Poem of the Month

April 1, 2013

Ecstatic by Yusef Komunyakaa

Filed under: Uncategorized — EShipley @ 11:00 am

yusef-komunyakaa-1-sized

Joy, use me like a whore.
Turn me inside out like Donne
Desired God to do with him.
Show me some muscle,

Sunlight on black stone.
Coldcock me about the head
Till I moan like a bell, low
As the one Goya could hear

Through the walls of
Quinta del Sordo.
Tie me up to the stocks those Puritans
Handled so well in Boston streets.

Don’t let me down. I beg
You to use all your know-how
In one throttle. Please, good God,
Put everything into your swing.

Well, now, here’s a poem that should stop you from whatever else you’re doing to listen hard and well. For Komunyakaa, peaceful contentment has nothing to do with joy. Satisfaction is pallid compared with the fresh, high experience of ecstasy. He’s got to be made new, compelled to feel alive. “Ecstatic” is a prayer, consisting not of pieties but of passionate pleas: “Use me,” “Turn me inside out,” “Coldcock me,” “Tie me up.”

And here’s a real lesson for writers, whether students or professionals. Komunyakaa’s language and his rhythms are new, but the matter of “Ecstatic” is as old as time. “Jacob and the Angel” is the biblical story of a man who emerges wounded but renewed from a wrestling match with a divine power. Marianne Moore (1888-1972) saw that “satisfaction is a lowly thing, how pure a thing is joy.” And John Donne (1572-1631) insisted, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you/ As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend.” Donne prayed for the true faith, Komunyakaa for ecstasy. Perhaps they’re one and the same.

Grace Schulman
Distinguished Professor, English

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February 28, 2013

Song of Myself (an excerpt) by Walt Whitman

Filed under: Uncategorized — EShipley @ 5:04 pm

whitman

 

 

Beasts?

 

Approximately fifty pages into Leaves of Grass, in the 1892 version that is referred to as the deathbed edition,[1] Walt Whitman seems to pause and take a step back from his rolling, practiced effusion about everything human.  In some ways the sweeping momentum of the poem comes to an abrupt halt and lands in what philosophers call an aporia, or a troublesome conflict.  Whitman surmises:

 

 

 

 

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid

            and self-contain’d.

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,

Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of

            owning things,

Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands

            of years ago,

Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

So they show their relations to me and I accept them,

They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in

            their possession.  (52)

 

On some level it’s a remarkable passage, complicated in its way because it not only goes against the Enlightenment position, which reinvigorated the age-old belief in human superiority, but in some sense it contradicts the Romantic view of animals as well.  After all Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the granddaddy of the movement, had written in his “Discourse on Inequality” that “Every animal has ideas because it has senses; it even combines its ideas up to a certain point, and, in this regard, man differs from beasts only in degree.”[2]  That is, for Rousseau, animals almost reach human levels of thought.  They share a kinship with humanity, but they also fall short of human greatness, even if only by a matter of “degree.”  But Whitman goes a great deal further.  In effect he reverses the hierarchy hidden in the binarism human/animal.  What he proposes is the notion that animals are better than us.  He prefers them for what they don’t do, including whine, regret, grovel, kowtow, strive or own.  Setting aside the question of the empirical accuracy of his assertions, the passage begs deeper consideration for how it relates to the humanist tradition.  After all, one of the consequences of that tradition was for cultures to denigrate their own by reducing groups or individuals to a name, including “animal,” “beast” or, most damning of all, “savage.”  In a sense Whitman reverses these labels, or he rehabilitates them.  He says later in the text: “[G]ive me serene-moving animals teaching content” (262).  And “How beautiful and perfect are the animals!” (369).  And he enthuses about “the satisfaction and aplomb of animals” (415).  The big question is why he is so insistent on this theme.  Is it merely a poet’s game or is he serious?  And if the latter, what are the consequences?  If animals behave in ways preferable to humans, does that imply that all the mean-spirited labeling no longer possesses any bite?  That is, if animals no longer constitute an Other to humans, if the slash in the binarism human/animal is removed or, more aptly, the hierarchy is reversed, then what happens to the hierarchies between humans?  What does it say about the many traditions that served in the nineteenth century as bases for inequality, including Christianity, but also capitalism and bourgeois culture, as well as one of their most pernicious forms, the slave system?  If all these are what he’s after in the language of the passage above, how does this leveling relate to all his inducements elsewhere in the text to think of America broadly, allegorically, as a place where difference is the rule, requiring a radically new approach, an entirely new understanding of democracy?  Again if the hierarchy between humans and animals is overturned, then can’t the same be possible in human hierarchies, all of which are founded on perceived differences?  Finally, do any of these considerations challenge the way we think about and treat animals themselves?  Would Whitman genuinely have cared?

–Professor Donald Mengay


[1] Whitman, Walt.  Leaves of Grass and Other Writings.  Ed. Michael Moon.  New York: Norton, 2002.

[2] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Rousseau’s Political Writings.  Ed. Alan Ritter and Julia Conaway Bondanella.  Trans. Julia Conaway Bondanell.  New York: Norton, 1988.

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November 5, 2012

Great Moments in Taches Blanches by Charles Bernstein

Filed under: Uncategorized — EShipley @ 9:23 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Freedom is never free”

[One July, it was 1997, a small group, convened by Emmanuel Hoquard, met at the Centre de Poésie & Traductions at Fondation Royaumont, near Paris, to play the “blank spots” game (le gam taches blanches). If the game of blank spots were a betting game it would go like this: “I'll see your nothing and raise you nothing.” Parent figure: “I didn’t raise you to say things like that.” Parent figure: “Leave them alone & they’ll come home, wagging their tales behind them.” I present here one of my contributions to the Royaumont meeting.]

1. Jimmy Stewart is Tache Blanc in Blank Check, un film de Jean-Jacques Lecercle.

2. “I have lost my notes but maybe I will find them during my nap.”

3. Staedtler “Mars Plastic” Eraser (Cf.: Rauschenberg¹s erased DeKooning, c. 1954).

4. Lascaux sans image.

5. THE GLARE OF THE BLANK (the tear of the … )

6. Don’t blink.

7. Blink.

8. She shot me point blank.

She shot me at point blank range.

I got shot at point blank range.

9. Johnny must have slipped me a Mickey because the next thing I knew everything started to go blank and I found myself on the floor next to the coach and she was saying to me: “[Quote removed by Tom Raworth for further study]”

10. ( )

11. (

12. ).

13. There’s no blank like the present.

14. .

 

 

 

 

DRAWING A BLANK

IT’S NO LONGER BLANK

15. Blank Stare.

16. The anoriginal space between versions (translation & source, text & performance, cup & lip) is the grace of blankness.

17. This section intentionally left blank.

18. “Never give a sucker an even blank.”

19. “Don’t blank on it.”

20. “Don’t blank out on me. Not now.”

20a. Her glance pierced me like blanks firing on an icy precipice.

21. Goffmann¹s “disattend track” (Frame Analysis).

22. In the blank of an eye.

23. Drawing a blank (II):

24. “The gap I mean.”

25. MIND THE GAP.

26. The gap in agape.

27. “Rob sees red when Laura goes blond.”

28. The savage wilderness of the desert.

29. All problems of language are problems of translation.

30. “Running on empty.”

31. Arakawa/Gins: “Forming Blank” (tube / twisted tube / . . . . . . . ).

31. Fill in the blank: ______, ________, _______.

31. Blanched but not bowed.

31. Waldrop’s paradox : The only one who can judge the translation knows both languages and so can¹t judge it.

31. “DU CALME:

Poetry makes nothing happen”

(Rogélio Lopez Cuenca).

31. Poetry fakes nothing actually.

31.

31.

 

 

In Charles Bernstein’s “Great Moments in Taches Blanches” a reader finds many blank spots. Commands are redacted and assertions refused. Parentheses are split open. Blank space is given some physical shape, at least the shape of a “tache rectangle,” and then paradoxically (and honestly) said to be no longer blanked, and at last, numbered sections of the poem are left waiting, succumbing to the luster of words that haven’t arrived, words that have been left blank.

“Taches Blanches” literally translates to “white spots,” and also as Bernstein employs it, “blank checks.” Much like a blank check, the poem’s purpose is never fulfilled, never cashed, and never depleted. Moreover, the poem itself is a giant blank spot constantly shifting, the eye of a storm that pushes the reader from its words back into the world they question.

Was Jimmy Stewart ever in a movie directed by the author Jean-Jacque Lecercle? If he was, I can’t find it. Did the artist Robert Rauschenberg actually erase that “important” DeKooning drawing with a Staedtler “Mars Plastic” Eraser? I watched the video like eight times, and I can’t tell. Who said, “I have lost my notes but maybe I will find them during my nap”? I’m only three numbered sections into these great moments, and I can admit without reservation that I’m not feeling so great.

What’s more, throughout the poem blankness goes on to “glare,” “draw,” “stare,” and “form”. This characterization of the great blank, the blank page, the blank heavens, and the—can it even be named?—has me drawing a blankety blank. And that’s exactly the effect Bernstein has designed into this poem. Each time, and particularly each first time a reader grasps at this poem, we are meant to stumble over words and sentences we claim to possess, sensations and meanings we assume have been domesticated, to wonder if form and function are synonymous. That’s one of this poem’s grand accomplishments: It leads a reader to the point that the reader is no longer following, the point of contradiction at which we are freed of the burden of knowing, but also the point at which we are dogged by the knowledge that “Freedom is never free”.

Charles Bernstein is often referred to as a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet. This generally means that his poetics consider words and sentences and ideas living creatures, ones that have a tendency to defy tidiness. In his poem’s words, this means that language is “the gap in agape,” a pun directing our attention to an open mouth, to the Greek word for “love”, and no doubt to much more besides.

