Tag Archives: poetry

The Burning of the Leaves

Leaf BurningNow is the time for the burning of the leaves,
They go to the fire; the nostrils prick with smoke
Wandering slowly into the weeping mist.
Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!
A flame seizes the smouldering ruin, and bites
On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.
The last hollyhock’s fallen tower is dust:
All the spices of June are a bitter reek,
All the extravagant riches spent and mean.
All burns! the reddest rose is a ghost.
Spark whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild
Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.
Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before,
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there:
Let them go to the fire with never a look behind.
That world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.
They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.

~~ Laurence Binyon

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Praise Song for the Day

Elizabeth AlexanderPraise Song for the Day
written and recited
by Elizabeth Alexander
at Obama’s inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Washington DC Mall

Elizabeth Alexander’s poem to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama will be published as a commemorative book by Graywolf Press on Feb. 6. Alexander, who teaches at Yale University, read the poem immediately after Obama’s inaugural address Tuesday. The book will be titled “Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration.” Alexander is the fourth poet to compose a special poem for an inauguration, following Robert Frost, for John F. Kennedy, and Maya Angelou and Miller Williams, for Bill Clinton.

Scottish Rap

No Rabbie BurnsRap music originated in the medieval taverns of Scotland rather than the mean streets of the Bronx and Brooklyn, an American academic has claimed.

Professor Ferenc Szasz argued that so-called rap battles, where two or more performers trade elaborate insults, derive from the ancient Caledonian art of “flyting”.

According to the theory, Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap.

“The Scots have a lengthy tradition of flyting – intense verbal jousting, often laced with vulgarity, that is similar to the dozens that one finds among contemporary inner-city African-American youth.

“Both cultures accord high marks to satire. The skilled use of satire takes this verbal jousting to its ultimate level – one step short of a fist fight.”

Flyting is a contest of insults, often conducted in verse. The word has been adopted by social historians from Scots usage of the fifteenth and sixteenth century in which bards would engage in public verbal contests of high-flying, extravagant abuse structured in the form of a poetic joust; the classic written example is The Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie, which records a gloriously scurrilous contest between the poets Walter Kennedy and William Dunbar.

Echoes of the genre continue into modern poetry. Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, for example, has many passages of flyting in which the poet’s opponent is, in effect, the rest of humanity.

The academic, who specializes in American and Scottish culture at the University of New Mexico, made the link in a new study examining the historical context of Robert Burn’s work.

Comparing flyting and rap battles, he said: “Two people engage in ritual verbal duelling and the winner has the last word in the argument, with the loser falling conspicuously silent.”

Source: The Telegraph.

Image: From the book cover for No’ Rabbie Burns, by Stuart Macfarlane under the pen name, Stuart McLean.

The Impossibility of Translating Poetry

notebook of roses and civilizationWhen work took Erin Moure to Montreal for the first time in 1984, she admits that she could “barely cope” with the language.

Early last year, with poet/novelist/playwright Robert Majzels, she embarked on a French-to-English translation of Cahier de roses et de civilisation, a 2003 book by Nicole Brossard, one of Quebec’s most important poets. It took her and Majzels almost three months to complete the project, published last fall by Toronto’s Coach House Books as Notebook of Roses and Civilization.

The 88-page volume has gone on to be short-listed for the 2007 Governor-General’s Award for translation. And in April, it was one of three texts nominated for the Canadian side of the Griffin Prize.

Moure is hardly a stranger to Brossard’s work. Notebook of Roses and Civilization is the third Brossard translation she and Majzels have completed. Nor is Moure a stranger to writing poetry. She has been nominated for seemingly every Canadian poetry prize, including two nods, in 2002 and 2006, for the Griffin, and five for the Governor-General’s award, in a writing career spanning more than 30 years.

Translation is a fraught exercise, of course. As Moure notes, “Languages aren’t equivalent. The register even of the word ‘I’ and ‘je’ is so different. You think of these things as equivalent on a practical basis, from day to day … but day-to-day language is not as precise as the use of language in poetry.”

And in the case of Brossard’s work, there are “challenges because she has a kind of tone and register, on what we call the macro and micro level, that we have to maintain.” Plus, Brossard does things in French that are “syntactically strange that we have to find a way of doing in English as well.”

While Notebook of Roses and Civilization “is necessarily different from the book in French,” Moure stressed that she and her collaborator tried “to stick very, very closely to providing the same experience to a reader in English as a reader in French – inasmuch as that is possible because readers bring to texts their culture.”

Brossard, 65 this year, has won at least two Governor-General’s awards in French-language poetry. Yet her fierce rejection of conventions of grammar, punctuation, narrative and logic, of what’s been called “the natural speech lyric,” have made her a sort of “poet’s poet.”

For Moure, the fact that today’s so-called common reader often doesn’t “understand a lot of contemporary poetry at the get-go” is a quibble. “We don’t demand this of life itself. Find me someone who understands life. I’m 53, and I don’t understand it. I understand certain things; I have certain reference points. I get through the day and I love it – but something always happens to throw me for a loop.

