“only by the wildflower meadow”: David Mason’s “In the Mushroom Summer”

A view from Rocky Mountain National Park

A view from Rocky Mountain National Park

Last week, we visited family and friends in Colorado, which was just delightful (I hope to write a book-themed post about the trip, but you know my track record on posts I plan to write). The scenery is gorgeous, of course, and we were treated to quite an array of weather, starting with heavy snow and including rain, mist, thunderstorms, and brilliant sunshine.

I just came across this little poem by David Mason, called “In the Mushroom Summer,” that gives a good sense of what the mountain landscape looks like in the rain. I love the way the speaker knows how high he’s climbed only by the sight of the flowers in an alpine meadow.

Do tell: Do you have a favorite poem about a place you’ve traveled?

“the whole stunning contraption of girl and rope”: Gregory Pardlo’s “Double Dutch”

photo (41)This year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry is Gregory Pardlo, who is the author of two books of poetry (Totem and Digest) and the recipient of many awards. In its citation, the Pulitzer committee called the collection “clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st Century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private.”

Now, as is often the case, I find myself not well enough acquainted with this poet, but I’m going to be on the lookout for his books, especially after reading “Double Dutch,” which is gorgeous, and I’m quite sure the best poem about jump-roping ever written. Like the ropes crossing over each other as the girls turn them, each line of the poem crosses another. What Mr. Pardlo does with light in this poem is stupendous; a painter could make a series out of the images without ever seeing the subjects of the poem in the flesh.

[Note to the Dear Readers: I’m trying an experiment this week wherein the weekly poetry post appears on Thursday and the usual book review/recommendation appears on Tuesday. I’m pretty confident that this will affect absolutely nobody’s life, but if you hate or love the new arrangement, please let me know.]

“‘What do you hate, / and who do you love?'”: Taha Muhammad Ali’s “Meeting at an Airport”

Since it’s National Poetry Month, I’ll once again recommend The Poetry Foundation’s app (conveniently called Poetry) if you’re looking for a little more poetry in your life (and who isn’t?). It’s perfect for a little pick-me-up when you’re feeling stressed, or when you’re waiting for the bus and realize you’ve forgotten your book (horror!), or when you’re a book blogger looking for a poem to recommend.

Speaking of which . . .

I just read “Meeting at an Aiport,” by the late Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali. It’s just lovely, joyous and sad all at once, and a perfect example of what a gifted poet can do with simple repetition.

So, which new poets and poems have you discovered lately?

“free it when they are freed”: Marianne Moore’s “The Paper Nautilus”

photo (2)I had wonderful luck at a bookstore yesterday, finding The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore and Margaret Atwood’s Selected Poems (1965-1975), which is particularly excellent because I already had the companion volume, and wondered if I’d ever come across the first volume in the wild.

Marianne Moore is one of America’s most revered poets, but I am afraid that my knowledge of her work is quite limited, so I’m happy to have the chance to puzzle over some of her very fine poetry. Her images are deep and complex, and her subjects often begin with animals, as in “The Paper Nautilus,” the poem I’m thinking about this week. At first I thought that the animal in question was a variety of nautilus, but the reference to “eight arms” tipped me off that it’s a type of octopus, named after its egg case, which Moore so beautifully describes. That was just the first of many surprises in a poem that turns and undulates like the argonaut underwater.

“The Paper Nautilus” is a fascinating, multi-layered poem that I feel I’m just beginning to get a feel for. I hope you’ll tell me what you think.

“A little this side of the snow / And that side of the haze”

It is November, and high time for an Emily Dickinson poem.

Or two. I’m unpredictable.


A precious, mouldering pleasure ’tis
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.

His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;

What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty.
And Sophocles a man;

When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,

He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true;
He lived where dreams were sown.

His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.


Besides the autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the haze.

A few incisive mornings,
A few ascetic eyes, —
Gone Mr. Bryant’s golden-rod,
And Mr. Thomson’s sheaves.

Still is the bustle in the brook,
Sealed are the spicy valves;
Mesmeric fingers softly touch
The eyes of many elves.

Perhaps a squirrel may remain,
My sentiments to share.
Grant me, O Lord, a sunny mind,
Thy windy will to bear!

In Memoriam: Galway Kinnell

Strong Is Your HoldPoet Galway Kinnell died last week, and so this weekend, I took Strong Is Your Hold, his last collection, off the shelf and read through it.

It’s beautiful: direct and yet tender, unflinching in the face of death, and very, very human, encompassing both the ugly and the transcendently lovely. He wrote a musical, welcoming free verse that is incredibly appealing.

If you’ve enjoyed the perennial favorite “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps,” or “The Bear,” I highly recommend you pick up Strong is Your Hold. Here’s a link to “Why Regret?,” the last poem in the collection, to give you a sense of its tone.

My favorite poems in the book were  the  tender poems about his first wife, Ines, and their children, as well as three elegies for his friends. I was struck by how easily I cried reading them; I love poetry, but it doesn’t often provoke me to tears. The volume also includes “When the Towers Fell,” a long poem about September 11th, which I think is the best poem I’ve read about the tragedy.

