Aug 24 – same poem as same day in 2015 – William Carlos Williams

Wednesday  August 24 –  “to face in the wind’s teeth”

Yesterday, new freshmen arrived in the residence halls; lots of parents came, too, to help haul the stuff of residence hall life — refrigerators, sound systems, soap and toothpaste — setting up a space that will, all these family people hope,  become a home for the daunting place of teaching, research and learning that is a university.    Classes begin next Monday for undergraduates.  This week, employees work at once-a-term tasks aimed at setting the table for the more stable rhythm of regular classes — college and campus-wide meetings all over the place.  Staff & faculty helping students learn the landscape and helping new faculty and staff learn the same things.  Faculty putting finishing touches on course syllabi, early athletic practices, and strength conditioning.  All three campuses change when students bring their energy and hope and fears to a yearlong encounter with ways of thinking that will stretch them.   All of the rest of us who work here, faculty, staff and administrators, probably take a few deep breaths and square our shoulders.  “Here we go.”

The poet William Carlos Williams understood life-weariness and beauty’s restorative powers.  “The Maneuver” is very brief; just the thing for a hammer-slammer day packed with hustling.  Try reading it aloud once or twice, with pauses.  Breathe a little.

Have a blest day.

 

john sj

Today’s Post:     The Manoeuvre

I saw the two starlings
coming in toward the wires
But at the last,
just before alighting, they

turned in the air together
and landed backwards!
that’s what got me —
to face into the wind’s teeth.

William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams
(September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Carlos_Williams

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Aug 22, Joy Harjo, “Grace”

Monday, August 22

We had a new faculty half day retreat this morning — a fine conversation about the identity of their new university;  we ended with lunch in the Jesuit courtyard.

That’s why today’s post is tardy.   Last week’s powerful poems that Mary-Catherine Harrison edited for the list took readers into hard places in the human experience.  And they reminded me of my favorite Joy Harjo poem, which I have posted 3 or 4 times before on this list, most recently on May 9th of this year.

Have a blest Monday,

john st sj

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Life is short, though I keep this from my children

Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” went viral around the world in the days and weeks after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub.  I am not certain why; neither is she.  And yet, it seemed to me like all that could be said in the face of so much hatred and heartache.

“Good Bones” by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

 

Does poetry matter in the face of violence or suffering? Can words arranged on a page or spoken alter the facts of war or terror, racism, poverty?

W. H. Auden, famously, said, “poetry makes nothing happen.” And yet he wrote those words in a poem, one that honors fellow poet W. B. Yeats. He goes on to say of poetry: “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”

Few would say that the value of poetry inheres in making something happen in the world.  As Auden said elsewhere, “If the criterion of art were its power to incite action, Goebbels would be one of the greatest artists of all time.”  And yet, poetry surely does something. It can make us see and feel in ways we otherwise wouldn’t; it makes vivid what we might otherwise ignore.

This week I want to offer three poems that I believe speak to the power of poetry to startle and reveal. Perhaps they also speak to our renewed need for poetry in a world of too much despair.  Each of the three went “viral,” in response, respectively, to the refugee crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Pulse nightclub shooting. Volleyed around the globe, they survive; they are a way of happening.  They are a mouth that has opened.

Thank you to Fr. Staudenmaier for inviting me to share them.

Mary-Catherine


Mary-Catherine Harrison, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English, University of Detroit Mercy
Co-Director, University Honors Program
Executive Director, Rx for Reading Detroit
mc.harrison@udmercy.edu
(313) 993-1081

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Jericho Brown’s Bullet Points

Does poetry matter in the face of violence or suffering? Can words arranged on a page or spoken alter the facts of war or terror, racism, poverty?

W. H. Auden, famously, said, “poetry makes nothing happen.”  And yet he wrote those words in a poem, one that honors fellow poet W. B. Yeats. He goes on to say of poetry: “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”

Few would say that the value of poetry inheres in making something happen in the world.  As Auden said elsewhere, “If the criterion of art were its power to incite action, Goebbels would be one of the greatest artists of all time.”  And yet, poetry surely does something. It can make us see and feel in ways we otherwise wouldn’t; it makes vivid what we might otherwise ignore.

