Tag Archives: Poems

National Poetry Month Blog Tour: Paragon Park (Turtle, Swan; Bethlehem in Broad Daylight; Early Poems), by Mark Doty

National Poetry Month Blog Tour

My friend Serena from Savvy Verse and Wit is The Poet Laureate of the Internet. Of all the thousands of book bloggers out there, Serena is poetry’s foremost champion. Her passion for the genre is contagious and her enthusiasm has introduced countless of readers (including me) to new-to-them poets and the wonder of poetry.  In celebration of National Poetry Month, Serena is hosting the “Reach for Horizon” blog tour.

As the blogger for today’s stop, I’ve chosen to highlight the poetry of Mark Doty and some of his exquisite work. Mark Doty is one of those writers who could write anything and I’m convinced I would love it. He’s among my very favorites.

Paragon Park

 Paragon Park (David R. Godine, Publisher, 2012, 179 pages) includes the complete texts of Mr. Doty’s collections Turtle, Swan and Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, as well as eight of Mr. Doty’s earliest poems. In an author’s note that precedes these poems, he writes about the process of self-discovery involved in re-reading them.

“That’s one thing I liked about doing this reading, seeing what have become familiar gestures or vocal strategies emerge – suddenly there I am, becoming me. This seems mysterious – wasn’t I always myself? Yes and no. Maybe the turn of voice was there, the habit of speech or the manner of thinking, but here it is in this poem or that appearing on the page, and thus in some way concretizing a self: a manner of speaking, a means of making meaning ….I can see a style emerging in them, but also ways of thinking, rehearsals for concerns and questions that will be given a larger form later on.” (pg. 158)

Honestly, the man even seems to speak in poetry, doesn’t he? If I’m ever lucky enough to get the chance, I’m pretty certain that I could listen to Mark Doty for hours.

It makes sense that these poems are included here with Turtle, Swan (the complete text of Mark Doty’s first book of poetry, published by Godine in 1987) as well as the full collection of Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, also published by Godine, in 1991. As I’ve come to expect from Mark Doty – have I mentioned that he is probably my favorite poet and one of my very favorite writers? – these are poems that are deeply personal, reflective of a childhood, of friends and lovers and places gone too soon.

Some of my favorite images and lines, then.  (I am not going to be able to go to the shore or the boardwalk again without this imagery from the poem “Paragon Park”):

“The music bounces from loudspeakers –
forties swing suggesting we might see our parents ,
freshly stepped from a snapshot, stepping
around the corner; unchanging fragrances
of sea wind, junk food, and the hot gears
of the ferris wheel.”

or this, from “A Row of Identical Cottages”:

“Traveling brings back every other summer
by the sea; our long, familiar conversations’s
all I remember …and Then …

Memory seems a kind of shoreline,
the edge between sleep and the world.
We’re never sure what we’ll wake to –

what form the past, which has no boundaries,
has chosen for its intrusion into today,
or how our random memories will match

or collide.”

My God, that’s gorgeous, isn’t it?

At times, Mark Doty’s verses seem to evoke Springsteen – or maybe it’s the reverse. Regardless, they both have that enviable ability to take what we think of a fun setting (“Playland”) and transform it into something fantastical, mythological and deeply spiritual.

“I’ve never seen anyone but us leave,
and I believe that everyone here
has been dead for years,
and that they not only don’t mind
but are truly happy, because here
there is no need to guard themselves,
no possibility of an aesthetic mistake,
and no one is too old, too poor
or mistaken.”

There were lines in these poems I loved and entire poems, too (“Tiara” and “A Box of Lilies”). From the latter:

“This is what I imagine it’s like,
Doug: once the mailman brought me
a box of lilies, by mistake
– shipping error, nursery packet’s
benevolent whim? –
twenty-eight pale and armored hearts,
spiky as artichokes.
Nothing was labeled
but I could guess their intentions
by their heft; some were twinned,
even two-fisted, and the instructions plain:
Dig deeper than you need to,
fertilize with a little bone,
allow to remain undisturbed for years.”

With each precise, perfect word, Mark Doty’s poetry has a way of doing that – digging deep, fertilizing those memories that may have been undisturbed for years. Quite simply, he’s a master.

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for the fair daffodils, and for those who have hastened away so soon

Daffodils - 4-14-2014

It’s hard to get the full effect from such a small picture, but trust me … my daffodils were absolutely stunning on Monday after a glorious weekend of 70 and near 80 degree temperatures.

And this morning, not even 48 hours later?

Daffodils in snow 3

Daffodils in snow 2 Daffodils in snow 4 Daffodils in snow 5

 TO DAFFADILS

Fair Daffadils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you;
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or any thing.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Away,
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) 

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stages

Pittsburgh Daffodils, April 2013
Photo Credit: Melissa Firman

As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.

“Stages” ~ Hermann Hesse

After you’ve attended a Unitarian Universalist congregation for awhile, you learn to expect the unexpected.

You don’t expect people to be so welcoming and open-minded. You don’t expect to hear words you’ve never heard spoken aloud in church before (or, at least, spoken aloud in a positive way). You don’t expect so much laughter, for church to be so damn fun. 

