March 30, 2013

Easter, 1916 by William Butler Yeats

Easter, 1916
by William Butler Yeats

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wing├Ęd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

For an interesting explication of this complicated Easter (as in "Easter Rebellion") poem, look at this article.

March 22, 2013

UniVerse, a United Nations of Poetry

UniVerse, A United Nations of Poetry is an anthology and public program to encourage universal dialogue, compassion and peace. It is an archive of visionary poets and “Teach This Poem,” a free, interactive teaching tool featuring questions and writing exercises.

It celebrates the belief that "Poets comprise an international community practicing sensitivity in desensitized times. By writing and reading poems, one participates in the faith that truth-telling will lead to healing and growth; that the practice of pure intention will create peace; and that there will be someone, somewhere, listening."

There is United States representation by poets like Yusef KomunyakaaLi-Young Lee, W.S. MerwinAdrienne Rich and| Meghan O'Rourke. But there are many other countries represented that are usually underrepresented and often unknown to American readers.

Do you know any poets or poems from Bulgaria, Iran, Nigeria, France or even any of the Native American nations, such as the Assiniboine-Sioux?

March 20, 2013

Dorianne Laux's Family Stories

I will be attending a workshop and reading on April 6, 2013 with Dorianne Laux at The Poetry Center in Paterson, NJ where she is receiving the 2012 Paterson Poetry Prize for her collection The Book of Men.

I first found her poetry after reading The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry which she co-authored with Kim Addonizio. That book with its brief essays on the elements of poetry and writing prompts and exercises was one of the things that encouraged me to start the Poets Online website and later this blog.

Recently, I saw this poem of hers on the American Life in Poetry site. I think it is a good example of her poetry which Publishers Weekly described as being in a "descriptive, storytelling vein: the at-hand, the matter-of-fact, the day-to-day are rendered in an earnest tone both sensuous and nostalgic"

Family Stories

I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,
how an argument once ended when his father
seized a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurled it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine
it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,
and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed
the people in his stories really loved one another,
even when they yelled and shoved their feet
through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle
of cheap champagne, christening the wall,
rungs exploding from their holes.
I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury
of the passionate. He said it was a curse
being born Italian and Catholic and when he
looked from that window what he saw was the moment
rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous
three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship
down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk
deep in the icing, a few still burning.

Dorianne Laux's most recent book of poems is The Book of Men, (W.W. Norton & Co., 2011)  "Family Stories" appears in Smoke, (BOA Editions, Ltd.)

March 18, 2013

Anne Sexton on Film

The work of Anne Sexton reveals struggles with loneliness and depression, but she went before the camera to read her poems "Her Kind" and "Menstruation at Forty."

The second set of clips is from a 1966 visit to Sexton's home after the release of her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Live or Die. She tells the camera crew her husband hates the way she reads poems, but I have to disagree with him. Perhaps the most charming part of the clip is when Sexton loses her composure and snaps at her dogs. "What'd you do, tape me screaming at the dog?" she grins.

A fourteen-minute video split into two parts - Sexton at home reading, talking about poetry and about her family. Most of the material is showed in public for the first time. Spanish subtitles.

Part 1

Part 2

From a page at The Atlantic collecting rare clips of authors including Orwell, Beckett, Pynchon, Fitzgerald and Anne Frank.

March 14, 2013

March by William Carlos Williams

March (Parts I and II)
by William Carlos Williams
from Sour Grapes, 1921. This book is available free online at Project Gutenberg

Winter is long in this climate
and spring—a matter of a few days
only,—a flower or two picked
from mud or from among wet leaves
or at best against treacherous
bitterness of wind, and sky shining
teasingly, then closing in black
and sudden, with fierce jaws.

you remind me of
the pyramids, our pyramids—
stript of the polished stone
that used to guard them!
you are like Fra Angelico
at Fiesole, painting on plaster!

you are like a band of
young poets that have not learned
the blessedness of warmth
(or have forgotten it).

At any rate—
I am moved to write poetry
for the warmth there is in it
and for the loneliness—
a poem that shall have you
in it March.

continue reading

March 7, 2013

Prompt: Chloe Yelena Miller and the Past, Present, and Future

 "I am in you and you in me.