This week I want to offer three poems that I believe speak to the power of poetry to startle and reveal. Perhaps they also speak to our renewed need for poetry in a world of too much despair.  Each of the three went “viral,” in response, respectively, to the refugee crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Pulse nightclub shooting. Volleyed around the globe, they survive; they are a way of happening.  They are a mouth that has opened.

Thank you to Fr. Staudenmaier for inviting me to share them.

_________________________________

I first read “Bullet Points” on July 7th, one day after Philando Castile was shot to death, two days after Alton Sterling was killed.

Jericho Brown does not say their names, or the names of Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michael Brown.  And yet their lives, and deaths, breathe in this poem.  It is not an easy poem—it is angry, and it is afraid.

In the end of the poem, he says, in so many words, black lives matter.

“Bullet Points” by Jericho Brown

I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home. Yes, I may be at risk,
But I promise you, I trust the maggots
And the ants and the roaches
Who live beneath the floorboards
Of my house to do what they must
To any carcass more than I trust
An officer of the law of the land
To shut my eyes like a man
Of God might, or to cover me with a sheet
So clean my mother could have used it
To tuck me in. When I kill me, I will kill me
The same way most Americans do,
I promise you: cigarette smoke
Or a piece of meat on which I choke
Or so broke I freeze
In one of these winters we keep
Calling worst. I promise that if you hear
Of me dead anywhere near
A cop, then that cop killed me. He took
Me from us and left my body, which is,
No matter what we’ve been taught,
Greater than the settlement a city can
pay to a mother to stop crying, and more
Beautiful than the brand new shiny bullet
Fished from the folds of my brain

AmINext

______________________________________

Mary-Catherine Harrison, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English, University of Detroit Mercy
Co-Director, University Honors Program
Executive Director, Rx for Reading Detroit
mc.harrison@udmercy.edu
(313) 993-1081

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Poetry makes nothing happen

Does poetry matter in the face of violence or suffering? Can words arranged on a page or spoken alter the facts of war or terror, racism, poverty?

W. H. Auden, famously, said, “poetry makes nothing happen.”  And yet he wrote those words in a poem, one that honors fellow poet W. B. Yeats. He goes on to say of poetry: “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”

Few would say that the value of poetry inheres in making something happen in the world.  As Auden said elsewhere, “If the criterion of art were its power to incite action, Goebbels would be one of the greatest artists of all time.”  And yet, poetry surely does something. It can make us see and feel in ways we otherwise wouldn’t; it makes vivid what we might otherwise ignore.

This week I want to offer three poems that I believe speak to the power of poetry to startle and reveal. Perhaps they also speak to our renewed need for poetry in a world of  too much despair.  Each of the three went “viral,” in response, respectively, to the refugee crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Pulse nightclub shooting. Volleyed around the globe, they survive; they are a way of happening.  They are a mouth that has opened.

Thank you to Fr. Staudenmaier for inviting me to share them.

_________________________________

The first time I heard “Home” was the same day I saw the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year old Syrian refugee whose body washed up on a Turkish beach.  It was almost as if Warsan Shire’s words were the soundtrack to an image at once peaceful and horrifying.

I didn’t fully comprehend the poem’s power until I heard it read aloud by Canadian actress Yanna McIntosh; you can do so here by clicking on the link to “Listen.”

“Home” by Warsan Shire 

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.

your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.

it’s not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.

you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl
under fences,
be beaten until your shadow
leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to
the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive
and you are greeted on the other side
with
go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.

i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
i’ve become.

______________________________________

Mary-Catherine Harrison, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English, University of Detroit Mercy
Co-Director, University Honors Program
Executive Director, Rx for Reading Detroit
mc.harrison@udmercy.edu
(313) 993-1081

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Aug 11 — Hopkins

Thursday, August 11 from Santa Clara, CA

Hi,

This California morning welcomes in a third and last day where I am helping to welcome back some Santa Clara U undergrads just back from 8 weeks, some in India, some and sub-Saharan Africa where they lived with and met ordinary people who taught them how to live in, for them, new places in the world.  By their reports and slides yesterday it looks as if their village hosts did good things for them and allowed the students to do some good things in return.  Today begins this year’s tutorial next-step process for women and men from various places in the world,  they will be welcomed to campus today and, I think, one-on-one tutorial sessions begin tomorrow.

