Thursday, July 31, 2014

Jeff Ewing

We need to highlight Jeff Ewing's piece "6.9 Off Humboldt Bay" in Ascent, May 2014. There's an echo of the ancient French forest Brocéliande, that place with strange ties to Merlin and very evocative of the odd, eldritch quality that peeks out from the corners of Tolkien's work. Ewing's style reminds me of Edna St. Vincent Millay, with that great sense of landscape and the life of nature.

Here's an excerpt:
[...]                      A single wave

larger and darker touches the beach
where elk turn to look out, ears cocked,
hooves raised and trembling. Inland
dust rises like a rug shaken out, hazes
the sky strung loosely from mountain
to mountain, settling after some thought
onto the leaves of the olive trees above [...]

Robin Chapman

We have to highlight Robin Chapman's piece "Madison, August 1" in Ascent, Sept. 2013. It's incredible, almost a type of Modernist, Imagist take on Coleridge. Chapman's piece "June 26, Madison" in Ascent, Feb. 2014 is also great, with a real sense of space and place; there's almost a French vein in it all, like Verlaine or Baudelaire. 

Here's an excerpt:


in the garden that was shining in praise
of last night’s quarter inch of rain,
every leaf and petal lifted glistening,
and the phlox’s vanilla perfume drifting
in the new damp cool of morning,

Also try their poem "Dark and Light" from Oct. 2009 in Ascent; the poem is very Frost-like, in a great way. Here's an excerpt:

Walk through the woods at night in the dark,
no moon, no light from the city reflecting white
on the clouds that hide the stars—foolish

Monday, July 28, 2014

Matthew Reed Corey

One of the best modern/contemporary poets is Matthew Reed Corey. His work in Pinwheel vol. 5, Spring 2014 is incredible. I especially loved his "Later, in a White Room with the Burial Ships" and have only appreciated "Thallium, Cyanide, Hemlock" more and more with every re-read. I feel there's a type of Byronic 'space' in his work, an elongation and slow, sweet pace. Slower than Neruda, but with the same feel for mysterious [yet simple] symbolic language.

I just realized that we've featured him before, for his great piece "An Appetite in Winter Thrums" from Diagram, 12-5. It still holds up. I love his use of language, he never gives in to either cliche or too rarefied language. Both extremes are obnoxious, but he always skates by and writes something I didn't expect, something incredible.

I also loved his MatterMonthly July, 2014 piece "Written in Glass are Four Solutions to the Problem of Nothing". It's almost got a Beat sensibility and an ideologically Vonnegut tone, but surpasses both genres.

Here's an excerpt from "Thallium, Cyanide, Hemlock" to give you an example, be sure to set aside his work to read:

Orange-blossom honey, blue, not as cataracts, but blue even so, as orange-blossom honey,
blue: this misperception is not without you. 


Know our heart has five chambers: the castle of the air, the college, the page
of cups, your hedge maze with its lost message-boy, and my unborn son waking and waking.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Geoffrey Nutter

We definitely have to feature the great work by Geoffrey Nutter in his piece "The Constant Critic" in Pinwheel, vol. 3, Summer 2013. I rarely see someone with the type of elegant languor of Tennyson. He's got it in spades. He's also got a hint of Edna St. Vincent Millay in him, but he's very fresh and his own at the same time.

Here's an excerpt of some of my favorite lines, but really the whole thing lives up to this standard of almost Emily Dickinson-esque movement--her greatest strength. I think he emulates the best in American voices without reverting to the folly of antique style-overload or too cute a tone:


Here is a lone eye
in the cubit stone
for venerating Makepeace
Thackeray, and garlands
of white violets. What
do they mean when they say
that they were carried
through centuries of meditation
as through the frozen, months-old
snow, as if through and against
an exile? In summer it was
green pillars of fresh grass
between the silos, the sky’s
tropes concerning multiplicity,
the hills adorned with gentians
of finality. 

