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Clocks and Time

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The Bridge Outside Paley's Door

The Bridge Outside Paley’s Door

 

 

 

 

In honor of the clock change, here is one of my poems about time and clocks from Made and Remade.

 

The Potentate of Time

As CEO, I cannot allow loss
of minutes dropped by badly
calibrated clocks, seconds

split by timers racing after
ever faster miles, or precious
nanoseconds sliced, spit out

by precision machines: all
the clumsy human attempts
to alter time.

I dispatch work crews to
sweep corners and gutters, sift
bits from curbs and drains,

bring their gathered goods into
my laboratory where skilled
artisans sort, stitch, splice.  My

expanding universe requires
recovery, repair, reuse
of every particle.

The title comes from a line in a hymn “Crown him the Lord of years, the potentate of time.”  It’s a phrase I’ve been fond of for a long time.  In spite of the source I picture this powerful figure as female.  I don’t know if this is because this cleaning up is a kind of woman’s work, or if it is a form of identification between poet and persona.  I intentionally hid my perspective by putting the poem in the first person.  How do you imagine this figure?

Drive carefully on Monday morning.  It’s a high accident time because so many people are thrown off and sleep deprived by the time change

Another Step on the Way

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The Bridge Outside Paley's Door

The Bridge Outside William Paley’s Door

Today I submitted the corrections for the printer to the publisher for Made and Remade, my book responding to William Paley and his Natural Theology.  The cover is in process and I hope to have an image of that soon.

Paley wrote:  “suppose I had found a watch upon the ground . . . the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker . . . .”   His book presents his case for creation by design, based on the intricacies of eye, ear, and other parts of the body and of nature.

My poems respond in many ways, including these thoughts on Paley’s watch, from “Time Past, Time Present”:

What’s the time on Paley’s watch?
Without hands it would still be
a watch.  It’s mechanism matters
to him: springs and metal, not hours,
minutes.  His present so long
past, timeless in comparison
with ours, has he a gift for the now
in which we’re timebound?

The realization of how different Paley’s sense of time and the watch were from mine was one of the moments that made my dialogue with his writing so interesting to me.

The Harbor Tunnel: a poem

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Hands tighten on the wheel as I descend
into grimy dim.  Some of the lamps
are out.  My skin feels damp.
Red lights, bright on the downslope,
soften on the rise.  I grope
toward common sense, the light at the end.

It has been a long time since I drove through the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore.  I’m not sure what brought it to mind; perhaps I was thinking of images of descent in general.  For many years I lived in Philadelphia while my mother lived in Greenbelt, Maryland.  The Harbor Tunnel was the logical way to go, but in the early years going down in made me nervous.

As you can see, I wrote this partly as an experiment with rhyme.

Learning to Read Wallace Stevens

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I haven’t had a course in poetry since seventh grade, and that consisted of memorizing pieces like Wordsworth’s “Daffodils,” so from time to time I set aside contemporary poetry to read something more classic.  This fall I tackled Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Like Homer, this is an epic, and a long one with long speeches.  One can skim large parts of it.  I was glad to discover what this famous work has in it: a fidelity to the Biblical record combined with a wildly imaginative representation of the spiritual world, lots of classical references in its comparisons, and a firm belief in reason.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) is quite a different case.  I came upon his Collected Poems in the local library.  Dipping into it, I found myself in over my head.  Since the collection consists of six separately published books, more or less complete, plus some later work, I chose to read the section Parts of the World, published in 1942.  There are sixty-three poems in this division, quite enough for the rereading and going back and forth it took me to really grasp what he was up to.  The rereading was well worth it.

One of the first things I had to learn was that a poem title may give no clue to the poem.  Why is a poem about Cotton Mather and a mouse titled “The Blue Buildings in the Summer Air”?  Stevens is not forthcoming about the sources of his poems, and it often seems that he is writing entirely for himself.  Sometimes I felt that the writing might be a project to avoid insanity caused by a very active imagination. He doesn’t use the first person a lot, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t talking about himself.  Consider the opening of “The Hand As a Being”

In the first canto of the final canticle,
Too conscious of too many things at once,
Our man beheld the naked, nameless dame,

At other times word play is apparently what started him off, as in “Country Words”:

I sang a canto in a canton,
Cunning-coo, O, cuckoo cock,
In a canton of Belshazzar
To Belshazzar, putrid rock,
Pillar of a putrid people,
Underneath a willow there
I stood and sang and filled the air.

