Word Cloud: MAYBLOOMS

by NONA BLYTH CLOUD

This is the second in our series of May poets — and it’s almost ‘Too Many Poets” week — seventeen poets were born this week. There are probably even more, but these have either published in English, or had their poems translated into English.

Of course, we can’t really ever have too many poets, but it’s been a real challenge to come up with a format or a theme. So I decided to just list them in order by birthday, with mini-bios, and give you some poems you might not have discovered yet.



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May 7

  • Robert Browning (1812-1889)
  • Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)
  • Fenton Johnson (1888-1958)
  • Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)
  • Darwin T. Turner (1931-1991)
  • Angela O. Carter (1940-1992)

Most English-speakers have read at least one poem by the famous English Victorian poet Robert Browning, but in the 21st century the rest of these poets, some very well-known in their day, may not be familiar to you.


Rabindranath Tagore was born in British India’s Calcutta (now Kolkata), and if you’re from India, you know he’s had a major influence on Bengali literature and music. He was also very popular with the Flower Children in the 1960s. His brief poems in the collection Fireflies are still favorites of mine.

My fancies are fireflies, —
Specks of living light
twinkling in the dark.

The butterfly counts
not months but moments,
and has time enough.

The soil in return for her service
keeps the tree tied to her,
the sky asks nothing and leaves it free.

The tyrant claims freedom to kill freedom
and yet to keep it for himself.

Trees are the earth’s endless effort to
speak to the listening heaven.

While God waits for his temple
to be built of love,
men bring stones.



Fenton Johnson was born in Chicago, and worked as an editor of African-American literary and cultural magazines, and wrote essays and short-stories, as well as poetry. He was part of the Chicago group of the Federal Writers’ Project during the Depression. His best-known poem, Tired, is marked by a fatalism about ‘the way things are’ yet a deep anger seethes under its surface.

Tired

I am tired of work; I am tired of building up somebody else’s civilization.
Let us take a rest, M’lissy Jane.

I will go down to the Last Chance Saloon, drink a gallon or two of gin, shoot a game or two of dice and sleep the rest of the night on one of Mike’s barrels.

You will let the old shanty go to rot, the white people’s clothes turn to dust, and the Cavalry Baptist Church sink to the bottomless pit.

You will spend your days forgetting you married me and your nights hunting the warm gin Mike serves the ladies in the rear of the Last Chance Saloon.

Throw the children in the river; civilization has given us too many. It is better to die than it is to grow up and find out that you are colored.

Pluck the stars out of the heavens. The stars mark our destiny. The stars mark my destiny.

I am tired of civilization.


Archibald MacLeish was very famous in his day, but is probably most remembered for his play J.B. He spent some time in and out of the writing life, as a lawyer, an ambulance driver in WWI, an Ivy League professor, and, at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt, as Librarian of Congress. His appointment was initially opposed, by Republicans for his known leftist political views, and by librarians because he had no degree in Library Science and no experience, but Roosevelt’s choice prevailed. MacLeish brought in a committee of professional librarians to study what needed to be done to modernize the institution. Within a year, he had streamlined and reorganized the library, put a plan in place to address its shortcomings, and wrestled increased funding out of a reluctant Congress. Inspired by the book, Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis, he defined the mission of books and libraries:

“A true book is a report upon the mystery of existence… it speaks of the world, of our life in the world. Everything we have in the books on which our libraries are founded—Euclid’s figures, Leonardo’s notes, Newton’s explanations, Cervantes’ myth, Sappho’s broken songs, the vast surge of Homer—everything is a report of one kind or another and the sum of all of them together is our little knowledge of our world and of ourselves. Call a book Das Kapital or The Voyage of the Beagle or Theory of Relativity or Alice in Wonderland or Moby-Dick, it is still what Kazantzakis called his book—it is still a “report” upon the “mystery of things.”

