Puget Sound English Department

April 6, 2011

There are months, and then there are months

If April is, as Eliot famously notes, “the cruelest month,” it is also, perhaps in compensation for nature’s vagaries, National Poetry month. Today, local NPR affiliate KUOW featured conversation about poetry with former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins and local poet Elizabeth Austen. It’s well worth a listen, especially their discussion of ambiguity as the thing that frustrates novice readers but provides the richness and complexity that characterize mature poetry and reward careful scrutiny; Austen pointed out that excessive emotional “clarity” is the hallmark not of poetry, but of sentimentalism.

In other poetic news, local poet and teacher Josie Emmons Turner will be inaugurated as Tacoma’s next Poet Laureate in a free public ceremony and reading on April 28, 2011, from 7-8:30 p.m. at Bellaballs, 747 S. Fawcett St., Tacoma.

Emmons Turner’s two-year term follows those of William Kupinse, Antonio Edwards Jr., and Tammy Robacker. More information on the Poet Laureate program can be found at TacomaCulture.


April 29, 2010

National Poetry Month: Final Days

Filed under: Literature,Uncategorized — ATH @ 1:42 pm
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From Professor Lydia Fisher, on leave with her newborn, comes another e.e. cummings selection (what can we say? there’s just something about cummings, and spring, and April, and love, and babies….)

Professor Fisher says of her selection: “I never get tired of reading this poem. Its nursery rhyme rhythm and diction make it infinitely interesting in its layered meanings, and instinctively appealing to me.
And it’s about true love that outlasts death, glowing brilliantly in the hearts of two undervalued individuals, while the mindless masses go on with the productive, spiritless life of the crowd in a terrifyingly ‘pretty’ town.
It’s both cynical and shamelessly romantic. What more could you ask for?”

“anyone lived in a pretty how town” by e. e. cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

April 14, 2010

National Poetry Month: “The God Who Loves You”

Filed under: Creative Writing,Literature — ATH @ 10:49 pm
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For those of you just tuning in, in honor of National Poetry Month, we’ve asked members of our department community–faculty, students, alums, and others–to share with us a favorite poem. If you’d like to help us celebrate the role of poetry in our lives, please send an email to ajtracy@pugetsound.edu with the following information: 1) Author; 2) Title; 3) A short excerpt; 4) A brief (1-2 sentences) comment on why you find this poem meaningful and/or worthy of our attention.

Professor Priti Joshi writes of Carl Dennis’s “The God Who Loves You”: “I relish this poem for its “what if” stance, its mocking tenderness, and its gentle insistence on authorizing one’s life. I love the poem’s humor, but more its compassion about human frailty.”

The God Who Loves You

by Carl Dennis

It must be troubling for the god who loves you

To ponder how much happier you’d be today

Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.

It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings

Driving home from the office, content with your week-

Three fine houses sold to deserving families-

Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened

Had you gone to your second choice for college,

Knowing the roommate you’d have been allotted

Whose ardent opinions on painting and music

Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.

A life thirty points above the life you’re living

On any scale of satisfaction. And every point

A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.

You don’t want that, a large-souled man like you

Who tries to withhold from your wife the day’s disappointments

So she can save her empathy for the children.

And would you want this god to compare your wife

With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?

It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation

You’d have enjoyed over there higher in insight

Than the conversation you’re used to.

And think how this loving god would feel

Knowing that the man next in line for your wife

Would have pleased her more than you ever will

Even on your best days, when you really try.

Can you sleep at night believing a god like that

Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives

You’re spared by ignorance? The difference between what is

And what could have been will remain alive for him

Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill

Running out in the snow for the morning paper,

Losing eleven years that the god who loves you

Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene

Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him

No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend

No closer than the actual friend you made at college,

The one you haven’t written in months. Sit down tonight

And write him about the life you can talk about

With a claim to authority, the life you’ve witnessed,

Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.


National Poetry Month: Something Completely Different

Filed under: Creative Writing,Literature — ATH @ 4:21 pm
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Ordinarily, spring is associated with images of joy, rebirth, and celebration. Professor and author Bev Conner, however, has chosen a powerful reminder that beauty can be found in unexpected ways and places. I think I need to own a copy of this one.

Bev says of her selection: “A few years ago, I heard Alberto Rios read from his volume of poetry The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2002), poems set in a town that straddles the American/Mexican border. Among the poems that have stayed with me ever since, for good or for ill, is his unsparingly unsentimental “Rabbits and Fire.” As writers we’re constantly reminded to show more than we tell, that facts—specific and vivid—make the case, as Rios does here, reminding us that there is much of nature we would rather not face, like the animals every year that are caught in wildfires.”

