A YEAR IN POEMS 5/27/2021


“Up with me! Up with me into the clouds!
                For thy song, Lark, is strong;
Up with me, up with me into the clouds!
                Singing, singing,
With clouds the sky about thee ringing,
                Lift me, guide me till I find
That spot which seem so to thy mind.”

Wordsworth, “To a Sky-lark” 

I have always admired Wordsworth’s attempt to achieve the lightness of a Keats poem in this ode. He tries desperately to rise weightless, and fails boldly, like an elephant thinking it is an eagle. 

(Parenthetically, I think skylarks have so much poetic press just because of their name. In nature, they are hardly the most ethereal or lofty of birds.)


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/24/2021


“At the time that turned the heat of the earth,
At the time when the heavens turned and changed,
At the time when the light of the sun was subdued
To cause light to break forth,
At the time of the night of Makalii (winter)
Then began the slime which established the earth,
The source of deepest darkness.
Of the depth of darkness, of the depth of darkness,
Of the darkness of the sun, in the depth of night,
                                It is night,
                                So was night born

Queen Lili’uokalani, “Kumulipo”  

A beautiful, stirring version of the Hawai’ian creation story, made more full of pathos by the historical reality of Queen Lili’uokalani’s personal tragedy. The web posting has the poem in native Hawai'ian and it is even more haunting with it's mesmeric repeated sounds, likes the waves crashing on the ocean shore.





“A draft brings sway to
Brittle leaves,
Curled limbs of gray
Death-dancing in its light breath:
Ribs exposed, an umbrella
Broken reaching for the canopy.

Small buds glistened once on
Delicate supple fingers
Cavorting with the green and red surround:
The whisper of life-
Shuffling, striving for the
Blue-polished sky.

Winter seized the playful boughs
Too sudden to elude
Too swift to understand:
The hollow, from tip
To root, dancing now with
The memory of life.”

K Mankin, “On a Dead Tree”:

Yesterday, arborists removed the sweet Japanese Maple from beneath my study window. This poem is about the illusion of permanence.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/20/2021


Ah, Fans, let not the Quarry but the Chase
       Be that to which most fondly we aspire!
For us not Stake, but Game; not Goal, but Race—
      THIS is the end of every fan’s desire.

Franklin P Adams, “A Ballad of Baseball Burdens”

    I cheated on this one. Started in the last stanza to get the gist and substance. The whole is a wonderful litany of baseball names and sounds of times past by a newspaper columnist (who says columns are not a form of poetry?).  I love the mock-ballad structure and tone of this piece and the way Adams incorporates the sounds of fandom (Else you shall feel the brunt of fandom’s ire/ Biff, bang it, clout it, hit it on the knob”).


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/20/2021


“Come, my Celia, let us prove,
While we can, the sports of love;
Time will not be ours forever;
He at length our good will sever.”

Ben Jonson “Song to Celia” 

Not his most famous Song to Celia, but an interesting and somewhat bleak version, redolent with whispers of mortality. The opening echoes Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd” to a degree that you wonder if this poem is in part a response to Marlowe’s death.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/18/2021


“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

I think of this poem as a counter balance to Fern Hill, where at the end, the poet sleeps and wakes to find his childhood has fled. This is the older and wiser poet, unwilling to be passive any longer.



A YEAR IN POEMS 5/17/2021


“The unconsecrated foe entered my courts,
Placed his unwashed hands upon me,
And caused me to tremble.
Putting forth his hand
He smote me with fear.”

Babylonian Cuneiform, “Ishtar” (transl by Lewis Spence)

Translation of ancient texts, especially in languages unknown, is a bit of an if-you-say-so experience. It is also an essay in desire; the desire to find the fluency in some dead language to understand their thoughts, their imagery, and their poetic sense.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/15/2021


“You want so badly to tell how it’s done
That you tell it to yourself each night before sleep,
Narrating a film that no one will see,
The sound of the rain like the beating of wings,
The applause you receive for keeping the secret.”