But if this is what a book is… then a library is an extraordinary thing. …

The library, almost alone of the great monuments of civilization, stands taller now than it ever did before. The city… decays. The nation loses its grandeur… The university is not always certain what it is. But the library remains: a silent and enduring affirmation that the great Reports still speak, and not alone but somehow all together…”

He also initiated the position Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, now called Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

For his own writing, MacLeish won many awards and honors, including the 1933 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (Conquistador); the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (Collected Poems 1917–1952); the 1953 National Book Award for Poetry (Collected Poems, 1917–1952); the 1959 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (J.B.); the 1959 Tony Award for Best Play (J.B.); and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.

Ars Poetica

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

*

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

*

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.


Darwin T. Turner was born in Cincinnati, OH. He began college at age 13. At 16, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Cincinnati as it youngest graduate, then got his Masters there in English and American Drama at age 18, followed by a PhD degree from the University of Chicago by age 25 while working as a teacher at Morgan State College in Baltimore MD. While continuing to work as a full-time educator, Turner edited more than a dozen works of African American literature and published his own writing, including a collection of his poems in Katharsis in 1964, and published numerous other papers and essays. He died of a heart attack at age 59.


Angela O. Carter, born Eastbourne, England, was more noted for her works of fiction, and articles and essays, than her poetry. An out-spoken feminist who had studied medieval literature at university, she often wrote about or re-wrote myths and fairy tales.  She died of lung cancer at age 51.

 

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May 8

  •  Gary Snyder (1930 – )

Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco CA. While he is best known as a poet, he’s also an essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist. Snyder has been called the “Poet Laureate of Deep Ecology.”

Milton by Firelight

Piute Creek, August 1955

“O hell, what do mine eyes
with grief behold?”
Working with an old
Singlejack miner, who can sense
The vein and cleavage
In the very guts of rock, can
Blast granite, build
Switchbacks that last for years
Under the beat of snow, thaw, mule-hooves.
What use, Milton, a silly story
Of our lost general parents,
eaters of fruit?

The Indian, the chainsaw boy,
And a string of six mules
Came riding down to camp
Hungry for tomatoes and green apples.
Sleeping in saddle-blankets
Under a bright night-sky
Han River slantwise by morning.
Jays squall
Coffee boils

In ten thousand years the Sierras
Will be dry and dead, home of the scorpion.
Ice-scratched slabs and bent trees.
No paradise, no fall,
Only the weathering land
The wheeling sky,
Man, with his Satan
Scouring the chaos of the mind.
Oh Hell!

Fire down
Too dark to read, miles from a road
The bell-mare clangs in the meadow
That packed dirt for a fill-in
Scrambling through loose rocks
On an old trail
All of a summer’s day.

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May 9

  • Lucian Blaga (1895-1961)
  • Mona Van Duyn (1921-2004)
  • Charles Simic (1938 – )
  • Joy Harjo (1951 – )

Lucian Blaga was born in Lancrăm, Romania. A philosopher, magazine editor, diplomat, translator, professor, poet, playwright and novelist, he became a notable figure in Romanian culture. He served in Romania’s legations in Warsaw, Prague, Lisbon, Bern and Vienna. After refusing to express support for the new Communist regime, between 1948 and 1960, he was forbidden to publish any new works, except translations. In 1956, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize for literature, but the Romanian Communist government protested his nomination. He was diagnosed with cancer and died on 6 May 1961, and was buried on his birthday, 9 May, in the countryside village cemetery of Lancrăm, Romania.

His alma mater, the University of Sibiu, is now the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu.

Silence

Such a deep silence surrounds me, that I think I hear
moonbeams striking on the windows.

In my chest,
a strange voice is awakens
and a song plays inside me
a longing that is not mine.

They say that ancestors, dead before their time,
with young blood still in their veins,
with great passion in their blood,
with the sun still burning in their blood
come,
come to continue to live
within us
their unfinished lives.

Such a deep silence surrounds me, that I think I hear
moonbeams striking on the windows.

