Friday, March 24, 2017

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

R.T.S.L. (1917-1977)

As for that other thing 
which comes when the eyelid is glazed 
and the wax gleam 
from the unwrinkled forehead 
asks no more questions of the dry mouth,

whether they open the heart like a shirt 
to release a rage of swallows, 
whether the brain 
is a library for worms, 
on the instant of that knowledge 
of the moment 
when everything became so stiff,  

so formal with ironical adieux, 
organ and choir, 
and I must borrow a black tie, 
and at what moment in the oration 
shall I break down and weep - 
there was the startle of wings 
breaking from the closing cage 
of your body, your fist unclenching 
these pigeons circling serenely 
over the page,  

as the parentheses lock like a gate 
1917 to 1977, 
the semicircles close to form a face, 
a world, a wholeness, 
an unbreakable O, 
and something that once had a fearful name 
walks from the thing that used to wear its name, 
transparent, exact representative, 
so that we can see through it 
churches, cars, sunlight,  
and the Boston Common, 
not needing any book.

– Derek Walcott (1930-2017)

I don't know who R.T.S.L. was (perhaps some Walcott scholar among our number can enlighten us?) but I expect you know that Walcott himself died a few days ago, at the age of 87.

It must be about 35 years ago that my then husband, Bill, came home one day and told me to switch on ABC radio quick: he'd just been listening to a marvellous new poet on the car radio, a Caribbean called Derek Walcott.

Dutch-born Bill was not a poet himself but a lover of the English language and of poetry in English – like Walcott himself, who is described in Wikipedia as 
“an elated, exuberant poet madly in love with English”. (English is the official language of Walcott's birthplace, St Lucia, but he would also have grown up speaking patois, which he sometimes used in his poems.)

Actually Walcott was not at all a new poet in 1982 or thereabouts, but he was newly resident in the USA at that time, which may be, indirectly, how his work came to the attention of an Australian radio show. 

At that stage I had not heard of him, but I enjoyed his deep, mellifluous voice on that radio program. Then I noticed the beauty of his words, and listened harder.

A splendid obituary in The New York Times gives all the important details of his life and career – so thoroughly that it has saved me the trouble of any further research! Here is the link.

You can find his books on his Amazon page – mostly in paperback, but some are in Kindle too.

I'll give my friend Linda Stevenson the last word and perfect summing up, with her comment on facebook after his death was announced:

"Have been re-reading lots of his fabulous poems. What a generous, clear, musical voice...he seemed to beautifully merge a metaphysical inclination with perception of the everyday."

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). 

This particular photo is made available through Creative Commons and has the citation: Bert Nienhuis - File of the Werkgroep Caraibische Letteren, The Netherlands.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Mirror

“Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror or the painter?” — Pablo Picasso

“All things that pass / Are wisdom’s looking glass.” — Christina Rossetti

“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.”—George Bernard Shaw

“There are very few people who are going to look into the mirror and say, ‘That person I see is a savage monster;’ instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do.” — Noam Chomsky

           Midweek Motif ~Mirror 

A Mirror reflects. Does it tell us who we are?

Does it show appearance or reality?

What do you see or want to see when you look in the mirror?

What else do you think might work as a mirror too?

Mirror is our motif today. You might also write your lines from the perspective of a mirror.

by Sylvia Plath

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful---
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

I sat before my glass one day, 
And conjured up a vision bare, 
Unlike the aspects glad and gay, 
That erst were found reflected there - 
The vision of a woman, wild 
With more than womanly despair.
Her hair stood back on either side 
A face bereft of loveliness.
It had no envy now to hide 
What once no man on earth could guess.
It formed the thorny aureole 
Of hard, unsanctified distress.
Her lips were open - not a sound 
Came though the parted lines of red, 
Whate'er it was, the hideous wound 
In silence and secret bled.
No sigh relieved her speechless woe, 
She had no voice to speak her dread.
And in her lurid eyes there shone 
The dying flame of life's desire, 
Made mad because its hope was gone, 
And kindled at the leaping fire 
Of jealousy and fierce revenge, 
And strength that could not change nor tire.
Shade of a shadow in the glass, 
O set the crystal surface free! 
Pass - as the fairer visions pass - 
Nor ever more return, to be 
The ghost of a distracted hour, 
That heard me whisper: - 'I am she!'

by Spike Milligan

A young spring-tender girl
combed her joyous hair
'You are very ugly' said the mirror.

on her lips hung
a smile of dove-secret loveliness,
for only that morning had not
the blind boy said,
'You are beautiful’?

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 ~ Gender)

Monday, March 20, 2017


This week, my friends, we are swooping across the sky to Australia, to visit our very own Passionate Crone, Rosemary Nissen-Wade. Rosemary shares some lovely poems with us, and will tell us about her new book, Three Cycles of the Moon. Pour a refreshing beverage (Rosemary will be having her usual unsweetened black coffee, but can offer you tea, green tea, herbal tea, or even white coffee with sugar) pull your chairs in close, and enjoy! 

Sherry: Rosemary, I always love your poems, but a handful of them in recent months especially spoke to me, and I hoped you might share them with our members.

