Saturday, 30 June 2012

Day 9: Summer Moon

Ever notice the moon on a summer's night? Whiter than white. Brighter than bright. And all its connotations shining more brightly than ever: romance, dreaming, dancing, serenades, outdoor late-night musing, 'drinking white thoughts' in the not-so-dark night.

Shine on, O moon of summer.

Back Yard - Carl Sandburg

Shine on, O moon of summer.
Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak,
All silver under your rain to-night.

An Italian boy is sending songs to you to-night from an accordion.
A Polish boy is out with his best girl; they marry next month; to-night they are throwing you kisses.

An old man next door is dreaming over a sheen that sits in a cherry tree in his back yard.

The clocks say I must go—I stay here sitting on the back porch drinking white thoughts you rain down.

Shine on, O moon,
Shake out more and more silver changes. 

Friday, 29 June 2012

Day 8: Rainbow

After all the rain, sun. And a rainbow. Or I should say - rainbows. And everytime I see a rainbow I think of this poem by John Agard, in which he coins an unique and memorable metaphor, saying a rainbow  'is God doing limbo'.

A rainbow really is 'one big smile across the sky.' And if witnessing one doesn't make you smile - maybe this poem will.

(Better to read this poem aloud - and enjoy the samba rhythm of it!)

Rainbow - John Agard

When you see
de rainbow
you know
God know
wha he doing-
One big smile
across the sky-
I tell you
God got style
the man got style

When you see
raincloud pass
and de rainbow
make a show
I tell you
is God doing
the man doing

But sometimes
you know
when I see
de rainbow
so full of glow
and curving
like she bearing a child
I does want to know
if God ain't a woman

If that is so
the woman got style
man she got style

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Day 7: Unicorn

Lucky no. 7, what better way to honour it than a poem about a magical mythic animal - an unicorn?

Here's a poem that can mean whatever you want it to mean. Here's a poem that can be whatever you want, or need, it to be.

To me, it's all about the power of the imagination. The power of belief. Our belief invests even the most fantastical of ideas with power. 

Don Paterson is a Scottish poet. You can read more on him here.

Unicorn - Don Paterson

This is the animal that never was.
Not knowing that, they loved it anyway;
its bearing, its stride, its high, clear whinny,
right down to the still light of its gaze.

It never was. And yet such was their love
the beast arose, where they had cleared the space;
and in the stable of its nothingness
it shook its white mane out and stamped its hoof.

And so they fed it, not with hay or corn
but with the chance that it might come to pass.
All this gave the creature such a power

its brow put out a horn; one single horn.
It grew inside a young girl’s looking glass,
then one day walked out and passed into her.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Day 6: Summer's Day

Because it's actually sunny and summery today, Mary Oliver. 

Mary Oliver is a popular American poet whose poetry focuses on nature and the spiritual. She sees the beauty in days like no one else. 

Her poems are all glorious odes to aspects of nature, like this one 'The Summer's Day.' But more than that, they contain essential truths, spiritual wisdom. Like the infamous ending here, the epiphany inspired by the wonder of nature - "Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?"

Surely this is a revelation that makes you stop and wonder! And that's what all great poems do.  Keep to the forefront of our minds (and hearts) exactly what this life is. And how we should be revelling in and appreciating it. Because it is a gift.

No poet explores this idea more eloquently or beautifully than Mary Oliver. You can read more on her here.

The Summer Day - Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

(House of Light, Beacon Press, 1990)

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Day 5: Dreams
Poems don't have to be long or wordy to get their point across. Brevity is sometimes much more powerful. Poetry puts things in perspective for us. And some short poems are like a sharp slap across the face. The stinging of truth.

Like this poem by African-American poet Langston Hughes. Using two simple metaphors, he manages to describe exactly what life is like without a dream. Simple, but affecting.

Dreams - Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Day 4: Epiphany

Here's what all good poems do - provide an epiphany. An awed realisation moment of an essential truth. And mostly it happens in the midst of ordinary things. Like in this poem by American poet Elizabeth Bishop.

While pulled up at a filling station, the observer of the poem finds herself taking notes of how dirty the place is. But then, unexpectedly, she finds beauty in the scene - a begonia plant and an embroidered  doily - which leads her to the conclusion that somebody cared enough to do all these things. Which of course, leads to the final epiphany moment of divine recognition - that 'Somebody' indeed loves us all. 

Amazing how such an ordinary scenario can lead to such a marvellous revelation. But these things happen in our everyday lives, if only we are aware of them. Sometimes we are, sometimes we're not. Poetry helps us be though. And sometimes a  poem is an epiphany in itself.

Filling Station - Elizabeth Bishop

Oh, but it is dirty!
--this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it's a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color--
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:

to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Day 3: Glitter-Drizzle

Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney is a master at crafting words. One of my favourite poets, I am particularly in awe of his ability to create the greatest sound effects in his poems. 

