poet

Into the Lives of Other Folk by Catherine Chandler

Laundry

Photograph by g emil reutter

Into the Lives of Other Folk  
 .
You could be anyone or anywhere—
the checkout lady at the A&P,
the Uber driver sporting purple hair,
the full-sleeve-tattooed ER orderly,
the Denny’s waitress on the graveyard shift,
the Walmart greeter with his hammy grin,
the single mom, the bellboy who’s been stiffed,
the sergeants notifying next of kin.
 .
No matter who you are, I presuppose
a motivation, blessing or regret,
inventing possible scenarios;
but I don’t judge. Each fanciful vignette
seeks some humanity in humankind,
a commonality of heart or mind.
 .
Of course, this works both ways. It’s only fair
to wonder what you might concoct for me,
whose buoyancy can often mask despair,
who craves the saving grace of poetry.
I claim your offhand gift of shortest shrift—
it’s tough to see beyond the crepe-like skin,
the balding crown, the thoughts that tend to drift,
the turkey wattle underneath the chin.
 .
Still, as we sort our gunnysack of clothes,
then watch them spin at Betty’s Launderette,
your story piercing ears & tongue & nose,
we joke about a lost sock, and forget
man’s inhumanity to humankind,
and let the heart begin to cloud the mind.
 
.
chandler
Catherine Chandler, born in New York City and raised in Wilkes-Barre, PA, is the author of The Frangible Hour, winner of the 2016 Richard Wilbur Award (University of Evansville Press); Lines of Flight (Able Muse Press), shortlisted for the Poets’ Prize, Glad and Sorry Seasons (Biblioasis), and This Sweet Order (White Violet Press). Her complete bio, a sample of podcasts, a list of awards, reviews and other information are available on her poetry blog, The Wonderful Boat, at www.cathychandler.blogspot.com . She lives in Saint-Lazare-de-Vaudreuil, Québec and Punta del Este , Uruguay .

Demons by Ed Krizek

tooker-subway-big

Courtesy The Morning News

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Demons
 .
            After “Subway” by George Tooker
.
Flash like a bomb
on the dark hell. Unconscious
revelations.  Ambush. Fear rises
when I see my shadow.
I try hiding, ignoring, running.
All paths block, barred.
I am a prisoner
of  neuroses which cage me,
concrete and metal.
Where is the exit?
It seems there is only one way
out and Lucifer leans
at the foot of its stairs
holding a red carnation..
.
Ed in Red cropped
Ed Krizek was born in New York City and now runs a sales and marketing business in Swarthmore , PA , a suburb of Philadelphia .  He holds a BA and MS from University of Pennsylvania , and an MBA and MPH from Columbia University .  He is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County, has published over seventy articles, poems and short stories in various publications, and won prizes in several poetry and short story competitions.  You can see more of his work at www.edkrizekwriting.com.

New Release – 13 Poems from the Edge of Extinction – by Adrian Manning

Manning 13 Poems front COVER snip

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“Adrian Manning has a phenomenal ability to transform words into pictures. I love the way he paints his poems, brushed with this highly surreal and emotional tone. His newest poetry collection is no exception. Read it and see for yourself.”

—Janne Karlsson

“These short poems do a ‘dance on your tongue,’ delivering a feast for the mind. I was drawn to them like a moth is drawn to the heat of a lightbulb. Taste them like a hummingbird tastes the nectar of a flower in bloom. Each poem is like a step ladder, each rung leading you to the next one. Food for thought, digest them as you would a warm meal on a cold winter night.”

—A.D. Winans

“When I read work by Adrian Manning I fully expect to be challenged, intrigued, entertained and surprised. This little book is no exception to the rule.”

—John Yamrus

“Adrian Manning is a live-wire from Leicester, England, an old school old soul poet/publisher. Stay on your toes because these lean poems punch well above their weight.”

—Kent Taylor

 

Adrian Manning’s 13 Poems from the Edge of Extinction is hand assembled and saddle stapled. It features white cover stock, pastel light yellow end papers and pastel ivory pages. Cover art by Kevin Eberhardt. 8.5 x 5.5″. 18 pp. Laser printed. ISBN: 978-1-940996-39-4. Limited 1st edition of 100 copies.

Check out the book here: http://ccpress.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/ManningCC87.html?m=1

 

North of Oxford is Now Open to Poetry Submissions

sub open

New:

North of Oxford is now open to submissions of poetry. Please send no more than five poems in word doc with a bio and jpeg to sahms-guarnieriandreutter@gmail.com for consideration of publication. Please note Poetry Submission and your name in the subject line of the email. Poems will be published the 15th of each month.

