Friday, January 19, 2018

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

For 'Buttons'

Seemingly upended in the sky,
Cloudless as minds asleep
One careless cemetery buzzes on and on
As if her tombstones were all hives
Overturned by the impatient dead –
We imagined they had stored up
The honey of their immortality
In the soft commotion the black bees make.

Below us, far away, the road to Paris.
You pour some wine upon a tomb.
The bees drink with us, the dead approve.

It is weeks ago now and we are back
In our burnt and dusty Languedoc,
Yet often in the noon-silences
I hear the Vaumort bees, taste the young wine,
Catch a smile hidden in sighs.

In the long grass you found a ring, remember?
A child’s toy ring. Yes, I know that whenever
I want to be perfectly alone
With the memory of you, of that whole day
It’s to Vaumort that I’ll be turning.

– Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990)

I've been revisiting the Durrells over the last few months – brothers Gerald and Lawrence, respectively the youngest and oldest of their family. Gerald was a naturalist/zoologist, memoirist, and sometime TV presenter, who immortalised that family in his most famous book, My Family and Other Animals). Lawrence, a novelist, dramatist, travel writer and poet, was best-known for his series of novels The Alexandria Quartet. 

I saw a new TV series (not the first) based on Gerald's family stories, and was inspired to re-read those and others of his books, which I first discovered decades ago; then sought out Lawrence's fascinating travel books, which I'd never read before, and discovered they go far beyond the merely descriptive into the historical and sociological; found biographies of both men (very different books, about brothers who were in some ways very different men, yet who remained close throughout their lives); and at last took a look at Lawrence's poetry.

I bought the Selected Poems – selected by the distinguished ex-pat Australian poet, the late Peter Porter, who also supplies an illuminating introduction – but I see that Collected Poems 1931-1974 is of course a much more extensive volume. (Both are available from Amazon).

A beautiful prose writer, Lawrence Durrell is often too intellectual a poet for my taste, and rather too erudite, I think, to have wide appeal. Many of his poems assume a level of classical education which not everyone has. That being said, he has quite a range, including the satirical and the bawdy. Porter rates him as an important poet, doing different things from other English poets of the time. Lawrence had a different background, and therefore different influences. He was brought up in British India, and, after finishing his schooling in England, couldn't wait to become expatriate, living in turn in Greece, Egypt and France. 

His love poems (like this one) are the pieces most to my taste, achieving great lyrical beauty. This one is free verse, yet is so musical that I keep thinking it must surely have metre and rhyme. (It has some very subtle and irregularly-placed half-rhymes, if you search for them. One wonders if they're intentional, but he worked so hard at his craft that I think they probably are.)

He was often described as excelling, both as poet and prose writer, in conveying "the spirit of place". That is very evident here too.

One of the things I like best about this poem is the way it says so much in the unsaid. For instance it seems to me perfectly clear the couple made love in that long grass; also there's a strong suggestion that they were secret lovers – yet these things are never spelled out nor even hinted at in the actual words on the page. What mastery!

You can read about Lawrence Durrell's life and work in Wikipedia, and there are several interviews listed on Google, including some on YouTube.

I'm only a little way into his biography – an unauthorised one, which nevertheless draws on recollections of people who knew him well. It's  

Through the Dark Labyrinth by Gordon Bowker.

I'm already thinking about re-reading The Alexandria Quartet and perhaps tackling his other great series, The Avignon Quintet, which would be new to me. Meanwhile, even the poetry I don't like best is an interesting read.

(By the way, although nearly everyone wants to say "Duh-RELL" – and I have had more than one person tactfully correct my pronunciation – in this case "Durrell" is actually pronounced with a short "u" as in "but" and the stress on the first, not second syllable.)

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Psyche / Soul

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss (1793) by Antonio Canova

". . .  the heart of the star as opposed to the shape of a star, let us say — exists in a mysterious, unmapped zone: not unconscious, not subconscious, but cautious." 
~ Mary Oliver

“The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of room, not try to be or do anything whatever.”  
May Sarton

* * *

Midweek Motif ~ Psyche / Soul

          Since Sumana made the last Midweek Motif  "poetry about the body," I thought poetry about psyche and soul logically followed: psychology and spirituality.   Are mind and soul synonymous?  Do either exist without body?

          Psyche is also the name of Cupid's love in Greek Mythology ~ a myth which is a very dramatic story on the order of "The Beauty and the Beast."

