Submissions open for May

 

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Submissions are open until April 28th for our May issue. Book reviews, essays and commentary are  welcome.

Submissions:

Submissions of book reviews, essays, and commentary are welcome. Send your submission for consideration of publication in word doc with any images or photographs attached , Include a brief bio. All submissions are to be sent to:  sahmsguarnieriandreutter@gmail.com  Please note in the subject line of the email- submission- your name. Our response time should be less than two weeks.

The Matter of Empire – Metaphysics and Mining in Colonial Peru

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.Review by g emil reutter

Orlando Bentancor brings us The Matter of Empire- Metaphysics and Mining in Colonial Peru at a time when the world is once again ignoring history, a history Bentancor brings to life in this excellent book on the conquest of the America’s by Spain. The philosophy of Francisco de Victoria rooted in Aristotelianism and Thomism. It is to Victoria that the Spanish crown turned to justify the conquest of the America’s and the treatment of the “Amerindians”.  Victoria a founder of the School of Salamanca  developed the philosophy of just war, freedom of commerce and the seas rooted in the belief of globalization and natural subordination. This is relevant in today’s world as the nations of the earth engage in globalization today on scale that Victoria who wrote in the 1500’s could only imagine.

Bentancor writes in great detail the emerging philosophy of Victoria that justified the rights of Spain to mine for gold and silver in South America in spite of any indigenous opposition. Victoria used Aristotle’s natural law, or natural subordination that people are born to lead or born to serve as the justification in the use of indigenous peoples to be forced to work in the mines as a right of Spain to free commerce. It was the right of Spain to impose its religion on the indigenous people, to mine their land and if resisted to conquer their territory in just war as a right of a superior people to impose their will on inferiors if resisted or attacked. Victoria rooted his theories in the western thought developed by Aristotelianism and Thomism. He used the foundation of Scholasticism and corrupted the teachings and philosophy of Thomas Aquinas as the basis for the brutal slaughter and enslavement of indigenous peoples during the Spanish conquest and globalization.

Natural subordination led to the great violence of the last millennium and millions of lost lives. Not only used by western culture but cultures around the globe to justify war, violence, slavery and man’s inhumanity to man no matter what mask it wears. In the beginning of this new millennium we continue to see the imposition of religious intolerance and suppression of people who are not in agreement with those who desire to impose their will on them, the forced global economy on the peoples of the world.

 

You can find the book here: https://www.upress.pitt.edu/BookDetails.aspx?bookId=36661

 

Daniel Hoffman – In Poets Words

Daniel-Hoffman courtesy of John Simon Guggenheim Foundation
I had chance encounters with the twenty second Poet Laureate of the United States, Daniel Hoffman, (April 3, 1923 – March 30, 2013). Once at the Edgar Allan Poe House in Philadelphia; at a poetry festival in Media, Pa.; and at the book release of Elizabeth McFarland’s Over the Summer Water.
In reading two of his collections, Broken Laws and The City of Satisfaction I was struck by his lyrical intensity, eye for detail. Richard Howard wrote: Daniel Hoffman’s gifts exact a broken music quite his own from the broken laws of the universe in which we carry our identity papers.
I reached out to several poets who have had contact with or knew Daniel Hoffman over the years. Although all those I reached out for could not participate, those included in this post did so in honor of Daniel Hoffman and National Poetry Month. Poet Nathalie Anderson,Poet Gregory Djanikian, Poet Laureate of California Dana Gioia,  Poet Diane Sahms-Guarnieri, Poet Bob Small, and Poet Frank Wilson have been gracious to participate and reveal the reach of the poet Daniel Hoffman during his lifetime and beyond.  – g emil reutter
 
Daniel Hoffman – In Poets Words
hoffman reading at A Murder of Ravens at the Writers House
 
From Gregory Djanikian
 
Reminiscences
 
    
     Dan Hoffman was the first poet I ever met in my life. I mean a poet with published books, with a reputation, with a way of talking about poetry that had the force of experience behind it. He may even have been the first such poet I saw in the flesh.
     As a freshman new at Penn, I was trying to find my way as a writer, wondering if the poems I had written in high school were good enough to catch someone’s eye, or if I would ever have the will and resolve to continue making more poems and shape my life around that making.  But did poets actually exist in the real world? Weren’t they chimeras one read about in books? Didn’t one discuss them as if they were only words on the page? And that’s when I saw Dan Hoffman walking sprightly through Bennett Hall in his sport coat and tie, maybe to a faculty meeting where things of import might be decided, or, what was even more compelling, to the poetry workshop he directed for students where moments of literary history, I was sure, were being forged and lives, changed.
     Poetic careers on campus, in large part, had a chance of flourishing if you were invited into Dan’s workshop. I had tried to enter it a couple of times, submitting a sheaf of my best writing as a passe-partout but, sadly, for all my sincere efforts, I had no success. It was difficult being an exile from it, feeling that the high mysteries of art were reserved for the enviable few, those tested upperclassmen, perhaps, whose raw talent or sheer tenacity had earned them an invitation into that lucky apprenticeship. It took me three tries to finally cross the threshold of his classroom and it began for me a life-long devotion to the craft of poetry, and a life-long friendship with the man himself. 
     If it weren’t for Dan, I don’t think I’d be who I am. As his student, I learned how the constraints of the villanelle might produce an incantatory and beautiful music, how the sonnet was a delightful way of bringing two paradoxical arguments together in one place, how free verse had its own, indelible form, and form itself was an occult rearrangement of language, and how, on really magical days, the muse was a white goddess whose barbarous knowledge could make of the moon a song in the sky.
     Over the years, I became more his friend and less his student, and we shared many memories of our time together which amounted to over 45 years. One of my favorite images of him still is how, after he walked in the door of our house, and almost before he took off his coat, he’d sit at the piano and stride into a ragtime piece, a little Joplin or Luckey Roberts, sip his scotch and water, and launch into another tune.  He seemed so transported and happy when he played music. If you asked him to dinner, he provides the entertainment, and, as an added blessing, a great red wine for the meal.
 
