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CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (32): Linda Chown, “A Poem of How She Thought It Could Be” and other Poems

“Poems are like dreams: in them you put what you don’t know you know.” Adrienne Rich, Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations



A Poem of How She Thought It Could Be

they thought it could be simple

in the beginning there was an in and an out

stiff byways, like zippers where there are too many

as in the names of those writers there

on the desk where they are swimming in paper

(too much paper leeches nubile thought, she thought)

 

when fish die they say the salt sinks, into a pile

there is a woman here with books she says

she knows their names what they meant

to say with the zippers and all that salt.  Maybe

 

Simon and Hagar once ate anchovies in a corner

where they thought it could be simple

simply to hold hands maybe to touch and lick the salt

just to suck the taste in, there without the words

 

like the silent gasp of new pilots at take off

or the pop young birds make in small circles

round and round spring as the air begins to putt

and pulse with Virginia bloom and the world views of  Ellen Glasgow

© 2018, Linda E. Chown

McCarthy’s Girl

On looking how she was. Staring
always, as though there were
depths and hollows to see through
somehow all into. Something to stay with her
little girl hands twisting and then the warts.
She would always try to pull
The world into her fingers.
To play the sounds closer.
She was just oblivious
To her difference.

But behind, they knew her
for the witch they thought they knew she was,
Jude, Commie, sick-to-stick-out little girl,
Pale-wincer-in-the-sun with that heavy coat.
Cassie and Lassie, those twins,
they knew fast just what to do.
lasso a tip of her hanging braid
and soak it slow and silent in the
ink-well behind. Well, she just kept her still.
Her long eyelids shuddering in her quiet.
Little girl on the edges, locked inside in.
No Howdy Doody times, no way to say it.
She just fought to gaze hard to look straight
beyond the puppet land of the 1950s.
She had to come home to hide
behind the tv and the cooking.

All the time life opened up for her
savage saddle markings.

originally published in The BeZine, September 2018

© 2018, Linda E. Chown

Coming Back: Franco not here no more, 1988

I go blind from then I go
here now so into Franco-free light
where I don’t know
how to turn my eyes,
<em>spent scars of second skin</em>,
years of no and fury,
now the clean air breaking in
to be real in this to breathe it
all in and then to die in Madrid.
Tempt it not—I surely do not
Not too. No Franco and his cops
Nor his tiny stamps, unwritten laws
And truncheons at the ready.

I did not come here to die
but to be home here
where I can get lost again free
in a landscape of
words drifting oh words!
Hombre que te pasa
la Republica Zaragoza libertad.

Find the bridge, the path,
to cross over to some-
where the verdict words cannot.
Qué bonitas son
Son las flores
No, not just pretty. Knot not.

When I go blind,
“good I cannot see them”
(as the words once were cords
even to touch their fury)
The pain of sound.
Clackety clack.
Let the air out
of this flat tire.

I’m breaking in
to be real again—
the Guadarrama mountain range
splendid low about the horizon
white-scarred muses
women scarring Fascism.
Late afternoon glory with them in Madrid.
The air so pure it stings to settle.

originally published in The BeZine, September 2018

© 2018, Linda E. Chown

What they said

At the beginning of before.
Here it is: are we in the right
spindle bobbing away?
Are you a fable resting in the sun and wanting?
Tell me how your dreams are.
Tell me what you might mean to yourself in their fury,

Now, skirts forever in a night wind
Yesterday spins yellows around tomorrow
Whatever did your mother tell you about
late at night when you put your book down
on the bed and she came in soundless
with a tight face to sit in the dark with you
while you wheezed and you waited.
Violence in the coal mines.

They always told me
La Pasionaría was brave
no pasarán, she said. With her vision
she was defending Madrid’s mountains
they told me and I heard her when
she spoke with that spike of passion
indomitable: she said no pasarán
and in the foothills there were cheers all dressed in black.

Your father I learned took a gun with him
there at the beginning of before
to protect himself at midnight
on the picket lines in the dark
to protect himself from hit men
who hated his vision out west
in the fog in those long flat parking lots .

Low in his left cheek a muscle quivered
within, at the end of a smile that wasn’t.
He took a gun and she went kitten silent on your bed.
The quiet of her heavy sitting
at the beginning of before
reminds me of an old dream,
her telling you of crossing the street
because of the scar on her skin
because she wanted to hide it from all eyes

Was this a mingled message
to fight with all the passion the rains pour
or to scurry away from feeling?
To hold the front line or to flee into a hole?
Camus who believed in solitude as his struggle
And Aragon whose masses were transcendental
Tell, tell me more please before the end is over.

Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, aka “La Pasionaria,” a Spanish Republican leader of the Spanish Civil War

originially published in The BeZine, September 2018

© 2018, Linda E. Chown

LInda E. Chown

LINDA E. CHOWN grew up in Berkeley, Ca. in the days of action. Civil Rights arrests at Sheraton Palace and Auto Row.  BA UC Berkeley Intellectual History; MA Creative Writing SFSU; PHd Comparative Literature University of Washington. Four books of poetry. Many poems published on line at Numero Cinq, Empty Mirror, The Bezine, Dura, Poet Head and others. Many articles on Oliver Sachs, Doris Lessing, Virginia Woolf, and many others. Twenty years in Spain with friends who lived through the worst of Franco. I was in Spain (Granada, Conil and Cádiz) during Franco’s rule, there the day of his death when people took to the streets in celebration. Interviewed nine major Spanish Women Novelists, including Ana María Matute and Carmen Laforet and Carmen Martín Gaite.

