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Category: poems to ponder

on ego, in particular, mine

luncheon-in-the-studio-1868.jpg!Large

       “Luncheon in the Studio (1868)

 

                 Édouard Manet

 

                      _________

            

you think I’ve got a big ego, I asked
friend who’d just told me I had one,
not confrontationally 
but as a matter
of fact, I wasn’t offended, just curious,
I think I’m so humble, I answered,
usually, so deferential

she wouldn’t cede to my, to her,

manifestly improbable, argument 

 

what do you call ego, I asked

 

what the definition is in the dictionary,

she answered, and pulled out her cell

phone to prove it

 

sure, I said, I know what the dictionary 

says, but how does that apply to me

 

well, just what it says, she said

 

my mother reads in the paper that it’s

going to rain today, I said, then it 

doesn’t, and I retort that only the 

weather essentially knows about the 

weather, but she still keeps to the

prognostications

 

one night I said, look, mom, the moon 

is full, no, she answered, it’s a quarter 

moon, it said so on the calendar, look, 

I said again, it’s full, it’s a full moon, 

but she wouldn’t believe me, it turned 

out she’d been reading the previous 

year’s almanac 

 

print gives us Platonic ideals, standards

that we think definitive, I asserted, but 

everything is in the eye of the beholder, 

words are just approximations, nothing 

but meeting places where we toss around

disparate ideas no firmer, nor distinct,  

nor assured than conversations among

different languagesmiscommunication 

can be that wide 

 

my friend tells me just talking like that

is proof of my big ego, but I still don’t 

get it, I think I’m so courteous, 

fundamentally, so congenial and, you

know, nice, otherwise 

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

the conditional

if-once-you-have-slept-on-an-island-1996.jpg!Large

    “If Once You Have Slept on an Island (1996) 

 

           Jamie Wyeth


               ________

 

the conditional mood is easy, it always

follows if 

 

     if I had a hammer, for instance

 

or

 

     if I were a rich man

 

it is not a real event, as Classical 

representation would be in art, were I

to make that synesthetic juxtaposition,

which is to say, were I to replace the 

visual sense with that of letters, but

rather like Surrealismfor instance, 

in that other context, a superimposed

idealization

 

here’s a poem you’ve probably 

already heard, or heard of, through 

its final, and epochal, verse, Kipling’s

If“, a towering instance of moral 

suasion on our culture

 

       If you can keep your head when all about you

           Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

       If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,   

            But make allowance for their doubting too;  

       If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

          Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

       Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

           And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

        If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

            If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

        If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

           And treat those two impostors just the same;   

        If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

          Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

        Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

           And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

      If you can make one heap of all your winnings

            And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

      And lose, and start again at your beginnings

           And never breathe a word about your loss;

        If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

          To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

       And so hold on when there is nothing in you

          Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

        If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

           Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 

        If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

            If all men count with you, but none too much;

        If you can fill the unforgiving minute

           With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

        Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

           And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

   

in the spirit of juxtaposition, compare 

that to Polonius’ admonition to his son,

Laertes, upon that young colt’s imminent 

return to France, where he had earlier

been, reputedly, carousing

 

       Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!

       The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,

       And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!

       And these few precepts in thy memory

       See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

       Nor any unproportioned thought his act.

       Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

       Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

       Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

        But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

        Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware

        Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,

        Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

        Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

         Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

         Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

         But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

         For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

         And they in France of the best rank and station

         Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

         Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

         For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

         And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

         This above all: to thine ownself be true,

         And it must follow, as the night the day,

         Thou canst not then be false to any man.



from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”act 1, scene 3,

all, incidentally, in the imperative, the mood

of command, authority, however consequential

there, or not

 

 

 a film called “If…” is also worth visiting 

in this context, from the 1970s, with an 

iconic soundtrack that gripped the

generation then that heard it, listen,

watch, the Missa Luba, be gripped

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

“a simple story” – R ! chard

book-of-time-oil-painting-18-x-24-2014-xm.jpg!Large

   The Book of Time (2014) 

 

         Nina Tokhtaman Valetova


                     ______________

 


ferreting through old papers the other

night, I foundin a forgotten corner of 

my closet, this poem, I thought it had 

some merit 

 

         _________

 

a simple story, 

 

                   mine.

                               Like yours,

     it has its moments

           — passion,

                pain,

                         to each in similar proportions

                              (I’ve also had a broken heart,

                                and you are happy too, sometimes) —

 

     moments telling tales, a lot, for me

         of this

         or that

                       — and every tale is true, in time, 

                                                             of everyone —

 

     moments that pass,

            one,

                     and then the next,

                                                       just gone,

                                                       like that,

 

     and apart from what is here,

                           right here — this black and white —

     this thirtieth day in May,

                           nineteen seventy-nine,

           its 13:48,

                then 49,

                                        are gone,

 

                                        just gone,

                                        like that !  

