TCS: Clearing the Clouded Brain – Seven Poets

. . . .Good Morning!


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.


Ten thousand flowers in spring,
the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer,

snow in winter –
if your mind is not clouded

by unnecessary things, this is
the best season of your life.

– Sharon Salzberg


These seven poets have in common that they were all born in August over an eight day period, and have lived most, if not all, of their lives in the U.S. There are 117 years between the birth of Charlotte Forten Grimké in 1837 and Mary Jo Salter in 1954. Some of them are noted humorists and wits, and some delve deep.

During these long scorched days of waning summer, we may need all their varied offerings to jolt us out of stasis.



by Mary Jo Salter

6:48 a.m., and leaden
    little jokes about what heroes
   we are for getting up at this hour.
Quiet. The surf and sandpipers running.
T minus ten and counting, the sun
    mounting over Canaveral
a swollen coral, a color
bright as camera lights. We’re blind-
   sided by a flash:

      shot from the unseen
    launching pad, and so from nowhere,
   a flame-tipped arrow—no, an airborne
pen on fire, its ink a plume
of smoke which, even while zooming
    upward, stays as oddly solid
as the braided tail of a tornado,
and lingers there as lightning would
   if it could steal its own thunder.

      —Which, when it rumbles in, leaves
    under or within it a million
   firecrackers going off, a thrill
of distant pops and rips in delayed
reaction, hitting the beach in fading
    waves as the last glint of shuttle
receives our hands’ eye-shade salute:
the giant point of all the fuss soon
   smaller than a star.

      Only now does a steady, low
    sputter above us, a lawn mower
   cutting a corner of the sky,
grow audible. Look, it’s a biplane!—
some pilot’s long-planned, funny tribute
    to wonder’s always-dated orbit
and the itch of afterthought. I swat
my ankle, bitten by a sand gnat:
   what the locals call no-see-’ums.

 “Discovery” from Open Shutters, © 2003 by Mary Jo Salter –Alfred A. Knopf

August 15, 1954Mary Jo Salter was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan; poet, editor, essayist, playwright, and lyricist. She is the co-editor of The Norton Anthology of Poetry, and a professor in the Writing Seminars program at Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry collections include Unfinished Painting, A Kiss in Space, Open Shutters, Nothing by Design, and The Surveyors.

The Laughing Heart

by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life
know it while you have it
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

“The Laughing Heart” from The Laughing Heart, © 1992 by Charles Bukowski – Black Sparrow Press

August 16, 1920Charles Bukowski born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in the Wiemar Republic, German-American poet, novelist and short story writer whose father was an American serving in Germany after WWI. His family moved to the U.S. in 1923, and settled in Los Angeles, California. He was bullied at school for his heavy German accent, and his father frequently beat him, so he became a heavy drinker while still in his early teens. Bukowski didn’t become a full-time writer until he was in his late forties, when he accepted an offer from John Martin at Black Sparrow Press. Among his many poetry collections are Love Is a Dog from Hell; War All the Time; You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense; and The Roominghouse Madrigals.

At Newport

by Charlotte Forten Grimké

A quiet nook ‘neath the o’erhanding cliffs:
The grim old giants frown upon us, but
Deny us not rest in their grateful shade.
Oh, deep delight to watch the gladsome waves
Exultant leap upon the rugged rocks;
Ever repulsed, yet ever rushing on—
Filled with a life that will not know defeat;
To see the glorious hues of sky and sea.
The distant snowy sails, glide spirit like,
Into an unknown world, to feel the sweet
Enchantment of the sea thrill all the soul,
Clearing the clouded brain, making the heart
Leap joyous as it own bright, singing waves!
“Ah, perfect day,” cry happy voices—yet,
For me, beloved, the joy is incomplete—
Thou art not here!