To my mind, Bernstein’s poetics are especially tuned to our moment, to our difficulties of focus and our inabilities of knowing even when culture and intelligence are saturated with data. What’s more, his poetry is compassionate to our attempts to manage and overcome our ignorance, reveling in our flights of fancy and the diversions that enable us to salvage hope and dignity when the odds are stacked against us. He is an information poet, a poet of referent, who quixotically and systematically defies reference. Perhaps what I mean is that his work and this poem are simply astounding.

You can find out more about Charles Bernstein and his poetry here, here, and here.

–Franklin Winslow

 

One thing I think is interesting is how Bernstein plays with the idea of naming the unnamable, so to speak. He points out that “drawing the blank” makes it no longer blank, but naming it has the same effect. For example, “Don’t blank on it,” has a very different effect than “Don’t….on it,” even though they’re essentially the same thing. Bernstein plays with this idea by using both the word “blank” and actual blank spaces, underscores, and ellipses.

Comment by RachelJespersen — November 6, 2012 @ 8:04 am

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September 30, 2012

Amelia by Dambudzo Marechera

Filed under: Uncategorized — EShipley @ 3:24 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amelia

A band of near-molten steel tightens

Around my iceblock head. The clock ticking

Hurls loneliness’ searing arrows. The dust

In the neglected flat, glows like radioactive

Particles under my bare feet. Though noon,

I stand in my nightshirt grinning inanely,

Afraid to draw the curtains on the bright

Nightmare of daylight. The Avenger’s Chariot

Midst fiery sparks and dust still drags me

In its martial wake. Gatling guns’ white-hot bullets

Still tear night’s writhing veil to shred.

And my Amelia in luminous white nightdress

Her small fists pounding my bared chest,

Gasps, lies still. The walls shake to the rhythm of my

sobs!

 

Despite his brief writing career and untimely death at age thirty-five, Dambudzo Marechera, the Zimbabwean poet and novelist, remains an important figure in African literature and literary studies in general. While critics have tried to unlock the mysteries of his life – from his turbulent childhood in colonial Rhodesia to his dangerous self-exile in England and emotional withdrawal from the land of his birth – the compelling interest in this writer lies in his radical reimagining of African literature in postmodernist terms, away from the classic realism associated with his predecessors.  A skilled and dedicated student of world literatures, Marechera expanded his artistic canvass by drawing on a variety of stylistic influences including surrealism, Dadaism, the carnivalesque, and hybridity to express his growing sense of vulnerability as an artist and the urgent need to awaken the masses to the abuses of power in the wake of Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain. Resolutely internationalist, he relished his outsider status, homeless but at home in his creativity. The House of Hunger, for example, his first major work published two years before Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, rejects the demand for linearity in the African narrative of nationhood and instead erupts with conflicting emotions held together by dizzying shifts in style and narrative voice.  The book’s wrenching images of urban despair, coupled with its menacing heights of language, set the stage for the dark mood prevalent in  the author’s later fiction.

Marechera’s brilliant act of rebellion against oppressive systems of power is also given poetic expression in maddeningly unpredictable ways, ranging from   exquisitely crafted lyrics to the avuncular-styled fragments that dominate his poetic canon. Critics generally agree, however, that he has a firm grip on the sonnet form, as illustrated in his “Amelia” poems. In a brief preface to this sonnet sequence, Marechera writes:

How to begin – I have opened the doors and windows and light is flooding in. But does it illuminate what in my head is Amelia? Give loneliness a platform and its speech will be poetry. To become one with another is simultaneously to lose and acquire one’s identity. When I look in the mirror it is Amelia’s face which – in astonishment – gazes back at me.  (Century of Mind, p. 167)

The statement clears the way for recognizing Marechera’s frequent use of the doppelganger or the double, a literary device rooted in German folklore to signify spirit possession. The double has been deployed subsequently by a variety of writers to channel the narrative voice(s).  In this sonnet the motif works to fuse the self (poet), the poem’s “I,” and Amelia, creating a sense of interlinked identities that contrasts sharply with the poem’s haunting images of death, destruction, and loneliness. Rewriting the traditional love sonnet as a death wish, Marechera draws on magic realism to paint a picture of the lover as prey in a nightmarish vision of an attack by supernatural forces.  Everyday material objects in the speaker’s “flat”– the ticking clock, a piece of rusty steel, even the dust – threaten annihilation as certain as the “fiery sparks” from the “Avenger’s Chariot.”  The vivid imagery released by the evocation of mythological figure of death lingers even as the poem shifts suddenly to capture  the changing face of death by machine gunfire in our time: “Gatling guns’ white-hot bullets/Still tear night’s writhing veil to shreds.” On the whole the point is being made that the passions of a man are invariably imperiled by the loved one, shown here as a ghostly figure “in luminous white nightdress/Her small fists pounding my bared chest.”

It has been said that Marechera is at his best in the “Amelia” sonnets. That is a good place to begin a conversation about the poem’s effect on you.  How does this sonnet compare with its Petrarchan or Shakespearean counterpart, for example?  Comment on the portrayal of love in the poem. What impact do the end-stopped lines and other stylistic techniques (such as alliteration) have on the meaning? Does the poet’s biography matter in your understanding of the poem?

–Professor Tuzyline Allan

 

Marechera’s statements included above “Give loneliness a platform and its speech will be poetry,” and “To become one with another is simultaneously to lose and acquire one’s identity,” are the great incites both into his intention here and his broader opinion of his craft. Both the individual as speaker and their perspective are given much power in this piece. Mundane items in an apartment are given figurative weight and significant space here by being imbued with both a militaristic and expressionistic perspective. The portion allotted to conveying this perspective begs the reader to examine contextual clues, which Professor Allan has been gracious enough to provide. I believe characterizing this work as Magic Realism is accurate, with the melding of such banal objects, a clock or some dust, with life-threatening qualities, with the speaker’s eventually splintered existence, and with the absolute respect for mythic/supernatural imagery.

I wish to comment on the portrayal of love in the poem, though. The sonnet gains much of its power by confronting a formidable task, writing a socially conscious poem, with great insight on physical intimacy. The sections where this is best addressed include the second quote above, and the poem’s final lines where we are left unsure whether Amelia dies, comes, or is left unfulfilled.

Comment by Peter J Bell — October 18, 2012 @ 9:28 pm

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April 16, 2012

A Shred of Identity by Dambudzo Marechera

Filed under: Uncategorized — EShipley @ 9:31 am

 

A Shred of Identity

 

Will this moon scrap itself off my poems!

This twilight zone stretching between English school

And my cockroach voice?

To the ant perched on a grain of sand

My giant Artistic dilemma is scarcely visible

Only clearly seen when I raise my foot.

The bee on its sweet sticky errand, seeing me,

Shoots off at a tangent humming his scorn.

The early swallow from his searing flight

Scarcely casts instantaneous glance at my pains.

The dustman shrugs, hurls his concrete burden

Into factory hand adjusts the zip on his overalls

And without a care awaits his Call – factory’s siren;

The milkman cycles his round; the soldier

Kisses his girl hurries to carry out orders.

They all seem to know their own selves

While I like a madman continue to decipher

The print on a shred of blank paper

The print that is to become the poem behind this poem.

 

 

  • I think this poem by Marechera expresses delves into the experience one might feel when identity comes into question, but I feel Marechera explores or eludes to identity discomfort in multiple ways.

    The references that Marechera makes to the bee, swallow, dustman, milkman, and soldier are all examples of people well-adjusted into their routine, effortlessly engaging with the responsibilities they are expected to fulfill. However, it’s not quite as easy with a work of art such as poetry, as expressed in the lines “The print on a shred of blank paper/the print that is to become the poem behind this poem”. Some part of Marechera’s work becomes apart of the self, unlike these others roles played out in the poem. I make this connection based off the shared lines of the title and the closing lines of the poem: “A shred of identity” & “The print on a shred of black paper”. Part of this art form, largely imparts a piece of the writer’s identity. I wonder if this might elude to a concern this writer has about being a black individual and perhaps, about having his or her skin-color become indicative of the author’s poetic identity. As a writer reveals parts of the self within the lines of a poem, it allows for the reader draw conclusions about the author. Such a process involves the author to become a work of art that is crafted by the reader–”the poem behind the poem”.

    On the other hand, certain lines might also point to a more conventional approach to understanding the lines of this poem. “They all seem to know themselves” is an explicit expression made by the author about how this author perceives his or her feelings and identity. The references to Twilight zone might further depict some of the author’s identity confusion. From my own experiences, twilight/twilight zone is usually indicative of a time and place of mystery, suspense, and wonder.

    But where does this identity confusion come from? Based on the location the author places Twilight zone, between “English school” and “my cockroach voice”–the author’s voice. It is arguable that this poem is communicating a dissonance between the expectancies of structured professional writing (English school) and the freedom of artistic creativity, the author’s voice. I think cockroach was juxtaposed with the author’s voice because cockroach are seen as insignificant, disgusting creatures-that most people desire to kill or avoid. It makes me wonder if a voice like this has a place in school (or English school, for that matter), even though a voice like this might be important and equally beautiful as others.

    Comment by Elaina Montague — April 22, 2012 @ 8:13 pm |Edit This

  • This poem by Marechera represents self searching or identity, in the sense that all the things he describes have a purpose but he has yet to figure out what his purpose in life is. This poem also shows how important it is to find oneself and learn or try to acknowledge what your existence means to you, as everyone around you acknowledges what your identity or existence is without you knowing. This is shown for example (the soldier Kisses his girl hurries to carry out orders)They all seem to know themselves. All the things expressed in the poem has a purpose and he is still unsure of his own purpose.