I am glad to be here.  Too busy yesterday to post a poem.  This morning, over oatmeal, I found a few minutes.  My first favorite poet — if memory serves — makes a good short post.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj moves me and many of the readers of this list.  Blessings on your day wherever you are living it.

john sj

Today’s Post,  “Pied Beauty”  Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

GMHopkins

G. M. Hopkins, sj   1844-1889

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Aug 8 – “Wild Geese”

Monday, August 8   “over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

Yesterday, I was catching up with an old friend after too long a hiatus.  I tracked his email address and found a batch of emails.  In three of them we exchanged posts about a poem both of us like a great deal.  I read it again and decided to post it on this first Monday of the second week of this new academic year.  I imagined that my dad would have liked this poem a lot.  11 months ago, writing about this Mary Oliver poem, “Wild Geese,” brought me back to October 1980 when he died.  I wrote:

“While he was dying, after pancreatic cancer gone to the liver made him thin and jaundiced, one day he put on a business suit, now too big for his body, and went one last time to the little city bank where he had been president for years.   He stopped at each person’s work place, told each person goodbye, that he was proud to have worked with them, shook hands, and came back  home where we had moved his bed down stairs into the dining room for his last weeks.

A man who enjoyed the ordinary human condition and respected the women and men who lived it.  He would have liked this poem.  The poem likes him I think.”

It’s good to read strong poems, like this one, out loud.

have a blest day.

 

john sj

Today’s Post:   “Wild Geese”

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

MaryOliver

Mary Oliver
Sept 10, 1935

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August 3 – Rutabaga

Wednesday August 3
“Though your seeds are tiny
you grow with fierce will”

I am still settling into this year’s work rhythms:  visiting friends and trading summertime stories;  catching up on some early in work-year tasks; sorting.  For a while, perhaps, I will explore posts from the Work Day List’s previous years.  Laura Grace Weldon’s celebration of Rutabagas fresh from the garden appeared here last year on August 10.    Like many strong poems, Weldon sets us a table that looks ordinary but turns to become a gate into legitimate wonder.  Still pretty cheeky.  Wise too.

Try reading it out loud with some pauses.

john sj

Today’s Post:  “Rutabaga”

You darken as my knife slices
blushing at what you become.

rutabaga

I save your thick leaves
and purple skin
to feed the cows.

A peasant guest at any meal
you agree to hide in fragrant stew
or gleam nakedly
in butter and chives.

Though your seeds are tiny
you grow with fierce will
grateful for poor soil and dry days,
heave up from the ground
under sheltering stalks
to sweeten with the frost.

Tonight we take you into our bodies
as if we do you a favor—
letting your molecules
become a higher being,
one that knows music and art.

But you share with us
what makes you a rutabaga.
Through you we eat sunlight,
taste the soil’s clamoring mysteries,
gain your seed’s perfect might.

Laura Grace Weldon

“Rutabaga” by Laura Grace Weldon,
Tending (Aldrich Press, 2013).
© Laura Grace Weldon. Presented
here by poet submission.

Art credit: “Rutabaga,” unknown
medium, by Lara Call Gastinger.
© Lara Call Gastinger, 2004.

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August 1 – regular work year begins (for me)

Monday August 1  — “here come the stars”

Yesterday, I wrote the account of my travel home from vacation for two soul friends who live in Detroit.   It turned into a card honoring St. Ignatius whose feast day was yesterday.  I sent it to 4 or 5 other friends.  This morning, it has become a journal entry for the first day of the work year, a good way to frame Robert Frost’s wonderful celebration of stars in today’s poem.

“About driving home from vacation around Lake Michigan’s northern edge”

As in the last 4-5 years, dinner with my sister Mary began my end-of-summer ritual in our home town, Marinette, WI, where Upper Michigan and Wisconsin meet on the short of Lake Michigan:   to bed c. 10:00 pm; on the road by 2:10 am or so;  stopped 32 miles up along the Northwest shore of Lake Michigan at a little beach (Fox Point); walked c. 40 ft to the shore and stood by that immense body of water gazing at the 27,534,210 stars in a vast clear sky (no clouds and almost zero artificial ground light) with a sliver moon hanging out over the north end of the Lake,  praying the Lakota prayer of the six directions as a goodbye to summer and a welcome to my work  year.