“At Newport” is in the public domain

August 17, 1837Charlotte Forten Grimké born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; African American anti-slavery activist, poet, and educator. She was a member of a prominent abolitionist family, and taught school, including during the Civil War, to freedmen in South Carolina. She was present when the 54th Massachusetss Regiment stormed Fort Wagner in July 1963, and Robert Gould Shaw and most of the men were killed. She helped to nurse the surviving members of the 54th. Her diaries written before the end of the Civil War are a rare record of the life of a free black woman from the antebellum North. In 1878, she married Francis James Grimké, a mixed-race nephew of the Grimké sisters, who was a Presbyterian minister. He led a major church in Washington DC, while she focused on education, and started a women’s missionary group.

Always Marry an April Girl

by Ogden Nash

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true —
I love April, I love you.

“Always Marry an April Girl” from The Best of Ogden Nash, © 2007 by Linell Nash Smith and the estate of Isabel Nash Eberstadt –  Ivan R. Dee, publisher

August 19, 1902Ogden Nash born in Rye, New York, American humorous light verse poet who wrote well over 500 poems, one of the best- known and liked U.S. poets. His family moved frequently because of his father’s import-export business. He spent a year at Harvard University in 1920, but dropped out, then taught briefly, tried to sell bonds in New York City, and then became a writer of streetcar card ads. After that, he worked as an editor at Doubleday Publishing. Nash submitted some of his short rhymes to The New Yorker, and editor Harold Ross asked him for more, “They are about the most original stuff we have had lately.” Nash spent three months in 1931 in working on the editorial staff for The New Yorker, and married Frances Leonard. They moved to Baltimore in 1934, were they lived for the rest of their lives.

What He Thought

by Heather McHugh

 – for Fabbio Doplicher

We were supposed to do a job in Italy
and, full of our feeling for
ourselves (our sense of being
Poets from America) we went
from Rome to Fano, met
the mayor, mulled
a couple matters over (what’s
a cheap date, they asked us; what’s
flat drink). Among Italian literati

we could recognize our counterparts:
the academic, the apologist,
the arrogant, the amorous,
the brazen and the glib—and there was one

administrator (the conservative), in suit
of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
with measured pace and uninflected tone narrated
sights and histories the hired van hauled us past.
Of all, he was the most politic and least poetic,
so it seemed. Our last few days in Rome
(when all but three of the New World Bards had flown)
I found a book of poems this
unprepossessing one had written: it was there
in the pensione room (a room he’d recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by
the German visitor (was there a bus of them?)
to whom he had inscribed and dated it a month before.
I couldn’t read Italian, either, so I put the book
back into the wardrobe’s dark. We last Americans

were due to leave tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant, and there
we sat and chatted, sat and chewed,
till, sensible it was our last
big chance to be poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked
“What’s poetry?”
Is it the fruits and vegetables and
marketplace of Campo dei Fiori, or
the statue there?” Because I was

the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn’t have to think—”The truth
is both, it’s both,” I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest to say. What followed
taught me something about difficulty,
for our underestimated host spoke out,
all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

The statue represents Giordano Bruno,
brought to be burned in the public square
because of his offense against
authority, which is to say
the Church. His crime was his belief
the universe does not revolve around
the human being: God is no
fixed point or central government, but rather is
poured in waves through all things. All things
move. “If God is not the soul itself, He is
the soul of the soul of the world.” Such was
his heresy. The day they brought him
forth to die, they feared he might
incite the crowd (the man was famous
for his eloquence). And so his captors
placed upon his face
an iron mask, in which

he could not speak. That’s
how they burned him. That is how
he died: without a word, in front
of everyone.
And poetry—
(we’d all
put down our forks by now, to listen to
the man in gray; he went on
poetry is what

he thought, but did not say.

“What He Thought” from Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993 © 1994 by Heather McHugh – Wesleyan University Press

 August 20, 1948 Heather McHugh, American poet and translator, born in San Diego, California, to Canadian parents, but grew up in Gloucester Point, Virginia, where her father directed the marine biological laboratory on the York River. She became a freshman at Harvard at age 17.  Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993 won the Bingham Poetry Prize of the Boston Book Review and was named by the New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year. Her other poetry collections include The Father of the PredicamentsEyeshot; and Upgraded to Serious.

