Real Poetry

reviews, tips, and personal/local writing

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Quick Quotes from Reading

So I’ve been reading some William Stafford, as I mentioned recently. Most notably, in his book Writing the Australian Crawl, there were a few quotes that really stood out to me both as a reader and writer of poetry.

“There are things, you know, human things, that depend on commitment; poetry is one of those things.”

“A reader is a person who picks up signals and enters a world in language under the guidance of an earlier entry made by a writer.”

and my favorite quote from the book so far:

“What one has written is not to be defended or valued, but abandoned: others must decide significance and value.”

Other than that I had an exciting purchase for myself recently; I finally got something for filing my poems and other creative writing.  I’ve got it pictured below with the William Stafford book resting against it.

Hope everyone is having a pretty nice week.  I’ve got some interesting poetry I’ve been working on the past few days that I’m excited to share some of on Thursday.

Combat Steve


Aphorism Challenge – Week 4

Another aphorism to share today. I hope everyone has had a great weekend. I’ve been reading a new book of poetry I recently received by James Tate, Ghost Soldiers. It’s not the typical type of poetry I tend to enjoy, but it has really been making me chuckle as I’ve read it. Other than that, I’ve been reading more Tony Hoagland and just started a book by William Stafford: Writing the Australian Crawl. I will most undoubtedly be quoting from that book/referring to it in my Honors Thesis updates. Anyways, enjoy the aphorism:

Friendship can be lost at the drop of a hat, but it’s a lot harder to pick back up.
– Stephen Recker

My Poetry – a working draft “How it happens”

I’m writing and revising a lot of stuff lately, and since I don’t have anything 100% revised (and really, it’s impossible to have anything that figured out anyway), I thought I’d share a draft of a poem I’ve been working on. This poem is, and I’ll repeat this, a draft. It will be subject to some radical revision. The poem I ultimately wind up with could barely resemble the draft I’m putting up here. Though I do feel it’s heading in a positive direction.

How it happens
by Stephen Recker

Sometimes it’s easy.
Words just pour out like a smooth stream of water from a faucet.

But other times the line is clogged and drips.
You sit in the center of a room with your arms wrapped
around your legs rocking back and forth
just waiting
for something to come, other than the steady
tap, tap
of the dripping faucet, and after hours
when the last ounce of patience is used up
and you can’t take the staccato rhythm,
you walk purposefully towards the faucet,
reach underneath, rip out the plumbing
and write, letting the page soak up
the water bursting from the line.

Brief Update/Honors Thesis Update

Since I’m going to be unable to keep up with poetry reviews as much as I would like to, I thought I’d share what I’m working on that’s keeping me so busy. Some of this work is mostly boring class stuff that is irrelevant to this blog. However, I’m working on an Honors Thesis that is centered on my writing of poetry. As I mentioned previously, I’m writing a lot of material, but now I’m starting to shift my focus to the revision process. Along with this new focus, I’ve been reading tons of poetry and essays on poetry to help with both my understanding and my knowledge of poetry and its many forms.  To give a slight impression of what this process has and will entail, I’ve included the picture below of some of the books I’ve already read or will be reading.  Feel free to click to enlarge the picture.

So anyways, what this all means for the blog is, I’m going to try and post little brief updates about what I’ve been reading on Tuesdays, both to share what I’m working on and to help me to comprehend just how much I’ve retained.  For instance:

I read an article written by Tony Hoagland last night: Altitudes, a Homemade Taxonomy: Image, Diction, and Rhetoric.  It discussed three “poetic chakras” that are present to certain extents in well-written poetry, though some poets are stronger in one or the other.  If you couldn’t figure it out from the title of the article, these three “chakras” are image, diction, and rhetoric.  Simply put, poets who are stronger in image rely on the use of image as their means of conveying information; poets who lean towards the use of diction rely on word choice to provide a stronger sense of voice and character; and those who rely on rhetoric often sound preachy.  Hoagland says any one of these can be fine on its own, but that the intermingling of all three can produce some of the best poetry.  He uses Paul Goodman‘s poem “Birthday Cake” as an example of the latter.