Last year about an hour south of the big bridge (Mackinac), I got very sleepy at the wheel, enough that I stopped at every rest stop all the way to Detroit.  Not very fun.  This year I asked Norm Dickson, sj —  good friend, 20+ years working in the south of Sudan, now  pastor of the little parish of Kalkaska (c. 90 min south of the big bridge) — if I could stop and take a nap.  Yes, of course.  I checked out the parish garden (huge and to die for beautiful,  25 parish vols)  and the church (unpretentious and lovely)  and dove into a 2 hour wonderful nap.  Result?  A much more relaxed drive from the big bridge to McNichols Road.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.  Welcome to 2016-17.

john sj

 

Today’s Post   Robert Frost  

“The Literate Farmers and the Planet Venus”

Here come the stars to character the skies,
And they in the estimation of the wise
Are more divine than any bulb or arc,
Because their purpose is to flash and spark,
But not to take away the precious dark.
We need the interruption of the night
To ease attention off when overtight,
To break our logic in too long a flight,
And ask us if our premises are right

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963
         T1520565_05

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June 6 – Summer break

Monday,   June 6   “. . . amongst all natural things
I could live or not live;  it does not matter
to be one stone more . . . “

The last days of this year’s time on Pine Ridge Reservation filled up with soul friends and familiar places waiting for me to come find them.   So I could stand still and pay attention to five decades of beauty.   I had planned to write the last poetry post out there, close to June 1, but here I am back home at Six Mile Road on June 6, savoring Pine Ridge days and tasting Detroit rebirth at the same time.

A soul friend sent me Pablo Neruda’s “Oh, Earth, Wait For Me” a few months ago. a poem that a childhood friend hand-copied for her long ago.   I’d been waiting for a day that makes space for Neruda’s grace: stillness and presence in the world.   Today’s pretty good for that,  an invitation to trust the pace of summer and risk breathing slowly.   Best to read out loud,  with pauses.

Back in early August.    Have a blest summer.

 

john sj

Today’s Post,  Pablo Neruda

Oh, Earth, Wait For Me
By Pablo Neruda

Return me, oh sun,
to my wild destiny,
rain of the ancient wood
bring me back the aroma and the swords
that fall from the sky,
the solitary peace of pasture and rock,
the damp at the river-margins,
the smell of the larch tree,
the wind alive like a heart
beating in the crowded restlessness
of the towering araucaria.

Earth, give me back your pure gifts,
the towers of silence which rose
from the solemnity of their roots.
I want to go back to being what I have not been,
and learn to go back from such deeps
that amongst all natural things
I could live or not live; it does not matter
to be one stone more, the dark stone,
the pure stone which the river bears away.

~Pablo Neruda

(Poem excerpted in “The Wood Wife” by Terri Windling, pages 130, 131)

PabloNeruda

PabloNeruda

Wikipedia is not always eloquent.  These two paragraphs, though, from Neruda’s short bio (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Neruda) are well written.

“Years later, Neruda was a close advisor to Chile’s socialist President Salvador Allende. When Neruda returned to Chile after his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Allende invited him to read at the Estadio Nacional before 70,000 people.[5]

Neruda was hospitalised with cancer at the time of the coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet but returned home after 5 days when he suspected a doctor of injecting him in the stomach with an unknown substance for the purpose of murdering him at the order of Pinochet.[6]Neruda died in his house in Isla Negra on 23 September 1973 six and a half hours after that injection. Although it has always been reported that he died of prostate cancer/heart failure, on November 5, 2015 the Interior Ministry of the Chilean government issued a statement acknowledging a Ministry document from March of that year indicating the government’s official position that “it was clearly possible and highly likely” that he was killed as a result of “the intervention of third parties”.[7] Pinochet, backed by elements of the armed forces, denied permission for Neruda’s funeral to be made a public event. However, thousands of grieving Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets.”

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