    It’s a wonder sometimes how one life might intermingle with another in the best of ways. As I’ve said elsewhere, had I not known Dan, I would have had to imagine him.  He was a mentor, exemplar, an advocate for all his students’ work, and an abiding friend.  As I think back on it, it was my utter good fortune to have crossed paths with him on that day long ago in my freshman year when I, young and unsure of my writerly prospects, resolved to begin knocking on his door.  What a remarkable change in my life occurred when it was opened. 
 
                           Photo of Daniel Hoffman by Lin Tan. Taken March 29, 2007 on West Chester University campus at a poetry reading by Dana Gioia.                                                        
 
From Dana Gioia
 
REREADING DANIEL HOFFMAN
 
I remember being astonished as a young man by Cyril Connolly’s assertion in Enemies of Promise that it was nearly impossible to write a book that lasted ten years. Ridiculous, I thought, good books last forever!  Young and idealistic, I did not understand the ineluctable powers of oblivion. Connolly listed various reasons why books lost their force and relevance—mostly changes in political, literary, and intellectual fashion. Today we can add our own catalogue to Connolly’s tally, including a general decline in reading, even among writers, the distractions of a media-saturated environment, and a culture obsessed with novelty. As cultural memory grows ever shorter, nearly everything that doesn’t generate a profit slips into obscurity.
 
I mention Connolly because his brilliant and disturbing book came to mind when I thought of how quickly Daniel Hoffman seems to have disappeared from current literary discourse.  When I mention his work to younger writers, I get a blank stare. It’s not that they haven’t read Hoffman; the new generation hasn’t even heard of him. The situation shows how easily a fine author’s reputation disappears in our accelerated lives. The great dumbing-down of culture includes the intellectuals. Indeed, it includes us—yes, you and me–unless we resist by reading and remembering.
 
A writer is remembered by his or her best works, and I would suggest that Hoffman wrote at least two volumes of enduring originality and power–one in prose, the other in verse.  The prose book is Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe (1972); the verse is his book-length poem, Middens of the Tribe (1995). “Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice,” Connolly observed. I have read these books several times over the years, and they remain fresh and arresting.
 
Hoffman’s Poe book had an enormous impact on me as a young man—not simply in regard to Poe—but also as an example of a critical work that went beyond scholarship and became a literary performance. His study of Poe was not only insightful; it was also moving, amusing, and compelling. Hoffman’s tour de force was exactly the sort of thing I hoped to write myself. As a student, I had no idea how rare Hoffman’s combination of scholarly and creative talent was in literary life. He was one of the finest American poet-critics of the twentieth century.
 
I want to mention another of Hoffman’s critical books since it seems relevant to my protest against the forces of oblivion. A few years after I had read his Poe study, I discovered his earlier volume, Barbarous Knowledge (1967), a consideration of myth in the poetry of W. B. Yeats, Robert Graves, and Edwin Muir. Forty years ago I admired Hoffman for writing seriously on Muir, a superb and original poet not much appreciated in the U.S. Seen now from the perspective of another century, this book seems more precious still because even Graves, who in my youth had been declared the most famous living poet in the world by Time, has mostly slipped from literary memory. Hoffman’s wide reading and intellectual independence is more valuable than ever. Barbarous Knowledge allows us to remember him and two forgotten modern masters.
 
Finally, let me mention Middens of the Tribe, which is a book almost no one seems to have read. Long gestated and revised over many years, Hoffman published this ambitious volume late in his career. It seems, at least to me, his finest poetic work. It is certainly his most challenging and least characteristic. A compelling book-length narrative poem, Middens of the Tribe is formally adventurous and ingeniously constructed. The poem could best be described as a Faulknerian family tragedy presented in discontinuous episodes. Middens of the Tribe is violent, sexual, fragmented, and enigmatic.  Despite its disruptive modernist structure, the poem has enormous narrative momentum and psychological authority. I wish more readers knew Hoffman’s masterful and mysterious poem. It is one of the few major narrative poems of his generation.
 
I praise these books not at the expense of Hoffman’s other works, but because I feel it’s most useful to recommend specific titles rather than general praise. These volumes are good places to begin reading Daniel Hoffman. If a whole book is too much, at least try a single poem. 
Read “Sonnet,” an incisive and still timely poem (which is not itself a sonnet) about the precarious power of literature. After sampling it, no serious reader will stop there.
daniel hoffman courtesy of newington cropsey cultural studies

From Nathalie F. Anderson

The Real Thing

I first met Daniel Hoffman on the page. As a grad student down south, immured in my carrel, I too often found myself walled in by literary criticism that seemed written to be musty, and literary theory that seemed written to be cryptic. But Dan’s books weren’t like that: Barbarous Knowledge and Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe told their urgent stories complicatedly, grippingly. This was literary history that investigated, literary biography that speculated, literary criticism that illuminated, and all of it — above all — engaging. Although I was reading these books for their content, of course, I appreciated too the personality of the author that was everywhere evident in their pages: his intelligence, his perceptiveness, his sympathetic humanity, his wit. I remember pausing in my headlong rush through Poe to think, “This is work worth doing. This is the real thing.”

