Wednesday, November 30, 2016
That day was so hot
a horned toad
the lid full of water
both front feet
on the rim
as if to say
this is mine -
Poet's Notes: This is a true story that happened during a family trip to west Texas during a record setting heat wave. You know it's hot when even the desert-loving horned toad (actually a lizard) needs a water break.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
We drank blood
That Chinese witch and I,
we were made for each other.
News of her death reached me
from Mr. Li.
Though I see her face on a million demons,
still I miss her.
Old and dirty and crazed,
I lick her bones on the jade highway.
Poet's Notes: I enjoy reading Chinese poetry, old or new. Here is my "Chinese" poem. The title came first, and the rest came down the mental pike a week or so later. There is nothing autobiographical about this poem; it's entirely a product of my imagination. I will cruise forever the jade highway of my mind.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Princess Tea Party
Mary Soon Lee
Three days after the party
they presented to my daughter
as she sat in her princess dress,
holding her brand-new princess doll.
Easy to discard the rose,
but not the memory
of twenty little girls
with pink tiaras in their hair:
fat girls and thin girls,
quiet girls and chatterboxes,
sipping apple juice tea
from twenty tiny cups;
twenty would-be princesses
waiting through the stories
and the songs
and the presents
for Her, the Princess Aurora,
and then the minute,
or less than a minute,
that she spent at each table,
smiling for her pay.
What happened to me?
What turned me into a collaborator
in that festival of pink,
I who had thought my daughter
would play with rockets,
climb trees in jeans?
Now, under my daughter's spell,
I tell myself
there was nothing wrong
with her pretending
the princess would lift her
into a fairy tale;
and nothing wrong
with my pretending
that all twenty little girls
would grow up
to be engineers.
Poet's Notes: I wrote this poem after attending a Princess Tea Party with my then four-year-old daughter at Disney. It was a bizarre event, with a crowd of little girls in fancy dresses riveted by a woman playing the part of a fairytale princess.
The first draft of the poem was too long. I trimmed it down a few years ago and then trimmed it further a few months ago. Sometimes it takes a while before I can consider my poems with detachment.
In the meantime, Lucy has grown to a marvelous eleven-year-old. She no longer plays with dolls, rarely wears pink, and has listened to "Hamilton: An American Musical" approximately five hundred times.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
I recently had the pleasure of reading While the Kettle’s On (Little Balkans Press, 2014), a State Library of Kansas Notable Book by Melissa Fite Johnson. Johnson was selected by Little Balkans Press to showcase this, her first published book of poetry, as part of the Strip Pit Poetry Series, which recognizes the work of outstanding southeastern Kansas poets. Such acknowledgment is by invitation only. The book is available in trade paperback through Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/While-Kettles-Melissa-Fite-Johnson/dp/0982454953 for $12.00. It is divided into five sections of ten poems each.
The first section, “Four Generations,” contains poems with themes that mainly touch upon memories of the poet’s parents and grandparents. While readers generally enjoy poems about the family of someone famous, there is a danger in publishing poetry about one’s family if one is not famous. The risk is that the poetry would be too personal, too specific, leaving the reader out of the experience. There is a fine line to tread. For the most part, Johnson succeeds in this by evoking a sense of the universal within the personal experience. A good example is the titular poem for this section. Here Johnson conveys the bittersweet feelings that accompany remembering the good times about a departed grandfather and father with the hope that a daughter will eventually be able to share the poet's fond memories.
The second section, “Revising the Body,” contains poems about the poignancy and awkwardness of the poet’s adolescence. Here again, Johnson for the most part succeeds in bringing the universal into the personal. The titular poem for this section is perhaps my favorite of the entire collection. Here the poet at first laments her over-padded curves, but by the end optimistically declares, “mine is the Rubenesque look / certain to make a comeback.”
The third section, “Good Housekeeping,” points out the beauty, even the sublimity that may be found in the mundane. “Ode to Washing Dishes” is perhaps the best example. The poet urges the reader when washing dishes to be sure to “...be kind to your reflection. / Appreciate your long arms that disappear / at the wrists....”
