Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Day 39: Existence

One of my all-time favourite poets is ee cummings. His poetry really gets at what it means to live, what it means to be alive. There is an energy and vibrancy to his poetry that makes his words leap off the page and smack you in the face (heart, head).

In this poem, 'life is more true than reason will deceive' he challenges the role of reason and logic (and science) in life, and instead praises passion and feeling. Reason deceives us, feeling enlightens us. With reason, you merely 'exist' and feeling, you 'live.' 

The first thing that strikes you about ee cummings' work is his jumbled-up syntax and strange use of vocabulary. This is all in the name of having us react to a poem, to 'feel' first and then come to understand it. Because feeling is more important in his poetry than rationalising, just as in life.

life is more true than reason will deceive - ee cummings

life is more true than reason will deceive
(more secret or than madness did reveal)
deeper is life than lose:higher than have
–but beauty is more each than living’s all

multiplied with infinity sans if
the mightiest meditations of mankind
canceled are by one merely opening leaf
(beyond whose nearness there is no beyond)

or does some littler bird than eyes can learn
look up to silence and completely sing?
futures are obsolete:pasts are unborn
(here less than nothing’s more than everything)

death,as men call him, ends what they call men
-but beauty is more now than dying’s when 

*(read more on ee cummings here:

Monday, 30 July 2012

Day 38: Design

Who would think a spider would lead to a poem about Fate?  Sure, watching a spider spin a web might lead to some surmising of design in nature. But yes, Robert Frost has come to the conclusion that everything has a design, if nature does, just from witnessing a coincidental white 'snow-drop' spider trap a white moth on a white flower.

This poem came to mind after watching sci-fi fable flick 'The Adjustment Bureau' based on a Philip K Dick short story, about the struggle between freewill and predestination. Albeit, featuring a more benevolent Fate than what Frost suggests here.


Design - Robert Frost

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth --
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth --
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Day 37: Melancholy

   Melancholy. It's a word often associated with poetry. A deep pensive sadness. Which in its depiction, can yield beautiful results.

    The sea of course, is a recurring metaphor in poetry for melancholia with all its moods and shades of  blue and sorrowful connotations. And nowhere is it used to more sorrowful effect  than in Matthew Arnold's 'Dover Beach' which is infamous for its magnificent melancholy, (and has even been quoted in various literary works since its publication in 1867, including a poem by Yeats. And as I write this, the name of an album by a favourite band of mine comes to mind, 'Cease to Begin' by Band of Horses, whose music has been described as 'melancholic' and the cover of said album features a sea scene at night, hmmm....) 

    No doubt, a highly influential poem throughout the decades.

Dover Beach - Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Day 36: Mermaid

A fable is a story with animals or mythical creatures, which contains a moral. Aesop's Fables are a familiar name to many I'm sure. 

But here we have a fable within a poem from Pablo Neruda. There are many layers of meaning and interpretation here, from a debate on  gender relations, to the conflict between the natural and civilized worlds. Mermaids, of course, are a mythical symbol used to represent many different ideas, most usually associated with gender relations and feminism.

Me, I think it's a critique of men's boorish behaviour in the presence of women they perceive as 'other'! Or a woman finally getting what she wants (to be a desirous object of affection to the opposite sex) only to discover the emptiness of it. (Yep, I'm a feminist!) What do you think?

Oh, and I just love the description of the mermaid: Her eyes were the colour of distant love, her twin arms were made of white topaz. Her lips moved, silent, in a coral light.' Beautiful language as always from Neruda.

Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks - Pablo Neruda 

All those men were there inside,
when she came in totally naked.
They had been drinking: they began to spit.
Newly come from the river, she knew nothing.
She was a mermaid who had lost her way.
The insults flowed down her gleaming flesh.
Obscenities drowned her golden breasts.
Not knowing tears, she did not weep tears.
Not knowing clothes, she did not have clothes.
They blackened her with burnt corks and cigarette stubs,
and rolled around laughing on the tavern floor.
She did not speak because she had no speech.
Her eyes were the colour of distant love,
her twin arms were made of white topaz.
Her lips moved, silent, in a coral light,
and suddenly she went out by that door.
Entering the river she was cleaned,
shining like a white stone in the rain,
and without looking back she swam again
swam towards emptiness, swam towards death. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

Day 35: Misinterpretation

Sometimes one metaphor is all it takes to address a profound theme.
Like in this poem, from Stevie Smith, with the infamous line, 'not waving but drowning'.
Not Waving but Drowning - Stevie Smith
Nobody heard him, the dead man,   
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought   
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   
They said.
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   
(Still the dead one lay moaning)   
I was much too far out all my life   
And not waving but drowning.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Day 35: Belief

Don't let anyone tell you what you can't do! Sometimes proof is nothing in the face of willpower and belief and the mere miracle of disregarding negative assumptions.

