One Perfect Thursday Love Poem, with Dorothy Parker

quotes-oh-life-is-a-glorious_5971-0We’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.

The Dorothy Parker Society has created a great little website dedicated to her and you should check it out. They even have a pretty hefty audio archive of Dorothy’s readings, including today’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.

Sterling Brown Speaks 76 Years Later–Ferguson, No Isolated Case

quote-the-sincere-sensitive-artist-willing-to-go-beneath-the-cliches-of-popular-belief-to-get-at-an-sterling-brown-325378I 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?

Southern Cop

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,
Rabbit-scared, alone.
Having to hear the wenches wail
And the dying Negro moan.

by Sterling Brown

Partisan 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.

Fun with Metrics? I Certainly Hope So

10380318_700248176706148_3589674976662403112_nOops! 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)
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.
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):
And 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 Millay
Have 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.


“Trouble Needs a Home,” by Tori Amos

Meet and greet Tori Amos, held before the conc...

Tori Amos, before a concert in Berlin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Poetry Exercises: Words, Sounds and Imitation

51BMg+piBgLI have been posting about the new poetry group that we’ve started at the local library where I find myself so happily employed. Please click back to the last couple posts for a lot more info.

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.


So I told you about the new Cross Keys Poetry Society at the library where I work here in my tiny town of Northumberland, Pennsylvania. Click here for part 1 of the story (It’s pretty short, and worth it for the background). I want to post updates about the progress and activities of this part-workshop-part-reading-group here on The Dad Poet for two reasons.

1. I want to have a convenient place for our members, and neighbors to see what we are up to, or what they may have missed.

2. I want to inspire you to do this for yourself in your own community, whether it be at a library, a coffee shop or in your living room or back patio. Cannot find a local poetry group? Start one. Do what you love. Make it happen, contact local newspapers, promote the daylights out of it on Facebook. See if the local radio will put a blurb on the air, even just in the community calendar. Stop wishing you had a group like this and just do it.
A helpful definition, no?

A helpful definition, no?

This is my second poetry venture on the local scene (See my posts on our art gallery open mic called Poetry Under the Paintings, which I was so lucky to be asked to help organize), and I couldn’t be happier with the decision, or more grateful that a local art gallery and library are open to hosting a place for the art of poetry.

As I said before, not knowing how the demographics would pan out–writers, enthusiasts, newbies, or old pros–I decided to take a broad approach to the first meeting, sort of a getting acquainted with poetry session, or getting reacquainted, without any pressure to write or analyze. Not yet. So in that spirit I had us dive into a pool of poems, just to feel the cool and enjoy the swim.

What is poetry?

We started with “Introduction to Poetry,” by Billy Collins, and from there traveled the poetry spectrum from the free-verse of E. E. Cummings (Yes, he did spell it that way) to the structure of a Shakespearean sonnet. The original thought was to discuss the questions, “What is poetry?” And “Where does it come from?” But the discussion flowed more in the direction of “What is poetry” as it relates to why so many people claim to not like it.

We looked at a lot of definitions of poetry that various poets have given over the years. As Billy Collins has said, “Poets are people not content to say only one thing at a time.” Poets love language so much, and the things it can do in describing the breadth of the human heart, that they are often not content to give a precise definition. Ambiguity is a friend of poets, and this is part of poetry’s magic, all the possibilities, the many angles one light can reflect off a bit of broken glass.Quotation-E-E-Cummings-human-Meetville-Quotes-192422

So how to tell you about the rest of the meeting? A whirlwind of audio, visuals and reading poems out loud. I think I’m going to just give you the links below, and rather than write a detailed essay or share my clumsy notes, I’ll just give you a little brief context. The links we actually used in the meeting will be in bold.

We discussed multiple reasons why people do not like poetry. Some tell me it is because of what they learned or did not learn about it in school, or how it was handled. In fact I had another library staff member tell me, only a tad facetiously, as she started quoting from Chaucer’s “Prologue to the Canterbury Tales,” that having to memorize it was probably precisely why she didn’t enjoy poetry! We mentioned opinions from Dan Gioia’s “Can Poetry Matter” essay to recent Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri’s assertions that we now live in “a golden age for poetry.”

Perhaps it is a disconnect between academia and the man on the street. As Tim Green, editor of Rattle Magazine recently said on Facebook:

By entering academia, poets anointed a priestly class where a literary elite claim the right to mediate our relationship with poetry. Unsurprisingly, it’s become a bloated, self-serving bureaucracy, and that’s why the broader public has turned away.

I encourage you to add them on Facebook (Tim Green is the editor and makes all the tweets and status updates), in order to see the rest of his brief essay on July 20th. It’s a mere three paragraphs and worth a read.

quote-Oscar-Wilde-all-bad-poetry-springs-from-genuine-feeling-93049Some of the tension comes because of the distance between greeting card verse, the maudlin cliches of what pass for love poems, and the more craft-focused art of translating the emotions of the heart in more original metaphors.

And perhaps there is something of a poetic generation gap problem. Much of the quibble over free-verse versus traditional metered rhyme is because a great deal of what has been written since Pound’s time has not the musical lilt that your grandparents are accustomed to. It doesn’t matter how many modern rhyming poets you mention to some people, they still want to know, “Why doesn’t poetry rhyme anymore?”

