October 29, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
Lord of the winds! I feel thee nigh,
I know thy breath in the burning sky!
And I wait, with a thrill in every vein,
For the coming of the hurricane!
And lo! on the wing of the heavy gales,
Through the boundless arch of heaven he sails;
Silent and slow, and terribly strong,
The mighty shadow is borne along,
Like the dark eternity to come;
While the world below, dismayed and dumb,
Through the calm of the thick hot atmosphere
Looks up at its gloomy folds with fear.
They darken fast; and the golden blaze
Of the sun is quenched in the lurid haze,
And he sends through the shade a funeral ray—
A glare that is neither night nor day,
A beam that touches, with hues of death,
The clouds above and the earth beneath.
To its covert glides the silent bird,
While the hurricane’s distant voice is heard,
Uplifted among the mountains round,
And the forests hear and answer the sound.
He is come! he is come! do ye not behold
His ample robes on the wind unrolled?
Giant of air! we bid thee hail!—
How his gray skirts toss in the whirling gale;
How his huge and writhing arms are bent,
To clasp the zone of the firmament,
And fold at length, in their dark embrace,
From mountain to mountain the visible space.
Darker—still darker! the whirlwinds bear
The dust of the plains to the middle air:
And hark to the crashing, long and loud,
Of the chariot of God in the thunder-cloud!
You may trace its path by the flashes that start
From the rapid wheels where’er they dart,
As the fire-bolts leap to the world below,
And flood the skies with a lurid glow.
What roar is that?—’tis the rain that breaks
In torrents away from the airy lakes,
Heavily poured on the shuddering ground,
And shedding a nameless horror round.
Ah! well known woods, and mountains, and skies,
With the very clouds!—ye are lost to my eyes.
I seek ye vainly, and see in your place
The shadowy tempest that sweeps through space,
A whirling ocean that fills the wall
Of the crystal heaven, and buries all.
And I, cut off from the world, remain
Alone with the terrible hurricane.
—William Cullen Bryant, 1854
Painting Credit B.F. Gribble, Clipper in Stormy Sea, nd, oil
October 12, 2012 | by Belinda McKeon
Every morning, when my sleeping pill wears off, I am up about five, in my study with coffee, writing like mad—have managed a poem a day before breakfast. All book poems. Terrific stuff, as though domesticity had choked me.
—Sylvia Plath, letter to her mother, October 12, 1962
They were “dawn poems in blood,” those lines stormed onto paper while the children slept; several of them were written through fevers, and the heat seared onto the pages, those old memorandum sheets marked Smith College, or the back of a manuscript marked The Calm. That had been a radio play, drafted by Ted Hughes in their flat in London early the previous year; now Sylvia Plath was in the Devon farmhouse they’d bought soon afterward, and Hughes was back in London, banished, their marriage over. It was late 1962, and in the space of eight weeks, it brought Plath forty of what would become her Ariel poems. They were, she wrote to the poet Ruth Fainlight, “free stuff I had locked in me for years,” and now they were out. And they were astonishing. Only pain could have released them, only fury and outrage and jealousy and panic of the sort into which Plath’s daily universe had plunged. “I kept telling myself I was the sort that could only write when peaceful at heart,” she told Fainright, “but that is not so, the muse has come to live here, now Ted is gone.”
All of these poems would be in the black binder found in Plath’s London flat following her suicide just three months later, on February 11. They were poems so extreme they would be turned down by several magazines (only to become suddenly suitable for publication after the sensation of her death). Look how they came, one after the other, during that ferocious fall. September 26: “For a Fatherless Son.” September 30: “A Birthday Present.” October 1: “The Detective.” October 2: “The Courage of Shutting Up.” From October 3 to 10, Plath wrote her five bee poems, including “Stings” and “The Arrival of the Bee Box.” On October 10, “A Secret.” October 11 brought “The Applicant” (“It can sew, it can cook, / It can talk, talk, talk”). And fifty years ago today, on October 12, Plath sat down at the writing desk Hughes and her brother had made for her from a plank of elm, and she wrote her most famous poem. She wrote her father, and she wrote her festered grief, and she wrote her maddened Electra, and she wrote the unforgiving child who still ran riot in her veins; she finally got it down, so much of what had been propelling her from the moment she wrote her very first poem. “You do not do, you do not do”—what a line. What a spiel. What a fit of incantation. Whatever you think of “Daddy”—wherever you stand on the question of whether its tirades are transgressions, whether its swoop into Holocaust imagery is a mere looting and parading of angers not the poet’s own—there is no denying its extraordinary power. It stops the breath; it bothers the heart. What must it have been like, that morning, beneath the quaint thatch of that Devon farmhouse, for Plath to find herself writing this fireball of a poem?
