Eavan Boland (Sept. 24th, 1944 – April 27th, 2020) – Your Poetic Marvels – Poems to grow Old In. To Die In. And Now Your Very Real Death – R.I.P.

Irish poet Eavan Boland (1944-2020), Photo Credit 2015: Independent, IE

A WOMAN PAINTED ON LEAF

I found it among curios and silver
in the pureness of wintry light.

A woman painted on a leaf.

Fine lines drawn on a veined surface
in a hand-made frame.

This is not my face. Neither did I draw it.

A leaf falls in the garden.
The moon cools its aftermath of sap.
The pith of summer dries out in starlight.

A woman is inscribed there.

This is not death. It is the terrible
suspension of life.

I want a poem
I can grow old in. I want a poem I can die in.

I want to take
this dried-out face,
as you take a starling from behind iron,
and return it to its elements of air, of ending-

so that Autumn
which was once
the hard look of stars,
the frown on a gardener’s face,
a gradual bronzing of the distance,

will be,
from now on,
a crisp tinder underfoot. Cheekbones. Eyes. Will be
a mouth crying out. Let me.

Let me die.

Eavan Boland from New Collected Poems, W.W. Norton & Company, 2008

Eavan Boland one of the great Irish poets of her generation died yesterday, aged seventy-five. And may I add, one of the greatest poets of her generation worldwide. Boland may not be as well known as her near contemporary Seamus Heaney but make no mistake she is/was one of the great ones. Drop inside a Boland poem and you will come out changed. Hers a searing poetry of loss, love and suffering so often seen through her lens of a tragic Irish history and as important through her awareness of the importance of seeing the world through a woman’s eyes, a woman’s experience. Not a man’s.

The epigraph poem above. Oh how Boland wants to loose the woman painted on a leaf from the bounds of history. And how I do not want to imprison Eaven the same way! Not make you an object of my idea of what a woman poet is. And imprison you there. Not to objectivfy you but let you live, the hurting loving, erotic, praising woman you were. So, Eavan I will let you die. I will try not to freeze you into some lifeless portrait. I will try and let you fly back into elements of air. I will let you put out your wing, the erotic longing in it expressed in your poems, that extraordinary wing from your searing poem The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me :

The blackbird on this first sultry morning,
In summer, finding buds, worms, fruit,
Feels the heat. Suddenly she put out her wing –
The whole, full, flirtatious span of it.

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A Look Inside the Surprising Heart and Mind of American Poet Carl Phillips – A Poem From His 2018 Collection Wild Is The Wind and One from His 2020 Collection, Pale Colours in a Tall Field

American poet Carl Phillips (1959 – ) Photo Credit: The Huffington Post, 2015

WHAT I SEE IS THE LIGHT
FALLING ALL AROUND US

To have understood some small piece of the world

more deeply doesn't have to mean we're not as lost

as before, or so it seems this morning, random bees

stirring among the dogwood blossoms, a few here

and there stirring differently somehow, more like

resisting stillness...Should it come to winnowing

my addictions, I'd hold on hardest, I'm pretty sure,

to mystery, though just yesterday, a perfect stranger

was so insistent that I looked familiar, it seemed

easier in the end to agree we must know each other.

To his body, a muscularity both at odds and at one

with how fragile everything else about him, I thought,

would be, if I could see inside. What's the word

for the kind of loneliness that can feel like swimming

unassisted in a foreign language, for the very first time?

Carl Phillips from WILD IS THE WIND, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018

I wanted to feature the gay African American poet and essayist Carl Phillips and a poem of his for many reasons. The first is to say he has just released his fifteenth collection of poems, Pale Colours in a Tall Field; second is to honour one of the most distinctive and unusual poetic voices of his generation; and third is to celebrate his skills as a teacher of poetry and poetics. I have attended two week-long poetry retreat/workshop sessions with Phillips and each triggered me into fresh new poems.

I won’t list all Phillips’s many poetry honours but just to say he is a professor at Washington University in St Louis and from 2010 to 2020 he has been the most recent judge of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. He has also been a finalist (2014) and a judge (2010) for the celebrated Toronto-based Griffin Poetry Prize and a finalist (2011) for prestigious American National Book Award. To see a 2014 video interview with Carl through the Washington Post please click here.

The book from which the poem above comes from has been folded to the page of that poem on my desk for months. Periodically it gets buried and I forget it. Then it gets unearthed and then buried again! But last week I discovered the eco-journal Emergence Magazine on-line and found an astounding essay by Phillips called Trees. There is both an audio and print version of the poem on the Emergence site. To hear or read the essay please click here. To hear Phillips read this equisite piece of writing is to be cast under a spell that takes time to  fade!

