Tag Archives: Poetry

Come into Animal Presence

BY DENISE LEVERTOV

Come into animal presence.

No man is so guileless as

the serpent. The lonely white

rabbit on the roof is a star

twitching its ears at the rain.

The llama intricately

folding its hind legs to be seated

not disdains but mildly

disregards human approval.

What joy when the insouciant

armadillo glances at us and doesn’t

quicken his trotting

across the track into the palm brush.
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What is this joy? That no animal

falters, but knows what it must do?

That the snake has no blemish,

that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings

in white star-silence? The llama

rests in dignity, the armadillo

has some intention to pursue in the palm-forest.

Those who were sacred have remained so,

holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence

of bronze, only the sight that saw it

faltered and turned from it.

An old joy returns in holy presence.
Come into Animal Presence

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‘A Funeral Cry at Noon’: Louis MacNeice’s Carrickfergus Revisited

Stuart Franklin

A Funeral Cry at NoonThe little boats beneath the Norman castle,

The pier shining with lumps of crystal salt;

The Scotch Quarter with a line of residential houses

But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and the halt.

 —From “Carrickfergus” (1937), by Louis MacNeice

The curse of Oliver Cromwell, four hundred years of tit-for-tat sectarian violence, the blessings of the peacemakers, and an Irish priest’s vision of a “doorway to a new beginning,” were all poised, alongside the shibboleths and twisted lives, in the troubled funereal air of the Protestant cathedral of St. Anne’s, Belfast, on April 24. Lyra McKee, a well-liked twenty-nine-year-old journalist, had been shot and killed by a New IRA gunman while reporting on unrest in the city of Derry the previous week.
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Moving eulogies, uttered with tenderness and hope, were broadcast to the congregation: “I plead with you to take the road of nonviolence to achieve your political ends.” That was from Father Martin Magill, a Catholic parish priest of West Belfast and a friend of the slain journalist, during the ecumenical service. “Why in God’s name does it take the death of a twenty-nine-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her… to get to this point,” he asked—and received a standing ovation.
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A woman beside me buried her face in a crumpled white handkerchief, the order of service squeezed under her left arm. The crowd gathered outside in Writer’s Square, under tall, shimmering birch trees, also applauded. Inside, occupying the front rows, senior representatives from Northern Ireland’s dysfunctional government at Stormont, accompanied by Irish and British political leaders, rose hesitantly to their feet.
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Boy with Tree Frog

by CHRIS DOMBROWSKI

Boy with Tree FrogHe caught the singer in his hands before it sang,

slick, jumping-like-a-pulse thing in the small cave

his palms made, pliable, bird-boned, blinking other
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before it could join the bark-hugging horde that issued,

call by call, day’s dirge, that issued evening, dusk:

the focalized riot of geese calls, then dark
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and the susurrus of cupped wingtips cutting water,

a moon above detangling itself from pines, its light

like spilled scales across the lake, like the liquid
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incarnation of a god whose first commandment is

release: and so he did, the little live thing, back into

a world that begs to be breathed, not remembered.

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The fight to publish Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’

In 1950s California, publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti took on the censors – and won.

ALEXANDER ADAMS

The fight to publish Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’In The People v Ferlinghetti: The Fight to Publish Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’, Ronald Collins and David Skover take us to the 1950s, and a California on the verge of social change. At the heart of their uplifting story is the business acumen and literary idealism of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
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Ferlinghetti, now aged 100 and still proprietor of City Lights Bookstore and publishing house, is a seminal figure in San Francisco. He is considered its poet laureate and a great contributor to its cultural life, as a publisher, artist, activist and political renegade. His idiosyncratic blend of environmentalism, anarchism, socialism and artistic freedom has provided generations with inspiration; his poetry, prose and polemic has impressed writers and given them the courage to follow their convictions; his publications have introduced millions of people worldwide to advanced writers.
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Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

By Wendell Berry

One of the articles in Reclaiming Politics (IC#30)

Originally published in Fall/Winter 1991 on page 62

Copyright (c)1991, 1996 by Context Institute

ManifestoLove the quick profit, the annual raise,

vacation with pay. Want more

of everything ready-made. Be afraid

to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery

any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something

they will call you. When they want you

to die for profit they will let you know.
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So, friends, every day do something

that won’t compute. Love the Lord.

Love the world. Work for nothing.

Take all that you have and be poor.

Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace

the flag. Hope to live in that free

republic for which it stands.

Give your approval to all you cannot

understand. Praise ignorance, for what man

has not encountered he has not destroyed.
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Ask the questions that have no answers.

Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.

Say that your main crop is the forest

that you did not plant,

that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested

when they have rotted into the mold.

Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
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Put your faith in the two inches of humus

that will build under the trees

every thousand years.

Listen to carrion – put your ear

close, and hear the faint chattering

of the songs that are to come.

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.

Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful

though you have considered all the facts.

So long as women do not go cheap

for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy

a woman satisfied to bear a child?

Will this disturb the sleep

of a woman near to giving birth?
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Go with your love to the fields.

Lie down in the shade. Rest your head

in her lap. Swear allegiance

to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos

can predict the motions of your mind,

lose it. Leave it as a sign

to mark the false trail, the way

you didn’t go. Be like the fox

who makes more tracks than necessary,

some in the wrong direction.

Practice resurrection.

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Who needs poetry? We all do – and we need it now

Kenan Malik

Who needs poetryThe American Howard Nemerov’s wonderful short poem Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry is a gem.
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It’s a poem about a winter scene. A poem about rain imperceptibly turning into snow.
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It’s also, as the title suggests, a poem about the act of poetic creation. Nemerov creates a single image into which is crushed an intensity of meaning.
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A simple scene that many of us will have witnessed transformed into a flight of the imagination that few of us will have considered.
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Last week, Simon Armitage was announced as the new poet laureate, replacing Carol Ann Duffy.
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Whether we need a poet laureate, I’m not sure. That we need poetry, at this time, more than ever – of that I’m certain.
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field flowers

by louise gluck

field flowerswhat are you saying?  that you want

eternal life?  are your thoughts really

as compelling as all that?  certainly

you don’t look at us, don’t listen to us,

on your skin

stain of sun, dust

of yellow buttercups: i’m talking

to you, you staring through

bars of high grass shaking

your little rattle – o

the soul!  the soul! is it enough

only to look inward?  contempt

for humanity is one thing, but why

disdain the expansive

field, your gaze rising over the clear heads

of the wild buttercups into what?  your poor

idea of heaven: absence

of change.  better than earth?  how

would you know, who are neither

here nor there, standing in our midst?

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Eating Poetry

by Mark Strand
Mark_StrandInk runs from the corners of my mouth.

There is no happiness like mine.

I have been eating poetry.
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The librarian does not believe what she sees.

Her eyes are sad

and she walks with her hands in her dress.
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The poems are gone.

The light is dim.

The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.
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Their eyeballs roll,

their blond legs burn like brush.

The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.
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She does not understand.

When I get on my knees and lick her hand,

she screams.
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I am a new man.

I snarl at her and bark.

I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

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The Poet with Many Names—and Many Deaths

By Ha Jin

The Poet with Many NamesHe has many names. In the West, people call him Li Po, as most of his poems translated into English bear that name. Sometimes it is also spelled Li Bo. But in China, he is known as Li Bai. During his lifetime (A.D. 701–62), he had other names—Li Taibai, Green Lotus Scholar, Li Twelve. The last one is a kind of familial term of endearment, as Bai was twelfth among his brothers and male cousins on the paternal side. It was often used by his friends and fellow poets when they addressed him—some even dedicated poems to him titled “For Li Twelve.” By the time of his death, he had become known as a great poet and was called zhexian, or Banished Immortal, by his admirers. Such a moniker implies that he had been sent down to earth as punishment for his misbehavior in heaven. Over the twelve centuries since his death, he has been revered as shixian, Poet Immortal. Because he was an excessive drinker, he was also called jiuxian, Wine Immortal. Today it is still common for devotees of his poetry to trek hundreds of miles, following some of the routes of his wanderings as a kind of pilgrimage. Numerous liquors and wines bear his name. Indeed, his name is a ubiquitous brand, flaunted by hotels, restaurants, temples, and even factories.
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In English, in addition to “Li Po,” he once had another pair of names, Li T’ai Po and Rihaku. The first is a phonetic transcription of his original Chinese name, Li Taibai, the name his parents gave him. And Ezra Pound, in his Cathay—his collected translations of classical Chinese poetry—called Li Bai “Rihaku” because Pound had translated those poems from the notes left by the American scholar Ernest Fenollosa, who had originally studied Li Bai’s poetry in Japanese when he was in Japan. Pound’s loose translation of Li Bai’s “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” has been included in many textbooks and anthologies as a masterpiece of modern poetry. It is also one of Pound’s signature poems—arguably his best known. For the sake of consistency and clarity, let us stay with the name Li Bai.

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Mirror

by Sylvia Plath

MirrorI 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.

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