National Poetry Month, Week Three, Bonus Track

cover of the book the carnival of affection, by Philip F. Clark
Published by Sibling Rivalry Press

It was a break from all these snow flurries and colder temperatures the other day, so I decided to take the laptop outside and record a favorite poem. I was going to save this for week four, but sometimes good things just can’t wait.

This year and last, my son Micah and I have been recording poems again for National Poetry Month—not one per day like the crazy 2012 and 2013 years, mind you. And I don’t think I recorded any last year on YouTube. I believe all of them were on Sound Cloud in 2017. If you haven’t played much on SoundCloud, you should give it a try. it’s kind of the YouTube of audio.

Our one rule this year, aside from trying to read collectively from a wide range of poetry “eras,” was that we wanted to make sure we were each reading poems by poets we’ve never recorded before.

Full disclosure: Philip  F. Clark is a good friend. We’ve followed each other’s blogs for some time and finally met face-to-face in NYC last year. I was honored when Philip asked me to read with him at the debut of his book, The Carnival of Affection. But still, I have never recorded his work!

Until now. The difficult thing was deciding which poem of Philip’s to read. I mean, it’s no wonder we were drawn to each other’s work. There is a deep soul kinship in our poems. It’s like they know each other and thus we are connected. I’m not sure how to say it less mystically.

Perhaps the way to express it is by explaining why I chose to record this piece. “Learning” feels very much like a poem I wrote called “Timothy,” about a young man showing his love the way he’d seen men do, “with a fist.” But the speaker in Philip’s poem comes to the conclusion to do the opposite of what he’d seen men do. So they are speaking from opposite ends of the growing-up experience.

We wrote these poems independently and unaware of the other. “Learning” was published in Philip’s recent book, and “Timothy” will be published shortly in my second chapbook. Raised by different fathers, yet brother poems, for sure.

Poetry Month, Week Three: Barbara Crooker’s Towhee

A male Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus...
A male Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) searching for food on the ground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the immortal Bard once said, “A Tohee / by any other name would sing the same.” Okay, I admit it, I might have misquoted. But you get the idea. Birds’ names sometimes evolve, usually because, in the process of studying them, we learn new things about them.

In this case, the Rufous-sided Towhee was once thought to be one species. And though I still tend to think of the Towhees I see while out birding in Penn’s Woods as Rufous-sided, they have officially been designated a separate species from the Spotted Towhee of the west. The folks at Audubon’s “Birdnote” have a nice little summary of the way bird names have changed over the years. It even includes a bird I saw yesterday, the Northern Flicker, which went the opposite direction. Instead of two species, Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted, it is now considered one species with multiple variations.

Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whew. And then there’s the pronunciation. I’ve always said it like this: “Toe Hee.” But when I listened to the recording in the above link, my heart sank. I had already recorded today’s poem, but what the heck was this lady was saying! “Towy?”

So I went into research mode and discovered that it can be pronounced both ways. Several articles and every dictionary (for what it’s worth—I’m not sure they actually consult ornithologists) seemed to mention only the pronunciation I have used for years. And while it doesn’t discuss how to say Towhee, Kevin McGowan’s article did a lot to soothe my nerves. As he says:

If it bothers you when people say it differently than you do, lighten up. They’re just birds, for goodness sakes, and THEY don’t care what you call them.

None of these name-changing or pronunciation issues do anything to lessen the deceptively simple beauty of today’s poem by Barbara Crooker. A few articles were rather vague about how the Towhee’s name had something to do with it’s “che-wink” call,  but you can clearly hear in the bird’s song the comforting encouragement to “Drink your tea.”

The poem’s epigraph is from another favorite poet of mine, Jane Hirschfield. Thank you, Barbara Crooker, for writing this poem, which I discovered for the first time today, following so aptly the time I spent in the forest this weekend.

More on that next time.

You can read along in the winter 2014 edition of Little Patuxent Review: A Journal of Literature and the Arts. (Check out more from that issue by clicking here).

Poetry Month: Week Two, with Natalie Barney

Right to left, Renée Vivien and Natalie Barney
Right to left, Renée Vivien and Natalie Barney

Micah, my youngest son, and I are once again this year recording poems for National Poetry Month. In an effort to read and record poets that are new to us, or at least whose work we have not yet read out loud, we are both picking a different poem each week of April and sharing it with you. From Shakespeare’s time to Shelley’s, to some living poets of today, follow us and read along. We’d be tickled to hear that we’ve introduced you to a new favorite.

