The Top Ten Poems I Love, #6

Here are two poems by Marianne Moore (1887 – 1972). I couldn’t decide which one I loved more. You can decide for yourself.

– – – – –

The Fish

wade
through black jade.
Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
adjusting the ash-heaps;
opening and shutting itself like

an
injured fan.
The barnacles which encrust the side
of the wave, cannot hide
there for the submerged shafts of the

sun,
split like spun
glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
into the crevices—
in and out, illuminating

the
turquoise sea
of bodies. The water drives a wedge
of iron through the iron edge
of the cliff; whereupon the stars,

pink
rice-grains, ink-
bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green
lilies, and submarine
toadstools, slide each on the other.

All
external
marks of abuse are present on this
defiant edifice—
all the physical features of

ac-
cident—lack
of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
hatchet strokes, these things stand
out on it; the chasm-side is

dead.
Repeated
evidence has proved that it can live
on what can not revive
its youth. The sea grows old in it.

– – – – –

Poetry

I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful; when they become so derivative as to become
unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us—that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician—case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”—above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion—
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

– – – – –

For me, poetry is partially about form. (Edublogs doesn’t appear to appreciate form, though. Here’s the actual way these poems are supposed to look: The Fish; and Poetry.)I appreciate seeing how the poet decided to arrange the words and lines and stanzas; sometimes these decisions affect the way the poem is read. And the “look” of a poem makes a statement. These poems come across differently when read aloud — not worse, just differently. Moore’s playfulness with line and stanza influenced my playfulness as a poet…and maybe, also, as a person. And I thank her for it.

The Top Ten Poems I Love, #5

Ego Tripping
by Nikki Giovanni

I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that only glows every one hundred years falls
into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

I sat on the throne
drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
the tears from my birth pains
created the nile
I am a beautiful woman

I gazed on the forest and burned
out the sahara desert
with a packet of goat’s meat
and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
so swift you can’t catch me

For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son hannibal an elephant
He gave me rome for mother’s day
My strength flows ever on

My son noah built new/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
jesus
men intone my loving name
All praises All praises
I am the one who would save

I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
the filings from my fingernails are
semi-precious jewels
On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
the earth as I went
The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
across three continents

I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission

I mean…I…can fly
like a bird in the sky…

– – – – –

I enjoy hearing/seeing Nikki read this poem, too.

This is a power poem and it speaks for itself.

The Top Ten Poems I Love, #4

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
By E. E. Cummings, 1894 – 1962

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

– – – – –

I’m noticing that many of my favorite poems have something to do with the mystery of love and beauty. This poem reminds me of the first poem in this list, “A Blessing.” Love is so intense and so difficult to define. So if we read words and phrases that capture a bit of that experience (like the beginning and ending of this poem in particular), it’s impressive and memorable.

Cummings always challenges me. His poems are works of art, which partly means they defy explanation. There’s a unique, inexplicable beauty that I want to grasp; however, I also understand that I won’t be able to grasp the entire truth…and that’s okay, that’s art. I like how he’s playful in his poems, too — “in Just” and its balloonman whistling far and wee is just one example. Genius.

The Top Ten Poems I Love, #3

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons —
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes —

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us —
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are —

None may teach it — Any —
‘Tis the Seal Despair —
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air —

When it comes, the Landscape listens —
Shadows — hold their breath —
When it goes,’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death —

By Emily Dickinson
1861, earliest known manuscript of the poem;
1890, first published.

– – – –

I’ve tried many times to capture the beauty of nature in words. It’s so difficult to get across. That first stanza, especially — with its oppressive slant of light — spoke to me years ago and still does. I’ve seen it. I admire how Dickinson pulls us in right away and we can relate to her scene.

Last night, I went to Wild Nights with Emily, a feature film shown on the last night of the Capital City Film Festival. It was a side of Dickinson I never knew existed: she had a female lover; many of her poems were written for Sue, her lover, but Sue’s name was erased; Emily tried to get her poems published; she had a sense of humor…. Re-reading her poems, I am reminded once again of how little we know of people’s lives and how rich each person’s life is.

The Top Ten Poems I Love, #2

I love most everything Billy Collins writes.

I offer you a Billy Collins Pallooza. I was fortunate to be in the audience when he spoke at the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in 2009. This video is his entire talk of 38 minutes. His dry sense of humor is a joy. Here are the poems he reads in the video, in order:

“Portrait of the Reader with a Bowl of Cereal”
“Grave”
“Palermo”
“Simile”
“Oh My God”
“Monday”
“The Trouble with Poetry”
“Litany”
“Migraine” or “Hangover”
“Hippos on Holiday”
“Schoolsville”
“The Golden Years”
“On Turning Ten”

Knowing that people are busy and sometimes only have time for one poem, here’s one of my favorite poems by Billy —

Walking Across the Atlantic

I wait for the holiday crowd to clear the beach
before stepping onto the first wave.

