Beloved on the Earth – A Poem in Honour of, and Two Poems Written For, Ross MacDonald R.I.P.

Beloved Friend. Ross MacDonald (April 4th, 1945-January 19th, 2024)

Late Fragment

And did you get what
You wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
Beloved on the earth.

Raymond Carver (1938-1988) from A New Path to the WaterfallAtlantic Monthly Press, 1989.

He was a big man. Broad shouldered. When I hugged him, not easy to get my arms around. But, my oh my, it was easy for the arms of my heart to get its arms around him. Ross MacDonad, dear friend of more than twenty years.

The day I heard Ross recite Raymond Carver’s poem Late Fragment was a somber day. The day of the funeral of the fiancé of one his beloved two daughters. The funeral of a young man who had bravely, whole-heartedly, journied through illness as Ross did before his death this January. That day Ross was celebrating the life of a man who embraced life and his dying with a whole heart.  Ross’s assertion through Carver’s poem was that there was a completion to this young man’s life even though he died far too young.

And for me this poem becomes now an ever so apt epitaph for man who in his honesty, his fierce regard for truth in himself and others, in his unflinching generosity, untouched by sentimentality, stood tall among all whom he walked among. And, and how, fiercely he loved. Gave himself to others he cherished and believed in. I count myself lucky to have been loved fiercely by him.  How in that love he held me accountable to him and to my better self. I can insist, as Carver’s poem insists: Ross was beloved on this earth. And I trust he felt that same way as he faced his death a few weeks ago.

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Guest Poetry Blog Series # 26 – Part Two – Thanks To My Literary Saints – John Terpstra celebrates John Steinbeck, Richard Wilbur, Christopher Fry and John McPhee

American poet Richard Wilbur (1921-2016)


Love Calls Us To the Things Of This World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
              Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

  Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks; but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

  Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
                             The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
          “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

  Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises, 

  “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
               keeping their difficult balance.

Richard Wilbur from Collected Poems 1943 – 2004, Houghton Mifflin, 2004

American novelist John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

Before I ever wrote a single poem (which was in Grade 10), a girl in the grade above me handed me a copy of The Red Pony one day as we were standing together in the school library. “Here,” she said, “you should read this.” She was a friend and I trusted her, and so I took the book home and read it. And was hooked, and went on to read as much John Steinbeck as I could get my hands on. He became my first author, especially with the shorter works like Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. Years later, I wondered how he did that to me, and so I reread those two novels.

Steinbeck is a poet. Cannery Row is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. He also writes from the side of utter compassion, of loving your neighbour as you love yourself, with all of the neighbour’s (and your own) very obvious flaws and frailties. These two qualities together won me over.
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Making Beauty Out of Wood and Words – Guest Poetry Blog #26 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, Canadian Poet and Woodworker, John Terpstra – Part One of Two

Canadian cabinet maker and poet, John Terpstra

The Kind of World We Live In
—lines for Lent

The kind of world we live in
is fraught
with where and when the next outbreak
will occur,
which passenger aircraft
the missile will hit,
whether the children will be freed
from their cages
to go find their mothers and fathers, if they can,
and what we’ll all do next,
after the last iceberg has melted
into the waters that lap against our e-car doors.

The kind of world we live in
feels as though it’s reaching a pitch,
and here I sit,
cinching up the hiking boots
for another 40-day wilderness trek,
another round
of walking over rock,
talking to trees,
and hoping for blessed nothing to happen
while I’m out there alone.

The world is on your shoulders,
it’s in your backpack,
which just happens to get lighter and lighter
the farther you go,
the deeper you delve into these woods,
the closer you come
to losing it all
for love
of the kind of world we live in,

while fasting on
the roots and berries of a wild hope.

John Terpstra from Wild Hope – Prayers & Poems, The St. Thomas Poetry Series, 2020

RICHARD INTRODUCES GUEST POETRY BLOGGER JOHN TERPSTRA AND PART ONE OF HIS TWO-PART SERIES

I am so pleased to introduce one of Canada’s important and accomplished literary figures, John Terpstra from Hamilton, Ontario. John, who began his writing career forty-five years ago is not just accomplished as a poet, non-fiction writer and recording artist but as a cabinet maker and carpenter. Truly, a maker in all senses of the word. A man of wood and words.

