Sunday, August 31, 2014



A famous painting [at left] by the important British pre-Raphaelite artist Cowper [1877-1958] depicts Lancelot asleep as four British Isles queens espy him. This scene comes from the many stories of the round table, collected in a volume by Howard Pyle here in 1905. There are other paintings of the same scene, ie. one by another British painter, Calderon [1833-1898] from 1908. Be sure to know his famous piece "St. Elizabeth of Hungary's Great Act of Renunciation" (1891).

Here's an excerpt from the tales of King Arthur, read more here:

How Sir Launcelot was Found in a Sleep by Queen Morgana le Fay, and Three Other Queens who were with Her, and How He was Taken to a Castle of Queen Morgana's and of What Befell Him There.

So Sir Launcelot lay in deep slumber under that apple-tree, and knew neither that Sir Lionel had left him nor what ill-fortune had befallen that good knight. Whilst he lay there sleeping in that wise there came by, along the road, and at a little distance from him, a very fair procession of lordly people, making a noble parade upon the highway.

The chiefest of this company were four ladies, who were four queens. With them rode four knights, and, because the day was warm, the four knights bore a canopy of green silk by the four corners upon the points of their lances in such wise as to shelter those queens from the strong heat of the sun.

And those four knights rode all armed cap-a-pie on four noble war-horses, and the four queens, bedight in great estate, rode on four white mules richly caparisoned with furniture of divers colors embroidered with gold.

After these lordly folk there followed a very excellent court of esquires and demoiselles to the number of a score or more; some riding upon horses and some upon mules that ambled very easily.

Now all these folk of greater or lesser degree were entirely unaware that Sir Launcelot lay sleeping so nigh to them as they rode by chattering very gayly together in the spring-time weather, taking great pleasure in the warm air, and in growing things, and the green fields, and the bright sky; and they would have had no knowledge that the knight was there, had not Sir Launcelot's horse neighed very lustily.

Thereupon, they were aware of the horse, and then they were aware of Sir Launcelot where he lay asleep under the apple-tree, with his head lying upon his helmet.

Now foremost of all those queens was Queen Morgana le Fay (who was King Arthur's sister, and a potent, wicked enchantress, of whom much hath been told in the Book of King Arthur), and besides Queen Morgana there was the Queen of North Wales, and the Queen of Eastland, and the Queen of the Outer Isles.

Now when this party of queens, knights, esquires, and ladies heard the war-horse neigh, and when they beheld Sir Launcelot where he lay, they drew rein and marvelled very greatly to see a knight sleeping so soundly at that place, maugre all the noise and tumult of their passing. So Queen Morgana called to her one of the esquires who followed after them, and she said to him: "Go softly and see if thou knowest who is yonder knight; but do not wake him."

So the esquire did as she commanded; he went unto that apple-tree and he looked into Sir Launcelot's face, and by hap he knew who it was because he had been to Camelot erstwhiles and he had seen Sir Launcelot at that place.

So he hastened back to Queen Morgana and he said to her: "Lady, I believe that yonder knight is none other than the great Sir Launcelot of the Lake, concerning whom there is now such report; for he is reputed to be the most powerful of all the knights of King Arthur's Round Table, and the greatest knight in the world, so that King Arthur loves him and favors him above all other knights."

Now when Queen Morgana le Fay was aware that the knight who was asleep there was Sir Launcelot, it immediately entered her mind for to lay some powerful, malignant enchantment upon him to despite King Arthur. For she too knew how dear Sir Launcelot was to King Arthur, and so she had a mind to do him mischief for King Arthur's sake.

So she went softly to where Sir Launcelot lay with intent to work some such spell upon him. But when she had come to Sir Launcelot she was aware that this purpose of mischief was not possible whilst he wore that ring upon his finger which the Lady of the Lake had given him; wherefore she had to put by her evil design for a while.

But though she was unable to work any malign spell upon him, she was
able to cause it by her magic that that sleep in which he lay should remain unbroken for three or four hours. So she made certain movements of her hands above his face and by that means she wove the threads of his slumber so closely together that he could not break through them to awake.

