TCS: A Certain Slant of Light – 2021

Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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In the depths of winter, I found there was
within me an invincible summer.

– Albert Camus

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Humankind is always trying to impose our increasingly exacting sense of time on planet Earth, but our home world resists our attempts to order its patterns to suit ourselves. It turns around and around, while also circling the Sun, tilting this way and that, so there is more sun, then less, then more again. Summer in the North, Winter in the South, divided – in our minds – by that imaginary line, the Equator.

So as we who live above that line are feeling the chill of winter, the people living to the south of it are basking in the heat of summer. Today’s poems cover both seasons, so if you’re not happy with the season you are in now, remember that it too will transform into the next season, and the next.

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Snow Day

by Billy Collins

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows

the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.

In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.

But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news

that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—

the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.

So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.

And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down.

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“Snow Day” from Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems, © 2001 by Billy Collins – Random House

Billy Collins (1941 – ) dubbed “the most popular poet in America” by Bruce Weber in the New York Times, was a two-term U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003), and has published many poetry collections, including Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning and  Nine Horses: Poems. It was Questions About Angels, published in 1991, that put him in the literary spotlight. Collins says his poetry is “suburban, it’s domestic, it’s middle class, and it’s sort of unashamedly that.”

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There’s a certain Slant of light, (320)

by Emily Dickinson

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

.

“There’s a certain Slant of light” (320), from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin – Harvard University Press, 1999

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American’s best-known woman poet and one of the nation’s greatest and most original authors, lived the life of a recluse in Amherst Massachusetts. She wrote nearly 1800 poems, ignoring the traditional poetic forms prevailing among most of the other poets of her day. The extent of her work wasn’t known until after her death, when her younger sister Lavinia discovered her cache
of poems.

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In New Zealand, it’s summer, but the heat that the poet is referring to here isn’t from the sun, but from radiation in the Nuclear Age.

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No Ordinary Sun

by Hone Tuwhare

Tree let your arms fall:
raise them not sharply in supplication
to the bright enhaloed cloud.
Let your arms lack toughness and
resiliance for this is no mere axe
to blunt nor fire to smother.

Your sap shall not rise again
to the moons pull.
No more incline a deferential head
to the wind’s talk, or stir
to the tickle of coursing rain.

Your former shaginess shall not be
wreathed with the delightful flight
of birds nor shield
nor cool the adour of unheeding
lovers from the monstrous sun.

Tree let your naked arms fall
nor extend vain entreaties to the radiant ball.
This is no gallant monsoon’s flash,
no dashing trade wind’s blast.
The fading green of your magic
emanations shall not make pure again
these polluted skies . . . for this
is no ordinary sun.

O tree
in the shadowless mountains
the white plains and
the drab sea floor
your end at last is written

  .

“No Ordinary Sun” from No Ordinary Sun, © 1964 by Hone Tuwhare – reissued in 1998 by Random House New Zealand

Hone Tuwhare (1922 -2008) was born in Kaikohe, Northland, New Zealand into the Maori Ngapuhi tribe. He was named after Hone Wiremu Heke Pokai, a 19th century chief and warrior of the Ngāpuhi tribe, leader of a Māori rebellion over treaty violations and economic hardship. Tuwhare was an outspoken activist for trade unionism, civil rights, the environment, and against nuclear weapons. In 1957, the Minister of Maori Affairs even censored one of his early poems because Tuwhare was a card-carrying Communist. But by 1999, but he was New Zealand’s preeminent Maori poet, and he was named as the nation’s second Te Mata Poet Laureate. Though well-known and much-loved in his own country, his collections of poetry have been rare finds elsewhere, although his Small Holes in the Silence: Collected Works was issued in 2011 by Random House New Zealand.

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This poem is from The Monkey’s Mask, which caused a sensation in Australia when it was published. It’s a verse novel, a noire detective story, with a missing rich-girl-aspiring-poet, and a narrator who is a lesbian private investigator.

The title comes from a Bashō haiku: 

Year after year
On the monkey’s face
A monkey’s mask.

On the title page is a quote from Aristophanes:

“What do you want a poet for?”
“To save the City, of course.”

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Twinings

by Dorothy Porter

Insects float
black and frantic

on the smooth surface
of the swimming pool

Mrs. Norris makes tea

Twinings
I bet myself

before it arrives
set out on a tray
a plump silver pot

my mother
would be proud of me

I sip Earl Grey
quietly

and let them talk
about Mickey

it’s not like her
she doesn’t take drugs
she doesn’t even smoke

she wants to be a journalist

photos

she’s pretty
she’s sweet
she’s too good to be true

her mother stands
brushes down her flowery frock

I take my cue
make reassuring plans

and glance
as I leave

the sun flattening
the withered rockery.

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“Twinings” from The Monkey’s Mask, © 1994 by Dorothy Porter –reissued by Serpent’s Tail in 2000

Dorothy Porter (1954-2008) Australian poet born in Sydney to a barrister father and a chemistry teacher mother. She was an open lesbian, and moved to Melbourne in 1993 to be with her partner, writer Andrea Goldsmith. The couple were coincidentally both shortlisted in the 2003 Miles Franklin Award for literature. Porter had a series of poetry collections published between 1975 and 1992 which were mainly known to other Australian poets, until The Monkey’s Mask was published in 1994. Porter said, “The Monkey’s Mask – the book for which I couldn’t even find a publisher – suddenly becomes a film, a play, and the BBC has just done a radio dramatisation of it in London. I admit at times I have deliberately done things to make money. But The Monkey’s Mask I wrote for the sheer hell of it.” Dorothy Featherstone Porter died from cancer complications on December 10, 2008, survived by her partner, novelist Andrea  Goldsmith, her parents, her two sisters, and her cat, Wystan, named after W. H. Auden.

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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 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.
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4 Responses to TCS: A Certain Slant of Light – 2021

  1. rafflaw says:

    I am ready for Spring!

  2. Love the list of schools in the Billy Collins’ piece. I worked at a preschool once called “Moppets, Magic, and Moonbeams!” That was quite a mouthful when answering the phone:)

    • wordcloud9 says:

      Yup – and try saying it fast five times in a row – instead of “trippingly on the tongue” you’ll be tripping over your tongue!

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