Category Archives: poetry

More or less in Poetry Month.

It’s National Poetry Month, and also Lent, which is a helpful confluence. “Less TV and more poetry” sounds to me like going in the right direction. But I don’t watch TV… What about my own tendencies to less housework, less attentiveness, less prayer…? Clearly, these things must be worked out on an individual basis, and may God give you wisdom. We are early in the month and I don’t think I’ve overindulged in poetry yet. I want to take advantage of the reminder and post a couple of poems before the month is over.

My thoughts about children’s books and Lent converge on this excerpt from Richard Wilbur’s More Opposites, which I think one of The Most Fun collections of poems and drawings. I don’t even require another person to read Wilbur’s humorous poems to — they often make me chuckle contentedly or muse to myself. I see that I already posted this particular one, but it was years ago, and I for one can benefit from a rereading.

The illustrations of this question in the book include a simple drawing of people with distressed faces holding their tummies. I think the cartoon at bottom makes a similar companion to the poem. It’s

#15 in the More Opposites book:

The opposite of less is more.
What’s better? Which one are you for?
My question may seem simple, but
The catch is — more or less of what?

“Let’s have more of everything!” you cry.
Well, after we have had more pie,
More pickles, and more layer cake,
I think we’ll want less stomach-ache.

The best thing’s to avoid excess.
Try to be temperate, more or less.

-Richard Wilbur

There is a Mennonite cookbook titled More With Less, from which I gleaned many good cooking ideas in the early days of my homemaking career. But more valuable than the actual recipes was the refreshing concept that one might have more health and more enjoyment of eating and probably more money to spend on other things if you ate less.

Of course this is something we need to keep in mind all the time, not just during Lent. The church fathers caution us not to eat so much food that we aren’t able to pray after eating it; an overfull stomach hinders prayer. If it’s possible that Less Food = More Prayer….

Let’s just pause and think on that.

(re-post from 2013)

Sustenance

SUSTENANCE

The sky hangs up its starry pictures: a swan,
a crab, a horse. And even though you’re
three hundred miles away, I know you see
them, too. Right now, my side
of the bed is empty, a clear blue lake
of flannel. The distance yawns and stretches.
It’s hard to remember we swim in an ocean
of great love, so easy to fall into bickering
like little birds at the feeder fighting over proso
and millet, unaware of how large the bag of grain is,
a river of golden seeds, that the harvest was plentiful,
the corn is in the barn, and whenever we’re hungry,
a dipperful of just what we need will be spilled . . .

-Barbara Crooker

It’s taken over everywhere.

When I emerged from my bed after having been under the weather, pushed down by a mean virus, I discovered that one of the (unopened) library books in my stack had been requested and could not be renewed, so I must return it. Well, I had that much strength, but I would put off the errand until I had at least browsed that book, a collection of poems I had read about on Orientikate’s blog. They are by Adam Zagajewski, a Polish poet born in 1945. I did find several poems to love, but it was his voice coming through that somehow soothed me as I scanned poems about time and history, darkness and light. I could hear its timbre in spite of my headache and fogged brain.

I returned the book, Mysticism for Beginners, translated by Clare Cavanagh, c. 1997, but not before I had copied the selection below. I’m glad I have other volumes of his work that I was able to renew, to nourish me in my recuperation. I found this paragraph about him on the Poetry Foundation site:

“His view is a counterpoint to the current fashion of irony, which he decries. ‘I adore irony as a part of our rich rhetorical and mental apparatus, but not when it assumes the position of a spiritual guidance,‘ he said. ‘How to cure it? I wish I knew. The danger is that we live in a world where there’s irony on one side and fundamentalism (religious, political) on the other. Between them the space is rather small, but it’s my space.’” 

MOMENT

In the Romanesque church round stones
that ground down so many prayers and generations
kept humble silence and shadows slept in the apse
like bats in winter furs.

We went out. The pale sun shone,
tinny music tinkled softly
from a car, two jays
studied us, humans,
threads of longing dangled in the air.

The present moment is shameless,
taking its foolish liberties
beside the wall
of this tired old shrine,

awaiting the millions of years to come,
future wars, geological eras,
cease-fires, treaties, changes in climate —
this moment — what is it — just

a mosquito, a fly, a speck, a scrap of breath,
and yet it’s taken over everywhere,
entering the timid grass,
inhabiting stems and genes,
the pupils of our eyes.

This moment, mortal as you or I,
was full of boundless, senseless,
silly joy, as if it knew
something we didn’t.

-Adam Zagajewski

Boundaries and Ages

A few weeks ago I tagged these two poems from the Japanese, to read again. Just now I notice that the poets were contemporaries of each other, and that in both poems there is the needed attention to the poet’s experience, but also reference to political or historic settings. Even though I probably miss many poetic allusions and metaphors because of my unfamiliarity with the realm of Japanese literature, I find these more interesting and thought-provoking than the more minimalist haiku.

The writers who create and give us their creations are also fascinating to me. It’s nice to be able to read a bit of biography, but you know that they are telling the most important things in their poetry. Both here are considered haiku poets. Takami was arrested for Marxist writings and communist activities while at university, but later recanted, and years later became director of the Japanese Literature Patriotic Association. In addition to his poetry he published various memoirs including 3000 pages of wartime diaries.

The minor planet Kusatao was named for Kusatao Nakamura in 1994.

 

AT THE BOUNDARY of LIFE and DEATH

At the boundary of life and death
what exists I wonder?
For instance, concerning the boundary of county and country,
during the war, on the border of Thailand and Burma,
although I saw it when I crossed through the jungle,
nothing unusual was found in that place.
There was nothing like a boundary line drawn.
Also at sea when passing directly over the equator
nothing special like a beacon mark was visible.
No, at that place was the wonderful dark blue sea.
On the Thailand-Burma border was a wonderful sky.
On the life-death boundary too might there not be something hung like a wonderful rainbow,
even though my surroundings
and also my self
were a devastated jungle?

-Jun Takami (1907-1965)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sailing in autumn,
being inside
one huge and deep blue disk.

In the baby carriage,
onto the joggled apple
continuing to hold.

Falling snow!
The Meiji period, far
away it has gone.

Greenness everywhere
and inside it my own child’s
teeth starting to grow out.

-Kusatao Nakamura (1901-1983)

 

(The ocean painting is detail from a print by Hiroshige, “The Whirlpools of Awa.”)