After she had done this she called to her several of the esquires who were of her party, and these at her command fetched the shield of Sir Launcelot and laid him upon it. Then they lifted him and bore him away, carrying him in that manner to a certain castle in the forest that was no great distance away. And the name of that castle was Chateaubras and it was one of Queen Morgana's castles.

And all that while Sir Launcelot wist nothing, but lay in a profound sleep, so that when he awoke and looked about him he was so greatly astonished that he knew not whether
he was in a vision or whether he was awake. For whilst he had gone asleep beneath that apple-tree, here he now lay in a fair chamber upon a couch spread with a coverlet of flame-colored linen.


Liz Robbins

We have to feature Liz Robbins's poem "Under Pressure" in the Summer 2014 issue from the BeloitPoetryJournal. What great imagery, and I love what it evokes--the ancient world, people advancing silently on the water, just a gorgeous piece. Very beautiful.

Here's an excerpt:
[...] hasty if cold exit, how the terrible
dates would suddenly shift, the house of self cycloned by the gulf 
stream of a single question,
the nightmare swallows made sluggish by perpetual frustrated nesting. 
And this is how we’d cripple ourselves away from forever and gold. 
Some would speak. More falling. . . . Like midnight in the garden,
a singing jag both beautiful and sad. 
And how we’d move on, drivers in our long sculling boats.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Terry L. Kennedy

We must feature the great poem "Sometimes Winter Comes When You Least Expect It" by Terry L. Kennedy in Waccamaw, issue no. 12, Spring 2014. It's both a great stream of consciousness/wide style poem and a talented look at both emotion and nature. And how they intersect. This poem captures something universal and yet does not slide into the obvious or the cliche. It's a great piece.

Here's an excerpt:

Like a winter day that arrives in June when there’s nothing to do but drink black coffee, watch the rain, so too will the thin white inch of memory round your neighbor’s corner, disappear down the block. Like touching my finger to your lips, so too will the day-long mist sharpen something for us, perhaps our image 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Karen Finneyfrock

We had to get in a mention of the poem "Oceanography" by Karen Finneyfrock in UnionStationMagazine, from July 2010. It's a theme or topic poem, but it's really beautiful--and fascinating. It is somewhat reminiscent of W.H. Auden's best work, or Ted Hughes's best work. Or even the mystical bells in the Garth Nix kid's book Sabriel.

It's incredible, here's an excerpt:

There are seven layers to the ocean.
The top one is clear, cellophane or wax paper, moves
like oil with no respect for irony.
The second layer is ocean wax, which liquefies
as it gets cold [...]
Layer four is akin to hypnosis. So deep, you relax to go there.
There are still animals, eyes orange in the Halloween night, glow tape
on the theatre stairs. The slow fade begins.
Layers five and six are peelings of the abyss, the abyss and the great abyss.
People think it is silent down there, but the whales scream when
sonar bass drums itself on the ocean’s skin. Black ink on black paper.
Everything that swims has legs.

Alvin Pang

We have to highlight Alvin Pang's poem "Aubade" in TheWolf, issue 18, Aug. 2008. It has a great sinuous sense of forward movement, of time. This is rarely done well in modern verse, but here you can't wait to get to the end and see how it all turns out. It's ominous but alluring, just like Poe and other gothic literature. Real gothic often has a lovely element of nature in it, reminding us all that death is natural for all things. It is at once both anathema and mundane. We fear and resist it, but of course it rules over all. 

Most people focus on the resistance to death, but here it's part of a larger whole--modern poetry is often very puerile, without any refinement or thought. Here's an interview with Pang, he's written many books of poetry.

Here's an excerpt--but it has a great ending as well, really chilling, so don't miss that. I didn't want to excerpt just a bit of it, the whole progression is what's great. If you love the opening here read the rest:

    My love, I fear the silence of your hands. 
      Mahmoud Darwish

Overnight, my heart, the forest has grown cold
and every leaf shivers with the sure knowledge of its fall,
shivers yellow and maple-red and mauve, Summer remembered
in vermillion dying. When I walk the river now
it bears merely the lightest press of feet, my body swaying
to keep balance in the whetted breeze. I had to leave you
on the absent shore, a warm bloom nesting in the reeds,
an unfixed, iridescent eye. 


