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 rule is easy, to govern difficult … Divide and rule, the politician cries;
unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo, or
they say, ‘Something’s wrong, let’s change it for the better.’” – Sonia Sanchez
Here are twelve poets to close out August, and begin September.
The Traveller’s Night Song II
Over all the hill-tops
In all the tree-tops
You can feel
Scarcely a breath:
The little birds quiet in the leaves.
Wait now, soon you
Too will have peace.
– translation by A.S. Kline, © 2004
Johann Wolfgang Goethe was born on August 28, 1749 in the Free Imperial City of Frankfurt, then part of the Holy Roman Empire; German poet, playwright, novelist, critic, statesman, lawyer, theatre director, and philosopher. He is widely regarded as the greatest and most influential writer in the German language, his work having a profound and wide-ranging influence on Western literary, political and philosophical thought from the late 18th century to the present day.
Rita Dove (1952 – )
Meditation at Fifty Yards, Moving Target
by Rita Dove
Never point your weapon, keep your finger
off the trigger. Assume a loaded barrel,
even when it isn’t, especially when you know it isn’t.
Glocks are lightweight but sensitive;
the Keltec has a long pull and a kick.
Rifles have penetrating power, viz.:
if the projectile doesn’t lodge in its mark,
it will travel some distance
until it finds shelter; it will certainly
pierce your ordinary drywall partition.
You could wound the burglar and kill your child
sleeping in the next room, all with one shot.
Fear, of course. Then the sudden
pleasure of heft—as if the hand
had always yearned for this solemn
fit, this gravitas, and now had found
its true repose.
Don’t pull the trigger, squeeze it—
squeeze between heartbeats.
Look down the sights. Don’t
hold your breath. Don’t hold
anything, just stop breathing.
Level the scene with your eyes. Listen.
Soft, now: squeeze.
Guys like noise: rapid fire,
thunk-and-slide of a blunt-nose silver Mossberg,
or double-handed Colts, slugging it out from the hips.
Rambo or cowboy, they’ll whoop it up.
Women are fewer, more elegant.
They prefer precision:
tin cans swing-dancing in the trees,
the paper bull’s-eye’s tidy rupture at fifty yards.
(Question: If you were being pursued,
how would you prefer to go down—
ripped through a blanket of fire
or plucked by one incandescent
dark dark no wind no heaven
i am not anything not borne on air i bear
myself i can slice the air no wind
can hold me let me let me
go i can see yes
o aperture o light let me off
go off straight is my verb straight
my glory road yes now i can feel
it the light i am flame velocity o
beautiful body i am coming i am yours
before you know it
i am home
“Meditation at Fifty Yards, Moving Target” from American Smooth, © 2004 by Rita Dove – W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Rita Dove was born August 28, 1952, in Akron, Ohio; American poet and essayist; winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book Thomas and Beulah; U.S. Library of Congress Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, 1993-1995, the first African-American (after the title change from Poetry Consultant to Poet Laureate), and at age 40, the youngest poet to be appointed Poet Laureate by the Librarian of Congress. Her poetry collections include The Yellow House on the Corner, Mother Love, On the Bus with Rosa Parks, and American Smooth.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809 – 1894)
by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
If all the trees in all the woods were men;
And each and every blade of grass a pen;
If every leaf on every shrub and tree
Turned to a sheet of foolscap; every sea
Were changed to ink, and all earth’s living tribes
Had nothing else to do but act as scribes,
And for ten thousand ages, day and night,
The human race should write, and write, and write,
Till all the pens and paper were used up,
And the huge inkstand was an empty cup,
Still would the scribblers clustered round its brink
Call for more pens, more paper, and more ink.
This poem is in the public domain.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. was born August 29, 1809 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of the American “fireside poets” of New England, he was also a physician, medical reformer, professor, novelist, and essayist. His work on puerperal fever, a major cause of death among women after giving birth, predated germ theory. He became convinced that the disease was passed from woman to woman by their physicians or midwives, and that physicians, after attending a patient with the fever, must purify their instruments, and burn the clothing they had worn while assisting in the fatal delivery. This caused a major controversy at the time, but later research proved his theory was essentially correct. In 1856, he was one of the first contributors to the new magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, edited by his friend James Russell Lowell. His best-known poem is probably “The Chambered Nautilus.”
Maurice Maeterlinck (1862–1949)
by Maurice Maeterlinck
NARROW paths my passions tread:
Laughter rings there, sorrow cries;
Sick and sad, with half-shut eyes,
Thro’ the leaves the woods have shed,
My sins like yellow mongrels slink;
Uncouth hyenas, my hates complain,
And on the pale and listless plain
Couching low, love’s lion’s blink.
Powerless, deep in a dream of peace,
Sunk in a languid spell they lie,
Under a colourless, desolate sky,
There they gaze and never cease,
Where like sheep temptations graze,
One by one departing slow:
In the moon’s unchanging glow
My unchanging passions gaze.