    Comment by Marquita Ferguson — April 25, 2012 @ 8:02 am |Edit This

  • Personally, I think this poem is very political and really enjoyed it. The poet skillfully uses imagery, symbolism and metaphors like a brush to paint an ambiguous art piece. This creates multilayers to the poem. However, if you examine each part, each line of the poem, the creator’s message(s) becomes clear. That is the approach you must take with Marechera’s poem. From one line to the next, the poet plays with imagery and language. Since the poem is ambiguous, there is lots of room for interpretation. In the first three lines of the poem, the poet makes the subject matter clear to me, through a question. For example, she begins with the moon engaging in some type of aggressive action to potentially separate itself from the poem. The moon could be a metaphor for the “Haves”: who create distance from the “Have-nots”; typically well rounded Caucasian; extremely bright and wealthy; occasionally look down on others; and have enormous influence and pull on those around them. “My poem” is simply the poet’s skillful self-expression of feelings and voice by way of images, words or song. In the next line the poet introduces time and space. Marechera make reference to a stretching twilight zone. When I think of this, it reminds me of Shakespeare’s green space: a setting at times occupied with conflict and drama that exists outside reality. In the poem, this space extended between school and her voice. The fact that the poet specified an “English” school and “cockroach” voice is not a coincidence. The poet could be referring to England or those who have or currently work to create social standards, attitudes and practices to have control and limit personal viewpoints. In the racially explicit Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, the term “white cockroach or niggers” was an offensive term used to describe white Creoles. The reader uncovers racial tension, identity issues, distance and space, conformism and rebellion in the first three sentences which become recurring themes throughout the multi-dimensional poem.

    Comment by D. Edwards — April 27, 2012 @ 5:52 pm |Edit This

  • It is clear the narrator feels lonely and unimportant. The moon is always a significant element of the poems. The moon is up in the sky watching the lonely ones and the narrator feels that maybe even the moon doesn’t want to be part of his poem.
    Not even the small creatures notice him, like the ant the bee. The narrator says his dilemma is giant, but whatever he feels, the pains and the emptiness are scarcely noticed.   
    He talks about the factory worker, the soldier and the milkman. All of them are doing their ordinary duties and living their ordinary lives. Nothing seems to bother them, they know themselves, there is no conflict. One day after another. If they are happy or not no one knows. They just carry on, while the narrator is not noticed by anybody.  The narrator is the only one who is able to perceive the surroundings, to understand each one’s little role in life ( people and creatures), but he can’t understand himself. He feels like a “print on a shred blank paper.” He feels so small that he doesn’t even feel like a print on a regular blank paper, just a shred of blank paper, and the meaning of this print is still to become another poem.

    Comment by tatiana.grilo — April 30, 2012 @ 8:36 pm |Edit This

  • A Shred of Identity by Dambudzo Marechera, from the title it is very clear that it is about identity. The tone of this poem is lonely, sad, lost and confused. The narrator is confused and is still searching with his own identity. He uses ant, bee, dustman, milkman and soldier as metaphor that they all have their own purpose in life, but he is like a madman continue to decipher and like a piece of blank paper waiting to fill with link and become a poem. I think this poem brings out the ultimate question of Who am I? and “What is purpose of life?

    Comment by Andy Lau — May 2, 2012 @ 7:56 am |Edit This

  • In an effort to transport into Marechera’s psyche I felt somewhat steeped in an artist’s Midafternoon reverie. There’s this omnipotent sense of self aware reflection, and a slight internal war over his ‘plight’. There’s a certain portion of dare I say guilt, because of how insignificant he views the abstract ‘artistic dilemma’ he’s facing. He alludes to plebeian-esque walks of life, e.g, milkman, dustman…even mundane rituals like a solider kissing his woman goodbye. While there’s a somber resonance throughout, I honestly can’t help but feel like the artist is chuckling at his situation. Such a problem to have, the art of finding ones self, the internal fear of losing one’s sense of self and becoming a sheep, carbon copy and clone. The internal strife that an artist, especially is forced to face. The extreme alienation, the self deprecation in the early stanza all serves the purpose of laying the foundation for a dilettante civil war. I feel these are deep thoughts in the mind of the poet as he thinks aloud and ponders his situation and purpose.

    Comment by Monique Croft — May 3, 2012 @ 7:23 pm |Edit This

  • Marechera in this poem, is trying to find himself. Clearly alone and attempting to find his purpose, is lost. From the first line and throughout the poem, he understands that there are people out there that know what they have to do (factory worker has to go to worker) and animals too (the swallow hardly looks at him and continues to fly). Every being in this poem has a purpose or a goal except him. Very deep and forces those that are in the same ‘Artistic dilemma’ to think about their purposes.

    Comment by NICHONAR PETERS — May 6, 2012 @ 5:06 pm |Edit This

  • The poem has a really sad tone where this black person is looking for his identity. The narrator of the poem is confuse about himself, he compares himself with what he sees like cockroach, bees.Here cockroach is significant because it’s appearance is scary and by this the narrator may be trying to show that he is scary and his voice is like “cockroach voice” which means that he can’t raise his voice like a cockroach doesn’t raise it’s head when it hears people coming near it.And “bee” is significant as the narrator is like moving back and forth like a “bee” looking for his identify. He also says that he is “only clearly seen when i raise my foot” means that nobody notice him, cares him that he himself doesn’t recognize him. It seems like he is only noticeable when he stands may be because of his giant and black feature. All these actually show a very deep sad tone of eh narrator.

    Comment by Tahmina Akter — May 8, 2012 @ 4:19 pm |Edit This

  • Marchera’s poem ” A Shred of Identity” is almost a cry for individuality. He refers to having “cockroach voice” which makes me think he thinks very lowly of himself. He thinks his voice is as small and insignificant as an insects voice. He refers to the world around him as busy and not noticing him “Scarcely casts instantaneous glance at my pains.” The narrator is lonely and realizes that everyone around him is caught in a cycle of life that does not concern themselves at all with his life/ pains. Others surrounding the narrator “all seem to know their own selves” while he
    “like a madman continue to decipher” his own “self.” He tries to find his identity and all is left is “The print on a shred of blank paper” which is the poem he writes, which is the definition of him. The poem illustrates his identity lost, alone and overseeing others ability to identity themselves but not him.

    Comment by Karla Alegria — May 9, 2012 @ 2:55 pm |Edit This

  • As i read this poem i noticed it has a very sad tone to it. The speaker seems lonley and doesnt know who he is or what he want to be. Everyone around them is living life and has a purpose even tiny insects like the ants and bee. Title shows that hes in search of his idenitiy but in the end he refers to himself as a madman while other seem to know who they are. “They all seem to know their own selves While I like a madman continue to decipher The print on a shred of blank paper” he doesnt seem like he has faith in himself to ever be able to find who he really is, but also he says they all “SEEM” to know their own selves while he doesnt know his own identity, all these people could be living life day to day and seem like they know who they are but really are just the same as him and dont know their true identity.

    Comment by Karissa — May 11, 2012 @ 7:20 pm |Edit This

  • This poem seems to be in a sad and confused tone. The writer is obviously in a self identity crisis of some sort and transmits this through his poetry. He uses various objects in his poem to reflect on such a the bee, milkman, and soldier. All of these figures are involved in a repetitive and mundane lifestyle. They all seem to be the same between their own kind. None stand out and identify themselves as what they are. The poet talks about this relating to himself as he cannot ind his identity. I found the use of the objects in the poem to be wise choices that inevitably illuminate the poets identity crisis.

    Comment by obaid.abbasi — May 12, 2012 @ 2:28 pm |Edit This

  • As you read this poem, it seems apparent that the narrator is seen to have an identity crisis in a sea of sorrow. There are evidential hints as to such loneliness and pain he is experiencing. To begin with, when he says “This twilight zone stretching between English school/ And my cockroach voice?,” it intrigues me as to why he would compare himself to such a creature in this metaphor. Of all things he could have mentioned in the metaphor, he picked a cockroach. The way I interpret this is the amount of disgust he thinks of himself. Cockroaches are known to be viewed as repulsive creatures. He continues on to say that, “The bee on its sweet sticky errand, seeing me, shoots off at a tangent humming his scorn,” which might imply the pain and lonesomeness that he feels from someone, or in this case, a bee, sees him and quickly avoids away. Then there is the line, “Scarcely casts instantaneous glance at my pains,” which offers a true and straightforward sense to the reader the evidence of pain. From these clues alone I feel that we can suggest the presence of pain and loneliness in the narrator’s voice and heart.
    If we continue on, we can see that the author is at a loss of who he is as he describes the routine behavior and actions of others around him in life and ultimately state “They all seem to know their own selves/ While I like a madman continue to decipher/ The print on a shred of blank paper/ The print that is to become the poem behind this poem.” The way I interpret these last four lines is in through the reasoning that these lines are mere representations of his search for identity. As others live their lives with no problem with identity, the author “continues to decipher..the print on a shred of blank paper” which I think represents a part of his identity. And as he finishes saying, “The print that is to become the poem behind this poem” kind of confirms that the “print on a shred of blank paper” will be the addition to his identity solved.
    Overall, this poem was rather a pleasant one (to read), aside from its gloomy tone and nature. It feels well organized and thought out which truly supported the delivery of the point and focus to the reader. As self explanatory in the title, this poem is perhaps a “shred” of many “shreds” of one identity.

    Comment by Jessica — May 13, 2012 @ 12:54 am |Edit This

  • The tone of this poem is a really sad. Every line underlines the author’s state of mood. The author’s use of imagery and symbolism makes this poem to flow easily even though there is no rhyme. By every line you can feel the author’s loneliness and sadness.

    Comment by Nadiya Garcusha — May 14, 2012 @ 11:29 pm |Edit This

  • Marechera’s poem expresses a sad tone about feeling alone, dealing with self-searching or identity. In the poem, he describes that all things have a purpose but he is still trying to figure out what his purpose in life is. The line “While I like a madman continue to decipher,” it seems to me that he is unable to find himself, and this kind of searching would not even be a viable option. The last line “The print that is to become the poem behind this poem” means that nothing is as it seems on the surface.

