. . 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.
To keep our faces toward change and
behave like free spirits in the presence
of fate is strength undefeatable.
— Helen Keller
Eleven poets in Five Days!
We hit the poetic jackpot this week, so without further palaver, here’s our first poet, Marianne Moore.
November 15, 1887 – Marianne Moore born, influential American poet and translator; in 1952, her book, Collected Poems, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and the National Book Award for Poetry. Entire forests have been clear-cut to supply the paper used by critics and scholars to analyze the meaning with a capital M of Moore’s poems. In 2015, I attempted to write a piece about Moore, and found myself writing a bleary-eyed rant against idiot critics. If you want to see this rant, which does also include information about Marianne Moore, and additional examples of her poetry, click here: https://flowersforsocrates.com/2015/11/13/word-cloud-dragon/
O to Be a Dragon
by Marianne Moore
If I, like Solomon,…
could have my wish–
my wish… O to be a dragon,
a symbol of the power of Heaven–of silkworm
size or immense; at times invisible.
by Marianne Moore
You do not seem to realize that beauty is a liability rather
an asset – that in view of the fact that spirit creates form
we are justified in supposing
that you must have brains. For you, a symbol of the
unit, stiff and sharp,
conscious of surpassing by dint of native superiority and
liking for everything
self-dependent, anything an
ambitious civilization might produce: for you, unaided, to
attempt through sheer
reserve, to confuse presumptions resulting from
observation, is idle. You cannot make us
think you a delightful happen-so. But rose, if you are
is not because your petals are the without-which-nothing
of pre-eminence. Would you not, minus
thorns, be a what-is-this, a mere
perculiarity? They are not proof against a worm, the
elements, or mildew;
but what about the predatory hand? What is brilliance
without co-ordination? Guarding the
infinitesimal pieces of your mind, compelling audience to
the remark that it is better to be forgotten than to be re-
membered too violently,
your thorns are the best part of you.
“O to Be a Dragon” and “Roses Only” are from The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, ©1967 by Marianne Moore – Macmillan Publishers
November 16, 1807 – Jónas Hallgrímsson born, Icelandic poet, author, geologist, naturalist, translator, and co-founder of the Icelandic journal, Fjölnir, first published in 1835, which advocated for the Icelandic Independence Movement (Iceland won limited home rule and a constitution from Denmark in 1874, and autonomy through the Danish-Icelandic Act of Union in 1918, and severed all ties in 1944). At the age of just 37, Hallgrímsson died from blood poisoning following breaking his leg in May, 1845. Since 1996, his birthday has been honored in Iceland as Day of the Icelandic Tongue.
by Jónas Hallgrímsson
The sun climbs
from cool streams
of eastern seas
to oust the night.
What long drudgery
for a light-bringer —
unpacking this foolish
planet from darkness!
Sun! while your bright
beams are conquering
half of the world
in heaven’s service,
of light everywhere —
in the east the night
always pursues you.
strains at his rock,
the Danaids’ jar
and earth whirls herself
out of light
and into darkness.
The Farmer in Wet Weather
by Jónas Hallgrímsson
Goddess of drizzle,
driving your big
cartloads of mist
across my fields!
Send me some sun
and I’ll sacrifice
my cow — my wife —
“Drugery” and “The Farmer in Wet Weather” are from Bard of Iceland: Jónas Hallgrímsson, translation © 2002 by Dick Ringler – University of Wisconsin Press
November 16, 1930 – Chinua Achebe born, Nigerian novelist, poet, short story writer, essayist, political commentator, and academic. His book, Things Fall Apart, is the most widely read book in modern African literature. He won the Man Booker International Prize for his literary career in 2007. He died at age 82 in 2013. Nadine Gordimer called him “the father of modern African literature.”
by Chinua Achebe
In the greyness
and drizzle of one despondent
dawn unstirred by harbingers
of sunbreak a vulture
perching high on broken
bones of a dead tree
nestled close to his
mate his smooth
bashed-in head, a pebble
on a stem rooted in
a dump of gross
feathers, inclined affectionately
to hers. Yesterday they picked
the eyes of a swollen
corpse in a water-logged
trench and ate the
things in its bowel. Full
gorged they chose their roost
keeping the hollowed remnant
in easy range of cold
indeed how love in other
ways so particular
will pick a corner
in that charnel-house
tidy it and coil up there, perhaps
even fall asleep – her face
turned to the wall!