It’s significant, then, that when I consider Dan’s own poetry, I think most focally of a passage from the start of Brotherly Love:

Is it real, this life

That you are living, is it

Real?

Whether through history or through personal recollection, Dan’s work often offers us narratives of the “real,” but complicated by that characteristic challenge. What version of events can claim to be true? What currents flow intermingling through what we take to be a simple stream of happenstance or consciousness? What heights transcend or depths intensify the everyday unattended moment? If, as T.S. Eliot puts it, “human kind / cannot bear very much reality,” what is it that keeps us — in Wallace Stevens’ phrase — “coming back and coming back / To the real”? And what distinguishes the “real” from the “Real”? Dan’s poetry appreciates always the materiality of the world we live in, but pushes us towards the larger questions, the ethical questions, the philosophical questions.

Because I knew Dan before I knew him, so to speak, meeting him in the flesh was all the more daunting, like opening the door to a one-on-one Ph.D. oral exam — all that wit, all that erudition, all that rich experience of the world of letters, all that brilliantly incisive discernment trained on you. I’ve never left a conversation with him without feeling that my eyes have been opened to some fresh insight or to some convolution of thought or to some revealing circumstance. Dan lives the intellectual life so fully that it’s difficult not to feel humbled in his company, yet he shares that life so comprehensively and so generously that you leave him energized, grateful for all he offers.

But when I say “he” — as anyone who knows Dan will understand — I really mean “they”: Daniel Hoffman and Elizabeth McFarland went everywhere together, and shared a like intelligence, a similar aesthetic, a honed ethical awareness, that trenchant wit. After her death, which shocked us all, I was moved and complimented when Dan asked me to present her work with him in readings at Swarthmore College and at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. My favorite line of hers is still “She always wanted her kisses back,” because to want something back implies a demand not only for goods returned, but also for reciprocity: if she’s not kissed back, she’ll take back those kisses! That she and Dan found that reciprocity, that mutuality, was obvious to all who saw them together. It’s hard to imagine companions more superbly matched.

Among my favorites of Dan’s poem’s, then — despite his widely recognized allegiance to poetic tradition — is “Words,” where (he says) he’s giving up rhythm and rhyme for the “gutreaction poem / of the soul’s discovering,” “poems that are themselves the / sound of your / slip rustling and the / scent that laces / the air you wear” — poems that we know speak of and to his love. “Goodby, words,” he concludes; “They / do become you,” and that knowing wink — the words that flatter the wearer, the words that create what they describe, the words that home in on their source and reason, the words that know just what they love and live for — explain the speaker’s sudden reticence, his decision to let the said be said: “I’ve / no more to say.” Yes, this truly is the real real thing.

*Reprinted from Per Contra with permission of Nathalie Anderson

daniel-hoffman-and-diane-sahms-guarnieri1
 
 
From Diane Sahms-Guarnieri
 
 
Today, March 7, 2017, I search for one of Hoffman’s books, and extracting it from my library, I revisit Darkening Waters, where once he wrote: Signed with pleasure/ for Diane Guarnieri / Daniel Hoffman//24.X.2002.
 
At that time, October 24, 2002, this was his ninth poetry book, which he read from at Kelly Writers House on that date; and with his consent, I filmed his reading for a graduate course: “Using Technology in the Classroom (Secondary Education).  My presentation, as a Sec. Ed. English teacher, was a lesson in poetry.  My fellow grad students (of mathematics, science, history, etc.) probably not the least bit interested in poetry, were won over by Hoffman’s reading of his poem, “Mean Street.” 
 
I choose that poem’s clip for my technology-in-the-classroom lesson, because I believed it to be his most descriptive and passionate read, videotaped by me, and re-played for a group of Education majors, most of whom grew up in Philadelphia. 
 
From “Mean Street:”
 
In sneaks, in shorts, in tie-dyed tee-shirts
one burly blonde, the other swarthy,
leaner,younger, snatch at each other
cirlcling, till one gets an armlock
on the other’s head…
 
… — the lean one
shoves his knee between the other’s
legs and down they fall, hard
on the cracked pavement…
 
…but  the lean one
prevents and pinions him, then grasps
a fistful of his long hair and beats
the back of his head on the pavement, a thud
and a thud, a thud –If y’ever call
me that again –a thud –I’ll KILL ya,
da’ya hear?…
 
a couple or three more thuds—so easy!—
and the guy’d be dead…
 
 
At 79, wearing his small and thin framed body, balding head with thick- wild- wavy hair still on the sides, Hoffman (who was probably never in a street fight) had witnessed a brutal brawl between two younger men viciously fighting almost to the death of one of them.  He was so moved by the aggression, violence – he penned it.  He wrote what he had witnessed and read it as if he were still there, “grimly within the ring of onlookers.”  He, too, an onlooker – present once again!
 
