Someone sent this to me after I complained about our upstairs neighbors on Twitter. The funny thing? One of our neighbors HAS flooded their bathroom and caused our ceiling to leak.
Since the world’s going to end and we have a huge winter storm coming through, this seemed appropriate.
You are not beautiful, exactly.
You are beautiful, inexactly.
You let a weed grow by the mulberry
And a mulberry grow by the house.
So close, in the personal quiet
Of a windy night, it brushes the wall
And sweeps away the day till we sleep.
A child said it, and it seemed true:
“Things that are lost are all equal.”
But it isn’t true. If I lost you,
The air wouldn’t move, nor the tree grow.
Someone would pull the weed, my flower.
The quiet wouldn’t be yours. If I lost you,
I’d have to ask the grass to let me sleep.
I heard him read this when I was in college, and then ended up moving to the state where he was poet laureate.
Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…
Things have come to that.
And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.
Nobody sings anymore.
And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there…
Only she on her knees, peeking into
Her own clasped hands
The third stanza is probably my favorite part of any poem in English.
~ Everett LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka)
Amiri Baraka ARB
by Catherine Pond
1. Use imperatives to amplify urgency. For example: Wink. Go to bed. Open the door. Listen up, fucker. Love me again. Get it? A build-up is nice too. Do this, do that, then do this other thing which is clearly impossible and probably abstract to add texture to the language. (Note: This works in fiction too).
2. Try, every time, to exorcise that thing which you cannot exorcise. (Be it an event, a person, a trauma, an apple you ate, etc.)
3. Sleep with as few people as possible. This prevents confusion about whom you are addressing in your poem. If you know whom you are addressing, the poem will come about faster. This may or may not be at odds with
4. Get your heart broken a few times. That shock of motivation you feel after you finally get out of bed—use it. Take it, run with it, run alongside the ocean with it or the bay or the river. (If you have no access to water this will become a problem later so I’d get right on that.) On that note
5. Do not deny yourself nature. In an interview this summer, Charles Simic said something like, “It’s hard to find the sublime in the urban.” True story, bitches.
6. Do not use the word “dream.” Assume your readers understand that every poem is a type of dream. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Like being Sylvia Plath. Don’t push it.
7. Don’t pity yourself. Do not think you are the only one. At the same time, build a world in which you can validate that you are the only one. Use specifics to convey the nature of the speaker, the speaker’s tone, and the conflict of emotion in the poem. These should all strike the reader as idiosyncratic, entirely individual to you, the writer. They should be proof, in fact, that you are the only one (in the world of the poem) and that there is no one else like you.
8. Be aware of the duality of human nature. Mary Gaitskill described this duality as two currents at odds with one another moving within the same channel. No one is happy all the time, or sweet, or miserable, or unmoved. We are often two opposing things. To say otherwise (also known as being reductive) would reveal a deep naiveté that you, as oft-revered poet and sage, do not want to be associated with.
9. At the same time, pick one emotion and aim for it. If you are writing a poem about grandma and you think of grandma with equal parts nostalgia and disdain, pick only ONE for the sake of clarity. Make every word in that poem so heavy with disdain that the tone is unmistakable. Yes, I chose for you: disdain. It’s more interesting.
10. Don’t be afraid of punctuation. Embrace the Dick. (Emily Dickinson, that is.) This can be hard to pull off, even for me. Wink, Etc.
Jesus, the How-To is just killing it.
The whole idea of it makes me feel like I’m coming down with something, something worse than any stomach ache or the headaches I get from reading in bad light— a kind of measles of the spirit, a mumps of the psyche, a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back, but that is because you have forgotten the perfect simplicity of being one and the beautiful complexity introduced by two. But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit. At four I was an Arabian wizard. I could make myself invisible by drinking a glass of milk a certain way. At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window watching the late afternoon light. Back then it never fell so solemnly against the side of my tree house, and my bicycle never leaned against the garage as it does today, all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself, as I walk through the universe in my sneakers. It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends, time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me I could shine. But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, I skin my knees. I bleed.
I posted this a few years ago on my birthday. I really love this poem.
In the old neighborhood, each funeral parlor
is more elaborate than the last. The alleys smell of cops, pistols bumping their thighs,
each chamber steeled with a slim blue bullet.
Low-rent balconies stacked to the sky.
A boy plays tic-tac-toe on a moon
crossed by TV antennae, dreams
he has swallowed a blue bean.
It takes root in his gut, sprouts
and twines upward, the vines curling
around the sockets and locking them shut.
And this sky, knotting like a dark tie? The patroller, disinterested, holds all the beans.
August. The mums nod past, each a prickly heart on a sleeve.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.
Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.
My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.