The fourth section, “Vulnerability,” contains poems with many different themes. Some contemplate death and fear. Others explore feelings of ineptitude and the titular vulnerability. Still others touch upon what it means to be a poet--my favorites in this section. For example, in “When Asked If I Write Poetry,” the poet answers,
I knew what I wanted the answer to be:
Yes! I feel things deeply
and own a black beret.
When shown a half-eaten apple,
I picture original sin.
Poets do not see the world the same way that others do. But even here, ostensibly in her comfort zone, this poet admits to a certain uncertainty about her authenticity as the first line of the poem reveals. How interesting!
The final section, “The Ballad of Marc and Melissa,” contains poems about the poet’s courtship and marriage. This is the most personal and least universal selection of poems, and one might think it would be therefore the least successful. However, by this time, having read the forty poems preceding, readers should feel (as did I) that they are a part of the poet’s life, and such intimacy allows this section to be perhaps the most successful of all.
--Steven Wittenberg Gordon
The small and lovely collection "The Duties of a Cat" by Jenny Blackford" (Pitt Street Poetry, 2013, $15.00 pamphlet http://pittstreetpoetry.com/jenny-blackford/) contains a dozen beautiful cat poems perfectly accompanied by Michael Robson's illustrations. The poems capture the essence of house cats, living alongside us but never entirely tamed. The opening poem compares a lounging cat to a seal pup:
the eyes are wrong - not endless wells of tragic
black, but chips of blue-grey glacial ice.
The second poem, which is also the titular poem, describes seven duties of a cat, beginning with:
A cat must stand or walk on
every piece of paper on the floor.
The pawprints must be deep
and visible. Extra points for mud,
or if the work was due the next day.
I could continue through each of the twelve poems, celebrating turns of phrase or details, but will content myself by saying that I love these poems and particularly recommend them to any cat enthusiast. I read them on the sofa with both my cats draped on top of me.
--Mary Soon Lee
Editor’s Note: For those who would appreciate additional feline verse, Lee also highly recommends T. S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" and Henry Beard's "Poetry For Cats." Another lovely cat-themed poem by Carol Hamilton may be found in the Review here: http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2016/10/sometimes-sorrow-ends-in-golden-sunrise.html.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
F. J. Bergmann won both the Elgin Award and the Rhysling Award for her speculative poetry, and her chapbook "Constellation of the Dragonfly" (Plan B Press, 2008, available for $13 from Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Constellation-Dragonfly-F-J-Bergmann/dp/B001BFS4SS) contains excellent examples of her work in both science fiction and fantasy. Bergmann's wordplay is often clever--a cleverness which is showcased in the anagrammatic acrobatics of “Atonal Bisque.”
Being a lapsed mathematician, I particularly enjoy "i is for Imaginary," a poem that charmed me from its second line: "i peers over the windowsill of algebra." I am likewise beguiled by "Captivity" with its fugitive houses:
Houses escaped when they got the chance,
skidding along briskly on wooden runners,
skidding along briskly on wooden runners,
stalking sedately on scaly legs, floating on the foaming surge
of a rising tide, driven by the wind.
I love the whimsical idea of the opening poem, “Moonlighting,” and how “Astroculture” conveys situation and character so compactly, as well as the humorous yet affectionate angle on child-rearing in “First Contact” and the strangeness of “Angels Move into the House Next Door,” a poem that reminded me of Kathy Koja's superb short story, "Angels in Love." I derive disproportionate entertainment from the shortest poem, “New Physics” and enjoy the details of “Memento Mori.” However, my favorite poem in the collection is the delightful "Haute Cuisine with Elementary Particles," a poem that nods to Douglas Adams and plays with physics.
--Mary Soon Lee
--Mary Soon Lee
Editor's Note: F. J. Bergmann's poetry has been previously featured in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review (http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/search?q=bergmann).