Last week, Micah chose a little-known (who should be more well-known!) lady poet from the 1600s and this week I have recorded the following gem, published in 1920 by the delightfully fierce Natalie Barney

The story goes that she met Oscar Wilde when she was 12 years old, and that experience changed her life, partly because of the influence Wilde had in her mother returning to her own art after her wealthy husband had earlier dissuaded her. The article goes on to say that her first love was a summer fling with Eva Palmer. She had studied in Paris and would return, eventually founding a popular salon there for artists. Learn more about this early feminist and artistic trailblazer by reading the entire, fascinating article in Headstuff.org.

The image below was painted by Natalie’s mother when the young poet was 20 years old. You can enjoy more of Natalie’s work from her book Poems & Poèmes, preserved online by the Guttenberg Project. 

HABIT

Ah! habit, how unmusical and shy
That outworn miracle: our ecstacy!
Between our hands that clasp their empty palms,
This daily prayer is this our psalm of psalms!
What is this nothing that was more than all?
Thinned as a golden ring that dare not fall,
That unsuspected danger: faithfulness,
Has linked us strangers, and a something less!
Exchanging vows and other platitudes,
As beggars chained in separate solitudes,
Though jealousy keep live the rotten core,
Lovers that were be lovers nevermore.

Poetry Month: Week One with Eileen Moeller

Cheers! And happy Poetry Month, 2018.

Last year Micah (my youngest son) and I recorded at least a poem a week during April, each of us one poem by the same poet. This year we decided to each read different poets from various movements and time periods.

Our only real rule is that it has to be a poet we’ve never recorded before. And, friends, if you’ve followed us for any length of time, you already know that we record a lot of poems. It’s one of the best ways we know to really, thoroughly encounter a poet’s work. Better than trying on their clothes or eating off their plates, both of which could get you into a lot of trouble, especially if the author is still alive. And anyway, who wants to eat off a dead poet’s plate?

Where was I going with this? I think it was about clothes. I’m not sure. My thoughts seem so scattered these days. As Eileen Moeller says in this week’s poem, “Aging is a laundromat.” Read and listen to her poem yourself to discover what she means by that. I’ve included my recording of her poem “Dear Ezra” below. And if you’d like to follow along you can pull up the text by clicking right here.

You should also check out Micah’s’ recordings over at his blog, The Monkey Prodigy. His choice for week one was 17th-century novelist, dramatist, and poet Aphra Behn.  Why the hell weren’t we studying her in school?

Follow both of us for poetry month 2018 for brand new recordings of at least eight poets between us. We’re bound to throw in lots of bonus poetry-month-ish material as usual.

Poetry Month Playlist Wrapup

An old favorite of the whole crew, poets on the ends, guitar players in the middle.

My youngest boy had a lovely idea for Poetry Month; we would agree on a poet for each week of April and each of us would record a poem or more by that poet. It was fun, and I even found a few poems by these favorites that I hadn’t heard before. You can follow back through this blog and his, or to skip the commentary and just go for the audio experience, we’ve put together the whole playlist. As the young man says, it only takes about 9.5 minutes to listen through.

As Summer Comes with Edna St. Vincent Millay

English: Main house at Steepletop Farm, home o...
Main house at Steepletop Farm, home of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I conclude this Poetry Month’s readings with a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay. You can hear Micah’s Millay reading over on his blog. We’ll try to put together some sort of playlist from these too, and who knows, maybe we’ll add a bonus track or post as well.

There is something about reading a sonnet. It only takes about a minute, and in just a couple of practice reads, one gets the feel for how the lines should turn, whether there should be stress at the end or at the beginning of a line, any internal rhymes or pauses within them.

Of course, the form is usually set, though some poets enjoy playing with the rules. Here Millay keeps the conventions, the meter, and rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, right down to the turn of thought at line nine (the Volta) and the concluding “twist,” or epigram of the final couplet.

As titles go, I like to think of this Continue reading “As Summer Comes with Edna St. Vincent Millay”