Month: July 2015

WestWords Perfect Pair

2064105440_0d89ff73cd_mAmerican poet, literary critic and academic Dick Allen was born in New York in 1939. His award winning poetry has appeared in journals including The New Yorker and The American Poetry Review, his collections include Present Vanishing: Poems (2008) and The Day Before: New Poems, 2003. Allen has also co-edited several science fiction anthologies, including Science Fiction: The Future (1971) and Looking Ahead (1975). He is currently serving a five-year term as poet laureate of the state of Connecticut from 2010 through to 2015. From The Day Before this is a stirring narrative and reminds me of an old cottage I used to holiday in in Conemara:

By Dick Allen

Air out the linens, unlatch the shutters on the eastern side,
and maybe find that deck of Bicycle cards
lost near the sofa. Or maybe walk around
and look out the back windows first.
I hear the view’s magnificent: old silent pines
leading down to the lakeside, layer upon layer
of magnificent light. Should you be hungry,
I’m sorry but there’s no Chinese takeout,
only a General Store.
You passed it coming in,
but you probably didn’t notice its one weary gas pump
along with all those Esso cans from decades ago.
If you’re somewhat confused, think Vermont,
that state where people are folded into the mountains
like berries in batter. . . . What I’d like when I get there
is a few hundred years to sit around and concentrate
on one thing at a time. I’d start with radiators
and work my way up to Meister Eckhart,
or why do so few people turn their lives around, so many
take small steps into what they never do,
the first weeks, the first lessons,
until they choose something other,
beginning and beginning their lives,
so never knowing what it’s like to risk
last minute failure. . . . I’d save blue for last. Klein blue,
or the blue of Crater Lake on an early June morning.
That would take decades. . . . Don’t forget
to sway the fence gate back and forth a few times
just for its creaky sound. When you swing in the tire swing
make sure your socks are off. You’ve forgotten, I expect,
the feeling of feet brushing the tops of sunflowers:
In Vermont, I once met a ski bum on a summer break
who had followed the snows for seven years and planned
on at least seven more. We’re here for the enjoyment of it, he said,
to slalom into joy. . . . I expect you’ll find
Bibles scattered everywhere, or Talmud’s, or Qur’ans,
as well as little snippets of gospel music, chants,
old Advent calendars with their paper doors still open.
You might pay them some heed. Don’t be alarmed
when what’s familiar starts fading, as gradually
you lose your bearings,
your body seems to turn opaque and then transparent,
until finally it’s invisible–what old age rehearses us for
and vacations in the limbo of the Middle West.
Take it easy, take it slow.

When you think I’m on my way,
the long middle passage done,
fill the pantry with cereal, curry, and blue and white boxes of macaroni, place the
checkerboard set, or chess if you insist,
out on the flat-topped stump beneath the porch’s shadow,
pour some lemonade into the tallest glass you can find in the cupboard,
then drum your fingers, practice lifting your eyebrows,
until you tell them all — the sceptics, the bigots, blind neighbours,
those damn-with-faint-praise critics on their hobbyhorses–
that I’m allowed,
and if there’s a place for me that love has kept protected,
I’ll be coming, I’ll be coming too.

The Painter Of The Night


Pulitzer Prize winning American poet James Tate passed away yesterday. His character driven poetry was much admired. He was born in Missouri in 1943 and was professor of English at the University of Massachusettes. His first book of poems The Lost Pilot, 1967 won the Yale Younger Poets Award and his collection Worshipful Company Of Fletchers won the National Book Award in 1994. At The Clothesline is one of my favourites, so simple yet so powerful. RIP

by James Tate

Millie was in the backyard hanging the
laundry. I was watching her from the kitchen
window. Why does this give me so much pleasure?
Because I love her in a million ways, and because
I love the idea of clean laundry flapping in
the wind. It’s timeless, a new beginning, a
promise of tomorrow. Clothespins! God, I love
clothespins. We should stock up on them. Some
day they may stop making them, and then what?
If I were a painter, I would paint Millie hanging
the laundry. That would be a painting that
would make you happy, and break your heart.
You would never know what was in her mind, big
thoughts, little thoughts, no thoughts. Did she
see the hawk circling overhead? Did she
hate hanging laundry? Was she going to run away
with a sailor? The sheets billowing like sails
on an ancient skiff, the socks waving goodbye.
Millie, O Millie, do you remember me? The man
who travelled with cloth napkins and loved you
in the great storm.


I’m thinking about Greece today and their rejection of the terms of an international bailout.  As one young Greek woman said on the news this evening “we are a free people; poor, but free”. Greek banks are running out of money so a deal with 8297948879_c0932dbb4e_mthe Eurozone has to be struck fast. Moreover, prime minister Alexis Tsipras has to try, somehow, to unite a divided country, as many Greeks are deeply unhappy at what has happened.  Anyway, I stumbled across this interesting Cavafy poem, written around 1928, the poem is placed at the decline of the Hellenistic period, before the Roman-Seleucid war 192-188 BC but with uncanny parallels to what’s been happening between Europe and the Greeks in recent months.  Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1863, Cavafy’s poems exhibit a skilled and versatile craftsmanship, drawing on themes from personal experience, along with a deep and wide knowledge of history. Since his death in 1933, Cavafy’s reputation has grown and he is now considered one of the finest European and modern Greek poets.

Personally, I’m behind them 100% –  Καλή τύχη Greece! This is:

In A Large Greek Colony, 200 B.C.

By C P Cavafy (trans. by Edmund Keely & Philip Sherrard)

That things in the Colony aren’t what they should be

no one can doubt any longer,

and though in spite of everything we do move forward,

maybe – as more than a few believe – the time has come

to bring in a Political Reformer.

But here’s the problem, here’s the rub:

they make a tremendous fuss

about everything, these Reformers.

(What a relief it would be

if they were never needed.)  they probe everywhere,

question the smallest detail,

and right away think up radical changes

that demand immediate execution.

also, they have a liking for sacrifice:

Get rid of that property;

your owning it is risky:

properties like those are what ruin colonies.

Get rid of that income,

and the other connected with it,

and this third, as a natural consequence:

they are substantial, but it can’t be helped –

the responsibility they create is damaging.

And as they proceed with their investigation,

they find an endless number of useless things to eliminate –

things that are, however, difficult to get rid of.

And when, all being well, they finish the job,

every detail now diagnosed and sliced away,

and they retire (also taking the wages due to them),

it’s a wonder anything’s left at all

after such surgical efficiency.

Maybe the moment hasn’t arrived yet.

Let’s not be too hasty: haste is a dangerous thing.

Untimely measures bring repentance.

Certainly, and unhappily, many things in the Colony are


But is there anything human without some fault?

And after all, you see, we do move forward.

Haris Alexiou is a favourite of mine, used to listen to her all the time when I lived in Greece in the 1990’s. Great memories 🙂


American poet essayist and journalist Walt Whitman was born on Long Island 1819. He was among the most influential poets of the American canon often being referred to as the father of free-verse.  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.  This is:
By Walt Whitman
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.