Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Gift from Tatiana: Nikiforos Vrettakos

Tatiana, a new friend from Greece, recently introduced me to Greek poet Nikiforos Vrettakos. I LOVE finding a new poet to love, and this one's spectacular. He reminds me a bit of Pablo Neruda, and when I peeked at Wikipedia, there were several similarities. Both published their first collections of poetry around 17-18 years of age. Both were involved in military/government and were dissidents in some way. And the poems of both are thoughtful, sensual, spiritual, yet earthy. 
The local public library does not have his books, so I just ordered a book of his selected poetry, Thirty Years in the Rain, used from Amazon.com. Thank you Tatiana!

A smaller world (from Diary, translated by Rick M. Newton)

I seek a shore where I can fence in
a patch of the horizon with
trees or reeds. Where, gathering infinity,
I can have the sense that: there are no machines
or very few; there are no soldiers
or very few; there are no weapons
or very few, and those few aimed at the exit
of the forests with wolves; or that there are no merchants
or very few at remote
points on the earth where
paved roads have not yet been laid.
God hopes that
at least in the poets' sobs paradise will never cease to exist.

The field of words (translated by Marjorie Chambers)

Like the bee round a wild
flower, so am I. I prowl
continuously around the word.
I thank the long lines
of ancestors who moulded the voice.
Cutting it into links, they made
meanings. Like smelters they
forged it into gold and it became
Homer, Aeschylus, the Gospels
and other jewels.
With the thread
of words, this gold
from gold, which comes from the depths
of my heart, I am linked, I take part in
the world.
I said and wrote, "I love."

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Gwendolyn Brooks

I was introduced to Gwendolyn Brooks via Bedford’s Introduction to Literature. I liked her rhythm, easy rhyme, the simplicity then reveal. But it was just that. Simple. And I like simple. A lot. But this poem alone is not a proper introduction:

“We Real Cool”

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Okay, fast forward just a few years and I was introduced to Gwendolyn Brooks in real life while working as a peon at Poetry magazine. She was sweet and delightful and we chatted and I told her I came across a flyer from when had been the Poetry Day poet years ago and she said she’d love to have one of those flyers, so I sent her one and she sent me a sweet thank-you note. And that is one of my stories you will probably hear again should I ever have the chance to tell it.
Of course, when I chatted with her, I only had in mind the “We Real Cool” poem. I wish, upon first introduction to Gwendolyn Brooks, Bedford had given me a sampling of her poetic diversity, cause HERE she is again:

“gay chaps at the bar”

We knew how to order. Just the dash
Necessary. The length of gaiety in good taste.
Whether the raillery should be slightly iced
And given green, or served up hot and lush,
And we knew beautifully how to give to women
The summer spread, the tropics, of our love,
When to persist, or hold a hunger off.
Knew white speech. How to make a look an omen.
But nothing ever taught us to be islands.
And smart, athletic language for this hour
Was not in the curriculum. No stout
Lesson showed how to chat with death. We brought
No brass fortissimo, among our talents,
To holler down the lions in this air.

Sigh. The “We Real Cool” poem for which she is so well known was published in 1960. Poetry magazine published “gay chaps at the bar” in 1944. No excuse, Bedford. You had them both at your disposal.
I’m not knocking “We Real Cool,” it’s just that it would be beneficial for students of all races to hear something more “sophisticated” from the pen of this incredibly talented African-American woman. To at least know the scope and diversity of her talent. "To holler down the lions in this air"...wow.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bukowski's got your number

My poetry teacher wrote books about Charles Bukowski. My poetry teacher writes good poetry. So I assumed Bukowski would too. And maybe he does. I don’t know. I DO know that I was going to read just a few poems of his the other evening and found myself up til past midnight nearly finishing off his Love is a Dog From Hell tome. Appalled and enthralled, but mostly appalled, yet applauding his honesty – as ugly as it may be. I can’t even begin to explain (though I have tried anyway). Let the poems speak for themselves. But first, you must know that I purposely chose an example that is not X-rated.  

how come you’re not unlisted?

