Thursday, April 27, 2017

National Poetry Month: W.S. Merwin


"Before the Flood" 
(W.S. Merwin)

Why did he promise me
that we would build ourselves
an ark all by ourselves
out in back of the house
on New York Avenue
in Union City New Jersey
to the singing of the streetcars
after the story
of Noah whom nobody
believed about the waters
that would rise over everything
when I told my father
I wanted us to build
an ark of our own there
in the back yard under
the kitchen could we do that
he told me that we could
I want to I said and will we
he promised me that we would
why did he promise that
I wanted us to start then
nobody will believe us
I said that we are building
an ark because the rains
are coming and that was true
nobody ever believed
we would build an ark there
nobody would believe
that the waters were coming

W.S. Merwin, 90 later this year, began his writing career at the age of five by writing hymns for his father, who was a Presbyterian minister. ("I was very disappointed that they weren’t used in church"). His first book, A Mask for Janus, was chosen by W.H. Auden in 1952 for the Yale Younger Poets series. He has lived in Majorca, London, France, Mexico, as well as the United States; in 1976, Merwin moved to Hawaii to study with Robert Aitken, the Zen Buddhist teacher, and he now lives on Maui with his wife Paula. In his 1987 Paris Review interview he tells Ed Hirsch: "Writing poetry is never a wholly deliberate act over which you have complete control. It’s important to recognize that writing is at the disposition of all sorts of forces, some of which you don’t know anything at all about. You can describe them as parts of your own psyche, if you like, they probably are, but there are lots of other ways of describing them that are as good, or better—the muses, or the collective unconscious. More suggestive and so, in a way, more accurate. Any means of invoking these forces is good, as far as I’m concerned."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

National Poetry Month: Joy Harjo

"Ah Ah"
for Lurline McGregor

Ah, ah cries the crow arching toward the heavy sky over the marina.
Lands on the crown of the palm tree.
Ah, ah slaps the urgent cove of ocean swimming through the slips.
We carry canoes to the edge of the salt.
Ah, ah groans the crew with the weight, the winds cutting skin.
We claim our seats. Pelicans perch in the draft for fish.
Ah, ah beats our lungs and we are racing into the waves.
Though there are worlds below us and above us, we are straight ahead.
Ah, ah tattoos the engines of your plane against the sky—away from these waters.
Each paddle stroke follows the curve from reach to loss.
Ah, ah calls the sun from a fishing boat with a pale, yellow sail. We fly by
on our return, over the net of eternity thrown out for stars.
Ah, ah scrapes the hull of my soul. Ah, ah.

"Ah, Ah" originally appeared in  How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems:1975-2001. Joy Harjo 's most recent collection is Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (2015). Harjo is the first Native {Creek] to win the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, which bestows the honor annually “to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.” In a 2015 interview, she comments that "I came to realize that as poets we just write songs. So, we have to take it all on, these stages of life, every seven years, create community, be creative, and make art. You have to open up, accept frailty, failure, there’s really no failure, you’re learning, it’s like sketches. You are giving back, like breathing, like life, like death, you take that place in the circle, part of the gift is to give back. And you are really giving forward."

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

National Poetry Month: Deacon Lunchbox

Deacon Lunchbox was the stage name of Atlanta performance artist and poet Timothy Tyson Ruttenber. A construction worker by day, he was popular in the Atlanta area for his flamboyant spoken-word performances. He often punctuated each line of his poems by banging an old torpedo casing or metal bucket with a hammer. His onstage props included a chainsaw, and often a bra was part of his costume. Deacon is credited with giving the Atlanta alternative country music scene its name - the Redneck Underground. He died in an auto accident, along with two members of the Atlanta group The Jody Grind, in April 1992.

More about Deacon Lunchbox, the Jody Grind, and the Cabbagetown music scene here.