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Category: a poem to ponder

on “Aristotle” – Billy Collins

homer-reciting-his-poems-1790.jpg!Large.jpg

      Homer Reciting his Poems (1790) 

             Thomas Lawrence

                    _________

thanks Collin

hot on the heels of my paean to
Billy Collins, his my favourite 
poem of the year, a friend sent 
me Aristotle“, saying, hey, you 
might like this, like this, Aristotle 
has been my rebuke to Plato for 
a while now, latent even in my 
least metaphysical speculations

in his poem, Collins goes back 
to the earliest definitions of the
structure of literary works as 
anticipated, or defined even, by
arbiters who were trying to 
understand their place and 
function, the poems’, in the 
culture, Aristotle’s Poetics is 
the very source, 350 BCE, the 
diagram, for our understanding, 
even in the present age, of what 
we mean, in the West, by art, 
we’ve been answering him ever 
since, it’s genetic  

Billy Collins‘ description is not 
chronological, it’s poetic, 
appropriate to its topic

its structure nevertheless 
follows specifically Aristotelian 
logic, shedding glory, 
coincidentally, on both prophets

for a special treat, listen to the 
poet’s audio recording at the
poem’s site – which delivers 
even more compelling 
information – by clicking the 
red arrow pointing right 
beside Aristotle“, the title

R ! chard

           ___________ 

Aristotle

This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart. 

This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes—
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward’s child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle—
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—
too much to name, too much to think about.

And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.


                                         Billy Collins

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on Billy Collins – “Safe Travels”

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          me, May 24, 2016

               __________

I save all the New Yorker poems  
to read after I’ve been through
everything else in the issue, 
like dessert after a meal, icing 
on the cake, sometimes too 
heavy, sometimes too light,
sometimes too rich, sometimes
just right

today, I found my favourite poem,
period, this year, stepped right 
into its shoes, like old slippers, 
the only difference being my 
walls are painted a variety of
contrasting colours, studded 
with memorabilia, treasured 
artefacts, see above

also, no one’s translating my 
poems, though even our metre
is the same, try it, sing us out 
loud, you’ll dance 

R ! chard

_____________

Safe Travels

Every time Gulliver travels
into another chapter of “Gulliver’s Travels” 
I marvel at how well travelled he is
despite his incurable gullibility.

I don’t enjoy travelling anymore
because, for instance,
I still don’t know the difference
between a “bloke” and a “chap.”

And I’m embarrassed
whenever I have to hold out a palm
of loose coins to a cashier
as if I were feeding a pigeon in a park.

Like Proust, I see only trouble
in store if I leave my room,
which is not lined with cork,
only sheets of wallpaper

featuring orange flowers
and little green vines.
Of course, anytime I want
I can travel in my imagination

but only as far as Toronto,
where some graduate students
with goatees and snoods
are translating my poems into Canadian.

Billy Collins

__________

psst: I said just recently to a poet 
          acquaintance that what poetry 
          needed in the 21st Century is 
          humour, the only art form not 
          catching up with the rest,
          otherwise it’ll die of, indeed
          succumb to, its own 
          lugubriousness

          thank you again, Billy Collins

a contemporary haiku, on wine

haiku-poet-and-his-poem

     “Haiku Poet and His Poem (?) 

            Yosa Buson

               ________

a glass of wine, I sing,
two, in German,
go figure

R ! chard

on courage

aristotle-jpglarge

     “Socrates” 