To enter into a Carl Phillips poem is to embrace wonder and mystery and to surrender to both. The wonder of his rich language and his disarming conversational voice that seems to place him right beside me as I read. Yet in that seemingly casual voice he can throw out astounding complex and perplexing ideas one after another. And as well he can communicate a sense of physicality and intimacy especially around sexual encounters that adds a haunting immediacy to his work.

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For Now the Dunes Are [NOT] Sure – R.I.P. Glynn Irby, U.S. Gulf Coast Poet and Luminous Human

Texas-based American poet Glynn Irby. Died April 20th, 2020

Imagi 31

In a ratcheting wind,
salt grasses twist
around November roots
and the olive-hued saw palms
throb against their crowns.

For now, the dunes are sure.
Yet, as sea-foam flashes white
around their knees, the sand
sinks with each tidal flow.

Close offshore, waves rise
from the flounder-gray Gulf
and wind-driven crystals
deflect into a steel-hook sky —

while black, shadowless birds,
drift overhead, crook-winged, in rows.

Glynn Monroe Irby from Houston Public Media, April 10th, 2017

In Glynn’s poem the wonderfully rich and haunting line: For now, the dunes are sure. Now, after his death six years after writing this and with my heightened awareness of my own mortality in the time of Covid-19 I am not feeling so assured the dunes are sure. But what an important reminder to live each day in spite of…….

In 2009 about ten or so of us gathered for a poetry-as-prayer retreat I was leading on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico at Surfside Beach, south west of Galveston, just about 2 hours south of Houston. It became the first of eight retreats at this remarkable place and as I remember Glynn Irby was at almost every one if not at all of them. This big bear of a gentle man who died far too young this past Monday from complications arising from cancer treatments.

The poem above was vintage Glynn, his sonic skills in composition. Dylan Thomas a big influence on his own voice. Glynn wrote Imagi 31 at the 2015 Surfside retreat after a big storm and an unusual north wind blowing so hard it turned the tops of the waves into spume and spray. All the s sounds in the poem mimic the sounds of that wind that day outside the house where we lived and wrote for two nights. To fully appreciate the sonics in his poem please
click here to hear Glynn reading the poem! Love that soft southern drawl of his. Bless you, man.

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An Invitation to Sink Down into a Poem and Overhear a Heck of a Healing Chat between the Titanic and American Poet and Performer Laura Brown-Lavoie

Banner for the Paris Review’s regular online column – Poetry RX

If I break a leg, I’ll go to a doctor. If I break my heart or if the world breaks my spirit, I will go to a poet…… The healing power of art is not a rhetorical fantasy… For some, music, for some, pictures, for me, primarily, poetry…..cuts through noise and hurt, opens the wound to heal it, and then gradually teaches it to heal itself.

— Jeanette Winterson from her Website, 2007

from On This the 100th
Anniversary of the Sinking
of the Titanic We Reconsider
the Buoyancy of the Human Heart.

My heart has an iceberg with its name on it, I told
Titanic, so I need your advice. Tell me, did you see the
iceberg coming?

I did, Titanic said.

And you sailed right into it?

It was love, Titanic said.

And the band just kept playing? And the captain
stayed at the wheel? What did it feel like to swallow
seawater? Tell me, Titanic, how did it feel?

It felt like a hole in my side and then it felt like
plummeting face first into the ice-cold ocean.

She’s a straight talker, the Titanic.

Laura Lamb Brown-Lavoie from Alight, August 2013 in Association with Lit Slam

American poet, performer and urban farmer Laura Brown-Lavoie

The healing power of poems! One of my favorite topics. And happily there are many others that agree with me. Have any of you been reading Poetry RX online at the Paris Review? There three poets take turns answering a concerned person’s letter, describing a personal challenge, with a poem! The poets are Kaveh Akbar, Sarah Kay and Claire Schwartz. I discovered the Titanic poem excerpted above through Sarah Kay at Poetry RX last year! Thank you Sarah!

American spoken word poet Sarah Kay

Of the three writers and responders at Poetry RX I have known Akbar and Kay but not Claire Schwartz. But in a recent post during the time of Covid-19 on Poetry RX she celebrated a poem by the great Brazilian poet Adelia Prado as translated by the American poet Ellen Dore Watson. That was enough for me to feel I know her now a little better! For a previous blog post I wrote on Prado in 2014 and reposted today please click here.

