You Want a Social Life, with Friends | Kenneth Koch

kenneth koch social life

You Want a Social Life, with Friends
Kenneth Koch

You want a social life, with friends.
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What’s true
Is of these three you may have two
And two can pay you dividends
But never may have three.

There isn’t time enough, my friends–
Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends–
To find the time to have love, work, and friends.
Michelangelo had feeling
For Vittoria and the Ceiling
But did he go to parties at day’s end?

Homer nightly went to banquets
Wrote all day but had no lockets
Bright with pictures of his Girl.
I know one who loves and parties
And has done so since his thirties
But writes hardly anything at all.

—-

Kenneth Koch (1925-2002) was an American poet, playwright, and professor. He was a prominent poet of the New York School of poetry, a circle of poets that also included Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery.

William Butler Yeats on Poetry

from Anima Hominis (Chap.5)William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats

We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. Unlike the rhetoricians, who get a confident voice from remembering the crowd they have won or may win, we sing amid our uncertainty; and, smitten even in the presence of the most high beauty by the knowledge of our solitude, our rhythm shudders. I think, too, that no fine poet, no matter how disordered his life, has ever, even in his mere life, had pleasure for his end. Continue reading

Mark Strand | The End

The End
Mark Strand
 The End by Mark Strand
Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.
When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not every man knows what he’ll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky
Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight,
Not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.

 

 

“The End,” © 1990 by Mark Strand from The Continuous Life by Mark Strand.

AÚN – Pablo Neruda | Still Another Day

AÚN
de Pablo NerudaA Ú N

XVIII

Los días no se descartan ni se suman, son abejas
que ardieron de dulzura o enfurecieron
el aguijón: el certamen continúa,
van y vienen los viajes desde la miel al dolor.
No, no se deshila la red de los años: no hay red.
No caen gota a gota desde un río: no hay río.
El sueño no divide la vida en dos mitades,
ni la acción, ni el silencio, ni la virtud:
fue como una piedra la vida, un solo movimiento,
una sola fogata que reverbéro en el follaje,
una flecha, una sola, lenta o activa, un metal
que ascendió y descendió quemándose en tus huesos.

 

STILL ANOTHER DAY
by Pablo Neruda

XVIII

The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of the years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.
They don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
Sleep doesn’t divide life into halves,
or action, or silence, or honor:
life is like a stone, a single motion,
a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,
an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal
that climbs or descends burning in your bones.

(trans. William O’Daly)

On Poetry

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry (2)poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order. –Samuel Taylor Coleridge

So many people, many of whom enjoy other forms of the arts, are quick to declare, “I hate poetry.” I suspect that what they really mean is that they hate bad poetry. But perhaps I should agree with them and say, “I hate poetry too.” That is, I hate this terrible definition of poetry that has become standard in American culture (and perhaps other parts of the Anglophone world? I don’t know it well enough to say).

The first part of the problem is that poetry has become interchangeable with rhyme. Not all rhymes are poems and not all poems rhyme. But the collective consciousness seems to have decided that two lines of varying length and cadence can tied together with an end rhyme (or near-rhyme), and voila! You have a poem. It seems that kindergarten teachers start us off on the wrong path and most of us never get corrected.

The second major issue I’ve observed is that people take confession a bit too far. While personal touches or revelations can make a poem great, overdoing it is uninteresting at best and downright awkward at worst. Often some of the worst offenders on issue #2 aren’t also committing sin #1 of rhyming any- and everything (but when they do, it is AWFUL). Rather, they take what is basically a diary entry, add some haphazard line breaks, and call it a day. Processing that deep emotion through poetry should not be so quick nor so simple.

All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic. –Oscar Wilde

The third problem is that because the subject matter is often so personal and deeply felt, no one wants to offer the budding poet anything but praise. Certainly it does take courage to share one’s works and experiences, but just as with any other art form, or any skill at all really, the beginner needs honest feedback, direction, and constructive criticism to grow. You probably wouldn’t let your friend try to exhibit his finger paintings in an art gallery if he was older than 8, and yet you might give him a pat on the head when he pays lots of money to have his terrible poem included in an anthology (which is a scam, by the way).

We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. –William Butler Yeats

The fourth problem isn’t unique to poetry: people want to be producers and not consumers of the art. In other words, people want to write poetry, but not read it. Or write novels, but not read them. Make films. Take photos. And so on. One novelist often laments how his publishers pass on his new fiction work, but offer him a nice advance for a “how to write a novel” or “how to get published” guidebook, because those will be sure to sell. The more poetry you read, though, the better your poetry will become. And not just good poetry, either: read BAD poetry, really really bad poetry, for a nudge in the right direction.