– translation by Bernard Miall
“The Passions” from Poems by Maurice Maeterlinck – Dodd, Mead and Company, 1915
Maurice Maeterlinck was born August 29, 1862 in Ghent, Belgium; Belgian Symbolist playwright, poet, novelist, and essayist who was Flemish but wrote in French; he was honored in 1911 with the Nobel Prize for Literature; best known for his play L’Oiseau bleu (The Blue Bird).
Thom Gunn (1929-2004)
by Thom Gunn
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.
I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
“The Hug” from The Man with Night Sweats, © 1992 by Thom Gunn – Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Thom Gunn was born August 29, 1929, in Gravesend, Kent, UK; English poet who lived most of his adult life in San Francisco, where he moved in the 1950s to live with his American partner Mike Kitay. They had met as students at Trinity College, Cambridge. Gunn taught writing at Stanford University and UC Berkeley. Gunn’s poems are frequently explorations of drug ecstasy, homosexuality, and life in the ‘60s and ‘70s in San Francisco. Later he wrote wrenching poems about the AIDS crisis. His many poetry collections include: Fighting Terms; Touch; Moly; The Man With Night Sweats; and Old Stories.
Karen Hess (1952 – )
Not Too Much To Ask
by Karen Hesse
We haven’t had a good crop in three years,
Not since the bounty of ’31,
and we’re all whittled down to the bone these days,
even Ma, with her new round belly,
but still when the committee came asking, Ma donated:
three jars of apple sauce and some cured pork,
and a feed-sack nightie she’d sewn for our coming baby.
“Not Too Much to Ask” from Out of the Dust, © 1997 by Karen Hesse – Scholastic Inc
Karen Hess was born August 29, 1952, in Baltimore, Maryland; American children’s and young adult author. Out of the Dust, a free-verse novel, won the Newbery Medal, a story told in the voice of a young girl growing up in the Depression-era Dust Bowl. In her 2001 verse novel Witness, she tells a story of an attempt by the Ku Klux Klan to take over a small Vermont town in the 1920s. Hess is also known for her novel The Music of Dolphins.
Theophile Gautier (1811-1872)
by Théophile Gautier
Over there, trees are sheltering
A hunchedback hut… A slum, no more…
Roof askew, walls and wainscoting
Falling away… Moss hides the door.
Only one shutter, hanging . . . But
Seeping over the windowsill,
Like frosted breath, proof that this hut,
This slum, is living, breathing still.
Corkscrew of smoke… A wisp of blue
Escapes the hovel, whose soul it is . . .
Rises to God himself, and who
Receives the news and makes it his.
“Smoke” from Selected Lyrics, translated by Norman R. Shapiro – © 2011 by Norman R. Shapiro – Yale University Press
Theophile Gautier was born on August 31, 1811; French art critic, journalist, novelist, and transitional poet from Romanticism to early Modernism. Known for his poetry collections Albertus, España, and Émaux et Camées (Enamels and Cameos). Gautier was an editor of L’Artiste, a weekly review of the arts in Paris.
Amrita Pritam (1919-2005)
by Amrita Pritam
There were two kingdoms only:
the first of them threw out both him and me.
The second we abandoned.
Under a bare sky
I for a long time soaked in the rain of my body,
he for a long time rotted in the rain of his.
Then like a poison he drank the fondness of the years.
He held my hand with a trembling hand.
‘Come, let’s have a roof over our heads awhile.
Look, further on ahead, there
between truth and falsehood, a little empty space.’
– translated from Punjabi by D.H. Tracy and Mohan Tracy
“Empty Space” appeared in Poetry magazine’s September 2011 issue.
Amrita Pritam was born August 31, 1919; Indian novelist, essayist, and poet, who wrote in Punjabi and Hindi. Her career spanned over six decades, and she produced more than 100 books of poetry, fiction, biographies, essays, a collection of Punjabi folk songs, and an autobiography that were all translated into several Indian and foreign languages. Her mother died when she was eleven,and she was married at age sixteen. In 1947, a million people – Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims – died during the violence that followed the partition of India. Pritam became a Punjabi refugee, leaving Lahore and moving to New Delhi. Her work is much admired in both India and Pakistan. In 1956, she became the first woman to win the Sahitya Akademi Award for her long poem, Sunehade (Messages). After her divorce in 1960, her work became more feminist. Many of her stories and poems drew on the unhappy experience of her marriage. She worked for All India Radio, and edited Nagmani, a monthly Punjabi literary magazine. For the last forty years of her life, she lived with artist and writer Imroz. He designed most of her book covers and made her the subject of several paintings. Pritam died in her sleep, after a long illness, in October, 2005.
Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961)
by Blaise Cendrars
Trees long-haired with moss
Heavy rubbery glossy leaves
High burnished heat
I’ve stopped listening to the urgent voices of my friends discussing
The news that I brought from Paris
On both sides of the train close by or along the banks of
The distant valley
The forest is there watching me unsettling me enticing me like
a mummy’s mask
I watch back
Never the flicker of an eye.
– translated by Dick Jones
“Chinks” was published in April, 2011, by qarrtsiluni, an online literary magazine
Blaise Cendrars was born as Frédéric-Louis Sauser on September 1, 1887, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland; Swiss-French novelist and poet. He became a naturalized French citizen in 1916. After fighting in WWI, he travelled extensively, drawing on (and embellishing considerably) the experiences that he had around the world for his surreal documentaries in verse and prose. Cendrars’ best-known poem is the epic La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France, which documents in vivid, sometimes dreamlike detail his journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway at the time of the Russian Revolution.
Anne Whitney (1821-1915)
by Anne Whitney
Enfolding essence–binding all in one,
All motion and all life,–the near, the far,–
August,–enthroned beyond or sight or sun
And yet most intimate of things that are!–
Bathed in a miracle of light, I grope;
And darkly question the supernal will
Which gave us life and fed it with hope
That time could neither shatter nor fulfill.
“Enfolding Essence” from Poems, by Anne Whitney, privately published in 1906 – paperback edition by HandPress Publishing in 2012
Anne Whitney was born on September 2, 1821, in Watertown Massachusetts; American sculptor and poet; her Bostonian parents were well-to-do liberal Unitarians. Whitney was an abolitionist and an active supporter of women’s equality. She is known for her statue of Samuel Adams in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., and for statues at the Smithsonian Institute, Harvard University, and Boston Public Library. She also did busts of women who were prominent in the abolitionist and suffrage movements. Her model for a statue of Charles Sumner won a competition but she was disqualified when it is discovered she is a woman, because the judges did not think a woman should sculpt a man’s legs, even if they were covered by trousers.
Eugene Field (1850-1895)
The Bibilomaniac’s Prayer
by Eugene Field
Keep me, I pray, in wisdom’s way
That I may truths eternal seek;
I need protecting care to-day,—
My purse is light, my flesh is weak.
So banish from my erring heart
All baleful appetites and hints
Of Satan’s fascinating art,
Of first editions, and of prints.
Direct me in some godly walk
Which leads away from bookish strife,
That I with pious deed and talk
May extra-illustrate my life.
But if, O Lord, it pleaseth Thee
To keep me in temptation’s way,
I humbly ask that I may be
Most notably beset to-day;
Let my temptation be a book,
Which I shall purchase, hold, and keep,
Whereon when other men shall look,
They’ll wail to know I got it cheap.
Oh, let it such a volume be
As in rare copperplates abounds,
Large paper, clean, and fair to see,
Uncut, unique, unknown to Lowndes.
“The Bibilomaniac’s Prayer” is in the public domain.
Eugene Field was born on September 2, 1850, in St. Louis, Missouri; American writer and poet best known for his children’s poetry and humorous essays; worked as a journalist and then city editor for the St. Joseph Gazette in Missouri (1875-1876) and after he married, arranged for all the money he earned to be sent to his wife, saying he had no head for managing money. After working in St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver (1876-1883), he moved to Chicago, where he wrote a humorous column, Sharps and Flats, for the Chicago Daily News (1883-1895). He had published his first poem in 1879, followed by over a dozen volumes of poetry. His most famous poems are for children: “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat” and “Little Boy Blue.” He died of a heart attack in 1898 at the age of 45.
Each has his hope.
Yet none can give
What he would live —
(willingly) even to love.
The drift ice and the birds
are only mine.
And I am selfish
in that I would give
my wish to you,
when you have set your hand
where there is neither seal-splash nor white sand.
Yet this remains
foundation of my life —
sea-break on ice.
Love is a wireless
linking land to land,
uncognizant of current,
peak or shoal;
that unexplores the roll
where sea-ice crinkles under the dark fins,
I wish you liked the rough far hair of seals.
“Wish” was published in Poetry magazine’s December 1934 issue.
Bryher, the pen name of Annie Winifred Ellerman, was born September 2, 1894, in Margate UK into the wealthy Ellerman ship-owning family. A British author, poet, and editor, she became a major figure of the international set in Paris in the 1920s, using her fortune to provide financial support to many struggling writers, and to found literary magazines and a publishing company. She had a long-time relationship with American poet H.D. (Hilda Dolittle), but she had two marriages of convenience with men, which both ended in divorce. In 1933, she published an essay about the increasingly perilous situation of Jews in Germany, and urged readers to take action. Her home in Switzerland became a “receiving station” for refugees, and she helped over 100 people escape Nazi persecution. Bryher’s two poetry collections are Region of Lutany and Arrow Music.
“Slumber” – mural by Craig Hewitt – San Diego CA