After giving this powerful strong-arm read, which I filmed for my colleagues, the calm and very often composed Professor Hoffman appeared a bit disheveled and strainfully exhausted.  Looking up from the page and joking rather candidly with Penn’s erudite audience said, “Someone asked why I didn’t try to break it up?”   All laughed, even my colleagues when the film clip was shown to them. 
 
This unapologetic poet knew it was all about the poem, which by the way led Hoffman to another poem, as one poem sometimes can bridge into another one.  Here’s the other poem from Darkening Water. What do you think?
 
 
Violence
 
After I’d read my poem about a brawl
between two sidewalk hustlers—one,
insulted, throws the other down and nearly
kills him—over coffee and cookies a grave
 
senior citizens reproved me: How
could you see such violence and you
didn’t try to stop them?—Oh, I explained,
it wasn’t like that, really –I saw
 
two guys in a shoving match and thought
I’d write about aggression, what
Anger really feels like…Yes
 
and if the one got killed
it would be on your head.
You should’ve stopped them, he said.
daniel hoffman 2
 
From Frank Wilson
 
I can’t claim to be among Dan Hoffman’s close acquaintances. We’ve only met a handful of times and never for any unusual length of time. On my end, however, this hardly figures at all, because I regard getting to know Dan at all as one of the boons of my life.
I think we first met at one of the poetry conferences at West Chester University. What I remember about our first conversation is that it was precisely that: a conversation. Literature figured, of course, but didn’t predominate. Poetry came up, sure, but in a perfectly natural way. It was actually easy to forget that Dan is one of our best poets and a former poet laureate. In retrospect, I realize that one of the things that makes Dan a great poet is that, for him, life comes first and the poetry grows out of that.
But the time with Dan I remember best is when my wife and I visited him one summer afternoon at his home in Swarthmore. We sat on the porch for a bit and, as usual, the conversation covered a wide range of topics. Eventually, though, Dan talked for a while about his wife, the poet Elizabeth McFarland, who had recently passed away. His love for her was palpable. She had been for 13 years the poetry editor of the Ladies Home Journal, and had brought to its readers every week poetry by the best practitioners of the art around. She also paid those practitioners better than anybody else did. At the time of our visit, Dan was putting together a collection of her work.
I reviewed that book. I said that Elizabeth was “someone for whom a poem is not primarily a literary artifact, but rather a necessary utterance, without which a given experience would not be quite complete.” Precisely the same can be said of Dan and his work.
And that is what makes even a casual acquaintance with him so enriching. There is, in fact, nothing ever casual about meeting Dan. It is always what the existentialists call an encounter, an engagement with a person, not a persona. Had I never met him, my life would be the poorer.
 
 daniel hoffman courtesy of academey of american poets
 
From Bob Small
 
Though Daniel Hoffman had attended a number of our readings, (Poets and Prophets), both here and in Swarthmore, we had never thought to invite him, due to his status. However in 2010, we had decided to ask him, being aware that we were a little grassroots organization with limited funding. To our pleasure and surprise, he agreed and the result was his reading that took place on Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 at Moonstone Arts Center in Philadelphia.
 
He gave a great reading and he was a great poet, but did not wear the mantle of an “internationally-known poet”. After that I remembered running into him a few times in our local market, the Swarthmore Co-op, and he would ask me, “How the series was going”. In sum, he was very down to earth considering all he had achieved.
 
Learn more about Daniel Hoffman:
 
 
Daniel Hoffman reads 3 poems by Elizabeth McFarland: https://vimeo.com/73316308
 
Daniel Hoffman reads “”Awoke into a Dream of Singing” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bOq7ugyqvU
 
Daniel Hoffman discusses and reads The Raven: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flKaqoHS7Kk
 
 
 
Daniel Hoffman – The Drexel Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVk0d0UmNtk
 
Daniel Hoffman Profile at Project Muse: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/525425/summary
 
 
 

Frank Wilson on the poetry of Marion Deutsche Cohen

closer to dyingtruth and beauty.what wearing
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Reviewed by Frank Wilson
The second of these volumes takes its title from a course Marion Deutsche Cohen developed and teaches at Arcadia University. The subtitle of that course is “Mathematics in Literature.”
Cohen’s day job is teaching math, and math figures a good deal in her poetry. Lest you think that might be off-putting, fear not. When it comes to math, I am without a trace of comprehension, and I had no problem at all with the references to sets, theorems, and the like. That’s because Cohen manages to communicate what it is like to have a passion for mathematics.
“Memoirs of a High-School Math-Brain,” from Closer to Dying, begins thus:
  .
“The Parabola,” I announced.
“She would choose that one,” whispered three regular teenagers in the back row.
Yes, alas, I would.
  .
The final stanza makes clear why:
 
