as we acknowledge reliance on them. The automobile is an example; it transformed our lives and has made us utterly dependent on it, but we only have to look at strip malls and polluted air to begin to see its downside.
DWill



Sat Oct 25, 2008 6:03 am
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Okay, time to get this thread back to favorite poems. I'm a W.B. Yeats fan. He called himself the last of the Romantics, so that could be why I'm so keen on him. Not that he didn't have his faults. Some readers can't abide his self-dramatizing and self-congratulating. In my favorite poem of his, though, he views his life and accomplishments (the poems and plays he mentions in the poem) in a more diffident, reflective, even humble way. I love the music of this, the catalogue in the last stanza, and the strange affirmation of the final two lines.

The Circus Animals' Desertion
I

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.

II

What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
'The Countess Cathleen' was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.

III

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.



Sat Oct 25, 2008 7:06 pm
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I wonder if his circus animals are his poems? I'd like to hear this one read aloud. Wonder if I can find it on Ye Olde internet.

DW: For me, the last stanza makes the poem and the last two lines are brilliant.


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Mon Oct 27, 2008 8:01 pm
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DWill wrote:
W.B. Yeats

The Circus Animals' Desertion

III

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.


I love a coincidence. About an hour a go I read the Yates poem DWill posted on 10/25. Just now I was settled down for the night with Kay Ryan's collection of poetry The Niagara River, when I came upon her poem entitled, Carrying A Ladder. Two poem ladders in the space of an hour. I had to post these two poems near each other. If for no other reason than for my own amusement and delight (and yours too, I hope). The ladder in Ryan's poem is a bit different than the one in Yates' or maybe not....

Carrying A Ladder

We are always
really carrying
a ladder, but it's
invisible. We
only know
something's
the matter:
something precious
crashes; easy doors
prove impassable.
Or, in the body,
there's too much
swing or off-
center gravity.
And, in the mind,
a drunken capacity,
access to out-of-range
apples. As though
one had a way to climb
out of the damage
and apology.


My favorite image/idea is the out-of-range apples.

Oh, and here is a link to Kay Ryan reading this poem.
Carrying A Ladder


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In love we are made visible
As in a magic bath
are unpeeled
to the sharp pit
so long concealed
--May Swenson


Last edited by Saffron on Fri Oct 31, 2008 9:51 am, edited 3 times in total.



Mon Oct 27, 2008 9:14 pm
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We can play a kind of poem-association game now, if you want, which can be fun. I'll give you another one with apples and ladders, which also happens to be one of my favorites and is appropriate as well because apple-picking season just ended around here. Someone can bounce another poem off this one in whatever way pleases.

AFTER APPLE PICKING

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

--Robert Frost



Mon Oct 27, 2008 9:41 pm
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I think W.S. Merwin has a whole collection of poems in a book entitled The Carriers of Ladders, but I don't have the book and don't have any poems memorized from it. The only words of his I do recall right now are:

"Stars too near
ever to arrive."

But I probably even have the line divisions wrong on that. I'll have to go look for it at the library later or something (eschewing an internet search out of sheer perverse conservatism).

There was also this other poem of his that seemed to resonate for me on the topics of the environment and colonialism, but I was probably just misreading it. It started with something like, "Well they went everywhere because why not./ Everywhere was theirs because they thought so." and ended with some of them just barely escaping with their shadows. How vague. I wonder if anyone knows what poem I'm thinking about.


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-- Chuang-Tzu (c. 200 B.C.E.)
as quoted by Robert A. Burton


Tue Oct 28, 2008 11:12 am
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Ladder up to heaven
down to hell
left against the wall where the paint is still peeling
and the trim is just as ugly
following Jacob's angel above
or Dante's Virgil below
wont get the wall painted
or the trim any prettier

DH



Tue Oct 28, 2008 11:37 am
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