Our Woodstock poetry group, Atrocious Poets, was brought in to interact with our local and amazing art show, 4th Fridays. Artists come from far away to show their stuff.
We read some poetry inside, some outside. Some poems were our own and some from famous poets. Our fearless leader, Sophie, was sitting at an old Royal typewriter and writing "Atrocious Poetry While You Wait." The response blew us away. She wrote dozens of poems. My specialty was reading outside at an entrance point where everyone who entered funnelled in. I wrote one poem in particular I was excited to use and it really only served the purpose of this event. Here it is for you, and it should be read aloud in the style of a carnival barker.
For an event like this I wanted the poem to be quick to grab attention but not for long. It's an introduction to the rest of the show.
Ladies and gentlemen
boys and girls,
welcome to the greatest show
Come one, come all
come short, come tall
step right up and pay the price
to see these wonders captured
by untamed imaginations,
by hearts enraptured.
Enter the scenes
these artists have made,
leave the week’s work
and worries behind
and find in what
you see displayed
beauty and truth
for heart and mind.
Now go, enjoy,
drink deep this night
we hope in art
you may see light.
The night was a huge success and it was really just us dipping our toes in the water in preparation for a few other things we want to do the next show we participate in. Can't wait!
Carl Sandburg: The great Chicago poet who looked carefully at his city and wrote everyman sort of poetry about them. Here one about the "Clark Street Bridge" which is near the famous corn cob buildings and a hundred other urban wonders. This bridge is only a few blocks from where we stay in Chicago during Elijah's crohn's treatments and was directly on our path back to the train station. Sandburg was the first to call Chicago the "City of Big Shoulders."
DUST of the feet
And dust of the wheels,
Wagons and people going,
All day feet and wheels.
Now. . .
. . Only stars and mist
A lonely policeman,
Two cabaret dancers,
Stars and mist again,
No more feet or wheels,
No more dust and wagons.
Voices of dollars
And drops of blood
. . . . .
Voices of broken hearts,
. . Voices singing, singing,
. . Silver voices, singing,
Softer than the stars,
Softer than the mist.
What poems do you write about your city, your streets, the people you meet and see along the way? Don't just go where you are going. Truly see the marvels around you as you go and then sit and write something beautiful about it.
I've been looking into some Thomas Hardy poetry recently and quite enjoy his work so far. "Though frequently described as gloomy and bitter, Hardy’s poems pay attention to the transcendent possibilities of sound, line, and breath—the musical aspects of language." Here's one to get you started if you don't know him.
I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, ‘Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!’
For then, I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.
Thomas Hardy as found in Great Short Poems
I heard Dana Gioia read this poem at a lecture and fell in love with it. I have a particular fascination with issues of darkness and light when it comes to writing, and the darkness particularly associated with the night.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
Especially for my Christian friends, the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins is a great place to go for devotional poetry. And it serves as a nice bridge toward enjoying poetry for Christians who only know the poetry of hymns. Also listen.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Today is the beginning of April, National Poetry Month. As a lover of poetry and a poet, I've launched a poetry project with Joe Holland called Dry Bones Poetry. It's a free PDF with original poetry by the two of us and some other friends. Please enjoy, share with others, and let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gregory Wolfe of Image Journal interviewed Christian Wiman, a poet I've come to love who speaks a lot about Christ and faith, suffering and struggle. He has an amazing story, told in part here. This is a solid interview and, hopefully for many of you, introduction to a wonderful living poet.
Wiman looks like, and in some ways sounds like, a cross between the profundity of Tim Keller and the postmodern searching of Rob Bell. Please take that in a generous way as that's how I intend it. If you like what you hear, you should check out his poetry. Most of my readers would thoroughly enjoy his recent book, My Bright Abyss. Enjoy.
I write words, I speak--
My inflamed heart bleeding truths
to dare, spur, and seek.
Edgar Allan Poe was born this day, January 19, 1809. Much of his poetry expresses longings unfulfilled, sadness, and darkness. One writer has said, "Poe never lost contact with the terrible pathos of his time....he explored the heart of darkness." His poetry is worthy of our consideration on his birthday, so here is "A Dream Within a Dream," where we feel with Poe our inability to keep hold of the golden sands of time against the pitiless waves.
A Dream Within a Dream
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
I'm reading The Selected Poems of Donald Hall. The book ends with Hall delivering a very interesting "postscriptum" about his life as a poet, how the experiences in his life changed what and how he wrote, etc. The postscriptum ends with this paragraph, which I think is not only worthy of reflection for poets, but writers of all sorts, pastors, creatives, artists, thinkers, and, well, most anyone. Apply these observations to your life and family and work...
People have long assumed that poets flourish when they are young, but for most poets their best work comes in middle life. Wallace Stevens said, "Some of one's early things give one the creeps." A friend insists that no one should publish a poem written after eighty (Note: Hall is over 80). I hope I wrote good things, young and old, but my best work came in my early sixties. Over the years I felt my poems gradually diminish. I lost my powers as everyone does. It was frustrating at first, but finally I accepted the inevitable. How could I complain, after seventy years of ambition and pleasure? Happily I am able to write prose.
I was up late last night writing, reading, thinking. Right before bed I wrote this poem (haiku) as I was thinking about life, my own life, the life of dads my age. Then I didn't sleep a wink all night.
Sips of midnight tea
interrupt encroaching fears.
Midlife night terrors.
This is one of my favorite themes: it’s not that I have a need and then I seek out the right tool for it, but most of the time, having a tool lying around (like a row of clipboards) will inspire me to find some use for it.
We need our poets now more than ever. In fact, they should be on the front lines — at rallies and marches — questioning and rebuking whatever systems they deem poisonous to civil society. They once fed us, our poets; emptying themselves in the process. Generously, courageously, they brought the darkness to light. They said what we felt, and didn't mind taking the heat for it — whatever that meant. Did they stop speaking, or have we stopped listening?
“Stuckness” is just a part of doing hard things. However, just plowing through is not necessarily the answer. Internal work does not always equate to external progress. Instead, it can sometimes be helpful to step back and consider the particular source of your stagnancy. There are three that I encounter all the time.
I've written an article at Gospel Centered Discipleship on the importance of reading poetry. I've added reading and writing poetry as a discipline for the new year, not just something to do occasionally. The truth is, you already consider poetry as an important part of your life (Psalms, hymns,etc). I think reading the poetry of the culture is important too. I talk about three great benefits to the regular reading of poetry...
- The Importance and Power of Words
- Slowing Down
- Seeing and Feeling
Go and read my whole article, "3 Reasons to Read Poetry" over at GCD. Make poetry a part of your year. It offers many blessings.
It's here again! Always look forward to National Poetry Month (NPM). It's a good yearly reminder to consider our words and make the most of them. May our words be pregnant with meaning! It's a good reminder to see the world thorugh a poet's eyes. In a world of abbreviations, texting, and Twitter we would do good to say more with less. And it would be good in the hustle of life to slow down and digest something beautiful in slow meditation, seeing every word in its place and with its purpose.
Who are some poets you like? It's ok if you don't know the book sort. What songwriters do you like?