Here Roger McGough makes a case against such skepticism.  Bees cannot fly, scientists say, it's been proven, 'and yet they do.'  The bees aren't aware of their 'dodgy ratios' and they fly on, buzzing around the garden, regardless. Although these 'scientists' have no problem in believing the negative associations with bees, their stinging ability, as is often the case in the real world. 

This poem has so much to say about the nature of cynicism and achievement in the face of it. What I like to take from it is - forget the naysayers and steamroll ahead with whatever you want to do 'helium-filled'!

Bees Cannot Fly - Roger McGough

Bees cannot fly, scientists have proved it.
It is all to do with wingspan and body weight.
Aerodynamically incapable of sustained flight,
Bees simply cannot fly. And yet they do.

There's one there, unaware of its dodgy ratios,
A noisy bubble, a helium-filled steamroller.
Fat and proud of it, buzzing around the garden
As if it were the last day of the spring sales.

Trying on all the brightest flowers, squeezing itself
Into frilly numbers three sizes too small.
Bees can fly, there's no need to prove it. And sting.
When stung, do scientists really believe it?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Day 34: Invictus

Sometimes we need reminding of who we really are. Our strengths. Our power. Our capabilities. 
No better poem than William Ernest Henley's 'Invictus.' Nelson Mandela was inspired by the poem, and had it written on a scrap of paper in his prison cell while he was incarcerated for 27 years on Robben Island. He would allegedly read it to the prisoners to inspire morale. Invictus, coincidentally (meaning 'unconquered') became the name of the 2009 Clint Eastwood film about the leader and the South African rugby team. 

It has also been quoted in many other films, including Casablanca and has become a poem familiar to many people. 

Even when you're not feeling so strong, read this. Let it empower you. For here is a poem which is a testament to the sheer power of words, 'I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.'

Invictus - William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Day 33: Love

Time for a love poem. A different genre of love poem, from critically acclaimed Irish female poet, Eavan Boland.

In this poem, the poet remembers back to a time when she was intensely in love with her husband, (using mythic references to universalize and contextualize the experience.) She wonders now will that love ever return 'Across our day-to-day and ordinary distances' - the 'epic' question. Can passionate love last? Well, it's a question we'd all like answered.

This poem is quite memorable for the original and apt definition of love as a miraculous 3rd party in a relationship, a magic, a spiritual entity: 'love had the feather and muscle of wings/ and had come to live with us/ a brother of fire and air.' 

Boland doesn't answer her question here, but rather just poses it, and in doing so, creates a poem of profound power.   

Love - Eavan Boland
Dark falls on this mid-western town
where we once lived when myths collided.
Dusk has hidden the bridge in the river
which slides and deepens
to become the water
the hero crossed on his way to hell.

Not far from here is our old apartment.
We had a kitchen and an Amish table.
We had a view. And we discovered there
love had the feather and muscle of wings
and had come to live with us,
a brother of fire and air.
We had two infant children one of whom
was touched by death in this town
and spared: and when the hero
was hailed by his comrades in hell
their mouths opened and their voices failed and
there is no knowing what they would have asked
about a life they had shared and lost.

I am your wife.
It was years ago.
Our child was healed. We love each other still.
Across our day-to-day and ordinary distances
we speak plainly. We hear each other clearly.

And yet I want to return to you
on the bridge of the Iowa river as you were,
with snow on the shoulders of your coat
and a car passing with its headlights on:

I see you as a hero in a text —
the image blazing and the edges gilded —
and I long to cry out the epic question
my dear companion:
Will we ever live so intensely again?
Will love come to us again and be
so formidable at rest it offered us ascension
even to look at him?

But the words are shadows and you cannot hear me.
You walk away and I cannot follow.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Day 32: Rain

 Another day of torrential rain and grey skies! O summer, where art thou??

And just when I think I can't take it anymore - along comes a poem that says hey, look at all the possibilities of rain. Look at the way it 'braids a windowpane.' And just like in films, look at how it sets the scene and the score. How it adds drama. And plentiful opportunities for emotional release: shouting, dancing, kissing, that just wouldn't exist in dry weather. 

And how we too, might 'rise up from the falling waters.'  Here's hoping!