 

                                                R ! chard

 

Shakespeare = Beethoven, or the reverse

john-philip-kemble-as-hamlet-1801.jpg!Large.jpg

    “John Philip Kemble as Hamlet (1801)

           Thomas Lawrence

                ___________

if I’m to compare Beethoven’s 32nd
Piano Sonata, his opus 111, with 
anything else you might be familiar
with, it would be Shakespeare’s 
epochal contemplation, To be, or
not to be“, both are, first, and 
briefly, soliloquies, one performer
alone is on stage, both are 
implicitly meditations, that will 
augur, inspire, note, a new age 

let me propound, for a moment, on 
the Shakespeare, an introspective 
piece set on resolving an existential 
dilemma, To be, or not to be, that is 
the question, it is pungent, forceful, 
arresting, if only even rhythmically,
so much so that many still 
pronounce the first line of that 
trenchant aria with verily stentorian  
conviction, without realizing that the
several concluding movements are 
abysmally dire, indeed they 
investigate, with improbably literate 
fervour, a life and death situation  

    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer 
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
    And by opposing end them

should one, after contemplation, 
bear the onslaught of life’s most 
unacceptable tribulations, or, 
most efficiently, cut all of it off

     … To die – he says – to sleep,
     No more; and by a sleep to say we end 
     The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
     That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
     Devoutly to be wished 

I’ve often been there

      ... To die, to sleep;
      To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub:

the rub, which is to say, the problem,
what’s up once you’ve done yourself 
in  

      For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
      When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
      Must give us pause

indeed, there’s the respect, the angle, 
the conundrum one must consider

      that makes calamity of so long life 

one ‘s stuck between the devil and the 
deep blue sea

       For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, 
       Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
       
the demeaning disrespect a proud man ‘s 
made to suffer

       The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
       The insolence of office, and the spurns 
       That patient merit of the unworthy takes

which is to say, life’s multifarious, and
beleaguering struggles

        When he himself might his quietus make 
        With a bare bodkin?

quietus, silence, extermination 
bodkin, a knife

        … Who would fardels bear, 

fardels, hardships

       To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
       But that the dread of something after death,
       The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
       No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
       And makes us rather bear those ills we have 
       Than fly to others we know not of?

we keep on grunting, in fear that 
what comes after could be worse

a man considering his own demise,
his quietus, at the time of Shakespeare 
would’ve been, only a generation earlier,
an heretic, one deserving of unforgiving,
and gruesome, censure, Hamlet was,
not incidentally, however
prince, a  
role model, though evidently controversial

but the Reformation had occurred, 
a loosening of categorical strictures

in France, Descartes had, in his quest 
for the true God, concluded, Cogito,
ergo sum, I think, therefore I am,
eclipsing the Catholic God as the 
final arbiter, personal metaphysical
options were up for grabs, out in 
the open, though yet not entirely 
secular

which would happen, out loud,  in 
the Age of Reason, when God, as 
we knew Him, lost His, by now 
scattered, authority, among 
Lutherans, for instance, Calvinists, 
Anglicans, and proliferation of 
sprouting others, not to mention, 
still, the stalwart, ever, Roman 
Catholics 

the Romantic Period needed a new 
ethic, a personal evaluation of one’s
metaphysical position, Beethoven, 
in a word, or in his 32nd Piano
Sonata rather, delivers, a piece no 
less intense than Shakespeare’s 
profound interrogation

briefly, there are two movements
heremerely, which demand your 
attention, it isn’t music that one 
listens to with just one ear, this 
is Jesus on the Mount of Olives
Gethsemane, not much different 
from Shakespeare’s existential 
soliloquy

war, peace, rebellion, resignation,
black, white, fast, slow, explosive,
extended, man, woman, yin, 
indeed, yang, short, long, 
irascible, submissive, all 
paradoxical dichotomies, all 
eventuallymanifestly, 
transcendent, all a subjugation, 
private prayer, eventually, 
however fraught, however 
nevertheless archetypal,
two movements that still 
haven’t exhausted their 
philosophical potential for 
being assuaging, inspirational 


R ! chard

on Billy Collins – “Safe Travels”

Photo on 2016-05-24 at 6.31 PM.jpg

          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

“Tango Lesson” – Lisa Richter

223.jpg

    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

2016, a rumination‏

warning-sign-2006.jpg!Blog

                                         Warning Sign (2006)
 
                                                      Banksy
 
                                                        ____
 
 
in an introspective moment, I mused
 
    the days move on, the years, it’s 
    2016, beyond what I could ever 
    have imagined, born as I was 
    before even television nearly, 
    1949, Israel was being invented, 
    the Geneva Conventions were
    being devised 
 
    the future had been predicted with 
    “2001” in 1968, Kubrick’s visionary
    masterpiece, if not quite with “1984“, 
    Orwell’s 1949 attack on imminent, 
    impending, totalitarianism 
 
    though that work was too close to  
    have significant impact, we still, by 
    that eponymous date, weren’t at all 
    aware of possible pervasive 
    personal monitoring, of even 
    entirely innocent transactions, 
    we were busy deregulating, 
    privatizing, ceding our patrimony
    to unscrupulous speculators, that
    which our forebears had even died 
    for, who once had been serfs and 
    as indentured
 