Your Challenge:  In today's new poem, turn your attention to themes of consciousness and unconsciousness, to soul or to Psyche herself.

The structure of the souls of plants, animals, and humans, 
according to Aristotle.

I am angry with X, with Y, with Z,
for not being you.
Enthusiasms jump at me,
wagging and barking. Go away.
Go home.

I am angry with my eyes for not seeing you,
they smart and ache and see the snow,
an insistent brilliance.

If I were Psyche how could I not
bring the lamp to our bedside?
I would have known in advance
all the travails my gazing
would bring, more than Psyche
ever imagined,
and even so, how could I not have raised
the amber flame to see
the human person I knew
was to be revealed.
She did not even know! She dreaded
a beast and discovered
a god. But I
know, and hunger
to witness again the form
of mortal love itself.
. . . . 
(Read the rest HERE.)

1802, West, Benjamin, Eagle Bringing cup to Psyche.jpg
Eagle Bringing cup to Psyche
by Benjamin West, American, 1738–1820

Mind ? Body

How do they survive, riven   
as they are, the one undoing   
the other's desire?   

Tell the body to outrun   
the mind, and the mind smirks,   
whispering too loudly 
this way   this way,   
blocking all the exits.   

And the body, luxurious   
sensualist by pool side or in bed,   
doesn't it hear the mind's   
impatient machinery ticking 
it's time   it's time? 
. . . . 
(Read the rest here.)
The Greek letter 'psi', a symbol for psychology
Greek letter 'psi', a symbol for psychology

O who shall, from this dungeon, raise 
A soul enslav’d so many ways? 
With bolts of bones, that fetter’d stands 
In feet, and manacled in hands; 
Here blinded with an eye, and there 
Deaf with the drumming of an ear; 
A soul hung up, as ’twere, in chains 
Of nerves, and arteries, and veins; 
Tortur’d, besides each other part, 
In a vain head, and double heart. 

O who shall me deliver whole 
From bonds of this tyrannic soul? 
Which, stretch’d upright, impales me so 
That mine own precipice I go; 
And warms and moves this needless frame, 
(A fever could but do the same) 
And, wanting where its spite to try, 
Has made me live to let me die. 
A body that could never rest, 
Since this ill spirit it possest. 
. . . . 
(Read the rest of this amazing poem HERE.)

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—

                (Next week Sumana’s Midweek Motif will be ~ Weapon.)

Monday, January 15, 2018


We continue the new year on a high note, my friends, as we catch up with De Jackson, who writes at Whimsygizmo's Blog. De's poems were on fire as the old year drew to a close, and we are looking forward to chatting about what has her firing on all cylinders. De is sharing with us her moving poem and thoughts about the tragic shooting in Vegas in October. You won't want to miss it.

Sherry: It has been a while since we caught up with you, De. What have you been up to? Anything new since we talked to you in 2015?

De: Hi, Sherry! I’m so happy to be here, and humbled by the opportunity to share again. Not too much has changed in my world. I’m still parenting teens, still poeming often, publishing here and there, doing some freelance ad copywriting on the side, and still longing for water. I’m a desert-trapped mermaid, you know.
Sherry: I remember that feeling very well! I noted on facebook you made your annual trip to Tahoe this summer. It looked like you had a marvelous time. Any highlights?

De: Yes! We’re blessed to have family in North Lake Tahoe, so we go up for most of July each year, and again at Thanksgiving and Spring Break. It’s my favorite place on the planet. I swear my soul lives there; I just visit her a couple of times a year. My favorite thing is kayaking on all that blue. There’s nothing like Tahoe blue.

Sherry: And nothing like being on or near the water. Also on facebook we can see that your kids are growing up beautifully. What grades are they in now?

De: Our daughter Abby is a freshman, and our son is a sophomore. It’s crazy. I feel like we’re on the downhill slide to an empty nest. These are tough years, for sure, but they really are amazing kids. Zack is an adventurer and animal lover, with a passion for running toward all those creatures other people run away from – snakes, scorpions, spiders, you name it. Someday he’s going to find an incredible way to tell the world how wonderful all of God’s creation is, even the scary, spiny, scaly things.

Abby is a creative soul, an artist, who has also discovered a passion for volleyball in the past year or so. She’s got tons of energy, bouncy-bouncy, fun-fun-fun. 

Abby's art

Zack can sway a little more toward the negative side, so basically I live with Tigger and Pooh. Me, I’m sort of a cross between nervous Rabbit and pondering Pooh. My hubby, of course, is the wise old Owl.