One thing careful reading and rereading taught me was to enjoy the surprise but not be thrown off by radical shifts and unusual comparisons, as in this section from “”Variations on a Summer Day”:

xi

Now, the timothy at Pemaquid
That rolled in heat is silver-tipped
And cold.  The moon follows the sun like a French
Translation of a Russian poet.

Here is a sample complete poem, a description of a work of art.  It is one of 52 poems by Stevens available on Poemhunter.com, for anyone who would like to see a few more.

Study Of Two Pears

I
Opusculum paedagogum.
The pears are not viols,
Nudes or bottles.
They resemble nothing else.

II
They are yellow forms
Composed of curves
Bulging toward the base.
They are touched red.

III
They are not flat surfaces
Having curved outlines.
They are round
Tapering toward the top.

IV
In the way they are modelled
There are bits of blue.
A hard dry leaf hangs
From the stem.

V
The yellow glistens.
It glistens with various yellows,
Citrons, oranges and greens
Flowering over the skin.

VI
The shadows of the pears
Are blobs on the green cloth.
The pears are not seen
As the observer wills.

Very elaborate attention to detail ends in the observation that the artist has determined what the observer sees.  Then there’s this poem, which made me, as a poet myself, think – a lot.

Poetry Is a Destructive Force

That’s what misery is,
Nothing to have at heart.
It is to have or nothing.

It is a thing to have,
A lion, an ox in his breast,
To feel it breathing there.

Corazon, stout dog,
Young ox, bow-legged bear,
He tastes its blood, not spit.

He is like a man
In the body of a violent beast.
Its muscles are his own . . .

The lion sleeps in the sun.
Its nose is on its paws.
It can kill a man.

The animals are in the man, then the man is inside the animal.  Is being a poet this uncomfortable?  Is this what pushed him to produce so much amazing and puzzling work?  The book is due at the library soon, but it is likely I’ll get it out again to explore another section of Stevens’s work another time.  I think I’ve made great progress in learning to read his poems.

Happy New Year

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I’m four days late wishing my Christian friends a happy new year.  Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent, marking the beginning of the liturgical year, as we look forward once again to Christ’s coming into the world.  The liturgical color for this season is blue, which signifies hope.  It is a season of waiting.

The waiting on the surface level is the waiting for Christmas which, in contrast to the secular season, only begins on December 25.  Children’s advent calendars mark the days with little doors to open on each day, until the door for December 25 reveals a manger scene.

There is a deeper level to advent waiting for which there is no calendar.  We do not know “the day or the hour” for Christ’s return.  Many people still expect a physical return, in spite of nearly 2,000 years in which it has not happened.  Others speak of Christ coming into our hearts and lives.  I tend to think of growing into Christness, rather than Christ coming to me.  Different metaphors work for different folks.

We had a splendid sunrise on December 1, which makes a good image for advent and new beginnings.  The rising sun is received by the cloud in brilliant color.  As the sun rises, the cloud blocks it.  We tend to be less aware, less appreciative of the sun when the clouds are really thick.  But it is there, making what was night into day, too powerful to be fully obscured.

December Sunrise

December Sunrise

One for Fun

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On the road this past weekend I found myself eating in restaurants and remembered this poem which I wrote several years ago.  It’s all about the word play, and you’ll see by the end, if you don’t recognize it immediately, that it is rapidly becoming dated.  Enjoy!

 

Checkpoint

Checking out the new
restaurant, we place
our order, chat about
that smiling checker at
the grocery store, my
check-up – the doctor’s
clean bill of health.

It’s my turn to pick up
the check.  We recall
when checks we wrote
had stubs, those books
with three to a page
your father used, as if
home were a business.

Waitstaff scurry from
table to computer, which
prints small characters
on short thin strips.
I say, “We’re ready for
the check.”  Our server
calls it a ticket.

 

After Rain

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The ground in my back yard is mostly sand between the bushes.  But then it rains and it becomes clear how many seeds are buried in that sand.   Rain is a good metaphor for all kinds of nurturing.  When the rain doesn’t come for a while, more yellow shows from the ground.  When it comes again, the ground is green.