    Comment by Haijie Qu — May 15, 2012 @ 12:28 am |Edit This

  • Marechera’s poem ” A Shred of Identity”, clearly expresse the turmoil one goes through when he or she yearns for a feeling of purpose. As Marechera looks around at others that seemingly have found peace, it intesifies his feelings of despair and loneliness. It is important to keep in mind that while every other being seems to be at peace, they may also have the same feelings of despair. This is evident by the fact that the poem indicates that nobody notices the author and thereby they probably view him in the same way he views them. They are very likely having thoughts of despair and looking at the author who in their view seems at ease only increases their inner conflict.

    Comment by Ari Siff — May 15, 2012 @ 10:32 am

* * *

March 10, 2012

Meanwhile the Lilies Start to Close by Laurie Sheck

Filed under: Uncategorized — EShipley @ 1:15 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile the lilies start to close

 

as if withdrawing from the fragility of the outer meanings.

 

Green-house bred, delicate,

 

each looks like an x-rayed hand, fingers clenched and bending,

 

flaring whitely where the rays Roentgen discovered by mistake

 

and named X for the unknown

 

have entered them in every dimension.

 

 

 

My window holds a row of billboards.

 

Borderland of faces, of mouths and mouths and mouths

 

like flawed computations, and eyes always open, over the echoing

 

prosperity, each face an admission ticket to something the wind

 

doesn’t move through, can’t blow down.

 

 

 

A man out walking his dog passes underneath the billboards.

 

If I could hear his heartbeat . . .

 

his face not digitalized, the swervings that must be in him,

 

the secret swayings and severest

 

wonderment, amazement, under this most vivid distrust,

 

most vivid caution . . .

 

 

 

I hear him calling to the dog.

 

Let’s go now boy, it’s time now boy, let’s go.

 

So small they look, like toys beneath the billboards.

 

Softness of skin, of hesitance, kingdom of invisible echoes and delays,

 

raw flesh of lilies, and fog over the city now,

 

and antimatter, particles, black holes, erased lullabies, forgotten wing—

 

 

 

in this meantime I watch the man walk home

 

through threshold after threshold of his thoughts opening and unfolding,

 

admitting and releasing him, grazing his skin

 

and searing him or calming him, and how I cannot feel them, cannot know.

 

Black Series, Laurie Sheck, Knopf, New York, 2003

 

COMMENTS:

  • Laurie Sheck’s poem “Meanwhile the Lilies Start to Close,” seamlessly layers moments of time so that many seemingly small realities merge into one simultaneous experience. The effect of this layering of experience might be described by Coleridge, who writes in Biographia Literaria that “the property of passion is not to create, but to set in increased activity” (ch.17).

    This “increased activity” paradoxically happens in the “meanwhile/meantime” of this poem, the in-between. Sheck’s poem operates similarly, in fact, to Coleridge’s conversation poems; for example, his poem “Frost at Midnight” occurs while he watches his infant sleep, and “This Lime Tree Bower My Prison” takes place while Coleridge imagines friends on a walk. Most of the happenings in Sheck’s poem are quiet, and nearly imperceptible, much like Coleridge’s “secret ministries.” But these happenings are consistent in their presence: the man’s heartbeat the speaker longs to hear, the bones that appear only via an X-ray, or the initiation of the lilies’ closure.

    In such quiet interiority, revelation happens. In some ways, this poem parallels the experience of reading lyric poems. The reader parallels the speaker and the speaker parallels the man with the dog. We, as readers, pass “through threshold after threshold of [her] thoughts opening and unfolding, / admitting and releasing [us], grazing [our] skin / and searing [us] or calming [us], and how [we] cannot feel them, cannot know.” No, we cannot know the thoughts of the speaker-poet –but we get close to her loneliness and her desire.

    Like all of my favorite poems, this poem addresses compassion. I suffer (as in Coleridge’s sense of the “property of passion”) momentarily alongside (the prefix “com-” meaning with, a parallel position) this poet-speaker. I connect with her as she connects to this stranger, if only in this liminal time that has everything to do with the unexpected opportunity to turn inward.

    The poet-speaker takes instruction from these lilies, quietly withdrawing. It seems like an odd impulse toward intimacy with others to turn inward to find it, but that is where connection in this poem occurs—luminous as an X-ray of bones.

    Comment by Ely Shipley — March 12, 2012 @ 12:43 pm |Edit This

  • I agree with Ely’s comment about Laurie Sheck engaging us with her feelings of “loneliness and her desire”. The opening line, “Meanwhile the lilies start to close”, allude to an end of some sort; perhaps a closure. Her use of “withdrawing” also hints at this while “fragility of the outer meanings” implies that the situation being dealt with is of a sensitive, emotional nature. I interpret the lilies to be a symbol of the speaker’s heart- “green-house bred, delicate” because it has been sheltered and naive from harsh realities. The “x-rayed hand” gives an image of transparency (emotional) which reminds me of the notion of wearing one’s “heart on [their] sleeve” and ties in to the “green-house” delicateness of it. Her longing and desire are exposed as she looks outside her window and as she follows the man passing. Curiosity and desire are indeed apparent; however, I get the sense that her feelings of “vivid distrust”, represents the speaker’s “caution” with fueling her desires.

    There is so much emotion spewing out from the poet’s words and I can’t help but feel compassion and sympathy for the speaker. This is a beautiful poem and as I read it, I felt as if I was the one looking out onto the street.

    Comment by Iana Capistrano — March 15, 2012 @ 9:19 am |Edit This

  • In Shecks poem, the emotion of the writer is clearly seen. As mentioned in the above comments, Sheck seems lonley. The reader can understand that there is other things going on around this poem, and this is just a side point. It lets a reader understand the mood of the writer, nomatter what the rest of the story is.
    She writes how all she sees is a billboard outside her window, with faces that dont have life in them. When the man is walking his dog beneath the billboards, she appreciates seeing another living being and wants hear his heartbeat. In my understanding, Sheck also appreciates flowers, which may be because it is also a living, breathing plant.

    Comment by Joseph Oved — March 19, 2012 @ 11:51 am |Edit This

  • There is a feeling of loneliness, depression, fear, curiosity and total abandonment that Laurie Sheck flawlessly weaves through each prose. The line, “Green-house bred, delicate,” suggests that something has been grown indoors, pampered, and overprotected. Since flowers normally grow in the wild, it seems like this lily never had the chance to experience the world. When she describes the billboards outside her window, it seems like she’s talking about a major city like New York. From this line I get the feeling of loneliness the most because it is very easy for people to feel like they’re totally deserted in a city with 8 million inhabitants. The man walking his dog alludes to a sense of curiosity. The writer was curious enough to observer him and the dog for a bit of time, but because of some sort of relinquishing fear she didn’t pursue the man and the dog further. There is also an emotion of great distrust that people often feel living in a big city.

    Comment by Christine Liu — March 20, 2012 @ 2:15 pm |Edit This

  • Similar to the comments above, the loneliness that Sheck conveys throughout “Meanwhile the Lilies Start to Close” is the most striking. As she stares out her windows, she is not surrounded by people but rather by billboards. These billboards embody much of her isolation as she sees faces out of her window every day, but these are not people that are accesible. Instead, she writes, “Borderland of faces, of mouths and mouths and mouths/like flawed computations, and eyes always open, over the echoing/prosperity, each face an admission ticket to something the wind/doesn’t move through, can’t blow down.” The billboards do not offer the same transparency that the lily and is a stagnant reminder of her emptiness. Even when she does get close to human emotion, it is quickly taken away from her when the man tells his dog to leave. He is far from her and she refers to them as “toys”, small and in the distance.

    Comment by Victoria Lee — March 20, 2012 @ 4:24 pm |Edit This

  • Upon first reading Laurie Sheck’s poem, I was assuming that she put her focus on whatever was taking up her attention. She describes the rays of light going through the lilies. She then goes on to describe the billboards that she sees from outside her window. Each one has its own way to lure people’s attention. To Laurie she see doesn’t see the content that they contain, but rather they are part of the bigger scene around her. She finally sees a man calling for his dog to return to his owner. Rather than randomly describing what she sees as it appears in this poem, the real attention is the lilies themselves as the open and blossom during the day and close at night. Judging by the title of the poem Laurie wants to focus the lilies in a minor context but describe what is going around them as the day comes to end. This is evident when the owner of the dog shouts out that “it’s time now.” Even though there is not mention of the lilies after the first verse, they have an important role for the poem but they are not in our present perspective.

    Comment by Javier Alvarado — March 21, 2012 @ 1:48 pm |Edit This

  • The poem is written using a skew rhyme. There are few enumerations “bred, delicate”, “clenched and bending”, “wonderment, and amazement, under this most vivid distrust”. They create a movie-like images, one shot replaces another one. The picture is black and white. Perhaps, it is inversed like an x-ray. The narrator is carefully moving the camera from one object to another, focusing on certain details on her way. The poem’s lines are different in length, shorter when the image changes and longer when fine points are described. It starts with a distinct subject – a flower. The flower creates an imagery of transparency. Narrator is almost like meditating guiding her thoughts from one subject to another. She stops to analyze an occasional encounter just to pass it by, just like a man who is walking his dog. The next moment her eyes glance up to notice the fog. The poem presents a flowing image without the obvious use of rhyme.
    I assume the poem is about a disabled person who is locked by her inability to move, walk, meet others on the street. Her best friends are the flowers and window which is the only way she can communicate with the outside world.