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jonathan Morley

Let's look at Jonathan Morley's poem "Iberian Baroque" in TheWolf, issue 17, April 2008. It has a really interesting cast to it, and a great look at 'ancient-focused'/theme poetry [often done by the Modernists] a bit further afield. It's great, with a heavy sense of reality, air and space.

Here's an excerpt:

[...]                 Wreaths 
of stone flowers curve in the arch 
whose foot is on my head.  No gold. 
Other heads are set about me, 
animals:  Beaver , from Labrador, 
Yaguara , from the January River: 
larger than mine, my head was shrunk 
to allow for the enlarged earlobes. 
No gold on this stone totem. 
Around, beyond the chain of the arch 
everything in gold: heaven, 
I saw this scrawl on shields of mashed feathers 
when Quetzalcoatl, feathered snake 
appeared from the East as a bearded man; 
heard it uttered when [...]

Chelsea Smart

Chelsea Smart has a poem I want to focus on in Shampoo, issue 40, 2014. It's called "Raining 101" and has an interesting mix of styles. It seems very Poiret and Asian in the sense of the 1910s obsession with the exotic East. While most Modernist poets focused on ancient Greece and Rome, some went further and included other areas--this could almost be from an old tome.

Here's an excerpt:

The grapevine waited for spring to finish
Lacquering the hill with emerald paint.

Crucified boughs forgave the storm
Like a saint forgets to forget the covenant
And waits to be forsaken.


Smoking up the vineyard while
Night avalanched and grew.

Penelope Shuttle

We have to highlight Penelope Shuttle's great piece in TheWolf, from issue 17, July 2004 called "There". It has a really fresh take on modern ideas, a type of crystalline post-modern style that is very appealing. I am the last person to accept anything after 1930 poetry-wise, but this is great. Here's an excerpt from the end:


The trees stowed away their leaves
Like a seraph, the willow lingered
I was there
like September in the north,
like a keepsake of the sun
I was there forever.

Aubrey de Vere

Irish poetry in particular has its own ambience. It's half-steeped in shadows and things forgotten, but always draws you in and feels accessible. A great example is from County Limerick, it's Aubrey de Vere's [1814-1902] poem "The Little Black Rose". Read more of Ireland's poetry in W.B. Yeats's tome A Book of Irish Verse here. Here it is:

The Little Black Rose shall be red at last;What made it black but the March wind dry,And the tear of the widow that fell on it fast?It shall redden the hills when June is nigh.
The Silk of the Kine shall rest at last;What drove her forth but the dragon-fly?In the golden vale she shall feed full fast,With her mild gold horn and her slow, dark eye.
The wounded wood-dove lies dead at last!The pine long bleeding, it shall not die!This song is secret. Mine ear it passedIn a wind o'er the plains at Athenry.


We have to focus on a great poem, "Adonis", by the poet Tree, translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa in TheWolf, April 2009, issue 20. There's a lovely feel to this piece, a moving ambience that seems resplendent with nature and the almost otherworldly beauty of this earth.

Here's an excerpt:

In Jeirun there is a door made of roses.
Passersby bathe in its scent.
There is a tent for wounds,
there is a forest for the morning,
its branches are bridges that eyes track

Christopher Merrill

Christopher Merrill has a great poem in TheWolf, April 2012, issue 26, called "Black". It's a great example at modern gothic work. Just like Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" [1842] and the early gothic fiction that emerged in the 1800s, there's an underlying sense of terror, a confusion you cannot pin down. It's eerie but not repulsive. It draws you towards it, and you don't look away until it's too late. That takes a special kind of skill, it's a balancing act that's very fun to read. 

Here's an excerpt:

Color of holiness, of the first demon summoned
At dusk to watch the storm approach, of her favorite dress.
Black of the origin, black of the end—of what?


Root and core of the white
Oak split by lightning on their final afternoon.

Shoeblack, black belt, black magic practiced in the back


Brenda Shaughnessy

Modern poetry has a tendency to flow along unencumbered by old devices, like narrative or lyricism. The best poets combine their newfound freedoms with old skill. Brenda Shaughnessy's poem "This Person-sized Sky with Bruise" in TheAwl, Sept. 2012 is a great example of this. It's emotive and serious while retaining beauty and an edge of the gothic.