Sherry: LOL. I love the character descriptions of the family. And how is the adorable Kiera-Kai? And your Phantom Samurai?

De: Kiera-Kai is a hot mess of a furry baby. She’s got just enough terrier in her to be a holy terror, and just enough Chihuahua to be neurotic. But she loves me with her whole, whole heart and I adore her. 

Phantom, on the other hand, is my daughter’s cat, and might just be the one animal on the planet that doesn’t like me. Most of the time, I’m like Snow White – birds coming my way, bunnies crossing my path. That cat avoids me like the plague. It’s bizarre. Also, he’s huge. 16 pounds of mostly fluff. We do love him.

Art by Abby

Sherry: Abby's art is wonderful, De. This reminded me of how moved I was by your poem of love for your city, in the week after the terrible attack in October. I would love to include it here, if I may.


My City is aching.
It’s taking one breath
at a time, holding love
at center and knowing
……………’s enough.
My City is reeling,
kneeling. Begging for healing
and a glimpse of
something that just
might be Light.
………………………..We fight.
Name us: Grace,
hummed hope.

Sherry: This goes straight to the heart, De. Hope rising, in a time of darkness. Love, standing strong, against hatred. Thank you.

De: Here is what I wrote about it, when I wrote the poem: 

This is the first thing I have written in more than a week. Last Sunday night, October 1st, something unimaginable happened here in Las Vegas. My kids’ school, our church and our little Henderson community have been significantly impacted. But in the past 8 days, I have watched my city come together in miraculous ways. Blood bank lines wrapped around the corner. Our churches reaching out to victims and their families, first responders and hospitals and their families, and anyone affected by that terrible night. A memorial park built in just four days. People are visiting the Strip to look at crosses. We have mourned and we have prayed. We are still mourning, and still praying. But there is always, always hope.
On the night of October 1, 2017, a single gunman opened fire on the Route 91 concert venue on the Strip. At least 58 people were killed, and hundreds more were injured. Our city is still  reeling and healing from this ordeal. But it’s really been an amazing thing to watch “Sin City” come together with so much community spirit, generosity and hope. I still wear my “Vegas Strong” bracelet almost every day. I still cry about it, often. I have not been emotionally ready to visit the memorial park just yet, but I will. There’s a reason we have deemed this “Grace City,” (Where sin abounds, Grace abounds much more…Romans 5:20) and it’s been an awesome thing to watch. 

Sherry: I love that quote: Grace abounds. It is at such times that humans rise up, being the best we can be, refusing to let the darkness win. Thank you for your beautiful words, in dealing with such a tragedy, De. The two sides of humanity: dark and light. We have to believe that light is stronger.

I was noticing all through last fall that your pen seemed to be on fire. I read so many of your poems with awe, with the comment “Wow!” at the end. Have you been feeling that surge? 

De: Thanks so much for the generous comment. I finished the Poetic Asides November Chapbook challenge, which is a ton of fun, but also a little relentless. I always come out of it a bit dazed, like walking out of a dark theatre after hours and hours spent in another world. I did feel a bit of a surge for a while there, after a dry spell. It’s funny how it all comes and goes, an energy source all its own.

Sherry: Let's look at a few of your poems, shall we? And you can tell us a bit about how each one came to be?


she’s a sweet old golden
grandmother in an embroidered jacket,
all pale blond pigtails and plush mouth
plumped for kisses.
teacher of all things
celestial and falling.
she’s the penny you saved,
the drop of water earned.
the thumbprint of some
bandit, stealing sky.
the momentum of a star,
and the drag of it.
a seventh sister,
that sixteenth candle,
still lit.
My amazing poet friend Shawna makes these incredible word lists. This is what one of them wanted to be. I write of the moon often, and love looking at her in different ways.


{What Came Before}
First things first, I’ma say all the words inside my head…
– Imagine Dragons
She breathes fire
and wonders why the world
burns so. In the beginning
was the word, and she kerned
herself sane, scribbled between
the (starting) lines
and found herself
Did she dance? You’ll have to look
back to see. See, she’s a wily one
and follows only moon,
and sky. Ask her why,
she’ll tell you it’s the amble
before the journey that matters,
that scatters you to breeze and
asks the world where the tiny
parachutes of hope should fly. Blow
a dandelion and keep those
fuzzy kites in sight; they know
things. And if you follow them
just right, the day might

Sherry: My goodness, I love the way you put words together! I'm enjoying the photos very much, too.
De: This was one of my November chapbook poem a day poems. I love the idea of breathing fire, and that dandelion fluff sneaks into a poem at least once a month. Man, I love that stuff. The stuff of wishes, possibilities. Sometimes I do think the things that come before the real battle are what it’s all about. The preparation. The quiet moment when you steel your look, and get ready to scatter your song. I guess this poem is kind of about that. And I loves me some Imagine Dragons.