Hope everyone has had a great start to the week,

Combat Steve

Aphorism Challenge – Week 3

Another week, another aphorism.  Just as an update, I will not be having a review of a poetry book up this Tuesday.  That’s going to have to become an every other week venture.  I will have some kind of other post up though, so don’t go worrying I won’t have an update.  Anyways, without further delay, here’s this week’s aphorism:

Photo courtesy of Cory Hahn

Having a crush on someone is like having a cold.  You’re uncomfortable throughout the day, you have trouble sleeping, and it’s really hard to focus.
– Stephen Recker

Sylvia Plath – “The Swarm”

I usually post up a poem of my own on Thursdays, but a majority of my work (and believe me I have been writing a lot the past couple weeks) is well within what I like to call my revision stage. I’m not going to do the disservice of showing off first or second draft poems that need, in some cases, harsh revisions. Therefore, I thought I’d share a poem with you that holds a special place for me.

This poem, “The Swarm” by Sylvia Plath, was one of the first poems I ever analyzed on my own and wrote a paper over. The pages from this book that I’ve had since high school are covered with my notations and connections I made throughout the poems. I’m so proud of it I decided to include this picture:


This poem is from her collection Ariel,  her last collection of poetry published posthumously.  The entire book is very imagistic and is a book that I will undoubtedly review at some point when I can give it enough time.

The Swarm

Somebody is shooting at something in our town—
A dull pom, pom in the Sunday street.
Jealousy can open the blood,
It can make black roses.
Who are they shooting at?

It is you the knives are out for
At Waterloo, Waterloo, Napoleon,
The hump of Elba on your short back,
And the snow, marshalling its brilliant cutlery
Mass after mass, sahing Shh!

Shh! These are the chess people you play with,
Still figures of ivory.
The mud squirms with throats,
Stepping stones for French bootsoles.
The gilt and pink domes of Russia melt and float off

In the furnace of greed. Clouds, clouds.
So the swarm balls and deserts
Seventy feet up, in a black pine tree.
It must be shot down. Pom! Pom!
So dumb it thinks bullets are thunder.

It thinks they are the voice of God
Condoning the beak, the claw, the grin of the dog
Yellow-haunched, a pack-dog,
Grinning over its bone of ivory
Like the pack, the pack, like everybody.

The bees have got so far. Seventy feet high!
Russia, Poland and Germany!
The mild hills, the same old magenta
Fields shrunk to a penny
Spun into a river, the river crossed.

The bees argue, in their black ball,
A flying hedgehog, all prickles.
The man with grey hands stands under the honeycomb
Of their dream, the hived station
Where trains, faithful to their steel arcs,

Leave and arrive, and there is no end to the country.
Pom! Pom! They fall
Dismembered, to a tod of ivy.
So much for the charioteers, the outriders, the Grand Army!
A red tatter, Napoleon!

The last badge of victory.
The swarm is knocked into a cocked straw hat.
Elba, Elba, bleb on the sea!
The white busts of marshals, admirals, generals
Worming themselves into niches.

How instructive this is!
The dumb, banded bodies
Walking the plank draped with Mother France’s upholstery
Into a new mausoleum,
An ivory palace, a crotch pine.

The man with grey hands smiles—
The smile of a man of business, intensely practical.
They are not hands at all
But asbestos receptacles.
Pom! Pom! “They would have killed me.”

Stings big as drawing pins!
It seems bees have a notion of honour,
A black, intractable mind.
Napoleon is pleased, he is pleased with everything.
O Europe! O ton of honey!

—Sylvia Plath, Ariel

What Narcissism Means to Me – Tony Hoagland

20120214-205248.jpgTony Hoagland is a character. Having met him a few years ago at a reading, I can definitely say that the voice of his poems is his own. He has a certain amount of seriousness, that is interspersed with just the right amount of humor to avoid getting bogged down. His book, What Narcissism Means to Me, follows this technique fairly successfully.

