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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
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.
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
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)
The J.L. Hudson Company, known more commonly as Hudson’s, was a chain of department stores based in Detroit. Founded in 1881 by Joseph Lowthian Hudson (yes, that Hudson), the company grew in the city’s boom years, and by 1961, the flagship store on Woodward Avenue occupied an entire city block. By the 1980s, the downtown flagship store was in decline, and it was demolished in 1998. The Hudson’s chain merged with former rival Dayton’s (which also acquired another Midwestern icon, Marshall Field’s department stores), and after a series of corporate rebrandings and transactions, the remaining locations emerged as Macy’s stores.
Here is an excerpt from the Hudson’s company newsletter, less than a decade before the city of Detroit would be torn apart by the riots and corruption from which it has still not fully recovered:
“Nearly 7,000 are regularly employed in Hudson’s Downtown Store, with another 3,000 joining the ranks during the Christmas season.
The Downtown Store rises 25 stories above the street, including the tower, and four stories beneath it. 17 of these floors are devoted to merchandise and customer service.
Our telephone rings on one of the world’s largest private switchboards, handling up to 32,000 calls a day.
The Downtown Store has fur storage vaults for more than 55,000 garments; has 18 public entrances on street level; 51 large display windows and 50 small display windows.
The electrical system in the Downtown Store is comparable to that of the City of Ypsilanti.
The Downtown Store is headquarters for Hudson’s Bridal Registry which enters ten thousand brides a year.
Since 1928, air conditioning facilities have been gradually enlarged so that they now take in every floor from the fourth basement up. The combined system is one of the largest in the world.” (From “The Hudsonian” by The J.L. Hudson Company, 1969)
One of the most common-sense ideas for saving money is this: make your own meals and take them with you. Restaurants, coffee shops, and vending machines all charge a hefty markup on food, for both the service and the convenience. These temptations are plentiful around my office, but oddly, it’s not my appetite that leads to me spending too much money there. No, I overpay for food, because my lunch is sitting on the counter at my house, getting licked by my cats and growing room-temperature bacteria.
I’ve always been this way. In elementary school, lunch forgotten, I’d walk the two blocks home and my mom would cook for me and let me watch a little TV. In college, I was perpetually broke and could usually only scrape together enough change ($1) for a Wendy’s baked potato to replace whatever food I had meant to bring along on my marathon school-work-meeting days. It was only at my first real grown-up job that lightning struck:
Amazon. Continue reading
by Philip Larkin
January 1972, from High Windows
I thought it would last my time –
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there’d be false alarms
In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.
Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
– But what do I feel now? Doubt?
Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more –
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score
Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when
You try to get near the sea
In summer . . . It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,
That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts –
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be so hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.
And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.
Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.
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
I have been alone in Paris, alone in Vienna, alone in London, and all in all, it is very much like being alone in Green Town, Illinois. It is, in essence, being alone. Oh, you have plenty of time to think, improve your manners, sharpen your conversations. But I sometimes think I could easily trade a verb tense or a curtsy for some company that would stay over for a thirty-year weekend. –Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
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!