Scottish bard Don Paterson, ladies and gentlemen:

Rain - Don Paterson

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

one long thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame

to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,

and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,

so when his native twang shows through
or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from the play,

I think to when we opened cold
on a rain-dark gutter, running gold
with the neon of a drugstore sign,
and I’d read into its blazing line:

forget the ink, the milk, the blood—
all was washed clean with the flood
we rose up from the falling waters
the fallen rain’s own sons and daughters

and none of this, none of this matters.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Day 31: Hallelujah

When confronted with poetry indifferents - I have one simple riposte: song. You listen to music don't you? You like listening to music? You sing along to the lyrics? Well, don't you see - you're a poetry lover too!

Poetry comes in all forms, including song. Many poems have been turned into song and vice-versa. They are both flip sides of the one coin. Some of the best poets are songwriters and indeed, some of the best songwriters are known as poets in their own right: Bob Dylan many people would say, and most definitely this man, Leonard Cohen, who doesn't just produce albums, but publish poetry collections too. 

Hallelujah is his best-known song and one of the most poetic songs ever written, with an eloquence and a vision that is more poetry than song and that maybe explains it being labelled as one of the greatest songs of all times. Every line carries so much weight of emotion and truth - 'but all I ever learned from love/Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you' which the score brings to an sublime height - it's hard not to read into it as we would with a poem.

It has been performed by a variety of artists as well as Cohen himself, but the best, the most melancholy and haunting has to be Jeff Buckley's version, who renders it as powerful and affecting as any of literature's greatest verses. 

Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

(You say I took the Name in vain
I don't even know the Name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah...)

*additional lyrics as per Cohen Live (and Jeff Buckley et al)

Baby I've been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
love is not a victory march
it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
but now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there's a God above
but all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
It's not a cry you hear tonight
It's not some pilgrim who's seen the light
it's a cold and it's a lonely(/broken )Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Day 30: Bluebird

Here is an example of a poem that gets straight to the heart of things. Simple language, simple sentiment, powerful effect.

Bluebirds are usually a symbol of happiness (Somewhere over the Rainbow style), but here the bluebird represents the hidden emotional self, the feeling self, the vulnerable but beautiful best-kept-secret self that is the means to happiness sure enough, but more often than not, gets kept in a cage by the tough brave-faced self we present to the world. The perils of self-preservation, in other words.

Bukowski knew the pitfalls of it. And he puts it so simply and beautifully here, so we will too.

Bluebird - Charles Bukowski

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I'm not going
to let anybody see
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
in there.

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody's asleep.
I say, I know that you're there,
so don't be
then I put him back,
but he's singing a little
in there, I haven't quite let him
and we sleep together like
with our
secret pact
and it's nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don't
weep, do

Friday, 20 July 2012

Day 29: You're

How do you describe someone you love? Words fail us most of the time. Except for the general and the one-size-fits-all easy flung around adjectives of 'amazing' and 'wonderful' and when it comes to babies - ooh-and-ahhing of the like. 

But if you're a poet, you'll have no end of words. And descriptions. Comparisons. Like Sylvia Plath here in a poem she wrote describing her unborn baby (*or husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes, as a few interpretations go).

There are so many original endearing (and endeared) descriptions here it's easy to get a sense of the loving admiration behind it.

You're - Sylvia Plath

Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo's mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools' Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Day 28: A Pint There

One of the consequences of being a poet, or even reading poetry, is you start to see comparisons everywhere between the unlikeliest things. The metaphor and simile technique is one which, once switched on, never stops working. And at times, the results can be quite funny, as Carol Ann Duffy notes here.

Poetry - Carol Ann Duffy

I couldn't see Guinness
and not envisage a nun;
a gun, a finger and thumb;
midges, blether, scribble, scrum.

A crescent moon, boomerang, smirk,
bone; or full, a shield, a stalker,
a stone. I couldn't see woods
for the names of trees - sycamore,
yew, birch, beech -

                                  or bees
without imagining music scored
on the air - nor pass a nun
without calling to mind a pint of one, stout,
untouched, on a bar at the Angelus.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Day 27: Indifference

Sometimes our world seems a very indifferent one. Days go by in a blur of sameness. Things don't seem to matter. 

But they do. Poetry reminds us of this. And this poem by Wallace Stevens reminds us that beneath the veneer of indifference in some people, passion still beats. And it's not something that should be hidden.

