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Carl Phillips, "Civilization"

As the weeks blend into months and my time with a view onto a succession of gingerbread-like houses fades, a poem called "Civilization" by Carl Phillips has grabbed my attention. The idea of civilization is interesting to me because it is concerned with, at the most basic level, human development, and running into buildings constantly out-dating the founding of the U.S., I find myself in a kind of wonder at how we've made it from cave to hut to...gingerbread-like houses over time. And in Phillips's poem, its development is what I find most interesting.

Beginning with the phrase, "there's an art to everything," and allowing this phrase to bind the poem's multiple subjects, at first outside of the speaker but changing to the speaker him or herself before ending again at a distance, the progression from introduction to conclusion left me asking How far have I traveled in this poem? Rereading reveals that the reader moves a very large distance, from a thought about what the month of April means to a relationship to...not gingerbread-like houses, but a reflection on romantic relationship, which is close enough.

The poem is below, but follow this link in order to view it with its proper formatting.

There's an art
to everything. How
the rain means
April and an ongoingness like
that of song until at last

it ends. A centuries-old
set of silver handbells that
once an altar boy swung,
processing...You're the same
wilderness you've always

been, slashing through briars,
the bracken
of your invasive
self
. So he said,
in a dream. But

the rest of it—all the rest—
was waking: more often
than not, to the next
extravagance. Two blackamoor
statues, each mirroring

the other, each hoisting
forever upward his burden of
hand-painted, carved-by-hand
peacock feathers. Don't
you know it, don't you know

I love you
, he said. He was
shaking. He said:
I love you. There's an art
to everything. What I've
done with this life,

what I'd meant not to do,
or would have meant, maybe, had I
understood, though I have
no regrets. Not the broken but
still-flowering dogwood. Not

the honey locust, either. Not even
the ghost walnut with its
non-branches whose
every shadow is memory,
memory...As he said to me

once, That's all garbage
down the river, now
. Turning,
but as the utterly lost—
because addicted—do:
resigned all over again. It

only looked, it—
It must only look
like leaving. There's an art
to everything. Even
turning away. How

eventually even hunger
can become a space
to live in. How they made
out of shamelessness something
beautiful, for as long as they could.

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Counting Occurrences, Armantrout's "Exact"

Rae Armantrout's poem "Exact" begins with a specific call to the reader: "Quick, before you die, / describe // the exact shade / of this hotel carpet." In these opening lines, the intrigue Armantrout creates through immediacy and the mention of death propels the reader through the poem, albeit with a warning of irony given by the focus on carpet. In addition, the form–line breaks and line length specifically–work perfectly with this tone; form matching tone, a degree more focused than just content, is an advantage and aid missing in many poems, mine included, that when carefully observed moves the poem a step closer to creating the desired impact: what Emily Dickinson described as feeling as if the top of her head "were taken off" after reading.

Here is the poem in full, though with slightly changed formatting because of Blogger so I encourage you to click HERE for the poem on poets.org. I was mostly interested in how this poem pulls the reader through it based on some of what is mentioned above, but there are many things that could be said about this poem. Maybe I will extend this post later, but until then, let's do the important thing and enjoy a poem.

Exact

Quick, before you die,
describe

the exact shade
of this hotel carpet.

What is the meaning
of the irregular, yellow

spheres, some
hollow,

gathered in patches
on this bedspread?

If you love me,
worship

the objects
I have caused

to represent me
in my absence.


*

Over and over
tiers

of houses spill
pleasantly

down that hillside.
It

might be possible
to count occurrences.


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Matthew Zapruder, Wisconsin




As protection for public employees disintegrates into, well, nothing in many states, a poem by Matthew Zapruder attempts to comment on the state with the heaviest media attention surrounding this issue: Wisconsin.

The poem, posted below, hinges on this admission: "who are we who see / so much evil and try / to stop it and fail..." If poetry reflects the culture of the time, this poem works as a bridge between passivity and activity for a large group of American citizens. In Wisconsin, as well as many other states, the dormant political resolve has been awakened in many people who have begun to take an interest in who holds political power.

Matthew Zapruder's poem is not a call to action, but it is a reflection on current sentiment handled well. The poem ends with "..something / happened people / turned their beautiful / sparkling angry faces up." These are the final lines of the poem, and the "sparkling angry faces" continue outside of it, even if those faces have the real possibility of becoming placid again after a certain amount of time passes...