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.

POETICS IN THE FICTION OF DYLAN THOMAS

thomas_dylan600

By Ray Greenblatt

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Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) wrote this collection of ten short stories in 1940.  The characters from A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1952) are here but more fleshed out: Dan Jenkins (“The Fight”), Jack Williams (“Peaches”), the Protheros (“Old Garbo”). And Thomas’ poetic style is revealed in the prose as well: vivid imagery, alliteration, purposeful run-on lines, many adjectives, humor, strong emotions from joy to sadness. In most of these stories Dylan is his own narrator; we even observe him growing from his pre-teens into a young man in his twenties. How much is made up we don’t really know and will leave to the critics, yet the stories are intriguing.

Thomas writes impressionistic stories about his life (or at least about a boy named Dylan) in Wales. “Peaches” is about Dylan staying on his Aunt and Uncle’s farm with his rich friend Jack for two weeks in the summer.

“He sang all the way to Gorsehill in an affectionate bass voice, and conducted the wind with his whip. He did not need to touch the reins. Once on the rough road, between hedges twisting out to twig the mare by the bridle and poke our caps, we stopped at a whispered ‘Whoa,’ for uncle to light his pipe and set the darkness on fire and show his long, red, drunken fox’s face to me, with its bristling side-bushes and wet, sensitive nose.”

“Uncle looked twice as tall as Annie. He could have carried her about under his coat and brought her out suddenly, a little, brown-skinned, toothless, hunchbacked woman with a cracked sing-song voice.”

Jack’s mother pays the Aunt and Uncle money to board Jack, but she is a snob. When they offer her what they think a treat of canned peaches, she abruptly turns them down. After she leaves, Uncle, who has been drinking heavily, curses her out. Jack hears and phones his mother to take him home.

Despite all this, Dylan loves the farm: “There was nowhere like that farm-yard in all the slapdash country, nowhere so poor and grand and dirty as that square of mud and rubbish and bad wood and falling stone, where a bucketful of old and bedraggled hens scratched and laid small eggs.”

“I felt all my young body like an excited animal surrounding me, the torn knees bent, the bumping heart, the long heat and depth between the legs, the sweat prickling in the hands, the tunnels down to the eardrums, the little balls of dirt between the toes, the eyes in the sockets, the tucked-up voice, the blood racing, the memory around and within flying, jumping, swimming, and waiting to pounce.”

In “A Visit to Grandpa’s” Dylan’s grandfather is becoming senile. In bed he imagines he’s driving a carriage: “He was sitting straight up in bed and rocking from side to side as though the bed were on a rough road; the knotted edge of the counterpane were his reins; his invisible horse stood in a shadow beyond the bedside candle. Over a white flannel nightshirt he was wearing a red waistcoat with walnut-sized brass buttons.”

When he does drive a cart, it is as if the pony is a powerful team of steeds: “On the last day but one of my visit I was taken to Llanstephan in a governess cart pulled by a short, weak pony. Grandpa might have been driving a bison, so tightly he held the reins, so ferociously cracked the long whip, so blasphemously shouted warning to boys who played in the road, so stoutly stood with his gaitered legs apart and cursed the demon strength and willfulness of his tottering pony.”

After he is found missing, the townsfolk discover him on a bridge on the way–he claims–to be buried, although he is still hale. “Grandpa did not answer, but inclined his face to the river wind, so that his beard was set dancing and wagging as though he talked, and watched the coracle men move, like turtles, on the shore . . . For a moment grandpa reflected, then: ‘There’s no sense in lying dead in Llanstephan,’ he said. ‘The ground is comfy in Llangadock; you can twitch your legs without putting them in the sea.’”

Dylan dominated in the first story and Grandpa in the second. However, in “Patricia, Edith, and Arnold” a new child is introduced. The story told in the third person involves adults: two maids who are friends are supposedly loved by one young man. When together they question him; he chooses Patricia. But she declares that he has lied to her friend Edith and spurns him. Meanwhile, the young boy Patricia takes care of has no idea what is going on with these adults, as he plays:

“He backed the Flying Welshman from the washhouse to the open door of the coal-hole and pulled hard on the brake that was a hammer in his pocket: assistants in uniform ran out with fuel; he spoke to a saluting fireman, and the engine shuffled off, round the barbed walls of China that kept the cats away, by the frozen rivers in the sink, in and out of the coal-hole tunnel.”