O, who knows, soul of mine, in which chest you will sing
you also, after centuries,
in soft ropes of silence,
on harps of obscurity – the drowned longing
and the pleasure of living torn? Who knows?
Who knows?


Mona Van Duyn was born in Waterloo, IA. She won every major American award for poetry and was appointed in 1992 as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Mona Van Duyn died of bone cancer on December 1, 2004, in St. Louis, Missouri, where she had lived since 1950.

from ‘Endings’

Part II

Setting the V.C.R. when we go to bed
to record a night owl movie, some charmer we missed
we always allow, for unprogrammed unforeseen,
an extra half hour. (Night gods of the small screen
are ruthless with watchers trapped in their piety.)
We watch next evening, and having slowly found
the start of the film, meet the minors and leads,
enter their time and place, their wills and needs,
hear in our chests the click of empathy’s padlock,
watch the forces gather, unyielding world
against the unyielding heart, one longing’s minefield
laid for another longing, which may yield.
Tears will salt the left-over salad I seize
during ads, or laughter slow my hurry to pee.
But as clot melts toward clearness a black fate
may fall on the screen; the movie started too late.
Torn from the backward-shining of an end
that lights up the meaning of the whole work,
disabled in mind and feeling, I flail and shout,
“I can’t bear it! I have to see how it comes out!”
For what is story if not relief from the pain
of the inconclusive, from dread of the meaningless?
Minds in their silent blast-offs search through space–
how often I’ve followed yours!–for a resting-place.
And I’ll follow, past each universe in its spangled
ballgown who waits for the slow-dance of life to start,
past vacancies of darkness whose vainglory
is endless as death’s, to find the end of the story.


Charles Simic was born in Belgrade, Serbia. He and his family were evacuees during and displaced persons after WWII. They came to the United States in 1954 when he was 16 years old, settling in Chicago IL. He is a translator, essayist and philosopher, as well as a poet. In 1990, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book, The World Doesn’t End. In 2007, Simic was appointed as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

Empire of Dreams

On the first page of my dreambook
It’s always evening
In an occupied country.
Hour before the curfew.
A small provincial city.
The houses all dark.
The storefronts gutted.

I am on a street corner
Where I shouldn’t be.
Alone and coatless
I have gone out to look
For a black dog who answers to my whistle.
I have a kind of Halloween mask
Which I am afraid to put on.


Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. She says the name Harjo means ‘so brave you’re crazy.’ Harjo is a poet, musician, playwright, and a gifted teacher. She sometimes experiments with writing her poems in prose form.

Don’t Bother the Earth Spirit

Don’t bother the earth spirit who lives here. She is working on a story. It is the oldest story in the world and it is delicate, changing. If she sees you watching she will invite you in for coffee, give you warm bread, and you will be obligated to stay and listen. But this is no ordinary story. You will have to endure earthquakes, lightning, the deaths of all those you love, the most blinding beauty. It’s a story so compelling you may never want to leave; this is how she traps you. See that stone finger over there? That is the only one who ever escaped.

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May 10

  • Jayne Cortez (1934-2012)

Jayne Cortez was born in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and grew up in California. She was a poet and performance artist. In Los Angeles CA, she was a co-founder and artistic director of the Watts Repertory Theatre Company (1964-1970), then moved to New York City, where she founded Bola Press. Performed and recorded with the band, Firespitters. 1980 American Book Award for Mouth on Paper; Afrikan Poetry Theatre award, 1994;  Langston Hughes Medal, City College of New York, 2001. Cortez died of heart failure in New York City on 2012.