The men phone and ask me that.
are you really Charles Bukowski
the writer? they ask.

I’m a sometimes writer, I say,
most often I don’t do anything.

listen, they ask, I like your
stuff–do you mind if I come
 over and bring a couple of 6

you an bring them, I say
if you don’t come in . . .

when the women phone, I say,
o yes, I write, I’m a writer
only I’m not writing right now.

I feel foolish phoning you,
they say, and I was surprised
to find you listed in the phone book.

I have reasons, I say,
by the way why don’t you come over
for a beer?

you wouldn’t mind?

and they arrive
handsome women
good of mind and body and eye.

often there isn’t sex
but I’m used to that
yet it’s good
very good just to look at them–
and some rare times
I have unexpected good luck

for a man of 55 who didn’t get laid
until he was 23
and not very often until he was 50
I think that I should stay listed
via Pacific Telephone
until I get as much as
the average man has had.

of course, I’ll have to keep
writing immortal poems
but the inspiration is there.


And then he has this oddly gentle side – not present in much of his poetry (at least what I read in Love is a Dog From Hell. I'm really clueless about him.):

we will taste the islands and the sea

I know that some night
in some bedroom
my fingers will
soft clean hair

songs such as no radio

all sadness, grinning
into flow.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Squid, Frozen Toes, Tequila and Love

Read this poem in the March 2006 of Poetry magazine.  Every time I read the last lines of the poem, my heart clunks down a few steps into a place deeper than everyday. A place I’m not sure I could live. It would be constant openness. Too raw to be productive.
The poem also speaks to the tension between, yet potential compatibility of, science and emotion. And the poet, Katherine Larson, speaks with authority because she is a molecular biologist and field ecologist. !!! Knowing this somehow makes the poem complete for me.
Oh, and Aurvandil is a giant in Norse mythology who was carried in a basket across an ice river by Thor. The cold waters froze Aurvandil’s toe, so Thor broke it off and placed it in the night sky where it became a star. You might want to know this later. (I’m pulling this from a website called The Metal Archives. I had to look it up, cause I hadn’t a clue. And I have to credit the website, because I'm not yet far enough removed from my thesis.)
“Love at Thirty-two Degrees” by Katherine Larson
Today I dissected a squid,
the late acacia tossing its pollen
across the black of the lab bench.
In a few months the maples
will be bleeding. That was the thing:
there was no blood
only textures of gills creased like satin,
suction cups as planets in rows. Be careful
not to cut your finger, he says. But I’m thinking
of fingertips on my lover’s neck
last June. Amazing, hearts.
This brachial heart. After class,
I stole one from the formaldehyde
And watched it bloom in my bathroom sink
between cubes of ice.

Last night I threw my lab coat in the fire
and drove all night through the Arizona desert
with a thermos full of silver tequila.

It was the last of what we bought
on our way back from Guadalajara
- desert wind in the mouth, your mother’s
beat-up Honda, agaves
twisting up from the soil
like the limbs of cephalopods.

Outside of Tucson, saguaros so lovely
considering the cold, and the fact that you
weren’t there to warm me.
Suddenly drunk I was shouting that I wanted to see the stars
as my ancestors used to see them –
to see the godawful blue as Aurvandil’s frostbitten toe.

Then, there is the astronomer’s wife
ascending stairs to her bed.

The astronomer gazes out,
one eye at a time,

to a sky that expands
even as it falls apart

like a paper boat dissolving in bilge.
Furious, fuming stars.

When his migraine builds and
lodges its dark anchor behind

the eyes, he fastens the wooden buttons
of his jacket, and walks

outside with a flashlight
to keep company with the barn owl

who stares back at him with eyes
that are no greater or less than

a spiral galaxy.
The snow outside

is white and quiet
as a woman’s slip

against cracked floorboards.
So he walks to the house

inflamed by moonlight, and slips
into the bed with his wife

her hair and arms all
in disarray

like a fish confused by waves.

Science –
beyond pheromones, hormones, aesthetics of bone,
every time I make love for love’s sake alone,

I betray you.