You got trouble in mind? Are you blue? Well, you won’t be blue always. Gonna keep this one simple, because maybe you need a little uplift like I did tonight.
As I was heading home from the job I have to do, looking forward to some rest before going to the job I love to do, I was getting some uplift from this song coming over the speakers in my car. God, Nina Simone’s voice affects me like nobody else’s.
In many ways my life is better than it’s ever been, but there are some real struggles going on too. Nina helps me get a bit of it out and she reminds me the future’s bright with that sun shining “in my back door some day.”
We’re due for another Thursday Love poem feature, and so in the spirit of “Thursday,” a sort-of love poem by one of my poetic heroines, Edna St. Vincent Millay, I give you a piece from another New York mistress of words and wit, Dorothy Parker.
If you’re not familiar with the Thursday Love Poem feature, just go ahead and enjoy the poem below first, but then go back and click on that Thursday link in the first line of this post in order to get the original poem that inspired this irreverent tribute to love.
Like Vincent (as Millay liked to be called), Parker was both a poet and a social activist in the 1920’s New York literary scene. They were quite progressive ladies, though their poetry did not go the way of the Modernists, into ideas and abstractions, in the mid 30’s.
A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet–
One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret;
“My fragile leaves,” it said, “his heart enclose.”
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.
I have to avoid the comment sections lately (see word to the wise below), but these last ten days of US news have been very disturbing to say the least. Not too far in the past one of my own sons was questioned by police officers while he and his friends stood on a curb debating which house was the house of their mutual friend. Nobody had the guts to just go knock and find out. You know, kids can be socially awkward. And oddly enough, nobody had a cell phone on them at the time. They were however wearing hoodies, and the awkward teens looked suspicious to a lady who owned the car they were standing near.
I’m sorry to say that the thing that probably saved them from too much trouble was they all were white. Had they been black boys in hoodies in the Trayvon Martin days, in our tiny town in Central PA, a community with very few black residents, I am certain it would be a different story.
Did Michael Brown rob a store? Video evidence seems inconclusive. Did officer Darren Wilson know about the robbery before he stopped Brown and his friend? Reports vary. Was Wilson Assaulted? Evidence so far seems to say yes. Witness accounts conflict with each other. But since when were Swisher Sweets worth a man’s life? Did anyone see a gun in that store surveillance video? Brown was unarmed, and even if he did physically go after the officer . . . six bullets pumped into him? Really? How many bullets does it take to stop an unarmed 18-year-old?
Of course the problem is much bigger. Statistics seem inconsistent, but USA Today reports that between 2007 and 2012 police have killed two black men per week in this country. And let’s not forget stop-and-frisk policies that target minorities. Fortunately I don’t need to teach my sons extra tips on how to act when approached by authorities.
Is rioting and looting and violence a proper response? Of course not. But if you want to incite a riot it seems the best thing to do is dress up in riot gear.
Okay, enough from me. Let’s hear from a better poet. I shared this poem as part of my MLK Day post back in January, but it’s been on my mind all week. Sterling A. Brown first published this piece in 1936. How much have things changed?
Let us forgive Ty Kendricks.
The place was Darktown. He was young.
His nerves were jittery. The day was hot.
The Negro ran out of the alley.
And so Ty shot.
Let us understand Ty Kendricks.
The Negro must have been dangerous.
Because he ran;
And here was a rookie with a chance
To prove himself a man.
Let us condone Ty Kendricks
If we cannot decorate.
When he found what the Negro was running for,
It was too late;
And all we can say for the Negro is
It was unfortunate.
Let us pity Ty Kendricks.
He has been through enough,
Standing there, his big gun smoking,
Having to hear the wenches wail
And the dying Negro moan.
by Sterling BrownPartisan Review, 3 (October, 1936), p. 220-21.
Published in the Collected Works of Sterling Brown in 1980.
Word to the Wise: If you plan on leaving argumentative comments on this post I assure you I will delete them. Discussion is fine, encouraged even, but ultimately I’m the author and editor of this blog and while your constitutional right to free speech protects you from governmental intervention, it doesn’t allow you to say whatever you want wherever you want. It doesn’t protect you from the consequences of being a hateful jerk, nor does it protect you from me in the comment section.
Oops! I just noticed as I looked two posts back that I had promised to share the poems we went over at the last Cross Keys Poetry Society gathering, and already the next one is upon us tomorrow night. So I’ll be brief and just share a few notes that I sent out to the group as a review and to catch up a couple people who couldn’t be there. In this version I give all the links I can. I hope you enjoy exploring!