    Big Brother since has been 
    identified, verified, and you, we, 
    are the perpetually espied
 
    we are seduced by the idea that 
    our innocence will be our salvation, 
    though innocence, like beauty, 
    truth, is in the eye of the, not 
    necessarily impartial, beholder 
 
    and the beholder, the monitoring 
    eye, cannot be impartial
 
    see God
 
 
    we have ever been at the mercy 
    of not necessarily Reason, but
    inexorable Fate, though prayer, 
    I’ve found, has worked miracles
 
    it is the only hope we have
 
    I wish you miracles
 
 
    Richard
 
 
Richard

“A Year’s Carols” – Algernon Charles Swinburne


"February Forest with Sheep" - Diana Harrison

February Forest with Sheep

Diana Harrison

__________

happy poems about February are not
easy to find, nor are poems by any
poet written for each month of the
year

but here are Algernon Charles
Swinburne
‘s “January” and “February”
from his A Year’s Carols

January

Hail, January, that bearest here
On snowbright breasts the babe-faced year
That weeps and trembles to be born.
Hail, maid and mother, strong and bright,
Hooded and cloaked and shod with white,
Whose eyes are stars that match the morn.
Thy forehead braves the storm’s bent bow,
Thy feet enkindle stars of snow.

February

Wan February with weeping cheer,
Whose cold hand guides the youngling year
Down misty roads of mire and rime,
Before thy pale and fitful face
The shrill wind shifts the clouds apace
Through skies the morning scarce may climb.
Thine eyes are thick with heavy tears,
But lit with hopes that light the year’s.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

March’ll have to wait

most of us have never even heard of
Swinburne, I actually thought he was
German, he’s not, he was English,
and decadent, apparently, like his
compatriots then, Dante Gabriel
Rossetti
and Oscar Wilde, who
thought Swinburne, however, was
a sham

though he never received a Nobel prize,
he was nominated for one in literature
each year from 1903 to 1907, then
again in 1909

to Swinburne

Richard

“The Poet’s Calendar” (February) – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‏

 "Facsimile of February: Farmyard Scene with Peasants" -  Limbourg brothers

Facsimile of February:
Farmyard Scene with Peasants

the Limbourg brothers

___________

if there are paintings about February,
there must be poems about February,
I thought, hence the following entry,
though preceded by a belated January,
or Janus, as it turns out, held back by
nothing other, surely, than the “fields
with snow”, the “frosts”, and the
fowl-filled “frozen fen”

both are from a very calendar of
poems by Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow
, whom I’ve always
imagined tall, however
inappropriate, kind of like thinking
that because my name is Richard
I’m rich

it’s called, appropriately enough,
The Poet’s Calendar, just click

January

Janus am I; oldest of potentates;
Forward I look, and backward, and below
I count, as god of avenues and gates,
The years that through my portals come and go.
I block the roads, and drift the fields with snow;
I chase the wild-fowl from the frozen fen;
My frosts congeal the rivers in their flow,
My fires light up the hearths and hearts of men.

February

I am lustration, and the sea is mine!
I wash the sands and headlands with my tide;
My brow is crowned with branches of the pine;
Before my chariot-wheels the fishes glide.
By me all things unclean are purified,
By me the souls of men washed white again;
E’en the unlovely tombs of those who died
Without a dirge, I cleanse from every stain.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

March will have to wait

Richard

psst: lustration is a purification, Janus, the
god with two faces, who can see
backwards and forwards, fen,
marshland

Bill and Flossie Williams

Arshile Gorky - "Hitler invades Poland" (1939)

Hitler Invades Poland (1939)

Arshile Gorky

________

it must be understood that World War l
changed everything, the old order,
orders, had been discredited, new
states were formed, territories allotted,
-isms proliferated, the arts had to, of
course, reflect that, and did, as many
-isms were hatched in the art world
as in the political world, indeed,
many more

which is why much of it at first
seems questionable, practitioners
were learning anew how to talk, paint,
make music, they were creating a new
conceptual universe to replace the one
that had been roundly discredited, the
one that had been around in the West
for the last two thousand years

therefore Schoenberg, therefore
Picasso, and therefore Finnegan’s
Wake
“,
for instance

we’ve been studying American
Modernists in the classes on the
Internet I’m taking
, none of whom
I find interesting, and I’m, contrary
to all expectations, losing even my
early enthusiasm for the much too
thorny, I think, Emily Dickinson

but here’s another abstruse poet
that I like in this poem

though I much prefer his wife
Flossie’s sardonic reply
, which
follows

________________

This Is Just To Say (1934)

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

William Carlos Williams

________________

Flossie’s Reply (1934)

Dear Bill: I’ve made a
couple of sandwiches for you.
In the ice-box you’ll find
blue-berries–a cup of grapefruit
a glass of cold coffee.

On the stove is the tea-pot
with enough tea leaves
for you to make tea if you
prefer–Just light the gas–
boil the water and put it in the tea

Plenty of bread in the bread-box
and butter and eggs–
I didn’t know just what to
make for you. Several people
called up about office hours–

See you later. Love. Floss.

Please switch off the telephone.

Florence Williams

____________

go Florence, I say, but you can
see, of course, why I’d say that

Richard