            Luca Giordano

                    __________

  

following in the footsteps of Socrates,
who, I agree with the Oracle, has been 
ever the wisest man, one whose example 
I’ve followed since first hearing of him, let 
me query, what is courage 

a tentative definition would have one 
stating that courage is a determination
to overcome danger

but to use my own example, being called
courageous for surviving an aneurysm,
would this instance have qualified

where was my determination, apart from
waiting, submissively, for the axe to fall,
or to not fall, I felt no fear, merely time 
passing, not an ounce of determination

but what of those others who endure 
the pain often associated with dying,
agony, is that not a kind of enforced 
courage

so did I qualify

an aneurysm swells the blood vessels 
to the brain as the brain heals, but 
meanwhile the heart pumps a rhythmic
tattoo on those passages rendered 
more tenderso that a throbbing 
anguish is ever drumming its drill 
upon the cerebrum of the sufferer 

perhaps I did qualify

but Socrates brings up an interesting 
objection, can animals be brave, it 
would seem not, therefore courage 
requires self-consciousness, whether 
or not it is defiant or compliant 

and what about defiance before a lost 
cause, is that courage or doomed 
bombast

Aristotle adds to the mix the notion 
of a noble cause, not merely an 
instinctive, however, in the event, 
morally prompted, position

so what is courage, you tell me

I say that you know it when you see
it, the courageous act defines the 
word, not the other way around,

much like flowers are the result of 
their own efflorescence, not the 
manifestation of a preset Ideal

you are the measure of your own 
words

for better or for worse

Richard

psst: it is interesting to note that 
          according to the Bible, in the 
          beginning was the Word
          John 1:1, a convenient  tool  
          to impose order

“Tango Lesson” – Lisa Richter

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    El Jaleo (1882) 

          John Singer Sargent

                   _________

Tango Lesson

After a history lesson, crash course in Buenos Aires
a hundred years before our time, we begin

at last. You gently place my arm over yours, my hand
on your shoulder, our bodies distant enough 

to have an invisible body between us – this is open embrace,
you explain, abrazo abierto. We dare not dance in abrazo cerrado,

where our chests would nearly touch – I’m not single-
minded enough about learning these moves to unlock

what I fear might spill out, should I let myself fall
into your hazelnut voice – so rich and deep I might never

emerge from it. You teach me the new skill of following,
though your lead feels less like control and more

like stewardship, carving swans of negative space
that stretch their graceful necks along the diagonals 

of our bodies. We’re in a conversation of pauses
and advances. I step too soon, but you are eminently patient,

your large hand over mine, poised mid-air, a paper crane
mid-flight. As you shift your weight from side to side,

I wait, trying to sense which way we are going,
and for a moment, I have the chance to look at you not

looking at me, your calm grey eyes fixed above my head.
On the small of my back, your warm hand –

a breathing orchid, cupped flame. 

                                                    Lisa Richter 

             ____________

                                         for, especially, Tonyia

the clash of cultures is exposed to the light
here as a tango dancer teaches an English-
speaking novice how to dance 

there is no evident metre in the verse, the
poem is in prose, contained within terse, 
two-lined stanzas which act as constraints
on the forward flow, however ever fluidly 
continuous, like tenutos in music, where  
the note is held, dramatically, before a 
return to the original rhythm

but slowly this prose develops its own
irresistible rhythms, an abandonment 
to the metre of the whole, a languid 
surrender to the pulse and propulsion 
of the dance, and becomes, despite 
its, ahem, flat feet, a poem

the very vocalic construction of  
Romantic languages, abrazo abierto
for instance, or abrazo cerrado, 
propelled by vowels for their forward 
motion, in imitation of the heartbeat,  
preclude in natives unfamiliarity with 
cadence, the tango is already in their 
blood, the teacher here ineluctably 
lives, breathes, hir ethnic identity

Anglo-Saxons and Teutons excel, 
rather, at political science and 
philosophy, more sober, cerebral 
preoccupations, suppressing 
gutturally in their glut of gurgled
consonantsthe more carnal 
allure or, from a primmer
perspective, temptations, of the 
senses

which Romantic poetsincidentally
pointedly sought out in the seductive
rhythms of the Mediterranean, much 
as this very student succumbs to the 
breathing orchid’the cupped flame 
of this tantalizing tango

