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Posts Tagged ‘poems’

Queen o’ the May

May 1, 2015 | by

Proteus_1887_The_Elfin_May-Pole_Float

The Elfin May-Pole, a Mardi Gras float design for Krewe of Proteus, New Orleans, 1887.

The other day, I received the sweetest note from an old neighbor of my family’s commenting on the beauty of spring in the town where I grew up. She recalled something I’d done many years ago: “The first year I lived here, you walked up and down the street, perhaps alone, perhaps with a friend, on May 1, to celebrate May Day. Perhaps you left a little bunch of flowers by my door?”

Perhaps I did. In any case, I’m going to guess that I was alone. I can’t imagine anyone joining me in this practice. I’d like to say it was rooted in some precocious notion of workers’ solidarity, but in fact my touchstone was more Kate Greenaway than International Socialism. (Especially given the maypole and hurdy-gurdy I requested for my eighth birthday.) Read More »

On the Ship

April 29, 2015 | by

kabafis

C. P. Cavafy.

“On the Ship,” a poem by Constantine P. Cavafy from our Spring 2005 issue. Cavafy was born on April 29, 1863; he died on his seventieth birthday.

It certainly resembles him, this small
pencil likeness of him.

Quickly done, on the deck of the ship;
an enchanting afternoon.
The Ionian Sea all around us.

It resembles him. Still, I remember him as handsomer.
To the point of sickness—he was that sensitive,
and it illumined his expression.
Handsomer, he appears to me,
now that my soul recalls him, out of Time.

Out of Time. All these things, they’re very old—
The sleuth, and the ship, and the afternoon

Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn.

Clarence in the Seafood Palace

April 22, 2015 | by

Stillleben_mit_Hummer_c1890

Anonymous, Still Life with Lobster, ca. 1890.

A poem by Elizabeth Handel from our Fall 1976 issue. Handel went on to become a doctor; Google suggests that the composer Thomas Janson adapted this poem for choral performance sometime in the eighties, but no recordings have turned up.

Clarence was not known for speech or grace;
His looks were those of ordinary men;
In Roman times he might have washed the grapes for others’ orgies,
For his were lowly tasks of preparation
Behind the diamond window of a swinging door.
Clarence was a chosen person that they got somewhere
To be lower than a cook, but higher than a dishboy.
He placed lobster claws, two by two,
Beside their preboiled fuselages, busted up for fancy salads,
Antennae waving carefree from the luncheon platter;
So he could count, make no mistake.
The hostess banned him from the dining room
(He had no “class”) but she couldn’t stop his fingerprints,
Which entered by the hundreds on the backs of shellfish—
And this is what he loved: to watch his works in grand procession,
Held high above all men on sacred trays.

Write Tight

April 21, 2015 | by

What is poetry? Etymology provides more questions than answers.

contestofthepoets

Contest of the Poets, a float design by Jennie Wilde for the 1910 “Comus” Mardi Gras

T. S. Eliot, who once famously called National Poetry Month the cruelest, was also one of many to point out the hopeless semantic tangles that ensue because “poetry” has two opposites. Poetry can be the lined stuff, often with rhymes, as opposed to sentences and paragraphs; poetry can also be the good stuff, as opposed to the plodding or simply informational. But if good prose can be poetic, a novel can be “pure poetry,” and poems can be prosaic, then it’s not clear what anyone is talking about, really. Or rather, it’s clear except to theorists trying to come up with definitions. Poetry is what’s thrilling, while a poem is that poor thing with eleven readers, eight of them members of the poet’s extended family.

Etymology doesn’t help—it only highlights that the apples and oranges here are how the thing is made and how it moves. Poetry is from the Greek poiein, “to make”: a poem is something made, or in English we would more naturally say crafted. Yet everyone agrees good prose is well crafted, too. Prose means, literally, “straightforward,” from the Latin prosa, proversus, “turned to face forward” (whereas verse is all wound up, twisty and snaky, “turned” in every direction except, apparently, forward). Yet we all know that poems can be clear and direct, too, especially when they’re songs. Read More »

Architectural Blasphemy, and Other News

April 20, 2015 | by

Le Corbusier’s Dom-Ino House, 1914.

  • Readings from Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, and Czesław Miłosz are among the new recordings released by the Library of Congress, which has finally digitized some seventy-five years of magnetic-tape reels.
  • Poetry is, to some extent, the art of “anti-aphorism,” “seemingly wise but ultimately ungraspable”: “I believe that to read poetry, one must have a mind of poetry. You must enter a state where you come to understand meaning-resistant arrangements of language as having their own kind of meaning. It’s quite similar to those Magic Eye posters from the nineties: If you haven’t figured out how to look at them, you can’t believe that anyone really sees the dolphin.”
  • In late eighteenth-century London, Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies served as a kind of vade mecum for the seasoned brothel-goer, endeavoring to list “the most celebrated ladies now on the town.” It was so salacious that its creators eventually wound up in jail. A sample listing for one Mrs. Banner speaks of her “irresistible eye”; her “favourite spot below” apparently “calls for the Priapian weapon,” eager “to receive it in her sheath at its most powerful thrust up to the hilt.”
  • In the early twentieth century, Le Corbusier concocted Maison Dom-Ino, a blueprint for standardized housing with all the hallmarks of modernism: he envisioned a skeletal structure of concrete slabs. His idea was never realized, but decades later, Italian architects borrowed liberally from his designs, and now Maison Dom-Ino rip-offs freckle the countryside: “It’s a design innovation that’s been turned into something, especially in Italy, that is regarded as something completely the opposite. It’s a form of architectural blasphemy. It became synonymous with an eyesore, and a dilapidated landscape.”
  • On Frank Stanford’s new collected poems, What About This: “More than anything, like Basho, like Li Po, like Emily Dickinson and Yeats, Stanford was a poet of the moon. The moon cycles through nearly every of his poems. And it’s never the same moon sliver. The moon gravitates as a  ‘beautiful white spider,’ ‘a dead man floating down the river,’ ‘a woman in a red dress / standing on the beach.’ It’s ‘a plate with no supper,’ ‘a clock with twelve numbers,’ it’s ‘swollen up / like a mosquito’s belly’ … ”

Still Golden After All These Years

April 15, 2015 | by

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A mask of Wordsworth made in 1815.

The most famous version of Wordworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” or “Daffodils”—that landmark of English Romanticism, a pedagogical perennial that’s inspired thousands of stock photos of daffodil fields—turns two hundred this year. Most of us remember it fondly; some do not. “I am sure it is a great poem,” one YouTube commenter wrote in response to a spoken rendition, “but every ten-year-old Indian is tortured and tormented by [it] … As a kid I remember I had to memorize pages dissecting this poem, but one question always remained—What the hell is a daffodil? No Indian kid ever laid eyes on that flower.”

The poem had its genesis in a walk Wordsworth took with his sister, Dorothy, on April 15, 1802, which she described in a journal entry with a moving lyricism that rivals her brother’s: Read More »