Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Ode To Age

“….O! sweet to me the laughing hours,
When earth seemed gay, and heaven was fair;
When fancy culled her thornless flowers,
And pleasure reigned unknown to care....” — William B. Tappan


      “Why so scrawny, cat?
Starving for fat fish or mice….
Or backyard love?” — Basho

    Midweek Motif ~ Ode To Age

We are paying homage to Age.

In his essay “Of Youth and Age Francis Bacon says,A man that is young in years may be old in hours, if he have lost no time. But that happeneth rarely. Generally, youth is like the first cogitations, not so wise as the second.”

You may write about youth, old age or even about a distinct period of history or literature.

An eminent literary or historical figure in your poem is also most welcome.

Here is an ode to Age by Pablo Neruda:

Ode To Age

by Pablo Neruda

I don't believe in age.
All old people
in their eyes,
a child,
and children,
at times
observe us with the
eyes of wise ancients.
Shall we measure
in meters or kilometers
or months?

How far since you were born?
How long
must you wander
like all men
instead of walking on its surface
we rest below the earth?
To the man, to the woman
who utilized their
energies, goodness, strength,
anger, love, tenderness,
to those who truly
and in their sensuality matured,
let us not apply
the measure
of a time
that may be
something else, a mineral
mantle, a solar
bird, a flower,
something, maybe,
but not a measure.
Time, metal
or bird, long
petiolate flower,
man's life,
shower him
with blossoms
and with
or with hidden sun.
I proclaim you
not shroud,
a pristine
with treads
of air,
a suit lovingly
through springtimes
around the world.
time, I roll you up,
I deposit you in my
bait box
and I am off to fish
with your long line
the fishes of the dawn!

translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden 

The Charge of the Light Brigade
by Alfred Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.


“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

                       (The rest is here

London, 1802
by William Wordsworth

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—
                (Next week Susan’s Midweek Motif will be ~ Prayer.)

Monday, November 12, 2018


Friends, today we have poems penned by three maestros of online poetry: Brendan MacOdrum, of Oran's Well, Shay Simmons, known to us as Fireblossom, of Shay's Word Garden  and Black Mamba, and Susie Clevenger, who blogs at Confessions of a Laundry Goddess and Black Ink Howl. You will be familiar with them from this site, as well as from their regular participation at our sister site, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads. Today's poems demonstrate just how much impact a poem can have. Each of these poems stayed with me for days after reading them, and I knew I wanted to share them with you. Let's jump right in.

Vanishing gods, with you
go our heat and heart,
the tamp of descents
no lamp can reach.

But that is not prayer.
May your extinction
ring the long bell of the sea;

May the crash and bellow
of your diving thrash
make our hearing of it
a halving beyond night.

Make vast this foundering
into the unfound,
church without vicarage,
cry without cross.

We have taken your last child.
May our oil burn that low.

Wrap this prayer
around your ghost rib

that we may harrow
what only death
now can whale.

Your lost song
deepens our sorrow
into abyss—:

The lonely sanctus
of tomorrows upending,
your much amiss.
Tomb Jonah and Ahab
in your mouth’s scrimshaw.

Drown our amen
in your whalefall.


Sherry: "Your lost song deepens our sorrow", indeed, Brendan. I am thinking of Talequah, carrying her dead calf on her nose for seventeen days, grieving. What a sorrowful world we have made for the creatures.

Brendan: Whales--perhaps all cetaceans--are a totem animal for me. On my father's family crest, a naked man rides a sea-beast; my avatar St. Brendan celebrated Easter for seven years on the back of the whale Jasconius, Moby Dick is a dark Bible in my reading. Search "whale" or "seal" or "dolphin" on my blog and you'll see.

But the oceans are changing faster than the land due to human activity, we just don't notice it (the surface of the sea is the same every day). We may be the last generation to see whales in oceans.

I had been reading about a nunnery in Japan where two elderly nuns continue to pray for the souls of whales killed by their fishing village--even a century after the traditional practice came to an end. As the Anthropocene brings about the Sixth Extnction event, I wondered what on Earth we, the complicit, could pray for the last vanishing whales.