Friday, November 25, 2016
Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that Marcia Epstein of Lawrence (Kansas) Hits Talk with ME recently interviewed Frequent Contributor John Reinhart. The interview covers poetry, fatherhood, and teaching in the course of a superb hour-long conversation https://www.mixcloud.com/LawrenceHits/2016-10-17-talk-with-me-poet-papa-teacher-john-reinhart/. The interview begins about 3 minutes and 20 seconds into the recording.
Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that Frequent Contributor Mary Soon Lee has recently had four poems published in other venues:
"Keng" is in the debut issue of Ligature Works at: http://www.ligatureworks.com/article/keng-mary-soon-lee/
"At the Sign of the Dragon" is in Uppagus #20 at: https://uppagus.com/poems/soon-lee-dragon/
"Messengers" is in Grievous Angel at: http://www.urbanfantasist.com/latest-sci-fi--fantasy-poetry--flash-fiction/new-poetry-some-poets-new-some-poets-old. Editor's Note: Also enjoy two poems by FC Lauren McBride in the same publication.
"For My Life" appeared in The Violet Hour Magazine http://www.violethourpress.com/the-violet-hour-magazine.
Poetry Nook interview: http://poetrynook.com/forum/interviews-poets/interview-mary-soon-lee-winner-poetry-nooks-92nd-and-84th-weekly-poetry
Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that our Editor, Steven Wittenberg Gordon, has had two of his poems published in Poetry Pacific http://poetrypacific.blogspot.com/2016/11/2-poems-by-steven-wittenberg-gordon.html.
An Explosion Occurred
Vanilla flowers and browning pages,
playing with the modern expression
of their moment… But
we are all fingers on the same hand,
one great life, nearing a state
of collapse! How odd,
that words in books
in a reader-less world,
symbols of a subjective dream
after the dreamers have departed.
I mention all this,
because a bus exploded,
with fiery debris
landing on cobblestone streets
outside an old library.
Poet's Notes: This poem provides a brief commentary on our sad global state of affairs and the alarming degeneration of humankind into division and prejudice, as epitomized by the spate of attacks on Europe and the sheer madness of radical Islam. The opening words reference the smell of old books. I came across an article that examined why old books have an appealing smell; with an accompanying infographic created by a British chemistry teacher, the article detailed the entire process of chemical degradation and the resulting effects: "Benzaldehyde adds an almond-like scent, vanillin smells of vanilla and ethyl hexanol has a 'slightly floral' scent" http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2647333/Why-old-books-smell-good-Infographic-reveals-complex-chemistry-comforting-scent-yellowed-pages.html.
I described old books and the "artful snow" of dusty shelves because I wanted to convey the worth and prestige and physicality of knowledge. We have come a long way as a species, as demonstrated by our ability to attain and preserve and expand upon the resource of knowledge. These are the stakes. There is a real possibility that we could obliterate ourselves as a species, through a series of escalating, retaliatory, and violent acts. Such a sudden end would invalidate our collective discoveries and progress.
The line "we are all fingers on the same hand" is indicative of my support for Gaia theory and it is also reflected in 1 Corinthians 12. The second stanza is intended to be a jolt, transitioning from poetic pondering to an almost newscast-style reporting of a recent attack.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
to be allowed to paint
with my words as pigment
thoughts as canvas
dreams as perspective
in a country that takes freedom
of expression for granted
and allows me to do so
without fear of imprisonment.
Thank you United States Constitution.
May you always be engraved in stone
immutable unless duly amended
and as did I when young and strong
may there always be those
who are willing to step forward
to defend you with their bodies
as I do now with my soul.
