Real Poetry

reviews, tips, and personal/local writing

Theodore Roethke – “Weed Puller”

Heeelllloooooo world,

For those of you out there who know me personally, it’s no secret that one of my favorite poets is Theodore Roethke. He was one of the first poets I was introduced to outside of the usual Shakespeare/High School English poets. Thus, the collected poems of Roethke was the first book of poetry I ever purchased. I couldn’t recommend this collection of poems more highly.

Anyway, the poem I’m sharing here really encapsulates the style and strength of image that I always find when reading through his work. I also happened to spend a few hours the other day out weeding the garden, so I had it on my mind. I hope you all enjoy.

Stephen R.

Weeds under trees

Weed Puller

Under the concrete benches,
Hacking at black hairy roots,-
Those lewd monkey-tails hanging from drainholes,-
Digging into the soft rubble underneath,
Webs and weeds,
Grubs and snails and sharp sticks,
Or yanking tough fern-shapes,
Coiled green and thick, like dripping smilax,
Tugging all day at perverse life:
The indignity of it!-
With everything blooming above me,
Lilies, pale-pink cyclamen, roses,
Whole fields lovely and inviolate,-
Me down in that fetor of weeds,
Crawling on all fours,
Alive, in a slippery grave.

– Theodore Roethke

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Small Remembrance – Dr. Edward Lee Shirley

Hey all,

I had every intent of posting up a new poem of mine, either sonnet or another, but I was just recently informed that a professor of mine has passed: Dr. Edward Shirley, a theological professor at St. Edward’s University.

a photo of Dr. Edward Shirley

He was a quirky, spirited, and amazingly fun professor to have.  I will never forget the class I took with him last, Religious Themes of Harry Potter, which ultimately boiled down to reading the HP series and discussing ways in which theological elements were implemented in the story.

Though I only had him in two classes my first two years of college, he always remembered my name.  He was the kind of person you’d see walking around campus every day almost always in conversation with a student, usually more than one, but he would always make it a point to say hi as you passed.  When he wasn’t walking around, he would be sitting to lunch with a large group of students.  That was the main element of Dr. Shirley that stood out to me, his closeness to his students.  He even went to see the midnight release of the last Potter film with several students.  He had a youthful vitality that always surprised me.

I know most of you all who read this will undoubtedly not know this man, and some may have skimmed this post and moved on, but I just wanted to put down these few memories of him while they are on my mind today.

I want this post to be dedicated to Dr. Shirley, so I am going to conclude with a fitting poem by Marie Howe.

Stephen R.

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking, Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

– Marie Howe

Frank O’Hara – “Song”

What’s this?  Can it be?  Yes, another consecutive poem of the week from yours truly.  This week’s poem comes from a collection of Frank O’Hara I own: Lunch Poems.  I particularly enjoy the use of punctuation in this poem.  The two instances in which he uses periods really add a lot to the way the poem was read by me.  I hope that the poem resonates with some of you out there as well.

Stephen R.

Picture of Smog in city

Song

Is it dirty
does it look dirty
that’s what you think of in the city

does it just seem dirty
that’s what you think of in the city
you don’t refuse to breathe do you

someone comes along with a very bad character
he seems attractive. is he really. yes. very
he’s attractive as his character is bad. is it. yes

that’s what you think of in the city
run your fingers along your no-moss mind
that’s not a thought that’s soot

and you take a lot of dirt off someone
is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly
you don’t refuse to breathe do you

– Frank O’Hara

Sonnet Challenge – #1 (Finally)

Alright, alright… I’ve blathered on enough about how I find myself incapable of maintaining a challenge I’ve set for myself, and it’s time I finally just place my chips on the table and show my hand. Anyway, I’ve worked for awhile today revising this sonnet up for your viewing pleasure, and I hope you enjoy it.

Not only that, but I ran across a sonnet I wrote a few months ago that I genuinely still love after reading it a few times again. It was intended to be part of a series of sonnets dealing with a common theme. So I’m going to shift gears a little bit in the coming weeks and work to flesh out a collection of sonnets that work with the one I’ve mentioned.

I won’t be sharing all of those, but I will work to show a part of it when I can. For now, here’s the sonnet that the challenge helped to produce that I’ve put off too long on revising and sharing with you all.

Sincerely,
Stephen R.

Acoustic Classical Guitar

Writing

The strings have fallen flat
while sitting quietly beside my bed,
dust falling between the slats
of my window to collect along its neck.

When I do pull it out, I pluck the strings
the way I remember.  Each finger placed
so finely as to make each note sing
out in pleasure as I play through a scale.

I grow faster with practice, notes bending
to the pull of my fingertips.  Humming along
I move through the familiar, winding
paths, lightly biting my tongue.

I play because I feel I must
or I’d only produce a film of dust.

– Stephen Recker

P.S. One of my favorite bands just released a new single the other day, Mumford & Sons.  I’m sure most of you will have already heard of them or know of the song already, but for those who haven’t I strongly suggest checking them out.