I first came across Sarah Kay, American spoken word and so-called page poet, through her poem B which she wrote in 2007 . It went viral after she performed it during a Ted Talk back in 2011. A free-moving mother poem. A praise poem letter by a woman to a not-yet born child and inside the poem a praise poem to that woman’s mother. A passing on of a mother’s wisdom to a daughter and from that daughter to her daughter to be. Instead of Mom, she’s going to call me point B./ because that way she knows no matter what happens,/ at least she can always find her way to me!

Just a little more than a year ago on March 14th, 2019 Sarah responded on Poetry RX to a letter by a woman feeling the impending loss of a her lover who was moving away based on a plan he made before they met. The woman was overwhelmed by this impending huge loss and the uncertainty of what would happen to their relationship. Sarah responded with a poem from 2013 by spoken-word poet and urban farmer, Laura Lamb Brown-Lavoie. To hear Laura perform the poem please click here.

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For Easter Monday A Post from Easter Monday Six Years Ago! A God Who Eats Words – The Devotional poems of Adélia (Luzia) Prado (Freitas)

Brazilian Poet Adelia Prado

Brazilian Poet Adélia Prado (1935 – )

While writing a blog for today I came across a reference to the fabulous Brazilian poet Adélia Prado and then went searching for my blogs on her. And found this post from Easter Monday six years ago and thought too perfect, must use it again! Prado was acknowledged in 2014 with A Distinguished Lifetime Contribution to Poetry Award from the Griffin Trust which suggests her celebrated poetic standing in the world. Below my 2014 Easter Monday post:

“On this Easter Monday it seems right to consider devotional poetry – poetry, whether or not explicitly religious, that reaches out to a presence, something transcendent, something that speaks to the eternal. A poetry where the “holy”, the “unspeakable” enters in.

I realize this is a huge topic and I don’t want to get lost in it. I want to highlight  poems by the Brazlilian poet,  Adélia Prado (1935 – ) , a mystic and devotional poet if there ever was one. (Click here for my previous post on Prado in 2012.) In the title I have given Prado’s full name!

Here is a first taste of her latest poems in English. Prado, this woman described by the celebrated Brazilian poet, Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987)  as a housewife in Minais Gerais ( the province where she lives) writing verses dictated to her by Saint Francis.

Eternal Life

Half a century.
The weight of that word used to send me straight to bed.
No more. I’m gathering wisdom.
Alchemists aren’t law breakers —
sure, they’re naïve sometimes like the saints,
believing in stones, fish seen in dreams,
signs written on the sky.
Where is God?
April is reborn out in the cosmos,
in the most perfect silence.
Inside and outside of me.

Adélia Prado, translated by Ellen Dore Watson, from Ex-Voto, Tupelo Press, 2013

Prado’s second book of poems Ex Voto, was translated into English by the American poet Ellen Watson and published in 2013 year. This book is a treasure. Not just for Watson’s translations that come so alive on the page, that bring such clarity to Prado’s loose-limbed yet muscular poems, her sure-footed shifts of tone, but for the introduction by Russian American poet Ilya Kaminsky. It’s a prose paean to Prado’s craft but also a primer on devotional poetics.

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A Bewitchery of Words and Natural and Mythic Worlds – The New Poems of Nova Scotian Poet Anne Simpson

Nova Scotian poet, adjunct professor, essayist and novelist, Anne Simpson. Photo Credit: St Francis Xavier University

IN THE TEDIUM

I go into days and nights, one after the other. A cup set down,
a scraped chair.

Outside, a coyote, tangled yelps. Moon, the way it lies

on snow. Snakebite blue.

I get up, stone.
I sit down, stone. King of morning, noon, night. Eat each stone,
spit it out.

This is what’s called normal.
It isn’t normal. It’s deathwater.

Don’t let me lose the sound of you. I’ll make a raft of your laughter.
My nose against your nose. Your tongue—
O, now it’s stone.

What have I done to you?

Anne Simpson from strange attractor, McClelland & Stewart, 2019

This poem captures, I think, some of what many of us, isolated at home because of Covid-19, are feeling. Maybe not the depth of the sense of loss in this poem but at least some of it. Maybe a sense, too, of the loss of our old selves, the hurly-burley ones racing around in our normal busyness. That sound of us.

And that question: What have I done with you? And maybe more challenging and profound, what if it’s not the busy one we miss but the one whom we left behind in our busyness. The one, during this time of quiet for so many, we may be forced to acknowledge, to confront. And normal, as not normal, as deathwater!  What deathwater do I need to spit out? The stone-cold taste of it.