Poem for Wisconsin


In Milwaukee it is snowing

on the golden statue

of the 1970s television star

whose television house

was in Milwaukee

and also on the Comet Cafe

and on the white museum

the famous Spanish architect

built with a glass

elevator through it

and a room with a button

that when you press it

makes two wings

on the sides of the building

more quickly than you might

imagine mechanically

rise like a clumsy

thoughtful bird

thinking now

I am at last ready

over the lake

that has many moods

to fly but it will not

and people ask

who are we who see

so much evil and try

to stop it and fail

and know we are no longer

for no reason worrying

the terrible governors

are evil or maybe

just mistaken and nothing

can stop them not even

the workers who keep

working even when

it snows on their heads

and on the bridge

that keeps our cars

above the water

for an hour

in northern California

today it snowed

and something

happened people

turned their beautiful

sparkling angry faces up


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Hiatus Ending Spring Poem


After three weeks away, it is time to add a new post. Vacation ended last week, and it was a nice two weeks off. Classes went well this first week back, but the planning has kept me away from Blogger. Expect some longer posts within two days, and until then, enjoy this Cummings poem that will, unfortunately, not keep its original form so please click here to see it in full. More info on Cummings and links to other poems can be found here.

[in Just-]



in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it's
spring
and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan whistles
far
and
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Express Press


Amiri Baraka is an interesting person. Interesting people will write interesting things from time to time, and an essay by Baraka has found its way onto my computer screen. "Expressive Language (1963)" was first published in the magazine Kulchur and later in his book Home: Social Essays (1966). In this essay, Baraka claims that all cultures are profound simply by the fact of being cultures, that speech displays culture directly, and that culture is the end point for speech and is what makes it expressive: "Words’ meanings, but also the rhythm and syntax that frame and propel their concatenation, seek their culture as the final reference for what they are describing of the world."

The essay is not long, but the first several paragraphs had to be reread two or three times before I felt comfortable moving on. Words like "hegemony" and references to Pascal and Wittgenstein should be expected, but reading "Expressive Language" will reinforce notions about the strength of culture in our reading today and is insightful.

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Psalm of Home Redux


The poem "Psalm of Home Redux" is posted below for your random poem reading pleasure, but before scrolling down, let me give you a warning: you will like it, eventually.

The poem is enjoyable because of David Lee's composition. Broken into three, six-line stanzas, it develops three imperatives that are heightened by aggressive lines like "and race the moon like wild horses / to their death in the darkness" that push the reader toward the stanza's end. Of course, moons and horses aren't necessarily new poetic material (no Stephen Hawking), but when I read those two lines they do not feel cliché. Maybe because of the "death in the darkness?" This was something that bothered me at first, but now that I've looked at the poem a few times, I want to share it:

Psalm of Home Redux

after rereading Cormac McCarthy and taking
a 5 mile run through the River Ranch


Laughter is also a form of prayer

—Kierkegaard

Okay then, right here,
Lord, in Bandera,
tether me to my shadow
like a fat spavined mule
stuck sideways in Texas tank mud
bawling for eternity

At midnight's closing whine
of the 11th Street Bar's steel guitar,
when the stars slip their traces
and race the moon like wild horses
to their death in the darkness,
let my hoarse song twine with the night wind

May the bray of today's good laughter
fall like a brittle top branch
wind nudged from a sprawling live oak
straight down like early spring sleet
to the hill country's bent
and trembling bluebonnet covered knees


- David Lee

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Journal Spotlight


The journal Blackbird is produced with help from Virginia Commonwealth University. It is an online journal with very little tolerance for website dazzle. On its about page, we learn, "We have kept Blackbird structurally simple in order to emphasize the quality of its content and to make reading, viewing, and listening to it as effortless—technologically speaking—as possible." In a land of html hijinks, this journal is refreshing. It tells you the optimal screen resolution to view Blackbird, and on all content pages they provide an optimized version for printing.

What Blackbird loses in attractiveness it makes up for in content. An interesting poem using Stephen Hawking as a poetic subject by Stefi Weisburd is below, but in the current issue there are many poems that work well and I encourage you to discover what they have to offer.

Hawking in Zero-G


On April 26, 2007, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking
experienced microgravity aboard a modified Boeing 727.


At the peak of the arc, you sail
in the weightless freight of your body
stiff arms crossed like a mummy.

The 727’s apogee
disables gravity, and
your face goes nova-bright.

Laid down again for the dive,
still grinning as the plane careens
through eight full swoops and

swoons. Joy as loud as terror.
Someone lets loose a Red Delicious,
and Newton’s apple crests, the praxis

of ballistic art. Forget the errors
spooled down the helix. Forget
the withering that hobbled

limbs and chest, bobble head,
atrophy, slumped in the claw
of a wheelchair on stage, your canned

voice calling to the universe.
In zero-g, the heart
is as round as an orb. Space

here I come, stocked
with star clusters like relief
ganglia to repair your shorted

lines. On the plane,
the preagreed signal was
a grimace for stop

or your eyebrows raised
for keep going & you never
put them down.


Granted, the ending approaches sentimentality, but I feel the poem avoids it. Thoughts?

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