Archives For: Poetry

A Poem For Sunday

Aug 17 2014 @ 8:49pm
by Alice Quinn


“The House on the Hill” by Anne MacKay:

A house for summer with lawns and porches,
Edwardian books, adventure stories, the smell of musty closets,
thin mattress over metal springs, blankets with holes,
a cabinet of arrowheads and stones, forbidden
dumb-waiter creaking, they said it was too old,
odor of attics with discarded bureaus, portraits.

I lived with relics of children already aunts and uncles—
a doll’s house, college scrapbook on the shelf,
baseball bats and gloves forgotten in the window seat.

Nothing could change in the days of salt air filling
the garden, storm winds rattling the big windows,
Mother and Grandmother reading in small circles of light,
now ghosts whispering. The house a lost arm aching in the night.

(From Sailing the Edge © 2003 by Anne MacKay. Used by permission of the Estate of Anne MacKay, 2014. Photo by Brian Stocks)

A Poem For Friday

Aug 15 2014 @ 7:34pm
by Alice Quinn


My friend Stephen Kramer – who loved poetry and birds, people and life so much – died last Friday, August 8th, after a four-and-a-half year battle with Multiple Myeloma. Steve had been a hugely respected lawyer for the City of New York but retired after his diagnosis in January 2010 at the age of 62.

Recently, he’d been writing a column for The Myeloma Beacon, a blog and online forum for the Myeloma community. I recommend these essays for their gallantry and their portrait of life lived simultaneously on the edge and to the brim.

Steve and I corresponded about poems, and two in particular called out to me in the last days when I was in touch with his family, who also surrounded him with song. The first is Emily Dickinson’s poem #1747 (of 1789), one of hundreds she sent to her sister-in-law, Susan Dickinson.

That Love is all there is
Is all we know of Love,
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.

The second is Walt Whitman’s “When lilac’s last in the dooryard bloom’d.” Whitman served as a nurse during the Civil War, and watching the young die was a continual torment to him. He begins with an announcement of the mourning he has performed and ever shall for a man he proclaims later in the poem to be “the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands.” The poem invokes the figure of a hermit thrush, caroling to the bard, “Loud, human song, with voice of utterest woe/…. And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.”

From “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d” by Walt Whitman (1819-1892):

Read On

A Poem For Sunday

Aug 10 2014 @ 7:33pm


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn:

This poem by an anonymous author, framed as a riddle as so many early lyrics are, is from Volume One of Poets of the English Language: Langland to Spenser, edited by W.H. Auden and Norman Holmes Pearson and published in 1950 in The Viking Portable Library.

I persist in thinking the knight has posed four questions.

“The Riddling Knight”:

There were three sisters fair and bright,
Jennifer gentle and rosemaree,
And they three loved one valiant knight.
As the dew flies over the mulberry tree.

The eldest sister let him in,
And barred the door with a silver pin.

The second sister made his bed,
And placed soft pillows under his head.

The youngest sister, fair and bright,
Was resolved for to wed with this valiant knight.

“And if you can answer questions three,
O then, fair maid, I will marry with thee.

“What is louder than an horn,
And what is sharper than a thorn?”

“Thunder is louder than an horn,
And hunger is sharper than a thorn.”

“What is broader than the way,
And what is deeper than the sea?”

“Love is broader than the way,
And hell is deeper than the sea.”

“And now, fair maid, I will marry with thee.”

(Photo by T. Kiya)

A Poem For Saturday

Aug 9 2014 @ 10:13am


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn:

While on vacation, I’ve been listening to Natalie Merchant’s arrangements of traditional American folk music on her album entitled The House Carpenter’s Daughter.

They turned my mind to the selections of anonymous lyrics and songs from the 13th through the 15th centuries, chosen by W.H. Auden and Norman Holmes Pearson for their incomparable five-volume anthology, Poets of the English Language, published in the Viking Portable Library in 1950. (Sets of these can be found in good used bookstores all over the country and, of course, online.)

This is one of my favorites.

“The Unquiet Grave”:

“The wind doth blow today, my love,
And a few small drops of rain;
I never had but one true-love,
In cold grave she was lain.

“I’ll do as much for my true-love
As any young man may;
I’ll sit and mourn all at her grave
For a twelvemonth and a day.”

The twelvemonth and a day being up,
The dead began to speak:
“Oh who sits weeping on my grave,
And will not let me sleep?”

“‘Tis I, my love, sits on your grave,
And will not let you sleep;
For I crave one kiss of your clay-cold lips,
And that is all I seek.”

“You crave one kiss of my clay-cold lips;
But my breath smells earthy strong;
If you have one kiss of my clay-cold lips,
Your time will not be long.

“‘Tis down in yonder garden green,
Love, where we used to walk,
The finest flower that e’er was seen
Is withered to a stalk.

“The stalk is withered dry, my love,
So will our hearts decay;
So make yourself content, my love,
Till God calls you away.”

(Photo by Matthew Murdock)

A Poem For Friday

Aug 8 2014 @ 8:35pm


“Transmarine” by Carol Moldaw:

An open hull nudging reeds and sand,
she kept to herself the pleasure he provoked,
the undercurrent dimpling as he stroked,
and drifted, slackly moored under his hand.
Turning to him, she let him loose the knot,
drop the rope, and push his foot against
the pier to lift her free. Her muscles tensed;
he took her like a sail the wind had caught
and guided her until she guided him,
and when they were no place that either knew,
where sky and sea and shadow echoed blue,
they plunged—and were knocked back at the world’s rim.