Gray Room - Wallace Stevens  
Although you sit in a room that is gray,
Except for the silver
Of the straw-paper,
And pick
At your pale white gown;
Or lift one of the green beads
Of your necklace,
To let it fall;
Or gaze at your green fan
Printed with the red branches of a red willow;
Or, with one finger,
Move the leaf in the bowl--
The leaf that has fallen from the branches of the forsythia
Beside you...
What is all this?
I know how furiously your heart is beating.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Day 26: Falling in Love with the World

Ever have days where you're totally in love with the world? 

Poets do. Not all the time, but sometimes. Sometimes, everything is mysterious and beautiful and awe-inspiring. The best kind of love. Which prompts us to write about it of course.

Like Billy Collins here, whose usual deadpan voice is moved into a subtle wonderment at the ordinary-cum-extraordinary everyday things. The line 'But my heart is always propped up in a field on its tripod, ready for the next arrow' is the best description I've read yet of what poets do: being aware and awaiting the next outburst of love, hearts at the ready to capture it. Like he has done here.

Ever have days where you fall in love with the world? Read some poetry. It will speed up the process.

Aimless Love - Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Day 25: 40 Love

Here's a poem that uses structure and subject matter in an ingenious way to get its theme across. Read it and see. From the witty and wisecracking Roger McGough.

40 - Love - Roger McGough

middle                           aged
couple                           playing
ten                                 nis
when                             the
game                             ends
and                                they
go                                  home
the                                 net
will                                still
be                                  be
tween                            them             

(from Selected Poems (2006, Penguin, London)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Day 24: The Poet & the Sea

'On our earth, before writing was invented, before the printing press was invented, poetry flourished. That is why we know that poetry is like bread; it should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity.'  - Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda is a favourite poet amongst many. Most notably for his love poems. But he was also a poet keenly aware of the power of poetry, as we see here in his poem 'The Poet's Obligation' where he talks of the poet bringing news of the sea (a metaphor for all that is majestic and wondrous in this world) to the people who for whatever reason, cannot see it. He was also a poet adamant that poetry is for everyone - we all have our prisons that only poetry can open.

The Poet's Obligation

To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or harsh prison cell:
to him I come, and, without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a great fragment of thunder sets in motion
the rumble of the planet and the foam,
the raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
the star vibrates swiftly in its corona,
and the sea is beating, dying and continuing.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea's lamenting in my awareness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the autumn's castigation,
I may be there with an errant wave,
I may move, passing through windows,
and hearing me, eyes will glance upward
saying, "How can I reach the sea?"
And I shall broadcast, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and of quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing,
the grey cry of sea-birds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea
will make their answer to the shuttered heart.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Day 23: Lobsters

So much joy comes from the small things in life. Like good food.

Lobsters specifically - in this poem from Charles Bukowski, whose contemplation of a lobster dinner leads to an epiphany about appreciating all the good things in life, 'there are some wonderful things in life.' Yes sir!

An ideal poem for the weekend when we get to experience some of our own special luxuries. Don't forget to revel in them.

my special craving - Charles Bukowski

what is it about lobsters and crabs?
those white-pink shells
that always make me hungry just
looking at them there
in the butcher's display case
tossed casually one upon the other
so kind and pink and waiting.
even alive they make me hungry.
I used to unload them from trucks
for the kitchen at Biltmore Hotel,
and they looked dangerous
moving about in their slatted boxes
but still they made me
hungry, there is something about
crabs and lobsters
they deserve to be eaten,
they go so well with
french fries, french bread, radishes
and beer. they tell me that they boil them
alive, and this does
cause some minor sense of disturbance within
me, but outside of that
lobsters and crabs are one of the few things
that make the earth a happy place.
I suppose that this is my special
craving. when driving along the beachfront
and I see a sign,
LOBSTER HOUSE, my car turns in of its own
accord. (if a man can't allow himself a
few luxuries
he just isn't going to last very
long.) crabs, beer, lobsters,
an occasional lady,
2 or 3 days a week at the track,
my small daughter bringing me a bottle of beer
from the refrigerator while
grinning proudly,
there are some wonderful things in life,
(let each man find his own)
I say lighting my cigar,
thinking about Sunday night lobster dinner,
love love love
running wild,
it feels good sometimes just to be living
with something so nice
in store.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Day 22: Bees

Today, a lovely sunny summer's day. And here's a poem  to remind you about the vital importance of bees. 

But what's even more striking about this poem by Carol Ann Duffy is its flowing rhythm. It's almost like a love poem written in praise of bees and their work. 

Read it and delight in its sweet nectar-filled language.