Plenty of regular teenage girls got A’s in math.
But they didn’t prefer working on crossing polygons to going to a party.
And they didn’t write little squiggly geometry and algebra shapes in history class.
And they didn’t choose the parabola.
“Not as Much as Before,” one of the poems in Truth & Beauty is a response to students lamenting that they didn’t enjoy math in college as much as they had before college:
“… before college, I was like a kid in a candy store with math … The profundity of math could make me cry.
But in fact I didn’t really need the candy store … Candy was still candy even without the store and fifty years later I’m still a kid with candy. … Loving can come in spurts and it can come back ….
The poems in Truth & Beauty  are based on homework questions and classroom conversations that students and their teacher have shared. They are prose poems. Now, the prose poem has not had much success in English. Cohen’s work precisely because she does not go out of her way to make them “poetic.” The “prosy” parts of “Not as Much as Before” provide just the right context for that “loving can come in spurts” phrase.
While the profundity of math may make people like Cohen cry, it is life that brings heartbreak, and math is no help for that, as “Proof Theory” makes plain:
Like when my third baby died, and the students all know about that, I tried to prove that she couldn’t possibly have died, I said things like “But I ate so healthily”, “I already had two successful pregnancies”. Prove it, God, how did you do it, how could it POSSIBLY have been done?”
Heartbreak itself, though, never dies:
A grave once opened for me.
It was so big, so wide, an entire small house.
And she whom they were lowering was twenty inches
six pounds, fourteen ounces, small enough
To have fit inside me.
The dispassionate precision of these lines only makes the grief more palpable. In “Dreams about One Way in Which Life Goes On,” we learn that the child’s name was Kerin: “I have another baby named Kerin and she also dies. / I say I lost two babies named Kerin … / Another night I lost yet another baby named Kerin. … How many nights can I keep this up?”
And then there is growing old, which means growing “closer to dying,” while visited by insomnia, insinuating dreams, together with pain and memory. Here is “One Brand of Insomnia”:
By day I play Mozart and Bach on the piano.
I play pretty well. I sort of conquer them.
But by night they’re back.
By night they’re conquering me.
This suggests, rather startlingly, that the two conquerings work in synergy. Something akin animates “50-Year High School Reunion”:  “encountering my sixteen-year-old self. … I am hugging her, comforting her, advising her … Yes, I am advising her. And she is listening. She listened.”
Time to go shopping — or, more precisely, thrifting and that is what Cohen does in a good many of the poems in What I’m Wearing Today. Math tags along, of course. In “Math in the Thrift Store,” an “ethnic hand-embroidered top”  prompts interrogation:
What theorem are you? I ask it.
What is your proof?
What’s your Gödel number?
What’s your Gödel name?
But more than number resonates here. The speaker in “What I See in Thrift Stores” claims to seek space, time, “my past.” As in ”What I Wore in the 70s”:
I didn’t dress sexy.
I dressed arty.
I wasn’t a sex object.
I was an art object.
What it all adds up to is a fundamental mathematical truth: the terms on either side of an equal sign are just different ways of expressing the same thing. Cohen’s poems inevitably prove equal to their quotidian details. This is poetry not merely as a manner of speaking, but as an actual way of living.
Frank Wilson is a retired Inquirer book editor. Visit his blog Books, Inq. — The Epilogue. Email him at PresterFrank@gmail.com.

Form plus Content equates Meaning: Form follows Content vs. Content follows Form

stephen-page-in-front-of-wheat-photo
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By Stephen Page  
 
            In poetry, form and content are related.  They support each other—they are a part of one other.  Form allows the reader to understand content, and content assists form.  It is a symbiotic relationship.  Meaning is derived not only from what the poet says, but also from how the poet says it.  The debate heard round the poetry world today springs from one question: which is more important, content or form?  For the benefit of the reader of this essay and to keep this paper concise, the term form will include not just the shape of the poem, but also type, style, meter, assonance, alliteration, stanza, syllabics and other language techniques.  Content shall include subject matter, plot, place, characters, narrator, theme, and word denotation.   Poems will fall under two main categories, fixed form and unfixed form.
            Let us begin with a fixed form poem, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:
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                   Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
              Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
              Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
              And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
             
              Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
              And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
              And every fair from fair sometime declines,
              By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
             
              But thy eternal summer shall not fade
              Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
              Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
              When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
                    
                     So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
                     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
 
Without getting too far into the complexities of the sonnet form, and the many different styles, which would take at least ten pages alone, let us cover the basic history and the main techniques.  The sonnet is a fourteen-line poem that most scholars believe originated in Italy.   The word sonnet translates to “little song,” so it should sound musical.  It is traditionally written in iambic pentameter and end rhyme. Shakespeare adapted the Italian “little song” to fit better the English language–since English had fewer rhyming words than Italian, his version has less lines that rhyme.  An intelligent move by an intelligent man.  The lines that rhyme are supposed to be thematically linked, as are the first lines in each of the first three quatrains, the second lines of the quatrains, the third and the fourth.  Thus said, the first three quatrains are stanzaically related.  These first three quatrains are the premise, the argument, or the question brought up in the poem.  The space between the premise and the last couplet is called the Volta, or turning point.  The last couplet is the answer to the premise, or often in Shakespearian sonnets, the moral or the didactic statement.    Considering this, the form requires a poet to consider carefully word choice when creating the poem.  Poets often outline before writing the form, with ideas of word choice and theme for each line.   The rhyme scheme is enough to constrain content, but meter also restricts which words will be used, and the complexity of the line and stanza relations makes the poem a definite content controller.  Contemporary poets have often changed the number of lines, done away with the rhyme, and often loosened up the meter to fit contemporary language, but usually the line and stanza associations, the Volta, and the song-like qualities are adhered.  Here is an example of a contemporary sonnet that follows most of the mechanics of the Shakespearian sonnet, written by an anonymous:
You are a lioness crossing a verdant veldt,
Hungry for flesh, sinewy muscles rippling
Rhythmically beneath a fine yellow pelt,
A bouncing black-tipped tail trailing.
 