Here's an excerpt:

simultaneously orange and violet,
(though my eyes are closed) is
either my inner color (that covered mirror)
or simply dusk.
An opaline sheet
pulled because the night is ashamed

It was so much
itself—bloody flesh,
wild purple skin. A fistful
so lush it was almost imaginary,
smelling of love, it didn’t matter whose.

Ghassan Zaqtan

One incredible poem, translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah, is Ghassan Zaqtan's "You're Not Alone in the Wilderness" in TheWolf, from Oct. 2011, issue 25. It's a gorgeous, lush poem with the air of the medieval or ancient. This type of poetry is a modern kind of Shelley, an entrancing look at a tale out of the mysteries of time. It's incredible.

Here's an excerpt:

In Jabal Najmeh, by the woods, the wizard will stop me
by a passage for boats with black masts
where the dead sit before dawn in black garments and straw masks,
a passage for the birds
where white fog swims and gates open in the brush
and where someone is talking down the slope
and bells are heard and the rustles of flapping wings
resemble the forest passing over the mountain and nicking the night!
…and peasants, fishermen and hunters, and awestruck soldiers, Moabite,


Bill Kimzey

We must feature "Carousel" by Bill Kimzey in TheAwl, July 2011. It is a great example of how modern/unordered imagery can work. Usually modern poetry falls into the trap of being crass or boring, petty lists of the detrius of our mundane lives, but here diverse, odd little things are combined into a greater whole. There is harmony and symbolism here. It's quite Symbolist, almost.

Here's an excerpt:

At five I took up break dancing.
Enameled zebras and mermaids,
sinewed to my vertebrae, rode
the crest and trough of thudding
sinusoidal waves.


David Morley

One particularly great poem is David Morley's "Chorus" in TheWolf, Nov. 2009, issue 22. Repetitive poetry is hard to pull off, it is rarely done well since Modernism or since Frost, but here he succeeds. There is a real epic, wide open horizon feeling in this piece. It's quite like Seamus Heaney, with the same type of lovely, earthy natureness. It draws you in and is soothing while still being invigorating.

Here's an excerpt:

The song-thrush slams down gauntlets on its snail-anvil.
The nightjar murmurs in nightmare. The dawn is the chorus.
The bittern blasts the mists wide with a booming foghorn.
The nuthatch nails another hatch shut. The dawn is the chorus.
The merlin bowls a boomerang over bracken then catches it.
The capercaillie uncorks its bottled throat. The dawn is the chorus.

Nuar Alsadir

There's a great poem by Nuar Alsadir on TheAwl, from Oct. 2011 called "Morning". It's got a great Imagist sense of mood and a kind of T.S. Eliot feel in subject matter. It is a good example of 'evoking' an idea or situation in poetic form. It doesn't go too far on either end of the scale, it's simply transporting.

Here's an excerpt:

when dark, is not that,
morning, but more like rain:
a sky of smog-stuck potatoes;
frustration without eyes.
The way I did nothing exhausted me:
I fed the wall,
 I have seven jars of lies:
one for each day and the joy!
of repetition. Weeks redouble
and hold me still,

Friday, August 15, 2014


Let's take a moment to revisit one incredible, important poem from E.E. Cummings, "All in green went my love riding":

All in green went my love riding
on a great horse of gold
into the silver dawn.
four lean hounds crouched low and smiling
the merry deer ran before.
Fleeter be they than dappled dreams
the swift sweet deer
the red rare deer.
Horn at hip went my love riding
riding the echo down
into the silver dawn.

four lean hounds crouched low and smiling
the level meadows ran before.

Softer be they than slippered sleep
the lean lithe deer
the fleet flown deer.

Four fleet does at a gold valley
the famished arrows sang before.

Bow at belt went my love riding
riding the mountain down into the silver dawn.

four lean hounds crouched low and smiling
the sheer peaks ran before.

Paler be they than daunting death
the sleek slim deer
the tall tense deer.

Four tall stags at a green mountain
the lucky hunter sang before.