And John continues to make beautiful things out of wood for exisiting customers and not only published a new poetry chapbook in 2023 but, through the wonderful Gaspereau Press, is coming out with a new non-fiction work in the Fall, detailing his life in writing and woodworking.

While I am thrilled and honoured to have John join the Recovering Words Guest Poetry Blog Series I have a touch of sadness because the literary journal where I first met John’s work, and the journal that celebrated him ten years ago as one of the top fifty contemporary writers of faith, has just announced it will cease publication this summer after thirty-five years.
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Black Cassandras of the Power Lines – The lyric Power of the Many Shocking (Yet Somehow Liberating) Narratives from the New Poetry Collection of American Poet Dion O’Reilly

American poet Dion O’Reilly

Dear Tongue,

I like the way you tender the inner flesh of cheek,
bend to touch your hinge in the red-flesh crevice of your cave.
I love the way you play with folds along the inner base of gum,
pester and pester the zippery edge of a chipped tooth.
Oh you want so much! You want to repent, but first transgress,
to scrape sweet apple, lick the way a candle licks.
Oh, worship tongue, whet-stone tongue, tongue that loves
the sweat off a hip bone, god tongue who speaks in tongues.
I like it when you roll your rhymes and tap my palate. Whistle tongue,
song tongue, umbrage tongue, you’ve led me down some catnip alleys,
probed some chancy ears. But now, don’t you think it right
to lick the midnight caruncle of desire? Dear slab of pink
who screamed my first hello, you will whisper my last goodbye.
My last, Please, please, scratch between my shoulder blades.

Dion O’Reilly from SADNESS OF THE APEX PREDATOR, Cornerstone Press, 2024

I so enjoy the feel on my tongue of this playful musical poem about the tongue.  What a world the poet discovers with it. Our embodied world of skin, flesh and bone. This poem that demonstrates the creative wit and spark of American poet Dion O’Reilly. The intelligence and superb craft of her poems. This is a poet with poems to celebrate.

And so it is again such a pleasure to feature Dion and to introduce her just-released full-length collection: SADNESS OF THE APEX PREDATOR. This follows after her 2020 collection Ghost Dogs which I reviewed in 2021. To read that review please click here. Dion also contributed to the Recovering Words Guest Poetry Blog Series  #7 with her story of her dramatic journey to and with poetry and her feature on American poet Jim Moore.

This new book sings of survival as did Ghost Dogs. An almost unbelievable survival. And through her survival as told through her poems there is much terror, anger and seering honesty. Some of these poems are not for the faint hearted. (See the poem excerpt at the end of this post.) And yet. All of them so necessary. All of them telling readers: unbelievably I survived this. And the unstated thought that comes to me: that if this remarkable poet survived is it not possible, no matter our trials, we can survive, too. The gift of this example.

Dion sings of survival from a difficult sister, a sadistic lunatic of a mother and her flashing whip. Sings of survival from many other degrading and domestic ugliness as a child. These lines:

from Posies:

I was a botched child
in a land where children fell
from the sky like snow, were left
unguarded for wounded lions.

Dion O’Reilly, ibid

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Guest Poetry Blog Series #25, Part Two — American Poet Amie Wittemore Features American Poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1951-2016) and Irish Poet Medbh McGuckian (1950 -)

American Poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1951-2016) Photo credit: Brian Palmer

AMIE WHITTEMORE FEATURES BRIGIT PEGEEN KELLY 

Song

Listen: there was a goat’s head hanging by ropes in a tree.
All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then
They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat’s head
Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly
The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away
Beside which the goat’s headless body lay. Some boys
Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.
The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they
Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school
And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.
The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.
The head called to the body. The body to the head.
They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,
Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until
The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies
Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.
Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,
Sang long and low until the morning light came up over
The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped….
The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named
The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
The night’s bush of stars, because the goat’s silky hair
Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night
She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train’s horn
Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke
To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang
Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.
She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily
That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming
Made it so. But one night the girl didn’t hear the train’s horn,
And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat
Was gone. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm
Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone
Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called
To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling
Like the feeling of the stones gouging the soft undersides
Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat’s body
By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles
At the goat’s torn neck. Then somebody found the head
Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take
These things away so that the girl would not see them.
They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.
They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear
Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke….
But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they
Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,
Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
What they didn’t know was that the goat’s head was already
Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn’t know
Was that the goat’s head would go on singing, just for them,
Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,
Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would
Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees
Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There
Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother’s call.
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.