There is really nothing you must be and there is nothing you must do. There is really nothing you must have and there is nothing you must know. There is really nothing you must become. However, it helps to understand that fire burns, and when it rains, the earth gets wet. – Zen saying
The sky reigns with a crown
of fallen stars and shattered
silence. Sorrow and hope
both float. Build fewer walls,
more bridges. Temper doubt
with breeze, and sunlight. A
lick of fire. A thirst for rain.

 Sherry: Fewer walls, more bridges, a recipe for coming together. Wonderful, De!
De: This was for a Poetics prompt over at dVerse  prompted by the word “reign.” I love that Zen quote, and it just kind of spilled out from there.

Sherry: This next one just knocked me out. The strength of your words resonates well with the recent "Me, too" movement of women everywhere, voices raised in resistance to male abuse of power and privilege.


We are the princesses of ice
and fire and fog and fluff. We have
had enough of your glass
and your velvet chairs
not meant for sitting
and your golden stair
demands of our locks. Your frocks
of silk and satin and lace
have no place here. Our legs
are bare and our feet
are filthy, mudluscious in
their river
We pebble stories and we
crown our heads in only daisies
and sunlight, fairy kisses and
the bright bright embrace
of moon. We swoon
for only breeze, the whisper
of trees on our un-noosed
necks; our un
-bodiced bodies sway
with delight at the sight
of our ink-smudged cheeks
and our mussed hair.
If you dare
to join us, take off
your fussy shoes
and your bruised ego
and your high-horse haught.
And that dragon
you think you’ve caught?
……………….Bring him.
Now he knows how to dance.
This one was prompted by the delightful Miz Quicklywho prompts when she pleases and gave us the word “chair.” I started thinking about thrones, and the kind of throne I would want (somewhere off in nature, obviously) and the kind of princess I’d want to be. One who’s allowed to get dirty, for sure. One who could bare her feet and her soul. And play with the dragon. I’ve always been much more deeply enamored of the dragons than the princes. I’m so happy to be living – and raising a daughter – in a world where women can wield their own swords, and choose their own battles.

Sherry: Well-said, De. This poem makes me deeply happy.

Do you have any plans for your writing in the months ahead? Do you have a routine for writing, or do you write at random moments, sandwiched between life’s tasks? 

De: After November’s big poem fest (and feast), I am actually looking forward to breathing a little. Writing every couple of days, perhaps. Engaging more with the three-dimensional people. ;) Getting outside more. 

I would love to say, for the one millionth time, that I will be trying to get a chapbook published. But truth be told, the left side of my brain (organization, administration, etc.) is actually missing, and I’ve just sort of come to accept that. It’s gonna take either a miracle or a big kick in the pants for me to actually move forward the way I need to. So I just keep writing down the pretty words as they come.

I do have a writing routine, sort of. Once I get the kids off to school, I usually try to go for a short run or walk, depending on my mood, then settle in for some writing time. I usually try to chew on a prompt while I’m out moving, and then come back home and get something down. Life gets in the way lots of days, of course, but the page always calls.

Right now I’m mostly working at our dining room table, since it’s right in the middle of all the action and allows me to sit and write for a few minutes at any point in time. My “office” has sort of become an overcrowded artistic room, now shared by my daughter. I have a dream office design in my brain, with a big comfy chair and lots of blue and twinkle lights. Maybe someday. Right now we have teens. We can’t have nice things. ;)

Sherry: Two beautiful teens is a great trade-off. Smiles. Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

De: Just that I’m thankful to be here. I don’t get over here as often as I should, to this amazing community of astonishing poets. You all inspire, challenge and humble me. Even for an uber-introvert like me, writing can be a lonely thing. Engaging in places like Poets United is like coming home.

Sherry: We are always happy to see you whenever you stop by. And we'd like to thank you, De, for sticking with us through the years. It means a lot to us.

Isn't she wonderful, my friends? I am grateful to have revisited the events in Vegas, through De's words. Our media culture is such that one tragedy replaces another, day after day. It is necessary to remember events which changed so many lives.

Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!