--Steven Wittenberg Gordon
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Hope and Despair
During storms rain puddled
Filling ditches, far off lakes
Leaving everyone muddled
Over why, for their sakes
No drops collected, cuddled
In their cracked palms after quakes
Poet's Notes: This one is sort of like a prequel to "Living Fountain," my poem previously published in June http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2016/06/living-fountain-by-sierra-july-frequent.html. People are waiting for water after a disaster and the rain is always passing them by to fall somewhere it isn't needed. It would be a completely tragic piece if not for knowing that the Living Fountain girl is likely on her way. All in all, it's a tale of hope in the face of despair, thus the title.
safety pins are for babies
the left pricked and Trumped
--Steven Wittenberg Gordon
Poet’s Notes: My funny bone was pricked as over my morning tea I perused an article in the Kansas City Star about one of the local schools banning teachers from wearing safety pins--the latest symbol for the poor losers of the recent election--as a political statement likely to cause angst and distraction amongst the student population. Where I’m from, safety pins are used primarily to close baby diapers--how ironic! More ironic still, safety pins are not terribly safe, at least for the people closing the pins. I have given many a tetanus shot to folks that fumbled the job and wound up with puncture wounds. Well, perhaps wearing safety pins will provide some closure for those who are unhappy with the election results--but I believe they are making the wrong point.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
my brain teeming
a new consciousness,
a new song
seize the sky
a new heaven,
a new earth
let the brain-eaters
open the way
Poet's Notes: Earwigs (the many species of which comprise the order Dermaptera) are among my favorite insects. There is a discredited folk belief that they crawl into people's ears and then eat their brains. What fun! In this poem, the destruction of the brain by earwigs is linked to radically expanded consciousness and the renewal of creation ("a new heaven, a new earth"). (Some may catch the reference to the Book of Revelation in the Bible.) Oh, how I adore earwigs!
Monday, November 21, 2016
The Popcorn Ceiling Astronomer
I am a popcorn ceiling astronomer.
My living room is a vista,
and slopes of sofa
become mountain ranges.
When you are young,
older people seem old.
With enough time passed,
youth seems like something
old to you...
But today I remember it,
Today I relive it.
Beware strange enemies!
When you're a kid,
every electrical outlet
looks like a face.
My grandson crawls with me,
to avoid detection.
Together we explore
this remortgaged majesty.
I sacrifice my knees
for the greater good.
This little boy leads
Poet's Notes: This poem underwent multiple revisions before settling into its current form. The poem began with the declaration: "I am a pillow fort architect!" I did not come up with that funny job title. I heard this quoted elsewhere and was immediately amused by what I interpreted to be a childlike sense of professionalism. I wrote that line down and then decided to expand upon this playfulness by directing an imaginative perspective towards ordinary things. I re-imagined furniture as epic scenery and electrical outlets as sentries with faces.
Next I tried to figure out the philosophy of the poem, because most of my poetry contains subtle or explicit pondering about the nature of existence. In the first draft, I focused on the theme of wonder, and in particular I tried to explore the relationship between wonder and truth. The perception of the living room as a mountainous vista is technically inaccurate, and yet this view contains a greater amount of wonder than the staid view that it is simply a residence with furniture. People think of wonder as a good quality, and they also prefer honesty to deception, so I liked the thought of forcing people to trip over this contradiction in their own values. Ultimately I deleted this philosophical stanza because it didn't feel right for the poem. It felt excessive and detracted from the childlike celebration.
I decided to give the poem a more personal quality. As someone in my late twenties, reconnecting with a childlike state of mind is certainly unusual and refreshing, but I thought that it would be even more powerful if the narrator were an old man, at the end of his life. And so I sketched out a scenario in which the narrator is actually playing with his grandson. I concluded that this character-based approach to the poem would emotionally resonate with the reader, and so I decided against being a social gadfly in this particular instance and I left the wonder/truth dynamic behind for a later work or different author.
A friend, in a completely different context, coined the title “popcorn ceiling astronomer”. We were trying to come up with the title for a book of humorous essays that I wrote, and I had mentioned that my book contains the type of thoughts that I think about while staring up at my popcorn ceiling. My friend condensed that idea into the title "Popcorn Ceiling Astronomer." I didn't use his title for my book of essays so I decided to re-purpose it here, for this poem.