Everything’s been said
But one last thing about the desert,
And it’s awful: During brush fires in the Sonoran desert . . .
Jackrabbits can get caught in the flames,
No matter how fast and big and strong and sleek they are . . .
And their fur catches fire.
Of course, they run away from the flame,
Finding movement even when there is none to be found,
Jumping big and high over the wave of fire, or backing
Even harder through the impenetrable
Tangle of hardened saguaro
And prickly pear and cholla and barrel . . .
They don’t know they’re on fire at first,
Running so fast . . .
But then the rabbits tire
And the fire catches up,
Stuck onto them like the needles of the cactus,
Which at first must be what they think they feel on their skins . . .
And of course, they ignite the brush and dried weeds
All over again, making more fire, all around them.
I’m sorry for the rabbits.
And I’m sorry for us
To know this.

Just in Time for Spring

As part of our ongoing celebration of National Poetry Month, Professor (and noted poet) Hans Ostrom reminds us that

e.e. cummings’ poem, “in Just-“ still seems exceptionally well suited to the first bright days of Spring. Some parts of may seem a bit dated, such as the references to hop-scotch, jump-rope, and playing marbles (for example), but the exuberance of the language holds up well, and “mud-luscious” seems especially pertinent to the lawns at UPS.
[N.B. Professor Ostrom’s careful and time-consuming reconstruction of the poem’s unique spacing is not, unfortunately, surviving the “wordpress” formatting template. While your webmasters confer, here’s a link to a formatted version (scroll down; it’s the 4th or 5th poem on the page)].

in Just-

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
balloonMan whistles
e.e. cummings

April 6, 2010

Louise Glück, “Vespers”

Professor Alison Tracy Hale says, “I could pick any one of many of Louise Glück’s (b. 1943; U.S. Poet Laureate 2003) poems; I love how they move almost imperceptibly from the prosaic to the poetic, in ways that suggest simultaneously the distance between–and the proximity of–the two realms. Just for today, I chose ‘Vespers’ because it addresses the unyielding and not always beneficent presence of divinity, and because it ends with a fierce assertion, nonetheless, of human responsibility.”

… All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.
(You can find the whole poem here at Poets.org)

Charles Bukowski, “For Jane: With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough”

Current student Rachel Fairchild offers up this poem with her comment:

“This is absolutely one of my all-time favorite poems.  It’s written by Charles Bukowski (August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) about his first love, Jane Cooney Baker, who died in 1962. It’s one of many poems in which Jane is mentioned, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more painfully honest and accurate representation about losing someone you love.  One of my favorite ideas woven into this poem is the digression of Bukowski’s faith in God now that Jane is dead.  It starts with Bukowski calling God a “liar” (presumably Christian God, as Bukowski was raised Roman Catholic), to Bukowski calling out to “all gods, Jewish gods, Christ-gods, chips of blinking things, idols, pills, bread” etc… Enjoy.”

For Jane: With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough
I pick up the skirt,
I pick up the sparkling beads
in black,
this thing that moved once
around flesh,
and I call God a liar,
I say anything that moved
like that
or knew
my name
could never die
in the common verity of dying,
and I pick
up her lovely
all her loveliness gone,
and I speak to all the gods,
Jewish gods, Christ-gods,
chips of blinking things,
idols, pills, bread,
fathoms, risks,
knowledgeable surrender,
rats in the gravy of two gone quite mad
without a chance,
hummingbird knowledge, hummingbird chance,
I lean upon this,
I lean on all of this
and I know
her dress upon my arm
they will not
give her back to me.

In Honor of Poetry Month: Participation!

In honor of National Poetry Month, and in order to celebrate the power of language, we’ll be featuring some snippets from favorite poems of members (current, past, and vicarious) of the department, along with their brief statements of why they chose this work or author, and why the work is meaningful to them or worthy of your attention. These suggestions can be personal, idiosyncratic, iconoclastic. Original work is highly encourage, and your diligent webmasters will try to feature all that we receive. If you’d like to contribute something, please email the following information to ajtracy@pugetsound.edu:
1. The poem’s title
2. The poem’s author (publication information, where relevant, is appreciated)
3. A brief excerpt that can be included without bringing down the wrath of various publishers and copyright attorneys
4. 1-2 sentences about why you chose this work or selection–anything from its place in your own development as a reader and writer, to a personal memory it evokes, or the sentiment in conveys.

April 4, 2010

National Poetry Month

Snow on Lilacs

Snow on Lilacs

April may or may not be “the cruelest month,” but it is National Poetry Month. Inaugurated in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, the designation serves to “celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.” In honor of National Poetry Month, then, we offer you the following link to a collection of “Poems for April” from the Electronic Poetry Center, as well as a cool hypertext site for T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), which is, of course, the source of that “cruelest month” crack at the beginning of this post. The site integrates Eliot’s own notes on the poem alongside the text, and includes as well commentary from other scholarly sources. And finally, on a less serious note, a link to the website PoemHunter.Com, where you can search for poems about April, poets named April, quotations including April, etc., etc., etc.