Archive for May, 2011

Found Poems

I love to “find” poems, that is, words that are unselfconsciously poetic, like those in the photo, above. 

A couple of years ago, I was about to throw out old newsletters from Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee when I decided to create a Cento, a poem pieced together from the works of  poets featured in the newsletters.  Here it is…the attributions for each line appear at the end.

A Cento for Woodland Pattern

 Birds line up on the slant of a hill,

edging forward, like a search party. (1)

Their shadows follow them

along the glossy river – (2)

Half empty, half empathy,

if is a tender conjunction. (3)

When you come rising strongly in me,

I feel myself grow separate and more lonely. (4)

Can we reduce echo’s sadness

by synchronizing our speeches? (5)

How else to know where we’re going.

I pluck, gather, salvage what I can. (6)

History is moments gleaned from unsorted stacks (7)

Sometimes remembered.  Remembered again,

But fragmentally, or by someone else. (8)

If onlygesture were enough. (9)

The Poets

(1)    Yvonne Zipter, “All Solemnity on a s Sunny Day”

(2)    Robert Adamson, “The Ravens:  After Trakl”

(3)    Brenda Cardenas, from “If” (for Roberto)

(4)    Jane Hirshfield, “To Opinion:  An Assay”

(5)    Rae Armantrout, “Two, Three”

(6)    Dawn Michelle Baude, from “Relics of a Present World”

(7)    Quincy Troupe, “The Signatures of Time”

(8)    Roger Mitchell, “Beneath a Cloud”

(9)    Rachel Levitsky, from “Interval”


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Yesterday I talked to high school art students during their tour at the Chazen Museum of Art where I am a docent, about humor in contemporary art. The example I used was “Laureate Standing” by Leonard Baskin. It’s a cherrywood statue of a naked man wearing a crown of laurel. His arms are crossed over his belly and he looks very proud of himself.  But he is much too fat to look down to view his nakedness. I find that sculpture wildly humorous, the irony of his self-importance versus his nudity…or is it his vulnerability?  

I also showed the students a painting of Lucrecia by a student of Leonardo de Vinci.  I  used those lovely Italian words sfumato and controposto in describing the painting and shared her heartbreaking story of rape and subsequent suicide.  The dramatic painting shows her from the waist up, twisting in an S-curve, breasts bare, knife point about to pierce her skin.  To my amazement, in this breast obsessed world, they stood back as though they were avoiding a bad smell.  I realized later that I had not prepared them for this work, and that just because teens may think about sex, they don’t necessarily want to be confronted with it in the presence of their classmates.  I gave them more credit for being art students and less for being just kids.

The photo is from Olympia, Greece.  The ruins in Greece are, well, ruins.  Rubble, my husband says, but still beautiful as well as evocative of a glorious past.

In Ruins

The cat was Greek; I called him Olio.

He wrapped himself around a chunk of stone,

a column, twenty-five hundred years old,

torn off at the base, a silent tooth; broke.

The secrets of the ancients are in the temples,

those ruinous patches of rubble;

in stadiums, rising arcs of marble;

and theaters where loud echoes rumble.

They built to celebrate their victories

but now the statues have been pried free

by enemies un-imagined by the Greeks:

Men intent on filling their museums.

Will someone prize Trump Tower’s pediment,

justified by words of entitlement?

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Crabapple in Bloom


The crab is in a rush to bloom this spring.
It’s like a film that’s running ahead
to find the end before the beginning,

around a loop, watching the petals shed.*

These are the first four lines of a sonnet about the short life of a crabapple tree in bloom. Why a sonnet? To practice form, or prosody, the metrical structure of verse. When I re-read it, the lines seem long, but shortening them will change rhythm.

Here are two crabapple Haikus from May of 2010.

May 10
Overnight, the crab
becomes heavy and lush
with sweet white blossoms.

The crab rains petals.
With each gust more fall in drifts
of white summer snow.

*I cannot remove the extra space between lines 3 and 4.  A new blogger’s frustration with formatting in WordPress!

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Naming Telescopes

In the SETI (Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence), a good telescope is invaluable.  In fact, the use of a telescope seems to confirm the anthropic principle:  the universe exists only because we are here to perceive it. 

To perceive is also to name.  The world’s largest telescope is at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.  It is referred to as VLT.   According to the European Southern Observatory webpage, the VLT array is “the flagship facility for European ground-based astronomy at the beginning of the third Millennium.”  An even larger, proposed telescope is called EELT.

What does VLT mean?  Something spacey like “Vortex Longitudinal Telescope”?  No.  It means VERY LARGE TELESCOPE.  And EELT?  EELT is the European EXTREMELY LARGE Telescope. 

Astronomers may be able to imagine extraterrestial life, but they are very bad at naming their equipment.

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Today is the anniversary of the day I married Roger in the State Capital.  Here is my favorite anniversary poem.  I wrote it in 2007 after reading Moy Sand and Gravel by Paul Muldoon.

May 21

The aural morning,

so far from the not-harmony

of Delhi, unfolded

like a fleur-de-lis

of sweet sun scents,

while someone Namasted

before the light-play of a Monet

that could never match

the memory-perfect day

and the shared cafe au lait

of our lives.

Here’s another Muldoon inspired poem:


The roofers stitched a seam of rubb’ry goo

on the slant and placed a dibble of melly to seal

the wings like a fly in amber and I thought

of Joe when he cried, dribbly, and the Mexicans

were all “Yo!” and “Que?” but Joe will always be

there, a jam-slur memory.

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This is what greeted me yesterday.    An all day job that is not quite finished.  We were so dirty, we undressed in the garage. 

There is no dirty soap. / It washes clean, like a stone in rain.

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I submitted a poem to Verse Wisconsin for their November on-line issue.    The theme was “Earthworks.”   I intended to work on the poem while I was in Greece in April.  I had visions of me cruising the islands, waking early and writing while the sun rose over the Aegean.   The reality was that our luggage was “delayed” for five days and I was in such a state of disrepair that writing a poem was the last thing on my mind.  So when I returned home, with only a week before the deadline, I had to get cracking. 

 Earthworks, earthworks.  All I could think about was ruins.  I wrote a sonnet about Greek marble.  I wrote about ruins in the ancient world and how they have been used for gardens and for clothes drying.  Finally, I thought about Indian Mounds, something closer to home.  I called it “Striated Heart.”  I was thinking about striations as streaks of light and dark at the edge of a wood where the sun enters the darkness.   Also, the heart is striated with narrow bands of striated muscle.  I was thinking how the sudden image of an Indian Mound at the edge of a wood might catch your breath and cause your heart to constrict. 

 I was running out of time.  I took the poem with me for final editw during the intermission to La Traviata, on May 1st, the deadline for submitting the poem.  I felt more was needed, but without more time to work on it, I let it go.  I submitted it that evening.

Now here’s where I’d like to insert the poem, but many publications say they won’t accept poems that have appeared in any publication, including electronic.  So for now I’ll hold off on this one and focus on process.

Here is the feedback I received from Sara Busse, co-editor of Verse Wisconsin:  “I thought this read as a very lovely beginning to some larger poem–I wanted to ask, “And then what happened? Why did her heart constrict at the sight?” It feels like there’s a story, or a meditation, some longer piece that may be on the way?”

Such good questions.   Should I return to the poem and use use it as a starting point for something longer?  How will I answer the questions?  Or should I just add a couple of lines as I originally thought?

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