Steven's Poetry/Writing: September 2007 Archives

Speaking of Critics


I love it when this happens and I'm alert enough to recognize it. This started out as a critique of something quite different and quite personal; however, as I allowed it to grow, it turned into something much more interesting. Yes--it probably still needs some work to get the remaining hitches out. But I rather like what it has become.

The Informed Churchman Examines Recently Confirmed Artifact 361752 ("Holy Grail")

Doesn't gold resist tarnish? and yet, look
there, that little spot from which no light shines.
And why, after all, gold and not silver,
wood, glass, or antimony pewter? While
we're at it, who designed this lumpen cup?
Didn't they know we'd make of it a chalice?
Could they not see how inelegant the
lines? Unseemly bulges, awkward in hand.
What are we to make of such unruly
work? Miracles? Pah. What's a miracle
with such a declassé design? Who cares
what superstition has imbued it with?
Anyone with half an eye can see it
for what it is--bargain basement gimcrack
finery. Our Lord (who had a fine sense
of style) would never have set lips to such
a cup as this. Who could think so? No, go
find another--this one will never do.

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More Reflections


Pardon the pun. . .


When we can penetrate the lies we do
not know we tell, and see for one moment
what we protect, we can begin to know.
Knowledge is a perfect mirror--bright, sharp,
hard, and cold--a knife all blade, no handle,
that cuts what it touches as easily
as it reflects light. To know truth invites
hardship and a long unknowing. And so
we avoid the knife as long as we can,
or many of us do; but some, wiser
perhaps, or more daring, learn the art of
naked steel, learn the caress of the blade
that opens up all. Knowledge is hard, but
not so stony and unyielding as willed
ignorance; it's blade cuts deep and yet heals.
To choose not to know is to lean too far
out a window without a sill, to stretch
our bodies out on the thin wind of a
perpetual fall, no skillful clean cut,
nor surgical strike; no--rather an all
out plummet to a meaningless blot,
a rorschach. Pain either way, no matter
what people end up thinking, no matter
which we choose. So, why not truth? Pain then in
the service of an end that brings us
all together, soldiers-in-arms against
the same sad nameless terminal disease.

In making this I had to cut a simile that I like very much because it cuts two ways--"we are no more what we say than air is wind."

Later: If you stop by frequently you may have noticed two or three drafts of this. Lunch hour is remarkably productive.

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Final Poem for the Day


See H.P. Lovecraft's "In the Walls of Eryx." Yes, I know, a penny-dreadful inspiration for a poem, but the images of that story tend to stick with you.

A Condo in Eryx

Glass tunnel in a wide
open field, perfectly
clear so I cannot see
the prison maze that binds
me to my choices. I
make these walls, no one can
see me here, no one wants
to. In time I could die
here, out in the open
unseen, unmourned, unknown,
unneeded, and alone;
but until then, I build,
making walls with the fierce
determination shown
by colonies of ants--
labyrinthine, involute,
spiraling, in and out
but always ending in
hollow chambers, the lair
of the Queen, the meaning
of the colony. And
so, lacking a queen, this
endless building tends to
end--bloated nothingness.

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After Robert Frost


Not really. For one thing Frost's poetry was more measured, less inclined to enjambment. However, I saw an anthology of poetry from some years back that was dedicated to and in honor of Robert Frost, and I thought about "The Road Less Traveled" and "How that made all the difference." And, in truth, it does. But that's not the road most of us end up seeing and so it seemed, another poem was required.

The Road Well Rutted

We travel as we travel; at the end
we are surprised to arrive at a place
we never thought to visit; and then, when
we glance at the map, we see empty space--

Terra incognita, here be monsters.
The road we have worn, worn to uselessness,
has guided us here, and made us wonder
why we chose, a barren path to endless

waste. Truth is, we don't see so well down here
beneath the level of the land. Once we
had bearings, could see the landmarks, over there
the pine barrens that guard the dunes and sea,

over here the road to the city, winding
strange and imperfect through the lonely miles.
But we walk the same old ground, now tramping
down the earth, back and forth, restless now while

we still can see, and becoming at home
as we obscure our vision. Sightless we
see what we always wanted to see, tombs
become palaces, walls-windows, we see

what we dreamed only dimmer, until all
light goes out. The well-rutted road now falls
away, and we are left with appalling
signs of how foolish we have been--how small.

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Much of poetry is a kind of posed reflection--an internalized debate, conversation, or extended thought that has had the messiness pruned away and has been made ready for general consumption. When we encounter poetry that we don't "get" it is often because we don't understand the terms of the debate or the center of reflection. I say this because the poem I am presenting may have elements that are too personal for them to mean much to anyone else. And the job of the poet is to identify such poems and attempt to enlarge their terms so that they do mean beyond the narrow limits of the personal experience. However, this should be done within the poem itself. So, if you give this a couple of tries and still cannot make sense of it, please drop me a line to help in the revision of it.