Elizabeth Rees

We have to feature Elizabeth Rees for her great opening in "Two Seeds", from the journal Ascent, May 2014. It's excellent, a very Wallace Stevens type of light-Neruda--I love how it works on many levels but has a 'plain' lens as well:

A bed, like a field, is open to weather:
too much rain will bruise the fruit.

Sabrina Ito

We must feature the great "Jackson Square" by Sabrina Ito from Clarion, no. 17, Winter 2014. It has such a strong voice, over and over again--few people can keep up brilliance throughout a whole poem, but she goes for it. She has an almost Edmund Spenser-esque feel in terms of the rich backdrop you feel in her work, but also the startling eerie punch of Sylvia Plath.

It's an especially great poem in the sense that it bridges the gap between summer and fall in tone, without outright talk. It 'shows', not tells.

Here is an excerpt:
Street lamps glow, green absinthe steaming
Spanish moss drips
like long wisps of dry honey
dribbling from craggy branches
of ancient oaks.

and when a slippery blue Palmetto bug [...]

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Robert Ricardo Reese

We're a huge fan of Robert Ricardo Reese, his pieces in Pinwheel Vol. 2, Spring 2013 are incredible. His piece "The World is Not an Alabaster Bathtub" is really incisive, and does gothic and modern Poe-esque proud. Few people can pull off his style here--and his other work, in other styles, is equally impressive.

Here's an excerpt:

you saw the dead skin rub black off of me like off the bottom of an eraser

my black blood marks      shedding flesh

His other work I particularly like as well, like his "She      The Middle Daughter", a great piece.

Raven Jackson

I knew I had to feature Raven Jackson when I read her piece "Nostalgia" in the Vol. 5, Spring 2014 issue of Pinwheel. It's an incredible work--here are a few excerpts, she's got great lines that really have a sense of Neruda in them:

[...] the hum of mangroves
a wild field in her hair.

the stained photo of them
buried beneath nothing i call my own.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jane Wong

We have to feature a poem that has lines that are excellent--it's from "Cleaning" by Jane Wong in the Ostrich Review no. 3., and it has some startling moments that really break out. Typically modern poets lack moments of delicacy that aren't too much sugar, but her touch stands out on this excerpt:


Plums blossom over a power grid
and I am in love again. The shame of it.

The cold cut of a star melts.
Tell me, what are we supposed to dissolve for?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Verlaine is someone intense. The famous French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine [1844-1896] had a wild, unpredictable life, and his poetry has a depth that's quite disconcerting--and moving. It can be easier to read Verlaine [during the summer than any other season simply because the cheer of the sun and season makes it easier to read heavy work without slipping into a little malaise. Art should be moving, but not crushing. Verlaine is so talented he sometimes gets close to it. 

Here's one poem, called "After three years" from Poèmes Saturniens: Mélancholia III, read more Verlaine here:

Opening the narrow rickety gate,

I went for a walk in the little garden,
All lit up by that gentle morning sun,
Starring each flower with watery light.

Nothing was changed. Again: the humble arbour
With wild vines and chairs made of rattan…
The fountain as ever in its silvery pattern,
And the old aspen with its eternal murmur.

The roses as then still trembled, and as then
The tall proud lilies rocked in the wind.
I knew every lark there, coming and going.

I found the Veleda statue standing yet,
At the end of the avenue its plaster flaking,
– Weathered, among bland scents of mignonette.

Note: Veleda (Velleda), a German priestess or divinity, celebrated by Maindron’s 1843/44 marble sculpture, much copied as a garden ornament, as were the popular statues of Flora.

Ayant poussé la porte étroite qui chancelle,
Je me suis promené dans le petit jardin
Qu'éclairait doucement le soleil du matin,
Pailletant chaque fleur d'une humide étincelle.

Rien n'a changé. J'ai tout revu : l'humble tonnelle
De vigne folle avec les chaises de rotin...
Le jet d'eau fait toujours son murmure argentin
Et le vieux tremble sa plainte sempiternelle.

Les roses comme avant palpitent ; comme avant,
Les grands lys orgueilleux se balancent au vent,
Chaque alouette qui va et vient m'est connue.