 


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Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”



 The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“What if our religion was each other. If our practice was our life. If prayer, our words. What if the temple was the Earth. If forests were our church. If holy water–the rivers, lakes, and ocean. What if meditation was our relationships. If the teacher was life. If wisdom was self-knowledge. If love was the center of our being.” Ganga White, teacher and exponent of Yoga and founder of White Lotus, a Yoga center and retreat house in Santa Barbara, CA

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

Celebrating American She-Poets (31): Tracy K. Smith, “Like a woman journeying for water …”

Tracy K. Smith (b. 1977), Pulitzer Prize winning poet and new U.S. Poet Laureate

“When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.”  Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars


On Wednesday Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced the appointment of Tracy K. Smith as the Library’s 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2017-2018. Smith will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season in September with a reading of her work in the Coolidge Auditorium.

Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and a professor at Princeton University, succeeds Juan Felipe Herrera as Poet Laureate.

“It gives me great pleasure to appoint Tracy K. Smith, a poet of searching,” Hayden said.

“Her work travels the world and takes on its voices; brings history and memory to life; calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion and pop culture. With directness and deftness, she contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths—all to better understand what makes us most human.”

“I am profoundly honored,” Smith said. “As someone who has been sustained by poems and poets, I understand the powerful and necessary role poetry can play in sustaining a rich inner life and fostering a mindful, empathic and resourceful culture. I am eager to share the good news of poetry with readers and future readers across this marvelously diverse country.”

Smith joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Juan Felipe Herrera, Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass and Rita Dove.

The new Poet Laureate is the author of three books of poetry, including Life on Mars (2011), winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; “Duende” (2007), winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award and the 2008 Essence Literary Award; and The Body’s Question (2003), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith is also the author of a memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in nonfiction and selected as a notable book by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

For her poetry, Smith has received a Rona Jaffe Writers Award and a Whiting Award. In 2014, the Academy of American Poets awarded her with the Academy Fellowship, given to one poet each year to recognize distinguished poetic achievement. In 2016, she won the 16th annual Robert Creeley Award and was awarded Columbia University’s Medal for Excellence.

In the Pulitzer Prize citation for Life on Mars, judges lauded its “bold, skillful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain.” Toi Derricotte, poet and Academy of American Poets chancellor, said “the surfaces of a Tracy K. Smith poem are beautiful and serene, but underneath, there is always a sense of an unknown vastness. Her poems take the risk of inviting us to imagine, as the poet does, what it is to travel in another person’s shoes.”

Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1972, and raised in Fairfield, California, Tracy K. Smith earned a B.A. in English and American literature and Afro-American studies from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999, she was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. Smith has taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, at the University of Pittsburgh and at Columbia University. She is currently the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities and director of the creative writing program at Princeton University.


Background of the Laureateship

The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1937, when Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library. Since then, many of the nation’s most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 (Dec. 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry—a position which the law states “is equivalent to that of Poet Laureate of the United States.”

During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, who opens the literary season in the fall and closes it in the spring. In recent years, Laureates have initiated poetry projects that broaden the audiences for poetry.


The Great Hall of the U.S. Library of Congress. Public domain photo.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov, and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.


This feature courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress; photo credit slowking4 under GNU Free Documentaton License 2.0

CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (29): Emma Lazarus and Liberty Lighting the World … “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Emma Lazarus, 1849 - 1887
Emma Lazarus, 1849 – 1887

In a letter to Emma Lazarus about Alide, an episode of Goethe’s Life. the Russian novelist Turgenev wrote  “An author who writes as you do is not a pupil in art anymore; he is not far from being himself a master.”

 “Emma Lazarus is a new name to us in American poetry, but ‘Admetus’ is not the work of a ‘prentice-hand’; few recent volumes of verse compare favorably with the spirit and musical expression of these genuine effusions of Emma Lazarus.” The Boston Transcript, c 1871

“What Emma Lazarus might have accomplished, had she been spared, it is idle and even ungrateful to speculate. What she did accomplish has real and peculiar significance. It is the privilege of a favored few that every fact and circumstance of their individuality shall add lustre and value to what they achieve. To be born a Jewess was a distinction to Emma Lazarus, and she in turn conferred distinction upon her race.” Josephine Lazarus, Emma’s elder sister who gather her poems together and published them in two volumes, The Poems of Emma Lazarus, 1881

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” Emma Lazarus

EMMA LAZARUS, poet, writer and activist, was by all accounts shy and she died at thirty-nine years, much too young. Nonetheless she accomplished a lot in addition to that for which she is most well-known, The New Colossus, the sonnet that is on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World) in New York Harbor, having been installed there in 1903.