Rosemary: Oh, Sherry, how very flattering! Thank you. My initial response when you suggest such things is always, 'Oh no, they won't want to hear about me again!'

Sherry: We are always only too happy to hear from you, my friend.

Rosemary:  Well, if that’s so – I’m always very happy to talk about poetry, even my own!

I see the poems you have chosen as three groups, each with two poems of like theme / mood.

Sherry: Let’s dive right in.

Softly calling
across hilltops
oceans and skies:
the memories.

Across hilltops
as on bird wings –
hear them flutter.

Oceans and skies
ripple with white –
wave tips and clouds.

The memories,
hint and linger.

Because you are music,
I sing you, even 
when you aren't here,
softly in memory.

Because you are wine,
you intoxicate me
slowly and smoothly,
the taste lingering.

Because you are ocean,
I bathe in you, plunge
and almost drown, then float
on your buoyant blue.

Because you are poetry,
I return to you again and again; 
you fill my mouth, 
I give you utterance, but –

Because you are mystery,
I cannot touch your core,
fathom your depths, recover 
from you, find your truest chords.

Rosemary: “Reaching Beyond” and “Because You” are imaginary situations where I was focused mostly on the music and imagery (though of course it is my subconscious they came from, and I have experienced similar emotions in real life).

Sherry: I especially love “Because You”. It is a gorgeous read, and allows the reader to take her own flights as she reads.

Rosemary: That’s interesting, as I didn’t have a specific "other" in mind so much as the experience, itself, of being in love. Perhaps that lack of factual detail is the very thing that allows readers to fill in the gaps for themselves.

Sherry: Let’s take a look at the next two, shall we?

On the street down the hill, half-hearted fireworks 
pop and splutter like distant thunder or a gurgling fridge.
It's the fifth of November, Guy Fawkes night.
I remember huge bonfires, in Launceston in my childhood.
Pop and splutter – like distant thunder or a gurgling fridge –
briefly, then it's all done. Too soon, perhaps, after
the newer habit of Halloween? (Is Bonfire Night dying?)

It's the fifth of November, Guy Fawkes night –
'Remember, remember...' and I do remember
sparklers, Catherine wheels, rockets, penny bungers.

I remember huge bonfires in Launceston in my childhood,
smoke billowing in chill Spring air, our frosty breath, 
the neighbourhood dads in charge: all those certainties.

How fortunate, dear readers, that you enjoy 
all these poems about my garden and my cat.
They are likely to keep right on coming.
My obsessions nowadays are quiet, insular.

All these poems about my garden and my cat
connect me to earthy, practical ways of being. 
Otherwise I might fly off, disappear into dreams.

They are likely to keep right on coming,
the dreams and flights – but so are the frangipani,
the red geraniums, my cat's games and her hungers.

My obsessions nowadays are quiet, insular.
After all, I grew up on an island; and I carry quiet
within me, an interior island of words, of poetry.

Rosemary: “Reminders” and “How Fortunate, Dear Readers” are not at all imaginary. They deal with my love of the ordinary and domestic, which I more and more believe to be the truly important moments in life. 

Sherry: I do, too. I take great delight in the lovely domestic rhythms of this stage of my life. And I love that “interior island of words, of poetry.” I most enjoy how often your cat creeps into your poems. Your familiar.


Rosemary: Yes, she is an important presence in my life – as well as an intriguing and often challenging one. I have only had her for a little over a year, but she was already nearly eight, and has obviously had a chequered history which makes her fearful and wary. She is also very sweet, and I am sure that by now she loves and trusts me as much as she can any human being, but some of her boundaries mean I have to use strategies to look after her properly, e.g. I buy special food to keep her teeth clean and her gullet free of furballs, because she would not allow the degree of handling otherwise required. So I am very much inclined to celebrate in verse the companionable times we have also arrived at. Need I add, I am quite besotted!

Sherry: That is evident in your poems. I have enjoyed watching your relationship evolve. I remember how fearful she was, at first, then how she slowly began to relax, trusting she was in safe hands (and heart!)

We have two final poems to contemplate:

“It’s the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: 
― Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard

We never said that final goodbye to each other,
always thinking there'd be one more day, one moment,
until there was no time left, it had all run away so fast.
Perhaps, also, we never believed we could really be parted.

Always thinking there'd be one more day, one moment,
we spoke of immediate, practical things – the pleasure 
of a comfortable chair, the view of trees and hills from the high      window.

Until there was no time left – it had all run away so fast –
we said what was in our hearts with eyes and touch. 
Goodbye, coming finally to mind, was not in our hearts.

Perhaps, also, we never believed we could really be parted.
How wrong we were! Now the word chokes me with grief.
And how right: you being, after all, still present here, 
always with me.

There are two new gardenia blooms in my garden.
America prepares to vote for a new President.
In Syria they are breaking eggs to make an omelette.
Dandelions and clover appear on my lawn.

America prepares to vote for a new President
while the rest of the world collectively shudders.
Then each country turns back to its own problems.

In Syria they are breaking eggs to make an omelette.
I mean of course that we are, noble saviours.
And the children there? Can’t be helped!

