Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Mad Cow Talks Back, a poem by Jo Shapcott.

Post 622 - Jo Shapcott FRSL, (born March 1953, London) is an English poet, editor and lecturer who’s won the National Poetry Competition, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the Costa Book of the Year Award, a Forward Poetry Prize and the Cholmondeley Award. She’s Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway College, University of London, and is the current President of The Poetry Society.
But if it hadn't been for "the intervention of really important teachers" in her life, she might well have ended up not in poetry, but in synchronized swimming. She started writing stories and poems as a child, at a time when "playing with the language" is "almost like Plasticene or mud or clay." When her focus shifted, first to synchronized swimming and then to boys and dancing, good teachers kept bringing her back to poetry and "chance and luck" kept her on track. She read English at Trinity College, Dublin and at Oxford, came to America to do a PhD on Elizabeth Bishop and started attending writing workshops. One of these was taught by Seamus Heaney. Shapcott was hooked and "poetry won, the PhD lost." She’s highly engaging as a poet, luminously intelligent as a critic, anthologist and broadcaster, and a widely admired and influential figure in British poetry today.

The following poem first appeared as the concluding sequence of Phrase Book (1992), a brilliantly imaginative response to the-then crisis over Mad Cow Disease.

The Mad Cow Talks Back by Jo Shapcott.

I'm not mad. It just seems that way
because I stagger and get a bit irritable.
There are wonderful holes in my brain
through which ideas from outside can travel
at top speed and through which voices,
sometimes whole people, speak to me
about the universe. Most brains are too
compressed. You need this spongy
generosity to let the others in.

I love the staggers. Suddenly the surface
of the world is ice and I'm a magnificent
skater turning and spinning across whole hard
Pacifics and Atlantics. It's risky when
you're good, so of course the legs go before,
behind, and to the side of the body from time
to time, and then there's the general embarrassing
collapse, but when that happens it's glorious
because it's always when you're travelling
most furiously in your mind. My brain's like
the hive: constant little murmurs from its cells
saying this is the way, this is the way to go.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Some Kiss We Want, a poem by Rumi.

Post 621 - Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, but known to the English-speaking world simply as Rumi, was a 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic (September 1207 – December 1273). Rūmī is a descriptive name meaning "the Roman" since he lived most of his life in an area called Rūm (then under the control of Seljuq dynasty) because it was once ruled by the Eastern Roman Empire. He was actually born in Afghanistan. Following his death, his followers founded the Mawlawīyah Sufi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, famous for its Sufi dance known as the samāʿ ceremony.
Although a number of major Islamic poets easily rival the likes of Dante, Shakespeare and Milton in importance and output, they still enjoy only a marginal literary fame in the West because the works of Arabic and Persian thinkers, writers and poets are considered as mere sideshows beside the grand narrative of Western literature. Rumi's poems have been widely translated into many of the world's languages and transposed into various formats. In 2007, he was described as the "most popular poet in America."

Some Kiss We Want by Rumi.

There is some kiss we want with
our whole lives, the touch of

spirit on the body. Seawater
begs the pearl to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild darling! At

night, I open the window and ask
the moon to come and press its

face against mine. Breathe into
me. Close the language-door and

open the love window. The moon
won't use the door, only the window.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Advice to a Poet, a poem by Patrick Galvin.

Post 620 - Patrick Galvin, one of the leading Irish poets and dramatists of his generation, was born in Cork City in 1927 and died recently in May 2011. He was the son of Patrick Galvin, a docker and a leading local boxer, a colorful character who had fought Jack Dempsey. Paddy was one of 12 children who grew up in a tough, militant environment, and he left school at 12 to become a delivery boy. After he ran away to join the Foreign Legion, he joined the RAF in 1942 and fought in Libya and Palestine. He worked for the Irish Times as a war correspondent in Korea, and then became part of the group around Brendan Behan who were to do so much to revitalize Irish, then English drama. He disliked the new suburban middle class in Ireland and in his poetry and his plays, he held an uncomfortable mirror up to his fellow countrymen. He loved the public role of the disorderly poet, but played it creatively, without falling into the self-destructive booziness of Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas. He renewed himself by periodic disappearances into the Munster countryside, the most productive of which was a sojourn with the tinkers wandering around Waterford and Kerry. In his last years, he spent much of his time in Belfast as resident dramatist at the Lyric Theatre.

Advice to a Poet by Patrick Galvin.

Be a chauffeur, my father said
And never mind the poetry.
That’s all very well for the rich
They can afford it.
What you need is money in your belt
Free uniform and plenty of travel.
Besides that, there’s nothing in verse.
And all poets are raging homosexuals.

I’d still like to be a poet

Another thing: don’t ever marry
And if you do, then marry for cash.
Love, after all, is easily come by
And any old whore will dance for a pound.
Take my advice and be a chauffeur
The uniform will suit you a treat
Marriage and poems will blind you surely
And poets and lovers are doomed to hell.

I’d still like to be a poet

But where’s the sense in writing poetry?
Did any poet ever make good?
I never met one who wasn’t a pauper
A prey to bailiffs, lawyers and priests.
Take my advice and be a chauffeur
With your appearance you’re bound to do well
You might even meet some rich old widow
Who’ll leave you a fortune the moment she dies.

I’d still like to be a poet

Well, blast you then, your days are darkened
Poverty, misery, carnage and sin.
The poems you’ll write won’t be worth a penny.
And the women you marry will bleed you to death.
Take my advice and buy a revolver
Shoot yourself now in the back of the head.
The Government then might raise a subscription
To keep your poor father from breeding again.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

“El Siete Mares,” a poem by Bradley Paul.

Post 619 - Bradley Paul was born in Baltimore in 1972. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Pleiades, Smartish Pace, Boston Review, and other journals. His first book of poetry, The Obvious, was selected by Brenda Hillman for the 2004 New Issues Poetry Prize, and his second book of poetry, The Animals All Are Gathering, won the 2009 AWP Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, the painter and writer Karri Paul, and their dog, Violet.

“El Siete Mares” by Bradley Paul.

Not Los Siete Mares.
Though there are seven seas
there is only one restaurant.
Octopus with Veracruz sauce.
Like pulp? Like from a tree?
Beaten and bleached into paper?
But what comes is not pulpo.
Nor is it takonigiri,
white ellipse with a purple edge
and wrapped with a green-black band,
pretty shapes and colors.
Nor meunière nor paillard nor confit.
They grabbed an octopus from the tank
and chopped it up and got it hot
and here in a mound on a plate
is a hot chopped up octopus.
There is saltwater still in its flesh.
My wife meanwhile
orders fried catfish,
which is a catfish thrown whole into oil
and brought out to stare at her.
Which is not how they do it
in Tennessee.
Can’t pretend now, friend.
You know you’re eating me.

Bradley Paul explains, "One day, I ate at El Siete Mares, a family-owned place down on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, and the scene described above took place. My wife grew up in Tennessee, and fried catfish there means a filet of catfish, breaded and fried in oil. The final product doesn’t even look like a fish. But the fried catfish at El Siete Mares is quite literally a catfish thrown whole into oil. When it’s brought out, it has a horrifying look on its face. The abstraction is gone; there’s no illusion that you’re eating something other than an animal that was alive a few minutes earlier and was then fried to death. It’s not a totally new experience — I grew up in Baltimore, so I’ve watched my fair share of live blue crabs go into a pot and come out a few minutes later with their eyes still in place, only red and covered in Old Bay (hell for them; heaven for me). In this instance, however, I think I was expecting one thing, while another, more scary thing arrived on my plate. Out of that jarring experience came this poem. Maybe that’s where all poems come from."