Unveiling of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World (1886) by Edward Moran. Oil on canvas. The J. Clarence Davies Collection, Museum of the City of New York.
Unveiling of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World (1886) by Edward Moran. Oil on canvas. The J. Clarence Davies Collection, Museum of the City of New York.

“The copper statue, designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor, was built by Gustave Eiffel and dedicated on October 28, 1886. It was a gift to the United States from the people of France. The statue is of a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess, who bears a torch and a ]a tablet evoking the law upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. A broken chain lies at her feet. The statue is an icon of freedom and of the United States, and was a welcoming sight to immigrants arriving from abroad.” [Wikipedia]

In fact Lady Liberty greeted my own father and maternal grandparents and their children as they entered the harbor just as she probably did for the families of those reading here today. Their children and grandchildren learned the poem by heart in school. I suspect the majority of us took the ideals expressed as our own.

The bronze plaque inscribed with Emma Lazarus' poem, The New Colassus.
The bronze plaque inscribed with Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus.

A hymn to America, the “Mother of Exiles,” The New Colossus, was written to raise money for the construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty.

The New Colossus – 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

– Emma Lazarus

Emma came from a large Sephardic-Ashkenazi family, the father’s side from Germany and the mother’s side from Portugal. Her maternal great-grandmother was also a poet.  Emma’s first book of poems was published by her father when she was fourteen and apparently showed much promise. She continued to write poetry and eventually wrote a five-act play, a novel and a short-story as well.  She was a linguist, editing and translating works from the German, notably those of Goethe and Heinrich Heine. She wrote fourteen essays entitled Letters to the Hebrews. She was a forerunner in advocating a Jewish homeland, predating Theodore Herzi. She was friends with and an admirer of the American political economist, Henry George, who was instrumental in the birth of several reform movements of the Progressive Era. Essentially, George believed that workers should own the value of what they create, while the land should be held in common. Ralph Waldo Emerson was both friend and mentor.

Emma Lazarus received many posthumous awards. The Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award is sponsored by the American Jewish Historical Society (New York and Massachusetts) and P.S. 268 in Brooklyn is named for her.

Life and Art

Not while the fever of the blood is strong,
The heart throbs loud, the eyes are veiled, no less
With passion than with tears, the Muse shall bless
The poet-sould to help and soothe with song.
Not then she bids his trembling lips express
The aching gladness, the voluptuous pain.
Life is his poem then; flesh, sense, and brain
One full-stringed lyre attuned to happiness.
But when the dream is done, the pulses fail,
The day’s illusion, with the day’s sun set,
He, lonely in the twilight, sees the pale
Divine Consoler, featured like Regret,
Enter and clasp his hand and kiss his brow.
Then his lips ope to sing–as mine do now.

– Emma Lazarus

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CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (28): Emily Dickinson … to find that phosphorescence, that light within

Emily Dickinson at sixteen years o age
Emily Dickinson at sixteen years, 1846

“PHOSPHORESCENCE. Now there’s a word to lift your hat to… to find that phosphorescence, that light within, that’s the genius behind poetry.” Emily Dickinson

41rt1zipr5l-_sx319_bo1204203200_Emily Dickinson was famously reclusive and wrote 1,775 poems, few of which were published during her lifetime. When her opus was finally published posthumously, it wasn’t well received. Today, however, she is considered one of the most significant of American poets. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson is my favorite collection. The poems are organized chronologically, allowing us to see her development from teen years into the darker poetry of her maturity.

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

– Emily Dickinson

Apart from reading Emily Dickinson’s poetry, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate her and her work then to see William Luce’s one-woman play, The Belle of Amherst, starring Julie Harris.  It’s available to watch on YouTube and it’s a must if you are a lover of poetry and theatre and looking for some budget-wise charm this coming weekend. Order dinner in, set out the candles and wine … and Enjoy!

The play follows Emily Dickinson at the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts. It incorporates Dickinson’s work, diaries, and letters in a reenactment of her life with her relatives, friends and acquaintances. It’s engaging and often wry … as is the poet herself.

The original Broadway production, directed by Charles Nelson Reilly and starring Julie Harris, opened on April 28, 1976 at the Longacre Theatre. It ran for 116 performances. A Wall Street Journal reviewer wrote . . .

“With her technical ability and her emotional range, Miss Harris can convey profound inner turmoil at the same time that she displays irrepressible gaiety of spirit.”

Harris won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for a Unique Theatrical Experience, and won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording. She appeared in a televised PBS production and toured the country with the play for a number of years. [sources: Wikipedia and NY Times]

Luce and Harris collaborated on other wonderful plays including Bronté.  A broadway playwright, Luce also wrote Barrymore, which with family I was fortunate enough to see on stage starring Christopher Plummer many years ago. That was a bit of heaven.  Luce wrote Lucifer’s Child based on the writing of Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Lillian about Lillian Hellman and Zelda, which became The Last Flapperabout Zelda Fitzgerald. If script writing is one of your interests, you could probably do worse than reading a few of  Luce’s plays.

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The recommended read for this week is Robert Pinsky’s Singing School, Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry. No rules or recipes here just learning by studying the pros. Charming. Fun.

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