Surprise snow storm!

Though some forecasts were predicting snow for the Northeastern US, no one was predicting quite this much snow. I left the office around 5:15 and there was a light slush on the ground. I got out of the subway around 6:30 to about 2 inches. It’s still snowing now a few hours later and it’s still accumulating. So much snow! Anyway, it’s late in the day, but I thought I’d throw up a quick Poetry Wednesday to celebrate (?)  this early snow storm. (I’m trying to channel my inner Lorelei Gilmore here, but I really dislike the snow.)

This is an excerpt from the poem “Falling Leaves and Early Snow” by Kenneth Rexroth. You can read the full poem at the Poetry Foundation.

In the afternoon thin blades of cloud
Move over the mountains;
The storm clouds follow them;
Fine rain falls without wind.
The forest is filled with wet resonant silence.
When the rain pauses the clouds
Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls.
In the evening the wind changes;
Snow falls in the sunset.
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.

Poetry Wednesday – Interview with Indie Lit Award Nominee Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Back in March, the Indie Lit Award Winners were announced. I was a judge for the poetry panel, and I had the pleasure of reading five fabulous books. You can read about all the nominees here.

One of the authors is Sweta Srivastava Vikram, whose collection Beyond the Scent of Sorrow was nominated for the blogger-run prize. Reading Beyond the Scent of Sorrow was a thought-provoking experience and I’m happy to say that I had the opportunity to interview Sweta.


1) I’m always fascinated by what inspires poets. What do you think your greatest inspirations are? What makes you want to write a poem?

Poetry, to me, is magical and therapeutic—in that, it is a stabilizing factor for me. I am a direct communicator but not aggressive or confrontational. While experiencing emotional outbursts or disagreements with people or situations, I find writing poetry calms me down. It allows me to dig deeper into the issues and analyze the situation with fewer biases.

Frankly, writing is how I make sense of my world. It also helps me discover myself as a woman, human being, and writer. I aspire to give a voice to the underdogs. I would say women and children’s issues, women’s identity, hybridization of culture and essence of heritage, role of relationships, displacement, and abandonment of homeland are few of the topics that inspire me to pick up my pen and write a poem.

2) You use a lot of natural imagery in your poetry. Is this deliberate? What do you think the natural world can tell us about our own society and how do you show that in your poetry?

As a poet, it’s incumbent upon me to be aware of my physical and emotional surroundings and connect the two. I won’t say that I intentionally use natural imagery in all of my books. But it just so happens that some of my best poems are born when I am close to nature. To be able to listen to my inside voice, I need to turn out the outside noise. And that only happens when I embrace bucolic living. I feel my mind, body, and spirit are better connected when I am close to the natural world. The plants, the animals, the hills, the breeze, they all become influencers and emerge as playful, sad, deep, humorous metaphors in my poems.

The replacement of olive trees by oak trees in southwestern region of Portugal, I write about it in “Beyond the Scent of Sorrow,” nudged me to dig into the issues affecting women and draw a comparison between the two situations: eco-feminism. Life is full of parallels. And it is up to the poet to create the right connective tissue.

3) Who are your poetry icons? 

For me to enjoy a poem, the work has to break barriers of race, geography, religion, ethnicity, and language. It has to be a “people’s poem.” It should be savored slowly, over and over again. Pablo Neruda said, “Poetry is like bread. It should be shared by all, by scholars and peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity.” Many of the poets whom I like to re-read embody Neruda’s philosophy. Either their work is accessible or relatable or timeless or fearless. They write about heritage, culture, displacement, identity, nature, philosophy, and the world-at-large using fresh language. Robert Frost, William Wordsworth, Naomi Shihab Nye, Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, and Billy Collins are some of the poets whose work I admire and discuss with my students.

4) What do you hope is one thing your readers will feel or understand when reading your poetry?

The world is getting desensitized and unnecessarily politicized where the focus is often on the individual. Poetry is written from the heart and reflective of the poet’s state of mind. I hope “Beyond the Scent of Sorrow” pushes the readers out of complacency and urges them to make a change. At least encourage critical thinking and empower the readers to shake off inaction. That’s the only way for the human race to prosper. One doesn’t have to be a victim to feel empathy or raise the voice or do the right thing.

5) One of my favorite poems from your collection is “Eucalyptus Tree.” I am especially drawn to that single “obrigada” and the way it evokes a sense of place, while functioning on another level as well. It is also the first poem in your collection. Was it the first poem you write or the culmination? Or somewhere between?

Thank you. I believe it was one of the first few poems I wrote in this collection. The day I reached my writing residency in southwestern region of Portugal, my residency director drove a bunch of us to see the eucalyptus forest, which was being replaced with oak trees. The reason: eucalyptus trees were considered unsafe, caused forest fires.

On a separate note, the Portuguese are committed to exchanging pleasantries and greeting people. They are also appreciative of foreigners trying to speak in their local language even if the accent isn’t authentic. “Obrigada,” meaning thank you, was one of those words I picked up during my stay. It’s said in a singsong way, which would make me feel really pleasant. Every time that I would utter it, I would sense genuine appreciation from the locals. But, for a country that smiled and thanked customers in their grocery store, I wondered about how thanklessly they murdered the protector of the forests: eucalyptus trees.

Before leaving NYC, I’d read a report published by the United Nations that reflected upon the challenges faced by women globally. Despite everything they do, women too are associated with many “thankless-jobs” and their use is considered diminished after a certain point.