Virgil's Bees - Carol Ann Duffy

Bless air's gift of sweetness, honey
from the bees, inspired by clover,
marigold, eucalyptus, thyme,
the hundred perfumes of the wind.
Bless the beekeeper

                             who chooses for her hives
a site near water, violet beds, no yew,
no echo. Let the light lilt, leak, green
or gold, pigment for queens,
and joy be inexplicable but there
in harmony of willowherb and stream,
of summer heat and breeze,
                                            each bee's body
at its brilliant flower, lover-stunned,
strumming on fragrance, smitten.

                                                  For this,
let gardens grow, where beelines end,
sighing in roses, saffron blooms, buddleia;
where bees pray on their knees, sing, praise
in pear trees, plum trees; bees
are the batteries of orchards, gardens, guard them.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Day 21: Wild Geese

Here is a poem beloved by many the world over.

Because it is a poem that provides us with instructions on how to live. How to really live. In simple and sensuous language. 

It is both the consolation and confirmation that we need at times. We belong. We are as much a part of this world as it is of us. And we owe it to ourselves to enjoy it, to be fully engaged in our own lives. It's a poem that parts the veil of vagueness around us, around our muddied views of life, into a pure heart-thumping certainty, an essential translucent truth. 

'Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination' and poetry is the ideal canvas for wonderful and varied imaginings of the world. Read it to witness the world in glorious 3D and colour, alive, buzzing, beautiful, and benevolent. And ultimately, yours.

Wild Geese - Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Day 20: Greenly

Poetry reminds us that life is indeed wonderful. EE Cumming's ecstatic avant-garde verses are a great example of this, no more so than this hymn of gratitude, 'i thank You God.'

EE Cummings was a poet who could successfully manipulate language to express feeling. Note the unusual syntax in this poem. And the effects.

This is a poem that effectively captures what a beautiful day feels like. And how we should see the world: with the ears of our ears awakened and the eyes of our eyes opened.

i thank You God - ee cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Day 19: Starfish

There is poetry all around us. Even in the most blandest of days. You just have to be aware and accept the flotsam and jetsam gifts the sea of imagination washes in.

You may even find a starfish. And if you're lucky, understand what it means.

Starfish - Eleanor Lerman
This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?
Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.
And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.
Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.
So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

 *Thanks to www.readalittlepoetry.wordpress.com for this amazing poem.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Day 18: Rise

Today, an example of a powerful poem - a defiant hymn of strength from African-American poet, Maya Angelou. 

This is a truly powerful poem which reclaims the dignity and self-respect of African-American history, gender inequality and personal degradation. It is a declaration of strength, with every line rolling out like a drumbeat, a chant, an affirmation clearly written by someone who has risen above all hardships and degradation and in doing so, has come to know her true worth.

A little lesson we all could do with remembering. If you're feeling frail or weak or downtrodden - read this poem. Its haughty rhythm and fierce rebukes are a concoction for self-respect, strength and invincible resilience, an anti-dote against the venom of life's difficulties. Let it seep into your pores and feel every fibre of self swell with strength.

Still I Rise - Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Day 17: Laughing Heart

No better poet than Charles Bukowski to tell it as it really is. 'Your life is your life. don't let it be clubbed into  dank submission.'

Charles Bukowski is a famous American poet, who garnered the nickname of Poet Laureate of the low-lifes for his gritty realist style poems and subject matter. His poetry showcases his honest straight-up manner and his irrepressible couldn't-give-a-damn attitude. Maybe that's why he's loved by so many. The equivalent in poet terms of a hell-raising rock star.

Here, in his famous poem 'The Laughing Heart', he shares some wise advice about acknowledging the potential of our lives.  Duly noted.

The Laughing Heart - Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Day 16: Hope

Hope. A fragile feathered concept, but captured so strongly here by Emily Dickinson in this famous and much-loved poem. 

Dickinson once remarked that poetry was 'the whole universe in its divine aspect.'  Surely, there's a touch of the divine here. I always picture huge feathered angel wings when reading the first stanza, even though in the second stanza, it appears to be a bird personifying hope. (No matter. We take from poetry what we will, remember.)

So simple the language, so hard-hitting the message. Hope never stops at all. It sings the tune without the words. Even in the worst storms. In the chillest lands. It is always there. And it doesn't ask anything of us in return. 

It is there within us all, 'the thing with feathers' that will always buoy us. Thank you Emily, for reminding us.

Hope - Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all.