In aftermeal, you lounge upon night’s sheets,
Your breath scented with blood-red wine,
Your hair crackling with star-lit cinders,
Your hips and thighs curved as lean cut steak.
 
I dream of evening strolls in Samburu,
Smell the grasses, hear our ravenous growls
For nocturnal meals lying upon rough
Linen scratched by your fine-nailed hands.
 
I hunt in sleep for your carnivorous lips,
And listen for your padding around my den.
 
            Another familiar fixed form is the haiku.  Again, without getting into a book-length explanation of what makes a haiku a haiku, I’ll cover the basics.  A haiku is a “transcendence of the normal self” as Bruce Ross said.  It should be a metaphysical experience, a losing of the ego, a oneness with nature, a capturing of the moment and making it eternal.  It is normally a three-line syllabic poem, with the first and third line having five syllables, and the second line seven.   Somewhere in the poem should be an allusion to season.   Haiku is believed to originate from Japan, and Basho is the most famous of the form users.    With all that in mind, the form restricts the content is some sense—sesonally, thus word choice, and the syllable count, thus the amount of words.  Some of the more learned of writers realize that English is less syllabic than Japanese and more metrical, so those erudites that write haiku often are often lenient on exact 5-7-5.  The problem with most poets is that they think since it is a condensed form, and syllabic, that it is easy to write, but most forget the spiritual aspect, the moment caught in time.  Borges said the thing that make a good haiku is that it “is.”  Another problem with contemporary haiku writers is that they write unoriginally, using the same season seasonal words and images that millions of other haiku writer used, or they write copies of Basho’s and his followers’ poems.  other people think that if you simply use 5-7-5 syllable form it is a haiku.  Here is an example of  one of Basho’s most famous poems:
                        old pond
                        a frog jumps in:
                        water sound
 
In this poem it is most likely summer, though it is not exactly stated, which is intelligent for there are only so many times a writer can say the names of the four season without it becoming old—so a seasoned haiku writer alludes.  The narrator in this poem becomes one with the frog and the water and the keplunk and thus all his surroundings.   He is not himself but a part of everything around him.  As I said, there is a lot of bad haiku being published today, but there are also some good contemporary haiku written, and I recommend to any writer or reader to acquire a copy of Haiku Moment by Bruce Ross to get an idea of the richness of good haiku, and immerse oneself in its particular content-form relation.  Here is a great contemporary haiku, by anonymous again:
.
              high above the weeds
 closer to the sun, white
                        yucca plant flowers
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            Now let’s start moving a bit away from formally fixed poems and look at how content and form relate there.  Robert Frost’s second book, North of Boston is wonderful for its time, as it kept many aspects of formal poetry and freed them.  It broke away from fixed rhyme yet kept meter.  It was huge break in the sense that many of the poems are speech poems, or mini verse-plays.   The most popular and mootly his best poem ever is “Mending Wall,” and for good reason.  The famous line ‘good fences make good neighbors’ is derived from it, but the shape of it is that of a wall, and the meter mimics the mending action of a wall, the laying of boulder upon boulder:
.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The word ‘spills’ in the third line becomes a onomatopoeia, the word and the meter of the line sounding like the action of the boulders spilling out in the sunlight.  Another poem that I personally like is, “Home Burial”:
He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: “What is it you see
From up there always—for I want to know.”
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time: “What is it you see,”
Mounting until she cowered under him.
“I will find out now—you must tell me, dear.”
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,
Blind creature; and a while he didn’t see.
But at last he murmured, “Oh,” and again, “Oh.”
 
“What is it—what?” she said.
 
                                                                     “Just that I see.”
 
“You don’t,” she challenged. “Tell me what it is.”
 
“The wonder is I didn’t see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it—that’s the reason.
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound——”
 
                                “Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,” she cried.
 
She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs;
And turned on him with such a daunting look,
He said twice over before he knew himself:
“Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?”
 
“Not you! Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it!
I must get out of here. I must get air.
I don’t know rightly whether any man can.”
 
“Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time.
Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs.”
He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
“There’s something I should like to ask you, dear.”
 
“You don’t know how to ask it.”
 
                                                                     “Help me, then.”
Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.
 
“My words are nearly always an offence.
I don’t know how to speak of anything
So as to please you. But I might be taught
I should suppose. I can’t say I see how.
A man must partly give up being a man
With women-folk. We could have some arrangement
By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
Though I don’t like such things ’twixt those that love.
Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
But two that do can’t live together with them.”
She moved the latch a little. “Don’t—don’t go.
Don’t carry it to someone else this time.
Tell me about it if it’s something human.
Let me into your grief. I’m not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there
Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother-loss of a first child
So inconsolably—in the face of love.
You’d think his memory might be satisfied——”
 
“There you go sneering now!”
 
                                                            “I’m not, I’m not!
You make me angry. I’ll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it’s come to this,
A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.”
 
“You can’t because you don’t know how.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn’t know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don’t know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
 
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.”
 
“I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.
I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed.”
 
“I can repeat the very words you were saying.
‘Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build.’
Think of it, talk like that at such a time!
What had how long it takes a birch to rot
To do with what was in the darkened parlour.
You couldn’t care! The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretence of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!”
 