    Comment by Maxim Sedykh — March 28, 2012 @ 7:30 pm |Edit This

  • The imagery in this poem is fantastic. This poem is certainly about the expiration of something beautiful which is insinuated in the title. Lilies in literature are often a symbol of chastity or virtue and of death (a certain duality). In Meanwhile, I think they signify the beginning and the end, the cycle of relationships, of everything. The poem gives a strange feeling. The poem starts with the state of the lily which I assume is the narrator. Words like “close, withdrawing, fragility x-rayed hands, and flaring,” seems to indicate she is deathly ill or incapacitated that she can’t move. Then the poem switches from third-person to first-person. The poet explains she is looking out the window and studying various images and people. There is inference the billboards a number of times. It seems she is making a comparison between the advertisements and the faces on the street: she calls them flawed computations. (Later on she says the dog-owners face is “not digitized”). Then the man with his dog takes center stage. The narrator is extreme interested in the man’s relationship with the dog. I think she is jealous. She wants someone to love her the way this man underneath her window loves his dog. She could hear his heartbeat. However, with this passion she describes there is fear. The author personal experiences seem surface here. Just then, the man calls his dog, “it’s time to go”, ultimately to withdraw this emotion she was connect to from her windown away from her. The story viewpoint seems to merge as she discusses the lily and the man and his dog. Finally, how the story began, it ended. She opened herself to feel something, but it just closed on her, again.

    Comment by D. Edwards — April 27, 2012 @ 7:10 pm |Edit This

  • I agree with most of the comments above about Shecks loneliness and emotional ties in the poem. I think that her constant flipping between subjects, the lilies, man, dog, and billboards are very interesting and cleverly used. As Sheck starts with a mention of the lilies to set the mood and note the reader of her emotional state, she switches to glances of billboards and a man walking a dog. This jumping between the objects she sees enhances the poems meaning and what is going on in the head of Laurie Sheck. It shows that she has quite a handful of things on her mind. To me, it shows that her mind is restless and she is easily distracted from what she is focusing on. This shows her mental state, emotional state, and physical state. In the end Sheck ties together all of what she has seen with the lilies mentioned in the beginning. I especially like poems that do what Sheck has done in this one with mentioning of things other than what the title had presumed and would tie these things together with the main object in the poem.

    Comment by obaid.abbasi — May 1, 2012 @ 11:05 am |Edit This

  • Sheck’s poem hones in on a moment in time. The simplicity and slight melancholia of cherishing life’s fragility. The words play out like a well orchestrated song with rhythm, lyric, refrains and bridges that interweave the banality of a man taking his dog for a walk and flowers blowing in the wind. Sheck’s genius is how with the mere use of words she can ‘snapshot’ a scene in life and rewind it in slow motion so that you grasp every single nuance and fully examine the ‘soul’ of it. There’s a certain romanticism in how she carefully notates the brief scene, there’s a voyeuristic charm that bleeds through and creates provocation, headiness and body to the poem–it’s quite sensual. It feels as if we’re witnesses to Scheck’s brief dalliance with nature and its beings by how she takes pride in deciphering the mysteries that lay within.

    Comment by Monique Croft — May 3, 2012 @ 8:19 pm |Edit This

  • After i read this poem, i felt that the poet is talking about life. 1st she start with the lilies closing, then she talks about this billboard, a man with his dog, his coming back home. These are significant to life. For lilies when it closes might mean that it is the end of the day. It feels like, through out the whole poem, the poet actually observes everything from her window, everyday. Then she start to think about it or think about the life. How out side her window the life of that man with the dog starts and then how it’s end. The poet may be lonely and trying to relate the life outside the window with her own life.

    Comment by Tahmina Akter — May 8, 2012 @ 4:29 pm |Edit This

  • Sheck’s poem is seems to be a description of life happening from different point of views and angles all around her. The transparency of the lilies “like an x-rayed hand, fingers clenched and bending,” describes how she almost can see beneath the layers of petals and see deeper into the lily (person) but can only see the outer “dimension” of it. She then describes in her poem “Borderland of faces, of mouths and mouths and mouths” not complete bodies of persons but faces “like flawed computations, and eyes always open, over the echoing prosperity”
    And as if “each face an admission ticket to something the wind doesn’t move through, can’t blow down.” Her description is almost a superficial one as the lilies there is access to a certain point of a person and “the wind” cannot access anything deeper than the superficial layers of faces she sees. The faces cannot be blown down, as if they uphold some kind of meaning or truth, deeper within. She decries hearing the man call his dog but finishes the poem ” how I cannot feel them, cannot know.” almost to say that see is only a by stander hearing and seeing but never feeling or participating in this world/ dimension.

    Comment by Karla Alegria — May 9, 2012 @ 3:05 pm |Edit This

  • The narrator starts the poem describing in details the way she sees the Lilies outside. She perceives them like no one else does. There are billboards by her window and she talks about the frozen smiles, the “happiness” that can be sold through advertisement.
    The narrator observes a man walking his dog. She feels compassionate; she can feel him and his emotions. The scene is very quiet and even far she feels so close to the man that she can hear his heartbeat.
    He is a perfect stranger in an ordinary moment, but unique and special to her. Then he goes away. The moment she had observing him will stay in her memory. In that brief moment her loneliness was fulfilled. Now that he is gone, her only company is again the billboard and the fake smiles.

    Comment by tatiana.grilo — May 11, 2012 @ 2:19 pm |Edit This

  • This poem sounded like it could of also been lyrics to a song. The tone seems to be a little sad, while reading it i picture a women just sitting at her window where she can see these big billboards, and day after day noticing the nature and people who walk by. She seems lonley and for some reason this one man who was walking his dog caught her heart and made her happy but then he was gone and she was left alone again. I think this poem has deeper meaning than just the words we read are the page. The lilies closing in the title and first line represent the ending of something, maybe the love of her life left her and the man understand the billboard symbloizes someone who once made her happy but now has left her lonley and sad.

    Comment by Karissa — May 11, 2012 @ 7:33 pm |Edit This

  • This poem seems to be a descriptive expression of a moment in time. As the lilies are starting to close, there are all these details that are also concurrently occurring whilst catching the author’s attention. But is that really it? The impression I received from reading this poem was a wind of loneliness in addition to a sense of longing. As she is tendering the details of the lilies, she sees a man who she desires to interact with. Lines such as “If I could hear his heartbeat. . .” and “…and searing him or calming him, and how I cannot feel them, cannot know,” show us her desires and her longing for the close presence of this man. Or is it really just the man she is longing for? Perhaps it is people in general. I think one can also view it in a different direction, where the author is expression her pain of isolation. The distance apart from this man and the dog along with the inclusion of tall billboards in the poem may symbolize the isolation that separates her from the “outside”, and how she is longing for company.

    Comment by Jessica — May 13, 2012 @ 11:44 pm |Edit This

  • The structure of this poem is a very interesting one. Every line has different size: some of them are longer, and some-shorter. The absence of the rhyme makes this poem a little bit hard to read. Each line separates from another by some space. The author’s use of long structured sentences shows that she tries to put ‘bouquet’of thoughts in one sentence.

    Comment by Nadiya Garcusha — May 14, 2012 @ 10:55 pm |Edit This

  • Sheck’s poem expresses signs of loneliness shown in the line, “My window holds of row of billboards. Borderland of faces, of mouths and mouths and mouths. Additionally, the lily symbolizes vulnerability, and the freedom to be ourselves, as well as allowing others to be as they are too. The lily is a symbolic flower of health and provision. In a reading, the lily can signal growth, development, and a quality of innocence in our lives. The part when she writes that, “A man out walking his dog passes underneath the billboards. If I could hear his heartbeat” shows that she is curious and how she has been observing the man for a while.

    Comment by Haijie Qu — May 15, 2012 @ 12:40 am |Edit This

  • This poem brings to light the realization that time is constatntly moving on. While it is definite that the Lilies will open and close with that movement, other daily occurences ar not as predictable. “Meanwhile the Lilies Start to Close” teaches us that we need to pay attention to all that is going on around us, both big and small.

    Comment by Ari Siff — May 15, 2012 @ 10:42 am |Edit This

  • Sheck is able to convey the feeling of loneliness to the audience powerfully through this poem.”Meanwhile the lilies start to close as if withdrawing from the fragility of the outer meanings” Sheck uses very descrpitive and colorful language to give the readers an emotional connection. The poem relates to others which is a usefull technique that engages that audience. She describes that way the man is feeling in such detail and what kind of facial expressions he has, also gives the readers a personal experience almost similar to the way a memoir is written.

    Comment by Isaac Beyda — May 15, 2012 @ 12:20 pm |Edit This

  • Laurie Sheck’s poem “Meanwhile the Lilies Start to Close,” expresses the speaker’s desire for an intimate knowledge of others. Despite the speaker’s inward regression as the “lilies start to close…withdrawing” she craves a deep, intimate understanding of mankind, to know them in “every dimension”, beyond the “fragility of the outer meanings.”
    A recurring motif in Laurie Sheck’s work is transparency. The speaker longs for a profound connection with the world. Her desire to understand the inner souls of others is symbolized by the X-ray, which illuminates the unknown. The X (which represents the unknown) becomes exposed under its ray. The billboard is a façade, which only shows the “outer meanings” she expressed disdain for in the first stanza. The “borderland of faces, of mouths and mouths and mouths, like flawed computations, and eyes always open” are a representation of life, but lacks the depth of human authenticity she yearns for.
    The narrator expresses her curiosity and regret at being unable to feel the innermost emotions of others. In the last stanza, she watches the man walk home, and wonders about his “thoughts opening and unfolding”, expressing her sadness that she “cannot feel them, cannot know.”

    Comment by Susie Kim — May 15, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

* * *

November 17, 2011

“To a Mouse”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mary McGlynn @ 5:24 pm

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murdering pattle.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An’ fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t.

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s win’s ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turned out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld.