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Day 15: Date

I love this poem by American poet Frank O Hara. I love the spontaneous overflow of emotion in it, contained within the stream-of-consciousness style. Look - no punctuation. Just run-on natural thought. And completely genuine sentiment that ends on a short, breathless punchline. An imaginative rollercoaster ride through the ecstatic mind of one in love.  

And maybe one of the coolest poems ever.

Having a Coke with You - Frank O Hara

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them

I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Day 14: Separation

Sometimes, short is all it takes. Short and sharp. With one single simile designed for maximum impact. Like this poem by WS Mervin.

How could anything longer say it better?

Separation - WS Mervin

Your absence has gone through me  
like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Day 13: Independence Day

Since it's Independence Day today in America, I'd like to post a poem by Walt Whitman, the veritable Uncle Sam of American literature.

Whitman's 'Song of Myself' was revolutionary in its day and has since become epic. It celebrated the sense of one's self in the world and unity with others, creating in turn the cornerstone theme of American literature - a focus on the self and the individual's power to obtain life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

There is a great sense of democracy in this poem as Whitman sings the whole of America, including all previously excluded from the literary Canon. It has an energy and vitality to it that is unique to this day.

This poem is very long, so I have only included an excerpt. You can read the whole version here.

Song of Myself - Walt Whitman

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their
parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they
are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
This the common air that bathes the globe.

Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son,
Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding,
No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them,
No more modest than immodest.
Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!
Whoever degrades another degrades me,
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.

Through me the afflatus surging and surging, through me the current
and index.

I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy,
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their
counterpart of on the same terms. ...............................


The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Day 12: Honey, Honey

Sometimes what a poem is solely is a reminder of an essential truth. And in this poem 'Joy', it's the simple fact that life is sweet. La vie est belle.

Using bees and honey as subject matter and metaphor, it works perfectly. Indeed, who could need more proof than honey to know what life is? And who could know that a few simple words arranged on a page could teem with such joy and truth?

I love this poem. I keep a copy of it pinned up within range for a shot of sweetness when it's needed most. It's a joy to read. And a firm example of how poetry is not all serious and doom and gloomy.


Joy - Julie Cadwallader Staub

Who could need more proof than honey—

How the bees with such skill and purpose
enter flower after flower
sing their way home
to create and cap the new honey
just to get through the flowerless winter.

And how the bear with intention and cunning
raids the hive
shovels pawful after pawful into his happy mouth
bats away indignant bees
stumbles off in a stupor of satiation and stickiness.

And how we humans can't resist its viscosity
its taste of clover and wind
its metaphorical power:
don't we yearn for a land of milk and honey?
don't we call our loved ones "honey?"

all because bees just do, over and over again, what they were made to


Oh, who could need more proof than honey
to know that our world
was meant to be


was meant to be

Monday, 2 July 2012

Day 11: Orange

Poetry is renowned for celebrating the small things. For making the ordinary extraordinary. For offering a zoomed-up view of these little accessories that make up our lives, and placing them into the high sphere of exultation, away from our lowly taken-for-granted quarters.

Apart from poetry, the only other state which offers such acute appreciation is love. When we are in love, the world sings to us. We notice everything. Feel the air on our faces, the swing in our step, and every little prop - such as an orange  - becomes an object of such contemplation, a proof proper of our blissed up state, a catalyst that leads to the existential exclamation of 'I'm glad I exist.'

Yes, love does make poets of us all. And poetry?  Poetry, makes lovers out of us all. Opens our eyes to the beauty of this world.

Wendy Cope is a tremendously funny poet, whose poems are simple lyrics underpinned with a blasé sarcasm and wit usually attacking men and relationships. But when she is in love, she's in love. Here's a wonderful lyric from her in such a state. 

A perfect citrusy bright poem for a Monday, enjoy!

The Orange - Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.
And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It's new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Day 10: Ithaka

A classic poem for a Sunday. Homer's Odyssey is one of the most influential narratives ever. And this poem by Greek poet, C.P Cavafy takes the island of Ithaka and extends it into a parable about life.
Ithaka is a metaphor for the promised land, the destination that we all keep in our hearts and navigate towards, our dreams, our ideals, our pursuit of happiness and journey of life. The poem chronicles the journey there - the perils and possibilities. Its metaphorical structure is a magnificent meditation on life. A great example of poetry as a compass guide, a steering North star, a telling of an essential wisdom.
And the joy of this kind of poem is you can take from it what you will.  Let it be your guide, your philosophy, your strength, your rock when all around you is a heaving sea of uncertainty.

Ithaka - Constantine P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.