James Tate – “The Rules”

Well hello there.

I feel as though I’ve fallen off the map for a little while there. I wish I could say that I’ve been fighting the good fight or at least putting pen to paper and producing something new to work with in my writing, but honestly I have really just been distracted. Though not much an excuse, I’ve had my little niece and nephew staying with me and the family for the better part of a month so far… and for those who are not aware, a 1 and 4-year-old can be quite a distraction. Especially when they require almost constant entertainment. I’m not really complaining though.

But last night, at around 11:16 my mind just sort of clicked. It’s happened to me before. It wasn’t a lightbulb turning on. I had this initial thought just pop into my head. And I’ll even share it with you here “I’ve slipped.” Just those two words. And I kept repeating them over and over in my mind. My hands started to shake slightly, and I could feel my heart racing as the words just kept up on a loop. I can’t really think of any other way to describe it. So I’d say by 11:18 I realized that the random show I was watching had to stop and I got up and started writing. It’s always a great feeling when I’ve finally gotten myself to write something down.

I would like to have revised that poem up and put it up here for everyone to see, but I want to give it more time to gestate, so to speak. So to tide things over, I thought I’d share another poem of the week. The poem, “The Rules,” is by the poet James Tate. I ran into Tate when reading an essay by Tony Hoagland (another poet I have reviewed previously). His writing style is… different. At least in his book The Ghost Soldiers. The poems are basically all written in prose. This, combined with the short and accelerating sentences (you’ll understand when you read it aloud to yourself) make it a style that really sets the heart racing by the poem’s conclusion. The poem is also marked by its odd sense of humor in the seeming randomness of the content at times, but the finality in the command at the conclusion always sets me adrift momentarily after a read through. Perhaps you’ll see what I mean after a reading.

Hope you all have that moment of inspiration,
Stephen R.

A Cream Cheese and Lox Bagle

The Rules

Jack told me to never reveal my true identity. “I would
never do that,” I said. “Always wear at least a partial disguise,”
he said. “Of course,” I said. “And try to blend in with the
crowd,” he said. “Naturally,” I said. “And never fall in love,”
he said. “Far too dangerous,” I said. “Never raise your voice,”
he said, “Understood,” I said. “Never run,” he said. “I
wouldn’t dream of it,” I said. “Never make a glutton of yourself,”
he said. “It won’t happen,” I said. “Always be polite,” he
said. “That’s me, polite,” I said. “Don’t sing in public,”
he said. “You have my promise,” I said. “Don’t touch strangers,”
he said. “That’s forbidden,” I said. “Never speed,” he said.
“You can count on me,” I said. “Don’t wear plaid,” he said.
“No plaid,” I said. “Don’t pet dogs,” he said. “Of course
not,” I said. “Don’t jump fences,” he said. “I won’t,” I
said. “Stay away from children,” he said. “I will,” I said.
“Don’t enter churches,” he said. “Of course not,” I said.
“Good posture at all times,” he said. “Good posture is a must,”
I said. “Never pick money out of the gutter,” he said. “That’s
not for me,” I said. “Be punctual,” he said. “Always on time,”
I said. “When walking or driving always mix your routes,” he
said. “Naturally,” I said. “Never order the same meal twice,”
he said. “Never,” I said. “Do not be seen on the street after
midnight,” he said. “Not ever,” I said. “Do not give money
to homeless beggars,” he said. “Nothing for the beggars,”
I said. “Do not start conversations with officers of the law,”
he said. “No talking with cops,” I said. “No ice skating,”
he said. “Never,” I said. “No skiing,” he said. “Of course
not,” I said. “When a sign says STAY OFF THE GRASS, you’ll
stay off,” he said. “I will, I said. “No chewing gum in
public,” he said. “I won’t,” I said. “You must carry your weapon
at all times,” he said. “Always armed,” I said. “You must
follow orders,” he said. “Count on it,” I said. “You will
contact Central once a week,” he said. “Contact Central,”
I said. “No green pants,” he said. “Certainly not,” I said.
“No orange or purple shirts,” he said. “Not for me,” I said.
“No sushi,” he said. “Oh no,” I said. “No fandango,” he said.
“Not possible,” I said. “No farm bureau,” he said. “Not my
style,” I said. Beware hypnotism,” he said. “Always
alert,” I said. “Watch out for leeches,” he said. “A danger
not forgotten,” I said. “Stay off gondolas.” “Instinctively,”
I said. “Never trust a fortune-teller,” he said. “Never,”
I said. “Avoid crusades,” he said. “Certainly,” I said.
“Never ride on a blimp,” he said. “Blimps are out,” I said.
“Do not chase turkeys,” he said. “I will not,” I said. “Do
not put your hand in the mouth of a horse,” he said. “Out
of the question,” I said. “Never believe in miracles,” he said.
“I won’t,” I said.

– James Tate

P.S. For anyone curious by this point, the sonnet challenge has proven a very difficult thing to get myself to maintain. I have one to put up eventually, but I’ll only do that when I think it’s really revised enough.