Sherry: I wonder, too. We don't deserve forgiveness. I am glad of the nuns praying, though. And for your poem, which speaks to our shared plight so eloquently. Thank you, Brendan.

Shay's poem struck my heart so forcefully, I am still thinking about it. Let's dive in.

Ask anybody at a bus stop or down by the river--
there aren't any whales in Detroit.

It's lies.

I hear them all the time.
On Woodward Avenue, whales.
At John King books, whales down every row of shelves.
At the Old Mariners' Church, whales in the bells.

You are so thin, so sad.
I look at the great scarred heads of the whales and think of you.
In the aging overhanging trees beside the crack houses, whales. 
Under the 8 Mile Road overpass, whole pods of whales.
In your eyes, the sea
and the coiled rope of our pasts which holds the harpoon. 

There are whales in Detroit.
There is me, with my long hair tucked inside the collar of my pea coat.
From my hair I hear the waves.
There is you, outside a pawn shop between Hubbell and Greenfield,
giving the monkey a Nantucket sleigh ride. 
There is salt spray on my face,
and you, far out on the horizon, spyhopping,
then nodding for the deeps like all the rest--the whales of Detroit.


Sherry: That coiled rope of the past, with its harpoon. The whale, spyhopping, looking for a safe place to be. The thought of their ancient wildness, as we walk grey city streets, a wildness we miss and long for, that is fast disappearing. This poem hurts to read. And I am so glad you wrote it!

Shay: I was feeling distressed when I wrote "Whales of Detroit". About the whole political situation, and also i wanted to write something about my poor city, which has undergone such hard times. While the poem has nothing to do with the Kavanaugh hearings per se, it IS about the elephant --or whale-- in the room; that is to say, the thing that is too big to not be seen. And what i see is at once sad and brave and criminal and heartbreaking. And so i wrote that poem. I cried when I wrote it, so it really came from the heart.

May I say how happy I am to appear with two such marvelous poets. Thanks for thinking of me.

Sherry: Thanks for sharing your heartrending poem, Shay.

I knew I needed a third poem that would match the power of these two, so when Susie posted the following poem, I lost no time asking her if I might include it.

I hear the water cry,
“I am your safety”,
but drowning sings
its dirge across my chest.

Hope urges faith
can walk across the sea…
My wounds burn in brine’s no
as I bleed another tear into the tempest.

Memory’s mutiny has unleashed suppressed,
and I feel the anchor of ghosts freed
from Davy Jones’ locker.

I am a fish forced to once again
swim a dead sea I thought I’d conquered.
I pray the demon’s spear will pierce the last revelation
so I will no longer fear a shadow will come to snuff my candle.


Sherry: I feel like that fish, forced to swim a dead sea she thought she had conquered, as we watch fifty years of hard-won human rights and protections being rolled back or tossed out. We are indeed bleeding tears into the tempest.

Susie: My poem Match to Water was written from hearing the news and reading social media comments relating to why women won’t report sexual violence, and if they do, why it takes years for them to speak about it. It is a very personal topic for me. I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor. It took me fifteen years to tell anyone about it. Because of the current conversations new details I had suppressed in my own horror have begun to surface.

I have often gone to sit along the water to find peace and comfort, but having lived through several hurricanes I also know the terror of it. Just like those massive, destructive storms form in heated water my mind began to churn with current events and opinions from those who have never lived the nightmare of sexual trauma. The poem became the vehicle that made me realize I needed help. I am currently seeing a therapist to guide me through revelations I can’t manage alone.

Sherry: Thank you for the impact of this poem, and for speaking about it. The issues raised in these three poems are  made so much worse by recognising that those in power care nothing about their constituents, women or the environment.

I imagine millions of women have been distressed by the message of recent weeks. I’m glad you have sought support. I sought help myself over the grief I carry for what is happening to the planet I love so much, and for Pup, who has always represented wilderness to me. But the grief is so raw I couldn’t even speak, only cry. It hurts too much to talk about.