All in green went my love riding
on a great horse of gold
into the silver dawn.

four lean hounds crouched low and smiling
my heart fell dead before.

Richard Siken

We have to focus for a minute on Richard Siken's great modern poem "The Stag and the Quiver" in TheAwl, April 2014. It has the same old Anglo-Saxon or Ivanhoe feeling as some of the more traditional work of E.E. Cummings, but with more of a clear post-modern feel [ie. his famous poem "All in green went my love riding".]  There's a sense of the ancient, of the Anglo, and of the personal, the emotional--a great mix. Very moving.

Here's an excerpt:

Once there was a deer called stag. A white breasted, a many 
pointed. He refused to still when he halted, the hooves in 
his mind were always lifted. Everything comes close, the 
branches slide. In a clearing made of cleavings, stag sees 
another stag. They watch each other, they share no story. 
will not cross you and you must move on. There is nothing 
else. It reminds me of some tale, stay with me to remember, 
it reminds me of where I was going without you.

Wesley Rothman

We need to highlight Wesley Rothman for his poems "Like A Prayer" in TheAwl, Dec. 2013 and "Bathing With Frida" in FourWayReview, issue 5, Spring 2014. He's got a good touch, a deft clarity that doesn't fall into the trap of too much extraneous explanation. There's a strong sense of Petrarch, really, a type of modern mood to it but stark and still all the same.

Here's an excerpt of the first:

Everyone must stand alone
with other loners. The black lace
veils from every other chapel-
goer, all the doves mourning
a boy-star petered out too soon.
help me slip through
the bars of this brick house
shattered by blue light, glum moon

The second has a great tone, an intense look at otherworldliness that does not devolve into pat ideas and lines for simpletons. Here's the opening excerpt:

With a cigarette between my fingers
and flowers bound up in her hair
dry morning bathes us
in the claw-foot tub. Asphyxiation
by drowning. This dawn welcomes us
to another side. 

John Paul Davis

We have to feature the great "Bicycling Home at Dusk I Closed My Eyes & Let Go & Saw the Rabbits" by John Paul Davis in Four Way Review, issue 5, Spring 2014. It's got a great sense of American Modernism and beat sensibilities. I like the 'modern-Whitman' feeling. The opening is especially great, here's an excerpt:

The headwind runs cool fingers
through my hair. The opal
of rain clouds & the treeline
lit up like the eyes of a woman


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rachel Lehrman

We have to feature the great Rachel Lehrman for her poem "False Awakenings" in Molly Bloom, summer 2014. It has an incredible sense of modernity without any of the usual drawbacks--a real post-modern brilliance. What a talent, especially in the little lattice edges of the gothic that seep in, a perfect fringe. She has a unique voice that really stands out.

Here's an excerpt:

A dull glow along the eastern horizon. Wild streaks of orange and pink hover just above. A sliver of

grayish blue lingers to the west 



Hawthorn. Holly. Birch. Blur into woods. Fields of grass and heather. Cows loosed for grazing, the wild

orchids caged for protection.

Time slows.

All around you the rustle of leaves sounds like a sea.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


It's quite interesting to read books of myths and legends, even from foreign points of view--F. Hadland's Myths & Legends of Japan [1912] has some lovely passages that also give a light introduction to early understandings of Asian life. There are also gorgeous early Impressionist/Orientalist pre-Raphaelite [in the Asian sense] paintings for illustrations. Read it all here.

Here's an excerpt about Japan's tea ceremony ideology:

The tea-room became, not a place of carousal, but a place where the wayfarer might find peace in solemn meditation. Even the garden path leading to the tea-room had its symbolic meaning, for it signified the first stage of self-illumination. The following was Kobori-Enshiu's idea of the path leading to the tea-room:
"A cluster of summer trees,
A bit of the sea,
A pale evening moon."
Such a scene was intended to convey to the wayfarer a sense of spiritual light. The trees, sea, and moon awakened old dreams, and their presence made the guest eager to pass into the greater joys of the tea-room. Nosamurai was allowed to take his sword into the fragrant sanctuary of peace, and in many tea-rooms there was a low door through which the guests entered with bowed head, as a sign of humility. In silence the guests made obeisance before a kakemono, or some simple and beautiful flower on the tokonoma (alcove), and then seated themselves upon the mats. When they had done so the host entered and the water was heard to boil in the kettle with a musical sound, because of some pieces of iron which it contained. Even the boiling of the kettle was associated with poetical ideas, for the song of water and metal was intended to suggest "the echoes of a cataract muffled by clouds, of a distant sea breaking among the rocks, a rainstorm sweeping through a bamboo forest, or of the soughing of pines on some far-away hill." There was a sense of harmony in the tea-room. [...]