If the Drum is a Woman

If the drum is a woman
why are you pounding your drum into an insane
babble
why are you pistol whipping your drum at dawn
why are you shooting through the head of your drum
and making a drum tragedy of drums
if the drum is a woman
don’t abuse your drum don’t abuse your drum
don’t abuse your drum
I know the night is full of displaced persons
I see skins striped with flames
I know the ugly disposition of underpaid clerks they constantly menstruate through the eyes
I know bitterness embedded in flesh
the itching alone can drive you crazy
I know that this is America and chicken are coming home to roost
on the MX missile
But if the drum is a woman
why are you choking your drum
why are you raping your drum
why are you saying disrespectful things
to your mother drum your sister drum
your wife drum and your infant daughter drum
If the drum is a woman
then understand your drum
your drum is not docile
your drum is not invisible
your drum is not inferior to you
your drum is a woman
so don’t reject your drum don’t try to dominate your drum
don’t become weak and cold and desert your drum
don’t be forced into the position
as an oppressor of drums and make a drum tragedy of drums
if the drum is a woman
don’t abuse your drum don’t abuse your drum
don’t abuse our drum…….

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May 11

  • Edward Kamau Brathwaite (1930 – )
  • Rose Ausländer (1907-1988)

Edward Kamau Brathwaite was born in Bridgetown, Barbados. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Sussex, and is co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM). Braithwaite is a major voice in Caribbean literary and academic circles, noted for his studies of Black cultural life both in Africa and throughout the African diaspora.

Guanahani, 11

like the beginnings – o odales o adagios – of islands
from under the clouds where I write the first poem

its brown warmth now that we recognize them
even from this thunder’s distance

still w/out sound. so much hope
now around the heart of lightning that I begin to weep

w/such happiness of familiar landscap
such genius of colour. shape of bay. headland

the dark moors of the mountain
ranges. a door opening in the sky

right down into these new blues & sleeping yellows
greens – like a mother’s

embrace like a lover’s
enclosure. like schools

of fish migrating towards homeland. into the bright
light of xpectation. birth

of these long roads along the edge of Eleuthera,
now sinking into its memory behind us


Rose Ausländer was born Chernivtsi, Ukraine. She lived in the U.S and Germany, a Jewish poet who wrote in both German and English, editor of the U.S. German language newspaper Westlicher Herold; most copies of her first books of poems were destroyed when the Nazis occupied Cernauti in 1941

Czernowitz before the Second World War

Peaceful hill town
encircled by beech woods

Willows along the Pruth
rafts and swimmers

Maytime profusion of lilac

About the lanterns
May bugs dance
their death

Four languages
Speak to each other
enrich the air

The town
breathed happily
till bombs fell

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May 12

  • Edward Lear (1812-1888)
  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
  • Rosellen Brown (1939 – )

Edward Lear was born in the Holloway district of London, in Great Britain. He was quite famous as an English artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet, but is now remembered mostly for his limericks.

There was an Old Man on the Border

There was an old man on the Border,
Who lived in the utmost disorder;
He danced with the cat, and made tea in his hat,
Which vexed all the folks on the Border.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in London, England. Co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English painters, poets, and critics in the mid-19th century, who were a major influence on the European Symbolists, the Aesthetic movement and the British Arts and Crafts Movement.

Sudden Light

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before,—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turn’d so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.

Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death’s despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?


Rosellen Brown was born in Philadelphia PA. She is a novelist, short-story writer, poet and creative writing instructor.

from Cora Fry’s Pillow Book:

I forget it’s strange how fog seeps out of the river
Every day till the weather turns.

How, each warm morning, blinded drivers inch down the road
on faith alone. The bright eye of the school bus pokes a hole
in the muzzy air, and then drives slowly through it.

In the river valley, something invisible is always
coming toward you. Every stop sign, every hunkering truck

blooms out of nowhere, much too close
when you finally see it. One day it’s going to cost me my life,
creeping this slug-trail, getting the mail out blind.

I never knew how odd it was until
I spent my first night far from the river.

Then I learned that summer morning is born in light,
most places.  The air had cleared its throat and its voice
was pure: sunlight, sharp outlines, deep shadows.

What we, when the fog burns off,
call afternoon.
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Seventeen poets, with little in common except the closeness of their birthdays. And maybe that’s the theme which has eluded me all this week: how wide a net of invention we humans are capable of casting, what infinite possibilities we share.
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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 45 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband and a bewildered Border Collie.
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