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

 

  • “To a Mouse,” a poem by Robert Burns from 1785, is most famous as the source of the aphorism about the best laid plans of mice and men that gives John Steinbeck the title of his novella. The story goes that Burns, unable to support himself as a poet, was working on a farm and inadvertently plowed up a mouse’s nest, later composing this poetic apology. Burns loved to cultivate the image of himself as a noble rustic, taking everyday objects and events as his themes and writing partially in Scots, a language associated with the speech of uneducated people in Scotland. (Actually, the poem makes use of a range of dialects from standard English to educated Scots to peasant Scots.) Scots shares many grammatical features and most of its vocabulary with English. Reading “To a Mouse” aloud can help with understanding words that are transliterations of English, and a “translation” of the text can be found here: http://www.rbwf.org.uk/poems/translations/554.htmI’m drawn to this poem in part because of the whimsical choice of addressee, the way that Burns identifies humans and mice as equally subject to fate while at the same time confronting issues of mortality and foresight. Burns’s narrator suggests a crucial distinction between humans and other animals to be an understanding of the passage of time. I love the blend of down-to-earth language with more elevated words and concepts, the way informal language is placed into metrically precise stanzas, how Burns echoes such mock-heroic poems as “The Rape of the Lock.” I see him participating in conversations about Enlightenment ideas (“Nature’s social union,” eg) and reminding all the salon-goers that farmers, too, are capable of philosophical reflection. To me, this sort of implosion of the hierarchies by which we normally judge people, speech, and writing is very exciting, since it challenges received ideas of what language ‘counts’ as literary and about who is entitled to create.Comment by Mary McGlynn — November 17, 2011 @ 5:53 pm
  • That was wonderful! Burns’ compassion for a mouse seems rooted in the understanding of his own plight. His emphasis on the faulty plans of men reminds me of one of the Proverbs (Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21) In the case of Burns, he seems to be speaking of fate rather than religion, and the way in which it governs the lives of men…despite their hearts, or their plans. Burns somehow leads us to feel for ourselves the very sympathy we would feel for a helpless animal. It is a sobering thought in a city where we lack time enough to consider how fickle tomorrow can be. In a city where we are marking our planners and calendars months in advance, it is humbling to know that we are often as vulnerable as a mouse, and his winter home.Comment by Jessica Rozario — November 18, 2011 @ 11:34 pm
  • This poem is witty. Makes me enjoy reading it. I feel that the author saw the mouse running, hiding and trying to survive just has man needs to prepare for the winter just as the mouse was moving indoors looking for shelter for the winter.
    Great use of elision which was utilized in 50% of the Lines.
    Though the poem came off at first dark and disgusting, it changed — using the doggerel in the 11th line (3rd paragraph) making it more fun and playful by just thinking the humor of chasing down the tiny creature.
    Another great use of the poetry terms was onomatopoeia.Making the poem funny and lighthearted and the situition at hand. It reminded one of my favorite books by Herge called Tintin which was written by an Belgium write and using Old English. One of my favorite character was the Captain Haddock who adopted the scottish accent and was always using words similar to “bickering brattle”. I hope to enjoy reading more from the author.Comment by Christine Persaud — November 25, 2011 @ 11:36 pm
  • Professor Grace Schulman asked me to post this for her:Comment on Robert Burns’ “To a Mouse”Thanks for asking. The book that changed my life is The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I found it early on, and I still hear the poet’s passionate rhythms beating against the meter, lifting my heart with its resonant praise of life even on dark days. As for your second question, I read recently, on the suggestion of Jacqueline Osherow, Don Juan by Lord Byron. It had me laughing out loud. He has and conveys a range of knowledge, is hilarious, gossipy, caustic, bitchy, and through it all urges reform and asserts the rights of the common poor over the gains of the rich and powerful. We need Lord Byron in our time.

    If you listen to it closely, you’ll find “To a Mouse” to be a poem for our troubled time. The poet identifies so completely with the mouse that we can perceive the man’s fate — our fate — in the creature’s overturned nest. His views on human cruelty are both oblique and emphatic: “I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion / Has broken Nature’s social union.”
    What I like best about “To a Mouse” is the dialect. It sounds fresh, real. The poet is a divided man, an outsider looking in. Again, listen closely: He’s writing in an English form, an English meter, obviously with a high command of the language, and yet he conveys his deepest feelings in his Scottish dialect. I think of the great poems of Derek Walcott. such as Sainte Lucie, mostly in Creole. It makes me wish I had a dialect to write in, perhaps a language spoken at home, and could resort to it occasionally in anger or pity or fear. Do you have any such dialect?

    Grace Schulman
    Distinguished Professor, English
    (On Fellowship Leave) — November 26, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

  • Burns wasn’t “mousin around” when he wrote this- (Sorry I couldn’t help it.) Then again, maybe he was just a wee bit. In the same manner Jerry teaches Tom, the mouse instructs Burns, and the poet enlightens the reader with a lesson about life. As a result, Bruns skillfully illustrates how genuine relationships are formed, whether some chose to accept this or not: the poet clearly embraces it. And instead of allowing the mind to automatically concentrate on the obvious differences, Burns directs his attention on what connects them.What connects mice and men? Basically, is that they exist: the mouse provides somewhat of a psychological confirmation for Burns when his counterpart cannot. In fact, the poet is able to relate quite well to the mouse: it reminds Burns of his own troubles. The mouse represents of that dark, dirty, secretive part and humiliated part of Burns.

    The link between Burns and his tiny buddy isn’t syrupy or pushed on the reader, but exemplified through their pleasant interaction. This made it easier for the reader to nibble on. At one point in life, all beings are forced to swallow that nothing is promised and that death is inevitable. The mouse lives in the moment without self-image, unregretful of the past and carefree of what is to come: Burns is envious of this. Certainly, if we pay close attention, as Burns proved, the least of things can offer the most. Just ask Mickey! (Sorry couldn’t resist again)

    Comment by Darren Edwards — December 7, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

  • I think it’s great that Burns draws such an intinmate connection between himself and the mouse as both being mortal creatures of Earth. In that second stanza it seems that he has discovered how fragile life is and apologizes to the “mouse” but I think the apology is more for himself because he regrets the ways of the world. The poem ends with Burns expressing envy because the mouse doesn’t regret the past and doesn’t anticipate the future.Comment by Jennifer Torres — December 13, 2011 @ 11:37 pm
  • So its true that no man is an island unless he capsizes or is wider than Guam. Im happy you cleared that up.

Comment by Frederick Boudrieau — January 2, 2012 @ 7:15 am

 

* * *

October 19, 2011

27 June 1906, 2pm by CP Cavafy

Filed under: Uncategorized — EShipley @ 10:31 pm

 

27 June 1906, 2 P.M.

When the Christians brought him to be hanged,
the innocent boy of seventeen,
his mother, who there beside the scaffold
had dragged herself and lay beaten on the ground
beneath the midday sun, the savage sun,
now would moan, and howl like a wolf, a beast,
and then the martyr, overcome, would keen
“Seventeen years only you lived with me, my child.”
And when they took him up the scaffold’s steps
and passed the rope around him and strangled him,
the innocent boy, seventeen years old,
and piteously it hung inside the void,
with the spasms of black agony–
The youthful body, beautifully wrought–
His mother, martyr, wallowed on the ground
and now she keened no more about his years:
“Seventeen days only,” she keened,
“seventeen days only I had joy of you, my child.”

(1908)

27 ΙΟΥΝΙΟΥ 1906, 2 μ. μ.

Σαν
 τόφεραν οι Χριστιανοί να το κρεμάσουν
το
 δεκαεφτά χρονώ αθώο παιδί,
η μάνα
 του που στην κρεμάλα έκει κοντά
σέρνονταν
 και χτυπιούνταν μες στα χώματα
κάτω
 άπ‘ τον μεσημεριανό, τον άγριον ήλιο
πότε
 ούρλιαζε, καί κραύγαζε σα λύκος, σα θηρίο
και
 πότε έξαντλημένη η μάρτυσσα μοιρολογούσε
«Δεκαφτά
 χρόνια μοναχά μέ τάζησες παιδί μου».
Κι
 όταν το ανέβασαν την σκάλα της κρεμάλας
κ’ επέρασάν
 το το σκοινί και τόπνιξαν
το
 δεκαεφτά χρονώ αθώο παιδί,
κ’ ελεεινά
 κρεμνιούνταν στο κενόν
με
 τους σπασμούς της μαύρης του αγωνίας
τό
 έφηβικόν ωραία καμωμένο σώμα,
η μάνα
η μάρτυσσα κυλιούντανε στα χώματα
και
 δεν μοιρολογούσε πια για χρόνια τώρα.
«Δεκαφτά
 μέρες μοναχά», μοιρολογούσε,
«δεκαφτά
 μέρες μοναχά σε χάρηκα παιδί μου».

[1908]


This poem was inspired by the Denshawiaffair, a 1906 clash between British military personnel and Egyptian locals. The Englishmen, traveling between Alexandria and Cairo, stopped in the village of Denshawi and shot some pigeons belonging to the villagers; after violence erupted, one of the Englishmen was hit in the head with a stone and later died, of sunstroke, after making his way back to the British camp.  The English responded by trying and hanging five of the villagers for murder, a punishment that Sir Reginal Storrs, an acquaintance of Cavafy’s, referred to in his 1945 memoirs, Orientations, as “excessive and medieval.” Cavafy, who was violently opposed to capital punishment (“whenever I have the opportunity I declare this,” he wrote in a note of October 1902), was similarly revolted, although of course his sympathy in this poem has an erotic component.

Notes and translation by Daniel Mendelsohn
 

Cavafy’s “27 June 1906, 2 P.M.” exposes the tangled history of rising nationalism which endangered the Greek diaspora communities around the Levant at the turn of the century. Over a hundred years later, the poem remains relevant to our political plights, exposing the realities behind the proliferation of human communities of immigrants, refugees, detainees (citizens and non-citizens) in Europe, Africa, the U.S., and beyond. The presence of such communities is met with suspicion because
their denizens personify a kind of dangerous insurgency that must be contained, or dealt with, before it begins to encroach upon the interests of the state and the citizens proper.”