September 26, 2012 | by Eric G. Wilson
I once enjoyed a gamboling lamb as much as the next pastoralist, and hiking, too—through forests, over peaks—but Wordsworth, laureate of the Lakes, has maddened me. In life and verse, he set an irresistible but inaccessible standard of contact: of enlivening intimacy with wind, water, earth, and sun—a marriage of mind and matter in which mind never feels abandoned.
Depressed and isolated, I have craved this union. I have studied Wordsworth assiduously. I have become an expert in the Romantic school of which he is the prime exemplar. For twenty years, I have taught his poetry. I have memorized the daffodil poem, “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud.” This flower I have pressed into a book of his poems. I’ve already undertaken two pilgrimages to the Lakes.
But poet’s abundance has mocked my poverty. When I glimpse the blooms he immortalized, and so gorgeously described—buttery, frilly, dancing in the breeze—they hiss to me: loser. They make the hurt worse, my self-loathing sharper. I’d kill Wordsworth if I saw him on the road.
September 4, 2012 | by Alice Bolin
The draw of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s classic breakup song “Maps” is that it is as plainly sad as possible. “Wait,” the band’s lead singer, Karen O, sings over and over, “they don’t love you like I love you.” But “Maps” is also enigmatic: beyond its abject chorus, the lyrics are cryptic, with verses that are brief and opaque—“Packed up / Don’t Stray / Oh say, say, say / Oh say, say, say.” Karen O repeats maps, plaintive and without context, stretching the word’s aaa over four bars.
According to fan mythology, “Maps” is an acronym for “my Angus please stay,” referencing Liars lead singer Angus Andrew, whom Karen O has said the song is about. There may be other ways to read the song’s title, though. “Maps” evokes the physical and metaphorical distance that is felt from a lover who is leaving. It is a kind of emotional cartography, mapping two people’s painful journeys away from one another. This will serve as our foundation: maps aren’t impersonal, objective. They aren’t.
August 29, 2012 | by Brian Gittis
A few months ago, the first poetry reading I ever attended in New York came back to haunt me, almost literally. I was folding laundry on a Sunday night, listening to iTunes on shuffle, when a ghostly, familiar voice issued out of my speakers, interrupting the music. Soft, deeply resonant, and a little like Boris Karloff—or more precisely, Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s impersonation of Boris Karloff on “The Monster Mash”:
This time capsule–like announcement introduced a series of poems recorded by Menashe in some hermetic sound booth for the CD New and Selected Poems, released by Rattapallax Press in 2000. And listening to them gave me the most wonderfully uncomfortable feeling I’ve had since—well the last time I’d heard Samuel Menashe read. Which was more than five years ago. Read More »
Samuel Menashe here. On June 19, in the year two thousand and one. In the city of New York, where I was born on September 16, in the year nineteen hundred and twenty-five. I am reading a selection of my poems from a book called The Niche Narrows.”
May 22, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
Thanks to Tongue Journal and the Poetry Foundation for bringing us this fantastic bit of annotation! In November 1924, Ernest Hemingway published “The Lady Poets with Foot Notes” in Der Querschnitt. It's a satirical poem full of lit-world in-jokes and allusions to female poets of the day, and Hemingway scholar Michael Reynolds has IDs them. The poetesses are:
1. Edna St. Vincent Millay
2. Aline Kilmer
3. Sara Teasdale
4. Zoe Akins
5. Lola Ridge
6. Amy Lowell
The Poetry Foundation has more to say about all of them!