Richard

April 21, 2017

      “Mount Fuji Seen Throught Cherry Blossom

             Katsushika Hokusai

                        _____ 

walking to market today, slowly, so as to   
not upset my aching back, but conversely 
also to smell the flowers, I stopped to 
read the poetry someone, or rather, some 
people – for you could tell by the different 
literary moods and styles – had written on 
the sidewalksome not at all bad

my favourite had these lines which shall 
for me remain immortal for their verve  
as well as for their quirky ambiguity

    don’t forget to shine your light
    nothing can stop your kryptonite

kryptonite is the substance that killed 
Superman, I thought, had this been 
overlooked by the poet or had s/he 
taken this into account, is there a 
contradiction here or a paradox,
riddle or just nonsense, one could’ve 
instead used dynamite, I surmised, 
then carried on

above me the cherry blossoms bloomed,  
powder pink and white, the same colours, 
I noted, as the chalk used on the sidewalk, 
life coincidentally imitating art, reflecting, 
commenting on it

Richard

 

“Approaching the 45th American Presidency” – Stephen T. Berg

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   “Display Of Chickens And Game Birds (c. 1882) 

            Gustave Caillebotte

                   __________

a poem should always be read at least 
twice, once for its content, then once 
again for its style, which is where you 
get the real magic

much as you’d stop to smell a rose

also a poem should be read out loud, 
for even more magic, not to mention 
more understanding

the following poem, from again the 
Westender, verily bristles with invention, 
it uses every hue of a rich grammatical 
palette from resonant onomatopoeia to 
lilting alliteration, by way of touches of 
hyphens for accent, an incidental, 
confidential set of parentheses, 
capitalized words, italics, among an 
array of other playful literary devices

I love especially its “chicken” refrain, 
which anchors it as a poem, asserting 
its proud, however unassuming, 
pedigree

I love, as well, “gelid giblets

Richard

psst: the links in the poem are mine,     
          couldn’t find a “Drumpf Meats

____________________

Approaching the 45th American Presidency

I leave Planet Earth Poetry at the Hillside Coffee
after listening to an enjambment of poets,
fervently consider the current state of the American presidency,
and on my way home remember I need to prepare and marinate
the chicken for tomorrow night’s dinner,
                that’s the chicken
I bought from Drumpf Meats earlier in the day that I thought (although
I didn’t ask) was fresh-fresh, but was in fact alternatively-fresh,
as I found remnant formations of ice crystals in the cramped cavity,
and the oblique neck, stuffed within, was polar-stiff,
and the gelid giblets, notably the orange-hued heart, was glacial-cold,
meaning this or more: that the bird hadn’t come straight from the abattoir
to its place behind glass, but had spent time in cryogenic rime
and I remembered too,
                that a chicken
can live without its head for an ungodly duration,
which beyond all reason,
made me approach the fridge
with unimpeachable apprehension.

Stephen T. Berg

“Bees” – Rachel Rose

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     “Two Girls And A Beehive 

                    Stanley Spencer

 ___________

The Westender, our community paper,
which comes out every Thursday and 
has done so for years, and which you 
can pick up throughout the week, free, 
on street corners in its assigned boxes, 
has only recently started a new section
showcasing local poetsnot to mention, 
itself, poetry

you’ll be impressed

here’s the first instalment 

   Bees

   The farmer asked me to host a hive
       and I said yes thinking honey,
           without the sting, thinking

   do your small
       part and let the bees do theirs.
           The hive was a box of many rooms

   hot with life.
       It throbbed under its tin roof.
           All summer their flight path

   hung its line of light across the deck.
           Those gold cells swam to the door
                   of the hive, dusted with lust from blossom.

   If a wasp dared come, they were ready
    to kamikaze down, force the intruder out
           in a buzz-tussle to the death. I crouched.

   I watched the stinger torn from the bee’s body
       trailing cream. Even in death, bees are never lonely.
           The hive is myriad.