…Thus the Commandant at Belsen
Camp going home for
the day with fumes of
human roast clinging
rebelliously to his hairy
nostrils will stop
at the wayside sweet-shop
and pick up a chocolate
for his tender offspring
waiting at home for Daddy’s
providence if you will
that grants even an ogre
a tiny glow-worm
in icy caverns of a cruel
heart or else despair
for in the very germ
of that kindred love is
lodged the perpetuity
“Vultures” appeared at mahmg.org on August 21, 2009
November 17, 1866 – Voltairine de Cleyre born, American anarchist, feminist, and Freethought Movement activist, named for Voltaire; a prolific writer, poet, and public speaker, who opposed capitalism, the state, marriage, and domination over women’s lives and sexuality by religion. She was a colleague of Emma Goldman, and they respected each other, but also often disagreed. De Cleyre said, “Miss Goldman is a communist; I am an individualist. She wishes to destroy the right of property, I wish to assert it. I make my war upon privilege and authority, whereby the right of property, the true right in that which is proper to the individual, is annihilated. She believes that co-operation would entirely supplant competition; I hold that competition in one form or another will always exist, and that it is highly desirable it should.” She was sickly throughout her life and survived an assassination attempt by a former pupil which left her with chronic ear pain and a throat infection that adversely affected her ability to speak or concentrate. She died of septic menningitis in 1912. Many of her essays were collected and published posthumously in 1914.
Ut Sementem Feceris, Ita Metes
As you sow, so shall you reap
(To the Czar, on a woman political prisoner being flogged to death in Siberia)
by Voltairine de Cleyre
How many drops must gather to the skies
Before the cloud-burst comes, we may not know;
How hot the fires still under hells must glow
Ere the volcano’s scalding lavas rise,
Can none say; but all save the hour is sure!
Who dreams of vengeance has but to endure
He may not say how many blows must fall,
How many lives be broken on the wheel,
How many corpses stiffen ‘neath the pall,
How many martyrs fix the blood-red seal;
But certain is the harvest time of Hate!
And when weak moans by an indignant world
Re-echoed, to a throne are backward hurled,
Who listens hears the mutterings of Fate!
“Ut Sementem Feceris, Ita Metes” from The Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre, facsimile reprint of the 1914 original by Mother Earth Publishing
November 17, ? – J. P. Dancing Bear, poet, editor, and radio host; he is the editor of the American Poetry Journal and Dream Horse Press, and hosts the weekly poetry show Out of Our Minds on KKUP radio. He is the author of many poetry collections, including Conflicted Light; The Abandoned Eye; Fish Singing Foxes; and Of Oracles and Monsters, and is the editor of In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Responded to Shakespeare and Red, White, and Blues: Poets on the Promise of America.
by J. P. Dancing Bear
I study the body of birds until I am a body of birds.
I am a private library of knowledge, being lifted
by instinct, called to by the magnetism of the earth.
Each of my cells, the seeds of wings seeking air.
Don’t talk to me about the plans of the gods we invent
they do not sing a single song within my blood.
I am a cloud of feathers moving as one direction
and then so quickly to another. What you see in the sky
is not what I feel, what you interpret of my darting
is not some magic wire in my brain that dictates
to my body of bodies. When you say the color, yellow,
you miss the point of my existence completely.
I have never been about the choices of all my ancestors,
I live with each of my decisions precisely as they are made.
“Yellow Flock” © 2010 by J. P. Dancing Bear
November 18, 1836 – W.S. Gilbert born, English playwright, librettist, poet, and illustrator, best known for his collaboration with composer Arthur Sullivan of 14 comic operas, including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado.
A Manager’s Perplexities
by W.S. Gibert
Were I a king in very truth,
And had a son – a guileless youth –
In probable succession;
To teach him patience, teach him tact,
How promptly in a fix to act,
He should adopt, in point of fact,
A manager’s profession.