So here is what we’ve done and what’s coming up:Next Meeting is this Tuesday, August 19th (Always on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays)Reading:Last time we finished up the sections on Sound and Sound Devices.For this week if you haven’t yet please take a look at her chapter on The Line, pages 35-57.If the metrical stuff seems overwhelming, don’t worry, we’ll talk through it on Tuesday and have some fun with it.Exercises:Prior to last meeting we had each made our private lists of 25 (or up to 50) words that we like, especially based on their sound.If you haven’t yet, there is still time. Choose words particularly if you associate their sound with their meaning.We didn’t share those lists yet, but I asked you, keeping in mind Oliver’s section on imitation, to use as many of your words as possible to write a short piece in a style or form similar to one of the many poems we’ve read so far.If you missed last time we read (If you don’t have the handouts, most of them I think can be found online):
- “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” (In the book, be sure to read Oliver’s analysis of the sounds and how they work on the reader/listener for this poem) by Robert Frost
- “Eating Poetry,” by Mark Strand
- “The Bean Eaters,” by Gwendolyn Brooks
- “Advice to My Son,” by Peter Meinke
- A poem I love by our own Sharlene Gilman, but unfortunately I cannot remember the title. :)
- “Where Poetry Exists,” by Brian FanelliAnd I passed out copies of two rhyming “nonsense” poems, though we didn’t get to read them together yet. Feel free to use them in the imitation exercise.
- “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carol
- and “Counting Out Rhyme,” (which you might already have a copy of from our first meeting) by Edna St. Vincent MillayHave fun! And I hope to see you this Tuesday. If you know of any friends who might enjoy reading and experimenting with poetry, please invite them to come along.
The challenge I’ve been facing this week is to make a study of metrics a fun evening for adults of various experience levels. I’ve found only a few somewhat helpful guides online to supplement Mary Oliver’s. If you have any suggestions, please mention them in the comments!
I did not include the following videos in the Cross Keys meeting, but I can be more self-indulgent here on my blog and share with you a couple of readings from four years back when I was really starting to record poems on YouTube with full-force enthusiasm. The “Bean Eaters,” by Gwendolyn Brooks really should be re-recorded with a better microphone, but I’ve had some good comments on it, and it does show up on page one of google search for the piece, so I think I’ll leave it for posterity. The recording of Meinke’s “Advice to My Son” is of much better quality. Thanks for indulging me.
A day late for a Saturday song, but what’s the point of letting the calendar rule us, right?
I’m heading to Philadelphia in just a while to see Tori Amos in concert for the second time. I’ve had a few boyfriends who really loved her music, but Brian took the time to introduce me to her in-depth a few years back, and no, one does not have to be an angst ridden teen to adore her.
Her songs have always been moving, quietly sometimes, and powerfully others. I think I really fell in love with her on Scarlet’s Walk, 2002. I don’t know what it is about the song “Wednesday,” but I think that’s when I fully signed on to the Tori tour. And she’s only gotten more gorgeous with age, along with her music and lyrics.
Tuesday night at Cross Keys we were talking about the relationship between the cousins of song lyrics and poetry. And while I’ve heard Tori herself stress the differences (sorry, I cannot find the exact quote, but this link from NY Times is interesting), there is something about her lyrics that is so poetic that I often think they would fly on their own power, unlike many songs we love, without the wings of their music.
Here she is having a little fun with some serious issues–this culture’s history of oppression against women, stereotypes regarding gay men, assumptions about power. She personifies not just Satan, but Trouble herself, and sets about spritely stirring up a pot of it. Enjoy.
And I thought I’d mention this to you, see if you want to try it. It’s an exercise I’ve freely adapted from The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes, poet and author of Under the Tuscan Sun. We are following along in Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. She’s talking about sound, and how the sounds of words are intricately connected to their meaning, whether by design or just association. It goes beyond that “bang” of automonapia. She uses the example of how “hush” differs from “please be quiet,” or “shut up.”
The suggestion (I hate to use the word assignment) was to write down about 50 words, favorite words, but favorites that you prize for the way they sound, particularly if their sound links to their meaning for you. That’s it, the first “assignment.”
But after this Tuesday when we talk a bit about practice and imitation, about the way art students will sit before great paintings to copy them, to study, to learn, we will suggest this: Take one of the poems we’ve talked about, one that resonates with you, and write a piece that mimics the style or form of that poem. Do this using your list of fifty favorite words.
Give it a try. I’ll post more links to the poems we’ll be reading Tuesday, so you can have the whole list of what we’ve read so far.