“27 June 1906, 2 P.M.” begins with the public execution of the youngest of five Egyptian men by the British occupying forces at the village of Denshaw. Dated “January 1908,” the poem’s composition accords with an important, yet little known, event that is absent in Mendelsohn’s note: on 18 January 1908 a public outcry forced the British government to release the remaining Denshawai prisoners, a shocking acknowledgment of the grave injustice committed on 27 June 1906. Although this makes Cavafy neither an opponent of British Imperialism, nor an anti-colonial writer, it calls into question Mendelsohn’s reading of the poet’s “sympathy” as “erotic.” Cavafy was not, could scarcely have been, indifferent to the larger pattern and implications of the political events he describes. His depiction of capital punishment captures the historical moment the title bespeaks, yet it also transcends it, leaving us with a powerful mediation on time, trauma, and memory.

The assault that unfolds in lines 9-10 is not only an attack on justice and our humanity; it is a painful reminder of the necessary ills of colonialism, imperialism, and political gain. Carried out deftly and resolutely, it is experienced by the victim’s mother, a liminal figure—part martyr part beast—who vacillates between dread and resignation; refusal and revolt. “Seventeen years only you lived with me, my child,” she keens, as she drags herself “beside the scaffold,” moaning and howling like a beast. The dread of the impending loss (l. 9-10) is intensified by the precision and deftness of the execution, and is further magnified by the image of the body hanging lifeless inside the void. A reminder of the depravity of the crime and the fragility of life, the body is hangs “piteously” (l. 12) “with the spasms of black agony” (l. 13), an image both haunting and unforgiving.

Mendelsohn’s choice to translate “ελεεινά” as “piteously” takes away from Cavafy’s intended effect in the original composition. “Eλεεινά” is a word that combines debauchery with moral wretchedness—the kind that inspires revulsion and denotes wider impurity of action and intent. Describing the body as such violates its sanctity. And yet, this is precisely what has happened: not only has the young man become a sacrificial lamb, he has been executed in the most brutal, most savage way.

If the poem’s title anchors the crime to a specific moment in time, the passage of time within the poem (and in the final three lines, in particular) liberates it from the constraints of both time and history. The mother’s lament in the final three lines invites the reader to rethink the injustice committed and determine what’s worse: the memory of the trauma, or the clarity that comes about it and its circumstances with the passage of time. “‘Seventeen days only,’ she keened, / ‘Seventeen days only I had joy of you, my child’” (17-18).

Time has brought supreme clarity, it seems.

Note: Line 16 is very liberally translated, if not mistranslated. It is not that the mother has ceased to keen “about his years.” She “has not keened for years now.”

Comment by Christina Christoforatou — October 23, 2011 @ 10:32 am

 

“27 June 1906, 2pm” is a poem filled with tragedy, despair and hopelessness. The boys tender age of 17 is repeated throughout the poem to further emphasize the cruelty of the murder against him. The speaker makes it clear that not only is the boy so young, but he’s also innocent in this case.
Emotion is greatly expressed in the poem through the boys mother. She is described as laying under “the savage sun” moaning and howling like a beast. It sounds as if her grieving is almost overpowering her as she can no longer go on. The sun plays a cruel role in the poem. The savage like quality that it is given makes it seem as if the sun is intentionally beating down on her to cause further pain and destruction.
To describe the boys hanging body as “beautifully wrought” adds a sense of peace to his horrible death. However, this is the only line in the poem that adds any light. The next lines return to the agony and pain felt by the mother. The very last lines of the poem state
“Seventeen days only,” she keened,
“seventeen days only I had joy of you, my child.”
I think the mother might have felt that now that her son was gone, she realizes 17 years flew by and now only felt like 17 days. She might be associating her teenage son to a newborn of only 17days, because regardless of his age, she lost her innocent baby to murder.

Comment by Tishely Ortiz — November 2, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

* * *

September 12, 2011

Sonnets from the Song of Songs by Jacqueline Osherow

Filed under: Uncategorized — EShipley @ 9:30 am

 

Sonnets from The Song of Songs

 

I (THORNS/FOREST)

 

I tried to write you a sonnet; it wouldn’t work.

Here’s what I would write if you weren’t crazy

was the way it started. But you are crazy

so I just let the laptop screen go dark.

I wouldn’t be writing if you weren’t crazy;

you’d be here in the house somewhere, just back

from the morning’s carpools, not that we’d talk:

you’d be off again on errands; I’d be busy

writing poems that now seem ill-conceived—

not one of them a love poem. Too late.

You could read The Song of Songs. I felt like that,

which explains how I lived the way I lived.

I was fearless once; I chose the rarest

apple tree among the trees of the forest.

 

II (BUDS/TURTLEDOVE)

 

This has to be the diametric opposite

of the buds’ appearance, the song’s arrival

but, shoveling snow, I almost pity Shulamit

who’ll never know the earth as this insatiable,

this self-negating, this far gone, this white.

Gazelles or no gazelles, love does unravel.

She may want to lose herself in blankness.

Even my heart has left her hiding place

to try the famous palliative of ice,

our street’s telltale details safely annulled:

I’d stay out with her all night—I love the cold—

until we’re both completely covered over

(good luck to Shulamit with that young lover)

but I have kids to put to sleep, laundry to fold.

 

III (KISSES/WINE)

 

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his

mouth; let him kiss me with anything;

let him kiss me, let him remember once,

momentarily, that, once he’d kiss me…

for your love is better…. Don’t be absurd;

wine can never withstand much bitterness.

It was sung by a single voice, your song

of songs: yours, coming from your upstairs bed,

drowned out by his computer, his TV.

Don’t you remember? This went on for years…

and you—I—was so (let him kiss me) dense,

I kept believing he’d come up the stairs.

Still, there are girls here. Our daughters. Three.

Surely (with the kisses of his mouth) he must have kissed me.

 

Jacqueline Osherow

Whitethorn (LSU 2011)

 

 

In Jacqueline Osherow’s “Sonnets from The Song of Songs,” I’m interested in the poet’s theme and enactment of variation. Just by looking at the title, I see that I’m in for a lot layers; this is one poem, but it’s also three separate sonnets. The title also tells me that the poem(s) will rely on two traditions, the sonnet and a book from the Bible. Further, each section, or separate sonnet, has its own title of two words from taken from The Song of Songs. Importantly, these words, like the speaker and the addressee, are separated by a slash. 

 

Likewise, just by looking at the poem, before I even embark on reading through it, I see italicized text scattered throughout. For the most part, this is language lifted from The Song of Songs. However, in the very first lines, significantly, it’s the speaker’s own voice quoting a poem she started to write, but that “wouldn’t work.” She tells the addressee that she began with “Here’s what I would write if you weren’t crazy / … but you are crazy.” I love the work that the opening lines—of the poem that supposedly wouldn’t work—do for the whole poem. First, they demystify, and perhaps even undermine and make fun of, the gravity of the serious and sacred literature introduced in the title. At the same time, the speaker engages the serious and sacred. The speaker of this poem convinces me that she’s not only smart but down to earth. She’s a realist, she’s not going to pull any punches, and she’s witty. Because of this, I immediately trust her. Not to mention, she’s confessed her failed attempt at writing a sonnet for the addressee. What an unexpected admission for the first lines of a poem that intends to engage serious and sacred literature! 

 

The reasons she can’t write and her own songs can’t be heard become clear as the poem continues. Yet even as the emotional story of the speaker and the addressee becomes clearer, an interesting tension emerges in the poem’s overall form. More and more text from The Song of Songs is tightly woven in, particularly in the last sonnet.  Meanwhile, each sonnet is a wholly different sonnet, marked by a very different rhyme scheme. There’s so much variation that by the time I arrive at the last sonnet a regular rhyming pattern is abandoned almost altogether. 

 

I have some ideas about why this happens, but I’m interested to hear from students and colleagues.  What are your thoughts on the variation in form?  How does it fit the occasion of the poem? Why use the sonnet and The Song of Songs for this particular poem’s subject?

 –Ely Shipley

 

  • The poem is clearly modern because of “so I just let the laptop screen go dark.” I like Thorns/Forest because I feel a lot of emotions are let go in relationships instead left alone or left unsaid. I can’t help but relate the second poem to Christianity since the poet references sisters without later ever mentioning them. Very nicely written sonnet

    Comment by Anna Ponomareva — September 12, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  • In (Thorns/Forest), the speaker makes it clear that her inspiration for writing the sonnet is the addressees craziness. Had he not been, the speaker would not have been able to express these emotions, for there would be nothing of the sort to write about. The speaker remembers being fearless once, and states that she “chose the rarest apple tree among the trees of the forest.” I think she is trying to imply that the addressee was the rare apple tree, and so she has placed herself in this situation due to her fearlessness.
    (Buds/Turtledove) describe the inevitable unraveling of love. “Even my heart has left her hiding place to try the famous palliative of ice” suggests that her heart is no longer available and instead turned cold. She wishes she could cover her heart in the cold permenantly, but her children and motherly duties prevent her from doing so.
    (Kisses/Wine) seems like a distant memory that the speaker is tryinig to recapture. The line “wine can never withstand much bitterness” is kind of ironic considering dark wine has a bitter taste, yet she is describing bitterness as an emotion. Drinking wine eventually makes you feel lighthearted and in love. It is hard for the speaker to imagine that those kisses had ever existed, yet they must have, as their daughters are living proof of a love that once was.
    All three pieces make up bits of one full story regarding the speaker and addressee. There is some confusion and lack of closure it seems for the speaker, as she can’t understand how or what happened to cause the love in her relationship to unravel. The third sonnett represent the begininng of a relationship, the first seems like the withdrawl and the second is the lasting effect of a broken heart. But I think she chose to tell her story in this order because there’s more of a question of “why and how.” If we as readers read (Kisses/wine) as the last sonnet, we can imagine a romance that was blossoming, but we quickly remember the earlier sonnets and don’t understand why it ever happened if there was such hope in the begininng. This journeys us through the speakers own thoughts and leaves us feeling just as confused and let down as she is.

    Comment by Tishely Ortiz — September 13, 2011 @ 7:47 am

 

* * *

April 20, 2011

If a Person Visits Someone in a Dream, in Some Cultures the Dreamer Thanks Them by Jean Valentine

Filed under: Uncategorized — EShipley @ 9:48 pm

in memory of Reginald Shepherd 

Dear Reginald,
It is morning.
I sit at a table
writing a letter
with a needle and thread.