Rock in Water

"Don't touch that!" the guide's words echo in the
empty chambers of eerie light, this rock
and void wonder that makes of Earth a womb,
and the object under protection of
so vigilant a guardian--living
rock, onyx growing through the ages. One
human touch, one fingerprint, kills the stone,
one sheen of oil seals out healing water
and the white rock ends. The human touch tends
to end all things and begin truncated
projects, odd and ends, all unfinished and
so always unending.
___________________ My totem in years
that were to come, the durable, shaped by
the ephemeral, the solid made whole by
the shifting. In the depths of the water
an egg of basalt, size of a football,
weight of a car, posed on a slate shelf, smoothed
and waiting for one who will carry it
away--and a waking dream of a stone
pillar swirled round by raging water, a
flood that does not move, cannot sway, lets stand
a rock unperturbed and changed entirely.
Story of a life the solid mired, swamped,
changed and the same amid all the shifting.

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Too Short a Respite


See, a hiatus doesn't last all that long--unfortunately for you.


People to throw
away; discards,
the world's refuse,
underfoot dirt,
dust, and sweepings.

Intended as
thrown together
in less time than
it took to think
of it, age-stained
before they're done,
designed to make
each feel smaller
that humanly

And more to come--beware.

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Reading too Much Roethke


Practical wisdom: Read not too much of poets inclined to depression and naturalism.

"I wake to sleep and take my waking slow. . ."

What waking and what sleep? What images
of all and nothing mixed, all one line one
meaning? The arrow through the small bedroom
with black-framed doors and yellow walls winds up
at here and now by the blue sea rising
only in memory. The sandcastle
crab scuttling through my earliest age,
and the dolphin and the shark that mark my
present time. A friend confided a ray
sounding spoke in salty dialect of
God who is not and hears not or does and
he instead does not hear.
[________________________] This slow waking,
this reach for light that comes when I go as
I am meant to, a sounding, surfacing--
grabbing hollow air to fill a hollow
man is all that moves me now, as I have
no motion that can be moved, no movement
that can mean or be or stay or away
drift--red autumn on dark water. Where I
found myself, between rock and water, soothed
and rounded by the cool swirl, made real by
the insects and fish that move with the true
motion of innocence, of what needs no
redemption because its only fall was my
own fall--pulled down in sullied brotherhood
and brought up again in light and darkness
that mix in the autumn waters of streams
that follow their own motion and make it
{___} To join them then and there in the pools
where darkness cannot consume the light and
all motion moves in secret silence and
what is know is what is seen--innocence
is the unchurned, sun-warmed top twelve inches
still and moving where they must. An ending
that is not seen and so becomes a new
beginning that is.
__________________Full memory is
sorrow, an unending world of shadow
that shifts and shapes a life unlived but walked
through. Who I am and am to be is known
only in the motion I do not make.

I'd like to explain it, but any explanation would take far, far too many words and leave what is here spoken in ways that mean less while they say more.

And I should note that some lines were suggested, indeed nearly cribbed from a great underpublished poet friend of min, Jay Bradford Fowler, Jr. The world is a lesser place without him.

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Aphorisms That Form a Whole


Call them a form of admonishment--a reminder. Nothing profound, but worth recording for reasons all my own.


Powerlessness is bred of my motionlessness.
I fail because I do not, not because
I cannot. I have never tested "can."

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What Can Be Shown


Excerpt from a journal:


It seems there is a choice to live in fear,
regret, jealousy, and gradually
increasing bitterness, or to be alive,
casting habits of fear aside, become
open, outward, alive, loving, looking
for meaning beyond what most frightens me.
Fear is emptiness, the true death of trust,
or perhaps the knowledge that trust never lived.

I remarked to a correspondent that all of my prose is broken poetry, and that exalts my prose too much, but I hear within it the struggle to mean in the relationship of words by sound. There are echoes and echoing phrases and bells and drums within words that wrap the words around and make them mean. And so, I write what I must write and I recognize it for what it is--poor poetry, worse prose. But poetry is the exercise of control on language, it is the struggle for meaning in the mundane--it is the high frontier of communication and so, better to lose the struggle there than to never attempt it.

Boy that sound pretentious. It doesn't mean to be--but it's difficult to say in other words what is meant. I suppose each writer is stamped with the form most familiar, most comfortable, most reliable--for me, for better or worse, that form is poetry--and if I make a mess of it, well that certainly isn't the fault of the muse.

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Two Ways of Saying the Same Thing


Two quite similar poems about the same thing:

Dark, Dark My Light, and Darker My Desire

The world is haunted
by shadows
flattened people and places
words spoken once
repeated endlessly
in a million places
all at once.

What we see is not
real and all that is
real is haunted by the shadows
that change the warp and weft
of what is.

We quote words we've
heard too many times
but never spoken
by a person--only
the words of colored shadows.


We live in the shadow of shadows
in the haunted specter
of what once was real
and has no substance even now

a world haunted by shadows
flattened people and places
that grow to be more real
than those we walk through every day.

We listen to the words spoken
once and resounding
through the universe
filling up time and space.

What we see is not now real
and it replaces what we
can touch as more cherished,
more worshipped, more respected.

As poetry, I don't suppose either is terribly good. I'm not pretending that. But I like the idea behind them enough to preserve them and perhaps work from them to a more robust representation of what is in my mind.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Steven's Poetry/Writing category from September 2007.

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