“There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won’t go now. You’re crying. Close the door.
The heart’s gone out of it: why keep it up.
Amy! There’s someone coming down the road!”
 
“You—oh, you think the talk is all. I must go—
Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you——”
 
“If—you—do!” She was opening the door wider.
Where do you mean to go? First tell me that.
I’ll follow and bring you back by force. I will!—”
 
The shape and meter help emphasize the stairway, or the location and setting, where either one or the other of the characters speaking in the poem are upon.  The shape is like a staircase, with the beginnings of some of the spoken lines tabbed over to the right margins.  And the meter helps in the visualization of the stepping up and down of the characters and moves the plot along.  The white spaces between the two characters lines can be seen as stanzaic but also as sepration between the two characters, as one of them is usually at the top of the stairs and the other at the bottom.  And they are obviously distant spiritually and physically, as they fight and do not communicate well nor comfort one another with words, and the female character has been having one or many affairs.
            Further along the unfixed spectrum we have frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems.  Here is a poem entitled “A Step Away From Them”:
 
It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
                         cabs. First, down the sidewalk
 where laborers feed their dirty
 glistening torsos sandwiches
 and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
 on. They protect them from falling
 bricks, I guess. Then onto the
 avenue where skirts are flipping
 above heels and blow up over
 grates. The sun is hot, but the
 cabs stir up the air. I look
 at bargains in wristwatches. There
 are cats playing in sawdust.
  
 
                                                            On
 to Times Square, where the sign
 blows smoke over my head, and higher
 the waterfall pours lightly. A
 Negro stands in a doorway with a
 toothpick, languorously agitating
 A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
 smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
 suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
 a Thursday.
 
 Neon in daylight is a
 great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
 write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
 I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET’S
 CORNER. Giulietta Maina, wife of
 Federico Fellini, é bell’ attrice.
 And chocolate malted. A lady in
 foxes on such a day puts her poodle
 in a cab.
  
 
                       There are several Puerto
 Ricans on the avenue today, which
 makes it beautiful and warm. First
 Bunny died, then John Latouche,
 then Jackson Pollock. But is the
 earth as full of life was full, of them?
 And one has eaten and one walks,
 past the magazines with nudes
 and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
 the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
 which they’ll soon tear down. I
 used to think they had the Armory
 Show there.
 
                       A glass of papaya juice
 and back to work. My heart is in my
 pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.
.
O’Hara wrote the poems during his lunch hour while working a nine-to-fiver with a half hour to an hour for lunch, just enough time to go down to the streets, walk a few blocks, take in a bit of the cityscape, pick up a hot dog and sit on a bench to eat and write a brief poem, and return to work.  The poems, like this one, are mostly quick reads. They are this way because they are generally short and written in everyday language.  This allows the reader to read one or two of them on his own lunch hour. And the form of the book itself is small so one may keep it in suit pocket and carry it around at lunch time.  The lines in this poem are turned before they end, to  give the effect of movement, so the reader feels he is moving along the streets, stepping around construction sight barriers, turning on corners.  The stanzas end as if there is a stop on a street corner for the red-crossing sign, then where the narrator steps off the curb to cross or the scene changes O’Hara begins the next stanza on the right side of the page to give a feeling of onwardness.  The language, though simple and everyday, is vivid—rich nouns, sharp verbs—so the effect is that of the reader looking through the eyes of O’Hara and seeing the scenes, not being told what the scenes look like.
.
            Somewhere in the middle of the form spectrum, there are semi-fixed poems. like Christopher Bursk’s poem “You Only Get a few Chances to be of Interest to the Gods,” from his book The Improbable Swerving of Atoms:
.
                        When you pulled free from the man’s encouraging hands,
when you grabbed for the door,
 
when you left your coat, sweater, schoolbag in the car’s front seat,
when you ran down the street, shirttails flying,
 
when you crouched in the dark of the firs trees you recognized,
when you wiped the spittle from your hands
 
and began to think of how to explain losing
your algebra book, your pocket atlas, your Latin dictionary,
 
you know that you had failed the first real test
of your life.  All the man asked for
 
was a few moments of undivided attention, kindness
in return for kindness.  A kiss.
 
If a boy is going to be scared of something
that pathetically eager
 
to please, that naked
and exposed, the penis’s trembling
 
entreaties, how can he expect to brave anything
else that the gods might ask of him?
 
Fortitude.  Self-abnegation.  Compassion.  The valor
of  the Latin, the polysyllabic’s
 
magnanimity.  You’d been given and opportunity to prove
you too had a large heart
 
and a deep soul, and you had zipped up your fly
and ran for your life.  
 