To that condition he should stoop
(Despite a too fond mother),
With eight or ten “stars” in his troupe,
All jealous of each other!
Oh, the man who can rule a theatrical crew,
Each member a genius (and some of them two),
And manage to humour them, little and great,
Can govern a tuppenny-ha’penny State!
Both A and B rehearsal slight –
They say they’ll be “all right at night”
(They’ve both to go to school yet);
C in each act MUST change her dress,
D WILL attempt to “square the press”;
E won’t play Romeo unless
His grandmother plays Juliet;
F claims all hoydens as her rights
(She’s played them thirty seasons);
And G must show herself in tights
For two convincing reasons –
Two very well-shaped reasons!
Oh, the man who can drive a theatrical team,
With wheelers and leaders in order supreme,
Can govern and rule, with a wave of his fin,
All Europe and Asia – with Ireland thrown in!
“A Manager’s Perplexities” from The Plays and Poems of W. S. Gilbert, 1932 edition – Random House
November 18, 1909 – Johnny Mercer born, American lyricist, songwriter, singer, and co-founder of Capitol Records. While he did compose music, he is best known for his lyrics for such classics as Autumn Leaves, Days of Wine and Roses, Moonriver, and Blues in the Night. He won four Best Original Song Oscars. In all, he is credited with the lyrics for over 1500 songs. Mercer died at age 66 in 1976, from an inoperable brain tumor. As I have often pointed out, song lyrics are a branch of poetry, and Mercer’s are certainly memorable examples.
by Johnny Mercer
Have you anything to say to me?
Won’t you tell me where my love can be?
Is there a meadow in the mist
Where someone’s waiting to be kissed?
Have you seen a valley green with spring?
Where my heart can go a journeying
Over the shadows and the rain
To a blossom covered lane
And in your lonely flight
Haven’t you heard the music in the night?
Faint as a will o’ the wisp
Crazy as a loon
Sad as a gypsy serenading the moon
I don’t know if you can find these things
But my heart is riding on your wings
So if you see them anywhere
Won’t you lead me there?
I don’t know if you can find these things
But my heart is riding on your wings
So if you see them anywhere
Won’t you lead me there?
“Skylark” © 1941 by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael
November 18, 1939 – Margaret Atwood, Canadian author, poet, critic, feminist, and environmental activist; among her 16 novels to date, she is particularly notable for her iconic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award; and The Blind Assassin, winner of the Man Booker Prize. Testament, her sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, was a co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize.
In the Secular Night
by Margaret Atwood
In the secular night you wander around
alone in your house. It’s two-thirty.
Everyone has deserted you,
or this is your story;
you remember it from being sixteen,
when the others were out somewhere, having a good time,
or so you suspected,
and you had to baby-sit.
You took a large scoop of vanilla ice-cream
and filled up the glass with grapejuice
and ginger ale, and put on Glenn Miller
with his big-band sound,
and lit a cigarette and blew the smoke up the chimney,
and cried for a while because you were not dancing,
and then danced, by yourself, your mouth circled with purple.
Now, forty years later, things have changed,
and it’s baby lima beans.
It’s necessary to reserve a secret vice.
This is what comes from forgetting to eat
at the stated mealtimes. You simmer them carefully,
drain, add cream and pepper,
and amble up and down the stairs,
scooping them up with your fingers right out of the bowl,
talking to yourself out loud.
You’d be surprised if you got an answer,
but that part will come later.
There is so much silence between the words,
you say. You say, The sensed absence
of God and the sensed presence
amount to much the same thing,
only in reverse.
You say, I have too much white clothing.
You start to hum.
Several hundred years ago
this could have been mysticism
or heresy. It isn’t now.
Outside there are sirens.
Someone’s been run over.
The century grinds on.
“In the Secular Night” from Morning in the Burned House, © 1995 by Margaret Atwood – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
November 19, 1563 – Robert Sidney, First Earl of Leicester, born; English statesman, soldier, patron of the arts, poet, a favorite and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, who was also favored by her successor King James; John Dowland wrote “Syr Robert Sidney his Galliard” to honor him.
