Day 15 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: “Stone,” by Charles Simic

Photo by Michelle Blankenship

Well, I finally got a bit of  outside reading done, though I had to try several takes from multiple spots, due to background noise.  I abandoned one reading done from the balcony of a local restaurant, simply because I didn’t like the inflections of my voice. While listening in the car afterward I decided that I hadn’t read the poem right. So I’ll save May Swenson for another day.

In the end, I came back to this poem, by Charles Simic, which I had memorized last week. I frankly am no good at memorizing my own poems. Why? Possibly because they go through so many drafts and re-writes and fits of editing that I am never sure which is the version I most recently decided was the best. With the poems of others I only know one version, and so it’s easier. Therefore, I try meticulously to get each word right, out of respect for the poet, when I attempt to recite one from memory.

Charles Simic was poet Laureate of the U.S. five years ago, and as the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, “He handles language with the skill of a master craftsman, yet his poems are easily accessible, often meditative and surprising.” I recently read an article called Age of Ignorance by this poet in the New York Review of Books blog, which is well worth reading. You might also be interested in his Confessions of a Poet Laureate.

So on this 15th day of National Poetry Month, I give read the work of the 15th Poet Laureate of the United States, a poem first published the year I was born. And if you think I arranged all of this on purpose, you give me way too much credit. I just thought the kismet was too much not to mention it. You can check out Simic’s own reading of this poem here (video narrated by Garrison Keillor), and judge whether the video below does his work justice. I think the tumbnail for the video looks hysterically dramatic.

 

Stone 

Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

Charles Simic, from What the Grass Says. (Harcourt Inc., 1967)

The Ides of Poetry Month, and Coaching from Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, here we are day 15 of National Poetry Month here in these States Untied (no matter how I say it, it sounds like such a misnomer these days), and I still have not decided what poem I am going to read for you today. Ah well, this is not too unusual, but I still have house cleaning to do and at least one major errand to run, so this won’t be until later. I was again planning the outdoor reading, but that big yellow ball in the sky keeps doing his duck and run tricks. So we shall see.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some wise words from one of my heroes, Mr. Leonard Cohen. I first heard this prose poem of his earlier this week on PoetArt’s blog, and it fit nicely with some recent discussions I’ve had about just how to read. Sometimes I’ve found my readings too laced with emotion, while others thought it was too serious. I think Cohen gives a great perspective on the whole thing. I think I found something close to the complete text of the poem on Facebook which you can read here, but I recommend the first time just closing your eyes and letting his amazing voice do its voodoo on you.

My 15th reading will come, I promise, later this evening. Possibly it will be Charles Simic or Robert Lowell. For now, I turn the DadPoet stage over to one of the masters.

For more advice from Leonard, read this thoughtful interview that never really happened. She has her sources well documented though, and it was a delight to read.