Month: August 2014

WestWords Perfect Pair 13.08.2014

Argentinian short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires in 1899. When he was fifteen, his family moved to Switzerland, where he studied in Geneva before travelling widely in Europe, including stays in Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in surrealist literary journals, his first collection Passion For Buenos Aires was published in 1923. In 1955 he was appointed director of the National Public Library and professor of Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. Borges was widely read, profoundly erudite and fluent in several languages, however he was relatively unknown in the English speaking world until he won the International Publishers Prize alongside Samuel Beckett in 1961.
Due to a hereditary condition Borges became blind in his late fifties and in such later works as In Praise Of Darkness 1969 and The Gold of the Tigers, 1972, he wrote of his lifelong descent into blindness and how it affected his perceptions of the world and himself as a writer. He died in Geneva in 1986. Here is:

IN PRAISE OF DARKNESS
By Jorge Luis Borges
(trans. From the Spanish by Hoyt Rogers)

Old age (the name that others give it)
Can be the time of our greatest bliss.
The animal has died or almost died.
The man and his spirit remain.
I live among vague, luminous shapes
That are not darkness yet.
Buenos Aires,
Whose edges disintegrated
Into the endless plain,
Has gone back to being the Recoleta, the Retiro,
The nondescript streets of the Once,
And the rickety old houses
We still call the South.
In my life there were always too many things.
Democritus of Abdera plucked out his eyes in order to think;
Time has been my Democritus.

This penumbra is slow and does not pain me;
It flows down a gentle slope,
Resembling eternity.
My friends have no faces,
Women are what they were so many years ago,
These corners could be other corners,
There are no letters on the pages of books.
All this should frighten me,
But it is a sweetness, a return.
Of the generations of texts on earth
I will have read only a few –
The ones that I keep reading in my memory,
Reading and transforming.
From South, East, West, and North
The paths converge that have led me
To my secret centre.
Those paths were echoes and footsteps,
Women, men, death-throes, resurrections,
Days and nights,
Dreams and half-wakeful dreams,
Every inmost moment of yesterday
And all the yesterdays of the world,
The Dane’s staunch sword and the Persian’s moon,
The acts of the dead,
Shared love, and words,
Emerson and snow, so many things.
Now I can forget them. I reach my centre
My algebra and my key,
My mirror.
Soon I will know who I am.

 

 

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WesWords Perfect Pair 12.08.2014

American poet, essayist and journalist Walt Whitman, was born on Long Island in 1819.  Whitman worked as a journalist, a teacher, a government clerk, and–in addition to publishing his poetry–was a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War.  He was among the most influential poets of the American canon, often being referred to as the father of free verse.  A fine poet, his work breaks the boundaries of poetic form and is generally prose like.  His major work, Leaves Of Grass was first published in 1855 and was a collection of poetry which, he continued to edit and revise until his death in 1892.  It’s a mammoth collection which praises the human form and mind, nature and the individual’s role in it and contains epics such as Song of Myself and I Sing the Body Electric and this: 

(In Memory of actor Robin Williams, who read this poem in his 1989 movie Dead Poets Society.)

O Captain! My Captain!

By Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
 

WestWords Perfect Pair 11.08.2014

 

American poet and teacher, Thomas Lux was born in Massachusetts in 1946.  He is known for his humour and once commented in the Los Angeles Times, ‘I like to make the reader laugh—and then steal that laugh, right out of the throat. Because I think life is like that, tragedy right alongside humour.’ Some of his books of poetry include Child Made of Sand (Houghton Mifflin, 2012); God Particles (Houghton Mifflin, 2008); The Cradle Place (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) and The Street of Clocks (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). The humorous: 

 

TARANTULAS ON THE LIFEBUOY
By Thomas Lux

For some semitropical reason
When the rains fall
Relentlessly they fall

Into swimming pools, these otherwise
Bright and scary
Arachnids. They can swim
A little, but not for long

And they can’t climb the ladder out.
They usually drown – but
If you want their favor,
If you believe there is justice,
A reward for not loving

The death of ugly
And even dangerous (the eel, hog snake,
Rats) creatures, if

You believe these things, then
You would leave a lifebuoy
Or two in your swimming pool at night.