The New York Times’s obituary quotes Galway Kinnell on poetry: “To me,” he said, “poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.”

The person best suited to write an elegy for Galway Kinnell is, of course, Galway Kinnell, but while we wait for someone else to try her hand, here are the lines from Walt Whitman from which Kinnell took his title:

Tenderly—be not impatient,
(Strong is your hold O mortal flesh
Strong is your hold O love.)

Recommended Reading: Prelude to Bruise, by Saeed Jones

Prelude to BruisePrelude to Bruise*, the first full-length collection by Saeed Jones, is unflinching and intimate, fierce and achingly vulnerable. It’s a remarkable collection, perhaps the most highly anticipated book of poems to appear this year, and it is not to be missed.

These poems in Prelude to Bruise are firmly grounded in the body, and in one body in particular. The collection traces, with some digressions, the life of “Boy,” who is young, black, queer, and growing up in the South. These poems are often autobiographical, both political and personal in their evocation of the lived experience they shape and are shaped by. They are mesmerizing and dramatic.

Mr. Jones’s skill and versatility are impressive. Here you’ll find poems of varying forms, meters, and lengths. In some poems, like “Prelude to Bruise,” which lends its title to the collection, Mr. Jones explores the emotive possibilities of just a few key words (black, back, body, burning, broken); in others, metaphors and imagery take center stage (one of my favorites lines is “The dress is an oil slick”).

Prelude to Bruise is divided into six sections, and while the autobiographically inclined poems make up a large portion of the collection, poems in which Mr. Jones enters other lives (and deaths) appear throughout. Here, in poems like “Daedalus, after Icarus,” “Jasper 1998,” and “Lower Ninth,” we find a poetic voice attuned to detail and perspective, alive with empathy.

Take, for example, “Isaac, after Mount Moriah,” which you can read here thanks to the fine people at Linebreak. The calm image of a boy so deeply asleep that rain pools “in the dips of his collarbone” is shattered when we realize, in the the next line, that the speaker is his father, Abraham, who was ready to kill Isaac on Mount Moriah. Seeing his son’s fear, even in sleep, Abraham wonders, “What kind of father does he make me this boy / I find tangled in the hair of willows, curled fetal / in the grove?” It both is and is not the right question to ask; we’re ask to hold in our minds both the image of the father giving his son a blanket without disturbing him and the image of the vulnerable boy (“curled fetal”) that father raised his hand against. It’s a complicated, engaging poem, gracefully rendered.

Mr. Jones writes beautifully and powerfully about specific experiences tied to universal concerns –life, death, danger, desire, family. Prelude to Bruise is highly recommended.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of this review. 

“Stay, I said / to the cut flowers”: Jane Hirshfield’s “The Promise” from Come, Thief

Come, ThiefOn vacation earlier this month, Mr. O and I visited the well-appointed Island Books in Middletown, Rhode Island. One of the things I liked best about this little shop was its poetry selection, which included recommended titles handpicked by the bookstore’s staff. Thanks to their recommendation, I picked up Jane Hirshfield’s 2011 book Come, Thief, which I highly recommend.

In this collection, Ms. Hirshfield focuses on small scenes, both natural and domestic, as she reflects on attentiveness, change, and beauty; of special note are several exquisite poems about aging and the inevitable failures of body and mind.

In “The Promise,” which you can read here, the speaker wishes that things both small and beautiful (a cut flower, a spider, a leaf) and large and wondrous (the body, the earth itself) would not change or fade or leave, while acknowledging the inevitability of those kinds of losses. It’s a wistful but lovely poem. drooping flower

“the light blue sea / Of your acquaintance”: Kenneth Koch’s “In Love with You”

I confess that I am not particularly well versed (poetry joke!) in the New York School poets. I’ve read a bit of Ashberry and a bit more Frank O’Hara, but never much Kenneth Koch. It hasn’t been a conscious omission; I simply found other poets first who claimed my attention.

Last week Kenneth Koch’s “In Love with You” popped up in my inbox as the Poetry Foundation’s poem of the day, and I was hooked by its exuberance, its vitality; it features non-ironic exclamation points!

While I admire many love poems, most of them are so intimate, so particular to a person or time or place that I find myself distanced from them. Like Whitman’s poems (at least for me), however, “In Love with You”‘s specificity crescendoes into a feeling of overwhelming universality. And I love a love poem that makes me grin.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a book of Kenneth Koch’s poetry.

Do you have a favorite grin-worthy love poem?

Maryann Corbett’s “Finding the Lego”

I promise that the Poetry Concierge feature here on Rosemary & Reading Glasses will return. Really. And if you’d like a poetry recommendation, please do write in!

With thanks to my husband,  whose Lego Ghostbusters car I photographed.

With thanks to my husband, whose Lego Ghostbusters car I photographed.

Today, however, I must point you to Maryann Corbett’s “Finding the Lego” — featured this week as part of Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry series, because the title alone is fabulous. Please consider this poem my shout-out to friends and fellow bloggers who are also parents (and grandparents, and aunts and uncles). And if anyone knows of a funny poem involving Legos and parenthood (Ms. Corbett’s is on the serious side), I’d love to read it.