   The hive is more than the bees.
       Sometimes I stood close to vibrate with them,
           drone of sun, pleasure of reaching beyond the limited

   human. O stamen, pistil, I let them tangle in my hair
       I hung up their flight path. Then came the virus,
            and then the wasps. There was no keeping them out.

   I crushed a few invaders, before I stopped,
       stupid human, helpless as any God
           before the laws of relativity.

   The farmer and I could barely look at each other
       and the leaves fell and brought winter.
           But can we try again? I begged, like a woman

   who wakes to a bed of blood, can we try again?
       The serious farmer said, Of course. The struggle
           is all that keeps me here, in this plague time

   where bees drop, the hive is cold, a few hornets
       drift, a virus drifts, pesticides drift over lawns
           lush as death, fields of strawberries so poisoned

   and perfect one bite brings the sleep
       of a hundred years. Can we try again?

                                         Rachel Rose

Richard

psst: Pat would’ve liked this

“Daffodils” – William Wordsworth (an epitaph)

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     “Wild Poppies, Near Argenteuil” (1873) 

             Claude Monet

                  ________

                                                  for Pat

a dear friend passed away recently, 
Pat, the mother of my partner, who
passed away himself nearly 30 years 
ago, was already of a certain age at
which death follows closely tripping 
us up with itches and cramps and 
dire debilities as we walk along the 
winding road that isn’t that long any 
longer 

she’d already acquired Alzheimer’s 
though she read stillunderstood, 
even poetry, though she could not 
remember what had happened 
yesterday even, however traumatic, 
that she’d fallen the day before, for 
instance, and bore still corroborative 
angry scratches escaped her, left 
her puzzled, though never rattled,
ever compliant

you can forget all you want, Pat, I’d
said to her earlier in her prognosis,
but don’t ever forget I love you

since, during our regular Internet
encounters, along with her husband
on her end, she’s left the conversation
to him, but wraps her arms around 
herself and tells me she wants to hug
me, we always end our visit with I love 
you’s

when I went to visit her in hospital, 
where she’d ended up following more 
falls, which indicated eventually dire
complications, I brought her a teddy 
bear

here, Pat, I said, I can’t be here always 
to hug you, but you can think of me 
when you hug this bear

she died a few days later, the last 
words we said were, I love you, I
love you, before I flew back home 
to Vancouver from Victoria

I was sad, I lit candles, then a day 
later I thought, how do I get out from
under this somber cloud, I should  
listen for her, I remembered

talk to me, Pat, I’ll hear, I entreated

when my dad died, I’d said, talk to 
me, Dad, I’m your son, I’ll hear, and 
I did

when his sister died, a beloved aunt, 
I’d lit a scented candle inadvertently
in commemoration, when the air 
suddenly filled with the aroma of 
rosemary, which had wafted in on the 
exhalations of the candle to fuse with 
my own reveries in epiphanic, verily 
transcendental, conversation 

adagios, also, always remind me of 
John, Pat’s son

talk to me, Pat, say something, I 
said to the ether, and listened

last Thursday, at the service, turning
to the last page of the programme
which had been provided, I began to
read her favourite poem

I wandered lonely as a cloud, I read
but couldn’t make it through the next
line, tears welling up in my eyes, my 
mom, who was with me, holding my 
hand

thank you, Pat, I said, overcome with 
emotion, this poem would be her 
teddy bear to me

Richard

         ________________

Daffodils

I wander’d lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretch’d in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: –
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company!
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.

                         William Wordsworth

“Instructions to a Speaker” – Joanna M. Weston

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                       Freedom Of Speech (1943) 

                                 Norman Rockwell

                                        ________          

it’s been a while since I’ve featured 
poem, but this one tickled me 
positively pink

see if you’ll agree

Richard 

__________

Instructions to a Speaker

analyze the seated audience
each face a complex sentence

parse the roaming eyes
and conjugate restless hands

let the grammar of their bodies
straighten under your voice

until words slough into the book
you have created page by face

from the biographies extending
lip-by-line across the room

                    Joanna M. Weston