Richibi’s Weblog

Just another weblog

Category: poems to ponder

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 

          thank you again, Billy Collins


“Tango Lesson” – Lisa Richter


    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 

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


2016, a rumination‏


                                         Warning Sign (2006)
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

“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

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


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.


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
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



“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
, 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


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.


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


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


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
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


This Is Just To Say (1934)

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
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



what is a philosopher‏

Henri Martin - "Philosopher"


Henri Martin


considering the response below too
forthright for a discussion we were
having on a university course website,
interactively dealing with the question
of free will, I nevertheless found worthy
my opinion of what a philosopher is,
which I deign to mount here on my,
less discreet, canvas

if you’ll allow

it is evidently a dramatic monologue



what is a philosopher

you are not a philosopher, sir, to take
offence so quickly, a philosopher is
objective, and wouldn’t allow for
emotion to get in the way of even an
offensive argument

but with irrefutable logic simply
expose his, her sound position

indeterminacy would be encountered
with humility first, then grace, only
ever consummate deference

if you’ll allow



psst: see, for more on indeterminacy,
Socrates, ever catering to objections


a merely theoretical dilemma, a poem

Albrecht Dûrer - "Apollo and Diana(" (1502)

Apollo and Diana (1502)

Albrecht Dürer


in the tradition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
a forthright, personal poem

a merely theoretical dilemma

yesterday, I had lunch with Vickie,
she said she admired our relationship,
despite the fact, which I’d interjected,
that there was no sex

she didn’t find that unacceptable

I found her concern more personal,
revealing, than strictly theoretical

then gave up the improbable

I dream, however, ever, Apollo, and
irrepressibly, of your genitals,
knowing that your spawn would
transform me, ineradicably, into
a constellation, its crystallization
our progeny, into immortal stars

but that would mean leaving you,
Apollo, behind

could I, would I, do that




“I’ve Got a New Attitude”‏

as the Beatles once sang, Roll Over Beethoven

I’d been touching up my blog, specifically my
Elizabeth Barrett Brownings
, which WordPress
had to my dismay defaced, when one of my
submissions, the XXXlst, gave me the choice
of his Appassionata or Patti LaBelle, to
accompany me on the dishes, my ritual
homage to Sisyphean labour before the

both are electrifying

but I opted for a change, the effect of, maybe,
springtime, chose Patti, who’d awakened by
her very name a world of magical memories
for me, even inspiring me to find finally a
long lost friend, an ardent fan, then, of Patti

I looked for an appropriate, concert, length,
enough to finish my dishes, this is what I

I’ve been hooked on divas ever since

I hope you’re also enjoying them


psst: more Patti


“Miss Otis Regrets” (1934) – Cole Porter‏

while we’re on the subject of dramatic
s, here’s one, performed by
Fred Astaire, which splendidly illustrates
the intention

here’s Bette Midler doing it

and here’s more Bette, irrepressible, and
utterly irresistible, if you can stand it

or, as she would have it, the Divine,
and indeed, Miss M

just click



psst: “Miss Otis Regrets”

Miss Otis regrets, she’s unable to lunch today, madam,
Miss Otis regrets, she’s unable to lunch today.
She is sorry to be delayed,
but last evening down in Lover’s Lane she strayed, madam,
Miss Otis regrets, she’s unable to lunch today.
When she woke up and found that her dream of love was gone, madam,
She ran to the man who had led her so far astray,
And from under her velvet gown,
She drew a gun and shot her love down, madam,
Miss Otis regrets, she’s unable to lunch today.
When the mob came and got her and dragged her from the jail, madam,
They strung her upon the old willow across the way,
And the moment before she died,
She lifted up her lovely head and cried, madam
Miss Otis regrets, she’s unable to lunch today
Miss Otis regrets, she’s unable to lunch today