Yet he senses that something is going on: “He knew that this was an afternoon on which anything might happen; it might snow enough for sliding on a tray; uncles from America, where he had no uncles, might arrive with revolvers and St. Bernards; Ferguson’s shop might catch on fire and all the piece-packets fall on the pavements.”

Yet he does not understand the actions, let alone feelings, of adults: “When who comes? He threw the snowball high into the silently driving fall. Edith’s crying in the deadened park was clear and thin as a whistle, and, disowning the soft girls and standing away from them in case a stranger passed, a man with boots to his thighs, or a sneering, bigger boy from the Uplands, he piled snow against the wire of the tennis court and thrust his hands into the snow like a baker making bread. As he delved and moulded the snow into loaves, saying under his breath, ‘This is the way it is done, ladies and gentleman.’”

“The Fight” is, in my opinion, the funniest story because Dylan gets inside a boy’s imaginative head. He fights with an unknown boy named Dan. “I threw a stone at his face. He took off his spectacles, put them in his coat pocket, took off his coat, hung it neatly on the railings, and attacked . . . I was down in the dust, hot and scratched and biting, then up and dancing, and I butted the boy in the belly and we tumbled in a heap. I saw through a closing eye that his nose was bleeding. I hit his nose. He tore at my collar and spun me round by the hair.”

Dylan earns the badge of a black eye. “He said I had the best black eye in Wales, perhaps it was the best black eye in Europe; he bet Tunney never had a black eye like that . . . That afternoon I went to school with an eye-shade on. If I had a black silk sling I would have been as gay and desperate as the wounded captain in the book that my sister used to read, and that I read under the bedclothes at night, secretly with a flash-lamp.”

They immediately become friends and Dylan goes to Dan’s house for the day. “He was a composer and a poet too; he had written seven historical novels before he was twelve, and he played the piano and the violin; his mother made wool pictures, his brother was a clerk at the docks and syncopated; his aunt kept a preparatory school on the first floor, and his father wrote music for the organ.”

In Dan’s home they meet several eccentrics at dinner. “Mrs. Bevan smiled at her, assured, and began to eat. She was grey-haired and grey-faced. Perhaps she was grey all over. I tried to undress her, but my mind grew frightened when it came to her short flannel petticoat and navy bloomers to the knees. I couldn’t even dare unbutton her tall boots to see how grey her legs were. She looked up from her plate and gave me a wicked smile.”

By the fifth story “Just like Little Dogs” Dylan is now a lonely young man during the Depression. “The night before, quick little scarecrows had bent and picked at the track-line and a solitary dignified scavenger wandered three miles by the edge with a crumpled coal sack and a park-keeper’s steel-tipped stick. Now they were tucked up in sacks, asleep in a siding, their heads in bins, their beards in straw, in coal-trucks thinking of fires, or lying beyond pickings on Jack Stiff’s slab near the pub in the Fishguard Alley, where the methylated-spirit drinkers danced into the policemen’s arms and women like lumps of clothes in a pool waited, in doorways and holes in the soaking wall, for vampires or firemen.”

He meets two sad men who had to marry their wives. The judge in their paternity suits states that they acted “just like little dogs.” They stand in the dark doing nothing like Dylan as a train passes. “It tore over us, the arch bellowed, the wheels screamed through our heads, we were deafened and spark-blinded and crushed under the fiery weight and we rose again, like battered black men, in the grave of the arch. No noise at all from the swallowed town. The trams had rattled themselves dumb. A pressure of the hidden sea rubbed away the smudge of the docks. Only three young men alive.”

He suddenly realizes that his life could become theirs. However, he feels a perverse pleasure. “I was a lonely nightwalker and a steady stander-at-corners. I liked to walk through the wet town after midnight, when the streets were deserted and the window lights out, alone and alive on the glistening tramlines in dead and empty High Street under the moon, gigantically sad in the damp streets by ghostly Ebenezer Chapel. And I never felt more a part of the remote and overpressing world, or more full of love and arrogance and pity and humility, not for myself alone, but for the living earth I suffered on.”