P.P.S. I honestly struggled coming up with an image to fit this poem, as you can see it goes pretty much everywhere.  So I settled on a picture of my favorite bagel to eat when I visit New York.

Gary Soto – “Oranges”

This week’s poem was a suggestion from a friend of mine.  I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.  I’m not overly familiar with the work of Gary Soto, but this has clinched my buying a collection of his work.

Hope everyone’s week is going amazingly well,
Stephen R.

A collection of oranges

Oranges

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December.  Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porchlight burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge.  I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drug store.  We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted–
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth.  I fingered
A nickel in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickel from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter.  When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
About.

Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

– Gary Soto

Edna St. Vincent Millay – “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why”

So for my return to the poem of the week I thought it would be fitting to pick a sonnet in keeping with my new challenge.  This sonnet comes from Edna St. Vincent Millay.  This particular poem came in a selection of examples for sonnet poems in the book The Making of a Poem. Many of the sonnets in the chapter were the overly flowery verse that many of my friends assume poetry is like in all cases.  This one stood out to me though in it’s ability to instantly grip me with the flowing opening line.  I’ll let you see it for yourself.

The Kiss, a painting by Francesco Hayez

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

– Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Next Writing Challenge?!?

Well, I’ve made it back from New York… tired and worn out, but I had a good time with family. I’ve spent the past week recuperating and considering just what the title says: I need a new writing challenge. But first, I want to share this picture from my flight:

Picture taken above the clouds while flying.

I don’t care for flying overall, but I do love a view like that.

So for anyone who’s been following the blog or just checked out past posts, you may remember a segment I did simply entitled the Aphorism Challenge. For five weeks I wrote an aphorism every day and then selected the best of the bunch and put it up for all to see.

The main goal for that challenge was to get myself writing and, as of right now, I haven’t been pushing myself to write like I should. So to fix that I’ve decided to set myself up a brand-spanking-new challenge to force myself in front of my desk with pen and paper (or fingers and keyboard as the need arises). This time, however, I want to work in another form of poetry than the aphorism, which, though challenging in its own ways, was a simpler way of writing.

For now, I want to stick with a form I’m at least a little familiar with, so for my first new set of challenges I’ve decided on Sonnets. They typically come in two major forms, the petrarchan and Shakespearean. I’ll go into more detail next week with the first development of this Sonnet Challenge.

Anyone who knows me well will also know how averse I’ve been to writing in form poetry over the past few years. It’s a different mindset for writing, and thus I find it harder to do and only really possess a cursory knowledge of a few of the major forms out there. So I have an added request for anyone reading this post:

Is there a type of form poetry that you are particularly fond of? One that would make for a good challenge to practice writing with? If so, feel free to comment and share. I would love to hear more about different forms.

I will hopefully have some ok work-in-progress Sonnets to share in the coming weeks. Till then, I hope you all have had a fun and safe time since my last post.

Stephen R.

 

Summer Reading (Book 2) – Walt Whitman’s America

So as I talked about before, I went to check out Walt Whitman‘s birthplace on Long Island last week.  The house itself was cool to see, but I found the small exhibit concerning the nine different iterations of Leaves of Grass the most interesting portion of the tour/visit.  So much so, in fact, that I bought myself a biography to start reading for this summer.

A Statue of Walt Whitman admiring a butterfly

I’ve never read a biography before, so this is a new type of reading, but so far it has really held my interest.  I’ll openly admit both before reading what I’ve read so far and visiting his birthplace, I really had little knowledge of Whitman or his writing.  For those who don’t know already, I’ve learned that Whitman was not only a poet but also worked with newspapers and for a few years was a school teacher around Long Island.

I’ll save more of my discussion of this book for after I finish it this summer and write up a review.  I hope everyone out there is doing well and enjoying their summer.  Stay cool everyone whose around a heatwave like myself today.

Stephen R.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson – “In the Garden at Swainston”

This week’s poem comes from a collection of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poetry my grandmother gave me to add to my collection of old books during my visit to New York.  The book itself I have only glanced through, but one poem in particular stood out from the other’s I’ve read.  The short, three stanza poem contains some very powerful images and I’ve returned to the poem several times during my stay.

Tennyson's Poems, Alta Edition

The poem conveys a strong sense of loss from someone truly meaningful to the speaker of the poem.  What stands out to me though, is that this is not a poem about the one person this speaker loved but rather the three people he has loved separately but in some way equally.  The only defining difference is that the person lamented in this poem is the “last of the three.”

In the Garden at Swainston

Nightingales warbled without,
Within was weeping for thee;
Shadows of three dead men
Walk’d in the walks with me,
Shadows of three dead men, and thou wast one of the three.

Nightingales sang in the woods;
The Master was far away;
Nightingales warbled and sang
Of a passion that lasts but a day;
Still in the house in his coffin the Prince of courtesy lay.

Two dead men have I known
In courtesy like to thee:
Two dead men have I loved
With a love that ever will be:
Three dead men have I loved, and thou art last of the three.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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