*

I pricked my finger      A pelican
out of her migratory path,
even her language family—
whose child is gone
yet she absently pecks at her breast.

*

I write on the bedspread
I am making for you there
May you breathe deeply and easily.
If a person visits someone in a dream,
in some cultures the dreamer thanks them in the morning
for visiting their dream.

*

I call it dream
not that I am drawn to that which withdraws
but to him pearled, asleep, who never withdraws.

*

At a hotel in another star. The rooms were cold and
damp, we were both at the desk at midnight asking if
they had any heaters. They had one heater. You are
ill, please you take it. Thank you for visiting my dream.

*

Can you breathe all right?
Break the glass        shout
break the glass        force the room
break the thread       Open
the music behind the glass.

*

Remember that blue vine?     Grown
                  alongside the gate

fourteenth century
                 Venus close as the moon

the bowl of the skull   turning here
                               lifting that
from Break the Glass
Copper Canyon Press 2010

We can tell that the author is a warm heart person from the poem. In the poem she writes “They had one heater. You are ill, please you take it.” The author will sacrifice herself and satisfy other. This sentence also reply the title that if a person visits someone in a dream, in some cultures the dreamer thanks them. The author meet someone in the dream, she wants to thank him by giving him a heater. I feel so relax reading this poem. It just like remember her friend and talks about something happens between her and her friend. I can see the author miss Reginald very much because she cares about him. She says “Can you breathe all right?” She want to express the feeling that Reginald should be relax in the heaven and people here will miss you. Comment by Hongjie Pan — April 28, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  

In the poem I thought author realized the daydream and tries to interpret the meaning of the dream. However, the author uses lots of descriptive senses. I really like the sentence “If a person visits someone in a dream,
in some cultures the dreamer thanks them in the morning
for visiting their dream”. I think this line is very significant because in my culture if someone sees someone in the dream they thank him or her as well. Sometimes we also visit the person. In this poem author started with positive hope and them but at the end I felt like some has died. Comment by Ripon Nath — April 29, 2011 @ 1:05 am

Professor Grace Schulman asked me to post this for her: “In Jean Valentine’s poem, there is great power in small details, such as the sewing needle used to stitch an elegy to a dead poet friend. The poem has astonishing depth, mysterious for its silences, drawing us into what is not said. Its taut, spare lines haunt us as they grow and flourish in our minds. It is moving. It is real.” Comment by Ely Shipley — April 30, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

 

There is a real touch of sadness throughout this poem, which starts with the dedication to the memory of Reginald Shepherd. It seems as if the poem was written after he died- the poet shows how selfless she would have been if given the chance. This reminds me of the song “How To Save a Life” by The Fray, particularly the lyric from the chorus, “I would have stayed up with you all night, had I known how to save a life.” It’s a heartbreaking retrospective line that bleeds helplessness and longing.
Toward the end of the poem, Valentine gives thanks for the visiting to her dream. Usually, thanking someone for something like that would be a happy thing, but it holds an ironic value. She thanks him, but you can still feel her pain of knowing that her dreams are the only place where she can still see him.  Comment by Travis Crowley — May 1, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

I like to believe the distortion that takes place is to make the reader feel as though they are in a dream. The random and erratic word place is but a means to convey indescribable emotions of sadness and lost. The lost of a love one is foreshadowed by appreciation; an appreciation to have had that person as a friend. The dream world is where she can still see him and enjoy what they have shared. Fantasies can be fulfilled in your dreams and that is the place the friendship can continue to exist. I am a fan of poems with abundant rhythmic stanzas but the emotional content embodied in this piece makes it potent. Comment by Craig Thomas — May 1, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

I find this poem incredibly rich. It continues to reward and teach me something new each time I return to it. And it often returns to me since I first read it.

I, too, love, as David (Hongjie) Pan writes, this poem’s “heart-warming” quality, as well as its ability to “haunt” in its “small details” and “spare lines,” as Professor Schulman notes. I absolutely agree with Travis Crowley about how “you can still feel [Valentine’s] pain of knowing that her dreams are the only place where she can still see [Shepherd].” As a poet, I’m especially interested in how the poem itself is a place, a dreamscape where these poets continue to meet. It’s both an “[ironically]…sad” and “heartwarming” place the reader also is invited to via the activity of reading. This invitation happens right away; the poem positions the reader with the letter writer and as the recipient, the “you.”

Just as the people in the poem overlap, the poem’s images rhyme, expand, and complicate one another. The needle resembles the pen which resembles the pelican beak and the bedspread resembles the letter which resembles the pelican breast, and so on. A theme of doubling and multiplicity certainly plays throughout the poem’s imagery, but is inherent in the idea of a dream, or the place where *imag*ination occurs. A dream is often thought of as a liminal space that questions the boundaries of reality. Many believe it’s a realm between or beyond life and death, where the living and dead can meet again or anew, as Travis pointed out.

Perhaps my favorite moment in the poem is that the penultimate section follows another section that seems most like a dream because it happens “at a hotel in another star.” After the heater and the thank you are given, we move to the next section with its surprising imperative to “break the glass.” Each time the phrase repeats it’s followed by white space. This silence on the page even looks like—is the image of—the fingerprint of a ghost. Importantly, its shape is made by the surrounding text. Body and not-body, text and white space rely on one another. The breath of the poet eternally asks: “can *you* breathe alright” (my emphasis)? Here, the imperative to “break the glass” begins to mean “break” what divides us.

Is the speaker telling herself, Shepherd, or me to break the glass? Certainly, it could be any one of these. But who breaks the glass is suddenly less important than the raw necessity for the action. The poem performs this breaking as it commands it alongside the breakdown of point of view at this moment in the poem. I love the image of glass in this poem; yes, it is a barrier, or “gate,” but it is also an “[opening],” a transparency that we can see into and beyond. This clarity of vision is also what a poem can allow.  Comment by Ely Shipley — May 1, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

What I enjoy about the poem besides the title is how the tone draws you in. This is the 1st time I have encountered this poem and my favorite lines are:

If a person visits someone in a dream,
in some cultures the dreamer thanks them in the morning
for visiting their dream.

I too have written poetry using asterisks (*) to separate stanzas and I feel in this poem it serves to give readers time to prepare for the diction and tone of the next stanza. Comment by Jordan McFarlane-Beau — May 2, 2011 @ 8:18 am

I thought this was a very nice poem. I really liked the first two stanzas and relate them to each other. In the first stanza he says it is morning were he is not dreaming and cannot see his friend this is were he writes a letter with a needle and thread and pricks himself. This is liked to the pelican who is two out of her migratory path like the writer out of sleep yet she absently pecks at her breast this is liked to the poet absently writes a letter and pricking herself. Also in the fourth stanza I liked when she says I call it “dream” not dreaming it has more of an everlasting sense to it and then says shes not drawn in to that witch withdraws but him who never withdraws that gives the everlasting feeling. You can stop dreaming or be withdrawn from it, her dream is everlasting were he cannot withdraw were they can be forever. Comment by Patrick Pierre-Louis — May 18, 2011 @ 3:05 am

In this poem, the author is keeping the memory of Reginald Shepard alive. “May you breathe deeply and easily”, indicates that the author wants him to be at peace and relax, where there is no pain and suffering. She states “They have one heater. You are ill, please take it”, this illustrates that the author cares and loves Reginald Shepard. The author puts her needs last; it also shows how unselfish she is. In the end it states “Thank you for visiting my dream”, the author will always cherish the memory and by him visiting her dream it satisfied her thirst of missing him since thats the closest she can get to him. Comment by ashleywong — May 18, 2011 @ 9:15 am

The poem, “If a Person Visits Someone in a Dream, in Some Cultures the Dreamer Thanks them” by Jean Valentine, is very reminiscent and is almost very personal note to someone named Reginald. It visual contents are very hard to comprehend, unless you think about them deeply. The poem reads like a collection of random thoughts about this character named Reginald. It is interesting how the poem flows like a song, making the random thoughts feel connected. However, I think that the form of the poem is what makes me separate stanzas, and makes them seemed disconnected. It is actual reminisce of an Emily Dickerson style. Where the poem seems to jump into a new thought very abruptly, but overall the poem creates touching imagery, which sets a sober tone. That at the end seems like she is talking about a lost love one. This poem is a very interesting work as it portrays many different styles of poetry and even music inside it. Comment by j.mcaulay — May 21, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

I found this piece hard to comprehend at first, I was not able to connect the thread and needle, the dream, writing etc. but after reading it a few times connections formed in my head. Regardless of what meaning I drew from this piece, it had a warm, sincere and personal tone in a descriptive way. I thought the analogy of the pelican was unique. I like the way the poet mentions the pelican “whose child is gone/yet she absently picks at her breast” to explain her situation. In this case, the child who is gone is her dear friend Reginald who she dedicates this poem to and she writes as if he weren’t gone. The bedspread is her breast and she “pecks” her words, talking to Reginald. That is what I got from reading the text. I especially like the mention of the dream and the custom of thanking someone who visits in someone’s dream. It demonstrates her thankfulness and appreciation for her friendship with Reginald. She shows a deep concern for her friend’s well-being asking if he can breathe all right and wishing that he may “breathe deeply and easily” when she “pecks” her thoughts with a needle and thread onto the bedspread in the beginning of the poem. She also shows her concern for his well-being when she states in her dream that there was one heater and she gladly tells him to take it and thanks him for visiting her dream. This also shows her selflessness towards her friend along with her concern. I love the image of a “hotel in another star”. She describes her real feelings in a surreal dream world and portrays them to her reader. Her situation may be a reality for a lot of people who may have seen or dreamt of their deceased loved ones. I have never experienced such a dream before, however, with this poem I was able to capture the dream and its emotions in my mind. Comment by Rabia Ari — May 21, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

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