And now by way of introducing Anne Simpson I need to declare I know her, the celebrated Nova Scotian/ Canadian novelist, essayist, teacher and poet, She was generous enough to write a commendation for the back of my poetry collection Hyaena Season in 2016. Okay, that’s out of the way!

I first got to know Anne at a Jane Hirschfield poetry retreat in Key West, Florida in 2015. It felt somewhat surreal to be sitting in the same circle, as fellow students, with someone, Anne, who had won the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize in 2004. But Anne’s easy modesty and understated manner made it easy. But make no mistake: as much as Jane Hirschfield is one of the most accomplished poets of her generation on her side of the border, Anne is surely one of those on our side!
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Patrick’s Poets – #3 in a Series – Vancouver Island’s Mary Ann Moore

Poet, blogger, book eviewer and writer mentor, Mary Ann in front of Susan Musgrave’s B&a in Haida Gwaii

Only Child

Even though I’m an only child, no one
can remember what time I was born.

Dad was sure it was midnight, he heard
the whistle of the train going north.

Aunt Valada said it was early morning,
just after she saw the milkman on Princess Street.

Mum couldn’t recall the time.

She said I had gashes on either side of my head
from the forceps. I had to stay in hospital,

there was something wrong with my eyes.
Grandma recommended carrots, bread crusts

to give me curly hair and it worked out
as did 10:30 a.m. figured out by Elizabeth,

the astrologer I once slept with, the two of us
in her single bed, the Cowboy Junkies on CD.

Mary Ann Moore, Unpublished with Permission

Mary Ann Moore need little introduction to the Vancouver Island writing community. Based out of Nanaimo she has been leading writing circles and has been a wonderfuly frequent participant at poetry retreats and readings up and down the island for many years. It has been a pleasure to hear Mary Ann’s poems for more than ten years. To see how her poet’s  eye for  details using a spare everyday plain diction has developed and developed into today’s finely honed and distinctive voice. Each word counts and her comic timing feels just right. In her poem above, to start at birth in hospital and end up in a single bed with an astrolger lover! Got to love it!

I first met Mary Ann at a Patrick Lane poetry retreat many years ago and so I was so glad to see the photo below taken at a Patrick Lane retreat by my dear friend Liz McNally, for many years the organizer of the Patrick retreats. And it was Liz I first featured in this series on poets mentored by Patrick! The second poet featured was Martha Royea. Other Patrick poets I have featured outside this series include Heidi Garnett, Rosemary Griebel, Linda Thompson, Barbara Pelman, Rhonda Ganz, Terry Ann Carter and, Susan Alexander.
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A Poem for Our Time by the Great Spanish Poet Antonio Machado – Walker, There Is No Road, The Road is Made by Walking

Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

from Proverbs and Songs

#29

Walker, your footsteps
are the road, and nothing more.
Walker, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
Walking you make the road,
and turning to look behind
you see the path you never
again will step upon.
Walker, there is no road,
only foam trails on the sea.

Antonio Machado, trans. Willis Barnstone from Antonio Machado, Border of a Dream: Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 2004

This celebrated poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875- 1939) first came to my attention through American poet Robert Bly in his seminal anthology, The Soul Is Here For Its Own Joy. Then it got a lot more personal when my beloved partner and wife Somae quoted it to me in day three of us getting together. I was getting all focused on the future and she gently reminded me, through this poem,  one day at time, Richard. One day at a time! Now I look back on more than four thousand three hundred and eighty of them!

And how relevant is this poem today. Its emphasis on one step at a time. Each step based on today. Only looking back will we know the path! It reminds me of the great line by David Whyte: what we can plan is too small for us to live.

And this huge little poem rings so true especially now during the pandemic when worry about the future looks like is running amok like a virus. What businesses will never reopen. The long term impact on investment portfolios, pensions, our standard of living. Instead this huge little poem says one step today, Another tomorrow. And trust that the step tomorrow may not be part of anything you planned.
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Grief Work – Two Versions of a Poem by Natalie Diaz

Hispanic and Indigenous American poet Natalie Diaz

Grief Work

Why not go toward the things I love?

I have walked slow in the garden
of her—: gazed the black flower

            dilating her animal-
            eye

I give up my sorrows
the way a bull gives it horns—: astonished,

            and wishing there is rest
            in the body’s softest parts.

