Minuet in D

raccoons-on-a-tree-wallpaper-1

You probably thought I took last week off because I was intimidated by the three forms of dance folks suggested to me: Minuet, Rondelet, and Flailing One’s Arms Wildly to the Beat of Drums. You would not be wholly wrong. Also I spent several days coughing up first one lung and then the other (even days, right; odd days, left).

The minuet is a dance of small steps, which is apparently what the word means (also, menu, as it happens). So we are going to do just that this week, take small steps toward health and that whole Breathing Without Coughing thing. So a haiku pour vous:

Spring robins skitter

Through new grass, look up to see

Raccoon in the tree.

Poetics, Or Oh Yeah, THAT Was the Point of This Blog…

shopping

I just burned through reading C.D. Wright’s new book with the impossible title, The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All. It is made up of short prose-poem style essays largely about how she feels about words, poetry and her favorite poets; in short, her poetics. It made me want to get back to that project myself, as that was one of the goals I had when I started this blog about a year and a half ago.

And since, as they say, talking about music is like dancing about architecture, and since I began this blog considering the poetic architecture of cathedrals, it makes a certain kind of sense (to me at least) to go about examining the music of poetry by talking about dancing.

I took a ballroom dance class once in college. I didn’t much care for always having to follow rather than lead, but I loved the jitterbug, and the circular waltz, with each couple doing small circles inside the larger orbiting circle of the dance, was like being inside one of those spirograph toys. One dance is simply enjoying your partner’s company. The other is about being together one of the small moving parts of a larger communal piece of art.

And maybe that’s true of poetry as well. Sometimes you give your readers a little gem of enjoyment, showing the unique way you see the world in such a way that they want to come back again—also the way friendships begin. Other poetry you write to show off your virtuosity (and yes, poets, unlike English teachers, think about virtuosity; sometimes I have to look in the mirror before I think so I can remember which hat I’m wearing).

In the coming weeks I will write about flamenco, tango, those awkward junior high school dances and anything else I can think of or you can challenge me with—oooh. I like that idea. Gentle Readers, suggest a dance and I will explain how poetry is like it. If I haven’t heard of it, you may need to direct me to a YouTube video to enlighten me. Game on!

The Rhino at the Tricycle Shop

rhinocercyclist

Well, today is Shakespeare’s birthday and possibly also the day he died, give or take fifty years, and in honor of the Bard of Avon, I am offering this poem written for Mike Allegra over at heylookawriterfellow for kindly drawing this picture for me. Some of the words even rhyme. And because this day also marks the beginning of Write a Love Poem Fortnight, it is a love story. As one of my sister’s exes used to say, “It’s spring. Love is in the air. If you’re not in love, you’re not breathing hard enough.”

 

Rudy the rhino was cycling to Judy’s house,

Planning to ask her out for a meal.

Rudy was psyched. He would wine her and dine her!

But all of a sudden he heard his wheels grind.

(Now before we go on, we should point out that Rudy

Was kind, eco-conscious, aware of his duty

To avoid fossil fuels: hence the red trike.)

But for all of his virtues, our friend is a rhino,

A big, heavy fellow. His trike was quite small

And all the wheels bent, both before and behind.

As he pulled into the tricycle shop and he stopped,

The squeal of the metal brought out Bertie Bunny.

“Oh, Bertie!” said Rudy. “Money’s no object!

Please fix my trike. I am late for my date!”

 

Bertie, laconic mechanic, wiped oil off

His paws with a rag as he paused to consider

The mangled Turbo Triangle detritus.

He sighed, “This will take me at least until Tuesday.”

Said Rudy, “Oh no! But my need is quite dire!”

Bertie pulled out his pliers and wires and a hammer

(His canvas workbag was really quite full)

And finally a skateboard with very thick wheels.

“Rudy,” said Bertie. “I hear you, my fine rhino.

But cry no more or your horn will turn red.

I’ll give you a loaner, my great lovelorn fellow.”

So Rudy skated off to his date with dear Judy

A little bit differently than what he’d planned.

And Bertie the bunny just sighed, “That was funny.

But I’m glad to do my small part. Ain’t love grand?”

 

Illustration by Mike Allegra.

Mary Chapin Carpenter, On the Other Hand, Is Right on the Money

 

How do we write poetry that seizes life with music? Denise Levertov says, “I think it’s like this: first there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him [sic] their equivalence in worlds: he is brought to speech” (8). A few years back, I went to a Mary Chapin Carpenter concert in Boston and before she sang “Almost Home,” she described going through that drawer everyone has in their kitchen, the thingamajig drawer as my family refers to it, and feeling just amazed at all the weird stuff she had accumulated. That experience brought her to write this song. I include a link for your listening pleasure. It’s one of my favorite songs, halfway between folk reflection and anthem.

