May 30, 2019

In Flander Fields

In 1915, following the Second Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a physician with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, wrote the poem, "In Flanders Fields". 

Its opening lines refer to the fields of poppies that grew among the soldiers' graves in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium.

In 1918, inspired by the poem, YWCA worker Moina Michael attended a YWCA Overseas War Secretaries' conference wearing a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed more to others present. In 1920, the National American Legion adopted it as their official symbol of remembrance in the U.S.

"In Flanders Fields" is a rondeau, a form fixe of medieval and Renaissance French poetry that was often set to music between the late 13th and the 15th centuries. (But not be confused with the rondo, a classical music form.) 

It is structured around a fixed pattern of repetition involving a refrain, though today it is used both in a wider sense with older variants of the form – which are sometimes distinguished as the triolet and rondel. To be stricter, it refers to a 15-line variant which developed from these forms in the 15th and 16th centuries, and which McCrae used.

The poem's immediate popularity led to it being used to recruit soldiers and raise money selling war bonds, and the reference to the red poppies resulted in the "remembrance poppy"  becoming one of the world's most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict. 

The poem and poppy are prominent Remembrance Day symbols throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, particularly in Canada, where "In Flanders Fields" is one of the nation's best-known literary works. The poem is also widely known in the United States, where it is associated with Veterans Day and Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day).

Silk Remembrance Day poppy worn on clothing

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place; and in the sky
  The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
  Loved and were loved, and now we lie
      In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
  The torch; be yours to hold it high.
  If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
      In Flanders fields.

Other poems commemorating Memorial Day include:

May 24, 2019

Poetry Rx

Poetry Rx, as in a poetry "prescription," is a column the The Paris Review. Readers write in with a specific emotion, and resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing poems for them. Once a weekly feature, it now monthly.

For May, the topic was "Then the Letting Go," One reader wrote in asking for a poem because she had come out to her parents and gotten a bad reaction.

Claire Schwartz replied:
"I'm sorry your family did not respond with the affirmation you deserve. Your queerness doesn’t need to be validated. It is valid because it is. You need—you deserve—to find a way to enter the truths of yourself regardless of how other people see you. That is difficult, beautiful work. I want to offer you a poem I hold very close because it stabilizes me to do just that: Adrienne Rich’s “Diving Into the Wreck.” 

In another column, when a reader asks for an encouraging poem for her job-hunting partner, Sarah Kay suggest one that isn't about job hunting biut about "loving someone exactly as they are, and wanting them to know that they are enough. It is a poem called “Ordinary Sex,” by Ellen Bass, which begins:"

If no swan descends
in a blinding glare of plumage,
drumming the air with deafening wings,
if the earth doesn’t tremble
and rivers don’t tumble uphill,
if my mother’s crystal
vase doesn’t shatter
and no extinct species are sighted anew
and leaves of the city trees don’t applaud
as you zing me to the moon, starry tesserae
cascading down my shoulders,
if we stay right here
on our aging Simmons Beautyrest,
dumped into the sag in the middle,
that’s okay...

May 17, 2019

Prompt: The Moon

Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madman. - Allen Ginsberg

Fly me to the Moon,
let me play among the stars
 Let me see what spring is like
on Jupiter and Mars   
- Bart Howard

Waxing Crescent Moon
Earth's Moon is 225,745 miles away, yet we have always felt very close to it. The earliest poetry used the Moon for inspiration and its attractions has never waned.

Have you heard the phrase "waxing poetic?" As with the Moon, when we "wax" we grow, become, get, or turn. In the Moon phases, between new and full a progressively larger part of the Moon's visible surface is illuminated and it appears to increase (wax) in size.

"Waning" is the opposite - that decreasing after a full moon. We have created a number of names for these waxing and waning phases: a waxing or waning Gibbous moon when more than half of the moon is illuminated, and a waxing or waning Crescent Moon when less than half is illuminated.

Those phases of the Moon are often compared to phases and cycles of people, both mental and physical. The constant of the Moon is that it is inconstant.

O, swear not by the moon
that inconstant Moon

that monthly changes in her circled orb
lest thy love prove likewise variable.
 - Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

The new Moon, when the Moon is essentially hidden, is also known as the Dark Moon. In the Druidic calendar, the night of the Full Moon is considered a time of rejoicing, and the night of the New Moon is a solemn occasion, calling for vigils and meditation. To the Druids, the new moon represents total feminine energy and an absence of masculine energy.

Everyone is a moon and has a dark side
which he never shows to anybody.  -  Mark Twain Pudd'nhead Wilson

Moon lore comes in many forms. There are the beliefs/superstitions, such as thinking that good luck will come your way if you first see the New Moon outside and over your right shoulder. To see the crescent Moon over the right shoulder was considered lucky, but seeing it over the left shoulder was unlucky.

To get rid of warts, take a slice of apple and while looking at the New Moon, rub the flesh of the apple against the wart and say: "What I see is growing, What I rub is going."  Bury the piece of apple. As it rots, the wart will disappear.

The moon for all her light and grace
has never learned to know her place.  - Robert Frost

The Moon lent its name to other names. In medieval Europe and England, “Moon’s men” were thieves and highwaymen who plied their trade by night. The more current term, “moonlighting,” is similar, originally meaning to hold down an additional night job.

And we have given the Full Moons many names. This month the Full Moon is on May 18 and it can be called the Flower Moon, Corn Planting Moon, Grass Moon, Milk Moon, Planting Moon, the Medieval Hare Moon, Buddha Full Moon , Moon When Frogs Return and many other names based on cultures and geography.

Most people know that it was once believed that the Moon (especially  Full Moon) could cause madness. In German, mondsüchtig, which can be translated as "lunatic," is literally “addicted to the moon.”

There is no shortage of Moon poems. Some are traditional in their approach.

To the Moon by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth, —
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

But some poems use the Moon in other ways.

The Moon and the Yew Tree” by Sylvia Plath is one of a group of poems that was published in The New Yorker in August 1963, six months after her death.

The yew tree points up. It has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.

If the moon smiles, she would resemble you. 
You leave the same impression 
of something beautiful, but annihilating.
-  Sylvia Plath, "The Rival"

Folklore about the Moon is interesting, but so are facts about the Moon. The footprints left by the Apollo astronauts will not erode as they would on Earth since there is no wind or water on the Moon and should last at least 10 million years. If you weigh 140 pounds on earth, you would weigh 23.240 lbs on the moon.The moon is 225,745 miles from earth.

Our prompt this month - as the May Full Moon approaches this weekend - is to write a poem about the Moon, but try to use it in a new way.

Submission Deadline: May 31, 2019

The Moon lives in the lining of your skin.  - Pablo Neruda