100_0896

 

Dry skin in winter,
wind burnt in spring, the ground
turns to green fuzz
after rain, grows out ragged
as an adolescent’s beard.

100_0897

Recommendation: The Pleasures of Tanka

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Tanka, as you may know, is a Japanese form slightly longer than haiku.  The traditional pattern calls for five lines, a total of 31 syllables, in the pattern 5, 7, 5, 7, 7.

If you’d like to learn about tanka, I recommend Janet Davis’s blog, twigs&stones, which I’ve just added to my blogroll:  http://www.twigsandstones-poems.blogspot.com/

Here are a few of my favorites among the tanka she has recently published on her blog.

One she offered for July 4: though I usually make my own potato salad, I can feel the embarrassment in the word “shriveling”.

the brimming bowl
of potato salad
she made at home
…..my tub of store-bought
…..shriveling beside it

red lights, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2013

A more serious moment is described in this one:

railroad arms
rise up as I approach …
on the long drive
to the hospital
I hope for an “all clear”

—American Tanka, June 2013, Issue 22

The next one struck me because I have been working on a poem on a similar subject.  What she says in five lines is something I struggled to say in eighteen:

I trace them
clear back to Jamestown—
forebears
of the grandfather
I knew little about

—Simply Haiku, Winter 2009, Vol. 7, No. 4

You have no doubt noticed that none of these examples reach the number of 31 syllables.  As with haiku, tanka writers in English strive for greater conciseness.  As a beginner in this form, however, I am finding that the 31 syllable form is a good place to start.

Enjoy many more tanka at twigs&stones.

Recommendation: Poet Diane Kistner

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I received “Falling in Caves” by Diane Kistner through Goodreads.  It is a selection from poems she wrote many years ago.  It is a great pleasure to read. The poems are very musical, often songlike, though the material is mostly serious and even grim (in one case, “Father and Son,” I want to spell that Grimm).  As I tried to pinpoint what I like about the style I realized that what makes these poems musical are the very things I have been repeatedly instructed by friends in workshops to avoid: repetition, phrases with of and the, little words like and.  These poems show what skill can do with material that less experienced poets are leery of, and chastise each other for using.  An example of this is the opening of “Shell”:

After the bell,
the fading bell,
last bell to be heard,
he walks the dark beaches,
far from the vain, curled alleys,
far from the world’s grave sanity.

Among the twenty two poems in this small collection, I particularly like “Ten Vain Attempts” (to get rid of anger) and the title poem.  “Falling in Caves” starts with a child’s fall while running, moves to the cave as a discovery of the past, and ends with:

There in the cave’s jaws
the first wheels started turning my head around.
They are turning still, down root-deep inside me,
meshing time’s slow, certain teeth.
We are falling into forever,
and there’s nothing to keep it from us.

My favorite of these poems is “The Walls”:

Four years old
with colored crayons,
you have discovered the walls.
Not old enough yet to know better,
you have covered the white expanse
of your boundaries
with castles and kings and queens
from your Mother Goose book.
You have walked
in your own enchanted forest.
You have flown bright flags
against a sky of dreams.
You have skipped down to a sea
of fishes, walked upon the beach,
built castles of sand
and danced
and laughed
when the waves
washed your castles away.
Crayon in hand
and queen of your land,
you believe
you can always make more.
When I spank you,
you cry you hate me
and stare with those dark yet
not yet extinguished eyes.
I wash and wash at your pictures
with soap and rags, trying
to make the walls dull
and white again.
How long will it be
before you stop fighting me,
I who am grown up
and see all colors at once,
undone, whirled into oneness?
How long will it be
before you accept the walls?

And I want to say to the child “Don’t accept the walls!” though I know we have to.  This poem takes its time to describe a familiar subject, both the literal four year old and the one inside each of us, and I enjoy every moment of it.

“Falling in Caves” is published by FutureCycle Press: http://www.futurecycle.org/PressTitles.aspx.    Another book in their catalog which is well worth your time and money is “Mosslight” by Kimberley Pittman-Schulz.  Both of these authors turn keen observations into music.  I found Kistner’s “Falling in Caves” the more satisfying, but both books suggest FutureCycle Press is a good source for finding poetry by good poets you might not have heard of before.

Maine Rocks

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rocks 1

Rocky Beach

Dropped stock
from an enormous
overturned truck.

rocks 2

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