Monday, November 26, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Eight (Adair)

Photo Credit: ESA/Hubble
A star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud

This week's poem, "Riding a Koan," by Virginia Hamilton Adair, moves me for so many reasons. I love the way it sustains the extended metaphor through flights of fancy and torrents of weather and words, connecting the poet and the koan more and more concretely to the elements until the boundaries break down and the koan itself disappears.

In the end, she is alone, and there is work to be done. Regular life. The literal. What a journey she takes us on in so few words.

Adair's personal and professional life are an inspiration. She published poems in magazines in her twenties (1930's and 40's), and unhappy with the publishing world, discontinued publishing for fifty years. She did not publish again until the 1990's, and her first book came out when she was eighty-three years old and blind. She'd been writing the whole time. In fact, she'd been writing since she was two years old, but the thing is that she wrote for herself and for her own sensibility.

Adair's husband committed suicide in 1968, and many of her poems deal with that loss and loneliness in a powerful, understated way that I admire, sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly, as we see at the end of this poem.

And finally, I'd like to mention how well her poem fits with this blog's background image and theme of unbridling the muse, or in this case, the koan.

Virginia Hamilton Adair

Riding a Koan
By Virginia Hamilton Adair

My koan waits
unsaddled, unbridled
tied to nothing.

I mount and ride
out of the map
into a tangle of stars.

Currents of grass
move through me,
and the scented rain.

I peer through snow
dust, fire, tornadoes,
into the vulture's eye.

Suns stampede
cantering through me
in my thicket of bones.

My koan whisks away
flies and words
finally, itself.

The earth opens
like a beak
through which I sing.

Alone on the prairie now
sod to cut
a well to dig.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Seven (Reznikoff)

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth 
by Jennie A. Brownscombe

This week for Mnemosyne I've selected, "Te Deum," a simple little poem of praise in honor of Thanksgiving. The poet, Charles Reznikoff  lived from 1894 - 1976 and was an objectivist, which means he was part of a group of second-generation Modernists whose tenets were to treat the poem as an object, and to emphasize the poet's clear view of the world, intelligence, and sincerity.

In case you're not familiar with the term "Te Deum," it's an early Christian hymn of praise. The title is taken from the opening Latin words, "Te Deum laudamus," or "Thee, O God, we praise."

I'm attracted to this poem because of the humility and gratitude of the speaker and because it's a perfect poem for reciting at the table.

I hope some of you choose to memorize it with me this week, and I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Charles Reznikoff
photo by Abraham Ravett

Te Deum 
by Charles Reznikoff

Not because of victories
I sing, 
having none, 
but for the common sunshine, 
the breeze, 
the largess of the spring. 

Not for victory 
but for the day's work done 
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais 
but at the common table.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Slight Break in Mnemosyne

Friends--For personal reasons, I'm taking a week off from posting Mnemosyne. I'll be back to it next week with a clearer head and a great poem for you. Thanks :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Six (MacLeish)

A Black Bird With Snow Covered Red Hills

Well, we've all got our ideas about what a poem should be--at least in my fantasy world, where everyone cares about poetry enough to debate the topic. In this week's selection, "Ars Poetica" by Archibald MacLeish,we have a poem about what a poem should be. And though I'm not in full agreement, I do admire what MacLeish says, and, even more, I love the way he says it--the images and metaphors, the sections, the clean lines and flighty couplets--all inspire a sense of quiet beauty. And, I'm sure you can tell by the O'Keeffe pairing what one of my favorite couplets is: "A poem should be wordless /As the flight of birds."

It will be rather a long poem to memorize, but it will be worth it. Enjoy!

Archibald MacLeish

Ars Poetica
By Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.


A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.


A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.