 
The poem is in couplets, which has traditions in the heroic couplet, which might be a play on words with the title and theme.  The couplet form is most likely used here for a couple of other reasons.  One, there are two characters in the poem, the main character who is a boy and the pedophile.   Two, the couplet is the duality of the boy’s feeling.  He is feeling disgust at the man and for what has happened, but also arousal at the closeness of the man.  He is aroused and ambiguous about his awakenings to his bi-sexuality.  And he is feeling guilty for not being kind to the stranger to have completed the act—a revelation of his innocence, for the man who preyed upon him is a mentally sick person who should be jailed for his abnormal actions.  The couplets are loosely metered but the line length mostly coincides with the length of the breath and shortens and enjambs where the main character is breathing hard and emphasis is needed on certain words.
            On the far end of the form spectrum, we have, as some might call a misnomer, the prose poem.  B.H Fairchild uses this for his poem “The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West,” from the book Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest:
The old roughnecks between jobs drunk in their cars outside the bowling alley; the school teacher in her rented room in live with the mechanic and dreaming of moving to Houston: new front tires for the Dodge, bright yellow curtains for the kitchen windows, a TV; the blood sunset in the corners for my father’s eyes after he worked a lather for two days and nights; 3 a.m., the welder on No Doz and Benzedrine smoking his last Pall Mall, listening to Tammy Wynette, waiting for the driller to show; the way the dust would bronze the window ledges and the kitchen table, a dust devil spinning a trash can in the backyard; the dog house at the rig, the good year calendar with a big-breasted nude blonde  kneeling in a truck tire, the empty bottle of Jim Beam, roustabouts passed out on cots; the little bridge that pain walked between astonishment and horror when John Santos caught his hand in the pipe clamps, his eyes dull as glass marbles afterwards; my mother enrolling me in school in the little town, eh, you’re on of those; a necklace of teardrop trailers on the edge of town, Lester Hill lived in one and went to holy roller meetings with his mom and had nightmares; the brown teeth of the trailer kids; revival meeting at the football fiend on Sunday afternoons, Gimpy Nederland saved from booze for the fourth time, the bankers strolling out of the Petroleum Club cleaning their teeth with toothpicks and loosening their belts; the old men in the back room of the pool hall, the click of dominoes, amber beer bottles glowing in the late afternoon sun; the boy with the green hair and lipstick who hung around the alley; Thomas Johnson, the old ex-Wobbly who hauled mud for the Lacey brothers, skull crushed fro a dropped drill collar; his wife, Luanne, who worked the ticket booth a the theater, got drunk on night and lay down on the railroad tracks; the wildcatter walking into the bank with the bad news, noticing for the first  time the plush carpet, the gleam of polished mahogany, the fragrance of orange peels rising form the hands of receptionists; oilfield kids standing in line at the El Dorado theatre in Snyder to see King Solomon’s Mines; my mother listening to Billie holiday and staring at a photograph of my father; my father with his head in bandages as I cradle in my palm the steel burr they removed from his eye; Lester and I waling the dir road behind the trailer, reciting once again the oath of the Green Lantern: In the brightest of day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.
 
It is perhaps a prose poem in relation to the title, to represent the decline of high or elevated poetry.  If you notice, it is all one sentence, and a long list of different characters—perhaps a statement that ‘everyone’ is in the same predicament: the whole of western subculture, and even the whole of humanity—their dreams of a fair world and an even break, the return for hard working life, all, all is lost and untrue.
            So as you see, form + content = meaning.  Shape, meter, line length, enjambment, and language sound allow content to be better expressed, in other word, allow the reader to better interpret the poem.  It seems that in poems that lean toward the fixed side of the spectrum the content has to fit into the form, thus content follows form and can even be changed by form.  But in unfixed forms content is less contained by form, in fact content uses form as it chooses to help the content be better expressed and thus understood, perhaps even better enjoyed.  That is not to say fixed forms are not enjoyable, they are.  Through my personal experiences, through what I have read in my life, and through conversations with other authors, when a writer is writing in fixed form content is contained and harder to free, but in unfixed forms, form becomes a tool used at will and is only an extension of content (also said by Creeley and Olsen).  Either way, though, a practitioner in fixed forms will tell you that form is in fact liberating, for the writer learns how to use language in new ways.   I believe, and have heard, that most writers today who write in unfixed form let the poems form themselves as they are writing.  Sometime the poems come out naturally in free verse (another misnomer), couplets, triplets, quatrains, metric, rhyming; though it is mostly in the editing process that form is changed and shaped to help the content be expressed and thus understood and enjoyed.
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Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at

https://smpages.wordpress.com/

 

Waiting For The Light

waiting
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Alicia Suskin Ostriker is a poet who writes and lives in a city she loves with all its beauty and ugliness much like Charles Reznikoff, Suskin Ostriker is a walker. She writes of Upper Broadway, As the body of the beloved is a window/through which we behold the blackness and vastness of space/ pulsing with stars…  In this collection, it is the poems of Suskin Ostriker that pulsate with the passion of urban landscapes and polemical rendernings. Such as this from The Glory of Cities
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Let us now praise famous cities, our human fists against heaven, let us praise
      their devotion to wealth and power and art, goals toward which we swim
          ferociously upstream, tearing ourselves apart, to lay our eggs and die
.
She writes of Biking to the George Washington Bridge:
.
It sweeps away depression and today
you can’t tell the heaped pin-white
cherry blossoms abloom along
Riverside Drive from the clouds above
.
A beautiful image from a poet who is an observer who casts her eyes upon life others may not see. Suskin Ostriker writes of the colorful quilt of her city, of immigrants from across the globe who have come here for a better life and hard work. Waiting for the Light is a collection of poetry full of praise, suffering and heartbreak. This is not a collection written through eyes covered in rose colored glasses but through eyes full of realism viewing the world and its landscapes of humanity.
 
You can find the book here: BookDetails
g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter