This month, I intend on doing something I have been thinking of doing for a while: devote time to some intensive poetry reading, both recent poerty and books about poetry. Since April is National Poetry Month, it seems like a good month to undertake this project.
I recently bought five books to start the month:
- The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner
- Best American Poetry 2017 edited by David Lehman and Natasha Trethewey
- Can Poetry Matter? by Dana Gioia
- The Making of a Poem by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
- Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith
Why this endeavor is of interest to me is because, at one time, I was VERY interested in poetry. I diligently read it and frequently wrote it. My first publications were of poems (way back in the 1990’s). Then, rather suddenly, my interest abated. I still read it occasionally. I read various literary magazines and The New Yorker so it is still on my radar, but I haven’t read many poems recently that have “spoken to me” as they say. My last poem to get published was in 2006 which is around the time I began seriously concentrating on fiction instead. I am hard-pressed to articulate why my interest not only waned but also why it waned so quickly.
I have no particular expectations about what will result from dedicating this month to reading poetry. I am simply curious as to whether or not there is still some dormant interest. This could result in my reading more poetry in the future. It could result in my writing poetry again. Or it could reinforce my current indifference to the form.
Before my interest switched to short stories, I had gotten four poems published in three different literary magazines. My very first publication, Fair Warning, appeared in a very small and now apparently defunct journal, Superior Poetry News. I was surprised and somewhat amused when I received my contributor’s copy because the contents were photocopied and the cover was construction paper with a hand-drawn title on it. My subsequent publications, in Vermillion Literary Project and Small Brushes, were in more professional looking issues. The photo below also includes the issue of Ayris in which my short story, Six Minutes, appeared. That is the only one of my works of fiction that has appeared in a physical edition. The other stories have all been in online journals. I maintain a list of all my publications on a separate page on this blog.
It’s hard for me to believe that my first publication was over 20 years ago, but these days, half my thoughts start with “I can’t believe X happened Y years ago.” In the spirit of National Poetry Month, I’ll republish them below.
Building bleed as they lean;
Water burns up through the black
And the bruised sky clenches and shrieks
As the winds fester elite.
Plates slide like monkeys on ice.
Concrete powders flushed and sweaty streets;
Lazy flames lap, ash-home walls crumble
As praying hands tremble.
Crushed, bent, and bereaved cities moan;
Honed survival and instinct thrust up
From hepatic graves
Who in boredom diligent
Idle sit and defeat consent.
Published in Superior Poetry News, Vol. 2, No. 3, Fall 1996.
You Wish You Were The I You Have
You wish you were the I you have
With my deepest private musings
And dark chambers of my worn heart,
Acknowledging, “You are nothing
Without her;” And strange ancient fears
Ecstatic with charged emotions
Nudge the crest of my present world
Budding proud with power, passion
And love– oh yes, love– to prevail.
She wished him there and there they stood
Enfolded in the dark hallway;
Both of them short on words but not
Shy in feeling, no expression
Other than the embrace from which
Their hearts leapt clearly to witness.
She wished she were the he she had
Cupped and cradled in her tiny
Hands, so small, fragile and eager.
Published in Vermillion Literary Project, vol. XIII, 1997, pg. 6.
A Joyful Drowning
What joys I bring, I brought myself;
The world is asleep now
With quiet hush–
No need for what, why or how.
What I feel with these hands, I felt myself;
The world lies still,
Lies in slumber–
Days pass by without acts of will.
I was comfortable being buried at sea:
The waves mocked my demise and mocked eternity
And with each wave another moment passed away.
If life is the sum of every act, then subtract
All I neglected to give: only deeds can stay.
And act added to act must surge side by side
With heart and thought
Or the waves break against the tide.
Even with good intentions, determination I lacked;
Fast talk and diversion is no substitute for honesty:
We are creatures comfortable buried at sea.
Drifting on the waves is pure dynamic motion
Taking without question what the drift suggests.
I was expressly exhausted by the sheer nothingness
Which encompassed me as the mouth of a whale
Surrounds, subdues and ridicules the smallest weed.
Losing my tiny self in that preemptive world distracts need.
Desiring stalwart movement against the waves,
Rudder and sail,
Bent and stretched the limits of their physical capacity
Being nothing less
Than what they could fully expend: tension never rests.
If nothing else but motion against the waves exists
Then against the waves I shall persist:
Tenacious hull slamming obstinate break
And crests confound as wave swallows wake.
I am comfortable cutting the ocean.
You are drowning for loss
As I am diving for pearls;
Broken shells maintain the cost
Of living in the best of all possible worlds.
Published in Vermillion Literary Project, vol. XIII, 1997, pg. 72
It’s getting so I can’t hear myself think–
The clatter of the day blurs with the noise
Of the night. The morning and then I blink
As time fades like a whisper from my voice.
I am fishing in a dry river bed:
More line and reel than bass, trout or salmon;
More pen and words than ideas in my head.
These trite lines I can summon on demand.
Every thought I catch, I throw right back in–
I should be nourished, but somehow am not.
The day distracts me with its puny din
Which sounds important but really is not.
Only now, this day, am I aware of
The time. It’s late, I have something to prove.
Small Brushes. 20 (Oct 2005-Mar 2006).