Fabbio Doplicher (1938-2003) was an Italian poet, performance artist and literary critic. Doplicher’s poetry collection La rappresentazione (‘The Performance’) won the Premio Montale in 1985, and Compleanno del millennio (‘Birthday of the Millennium’) won the Premio Pellegrino in 2001. Some of his poetry has been translated, and published as Selected Poems, English translation by Gaetano A. Iannce, with a revision by Ruth Feldman.


Famous Poems Abbreviated

by X. J. Kennedy


Of man’s first disobedience and its fruit
Scripture has told. No need to follow suit.


Once upon a midnight dreary,
Blue and lonesome, missed my dearie.
Would I find her? Any hope?
Quoth the raven six times, “Nope.”


Whoosh! —hear the Sea of Faith’s withdrawing roar?
So, baby, let’s make love tonight, not war.


Who will go drive with Fergus now?
You lazy cocks and cunts,
I thought I’d ask you anyhow.
Well don’t all speak at once.


Whose woods these are I think I know.
Shall I just sack out in the snow
And freeze? Naaaa, guess I’d better go.

“Famous Poems Abbreviated” appeared in the July 2006 edition of Poetry magazine, © 2006 by X. J. Kennedy

August 21, 1929X. J. Kennedy born in Dover, New Jersey; American poet, humorist, translator, anthologist, editor, and author of English textbooks and children’s books. Under the name Joe Kennedy, he published science fiction fanzines, including the quarterly Vampire, and the Vampire Annuals. With his wife Dorothy, he co-edited the journal Counter/Measures. Among his many collections of poetry are: Knee-deep in Blazing Snow, Dark Horses, In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus, and Cross Ties.

Verse for a Certain Dog

by Dorothy Parker

Such glorious faith as fills your limpid eyes,
Dear little friend of mine, I never knew.
All-innocent are you, and yet all-wise.
(For Heaven’s sake, stop worrying that shoe!)
You look about, and all you see is fair;
This mighty globe was made for you alone.
Of all the thunderous ages, you’re the heir.
(Get off the pillow with that dirty bone!)

A skeptic world you face with steady gaze;
High in young pride you hold your noble head,
Gayly you meet the rush of roaring days.
(Must you eat puppy biscuit on the bed?)
Lancelike your courage, gleaming swift and strong,
Yours the white rapture of a winged soul,
Yours is a spirit like a Mayday song.
(God help you, if you break the goldfish bowl!)

“Whatever is, is good” – your gracious creed.
You wear your joy of living like a crown.
Love lights your simplest act, your every deed.
(Drop it, I tell you- put that kitten down!)
You are God’s kindliest gift of all – a friend.
Your shining loyalty unflecked by doubt,
You ask but leave to follow to the end.
(Couldn’t you wait until I took you out?)

“Verse for a Certain Dog” from The Portable Dorothy Parker, edited by Brendan Gill, ©1926/renewed 1954 by Dorothy Parker – Viking Penguin

August 22, 1893Dorothy Parker born in Long Branch, New Jersey; American poet, wit, editor, and literary critic. Her formal education ended at 14, but Parker was a founding member of the famed Algonquin Round Table (circa 1919-1929). When the New Yorker debuted in 1925, Dorothy Parker was on the editorial board. As the magazine’s “Constant Reader,” she contributed poetry, fiction — and book reviews famous for pulling no punches: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” She made four failed suicide attempts, and said in an interview when she turned 70, “If I had any decency, I’d be dead. All my friends are.” In 1967, Parker did die, of a heart attack, at age 73. She bequeathed her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom she had never met.




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Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 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: Clearing the Clouded Brain – Seven Poets

  1. “The Laughing Heart” certainly made me think…

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