Même j'ai retrouvé debout la Velléda,
Dont le plâtre s'écaille au bout de l'avenue,
- Grêle, parmi l'odeur fade du réséda.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Another medieval poet to try is Marcabru [1130-1150], an influential early troubador writer. Here's an excerpt from his "A la fontana del vergier" ['In an orchard down by the stream'], read more here. Medieval poetry is often appealing to people who enjoy J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series. It has a meaningful simplicity that is also very beautiful.

Remember that medieval French poetry is coming from a particular society and focusing on certain themes, so Crusader-like attitudes and an invocation of Western European mostly unified Christianity are everywhere [with only a few groups challenging the block of Catholicism's power and control]. Be sure to interpret the work through the lens of its time period, when few people left the little circle of their homelands. For many, castles, gardens and farm work made up the realities of life.

In an orchard down by the stream,

Where at the edge the grass is green,
In the shade of an apple-tree,
By a plot of flowers all white,
Where spring sang its melody,
I met alone without company
One who wishes not my solace.

[...] When I heard her so, complaining,
I went to her, by fountain’s flowing:
‘Lady,’ I said ‘with too much crying
Your face will lose its colour quite;
And you’ve no reason yet for sighing,
For he who makes the birds to sing,
Will grant you joy enough apace.’

A la fontana del vergier,
On l'erb' es vertz josta·l gravier,
A l'ombra d'un fust domesgier,
En aiziment de blancas flors
E de novelh chant costumier,
Trobey sola, ses companhier,
Selha que no vol mon solatz.

[...] Quant ieu l'auzi desconortar,
Ves lieys vengui josta·l riu clar :
Belha, fi·m ieu, per trop plorar
Afolha cara e colors!
E no vos cal dezesperar,
Que selh qui fai lo bosc fulhar,
Vos pot donar de joy assatz.

Guillaume de Poitiers

The old French poets of the Middle Ages are great to try--they have an otherworldly mystique about them. For example, Guillaume de Poitiers ie. William/Guillem IX aka 'The Troubador' [1071-1127] was a famous poet. Here's an excerpt from his "Ab la dolchor del temps novel" ['The Sweetness of Renewal'], read more Troubadour poetry here or look at a full scan of an old 1913 book of his work here, it's really neat to see--also try glancing at France and Its Poets, a great short collection to try if you want to enjoy more medieval poetry:

Out of the sweetness of the spring,
The branches leaf, the small birds sing,
Each one chanting in its own speech,
Forming the verse of its new song,
Then is it good a man should reach
For that for which he most does long.

This love of ours it seems to be
Like a twig on a hawthorn tree
That on the tree trembles there
All night, in rain and frost it grieves,
Till morning, when the rays appear
Among the branches and the leaves.

So the memory of that dawn to me
When we ended our hostility,
And a most precious gift she gave,
Her loving friendship and her ring:
Let me live long enough, I pray,
Beneath her cloak my hand to bring.

Ab la dolchor del temps novel
foillo li bosc, e li auchel 
chanton, chascus en lor lati,
segon lo vers del novel chan;
adonc esta ben c'om s'aisi
d'acho don hom a plus talan.

La nostr' amor vai enaissi
com la branca de l'albespi
qu'esta sobre l'arbre tremblan,
la nuoit, a la ploia ez al gel,
tro l'endeman, que.l sols s'espan
per la fuella vert e.l ramel.

Equer me membra d'un mati
que nos fezem de guerra fi,
e que.m donet un don tan gran,
sa drudari' e son anel:
equer me lais Dieus viure tan
c'aia mas manz soz so mantel.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Summer is a great time to read Aleksandr Pushkin [1799-1837], the famous Russian writer and poet. Here's an excerpt from his "Farewell, O, Faithful Leafy Groves!", read it all here.