Thank you, Brendan, Shay and Susie, for this exceptional trio of powerful poems. You put voice so well to the bleak lens we are looking through these days. 

These poems certainly show us the impact a poem can have, do they not, my friends? Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Poetry Pantry #428

 Ancient town of Kourion near Limassol, Cyprus. Early Christian Basilica.

Greetings, Poets!

The photo today is one I found in Wikipedia.  Just something a little different for you to ponder as you share your poetry today.

As we are making our way to the holiday season, we want to let you know in advance that Poets United is planning a holiday break. The last Poetry Pantry of 2018 will be on December 16. We will not have any features between  that date and  Sunday, January 6, when we will resume then with Poetry Pantry and go on from there..  So let's do a lot of writing and sharing before that time and then enjoy our break!

Monday Sherry is featuring three  poems of the week. Be sure to return and give Sherry and these poets a shout-out.

Wednesday Sumana's Midweek Motif will be "Ode to Age." So feel free to plan ahead!

On Friday Rosemary had an excellent feature - another of her Moonlight Musings.  This time the subject was "Lust and Rage."  I hope that has gotten your attention, and if you have not yet read her musing you will take a look!

Now with no further delay, let's share poetry.  Link your one poem below.  Stop in and say hello.  Then visit poems of others who link.  Look forward to seeing you along the way.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Moonlight Musings

Lust and Rage

'What else have I to spur me into song?' asked Yeats. He had a point.

I've been in a writer's block for several weeks – a rare occurrence for me, but even so I couldn't be philosophical about it. I need to be making poems or I get a bit cranky. Usually I can find something to help me get out of it. I've shared some of these tricks with you before. But this time they didn't work. I could still write prose, but for me that doesn't really count.

Those who dip into our Poetry Pantry know that I've recently tried some found poems – 'found micropoetry' to be exact – in the hope that that would get me writing again. It didn't. I enjoyed the exercise, but words of my own still didn't happen.

Then, today in VoW Writers (the 'Village of Women' writers' group which I mentor) Maryanne said she wanted to try and write a song, adding that she was inspired by a Ryan Adams song about his fantasies of Sylvia Plath. She played it for us, and also I Googled the lyrics (they are here). The song hadn't even finished playing before I burst out, 'I hate it! In fact it offends me. It's so not Plath.'

MaryAnne tried to explain it wasn't meant to be about Sylvia, but about the song-writer himself. I expostulated further that even as a fantasy it was a travesty of who and what Plath was, adding that I considered her the greatest poet of the 20th Century.

'I love it when Rosemary expresses an opinion she feels strongly about. She's so clear and definite, you're left in no doubt of her feelings,' Cathy, the social worker who started our Village of Women, said with a laugh (perhaps trying to be diplomatic).

Bronny asked how I knew that the song was 'so not Plath', adding that she herself didn't know anything about Plath, and wasn't taking issue with me: she was just curious. I told them that (a) I'd been a huge Plath fan for decades and (b) there's a lot of material out there in the public record, not only her own poetry but biographies and critical studies.

Then I told Maryanne that despite my forcefully-expressed opinion, she was of course free to write whatever she liked. She suggested the prompt: 'a fantastic idea'. As always, people wrote a variety of responses to this. Maryanne herself wrote something beautiful and soaring, nothing like the Adams song.

I read mine last. It was a piece of rhyming doggerel, three verses long, going on some more about the ridiculousness of even trying to write about or like Plath, who was such a unique genius. (Actually I have written about her in the past, but I took poetic licence to ignore that inconvenient fact.)

No, I'm not going to show you, but I did read it to the group.

'Yay, she's back!' yelled Cathy. And I suddenly realised – my outrage at Ryan Adams had broken my writer's block. I'd been so caught up in the emotion, I hadn't even registered that!

'Now you know what to do,' said Bronny.

I said thank you to Maryanne, and admitted I should probably be thanking Mr Adams too.

Now that I've had the breakthrough, I see that I should have realised. I am always telling students that it's much easier to write from emotions like anger and grief than from happiness and calm.