Like Jacob’s angel, I touched the garnet
of her hip,

            and she knew my name,
            and I knew hers—:

it was Auxocromo, it was Cromofóro,
it was Eliza.

When the eyes and lips are brushed with honey
what is seen and said will never be the same,

so why not take the apple
in your mouth—:

            in flames, in pieces, straight
            from the knife’s sharp edge?

Achilles chased Hector round the walls
of Ilium three times—: how long must I circle

the high gate
between her hip and knee

            to solve the red-gold geometry
            of her thigh?

Again the gods put their large lands in me,
move me, break my heart

like a clay jug of wine, loosen a beast
from some darklong depth.

            My melancholy is hoofed.
            I, the terrible beautiful

Lampon, a shining devour-horse tethered
at the bronze manger of her collarbones.

            I do my grief work
            with her body—:

labor to make the emerald tigers
in her throat leap,

lead them burning green to drink
from the deep-violet jetting her breast.
We go where there is love,
to the river, on our knees beneath the sweet
water. I pull her under four times,

            until we are rivered. 
            We are rearranged.

I wash the silk and silt of her from my hands—:
now who I come to, I come clean to, 

            I come good to.

Natalie Diaz from Postcolonial Love Poem, Graywolf Press, 2020

A friend of mine responded to my post on Natalie Diaz yesterday by saying my featured poem reminded her so much of another favorite poem of her whose author she couldn’t remember. As she started to read her poem I realized it was Grief Work by Natalie Diaz published in 2015! What I didn’t realize was how that poem was revised in her newly released book Postcolonial Love Poem.

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The Poetic Disruptions of Natalie Diaz – A Rich and Complex Title Poem in a Brilliant and Complex Book – Her Second Collection – Postcolonial Love Poem

Indigenous and Hispanic American poet, Natalie Diaz. Photo Credit: Remezcla, a digital publisher, creative agency, and entertainment company.

Postcolonial Love Poem

I’ve been taught bloodstones can cure a snakebite,
can stop the bleeding—most people forgot this
when the war ended. The war ended
depending on which war you mean: those we started,
before those, millennia ago and onward,
those which started me, which I lost and won—
these ever-blooming wounds.
I was built by wage. So I wage Love and worse—
always another campaign to march across
a desert night for the cannon flash of your pale skin
settling in a silver lagoon of smoke at your breast.
I dismount my dark horse, bend to you there, deliver you
the hard pull of all my thirsts—
I learned Drink in a country of drought.
We pleasure to hurt, leave marks
the size of stones—each a cabochon polished
by our mouths. I, your lapidary, your lapidary wheel
turning—green mottled red—
the jaspers of our desires.
There are wild flowers in my desert
which take up to twenty years to bloom.
The seeds sleep like geodes beneath hot feldspar sand
until a flash flood bolts the arroyo, lifting them
in its copper current, opens them with memory—
they remember what their god whispered
into their ribs: Wake up and ache for your life.
Where your hands have been are diamonds
on my shoulders, down my back, thighs—
I am your culebra.
I am in the dirt for you.
Your hips are quartz-light and dangerous,
two rose-horned rams ascending a soft desert wash
before the November sky unyokes a hundred-year flood—
the desert returned suddenly to its ancient sea.
Arise the wild heliotrope, scorpion weed,
blue phacelia which hold purple the way a throat can hold
the shape of any great hand—
Great hands is what she called mine.
The rain will eventually come, or not.
Until then, we touch our bodies like wounds—
The war never ended and somehow begins again.

Natalie Diaz from Postcolonial Love Poem, Graywolf Press, March 3rd, 2020

What a poem! This eponymous poem by the indigenous and Hispanic American, Natalie Diaz, from her second poetry collection in almost eight years, Postcolonial Love Poem. This poem and its book, both dazzling in their dark and daring undercurrents, crosscurrents of danger, loss, eros, longing, and conflict given to us in rich mixture of meta and personal motifs and moments. And such duende, those so-called dark notes, in this poem and in many of the other poems in her book.So many hungry lines, the kind of lines she says she likes to write!

And as I say in the title of this poem Diaz’s poetry is a poetry of disruptions. Disruptions of war and the subjugation of the U.S.’s indigenous population, the disruption of post colonialism, environmental degradation and climate change; disruption of addiction through the lens of her addict brother and the disruptions of love. But through it all is a deep undercurrent of eros and Lorca’s duende – the dark notes. But above all, the power of longing and love in this book , love for beloveds and the land,  do not succumb to the book’s underlying themes of conflict and surviving oppression.
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