Brigit Pegeen Kelly from Song, (the 1994 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets), BOA Editions, 1995

There are so many excellent poets in the world, and so many that have deeply touched me, it’s hard to highlight just one. So, I’ll go with two. The first is Brigit Pegeen Kelly, who was my undergraduate teacher and mentor. When I was her student, I hadn’t read any of her work so was unaware of her robust reputation. This was probably for the best. It let me trust her but not feel intimidated by her (though she was quietly intimidating, smart and straightforward, reserved yet caring).
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Dreaming of Bobcats – Guest Poetry Blog #25 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, American Poet, Amie Whittemore – Part One of Two

American poet Amie Whittemore. Photo Credit: Emily April Allen

The Crows

I left out a bowl of rice dressed
in violets and honey, unsure
if it was offering or temptation.

A crow appeared
on my kitchen counter
and ate it all.

The next morning the crow
returned with its flock,
shades draping the shagbark,

all of them chanting
their own names:
Crown me, called one.

Sunder, another.
Hearing its name among
those fleeing their beaks,

my heart abandoned its nest.

Amie Whittemore from Nest of Matches, Autumn House Press, 2024

RICHARD INTRODUCES GUEST POETRY BLOGGER AMIE WHITTEMORE AND PART ONE OF HER TWO-PART SERIES

Amie Whittemore is no stranger to these pages. I profiled her here in August 2015 featuring her poem Spell for the End of Grief. Still a favorite poem of mine. I had met Amie earlier that year at a Jane Hirschfield workshop in Key West, Florida. Her poetry had a extra something to it and I decided to not let her or her work out of my sight even as far away as Vancouver Island from wherever she was in the United States.

To explore Aime’s website please click here. Of particular interest: her blog posts on the American poet Elizabeth Bishop. A blog series that came out of her unmet desire to read and write a blog post on an Elizabeth Bishop poem every day!

Amie has written three full-length poetry collections, Glass Harvest and Star-Tent A Tryptich and, forthcoming in March, Nest of Matches. There is a lush generosity and searing wisdom inside the Nest of Matches, a book I am so happy to have before its general release. And such a gentle eroticism, or better said, eros in these poems. A layered eros not just of a compelling queer sexuality but an eros in all her images that celebrate the richness of a life attuned to whom and what is around her. The elegance and aptness of Aimie’s metaphors, how they enlarge her poems enabling them to reach into so many hidden and special nooks and crannies.

And how this collection is held within the nest of Aime’s imagination and literally through the reference to nests in the title and poems inside the collection. Both of her poems featured here reference a nest in unexpected ways. How her heart abandons it nest, ouch, in her epigraph poem above and how in her poem that concludes her post, in reference to a beloved, a lover, she writes: I don’t need to know how many nests/ are lined with your hair. This delicacy of expression yet how the emotional impact can feel to me like a body blow.

And the deliciousness of her lines in Nocturne describing afternoons with a lover and her reflection that to forget how her lover tasted would be to admit a hawk into the house./ Is to wring a rag of water bone-dry. The poetic artistry of describing so unexpectedly what it would be like to forget such a tender and intimate moment arrests me. Again, how Amie raises, without any trace of sentimentality, the emotional impact of her lines, through use of saturated imagery.
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Don’t Listen For just One Voice — Guest Poetry Blog Series #23, Part Two — American Poet Luther Allen Features Rick Hermann, Mike Little and Others!

American poet Luther Allen

Invocation

Don’t listen for just
one voice,
nor different voices
saying the same thing.
Understand this:
each skin
has its own mouth,
each mouth has its own heart,
each heart sings its own music,
beats its own rhythm.
My voice is impatient,
burning, then cold as stones.
I have so much nothing
to say that it’s hard to know
where to begin.

Rick Hermann, from Nooksack, Free Range Press, 2016

LUTHER ALLEN FEATURES POEMS AND POETS HE LOVES!

