Monday, September 24, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty (Strand)

Keeping Things Whole 

"Keeping Things Whole," is one of Mark Strand's most frequently anthologized poems, and it's easy to see why. In so few words, he accomplishes not only his own fascinating meditation on self, emptiness, identity, and more; in koan-like fashion, he also invites readers to their own meditations on these subjects. The speaker may embrace change and continue moving to keep things whole, but we are left feeling that, however clever, this is not the entire answer. The emptiness that has become the speaker's identity moves forward in space and time, impacting, always, the next field and leaving behind it not only a return to wholeness but a trail of questions too. 

Photo of Mark Strand by Lilo Raymond

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

From Sleeping with One Eye Open, Also found in Selected Poems

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Nine (Stevens)

"Gray Room"

Sometimes a poem builds in perfect and unanticipated ways towards the last line. The journey is beautiful, though seemingly not extraordinary, and then BAM--we're hit with that line--the one that makes our bodies shudder and our minds and hearts split open. "Gray Room" had that sort of impact on me. I was lured in by the lovely description--which is polite, composed, and refined--but it felt pleasant and nothing more--until I got to the end. The last line, which is so vital and alive, hit me with all the more force due to the contrast in tone to all of the lines preceding it. I went from being a tourist looking out the window at a mountain to realizing I was in my native land, right at the lip of the volcano.

Gray Room

Although you sit in a room that is gray,
Except for the silver
Of the straw-paper,
And pick
At your pale white gown;
Or lift one of the green beads
Of your necklace,
To let it fall;
Or gaze at your green fan
Printed with the red branches of a red willow;
Or, with one finger,
Move the leaf in the bowl--
The leaf that has fallen from the branches of the forsythia
Beside you...
What is all this?
I know how furiously your heart is beating.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Eight (Rabia)

Rabia, depicted in an Islamic miniature
Image is in public domain (expired copyright)
Poem translated by Charles Upton from Persian

This week I'm still thinking about stars, but we've stepped back a few centuries to 717–801 C.E. to read the work of the female Muslim saint and Sufi mystic, Rabia. Rabia is often considered the most important of Sufi mystics and is credited with having introduced the concept of Divine Love, or loving God for God's own sake, rather than out of fear. I love the raw simplicity of this poem, which so perfectly exemplifies Rabia's life choice to remain in contemplative solitude instead of marrying. Enjoy!

O my Lord, the stars glitter 

O my Lord,
the stars glitter
and the eyes of men are closed.
Kings have locked their doors
and each lover is alone with his love.

Here, I am alone with you.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Six Weeks to Yehidah Wins Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and Other News

I'm thrilled to announce that Six Weeks to Yehidah has another accolade in its bag: a Summer 2012 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award. That others are finding value in my work and recognizing me with these honors humbles me more than I can say. As I wrote SWTY, I was so involved in the all-consuming process of creation that I never thought about what might happen once the book came out. Every day now is a surprise and a delight as I watch the book gradually making its way into the world, one reader, one award, one library at a time.

As well, I'd like to announce that Donna Baier Stein and I were interviewed this past Thursday, by R Jeffreys, of The Write Step, on Tiferet Talk. The subject of the talk was the forthcoming Tiferet Talk book, a collection of interviews to be released in Winter 2012. I'll be certain to let you know more about this project as I learn more myself. In the meantime, I hope you'll listen to the interview. R Jeffreys was an amazing host--fun, charismatic, warm--and Donna Baier Stein was her ever gracious, always lovely self, sharing the mission of Tiferet and explaining her founding vision.

In publication news, my poem, "For Baudelaire," just came out in the Fox Chase Review, an invitation only journal, and another poem, "Creation Myth," was just released in the Summer 2012 issue of the Manor House Quarterly. The issue, entitled "She," is a vital exploration of our understanding of the feminine. I'm honored to be included in both journals.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tiferet Talk Interview with Donna Baier Stein and Yours Truly

Please join us tomorrow night at 7 PM EST for a Tiferet Talk interview with Donna Baier Stein and Yours Truly, guest hosted by R Jeffreys Author, of The Write Step. We’ll be talking about the forthcoming Tiferet Talk book, scheduled for release in winter 2012. The book includes interviews with such incredible guests as Julia Cameron, Robert Pinsky, Floyd Skloot, and more. As well, Donna will talk about her founding vision and Tiferet’s beautiful global mission.

Donna Baier Stein is the publisher of Tiferet and an accomplished, award-winning author in her own right. She received the PEN/New England Discovery Award for her novel and her story collection was a Finalist in the Iowa Fiction Awards. . She's been a John Hopkins Univ. Writing Seminars Fellow, a Bread Loaf Scholar, a New Jersey Council on the Arts grant recipient, a Founding Editor of Bellevue Literary Review and a Scholar at this year's Summer Literary Seminars in Lithuania. Her work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, Washingtonian, and many other journals and anthologies. And in her other life, she's written copy for Smithsonian, World Wildlife Fund, Time magazine, and many other marketing clients.

R Jeffreys is a published poet, essayist; playwright; Editor-in-Chief; editorial consultant; featured blogger and book editor; and host of the popular radio show, "The Write Step with R Jeffreys." His “WriteStep” blog was chosen by as one of the top ten blogs for writing advice. He is also a web Shorty Award nominee and has written for the theater and many well-known stand-up comedians, life coaches, media publications, and web sites. As well, Jeff is the Program Organizer and host of the Boston chapter of the international event 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Currently, he’s editing Stories from a Holiday Heart, an anthology scheduled for release in November 2012.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Seven (Sexton)

The Starry Night 
painting by Vincent Van Gogh
poem by Anne Sexton 

Planning my December ekphrastic poetry course for The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative has got me thinking about ekphrasis, and though I may not use this particular pairing for the workshop, Sexton is one of my favorite poets, and Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters, so, needless to say, this poem thrills and delights me, despite the grim subject matter! In fact, as you will see below, Sexton herself expresses a great deal of zest and ecstatic feeling--again, despite (or maybe because of) the grim subject matter. 

I'm sure everyone already knows who Van Gogh is, and I hope everyone knows who Sexton is, but if you are not familiar with her, she was one of the confessional poets of the 1950's and 1960's era of American poetry. I've always admired her unique voice, her incredible gift with imagery, and her capacity to lay herself bare on the page.

So here's one masterpiece inspired by another:

The Starry Night

That does not keep me from having a terrible need of—shall I say the word—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars. –Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.