Almost Home                        by Mary Chapin Carpenter

I saw my life this morning
Lying at the bottom of a drawer
All this stuff I’m saving
God knows what this junk is for

And whatever I believed in
This is all I have to show
What the hell were all reasons
For holding on for such dear life
Here’s where I let go

I’m not running, I’m not hiding, I’m not reaching
I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in and I’m almost home

I saw you this morning
You were staring back at me
From an ancient photograph
Stuck between some letters and some keys

I was lost just for a moment
In the ache of old goodbyes
Sometimes all that we can know is
There’s no such thing as no regrets
But baby it’s all right

I’m not running, I’m not hiding, I’m not reaching
I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in and I’m almost home

But there’s no such thing as no regrets and baby it’s all right
I’m not running, I’m not hiding, I’m not reaching
I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in and I’m almost home

I’m not running now, I’m not hiding out, I’m not reaching here
I’m just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in and I’m almost home

And I’m almost home

 

Levertov, Denise. The Poet in the World. New York: New Directions, 1973.

Some Internal Rhyme for You Heathens

Don’t take it personally, Gentle Readers. A good friend of mine refers to both her two large cats and her college students as the “little beasts.” It’s a term of endearment. Enjoy the poem.

Jack+Beanstalk-2-300dpi

Nightview from the Beanstalk, with Moon

 

I.

Up here, night clouds move like an ocean breaking

against the beanstalk, rolling into charcoal

horizonless shore as if racing to discover new worlds,

ferocious and green. But there are no new worlds

left to discover. There is no green; only heavy midnight

blue indistinguishable from eternity. Without moonlight,

this foliage is primal, reaching out. Jack says,

Navigate by touch as salmon do, heaving themselves straight

upriver, up waterfalls, up to invisible sky. It is easy to see,

here in the dark, how explorers of old could

convince themselves of destiny, cousin to destination,

of a magnet star calling to the magnet in the breast.

Quest is kin to conquest. Scaling these leaves, helmed

ghosts cry out in seven romance languages, Devil

take the hindmost! and flail their way into the surf

of sinuous vines. Like them, I navigate by clutching.

The shadows between my fingers chime

in recognition. No new worlds. No, now

we colonize each other’s bodies, plant flags

between each other’s eyes. Look at Jack. Unlike most

men, who brag of the last woman laid, he brags

of the last giant killed, lectures long into evening

how the storytellers got it wrong: he never chopped down

the beanstalk, he merely greased its leaves. Effective

enough. I stall his rehearsed glory, resume our dark climb.

Another hour, Jack calls back to me. Until the top? No,

until the moon. He laughs at the way it sounds, as if light

were a place one could climb to, or gloom were a path

to a door. The clouds roll in with a hush like high tide,

leaving their moisture to lick my face, muting my voice.

In the dark, every whisper is loud, every motion

endless. The tangled boughs bend and sway beneath me

like so much black lace. I pry my fingers open, pick

my way blindly upward, always upward, among vines

slicked by cloud, scrambled by breeze. Jack murmurs,

We could drown in all this wet air, these beans

the hue of stone weighing us down. I am glad I can’t see

the ground, justified in asking to climb here at night.

The last boundary, Jack says, lies above us,

in cumulus cliffs of lapis and glacial white

bigger than anybody’s fear of falling. Close your eyes.

What does verdancy mean now? What does height

signify? If beans tremble, but the night wraps

so close you cannot see them, do they fear?

Jack’s right about the beans. Their cool grey

leather strands hang like bits of bone: malleable

and waiting to be fleshed and shoved toward

birth. A terrifying change, that fall into chill

unknown, caught by too many dry hands, ferried into

this netherworld new life of pangs and urges,

blown into a crêche filled with straw and destiny–

that word again, whose syllables encompass end

together with beginning, doom with estimated

time of arrival. If I mapped this altitude, with its

webbed stems and stone lessons, if I charted these blue

fathoms where owls glide, curious as dolphins,

along the prow of this beanstalk, could I soon navigate

through cloudwracked straits to Jack, to a hidden country,

guided by owls as dolphins once were known to guide

ships past reefs, stars past the dark side of the moon?

 

II.

The white tiger moon crouches, tensed, then lacerates

the clouds and peels them back to reveal a new

beanstalk: both compass rose for a map, and waterfall

of black marble illuminated by blossoms like perfumed

gloves, phosphorescent and casting their own light

on my face, on Jack’s, on village and valley below.

