Monday, March 26, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Four (Oliver)

Wow! I can't believe we're already to the fourth poem of The Mnemosyne Weekly! I'll never be bored standing in line again. I'll never be at a loss for words. I've got the perfect toast, the perfect advice, the perfect words of comfort poised on the tip of my tongue. And I am filled with beauty, joy, love, nature, art, wisdom, grace, and a little pathos too, thanks to Lee, Rilke, and Dickinson.

This week's poem, as you may have discerned from the photo, is by Mary Oliver. Most of you probably already know that Oliver was recently diagnosed with a serious illness, and her fans, friends, and the poetry community are rallying around her. A good friend of mine, Paula Todd King, suggested that, as a way of joining in this support, we should memorize a poem by Oliver this week. In full and heartfelt agreement, I asked Paula to select the poem. As well, I've started a list of poems suggestions, so please keep those titles coming. It stretches us all to memorize poems selected by others, especially poems we may not have chosen ourselves.

Also, please keep making comments in the sections under the postings. I love hearing what you think about the poems and what your experiences are of memorizing them. I'm keeping my own comments about the poems restricted to these sections, as well, so that we can approach the postings of the new poems with clean, fresh, beginner's minds each week. Here is last week's posting, if you want to leave comments about Rilke's "Sonnet I.3" from Sonnets to Orpheus: The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Three. As well, if you're new to the blog, you might want to look at the first Mnemosyne post to find out what this project is all about. 

Here is your poem for the week. It comes from the collection called Blue Iris. As well, here is an interview Maria Shriver conducted with Mary Oliver for Oprah:! 

And, once again, thanks to everyone who is participating!

How Would You Live Then?

What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
blew in circles around your head? What if
the mockingbird came into the house with you and
became your advisor? What if
the bees filled your walls with honey and all
you needed to do was ask them and they would fill
the bowl? What if the brook slid downhill just
past your bedroom window so you could listen
to its slow prayers as you fell asleep? What if
the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds? What if
you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerful sang
from its painted branches? What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day -- who knows how, but they do it -- were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Golems, Jazz, and Naked Magic with Tony Barnstone

This Sunday, 3/25/12, at 7 PM EST, I will host the incredible, versatile Tony Barnstone on Tiferet Talk for a conversation about poetry, editing, and translation. Barnstone is the recipient of many awards, including a Pushcart Prize, the Paumanok Poetry Award, the Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize, and the Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry. He is the author, editor, and translator of over a dozen books, including collections of poems and writings about poetry. His poetry collections are Naked MagicImpure, Sad Jazz: Sonnets, The Golem of Los Angeles, and Tongue of War, a collection of dramatic monologues set in the Pacific during the Second World War.

Yusef Komunyakaa says of Barnstone's Impure, "I admire Tony Barnstone's Impure because of the collection's unrelenting believability and lyrical certainty. Plain-spoken and magical, this poet knows how to make imagination and the real world collide softly. There is a clarity in Impure that reaches beyond the formlessness of modern life. Borders are crossed in the psyche and the flesh, and this collection seems like an elongated song that embraces the most elusive moments buried in language and nuance through the pure naming of things - a mantra of what is and what is dreamt - that takes into the sacred territory what no ordinary compass can plot or unplot."

Robert Olen Butler says of Barnstone's Tongue of War, "Brilliant in conception, comprehensive in its humanity, exquisitely voiced by a stunning range of characters, Tongue of War is not only a deeply moving work, it is an endearingly important one. Tony Barnstone has revealed humankind's capacity both for evil and redemption with a power that few writers have ever achieved."

Please join us live or listen to the archives at blogtalk or itunes any time after the show has aired.

I leave you with a beautiful poem by Tony Barnstone:
Vision of Milk 
from Readymades at The Drunken Boat

Because I wished I were wise,
because I wanted to become air,

because I am in love with zeros,
I swam in deep light-distances.

I saw my shadow wavering before me;
I saw a footpath of light.

I saw clouds like swelling milk udders;
they flowed like milk into my hands.