Sonnet VIII – If that her worth I could as well forget
by Robert Sydney
If that her worth I could as well forget
As of my love the hapless lot I know,
Then to my wounded soul a mean might grow
Which if not health, yet some ease would beget.
But when I think I have my quiet met
And that love foiled yields to his overthrow,
The idol of her beauties proud doth show
Unto my thoughts, in beams which never set.
Summoned by so great truth, I must confess
That all what fair, what good, what perfect is,
All is in her, nothing in her doth miss:
And now grief takes the place love did possess
And all hopes dead, I live to feel this sore—
More that she worthy is, my loss the more.
This poem is in the public domain.
November 19, 1899 – Allen Tate, American poet, essayist, and biographer of Jefferson Davis. I’ll be honest – Allen Tate is not my cup of tea – I can heartily agree with him that industrialism is demeaning to men (and women), but his idea that returning “to the humanism of the Old South” would be better appalls me. However, in his day, he won numerous honors and awards, including the Bollingen Prize and a National Medal for Literature. Tate was the first rotating Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress (1943-1944), and during his tenure as editor of the Sewanee Review (1944-1946) he increased subscriptions by publishing poems from notable writers, including Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and T.S. Elliott. He died at age 79 in 1979.
by Allen Tate
In a pyloned desert where the scorpion reigns
My love and I plucked poppies breathing tales
Of crimes now long asleep, whose once–red stains
Dyed stabbing men, at sea with bloody sails.
The golden sand drowsed. There a dog yelped loud;
And in his cry rattled a hollow note
Of deep uncanny knowledge of that crowd
That loved and bled in winy times remote.
The poppies fainted when the moon came wide;
The cur lay still. Our passionate review
Of red wise folly dreamed on . . . She by my side
Stared at the Moon; and then I knew he knew.
And then he smiled at her; to him ’twas funny—
Her calm steel eyes, her earth–old throat of honey!
“Red Stains” from Collected Poems: 1919-1976, © 1931, 1948, 1953, 1965 by Allen Tate – Farrar, Straus and Giroux
November 19, 1942 – Sharon Olds born, American poet who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Stag’s Leap, and the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for The Dead and the Living. She has been a Professor at New York University for 40 years. While she was not initially involved the Women’s Movement in the late 1960s, a time when she was married and had her first child, the movement did cause her to realize that “I had never questioned that men had all the important jobs. And that was shocking . . .” When Olds first sent her poetry to a magazine in the 1970s, the reply was: “This is a literary magazine. If you wish to write about this sort of subject, may we suggest the Ladies’ Home Journal. The true subjects of poetry are . . . male subjects, not your children.” Eventually, she published her first collection, Satan Says, in 1980 when she was 37 years old. Since then, she has published several more collections, including Blood, Tin, Straw and Strike Sparks. In 2005, she declined an invitation from First Lady Laura Bush to the National Book Festival, stating in an open letter published in The Nation, “So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.”
by Sharon Olds
A week after my father died
suddenly I understood
his fondness for me was safe – nothing
could touch it. In that last year,
his face would sometimes brighten when I would
enter the room, and his wife said
that once, when he was half asleep,
he smiled when she said my name. He respected
my spunk – when they tied me to the chair, that time
they were tying up someone he respected, and when
he did not speak, for weeks, I was one of the
beings to whom he was not speaking,
someone with a place in his life. The last
week he even said it, once,
by mistake. I walked into his room
‘How are you’ and he said ‘I love you
too.’ From then on, I had
that word to lose. Right up to the last
moment, I could make some mistake, offend him,
and with one of his old mouths of disgust he could
re-skew my life. I did not think of it much,
I was helping to take care of him,
wiping his face and watching him.
But then, a while after he died,
I suddenly thought, with amazement, he will always
love me now, and I laughed – he was dead, dead!
“Beyond Harm” from The Father: A Daughter Chronicles the Events of Her Father’s Illness and Death, © 1992 by Sharon Olds – A Borzoi Book from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.