Because it's raining today (for the past week actually), I chose 'The Rain Stick' as my poem today. Because rain can be quite magical as Heaney shows us in this poem. Note the sound effects. You can almost hear the rain, the sluice-rush and sprinkle of it. What this poet  does brilliantly is create words of his own to capture a feeling, a sound, a sensation, like 'diminuendo' and 'glitter-drizzle.'

Fed up with the rain? A rain stick would be a good prop, but no matter. Look and listen to it again. This time, through the eyes and ears of a someone who sees it as wonder.

The Rain Stick  - Seamus Heaney

Up-end the stick and what happens next
is a music that you never would have known
to listen for. In a cactus stalk

Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash
come flowing through. You stand there like a pipe
being played by water, you shake it again lightly

and diminuendo runs through all its scales
like a gutter stopping trickling. And now here comes
a sprinkle of drops out of the freshened leaves,

Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies;
the glitter-drizzle, almost-breaths of air.
up-end the stick again. What happens next

is undiminished for having happened once,
twice, ten, and thousand times before.
who cares if all the music that transpires

is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?
You are like a rich man entering heaven
through the ear of a raindrop. Listen now again.  

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Day 2: Prayer

Carol Ann Duffy is one of my favourite poets. Her language is simple but supple and it perfectly slings home the theme of her poems. I love her directness and the unflinching manner of her words. Their rhythm and power.

This poem 'Prayer' is a favourite amongst many people. Here is poetry as consolation, awareness, knowing.  'Some days,although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself.' And more often that not, that prayer is poetry, the 'sudden gift' of a recognition, a revelation, a truth.

(Read more on Carol Ann Duffy here)

Prayer - Carol Ann Duffy

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

(from Mean Time [Anvil, 1994])

Friday, 22 June 2012

Day 1: Introduction to Poetry

I thought this would be the perfect poem to begin with - US former Laureate Billy Collins arguing for the understanding of poems. 

Forget what you've been told. You don't have to dissect the language, analyse the theme, de-code the metaphors, worry about things like iambic pentameter or read the critics, to understand the poem. You simply let it say to you what it wants to say. You listen. You trust your gut on what it is saying to you, nothing else. 

Poetry is personal. And the beauty of a poem is that it cannot be defined by one singular explanation. A poem is continually adapting to readers' opinions. Like a multi-faceted diamond, it has many shining angles.

Have trouble understanding a poem? Instead of beating it with a hose, try feeling around its wall for a light. You will find it eventually. 

Introduction to Poetry - Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Mission Statement: A Defence of Poetry

Hello and welcome! I guess I should begin with my reasons for setting up this blog. Well, my main one is because I love poetry so much and I'd love other people to love it too!

My second reason is that I feel poetry gets slammed too much by negative stereotypes. I want to debunk and devalue those slanders by showing poetry for what it really is, and what it can do.

Because it's not elitist. It's not pompous. It's not for literary snobs. It's not boring. It's not depressing. It's not traditional fodder. It's not redundant. It's not difficult.

To begin with, it's for everyone. Don't like poetry? But surely you like music, songs, and that is poetry. Poetry is everywhere. Do you admire sunny days, sunsets, marvel at beautiful scenery? That's part of the poet in you. Ever been in love? Because love makes poets of us all. As UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy says, 'we carry poetry inside us - even if we do not read or write it.'

How can poetry not relate to us? It deals with ordinary things that we all are familiar with, but makes them extraordinary. It's alchemy - turning the metal of everyday into gold. It's treasure. It's wisdom. It's relevant. It's exciting. Illuminating. Enlightening. Uplifting. Life-affirming. It lets us see things anew. It also makes us aware. It marks all the wonderful things that happen to us in this human condition. It's important. It matters. It makes things matter. It's made up of wonder and beauty.

But what it does mostly - is transform all those squirming, vague, troublesome, knotted entities that mark a human - emotions - into words, and so, into understanding and meaning. And in the process, creates beauty and truth. Two qualities that all human souls require. 

Reading a poem a day is akin to taking a vitamin for the soul. I love poetry. I read it often; almost on an everyday basis, but of course, there are days that I don't. I forget about it. Prefer instead to get swept along by routine's currents. And it's on those days, that I feel the gaping lack of it. 

So, the idea of this project. I'll have to go to a poem a day, every day, without fail,  and I am wholly excited about sharing them! Even on the days when poetry is the last thing I feel like (these are usually the days when I need it the most). As you will see, poetry can be solace, or a wake-up call, a reminder, a delight, an offering of wisdom, of meaning, a revealing. And always, a close-up look at life. 

Now that's my manifesto finished. It's hard for me to put into words how much I love poetry, so I'm going to stop and from now on, let the poems do all the talking.

I hope that you'll join me in this project. More than that, I hope you'll join in! Are there any poems you'd like to see? Requests most welcome (365 days+ is a large mandate). And I'd love to hear your thoughts on the poems! What is it you love about them? Or confuses you? Let this be a forum for sharing!

I hope that you enjoy these poems as much as I do!

Thanks for reading,

~ Siobhán.