Reading some of his work lulls you into a higher perceptive sense, a feeling of connection with nature. It's a great way to enhance your enjoyment of being outside or taking a summer trip through nature--he puts words to our amorphous feelings. He resonates--try some here:

Farewell, O, faithful leafy groves!
Farewell, O, careless world of fields,
Farewell, funs, – each on light wings hovers –
Of days – each so promptly fleets!
Farewell, Trigorskoe, where gladness
Had met me for so many times!
Whether I’d drunk your charming freshness
Just to lose you for good at once?
From you I’m taking recollections
And leaving my heart here for you.
May be, – a dream, filled with sweet passion, –
I’d come back to walk your fields through;
I’d come under the vaults of lime-trees, [...]

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Neruda has poems for every season--here's another for summer, this excerpt is from his Portuguese poem "Morning [Love Sonnet XXVII]" which you can read here:

Naked you are simple as one of your hands;
Smooth, earthy, small, transparent, round.
You've moon-lines, apple pathways
Naked you are slender as a naked grain of wheat.

Naked you are blue as a night in Cuba;
You've vines and stars in your hair.
Naked you are spacious and yellow
As summer in a golden church. [...]


Let's pause and take in a moment of summery, beautiful Chilean Neruda [1904-1973]--an excerpt from his "Poem: XVII", you can read the rest here. It calls to mind the famous flower line from Thomas Gray's 1751 "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard": 
"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, /And waste its sweetness on the desert air." 

The more poetry one has absorbed and loved, the greater the lines echo in the future. Here's the Neruda, from one of his famous pieces:

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body. [...]

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


The hot glaze of summer is a time to enjoy the present. Languor, naps, milk and fruit smoothies all factor in. We must remember to mark the fruit seasons, enjoying the raspberries that are found now. This is a time for peaches, watermelon and honeydew. A simple, slow pace is a must. The wise inure themselves to time and fate and take everything as it comes. Life isn't a narrative or a judgment sheet, it simply is. 

In the heart, we all can be whoever we wish to be, and live where we wish to. At dawn, exploring summer nature is a great, worthwhile trek to make. The cool and dim light make it even better. Long treks outside are often too difficult during the heat and sun, and will be easier in autumn. Nothing can be forced; it's never worth it. 

One great little excerpt from the British Thomas Hood's [1799-1845] poem "I remember, I remember". It has an essence of the current season that's quite lovely, read the rest here:
[...]I remember, I rememberThe roses, red and white,The violets, and the lily-cups—Those flowers made of light!The lilacs where the robin built,And where my brother setThe laburnum on his birthday,—The tree is living yet!
I remember, I rememberWhere I was used to swing,And thought the air must rush as freshTo swallows on the wing;My spirit flew in feathers thenThat is so heavy now,And summer pools could hardly coolThe fever on my brow


Sunday, July 13, 2014


Poetry is something personal and private, often it resounds differently to different people. It as unique as fingerprints. Old books of verse, even those for children, are often worth reading. Life's few objects should be chosen with care. Donate your excess and be sure your life is as close to ideal and simple as possible.

One example of a great old book of verse, for adults to read and of course for kids is the 1904 book Poems Every Child Should Know, read it all here, edited by Mary Burt. This excerpt below is from Robert Burns [1759-1796], the famous Scottish poet. It's an excellent way to improve and expand horizons on reading and language. Understanding that every language changes and how to interpret new or oddly spelled words in context is a great skill. The imagery is incredible as well.

To a Mountain Daisy,

The flaunting flowers our gardens yield,High sheltering woods and wa's maun shield,But thou, beneath the random bieldO' clod or stane,Adorns the histie stibble-field,Unseen, alane.
There, in thy scanty mantle clad,Thy snawie bosom sunward spread,Thou lifts thy unassuming headIn humble guise;But now the share uptears thy bed,And low thou lies!
Such is the fate of artless maid,Sweet floweret of the rural shade!By love's simplicity betrayed,And guileless trust,Till she, like thee, all soiled, is laidLow i' the dust.
Such is the fate of simple bard,On life's rough ocean luckless starr'd!Unskilful he to note the cardOf prudent lore,Till billows rage, and gales blow hard,And whelm him o'er![...]