Dandelions and clover appear on my lawn.
Their bright, dancing faces delight; but I must mow.
I see no bees this year, despite the scent of gardenias.

Rosemary: “Saying Goodbye” deals with personal sadness and “Being Here Now” is gloomy about global concerns. Both are more reflective than urgent.

I realise I am not writing so many sad poems any more – evidence of having adjusted to widowhood. As everyone who has experienced deep grief knows, we never get over it, but time makes it easier to handle. I have reached a place of contentment in my life. 

Sherry: I well know that we never do recover from the loss of a beloved. We learn to accommodate the grief within us, somehow, in order to go on living. I often remember the poem you wrote when you bought the new chair, after your husband's death, and walked into the room to see your beloved Andrew sitting in it, smiling his approval.

I love, in “Being Here Now”, how you switch from the global outlook to the joys of your small garden. I think that is a wise retreat and replenishment, when things look dire: the balm and beauty of nature.

Rosemary: I’m interested to note, now, that after each pair of poems my first comment (above) culminates in the word “life”. Poetry and life have always been entwined for me. Poetry is not some extra thing I add in. I’m looking for a metaphor to explain this, and I think that it's breath – the breath of life. 

"Poetry is...the breath of life"

Sherry: “Poetry is…the breath of life.” I have to agree. It is, for a true poet.

Rosemary: It’s probably worth noting that I recently spent a month exploring the trimeric form, and five of these six poems are in that form. “Because You” is the exception – essentially free verse, albeit using stanzas and repetition. I love free and formal verse equally.

Sherry: Your work is wonderful, in every form, and we are so fortunate to be those dear readers you speak of! 

Rosemary, recently you published a new book, THREE CYCLES OF THE MOON, with two friends, Jennie Fraine and Helen Patrice. Tell us about this beautiful book.

Rosemary: Some time ago a woman called Maggie Strongheart decided to explore her relationship with the moon via a daily piece of writing, and created a group on facebook so that others might join her and share their writings there. For those of us who took her up on it, it proved illuminating (pun intended) to see how our lives reflected what was going on with that little orb in the heavens. Jennie, Helen and I, being poets, of course did it in verse.

[In the photos below, Jennie Fraine is on the left, Helen Patrice on the right.]

We were so thrilled with our results that we decided to collaborate on a collection. We are very old friends in real life, and admirers of each other’s poetry. In fact I have featured both Jennie and Helen in “I Wish I’d Written This”. (If you missed these,  you can search their names among the tags in the left sidebar.)

Everything was decided by consensus. The initial selection of poems and their sequential arrangement were delightfully easy. Finding the cover illustration and cover designer, and deciding on how/where to publish took longer.  We decided to go with an ebook produced by Smashwords, as they make books available in every kind of ebook format.  Also it enabled us to keep the price reasonably low. (But not rock bottom; it’s considerably longer than a chapbook.)

Initial formatting of the book to Smashwords requirements proved daunting to us non-geeks, so we enlisted the help of our old friends ContentXDesign who had already published SHE TOO, poems by Helen and me plus two American poets: Delaina J Miller and Leigh D C Spencer. (I have also featured both Leigh and Delaina here; again, check the sidebar.) The new book, though, lists Jennie Fraine as the publisher, for the simple reason that she has self-published a number of physical books over many years and so was in a position to assign our book an ISBN number.

Sherry: Both books look absolutely wonderful! What an accomplishment! I am especially intrigued by the work arising from your moon journey. I thought that was so cool, at the time.

Rosemary: You asked me to talk about the book, and I am going on about all the technical aspects of producing it! They absorbed us for quite a long time, you see. As for the content, I don’t think I can better the blurb Helen created for our Smashwords page:

“Once upon a time there were three women, who, inspired by a fourth, set out on a month-long journey. They travelled from New Moon to Full and back to Dark Moon again, charting all the aspects and phases of their relationships with Luna, Her Goddesses, Her moods, and their own. One poet travelled across the Earth, while the two others remained fixed in the terra firma of Australia. They won the treasure of wild inspiration, and yes, at times, struggled with 'what to write', as the month went on, and on, and the Moon just kept rising. Open an eye to the telescope to view Selene, Diana, Artemis, the Rabbit in the Moon, and maybe even the Old Woman In the Moon. Move through the Three Cycles of the Moon, in poetry.”

(In my case the moon, though it undoubtedly kept on rising, was not always visible behind cloudy skies, and that made for some interesting realisations too.)

I say, in my foreword to the book, “Helen and Rosemary are witches, so moon-consciousness was already part of their lives. Jennie, who describes herself as earth-bound and pragmatic, nevertheless lives her life open to possibility. ”

Sherry: I love it, especially Jennie, who remains “open to possibility”! 
Me, too!

Rosemary, thank you so much, for sharing your poetry,  and the exciting news about the new book. Thank you as well for your wonderful and much-appreciated contribution over the years at Poets United. I feel so fortunate to know you, a true witch, and a Goddess in your own right. Thank you, and Blessed Be.

We hope you enjoyed this offering as much as we did, friends. Rosemary is amazing! Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!