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”

A Dysfunctional Thursday Love Poem, by Me

Jo swimming

Since some of you have been asking for more poems by me, I thought that this weird little piece, published the same time as “Years Later” would provide a more lighthearted change of pace for our Thursday Love Poem feature. If you are not familiar with the Thursday Love Poem, it is based on Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Thursday.”

And if I loved you Wednesday,
Well, what is that to you?
I do not love you Thursday–
So much is true.

And why you come complaining
Is more than I can see.
I loved you Wednesday,–yes–but what
Is that to me?

So as we’ve said before, the Thursday Love poem is not a Hallmark romance verse, nor is it even a soulful and heart-wrenching Neruda piece. Heck, as the poem above illustrates, one might argue that it’s not about love at all, and if it is, well it’s definitely not something to read to your sweetheart by candlelight.

But today’s, while probably unhealthy in nature, is a darn site more loving than our flagship poem by Millay. It’s inspired by a long-past relationship that seemed to follow certain emotional cycles. Unlike other situations I’ve been in, this one seems to have two characters who truly do adore each other, despite the mess and the repeated mistakes. The speaker seems not to be upset to finally return to that old “rock” by the side of the stream. He knows the good days will be back.

There is a sequel to this poem, same characters, but different real-life partner. That one is a little less hopeful, darker, but still persistently positive in the end (not that the relationship followed suit). Perhaps it will make an appearance on the blog eventually.  For whatever reason I was dealing with failed and broken relationships, long after the fact, by putting them into surreal metaphoric situations and working them out on paper. Here is just one more example.


There we are by the shore again—well, me
by the shore, you out there, bobbing in the waves
once more, eyes bugged out, lips ice-blue,

arms flailing. Desperate to keep your head
above the white caps, you’ve somehow managed
to grasp a fallen branch. “Are you okay?”

The classic stupid question, but what am I to say?
I never know. “I’m sorry,” you sputter-shout
as you spit a school of minnows from your teeth.

“I’m always drowning when we’re here together.”
Yet just last week we enjoyed a day here, dangling
foaming feet, skipping little stones, but now

is not the time to argue. I throw the rope,
always looped to my belt in anticipation
of times like this, but you miss it every toss.

All the while your enormous eyes convey a bevy
of emotions; fear of the current, rage at the waves
and sympathy for my own failings. My rope is too short.

In a frenzy now I fumble through my pockets, and toss
their contents to you—a marble, a feather, a rubber
chicken, hoping you’ll know how to use them. “Don’t worry

about me,” you gurgle. And I am touched; I know
how you hate it when your moods affect me. Too late
I dive and plunge into the icy flow, as you lose

your slippery grip and begin to drift
around the bend, waving kind assurances
as your head sinks beneath the surface. You’re always

thoughtful like that. Resigned, I crawl back
up the bank, and find my favorite rock. I check my watch—
it could be hours yet, before you’re washed ashore.

©2015 by David J. Bauman
Originally Published in the Tic Toc Anthology,
2014 by Kind of a Hurricane Press

One Perfect Thursday Love Poem, with Dorothy Parker

quotes-oh-life-is-a-glorious_5971-0We’re due for another Thursday Love poem feature, and so in the spirit of “Thursday,” a sort-of love poem by one of my poetic heroines, Edna St. Vincent Millay, I give you a piece from another New York mistress of words and wit, Dorothy Parker.

If you’re not familiar with the Thursday Love Poem feature, just go ahead and enjoy the poem below first, but then go back and click on that Thursday link in the first line of this post in order to get the original poem that inspired this irreverent tribute to love.

Like Vincent (as Millay liked to be called), Parker was both a poet and a social activist in the 1920’s New York literary scene. They were quite progressive ladies, though their poetry did not go the way of the Modernists, into ideas and abstractions, in the mid 30’s.

The Dorothy Parker Society has created a great little website dedicated to her and you should check it out. They even have a pretty hefty audio archive of Dorothy’s readings, including today’s:

A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet–
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
“My fragile leaves,” it said, “his heart enclose.”
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Happy Birthday, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Photograph of Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Isn’t it funny how we write things like that after someone is long gone? I think Vincent (she liked to be called Vincent) would quip that it’s a tad late now for birthday greetings, don’t  you think? Well, it’s a little past midnight now, but that’s not really what I mean. Her birthday is February 22, but she passed away in 1950. And since I took the time for a birthday acknowledgment for  W.H. Auden yesterday, I didn’t want to leave her out.  She is after all one of my very favorites.