When I meshed the two scenarios mentioned above, compared the situation and sacrifices of women and eucalyptus forests, I felt they were speaking about each other’s conditions. Using nature as metaphor, the connection allowed me to highlight human apathy and selfishness. Just the visual of being in Portugal and witnessing depletion of eucalyptus forests, listening to accusatory stories about those trees, and relating it to conditions of women, I was inspired to write this collection.

Thank you so much Sweta for answering my questions! You can read more about Sweta Srivastava Vikram and her poetry at her website

Poetry Wednesday – Mother, Washing Dishes by Susan Meyers

I couldn’t find too much about Susan Meyers online when I first began looking, but while I was looking up her biography, I came across this column and project by Ted Kooser, funded by the Poetry Foundation, called “American Life in Poetry.” All 370 columns are archived and available to read on the project’s website. After scanning through some of the poems there were a few that I immediately liked, like Column 362 – “Fish Fry Daughter”, Column 241 – “Like Coins, November”, Column 168 – “The Laughter of Women”, and Column 16 “Love Like Salt.” I can tell that American Life in Poetry will be a place I return to again and again to read poetry. Each poem is accompanied by one line of biography and one light of insight from the amazing Kooser. It’s everything you need. You can sign up to get the poem emailed to you weekly.

I’m glad Susan Meyers led me to “American Life in Poetry.” Her poem “Mother, Washing Dishes” was featured in Column 267.

Mother, Washing Dishes

by Susan Meyers, featured in “American Life in Poetry”

           She rarely made us do it—
we’d clear the table instead—so my sister and I teased
that some day we’d train our children right
and not end up like her, after every meal stuck
with red knuckles, a bleached rag to wipe and wring.
The one chore she spared us: gummy plates
in water greasy and swirling with sloughed peas,
globs of egg and gravy.

 

           Or did she guard her place
at the window? Not wanting to give up the gloss
of the magnolia, the school traffic humming.
Sunset, finches at the feeder. First sightings
of the mail truck at the curb, just after noon,
delivering a note, a card, the least bit of news.

 

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by the Univ. of So. Carolina Press. Susan Meyers’ most recent book of poems is Keep and Give Away, Univ. of So. Carolina Press, 2006. Poem reprinted from Tar River Poetry, Vol. 48, no. 1, Fall 2008, by permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation.

“Lights and Shadows” by Delaney Hall

While looking for poems to read over at the Poetry Foundation, I came across this article by Delaney Hall about the Chicago Defender column “Lights and Shadows,” a column devoted to poetry and culture. It’s a beautiful piece about a culture, a community, and, mostly, a man: Dewey R. Jones.

“Few are clamoring over Jones now. He’s one of history’s bit players, and time may slowly bury him. But until that time, his son—who shares his father’s name—will keep wading through the old photographs, letters, and writings that he left behind.”

I love that this one article has brought this one man to my attention. I wish someone would write a book about his life, the Chicago Defender. Maybe someone has. Can you recommend a good one? Gwendolyn Brooks was one of “Lights and Shadows” contributors when she was only a teenager. This line gave me chills:

There’s never enough of what I want,
Never enough sky.

You can read the full article here.

Poetry Wednesday – Louise Glück (2)

All Hallows
by Louise Glück

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:
This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one
And the soul creeps out of the tree.
_________________________________________________
I know I’ve featured Louise Glück on Poetry Wednesday before, but when I came up with the idea to do a series of creepy poems for October, this one was easily my favorite. It’s chilling, frightening and all the things that a good Halloween poem should be, but it doesn’t seem to actually be about something frightening. Like the last poem we discussed by Glück, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what she is referring to, but that goes well with the transformative nature of autumn. There is no difference between the sight of a field barren from harvest and barren from pestilence. In the same way a tree becomes bare and different, the simple imagery of a woman leaning out her window becomes sinister. And that last line! I’m not exactly sure what it’s referring to, though it could be as simple as the leaves falling from the tree, but the way it is written certainly gave me chills!

Poetry Wednesday – Stanley Kunitz

End of Summer
by Stanley Kunitz

An agitation of the air,

A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.
I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.
Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.
Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.
______________________________________
“The song of my marrow-bones” is beautiful.

Poetry Wednesday – Rafael Campo

What the Body Told
by Rafael Campo

Not long ago, I studied medicine.
It was terrible, what the body told.
I’d look inside another person’s mouth,
And see the desolation of the world.
I’d see his genitals and think of sin.
Because my body speaks the stranger’s language,
I’ve never understood those nods and stares.
My parents held me in their arms, and still
I think I’ve disappointed them; they care
And stare, they nod, they make their pilgrimage
To somewhere distant in my heart, they cry.
I look inside their other-person’s mouths
And see the wet interior of souls.
It’s warm and red in there—like love, with teeth.
I’ve studied medicine until I cried
All night. Through certain books, a truth unfolds.
Anatomy and physiology,
The tiny sensing organs of the tongue—
Each nameless cell contributing its needs.
It was fabulous, what the body told.
_________________________________________
I was originally trying to find “back to school” poems, but they were all cheesy and I couldn’t find one I loved, so I decided to just share this delightful poem about studying medicine. I love the transition and the truth behind this poem. What our bodies tell us is at once beautiful and terrible.