I want to honor poets who are mostly unknown, who might be unpublished, who might have written only one poem in their lifetime. People who are called to write from the unknown, and feel the need to express themselves, to make sense out of life, in a form that doesn’t follow a straight narrative, because prose just doesn’t seem to carry the power they need. Poets who shakily read their work for the first time at an open mic in front of 8 other people, hearts in their throats.

Rick Hermann was an acquaintance for many years in Bellingham who struggled with the long debilitating slide of Parkinsons. He self-published several books of poems and did some local readings, often leaving the audience laughing and crying with admiration. Somehow he found the energy, discipline, and focus to write in spite of his disease. He is gone now, but whenever I hear the term dedicated poet, I think of him and his gleefully courageous work.

I think everyone should write poetry. To transfer their emotions into something tangible, to attempt to make sense of mystery, to find their inner self. The world would be different, and better. I think of Richard Osler’s rather brilliant title for this blog, Recovering Words. Exactly – the uncovering and remembering of words that matter, but also using words to recover from whatever challenges the world has presented. There are tens of thousands of poets serious about their craft, who read and study and write and revise and do their best to get published, to find acclaim from other poets. But, I hope, there are hundreds of thousands of people who have written maybe one poem, maybe a dozen poems, maybe bravely self-published a small collection, who are not highly skilled poets but whose lives have become more coherent and meaningful because of what they have written. They treasure their poems, and they should. Among all the publishing credits and awards and MFAs we should never forget the baseline importance of poetry. And, of course, there are the millions or billions of people who have never written a poem, never even thought about it, whose lives could be very different if they had only picked up a pen at some poignant moment. How can we change that?
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“across her heart lizards were treading tenderly” – Guest Poetry Blog Series #24 – Part Two of Two – U.S. Poet J.I. Kleinberg Introduces U.S. Poet/Artist Joanna Thomas

—15—

wolfsbane.bumblebee.
buttercup.rununculus.
bela lugosi.

Joanna Thomas, from u.v.u.lar.i.a.: wild flower haiku field book , a haiku chapbook inspired by participation in the 2023 Seabeck Haiku Getaway.

J.I. (JUDY) KLEINBERG FEATURES U.S. POET AND ARTIST JOANNA THOMAS

I was well on my way to writing about Ellen Bass, a poet whose work I so admire, when I veered delightedly off-track to introduce a person whose work you may not know, but should: Joanna Thomas. Brilliant, prolific, and deeply imaginative, Joanna (“Joey” to her friends) is artist and poet in equal measures.

From her home in Ellensburg, a university town in the middle of Washington State, Joanna creates collage, poetry, and books that reflect her eclectic interests and passion for language. Her work has been widely published and anthologized and her chapbooks include [ache] [blur] [cut]: sonnets (Open Country Press, 2023), winner of the Open Country Chapbook Prize, selected by Melissa Kwasny; blue•bird (bloo-burd) (Milk & Cake Press, 2021); plus hand-stitched, limited-edition booklets, including Leonardo’s Lady Explains Herself (Dogtown Press, 2018) and u.vu.lar.i.a: wild flower haiku field book (2023). Her oeuvre also includes one-of-a-kind artist’s books such as Modern Dressmaking Made Easy and Fodder, plus an assortment of volumes in the Untitled series.

Whether her medium is collage, words, or both, here’s what most impresses me about Joanna’s work: her expansive imagination; her ability to embrace, invent, and discard form; her flexibility and responsiveness; her blending of the visual and the verbal; her unpredictability; and her sense of humor. Her visuals are enormously rich, achieved with a limited palette: grays, blacks, browns, with a splash of color imparted by carbon blue, red pen, or a collaged snippet of ribbon or paper.
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Poetry and Paper Magic with Found Text – Guest Poetry Blog #24 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, American Artist, Poet and Freelance Writer , J. I. Kleinberg – Part One of Two

American artist, poet, and freelance writer J. I. Kleinberg.

From here

the days will fatten, sipping seconds of light
through the chilly straw of winter to brighten
and brighten among the blue-snowed crags.