Soon I am walking across the Atlantic
thinking about Spain,
checking for whales, waterspouts.
I feel the water holding up my shifting weight.
Tonight I will sleep on its rocking surface.

But for now I try to imagine what
this must look like to the fish below,
the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing.

– – – – –

So simple, so descriptive…and such a novel idea. Powerful in the way he takes me with him across the ocean. So few words, really, but quite the shared experience.

The Top Ten Poems I Love, #1

National Poetry Month has begun and I decided that this year I will share 10 poems that have influenced me over time. Check back in a few days for the next one.

Poem #1

A Blessing
By James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

– – – – –

This poem touched me at a deep level. It was the first time that I recall thinking “that’s what a poem is supposed to do.” It was relatively newly written when I read it in the mid 1990’s. I was not familiar with Wright’s work but I felt like I was there with those ponies just off the highway. The blossom metaphor connected with me; in a short phrase, I suddenly understood both the joy of that moment and the importance of poetry in the world.

What it means to be “racist” and how accusing everyone of it doesn’t help

Part of the wonderful craziness of teaching middle school students is the perpetual existence of catch phrases. Young people hear adults and their peers use a word or phrase and its meaning is vague to them; after awhile, students are testing out the word in various contexts, trying to figure out its actual meaning. We start hearing the word used incorrectly and, as teachers, decide whether or not to stop everything and jump into “teachable moment” mode.

Sometimes the word is just a novelty — words like “dab” or “lit” come to mind — and are soon forgotten. We don’t spend time on those words. In the past, we have taken time with insensitive uses of “gay,” “fag,” and “queer” and I like to think that those talks had a little to do with a more healthy attitude toward our LGBTQ community, as well as the emergence of the Alliance club at the high school. Words like “creeper” and “foreigner” are also misused often and we may need to address those soon (fear of the unknown is a powerful thing). More recently, though, students have heard the word “racist” being tossed about (with our President being accused of racist remarks and some police being seen as racist toward minority groups) and have started casually accusing each other of being “racist.” This seems like one of those teachable moments to me.

The dictionary definition is a good place to start: racist — “a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.” (Oxford Dictionary) Some middle school students don’t recognize how serious this accusation is. They toss the word around quickly and freely without realizing it’s actually in the same intensity as yelling “FIRE!” or “RAPE!” The word racist carries a history with it that involves Native American displacement, white supremacist groups, hate crimes, and lynchings.

It’s a challenging topic but that isn’t a reason to ignore it; as an educator, I believe we can discuss almost anything with students as long as we do it in a sensitive, thoughtful manner. I understand that I need to be aware of my own biases and that I’m not expert on the topic, only an authority on my own experiences. These experiences are influenced by a multitude of factors, not the least of which are the culture in which I was brought up and the degree of privilege I have benefited from in my life.

I have never consciously thought that one race is superior to another (as the dictionary definition describes the word), but having taken the Implicit Bias Test and (at the same time I realize the test is not the whole picture) understanding a bit about the power of unconscious behavior, I am fully aware that I have my biases. I try to stay aware of them as I talk with people of color, but I really try to treat each person I talk with as a person first and listen to their concerns; some people say they “don’t see color,” which I think is ridiculous. I focus on the person in front of me and that means trying to take into account the little I know about his or her experience, asking questions to fill in the blanks in my head.

So part of my message, students, is to think before you accuse and to know your own biases, in general.

Instead of calling someone racist, “concentrate on why the person’s words or actions hurt you. Explain why you take issue with the person…” instead of attacking them with this strong, hateful word. (ThoughtCo) By calling someone racist, you are making an unfair, quick judgment about the person and situation — that judgment itself is a type of pigeon-holing or stereotyping that adds to the problem instead of trying to solve it.

We have been talking about using precise language in our poetry unit. The importance of our word choices is a theme you’ll see played out in The Giver, also, which we read next marking period. It carries over to many professions like law and advertising; the words you choose make a difference. And words have more than one meaning and connotation. If I was to say that I want you to discriminate, you might think I’ve lost my mind. The word, “discriminate,” however, means more than one thing. It’s actually an important skill in this sense. I would like you to discern or figure out when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate to accuse people of things…that’s one definition of discriminating…to be a thinking person who distinguishes between right and wrong.

Just like when bullying happens, there are bystanders when the word “racist” is spoken. Those bystanders have a major role in what happens next, just like when bullying happens. They have to discern if the situation involves a suggestion that one race is superior or if it’s an exaggerated, inappropriate use of the word; in either case, the bystander has a responsibility to speak up — to see justice done or to tell the speaker that he or she is wrong. Their role is key to ending this misuse of the word.

Using language (whether thought, spoken, written, visual…) is a complex thing. Learning how to use it precisely and effectively is a lifelong process. My hope is that, throughout your life, you will accurately communicate your ideas. To do that, always think before you speak.