So I abandoned what I had had in mind for this post and thought I would find a Plath poem to regale you with. Plath, after all, was a master of the fantastic idea. Take for instance Lady Lazarus. (Now, that poem mentions ash, but very, very differently from the kind of ash Ryan Adams ascribes to her in his fantasy.) You could take pretty much any one of her wondrous poems, and encounter fantastic ideas. You can read a lot of them at Poem Hunter if you don't own a copy of Plath.

But when I looked for one to share with you, I found that – beautiful, startling and musical as they are – they are nearly all very bleak. Sylvia was sad, there's no denying it. At present, for half the world winter is coming; there have been shootings, stabbings, and natural and other disasters all over the place; and there was that American election, which will have pleased some to some extent but others not at all. It didn't seem like good timing to share something sad or angry, no matter how extraordinary the writing.

Also, I hate to confess that reading through so much of Plath all at once has changed my perception ... along with the passage of time, I suppose.  Yes, she was incredibly gifted, and we also know she worked tirelessly at her craft – but I'm not so sure after all that she was the greatest poet of the 20th Century.

It's hard to assess any artist during their own time. Even the most  acclaimed don't always maintain their reputations – though of course some do. Maybe she doesn't tower over Yeats and Eliot after all. And maybe all poets are better appreciated in small doses than by a frantic search through their whole oeuvre in a short space of time.

So where does the lust of my heading come in? I suppose Ryan Adams meant his song to be titillating, but I think Yeats had in mind something much fiercer and realer. And yes, we all know that countless poems and songs have been written from that spur. For sure, that too could be a way out of writer's block. But not so much for me any more, as a 79-year-old widow. Yeats said that both lust and rage danced attendance on his old age, but I think he counted himself as aged when he was actually much younger than I am now. For me rage will have to do.

Of course, now that the block has broken, I hope I won't need to keep summoning up anger.

Maryanne suggested that listening to music is a good way into writing, whatever the mood; and I recall that my second husband Bill, a fiction writer, used to find that Dvorak's New World Symphony did the job for him.

[Who is mentoring whom in the Vow Writers group, you might wonder. Yes, often it's my students who teach me.]

Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Material shared in ‘Moonlight Musings’ is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.

This photo of Plath is by 
Giovanni Giovannetti/Grazia Neri and is now out of copyright and in the Public Domain.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Reading Fiction

"Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt even just a teensy bit guilty for carving precious time out of your busy, full life to dive into a book and relish a made-up story."  — Holly Parker, Ph.D, in Psychology Today

“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
 — James Baldwin
"Fiction that adds up, that suggests a ‘logical consistency,’ or an explanation of some kind, is surely second-rate fiction; for the truth of life is its mystery.” 
— Joyce Carol Oates
“The one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy.” 
— Gustave Flaubert

File:Lesrel Adolphe Alexandre captivated.jpg
Captivated by Adolphe Alexandre Lesrel 

Midweek Motif ~ Reading Fiction

What happens when you read fiction?  Does it seem more a physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual engagement?

Or don't you read it? 

Some say it distracts us from a true path, but others believe with Ralph Waldo Emerson that "Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures." 
Your challenge:  Write a new poem with "reading fiction" as topic and/or motif.

The Novel Reader by Vincent van Gogh (1888)

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

reading fiction books

How Reading Fiction Books Can Change You

The Land of Story-books

At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.

Now, with my little gun, I crawl
Away behind the sofa back.
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track

And play at books that I have read
There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter’s camp I lie,
The roaring lions come to drink.

Till it is time to go to bed. 
These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
I see the others far away

And there the river by whose brink 
Home I return across the sea,
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like to an Indian scout,

Around their party prowled about.
So, when my nurse comes in for me,
At my dear land of Story-books.
And go to bed with backward looks

There is no Frigate like a Book 
To take us Lands away, 
Nor any Coursers like a Page 
Of prancing Poetry – 
This Traverse may the poorest take 
Without oppress of Toll – 
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.

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 ~ Ode to Age.)