I read an article a while back (which I will not link to because it was awful, opinionated, and false) in which a prudish and jealous young poet wrote that Vincent was “an important American poet, but not a great one.” I wholeheartedly disagree. Her skill, wit, irony, and humor, along with her heartbreaking honesty persuade me that we can put that other writer’s assessment aside as nonsense.

I encourage you to read her Poetry Foundation biography page which insists “Pulitzer Prize-winner Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of the most successful and respected poets in America.” I did a rather thorough write-up on her birthday weekend last year which I would just love for you to read again by clicking here. There are plenty of poems and links for you to peruse, including the entire online text of her book A Few Figs from Thistles.

There are also some great audio files from SoundCloud, including one of Vincent reading “I Shall Forget You Presently, My Dear,”  and me reading “I Think I Should Have Loved You Presently.” Unfortunately the audio from the Millay Tapes, twelve beautiful songs set to her poetry by Katie Barbado, have disappeared from SoundCloud. You can still find a sample on Katie’s old Kickspy page. Since they are now gone I will be purchasing the CD myself. If you are a Millay lover and a music lover, you’ll want to check into it too.

The first time one of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems made a significant impression on me was probably over a decade and a half ago, shortly after I came out. I was at a little bar on a Tuesday night in the university town of State College, Pennsylvania. The bartender and I were discussing poetry. She was quoting Shakespeare and I was quoting William Stafford. Someone in the  place joked that they didn’t know Tuesday was poetry night at Chumley’s, and that’s when the handsome young man with blue eyes and dark hair on the bar stool to my right turned to me and began saying these words:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning, but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply. . .

He continued, and beautifully, quietly delivered all the lines of Millay’s “Sonnet 42,” said it was the only poem he knew by heart. It was enough. I suppose I don’t have to tell you how successful that performance was for him, or what a lovely evening it became after that.

Anyway, with all the birds and sunshine here in my neck of Penn’s Woods today I am thinking of the soon-coming spring, and this poem by Millay named after the season those birds are trying to usher in. The following recording of the poem is by Parallel Octave, a Baltimore-based improvising Chorus. There is a delightful collection of  these spring-ish poems which they recorded in April of last year entitled Twisted Spring. You can enjoy the whole lot on their web page. It includes poems by Shakespeare, Robert Herrick, Millay and others. Please give them a visit. You can thank me later.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

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A Thursday Love Poem (or Two) with E.E. Cummings

e e cummings
E. E. Cummings (Photo credit: Zoe52)

My dear friend and champion of peace, Ann Keeler Evans has been reminding me lately about the importance of being present, and in-the-moment. But after starting the new year with a bad cold, followed by a knock-out horrible bout of the flu virus, I found myself needing a little bit of hope. And she’s right, as I feel better, it’s easier to be present. But this week I was looking at previous spring posts, and the milder days associated with them.

Love, so often associated with spring, with bees and birds, this got me to thinking of our new-ish Thursday Love Poem feature, inspired by the flagship poem of lot, “Thursday,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

It’s rather an anti-love poem, a thumb-your-nose-at-love-poem, a men-have-treated-us-like-this-for-eons-and-now-it’s-my-turn-poem. But a poem need not be anti-love to qualify for the Thursday Love Poem slot. It only needs to make us think, or as I once said, squint our eyes, stand on our heads, and glance sideways at the whole circus of love. It’s got to be different, and in doing so, it’s got to stretch the mind as well as the heart.

I think these two poems by modern master E. E. Cummings succeed in doing just that. Hey, how about that–two for the price of one! This first one was recorded almost two years ago for my personal Record-a-Poem-a-Day-Challenge during 2012’s National Poetry Month in April. I was experimenting with making the video mimic what the poem was doing. Some loved it while others were decidedly unimpressed. Still, it’s about Spring, about Time and it’s seeming predictability, while pointing out that flowers, birds and bees do not use clocks.

The second one below it has never been on this blog before, though I had recorded it on my balcony in July of 2011 and had uploaded it to my YouTube channel where it too received mixed reviews. It was a request from a sexy teacher-friend and so I was attempting to be kinda mock-sexy. I think some people took my stance (Come on, shades? Don’t you recognize a poser making fun of posers when he poses?) a bit too seriously. I was trying to capture the poet’s brilliance whilst poking fun at the drama of it all, hoping it worked. Well, for some it did, but others. . .  Ah, you can’t roll sixes every time.

I hope these two springy poems about love help to thaw your cold, winterized heart. Unless of course you live south of the equator, in which case I am far to envious to even talk to you right now.

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