Paul Tayyar, “The Magician” 

I am drawn to poems and writings in the second person for any number of reasons. They are intimate and personal, almost like the author is there with you. They are rare as most authors prefer first or third, probably so they don’t need to worry about the implied invasion of privacy. Finally, it is remarkable how the pronoun pulls you in – I am no magician, and yet by being included in the narrative I can identify with the magician’s devotion and immersion and extrapolate to my own world.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/14/2021



“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.”

TS Eliot, “The Naming of Cats”

It is unclear how much life this deceptively childlike poem of Eliot’s would have without the arrival of the Broadway show “Cats” but there is a brilliant and miraculous playfulness in this and the rest of his “Practical Cat” poems. Eliot teased his readers in all his poetry – there was always a broad question of his intentions. To be sure in this verse, the end waxes serious as he contemplates the secret inner name that cats (and by extension all of us) possess. But that sobriety is just shadow behind the ebullient linguistic nonsense of his listing of names. ("Such as Munkstrap, Quaxo, or Coripat,/ Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum..."

(Photo of my nephew felines courtesy of A Mankin)


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/13/2021


“In the end,
it was nothing more
than the toy boat of a boy
on the local park’s lake,
where I walked with you.

But I knelt down
to watch it arrive,
its white sail shy
with amber light,
the late sun
bronzing the wave
that lifted it up,

my ship coming in
with its cargo of joy.”

Carol Ann Duffy, “Ship”

The sweet message of the final couplet of this light but wistful poem reflects the ebullience of the imagery. The verse is an elegant illustration of setting the scene - the verbal extension of a visual experience.


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/12/2021


“If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.”

Marianne Moore, “I May, I Might, I Must” 

The sheer, ornery passion of this poem is breathtaking, betokened by the escalating assurance of the title. Although this may be about a specific geography where she happens to know a shortcut, I read it as any fen or any obstacle where she will be undaunted in her efforts. Just try telling this poet she can't!


A YEAR IN POEMS 5/9/2021


“I took her dainty eyes, as well
As silken tendrils of her hair:
And so I made a Villanelle!”

Earnest Thayer Dowson, “Villanelle of His Lady’s Treasures” 

Most of Dowson’s works are lugubrious and tortured. This poem is a confection. What upsweep of spirit put him in such a happy compositional mood?




“A bit of talcum
Is always walcum.

O Nash, “Reflection on Babies”

This tiny rhyme is almost an epitaph for Nash’s poems. The unexpected, absurd neologism that makes the rhyme and brings the chuckle is a hallmark of his brilliant light verses. Never (or seldom) acid, they have a ring of smartness without arrogance, as if they were something that you might have come up with, if only you had his ear, his cleverness, and his nerve.



“Put the fragrant mignonette and the last red aster
Here on the table.
Let us talk again of love,
As we did once in May.

Give me your hand, that I may squeeze in secret,
And if any see, we will not care.
Give me just one of your sweet glances,
As you did once in May.

Today, flowers bloom and sweeten each grave;
The one day of the year when the Dead are free.
Come to my heart, that I may have you here again,
As I did once in May.”

Hermann von Gilm, “Allerseelen” (transl. KPM)

The lyric to one of the most stirring of Richard Strauss’s remarkable lieder, the poem stands as a work of art in and of itself. Starting out as a paean to a familiar and intimate May-Day celebration, it ends up as a song of endearing and enduring grief. The connection between lyric and music is so strong in the great art songs, that we often forget the literary power of the words.



A YEAR IN POEMS, 5/2/2021


“Sleep, baby mine, Desire, nurse Beauty singeth,
Thy cries, O baby, set mine head on aching;
The babe cries, ‘Way, thy love doth keep me waking’.”

Sir Philip Sidney, “Sleep, baby mine, Desire” 

A raucous parody of a lullaby as the poet tries to lay aside his desire, treated here as an unruly child. But why are there so few lullabies, satire or serious, in the great poetic canon? Is it that we treat nursery songs as too frivolous to anthologize?