Sir Walter Scott

One great writer to explore is Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott [1771-1832]. He wrote the great knights and castles adventure story Ivanhoe but also lots of verse and other novels. He's a bit like Longfellow or Whitman, but with a more lively and visual pace. His Marmion: a Tale of Flodden Field in Six Cantos [1808] is very enjoyable to read. Read it all here.

Here's an excerpt:


Ashestiel, Ettrick Forest.

Like April morning clouds, that pass,
With varying shadow, o’er the grass,
And imitate, on field and furrow,
Life’s chequer’d scene of joy and sorrow;
Like streamlet of the mountain north,                      
Now in a torrent racing forth,
Now winding slow its silver train,
And almost slumbering on the plain;
Like breezes of the autumn day,
Whose voice inconstant dies away,                        
And ever swells again as fast,
When the ear deems its murmur past;
Thus various, my romantic theme
Flits, winds, or sinks, a morning dream.
Yet pleased, our eye pursues the trace                    
Of Light and Shade’s inconstant race;
Pleased, views the rivulet afar,
Weaving its maze irregular;
And pleased, we listen as the breeze
Heaves its wild sigh through Autumn trees;        


And don't forget he wrote his often quoted lines in this work, in Canto VI, stanza 17, ie:

Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
A Palmer too! No wonder why
I felt rebuked beneath his eye

Renee Emerson

We need to feature "The Wandering Witch" by Renee Emerson in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, vol. 1, 2014. It has a great sense of place and touch, something you often find in ancient Chinese poetry [ie even that translated by Pound and other Modernists]. It's quite lovely, but there's an edge to it, as sweetly hidden as a thin knife blade under a cloth hem.

Here's an excerpt:

A cricket, lacquer-black,
between the wet tongues
of marsh grass.
A dove in the sway
and quiver of night-wind.


She plunges into clamor
kept private. 


Eugene Onegin

One lovely, yet hard to get into, piece is the Russian verse novel/epic poem Eugene Onegin [Евге́ний Оне́гин] by Pushkin [publ. 1825]. Read it all here. There is also a film of it with Liv Tyler. It's a romantic story of love dismissed and then yearned for--of how time can change your mind, but you find it is too late, and you cannot go back and have what was previously offered.

Here's an excerpt--what lovely last lines in this stanza, they remind me of Keats:


My goddesses, where are your shades?
Do ye not hear my mournful sighs?
Are ye replaced by other maids
Who cannot conjure former joys?
Shall I your chorus hear anew,
Russia's Terpsichore review
Again in her ethereal dance?
Or will my melancholy glance
On the dull stage find all things changed,
The disenchanted glass direct
Where I can no more recollect?—
A careless looker-on estranged
In silence shall I sit and yawn
And dream of life's delightful dawn?


And here are the last lines, which have a moving yet mysterious touch to them:


Happy who quit life's banquet seat
Before the dregs they shall divine
Of the cup brimming o'er with wine—
Who the romance do not complete,
But who abandon it—as I
Have my Oneguine—suddenly.

Jennifer Firestone

We have to feature "[What is the forest language]" by Jennifer Firestone in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, vol. 1, 2014. She's got an echo of the Popol Vuh in here, and handles nature poetry well--a great kind of Transcendentalist, which is rare. There's an edge of Poe and the gothic; if you liked the book House of Leaves or Marisha Pessl's gothic novel Night Film, you will also like her poem "N i g h t d r e a m s".

Here's an excerpt from the former:

What is the forest language     dark breath of green.

A fire in her     claws flicker     a fire works itself out.
The sun is not mine    she whispers     yet burning takes root.