The beanstalk spills from this incalculable height, spills in

ribbons of black ink that pool and trickle into boundaries,

lakes and vales, mountains and rolling roads, the soft

spread of forest–all drawn to scale, all shining like velvet

under moonlight. Soft laughter trails up to us

from the satisfied magician and his dry milkcow, no more

than stick figures in the corner below, near thatched

cottages strangling among the beanstalk’s tangled roots.

Perspective lies. From a distance, waterfalls appear

to pour upward the way the eye climbs from bottom

to shadowy top in the Chinese painting of this night.

From where the magician stands, I am not following

but chasing Jack, tracing his path through a garden

of moonbrightened blooms, up one side of this scroll.

The tiger moon rolls down the hill of clouds, gathering

white, only her eyes still bronze and reflecting our ascent,

her whiskers hoarding starlight, her musty breath

foregoing Confucian Analects to whisper, “Catch him,

catch him,” in the cold breeze. Daylight women have

chased Jack on land, to dig for his gold and fawn

over his beans in the hollows of tawny dunes. I follow

without such haste. Like him, I am an entrepreneur

of thinner atmospheres. I lure him as altitude does,

sew silver behind the clouds, knowing I will reap it again

before dawn, before its white heat scorches our hands to

flinders, tempts us to turn back from this endurance

climb in a vertical jungle gone wild, whose malachite

webs, only dimly seen, stir me until I could weep

from unspent passion, from the feminine ascendant and

racing in pale light. Nightingale song fills the leaves, says Jack.

But I am the silent roaring gale of this night, and my

fireflies flicker and cicadas chirr like the finger cymbals of

a dancer whose limbs twine and untwine as this

beanstalk does around Jack, even in the slightest of winds.

 

 

Spilecki, Susan. “Nightview from the Beanstalk,” Sow’s Ear Poetry Review 8 (Fall 1998): 3.

Robert Frost (Even If We Read Him Right) Was Wrong

Unknown

How many generations of high school graduates have been misled into thinking that it’s always good to do things the hard way because Robert Frost is popular and many valedictorians and civic leaders have poor close-reading skills?

If we read Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” correctly, he is saying that neither of the two paths would have made a difference because the paths were functionally the same, but the speaker will claim to have been a pioneer when he is old and bragging to his grandchildren in a rocking chair on the porch, who will believe him, the little nitwits, because he will have so much darn gravitas, so who’s going to say he’s wrong?

 

The Road Not Taken                        by Robert Frost

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

But are two paths ever the same? And if they are, are we ever the same walking down them? How much is the ground we are walking on and how much the weather and the clothes we chose to wear? How much the terrain itself and how much our choice of footwear? It occurs to me that this could be leading us into philosophy—gaah!—and it might be safest for us all if I just put my head down until the feeling goes away.

But I think it’s never only two roads, the right one and the wrong one. It’s about the million roads, all of them well trodden, and we simply have to figure out how to choose the one most likely to lead us home. Which of course necessitates how the hell to figure out what we mean by “home.” And it’s about how, when we look back, we reinterpret the past to make it look more coherent, more intentional, more like we planned the good outcomes. Yes, I meant to do that! (Suuuure you did…)

Readers Reply with Hue and Cry!

In response to my little rant the other day about rhyme, I received the following poems, the first from 10000hoursleft (also known as Mek):

After looking up the meaning of profundity
I came to the conclusion you’d likely be
Lumping me in
Oh for my sin
With those in the 98 per cent
Who keep aiming for ascent
To the lofty heights of the minority
To be a 2 percenter my priority
Joys of creative expression
Need not get a mention
Now, I’ll have to stop rhyming

 

And the second from Mike Allegra over at heylookawriterfellow:

Master sculptor, bearing chisel,
Paused his work so he could wizzle.
And so the marble had to wait,
For sculptor to evacuate.

5135_A-Sculptor-BW2

(Drops mic and strides purposefully toward the exit.)

 

So I offer here as an apology a sloppy English sonnet. It’s got the rhyme scheme, but I dropped that whole iambic pentameter thing because I am tired after a long day’s work, and iambic pentameter would just be too much on an empty stomach at 7:41 pm.

Apology

I pick up the mic dropped there by Mike

And scanned the sky for ascended Mek.

They used dread rhyme in a way I like

Unlike those whose Yules get decked.

You see, the Food Network is to blame

For my Poetry Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Their December hacks of Clement Moore

Send me screaming to the border.

It seems that rhyme may perhaps have uses

For getting the poet’s ideas across.

It’s not just used by silly gooses;

Sometimes its users are just the boss!

So I will try to embrace the rhyme,

But please, Lord, please, not all the time.