Excerpted from James Adams, Globe and Mail, June 4, 2008

All Our Wonder Unavenged

All Our Wonder UnavengedDon Domanski was born and raised on Cape Breton Island and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His latest work, All Our Wonder Unavenged (Brick Books) recently won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.

He is a poet of the holiness of subtleties, a master of mindfulness and being. His writing is a form of osmosis, spirit seeping through the details of each poem, creating a marvel of metaphysics and language distilled to purest energy. Living in the moment here is synonymous with being the moment, a transformation that is stunning to inhabit.

The nature imagery is interlaced with references to Buddhism, Greek mythology, ancient civilizations and even witches. The poems don’t transcend the material world so much as find the spirit in what we can see, touch, and hear. Domanski asserts that the deity is in all things.

my mother believed God moved the sparrows around day after day
as a teenager I believed the sparrows moved God around
all the inexhaustible crutches He leaned upon
all the underweights of silence to find His way

now the only god I believe in are the sparrows themselves

Don Domanski was recently interviewed by CBC. Here are some excerpts.

CBC: Your work brings the inanimate to life. What draws you to blur the line between the animate and inanimate world?

It probably comes from childhood originally, children blur that line all the time, giving life to inanimate objects, to toys and dolls, because they can’t imagine it otherwise. What I’m doing is making my way to presence, and blurring that line helps to draw out the inherent presence in things. My definition of life is isness, its elementary stance and grace, therefore everything is alive, simply put being equals life. Now I know this isn’t the usual definition, but still it is an ancient one, not just among children, but among people from all cultures.

I’m an animist when it comes to how I interact with the physical world. Animism is the oldest religious/spiritual practice, the base experience out of which all the other ways of the sacred have grown. So I guess you could say I’m a traditionalist of a sort, a basic believer in first experiences, whether it’s cultural or ones from childhood. There’s a very deep truth there that strikes well below the thinking level, a connection richer than language, which can give words a more inclusive depth and reach.

CBC: What draws you to geology and palaeontology as subjects for your writing?

I’ve always been interested in the natural sciences, so it seems almost instinctive that geology and palaeontology should find their way into my work. I collected fossils for fourteen years, to try and get some sense of time, some understanding of the permutations of time on life. Of course in the end it’s time out of mind, it’s impossible to grasp what two hundred million years actually means. But there were moments in this hunt for time that shone forth with a particular light I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. For instance, finding the impressions of raindrops that were three hundred and fifty million years old. The rain falling on a completely different planet then we live on today. That gives a new perspective, a new appreciation of being.

I see no difference between poetry and spiritual practice

CBC Interview with Don Domanski

Brick Books

Prairie Fire Review of Books

The Fioretti of Saint Francis

Saint FrancisFioretti di San Francesco (The Little Flowers of Saint Francis) is a florilegium – a collection of excerpts – divided into 53 short chapters, on the life of the fabled saint, which was composed at the end of the 14th century.

The anonymous Italian text, almost certainly by a Tuscan author, is a version of the Latin Actus beati Francisci et sociorum eius, of which the earliest extant manuscript is one of 1390 A.D. The text has been ascribed to Fra. Ugolino da Santa Maria, whose name occurs three times in the Actus.

The text has been the most popular account of his life and relates many colorful anecdotes, miracles and pious examples from the lives of Francis and his followers.

It is said that one day while Francis was traveling with some companions they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds”. The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you…you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore… always seek to praise God.

Wolf of GubbioFioretti tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals”. Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis.

“Brother Wolf, thou doest much harm in these parts and thou hast done great evil…” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would make peace between you and the people.”

“As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil; but if I obtain all this for thee, thou must promise, on thy side, never again to attack any animal or any human being; dost thou make this promise?”

In agreement the wolf placed one of its forepaws in Francis’ outstretched hand, and the oath was made. Francis then commanded the wolf to return with him to Gubbio.

Meanwhile the townsfolk, having heard of the miracle, gathered in the city marketplace to await Francis and his companion, and were shocked to see the ferocious wolf behaving as though his pet. When Francis reached the marketplace he offered the assembled crowd an impromptu sermon with the tame wolf at his feet. He is quoted as saying: “How much we ought to dread the jaws of hell, if the jaws of so small an animal as a wolf can make a whole city tremble through fear?”

Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis, ever the lover of animals, even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again.

These legends exemplify the Franciscan mode of charity and poverty as well as the saint’s love of the natural world. Part of his appreciation of the environment is expressed in his Canticle of the Sun, a poem written by the saint in Umbrian Italian shortly before his death in 1226, which expresses a love and appreciation of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth, Brother Fire, and all of God’s creations personified in their fundamental forms. In Canticle of the Creatures, he wrote: “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.” His Canticle is believed to be among the first works of literature, if not the first, written in the Italian language.

It is an affirmation of Francis’ personal theology as he often referred to animals as brothers and sisters to Mankind, and rejected material accumulation and sensual comforts in favour of “Lady Poverty”.

Image: Saint Francis instructs the Wolf, Carl Weidemeyer-Worpswede, 1911

Starry Starry Night

Ten Thousand

Roo Borson, Ten Thousand
Image: Van Gogh, Starry Night Over the Rhone

In celebration of Earth Hour, 2008.

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