(From So Late, So Soon: New and Selected Poems © 2010 by Carol Moldaw. Used by permission of Etruscan Press. Photo by Nikos Koutoulas)

A Poem For Saturday

Aug 2 2014 @ 10:10am


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

Twenty five years ago, the poet Nicholas Christopher edited an influential anthology featuring thirty seven poets who were then (as the title declared) Under 35: The New Generation of American Poets. In the years since, his talent for choosing poets whose work would grow increasingly important has been roundly confirmed. It was there that I was introduced to the wit, gravity, and highly individualistic slant of the work of Vijay Seshadri, America’s newest Pulitzer Prize winner in Poetry.

Summer often turns our thoughts and hearts to love. We’ll feature some love poems from this landmark book in the days ahead, beginning with Seshadri’s poem dedicated to his wife Suzanne Khuri.

“My Esmeralda” by Vijay Seshadri:

for S.O.K.

Some people like each other and are therefore like each other,
but I like you and therefore I’m
so original a burden on my time
that all the lifeguards ring their bells
when I rise from my exclusive underneath
to wash in your England of seaside hotels,

climb my perch and send off, over the panorama
of what’s most yours—those glowing herds
of prehistoric bison, sunk in clear light
up to the eyes, browsing elsewhere
extinct skyhigh ferns—
my messenger birds,
speckled and superfine,
to soar the asymptotic line
that touches you at infinity. Big mama!

Not once in any of the meretricious annals
I’m forced to read, have I read
of you, nor through the maps
I have to make sense of
have I ever watched you pass.
Among words, you’re the meaning of ‘glass,’
and you as a river will cut your own channels.

(From Wild Kingdom © 1996 by Vijay Seshadri. Reprinted with permission of Graywolf Press. Photo of the town of Hastings, on the English coast, by Luton Anderson)

A Poem For Friday

Aug 1 2014 @ 3:40pm


“A Brief Correspondence Course” by Ron Padgett:

When I close a letter
with “Cordially,” I
blush with shame.
It sounds insincere.
But when a letter
comes to me
with that same closing,
I glow with warmth.
I smile, I think
this person is cordial,
although until
a few moments ago
I had never heard
of him. In fact he is
a wild palooka in a half-
lit office, his
hair crazed with
enterprise, large
rubber mice
in the corridor.

Ron Padgett

(From Collected Poems © 2013 by Ron Padgett. Used by permission of Coffee House Press. Photo by Doeth Gwraig)

A Poem For Sunday

Jul 27 2014 @ 10:22am


“Olivetti Lettera” by Ron Padgett:

Good-bye, little Lettera.
It was nice with you again.
I once loved a girl and oh
Well I once loved a girl.

You are so small, the way
what I remember is
packed into my human skull
and it’s dark in there.

And it’s singing in there,
this typewriter who is a
girl, then, an Italian girl,
undressing, slowly, in the dark.

(From Collected Poems © 2013 by Ron Padgett. Used by permission of Coffee House Press. Photo of an Olivetti Lettera typewriter by Luca Violetto)

A Poem For Saturday

Jul 26 2014 @ 10:10am


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

Ron Padgett is a master of scale, adept at tiny poems, long poems, and prose poems, too. Here are two from his recent Collected Poems, published by Coffee House Press and winner of both the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The first is titled “Song”:

Learning to write,
be a good person and get to heaven
are all the same thing,

but trying to do them all at once
is enough to drive you crazy

The second is “Poem”:

No sir!
Trade places with an animal?
Have a muskrat read my books
while I scuttle through the woods in terror?

Padgett has many admirers among poets, among them John Ashbery, Thomas Lux, Alice Notley, Charles Simic (“As is often the case, leave it to the comic writer to best convey our tragic predicament.”), and Tom Clark (“These poems mingle the nervy sophistication and cosmopolitan experimentalism of a thriving international avant-garde art tradition with a kind of hillbilly twang that’s unmistakably American.”).

It’s the tenderness and the whimsy that captivate me.

“Glow” by Ron Padgett:

When I wake up earlier than you and you
are turned to face me, face
on the pillow and hair spread around,
I take a chance and stare at you,
amazed in love and afraid
that you might open your eyes and have
the daylights scared out of you.
But maybe with the daylights gone
you’d see how much my chest and head
implode for you, their voices trapped
inside like unborn children fearing
they will never see the light of day.
The opening in the wall now dimly glows
its rainy blue and gray. I tie my shoes
and go downstairs to put the coffee on.

(From Collected Poems © 2013 by Ron Padgett. Used by permission of Coffee House Press. Photo by Mikael Colville-Anderson)

A Poem For Monday

Jul 21 2014 @ 2:22pm


With all the heavy coverage from Gaza and Ukraine today, we could all use a poem selected by the wonderful Alice Quinn. Here’s “Happily Married” by Deborah Garrison:

Almost home
on the longest day of the year,
I saw two birds on a telephone wire:
two beaks, two sharp-peaked ruffs,
two tails that stuck down stiff
like two closed fans
all matched up neatly,
and against the faintly
yellow pre-dusk sky
the birds and wire
were all one color,
a fading black
or darkening gray.

Sometimes the smallest thing
brings harmony in
through the eye.
Or was it that I
on that particular day
had harmony to bring
to what I saw?
That I’d even looked up
seemed a piece of marital
good luck, and that they didn’t
move as I passed by—

I wondered how long in fact
they’d sit that way.

Two more poems from Garrison featured on the Dish here.

(From A Working Girl Can’t Win © 1998 by Deborah Garrison. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. Photo by Armando Maynez)