The elements of loneliness and the sea begin to play larger roles in Thomas’ remaining stories.  In “Who Do You Wish Was with Us” Dylan and his friend Raymond have the feeling of hiking free in nature. “We went on up Sketty Road at a very great speed, our haversacks jumping on our backs. We rapped on every gate to give a terrific walker’s benediction to the people in the choking houses. Like a breath of fresh air we passed a man in office pin-stripes standing, with a dog-lead in his hand, whistling at a corner. Tossing the sounds and smells of the town from us with the swing of shoulders and loose-limbed strides, half-way up the road we heard women on an outing call.”

They get to the shore. “Laughing on the cliff above the very long golden beach, we pointed out to each other, as though the other were blind, the great rock of the Worm’s Head. The sea was out. We crossed over on slipping stones and stood, at last, triumphantly on the windy top. There was monstrous, thick grass there that made us spring-heeled, and we laughed and bounced on it, scaring the sheep who ran up and down the battered sides like goats.”

Amid this exhilaration Raymond cannot keep down his inner turmoil. He says: “’I used to hold my father down on the bed when he had fits. I had to change the sheets twice a day for my brother, there was blood on everything. I watched him getting thinner and thinner; in the end you could lift him up with one hand. And his wife wouldn’t go to see him because he coughed in her face, Mother couldn’t move, and I had to cook as well, cook and nurse and change the sheets and hold father down when he got mad. It’s embittered my outlook.’”

Dylan, of course, has heard all of this before. All they can do for relief is imagine what friends they would like to have at the beach with them. “”I wish Gwilym was here, too,’ I said. ‘I’ve told you about him. He could give a sermon to the sea’ . . .’I wish my brother was with us,’ Ray said. He climbed on to the flat of the rock and dried his feet. ‘I wish Harry was here. I wish he was here now, at this moment, on this rock’ . . . A wind, cornering the Head, chilled through our summer shirts, and the sea began to cover our rock quickly, our rock already covered with friends, with living and dead, racing against the darkness.”

Drunkenness also plays a part in the next two stories of an adult Dylan Thomas. In “Old Garbo,” he is a cub reporter who admires Mr. Farr, an ace journalist. “He was the senior reporter, a great shorthand writer, a chain-smoker, a bitter drinker, very humorous, round-faced and round-bellied, with dart holes in his nose . . . He might have been a mincing-mannered man, with a strut and a cane to balance it, a watch-chain cross the waistcoat, a gold tooth, even perhaps a flower from his own garden in his buttonhole.”

They go drinking together. “I leant against the bar, between an alderman and a solicitor, drinking bitter, wishing that my father could see me now and glad, at the same time, that he was visiting Uncle A. in Aberavon. He could not fail to see that I was a boy no longer, nor fail to be angry at the angle of my fag and my hat and the threat of the clutched tankard. I liked the taste of beer, its live, white lather, its brass-bright depths, the sudden world through the wet brown walls of the glass, the tilted rush to the lips and the slow swallowing down to the lapping belly, the salt on the tongue, the foam at the corners.”

In the bar a Mrs. Prothero (called Old Garbo because she is the antithesis of the actress in every way) buys drinks for everyone. “ [I] thought of the long legs and startling faces of the chorus girls I had seen walking arm in arm, earlier that week, up and down the streets in the winter sunshine . . . their hair raven-black or silver; their scent and paint reminded me of the hot and chocolate-coloured East, their eyes were pools.”

Since her daughter supposedly died in childbirth, her cronies had raised some money for her. When Old Garbo learned her daughter had lived but the grandchild died, out of embarrassment she jumped off a bridge. However, neither Dylan nor Mr. Farr was sober enough to cover the suicide for the newspaper.  “Two small men, Mr. Farr and his twin brother, led me on an ice-rink to the door, and the night air slapped me down. The evening happened suddenly. A wall slumped over and knocked off my trilby; Mr. Farr’s brother disappeared under the cobbles. Here came a wall like a buffalo; dodge him, son.”

“One Warm Saturday” an overly romantic young man on vacation sits on the beach in a depressed state. “The young man sat alone with the shadows of his failure at his side . . . The young man, in his wilderness, saw the holiday Saturday set down before him, false and pretty, as a flat picture under the vulgar sun . . . He thought dramatically in his isolation, to an old shame and pity; outside all holiday, like a young man doomed for ever to the company of his maggots, beyond the high and ordinary, sweating, sun-awakened power and stupidity of the summer flesh on a day and a world out.”