And of course, one should read good poetry. We share our favorites on this site (with perhaps a crummy poem or two for variety). There is the Academy of American Poets. AllPoetry.com. The Poetry Foundation–and they’ll even email you one poem per day if you sign up for their newsletter.

So, how do you stop writing bad poetry and start writing good poetry? Continue reading

William Butler Yeats | The White Birds

The White Birds
William Butler Yeats

I would that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!
We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;
And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,
Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.

A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;
Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,
Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:
For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!

I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,
Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,
Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!

Margaret Atwood | Morning in the Burned House

Morning in the Burned House
Margaret Atwood

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can’t see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child’s feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

 

Nor ought a genius less than his that writ Attempt translation

To Sir Richard Fanshaw, Upon His Translation Of ‘Pastor Fido’
Sir John Denham (1615-1669)

Guarinis's Il pastor fido (1590) pastoral trag...

Guarinis’s Il pastor fido (1590) pastoral tragicomedy. Cover page. Publisher: Giovanni Bonfadino, Venice, 1590. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Such is our pride, our folly, or our fate,
That few but such as cannot write, translate.
But what in them is want of art or voice,
In thee is either modesty or choice.
While this great piece, restored by thee, doth stand
Free from the blemish of an artless hand,
Secure of fame, thou justly dost esteem
Less honour to create than to redeem.
Nor ought a genius less than his that writ
Attempt translation; for transplanted wit
All the defects of air and soil doth share,
And colder brains like colder climates are:
In vain they toil, since nothing can beget
A vital spirit but a vital heat.
That servile path thou nobly dost decline
Of tracing word by word, and line by line.
Those are the labour’d births of slavish brains,
Not the effect of poetry, but pains;
Cheap vulgar arts, whose narrowness affords
No flight for thoughts, but poorly sticks at words.
A new and nobler way thou dost pursue
To make translations and translators too.
They but preserve the ashes, thou the flame,
True to his sense, but truer to his fame:
Fording his current, where thou find’st it low,
Let’st in thine own to make it rise and flow;
Wisely restoring whatsoever grace
It lost by change of times, or tongues, or place.
Nor fetter’d to his numbers and his times,
Betray’st his music to unhappy rhymes.
Nor are the nerves of his compacted strength
Stretch’d and dissolved into unsinew’d length:
Yet, after all, (lest we should think it thine)
Thy spirit to his circle dost confine.
New names, new dressings, and the modern cast,
Some scenes, some persons alter’d, and outfaced
The world, it were thy work; for we have known
Some thank’d and praised for what was less their own.
That master’s hand which to the life can trace
The airs, the lines, and features of the face,
May with a free and bolder stroke express
A varied posture, or a flatt’ring dress;
He could have made those like, who made the rest,
But that he knew his own design was best.

Derek Walcott | Love After Love

Love After Love
Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Luttichuys, Isaac - Still Life with Bread and ...

Luttichuys, Isaac – Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass – 17th c

Андрей Вознесенский | Первый лед || Andrei Voznesensky | First Frost

Андрей Вознесенский
Первый лед
Телефон-автомат советского образца

Телефон-автомат советского образца (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Мерзнет девочка в автомате,
Прячет в зябкое пальтецо
Все в слезах и губной помаде
Перемазанное лицо.

Дышит  в худенькие ладошки.
Пальцы—льдышки.   В ушах—сережки.

Ей обратно одной, одной
Вдоль по улочке ледяной,

Первый лед. Это в первый раз.
Первый лед телефонных фраз.

Мерзлый след на щеках блестит —
Первый лед от людских обид.

1959

-----------------------------------

Andrei Voznesensky 
First Frost

A girl is freezing in a telephone booth,
huddled in her flimsy coat,
her face stained by tears
and smeared with lipstick.

She breathes on her thin little fingers.
Fingers like ice. Glass beads in her ears.

She has to beat her way back alone
down the icy street.

First frost. A beginning of losses,
the first frost of telephone phrases.

It is the start of winter glittering on her cheek,
the first frost of having been hurt. 


(This was one of the first Russian poems I ever read (in translation), and I'm fairly certain
 this is the very translation. I don't know who the translator is, though--please 
contact us if you know!)