I watched the pregnant moon give birth to the sun,
and I saw the blood.

I watched the world drown in shallow waters,
and I caught that little whiff of carrion,

and it almost destroyed me,
but instead it made me stronger,

because even a wound has the power to heal,
because to live does not mean to be sick,

and because the galaxy is a woman and she is good
I took her breast in my hand and I drank.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Three (Rilke)

Thanks to all of you who are participating in The Mnemosyne Weekly! If you're new to the blog, you might want to look at the first Mnemosyne post to find out what this project is all about. 

Our poem this week is by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Stephen Mitchell). This is my favorite translation of one of my all time favorite poems. It's a little bit longer than the other ones we've memorized, but I'm sure you'll agree that it's worth the effort. As well, I'd like to mention that Rilke was a wonderful prose writer. If you haven't yet read his Letters to a Young Poet, I highly recommend picking up a hardcover edition so that when you finish reading it you can keep it on your shelf forever!

I love hearing your thoughts about the poems and what your experience was of memorizing them, so please continue to leave comments at the posts. Leave comments for last week's poem by Emily Dickinson at The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Two.

Here is your poem for the week. Enjoy!

I.3 (from The Sonnets To Orpheus)

A god can do it. But will you tell me how
a man can penetrate through the lyre’s strings?
Our mind is split. And at the shadowed crossing
of heart-roads there is no temple for Apollo.

Song, as you have taught it, is not desire,
not wooing any grace that can be achieved;
song is reality. Simple, for a god.
But when can we be real? When does he pour

the earth, the stars, into us? Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by your own voice – learn

to forget that passionate music. It will end.
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing. A gust inside the god. A wind.

— Rainer Maria Rilke (1923), trans. Stephen Mitchell (1989)

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Two (Dickinson)

Thanks to all of you who memorized last week's poem with me! I've noticed some wonderful comments coming in under the post. I love, in particular, what Lois P. Jones said about how if "One Heart" were a calligraphy "the birds would be a fine press of ink fading into the tips of freedom." Please continue to leave your comments about "One Heart" under The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem One post. If you are new to the blog, you might also want to look at that first post to find out what The Mnemosyne Weekly is all about.

Our poem this week is by Emily Dickinson, and it is certain to make your brain and your toes and the tips of your ears tingle. Enjoy!

He fumbles at your spirit

He fumbles at your spirit
As players at the keys
Before they drop full music on;
He stuns you by degrees,

Prepares your brittle substance
For the ethereal blow,
By fainter hammers, further heard,
Then nearer, then so slow

Your breath has time to straighten,
Your brain to bubble cool, --
Deals one imperial thunderbolt
That scalps your naked soul.

*Note* When posting, quoting from, or otherwise using poetry online or in any format, please be sure to honor the “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem One (Lee)

Painting: Mnemosyne 
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I’m excited! Today marks the start of The Mnemosyne Weekly (click here for pronunciation). If you’re wondering what that means, it’s simple: I’ve decided to memorize one poem a week, and I’m inviting you to jump in my chariot and come along for the ride.

The poets may invoke the muses when they write, but we are invoking the muses’ mother, Mnemosyne, who is also the goddess of memory.  

Please feel free to participate at whatever level feels comfortable to you. Memorize when you can, and when you can’t (we all have those weeks!), join us for the discussion anyway. Some things you can do to participate are:

  • Memorize the poem with me
  • Comment on the poem (We will keep these comments positive. The point is to celebrate poetry.)
  • Suggest poems for memorization (But please do not suggest your own)
  • Share links to the weekly on your own blogs and social media sites
  • Share the weekly with family, students, and friends
  • Share any information you know about the poem or poet

Our first poem is the very beautiful (and short) “One Heart” by Li-Young Lee. It’s from a collection called Book of My Nights, published by BOA Editions on September 1, 2001. As well, here is a link to an interview in which Li-Young Lee talks about memory: "An Interview with Li-Young Lee." Enjoy!


Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day. 
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

*Note* When posting, quoting from, or otherwise using poetry online or in any format, please be sure to honor the “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry.”