Of course we don’t sound like Shakespeare these days because the language has evolved. And we certainly don’t sound like Robert Burns!

Poetry in pop culture:

Do you remember the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral?” Do you recall this poem by W. H. Auden? I’ve never seen the whole movie, but this reading rips my heart out every time. The thing many don’t realize is that the original poem, was written as a satirical cabaret number in 1936. I’m not sure how much of it changed before it was published in print in 1938, but you must admit, it takes the very intense and honest feelings of the bereaved and puts it into some clever lines that hit home. Perhaps the difference between sappy and soulful lies a bit in presentation?

Mad Men's Don Draper reading Frank O'Hara

Mad Men’s Don Draper reading Frank O’Hara

More recently, in season two of the hit TV show “Mad Men” we see establishment guy, model advertising executive Don Draper getting in touch with his poetic side. He is seeing a girl who hangs out among the beat poets and artists in The Village, and he gets his hands on Frank O’Hara’s latest book Meditations in an Emergency. He thinks to send the book to her as actor John Hamm’s rich voice recites part of “Mayakovsky.”

From the fictional 1960’s to the real 1960’s we find Ken Nordine doing what he called “Word Jazz,” basically poetry to the play of improvisational jazz musicians. Here is his piece, with modern visual interpretation, “Green.

Care to venture a guess at the relation between Ken Nordine’s color poem and the “Mad Men” scene? When Nordine’s color poems–there was a whole series–were heard on the air Disc Jockey’s couldn’t replay them when requested because they were actually advertisements. “The Fuller Paint Company invites you to stare with your ears at yellow.” Very Mad Men-ish, no?

Drawing of writer Charles Bukowski

Drawing of writer Charles Bukowski (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While we are on the advertising topic let’s skip ahead to this very recent (last year I believe) advertisement for Dewar’s Scotch which is powered by YouTube poetry-reading legend Tom O’Bedlam’s rendition of Charles Bukowski’s “So You Want to Be a Writer.” The debate still rages. Anti-establishment poet gets his work stolen and used for commercialism. Baloney! Bukowski loved his drink, and his widow was paid for the use of this poem. Meanwhile more of the general public who otherwise wouldn’t pick up a book of poetry got exposed to a great piece, read by an awesome voice.

And maybe, just maybe these ipod and liquor adverts, displaying what happens when poetry is read out loud and well, will begin to convert a few who thought they didn’t like the art at all.

Aside from that we discussed the need to not take Bukowski’s claims in that poem too far. I found the original commentary from Tom O’Bedlam on this topic here. It’s well worth reading, so I’ll give you a teaser excerpt:

Don’t buy it. This is Charles Bukowski telling Charles Bukowski how to write like Charles Bukowski. He’s guilty himself of all those sins he’s admonishing you against as an aspiring writer.

You might have a natural inborn talent as a writer – or, for that matter, as a plumber or a portrait painter – but that’s not the way to bet. You can’t rely on raw talent. It’s nice to be a genius of course (did somebody else use that phrase?) but most people have to learn their trade or profession.

Back to that generation gap problem. We’ve been jumping around a lot here, from Chaucer and Burns to O’Hara an E.E. Cummings, back and forth in time, over and returning across the Atlantic. But what do these pieces have in common? What is it that makes a poem a poem? Sure, some modern poems don’t rhyme, but face it, neither does Beowulf. And only recently have I realized, thanks to John Nooney’s Poetically Versed blog, that the prose poem has a long history, despite my desire to define poetry by the line.

And I still contend that most poetry is lined, and that despite my love for Zachary Schomberg’s “Testy Pony,” prose poetry might just be a hybrid genre all its own. While some argue that modern free-verse is just prose in lines, I insist that pieces like Schomberg’s “Pony” are poems that look like prose.

And so instead of answering you straight out like a scientist, I’ll quote a poet who gives my favorite definition of poetry:

The wrap up:

So that’s all the answer I’ll give for now. And maybe that’s all we need. Follow along here on the blog, or if you are nearby on the map come to the Priestly-Forsyth Memorial Library on the first and third Tuesdays each month and explore the topic with us.

A few other audio visual highlights from the evening include this interpretation of Shakespeare, by Mathew MacFadyen, and also his reading of “When You Are Old,” by Yeats.  A few posts back here on the blog you can also see his portrayal of William Carlos Williams’ “This is to say,” and Samuel West’s “Proposal,” written by Tom Vaughan from the BBC’s “Poems to Fall in Love to.”

Next time we’ll be reviewing the first few chapters of Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, and discussing where poetry comes from, it’s sounds and how meaning is intricately connected with sound.

Bukowski’s “Nirvana”

David J. Bauman:

Sometimes at the meeting of a poem and an interpretation there is magic.


Charles Bukowski's Nirvana revolves around a young man traveling to an undetermined destination, questioning his purpose in the world. Along the young man's aimless journey, he encounters a moment in time at a charming diner. In just that moment something is awakened inside of him, but even with a sense of purpose, sadness follows. "Nirvana" is a melancholy postcard from memories long past.

Originally posted on Poetically Versed:

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