When talking to people unfamiliar with Unitarian Universalism, they often ask me (a UU for almost 13 years) what services are like. And I usually respond that while there are elements and rituals that are the same, each service is different. You know, just like people.

I arrived a few minutes late yesterday to the Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills, so I missed the first few lines of Hermann Hesse’s poem “Stages” spoken aloud as the opening prayer. With its theme of exploring endings of life, love, and friendship through poetry, I knew Sunday’s service was going to be a spiritual can of Red Bull for me, thanks to the last 15 months of unemployment hell/ freelancing/Bill’s cancer treatments, and this week’s news of accepting a new job.

I was proven more than right.  It had a sprinkling of Robert Frost, an abundance of Edna St. Vincent Millay – with meditation music provided by Art Garfunkel on CD.

All my plans have fallen through
All my plans depend on you
Depend on you to help them grow
I love you and that’s all I know
When the singer’s gone
Let the song go on
But the ending always comes at last
Endings always come too fast
They come too fast but they pass too slow
I love you and that’s all I know

We were asked to form a circle and hold hands for the closing prayer, a continuation of Herman Hesse’s “Stages.” We shuffled into place. (We don’t usually do this.)

I noticed P. then for the first time and grabbed hold of his hand. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like I could let go. I didn’t want to.

I never met P. before that moment.

There are some people who you feel you have known forever, yet you’ve never met. Maybe they remind you of someone – or several someones. Maybe it’s something about their spirit that needs to connect with yours. Maybe it’s not for us to figure out. Regardless, I am one of those people who believes that we meet the people we meet for a reason. We may not always know it, but there is a purpose for our being here and our encounters are not as random as they may seem.

And so we stood, hand in hand, encircled, listening to the words of Herman Hesse as the closing prayer.

The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.

Visitors get a handmade nametag (if they choose), which is what P. wore yesterday.I took that as my opening cue. 

“Good morning!” I said. “Is this your first time here?”

His third, he said. He’s from out of state and here in Pittsburgh for medical treatments.

I nodded, resisting the urge to say dammit, I thought so. I mean, why can’t my instincts be this accurate about things like winning Powerball numbers? 

“You’re in a good place,” I said, meaning both Pittsburgh as a city and a medical community AND our UU congregation.

We talked about the church and our backgrounds, and P. told me a bit more about his condition. Unlike other converations I’ve had like this, suddenly I wanted to know more about this stranger I truly wanted to call my friend. I also know exactly where in my personal Checked Baggage Claim department this was coming from. I could feel the questions wanting to spill forth. Are you okay? Do you have family here? Do you need a ride to the hospital? Can I bake you a casserole? 

“If there’s anything that the church can do for you….” I said, telling him the name of our pastor, who wasn’t there yesterday.

We talked more, about endings of the most personal and final kind. About wishes and pre-arrangements and blessings. All this, in a matter of minutes.

The church started to empty. A friend came up to us to congratulate me on my new job. I wasn’t done with P. yet.

“I feel like I’ve known you forever, P.,” I smiled, giving him a hug goodbye. He smiled back. 

“Thank you, Melissa,” he replied.

“I hope to see you again soon,” I said, fully aware of the meaning of the phrase.

“And you will.”

We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slave of permanence.
Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end. 

“Stages” ~ Hermann Hesse

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anticipation; for we have wintered enough

Here, then, are the (unedited and uncropped) daffodils, almost full to bursting with the anticipation of spring. This photo was taken last Friday, March 15. Today on this first day of spring, the daffodils look much the same.

You can almost hear them saying that they, too, have wintered enough. As I do every year (because I love it so much), I share one of my favorite poems, by Unitarian Universalist minister Jane Rzepka, on this much-awaited first day of spring.

O Spirit of Life and Renewal
Rev. Jane Rzepka

We have wintered enough,
mourned enough,
oppressed ourselves enough.
Our souls are too long cold and buried,
our dreams all but forgotten,
our hopes unheard.
We are waiting to rise from the dead.
In this, the season of steady rebirth,
we awaken to the power so abundant, so holy,
that returns each year through earth and sky.

We will find our hearts again, and our good spirits.
We will love, and believe, and give and wonder,
and feel again the eternal powers.
The flow of life moves ever onward
through one faithful spring,
and another,
and now another.
May we be forever grateful.
Alleluia.
Amen.

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Book Review: Steampunk Poe, by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac

Steampunk Poe
by Edgar Allan Poe
illustrated by Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac 
Running Press Teens
2011
263 pages 

In honor of the Baltimore Ravens winning the Super Bowl, how about a review of a book that pays homage to their namesake, Edgar Allan Poe?

This book caught my eye in the teen section of our library several months back and I was immediately intrigued. I kind of love me some Edgar Allan – and my introduction to Steampunk last Christmas wasn’t too bad either.

If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of Steampunk, it’s a little different. Wikipedia defines Steampunk as 

a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Therefore, steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.

According to the jacket copy of Steampunk Poe, this is described as “a marriage between Edgar Allan Poe and Steampunk, the likes of which may surprise admirers of both writer and genre. Of course, there will be some who have always believed that gothic madmen and clockwork gears were destined to make brilliant companions. Inside, the classic works of Edgar Allan Poe are presented in their original form, with the dark tales of horror and mystery heightened by equally dark and mysterious Steampunk illustrations.”

The short stories contained within include Poe’s classics “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Balloon-Hoax,” “The Spectacles,” and “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.”

Of the poems, we have “The Raven,” “To Helen,” “The City in the Sea,” “A Dream Within a Dream,” “The Conqueror Worm,” and “The Bells.”

I was relieved to see that Poe’s stories and poems were kept to their original form. Every so often you hear about some publisher wanting to modernize some classic or another, and I thought this was going to be something along those lines. Thankfully, it wasn’t. This was especially good because, while I liked the steampunk elements in the illustrations, several of the Poe stories and poems were new to me (or ones that I needed a refresher in, since I probably hadn’t read them since high school or before).

This is an entertaining book (although it is much heavier in weight than it looks!). The illustrations are quirky and and fun, and the stories give the reader just the right amount of Poe that is perfect for a cold winter’s night (or, even better, around Halloween). I could see where this would be appealing for young adults and hopefully entice them to explore more of Poe’s work.

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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A Poetic 4th

Whitemarsh Memorial Park, Horsham, PA

The Better Way

Who serves his country best?
Not he who, for a brief and stormy space,
Leads fourth her armies to the fierce affray.
Short is the time of turmoil and
unrest,
Long years of peace succeed it and replace:
There is a better way.
Who serves his country best?
Not he who guides her senates in
debate;
And makes the laws which are her prop and stay;
Not he who wears the poet’s purple vest
And sings her songs of love and grief and fate:
There is a better way.
He serves his country best,
Who joins the tide that lifts her nobly on;
For speech has myriad tongues for every day,
And song but one; and law within the breast
Is stronger than the graven law on stone;
This is a better way.
He serves his country best
Who lives pure life, and doeth
righteous deed,
And walks straight paths, however others stray,
And leaves his sons as uttermost
bequest
A stainless record which all men may read:
This is the better way.
No drop but serves the slowly lifting tide,
No dew but has an errand to some flower,
No smallest star but sheds some
helpful ray,
And man by man, each giving to all the rest,
Makes the firm bulwark of the
country’s power:
There is no better way.
— Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, 1835-1905 (pen name Susan Coolidge)

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

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Book Review: Book of Days, by Jennifer Hill-Kaucher

Book of Days 
by Jennifer Hill-Kaucher
FootHills Publishing 
2005 
56 pages 


I have this tradition (if something done for two years in a row can be considered a tradition) of having the first book I read in the New Year be a book of poetry. To me, there’s something peaceful and meditative and calming about easing into the year with verse. Last year it was Billy Collins’s Picnic, Lightning; this year, my selection was Jennifer Hill-Kaucher’s appropriately-titled poetry collection Book of Days. 


So, even though I read this slim volume back on January 1, I’m posting the review today because one of the poems just resonated so very much with me and is apropos for today.

I first became acquainted with Jennifer’s work (although not Jennifer herself) through her husband Dan Waber, whom I met when I visited their store, Paper Kite Books in Kingston, PA (which is near Scranton). As Dan said during our conversation, “The only way to know what kind of poetry you like is to read a lot of it.”

Book of Days is a collection of 41 poems, each divided into seamless sections headed by a poem titled by a day of the week. To me, these poems are about the big and small moments that make up a life – the minor tasks that make up a Sunday afternoon (“Sunday”), sneaking a few moments to write in the car on a lunch break (“Muse”), the enjoyment of a good cup of coffee (“To Coffee”), microwaving a Lean Cuisine (“Monday”), driving the carpool (“Cribsheet”).

The different seasons are represented (“Wreath,” “Late Summer Inquiry”) and life stages (“Interview” and “Heart,” which is my absolute favorite poem in this collection – and one of my favorites of all time, actually – because I can relate to it all too well.

You see, today marks 27 years since we lost my dad. I was a sophomore in high school and all these years later, the feeling of everything becoming fragile, elemental, the last slow whirls falling to zero still very much remain.

Heart

My mother bought it because I begged
at the corner store that sold waxy penny candy.
I held it in the clear plastic box, a trophy
or airtight museum artifact.

Unsure of what it did, how it worked
My father threaded the string slowly
and turned it, winding like a bobbin.
One good pull and it stood on its own

inside its immobile armature, the center
a blur of gold and red, the wheel rigged
into a fine whir of air and little squeaks
like an animal pursued in the wood.

Every day that winter I took it to school,
watched it perform a balanced dance on my desk
between the boys and the tests until one Wednesday
my mother appeared at the door crushed

with news of death and everything became fragile
elemental, the last slow whirls falling to zero.

Jennifer Hill-Kaucher is a poet who deserves a much wider readership than she currently has. (I suppose that is the case for many poets.) You can read more of Jennifer’s poetry on her blog, Jenny Hill, which also gives information on how to order her books.

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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