The poems are divided into four sections (America, Social Life, Blues, and Luck), and overall the poems for each section actually correlate to the titles they have… a habit that some collections of poetry I have read in the past have failed to accomplish. The first section focuses on American culture and with the poem “America” Tony encodes some serious commentary when he says he remembers how he “stabbed my father in the dream last night,/ It was not blood but money/ that gushed out of him.” This is shortly followed by the comedic turn of his father saying “Thank god–those Ben Franklins were/ Clogging up my heart–.”

The second section deals with the speaker of the poems’ interactions with close friends. One particular poem, “Patience,” details the speaker being chewed out for his attitude. Rather than rise in anger, the speaker sits back and smiles knowing this is what he has needed to hear. The opening stanza really needs to be shown in its entirety here:

“Success is the worst possible thing that could happen
to a man like you,” she said,
“because the shiny shoes, and flattery
and the self-
lubricating slime of affluence would mean
you’d never have to face your failure as a human being.”
-Excerpt from Tony Hoagland “Patience”

The third section hits a far more dark stride with issues such as suicide. One poem in particular, “Suicide Song,” is written in a very intriguing way. The majority of the poem is written in the first person, allowing the speaker of the poem to confess instances of suicidal contemplations and why he hasn’t done it yet, ultimately asking rather humorously “And anyway, who has clothes nice enough to be caught dead in?” The poem then takes a dramatic shift and addressesthe reader in the second person saying “You stay alive you stupid asshole/ Because you haven’t been excused.” The surprising turn of perspective there made me shift in my seat and read the poem a few extra times, but it left me with a stronger sense of hopefulness than I received in other parts of the collection.

The last section of the book didn’t accomplish as much for me as the third. It predominantly deals with relationships and some tinges of experiences after someone’s death, but it ultimately reads like the second section of the book again.

Overall, this is a fine collection for anyone to read. The lightheartedness interspersed throughout each poem and section acts as a nice breather between some truly emotional and dark content. I find it hard to realize, in writing this review, that so much darkness actually pervades this book, because really, when I had initially finished reading it, I felt rather happy and well entertained. If you want some serious content, that relieves any built up tension through some clever humor, check out this book.

Final verdict:

3/4 – Worth checking out

Aphorism Challenge – Week 2

So another week of morning aphorisms and I managed to write down at least one that I felt worthy enough to share with the world.  I am hoping to remain more on schedule this next week, but I do have a number of assignments to work on so I’ll try to keep optimistic.

I trust everyone out there has had a wonderful weekend and maybe this brief poem will help you kick off the next week.

Photo courtesy of Cory Hahn

You can’t always look both ways before crossing the street.  Sometimes you’ve got to just cross your fingers and hope for the best.
– Stephen Recker

My Poetry – Order

Apologies for not having this out last night as I had planned.  I hope everyone’s week is going splendidly.

photo of desk

by Stephen Recker

Letters, rough drafts of poetry, and old papers
litter the desktop, with crinkled love letters
from an ex buried within.

My book she sent back in the mail
lies unopened on top of the shelf.
The terse note asking for her book still lays,
perfectly creased on the floor,
where I’ve been careful
not to tread.


Slight delay, with hints of things to come.

With another week of college, comes another delay in the poetry review.  I will not be waiting till next Tuesday to get it up however.  I should have it up by the weekend.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share a little more about myself today.  More precisely, my writing area. (Pictured below)

a picture of the desk I write at

This desk has been my pride and joy these past two years.  The bookshelf: I built myself.  On the left side of the desk is the beginnings of my old book collection (All printed in the 1920s: Emerson, Wilde, Twain, and Dickens).  I’ve managed to keep that central area as a writing space.  It may be a little crowded, but it functions well.  If you look closely to the right you’ll see my new book of poetry I got in the mail today.

Just my newest collection of poetry. Marie Howe - The Good Thief

I’m pretty excited for it, as Marie Howe is one of my favorite contemporary poets right now.  This isn’t my next review, but I’ll be reading through it soon.

Anyway, I hope you all have had a great start to the week.

Combat Steve

P.S. If you’re interested in a fun poem to read check out “Humanitad” by Oscar Wilde.  I’ve read through it a few times recently.  It’s long, but worth it.

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