One Time at a Time

Time in the airport — staying calm amid the hustle and the bustle, sitting on the tarmac for one hour before the flight was cancelled, waiting 12 hours for the next flight, playing several games (Clubs, Five Crowns, Hearts…), and arriving in Seattle after having been awake for 24+ hours, dazed and grateful

Time in the rental car avoiding other cars and walking/biking/moped-riding people, as well as avoiding traffic jams with Rachel’s knowledge of the city

Time with family hiking up to Rattlesnake Ledge — only 4 miles roundtrip, but up 1200 feet in elevation for some glorious views

Time walking around Seattle seeing quite a few homeless people, wondering what their lives were like, are like, will be like

Time reading a novel about time-travel and, at times, wishing to jump into the story to experience the 18th century for a few hours or days

Time virtually dangling my feet over Washington (Snoqualmie Falls, breeching whales in Puget Sound, Olympic National Forest, the San Juan Islands, the Walla Walla Valley Balloon Stampede) as part of Wings over Washington

Time watching Arrival and wondering if time is the subtle, constant force I’ve always accepted it as being or if one can move forward and back within its vastness

Time with Judy listening to Ravel, Beethoven, and Gliere played by the Lansing Symphony Orchestra; Judy had worked with french horn soloist, David Cooper, decades before which made it even more special

Time standing in the hall outside my classroom at MacDonald Middle School looking at each student that passes and picturing each one walking across the stage getting their diplomas as graduating seniors

Time to construct a letter about an issue I care about and put it out there in the world — and having a friend make a meaningful comment about it

Time to candidly talk with a past student and see what he created from our talk

Time listening to a sermon entitled “Timing,” hearing a voice from the past say “Hell is truth seen too late,” and automatically thinking that the owners of Eastwood Towne Center will rue the day they didn’t work out a deal with Schuler Books, causing it to close; I’ll always remember one customer grieving the bookstore’s closing by saying,
“I mean,
we
lived
here”

Net Neutrality in the Balance

I wrote today’s Letters2Trump and I feel good enough about it to share it here.

Dear American Internet Users,

You probably put up with the high cost of your internet service provider, or ISP, (as many of us do) because you can bop around the internet at will. We’re Americans and we like our freedoms. We enjoy access to just about any website 24/7. And there’s the immediacy factor also; we don’t like to wait. The faster the internet, the better. Unfortunately, we Americans are also quite reactionary. We are often apathetic until things get out of hand and then we jump into action, too often too late. I am writing to you today to ask for your quick action on a topic that could squelch your much-loved internet freedom and speed: Net Neutrality.

This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is voting on whether to change the regulation regarding Net Neutrality so that your ISP has the power to control your access to certain websites. They will also be able to slow the speed of your internet if they so choose. The commission that will decide is made up of three Republicans and headed by a Trump appointed Republican named Ajit Pai. It doesn’t look good for our free and speedy lives on the internet. If you are a fan of irony, the FCC has named the proceedings Restoring Internet Freedom, which is somewhere between ridiculous and sad.

My first request is that you get informed. I’ve included a few resources, below, and I suggest you search around for yourself also. When we start mixing technology, politics, economics, capitalism, government bureaucracy, and egos, the truth is elusive. From what I can tell, though, we have taken Net Neutrality for granted and if the FCC allows the ISPs to do what they want, they will. And it won’t be pretty.

A few resources:
* “What is Net Neutrality and What Will the Internet Look Like Without It” by KQED News
* “Net Neutrality Explained: What It Means (and Why It Matters)” by Fortune
* “Net Neutrality explained and why it matters” YouTube video by John Bain,the Cynical Brit
* “FCC explains how net neutrality will be protected without net neutrality rules” by ArsTechnica
* “Congress should block FCC’s Net Neutrality Vote” by USA Today

I also have a couple actions you can take. The first is to respond directly to the FCC. Here are some fairly straightforward steps for that process that I found on Facebook.

1. Go to http://gofccyourself.com (the shortcut John Oliver made to the hard-to-find FCC comment page)
2. Click on the 17-108 link (Restoring Internet Freedom)
3. Click on “express.”
4. Be sure to hit “ENTER” after you put in your name & info so it registers.
5. In the comment section write, “I strongly support net neutrality backed by Title 2 oversight of ISPs.”
6. Click to submit, done. – Make sure you hit submit at the end!

Link to John Oliver’s piece on net neutrality: https://youtu.be/92vuuZt7wak (f-word warning)

Finally, if you’re feeling a bit more revolutionary, go to the website called Break the Internet. If you scroll down on that page, you’ll find many ways to get involved over the next 48 hours in a phone call avalanche to get the point across to Congress.

I was an apathetic internet user like you at one time. I took the time to learn about the issue, which made me informed and angry. I’m participating in the push to keep Net Neutrality and I hope you will too. Thank you, ahead of time, for your efforts.

Sincerely,

Aram Kabodian