Soon after, he falls in love with a woman beside the beach who seems to return his love. “It was the calm, unstartled certainty of her bearing before his glance from head to foot, the innocent knowledge, in her smile and the set of her head, that she was defended by her gentleness and accessible strangeness against all rude encounters and picking looks, that made his fingers tremble . . . Like a confident girl before a camera, she sat smiling, her hands folded, her head slightly to one side so that the rose brushed her neck. She accepted his admiration. The girl in a million took his long look to herself, and cherished his stupid love.”

A group of them, heavily drinking, go to the woman’s room. “He saw her as a wise, soft girl whom no hard company could spoil, for her soft self, bare to the heart, broke through every defence of her sensual falsifiers. As he thought this, phrasing her gentleness, faithlessly running to words away from the real room and his love in the middle, he woke with a start saw her lively body six steps from him, no calm heart dressed in a sentence, but a pretty girl, to be got and kept. He must catch hold of her fast.” However, when Dylan goes to find a toilet, in his drunkenness he gets totally lost and cannot find his way back to her.

We observe the same theme of a man trying to prove himself but failing in “Extraordinary Little Cough.” Dylan and three other boys go camping by the sea.  “Four boys on a roof—one tall, dark, regular-featured, precise of speech, in a good suit, a boy of the world; one squat, ungainly, red-haired, his red wrists fighting out of  short, frayed sleeves; one heavily spectacled, small-paunched, with indoor shoulders and feet in always unlaced boots wanting to go different ways; one small, thin, indecisively active, quick to get dirty, curly—saw their field in front of them, a fortnight’s  new home that had thick, pricking hedges for walls, the sea for a front garden, a green gutter for a lavatory, and a wind-struck tree in the middle.”

There they meet two other school chums and three girls. The story is mostly about how young people interact. “I could have swept the ground with my cap, kissed my hand gaily, called them senoritas, and made them smile without tolerance. Or I could have stayed at a distance, and this would have been better still, my hair blown in the wind, though there was no wind at all that evening, wrapped in mystery and staring at the sun, too aloof to speak to girls.”

And yet, Dylan is not the major character since so many people abound in this story. It is mostly about George Hooping, one of the four boys, nicknamed “Little Cough” for his surname. He is the odd man out trying to prove himself but is always the butt of a joke. I feel that Dylan Thomas is starting to change direction again with his stories.

After exploring pre-teenage boys then young men, he is now interested in groups.  Also, the number of poetic descriptions lessens and dialogue grows. The last story “Where Tawe Flows” will illustrate the point. Four men (again Dylan is one of them) meet regularly to write a book, titled “Where Tawe Flows,” in which each of them tells a story in very bare language.:

“’It wasn’t the doctor’s death, but where and how he died,’ said Mr. Evans. ‘He died in a bed-sitting-room in the arms of a certain lady. A woman of the town.’

‘Kiss me!’ Mr. Roberts said. ‘Seventy-five years old. I’m glad you asked us to remember his age, Mr. Evans.’

‘But how did Mary Phillips come to live in Bellevue? You haven’t told us that,’ Mr. Thomas said.

‘The William Hugheses wouldn’t have the niece of a man who died in those circumstances—‘

‘However complimentary to his manhood,’ Mr. Humphries said, stammering. ‘“

The use of dialogue Thomas had perfected in his numerous radio broadcasts and movie scripts. Perhaps these elements in the later stories hint toward Dylan Thomas wanting to write a full-length novel, something he never had the time to do.

Dylan Thomas died so young, but in his short life he excelled in poetry and short fiction. One hears echoes of James Joyce in Thomas’ emotional display of young characters’ feelings of love.  Thomas would undoubtedly have read this Celtic forerunner whose work began to dominate the world in 1916 with his first novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Yet, Thomas’ prose in turn influenced American writers who came after him. J.D. Salinger, in Europe during World War Two, could have read Thomas. Salinger employed American colloquialisms used by the young as Thomas did the British. And another echo is heard in the writing of John Updike who attended Oxford in 1954, just after Thomas’ death. Updike often describes the woodlands and the sea in his work against which young people interact. We can only conjecture what further influences Dylan Thomas might have disseminated to the literary world had he lived longer.

You can find books by Dylan Thomas at New Directions http://www.ndbooks.com/author/dylan-thomas-d/

 

Ray Greenblatt has written articles for: English Journal, Sea Change, Drexel Online Journal, Joseph Conrad Today, Bookmark Quarterly, Sunstone Press. He is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal and teaches a Joy of Poetry course at Temple University-OLLI