If the doors of perception were cleansed,
everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

Eternity is in love with the creations of time."
- William Blake

Poets have used verb tenses to manipulate time in their poems. The English language has many verb tenses to choose from, and a poet is always deciding when she begins a poem which tense is the best (or correct) verb tense to use. Focusing on choosing the right tense and knowing how and when to shift verb tenses is a technique that can add immediacy, or introduce tension.

Tense is the grammaticalisation of time. The basics are often all you need: past, present, future. But sometimes we need, or we accidentally slip into, present perfect, past perfect, future perfect or use simple or progressive verb forms.

I don't want to be the language teacher here, because, ultimately, that's not the prompt or point. And I have found that grammar is an almost sure way to lose the interest of the student.  But, here's the lesson in brief:
Present      I run (simple) - I am running (progressive)
Past           I ran - I was running
Future       I will run  - I will be running
Present Perfect    I have run - I have been running
Past Perfect    I had run - I had been running
Future Perfect   I will have run -  I will have been running

First, here's a quick poetry and tenses lesson using William Blake's "The Tyger."

Why does he use "dare" and not "dared" or "dares"?

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Is Blake using the present subjunctive tense to bring the past into the reader's present?  I'm not sure, but I do know that he made a choice and it catches the ear and eye.

If you are familiar with with other languages, you know that some things about our English verb tenses are the same and other things are quite different.

For this month's prompt, you need to try a poem which very deliberately plays with tenses. It might play with time (as in the time traveling of past, present and future tenses) or it might play with the language of tenses changing (in English or other langueages).

Rather than create a verb tenses poem,
In the language the little boy spoke,
there was a promise the little boy broke.
In the letter the little boy sent,
there was a truth the little boy bent.
it would be far better to consider the bigger implications of Time and tense, as Chloe Yelena Miller does in her poem.

No Infinitive

We met in Esperanto, declared:                   Mi amas vin.

Which means (in case I forget):                    I love you.

We swam in the Sardinian sea, the water as blank
as your conjugations. I wear one piece of my two piece:

I will, first person future,
label these photos in our language
without a national body. The word
for our actions is not a noun.

Gender neutral, were we
heterosexual? The flexible
syntax translucent, nudity's definition.

I could pronounce (phonetics):                     You.

There were rules: The accent
is always on the next to last syllable.

It was carnival, a meatless (almost meaty) masked
party. Lent followed, we gave up
each other (reflexively).

by Chloe Yelena Miller

I like it right off that they met in Esperanto. Not a place, but a language, and a word that translates as "one who hopes." We could follow the thread of Esperanto's three tenses and three moods. Maybe your poem can work with the poetic and non-English jussive mood that is used for wishes and commands.

And her poem ends "reflexively" - a form that cause problems for English speakers learning a new language since this feature is practically absent in English. The literal reflexive means the agent is simultaneously the patient. That's grammar class talk meaning we do it to ourselves. How poetic is the reflexive: to enjoy oneself, hurt oneself, kill oneself, convince, deny or to encourage oneself.

Submissions for this prompt will be accepted through March 31, 2013.

"No Infinitive" is from Chloe Yelena Miller's new chapbook, Unrest (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Chloe teaches writing privately and online at Fairleigh Dickinson University and leads writing workshops at the Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C. She blogs at

March 1, 2013

Richard Wilbur

I like this quote from poet Richard Wilbur which I think is about one reason that many of us write.

"I would feel dead if I didn't have the ability periodically to put my world in order with a poem. I think to be inarticulate is a great suffering, and is especially so to anyone who has a certain knack for poetry."

Richard Wilbur was born on this day, March 1, in New York City in 1921. His family included editors and journalists and he may have followed that career, but career decision were put off to serve in the infantry in World War II.

He did not write the soldier and battle poems that might have come from that experience. Instead, he wrote about the solitary, lonelier times of war. He said that he read Edgar Allan Poe in the trenches, and was more likely to write about a night spent peeling potatoes in the Army kitchen than about what it felt like to be on the front line.

His first book of poems, The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems was published in 1947.

He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987, and twice received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1957 and again in 1989. A Chancellor Emeritus of The Academy of American Poets, Wilbur currently lives in Cummington, Massachusetts.

The Writer

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.


It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

See the complete poem and hear it read by the author at

Collected Poems 1943-2004