And in the morning
You would haul ashore
The huddled, hairy survivors

And escort them
Back to the bush, and know,
Be assured that at least these saved,
As individuals, would not turn up

Again someday
In your hat, drawer,
Or the tangled underworld

Of you socks, and that even –
When your belief in justice
Merges with your belief in dreams –
They may tell the others

In a sign language
Four times as subtle
And complicated as man’s

That you are good,
That you love them,
That you would save them again

 

 

WestWords Perfect Pair – 10.08.2014

Pulitzer Prize winning American poet, Philip Levine was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1928. He began to write poetry while he was going to night school at Wayne State University in Detroit. He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where he studied with Robert Lowell and John Berryman. Levine is frequently awarded and is author of sixteen books of poetry, including, Breath; The Mercy and The Simple Truth,1994. His poems are gritty and profound free-verse monologues, one of which is:

THE WATER’S CHANT
By Philip Levine

Seven years ago I went into
the High Sierras stunned by the desire
to die. For hours I stared into a clear
mountain stream that fell down
over speckled rocks, and then I
closed my eyes and prayed that when
I opened them I would be gone
and somewhere a purple and golden
thistle would overflow with light.
I had not prayed since I was a child
and at first I felt foolish saying
the name of God, and then it became
another word. All the while
I could hear the water’s chant
below my voice. At last I opened
my eyes to the same place, my hands
cupped and I drank long from
the stream, and then turned for home
not even stopping to find the thistle
that blazed by my path.

Since then
I have gone home to the city
of my birth and found it gone,
a gray and treeless one now in its place.
The one house I loved the most
simply missing in a row of houses,
the park where I napped on summer days
fenced and locked, the great shop
where we forged, a plane of rubble,
the old hurt faces turned away.
My brother was with me, thickened
by the years, but still my brother,
and when we embraced I felt the rough
cheek and his hand upon my back tapping
as though to tell me, I know! I know!
brother, I know!
Here in California
a new day begins. Full dull clouds ride
in from the sea, and this dry valley
calls out for rain. My brother has
risen hours ago and hobbled to the shower
and gone out into the city of death
to trade his life for nothing because
this is the world. I could pray now,
but not to die, for that will come one
day or another. I could pray for
his bad leg or my son John whose luck
is rotten, or for four new teeth, but
instead I watch my eucalyptus,
the giant in my front yard, bucking
and swaying in the wind and hear its
tidal roar. In the strange new light
the leaves overflow purple and gold,
and a fiery dust showers into the day.

 

WestWords Perfect Pair 09.08.2014

American poet and author Maxine Kumin, who passed away earlier this year, was born in Philadelphia in 1925 and didn’t begin to write until mid-life, when she studied poetry at the Boston Centre for Adult Education. There she met and befriended fellow poet Anne Sexton and published her first book of poems Halfway in 1961. Since then she has published more than fifteen collections including Up Country in 1972 for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Nurture 1989; Looking For Luck 1992 and Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010. Kumin also wrote novels and short stories, over twenty children’s books and four books of essays including Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry.

Written shortly after the death of her close friend Anne Sexton, this is:

 

HOW IT IS
By Maxine Kumin

Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.
The dog at the centre of my life recognizes
you’ve come to visit, he’s ecstatic.
In the left pocket, a hole.
In the right, a parking ticket
delivered up last August on Bay State Road.
In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
a flinging from the pods of the soul.
My skin presses your old outline.
It is hot and dry inside.

I think of the last day of your life,
old friend, how I would unwind it, paste
it together in a different collage,
back from the death car idling in the garage,
back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,
reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish
into a ceremony of sandwich,
running the home movie backward to a space
we could be easy in, a kitchen place
with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.
Dear friend, you have excited crowds
with your example. They swell
like wine bags, straining at your seams.
I will be years gathering up our words,
fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.

 

 

WestWords Perfect Pair 08.08.2014

The American poet, essayist and environmentalist Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco in 1930. He’s often associated with the 1950’s Beat Generation of poets, a group who rejected the traditional values of Western society in favour of Eastern philosophies and culture. The group also included Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Snyder studied Literature, Anthropology and Asian Culture & Languages, and through his writing he conveys experiences and insights into the work he has done over the years as a lumberjack, mountain-trail maker, fire-lookout, translator and carpenter, among many other things. Thus, the relationship between man and nature is a theme that pervades his many collections of poetry, not least of which, Turtle Island, which won him the 1974 Pulitzer Prize For Poetry. Here is:

FOR THE CHILDREN
By Gary Snyder

The rising hills, the slopes,
Of statistics
Lie before us,
The steep climb
Of everything, going up,
Up, as we all
Go down.

In the next century
Or the one beyond that,
They say,
Are valleys, pastures,
We can meet there in peace
If we make it.

To climb these coming crests
One word to you, to
You and your children:

Stay together
Learn the flowers
Go light

 

Listen to Summer by WestWords!

Listen to the poetry and music of the Summer with Tracy Gaughan, featuring:

Back Yard by Carl Sandburg & Constellations, Jack Johnson

Summer from The Second Pastoral by Alexander Pope & Adagio from Oboe Concerto in D Minor, Tomaso Albinoni

In The Summer by Nizar Qabbani & We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, Declan O’Rourke

Green Crab’s Shell by Mark Doty & High On The Tide, Fyfe Dangerfield

Summer by Louise Gluck & It’s Summertime, The Flaming Lips

If You Get There Before I Do by Dick Allen & Darlin Wait For Me, Richard Hawley