Soil will sweeten toward tenderness, simple
cravings, as your mouth hungers for the taste
of peaches. Air not yet languid but eager

will reel, adolescent, all shoulders and elbows,
teenage air, tumescent. And the plum tree, bride,
slippers slopped with mud, will shimmy

her gown to lure her flighty groom, the bees,
as tulips and peonies foam with color and you
gulp new light, your mouth all round with kisses.

J. I. Kleinberg from Solstice: Light & Dark of the Salish Sea, Chuckanut Sandstone Press, 2021

RICHARD INTRODUCES GUEST POETRY BLOGGER J. I. KLEINBERG AND PART ONE OF HER TWO PART SERIES

Such a pleasure to introduce J.I. (Judy) Kleinberg before she introduces herself (below) and her richly textured (pun intended) journey to poetry. Part Two of her guest poetry blog series will feature American poet and artist Joanna Thomas. I met Judy first at a poetry retreat led by the celebrated Canadian poet and teacher Patrick Lane. She was there with her partner, the poet Luther Allen, whose first guest poetry blog post was posted a few weeks ago. A wonderful literary couple.

I can’t remember if I knew of Judy before that retreat. But, no matter, her passion for poetry and her poetic footprint is large! Since 2010 she posts two poetry blogs pretty well every day. Truly!  The Poetry Department, focuses on the Cascadia bioregion with some poetry news or quote. To connect to the blog please click here. I read it everyday. And invariably every week I find something of interest that was previously unknown to me. An invaluable resource for poets or fans of poetry. Chocolate is a verb is her  personal blog featuring her life and poems and can be found here. A hugely rich resource.

Through The Poetry Department I became aware of the fabulous Poetry Postcard Festival sponsored by Cascadia Poetics Lab and Paul Nelson since 2007.  Judy has participated in this festival since 2011 and became a board member of the Festival last year. And in 2017  she was the co-editor of the Poetry Postcard Anthology 56 Days of August. And to read a wonderful description of how she manages her participation in the festival click here to read her Cascadia Poetics Lab post from last July. Her record keeping of her cards and the ones she recieves is somewhat overwhelming and inspirational!
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Catch and Release – Poems by Palestinian Poet Mosab Abu Toha Who Has Now Shared his Harrowing Story of Being Detained at a Border Crossing By Israeli Soldiers in Late November, 2023

Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha

Doves perch on the roof of our hen coop, guzzle
water from rain puddles. In the neighborhood,
ducks and hens pick what the wind has carried and
laid on the earth: a seed, or a dried leaf, or a piece
from a newspaper soaked in a child’s urine.
Universities closed for a long time. Warplanes have
damaged all roads, especially leading to hospitals.
Mother still reads Quran every day and fasts on
Mondays and Thursdays. Father plants eggplant
and tomato seeds while mother watches through
the door, muttering prayers hoping the seeds would
sprout soon, Mother and Father usually share with
neighbours what grows in the little garden.

And the neighbours pray, too.

Mosab Abu Toha, October 30th, 2023, published through NPR and Instagram, January 2nd, 2024

What horrific suffering was unleased by Hamas in the utterly brutal attacks of October 7th, 2023. More detailed stories of some of the depraved atrocities committed during that day continue to appear. And now the horrific destruction of Gaza and death of what Palestinian authorities say is more than 20,000 Palestinians.

Now, a story of Mosab Abu Toha, a 31 year old poet who lived in Gaza for much of his life and through the current bombings, including the destruction of his house now imortalized in his widely circulated poem (see below) What Is Home? And then, while trying to get his family to Egypt including his three year old son who is an American citizen, he was arbitraily detained and by his gripping account, mistreated by Israeli soldiers.

Seamus Heaney famously said: In one sense, the efficacy of poetry is nil – no lyric has ever stopped a tank” But for  Mosab, stopped by Israeli soldiers nearby a tank and then taken from his family at gunpoint at a border crossing bewtween Gaza and Egypt on November 19th, 2023 his lyrics may have stopped him from enduring a long imprisonment by the Israeli Army. After an international effort to have him found and released he was sent back to Gaza on the afternoon of Nov. 21st after a nightmarish fifty hours when he was says he blindfolded, beaten, tripped, and then clothed again before being detained further. And later Mosab and his family made it safely through a checkpoint to Egypt where they live, for now, in Cairo.

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