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Spenser [1552-1599] has some great work outside his seminal Faerie Queene. His Amoretti and Epithalamion include beautiful lines. You can read it all here. I especially like one sonnet--read it aloud or in your head and it's easier to pick up and read his style of older English:

THE souerayne beauty which I doo admyre,
  witnesse the world how worthy to be prayzed:
  the light wherof hath kindled heauenly fyre,
  in my fraile spirit by her from basenesse raysed.
That being now with her huge brightnesse dazed,
  base thing I can no more endure to view:
  but looking still on her I stand amazed,
  at wondrous sight of so celestiall hew.
So when my toung would speak her praises dew,
  it stopped is with thoughts astonishment:
  and when my pen would write her titles true,
  it rauisht is with fancies wonderment:
Yet in my hart I then both speake and write,
  the wonder that my wit cannot endite.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Every genre has greats, people who surpass their labels and become icons. JRR Tolkien is one of them; his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series are great works that create an English-based medieval inspired mythology for ancient Albion. His language is very interesting and often intensely moving. He showcases a type of pre-modern poeticism that reaches out to our love of the past and our desire for a simpler, older lost world.

There's a sense of bronze age majesty and power. There are a million ways to look at him: in terms of sociology, languages and language creation, romance and love, friendship and loyalty, the burden of ruling, evil and danger, adventure and life's final stages. Be sure to check out all the famous illustrations of his work, from Tolkien's actual personal art to Ted Nasmith's famous pictures [of Luthien especially, the Nazgul and the black tower with the eye, and the Grey Havens]. There is also Alan Lee's work, the classic Greg & Tim Hildebrandt to the black and white lines of Frank Franzetta.

Many people know the famous poem he includes, it makes one think of Robert Frost in a way:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

Here's an excerpt from the world of Lothlorien in Lord of the Rings:

Even as they spoke, they saw, as if she came in answer to their words, the Lady Galadriel approaching. Tall and white and fair she walked beneath the trees. She spoke no word, but beckoned to them
            Turning aside, she led them to the southern slopes of the hill of Cras Galadhon, and passing through a high green hedge they came into an enclosed garden. No trees grew there, and it lay open to the sky. The evening star had risen and was shining with white fire above the western woods. Down a long flight of steps the Lady went into the deep hollow, through which ran murmuring the silver stream that issued from the fountain on the hill. At the bottom, upon a low pedestal carved like a branching tree, stood a basin of silver, wide and shallow, and beside it stood a silver ewer.
            With water from the stream Galadriel filled the basin to the brim, and breathed on it, and when the water was still again she spoke. “Here is the Mirror of Galadriel,” she said. “I have brought you here so you may look in it, if you will.”
            The air was very still, and the dell was dark, and the Elf-lady beside him was tall and pale. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014


One great old text to read is the British poet Spenser's [1552-1599] epic poem The Faerie Queene. You can read Vol. 1 here with notes below each stanza to help translate its language. It was considered to have quaint, antique language at the time it was written--much like the spooky, atmospheric short stories of M.R. James.

Here's an excerpt of Spenser, it has a great sense of the beauty of nature from Canto VI, Vol. 1:

  But he halfe discontent, mote nathelesse
 Himselfe appease, and issewd forth on shore:
     The ioyes whereof, and happie fruitfulnesse,
 Such as he saw, she gan him lay before,
     And all though pleasant, yet she made much more:
 The fields did laugh, the flowres did freshly spring,
     The trees did bud, and earely blossomes bore,
 And all the quire of birds did sweetly sing,
   And told that gardins pleasures in their caroling.

Here's a more modern look for those who need it easier on the eyes:

But he, half discontent, might nevertheless
Calm himself, and issued for on shore:
The joys whereof, and happy fruitfulness,
Such as he say, as he considered her,
And all though pleasant, yet she made much more pleasantries:
The fields did laugh, the flowers did freshly spring,
The trees did bud, and early blossoms bloomed,
And all the choir of birds did sweetly sing,
And told of that garden's pleasures in their caroling.