Original Poem 2: The Hemingway Room

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In keeping with the sestina series: I wrote this poem in the winter of 2009, though it has experienced some tweaking since. It is about the “Hemingway Room” at Oak Park and River Forest High School, in Oak Park, IL. Hemingway was born in Oak Park and attended OPRF. I was able to take an English class in the very same room that he once did.

Sestina Inspired by the Hemingway Room

 

Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeing at that altitude.

-Ernest Hemingway

from “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

We call it the Hemingway Room,
where you once wrote Trapeze pieces
in your desk by the old fireplace and dusty chalkboard.
You began honing your skills as a newspaper writer,
and now your framed face watches
as we discuss “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in packs

of three or four. Strewn backpacks
camp out at our feet, giving the room
its lived in feel. Ms. Kinnan watches
through her round spectacles as we attempt to piece
together the chalky-white themes on the board.
“Wide lawns and narrow minds,” you wrote.

Perhaps the town and you were differently right.
Maybe you needed to stray from the pack
to escape the conservative life and the boredom
that captured you in your four cornered bedroom.
Away from it all you found peace,
a new found sense of serenity in watching

the geese fly. But the world is not a broken watch.
Looking down at my desk I see E.H. written
into the wood like camouflage, a leftover piece
of your youth, a little something that survived the quick impact
of the bullet that left your shotgun in 1961. Back in the room
our digressive voices and casual, callow boredom

subside. A quote from your story, scrawled across the board,
invokes us to sit in silence, bewildered, watching.
“Rot and poetry. Rotten poetry.” As we ruminate,
I consider the black ball-point in my hand and I want to write.
The land of the leopard that strayed from the pack
comes to mind and my fingers swiftly scribble words onto a piece

of paper… White puffs of cotton parting the sky into pieces
of pink haze, the tips of giant lobelias brushing the border
of a long horizon, the cadence of a trickling brook, and a pack
of barbets fiendishly fending fruit… The watch
ticks, again and again, and the whimsical writing
stops. I glance up at you as I leave the room

 

and a piece of me feels different, less casual, ready to undertake.
My poems may be packed with sentimentality, may be rotten.
But my boarded-up mind is no longer bored. I will write and rewrite.

Finding something to look at “for the first time”

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apple-picking

Today’s poem is entitled Apple Blossom by Louis MacNeice.

Each fall, it amazes me how the yellow, wind-blown leaves and the smell of pumpkin lattes and the sunlight ebbing in and out of fading blue to gray skies surprises me, as if this season is foreign to me and I’m experiencing it for the first time. I personally am not a fall fan. I prefer sun dresses and summer breezes, and as fall settles, a feeling of slumber and defeat sets inside of me. Work days become longer, the night drapes over the world much too early, and a sense of “until next time” rests inside of me as if hibernating until warmer, happier days. I think about the folded up, faux-Christmas tree under my bed and the twinkle lights tangled in the plastic bin, which has no home except for a blatant, unwelcome spot in the corner of the living room, and a glimmer of hope for the holidays reminds me that happy times will come again. But this limbo of unwelcome change is always hard to grapple with and the fall season never ceases to challenge.

Ergo, the point of today’s poem is to emphasize those incredible moments that can be reborn over and over, despite having been experienced and felt before. The baking of a pie with freshly picked orchard apples, the first time it is necessary to don an extra pair of leggings and a cozy scarf around my neck, the breath of fresh air in the car when the heat is on but it’s too hot and the half cracked window allowing the perfect amount of crisp, fall air in provides a perfect balance–These moments feel like firsts again and provide a moment’s worth of happiness and comfort. So despite the blues, anxiety, or depression that fall onto poor October souls (especially we teacher folk… they say the depression dip from now until November is the worst), find pleasure in giving yourself a moment to sit at the lakefront on a Sunday afternoon and enjoy Lake Michigan as if it is your fist time that you’ve seen it.

Louis MacNeice is an Irish poet from Belfast who wrote during the 1930’s to 60’s. This poem comes from a collection of poems called The Rattle Bag (ed. S. Heaney and T. Hughes).

Apple Blossoms

By Louis MacNeice

The first blossom was the best blossom
For the child who never had seen an orchard;
For the youth whom whisky had led astray
The morning after was the first day.

The first apple was the best apple
For Adam before he heard the sentence;
When the flaming sword endorsed the Fall
The trees were his to plant for all.

The first ocean was the best ocean
For the child from streets of doubt and litter;
For the youth for whom the skies unfurled
His first love was his first world.

But the first verdict seemed the worst verdict
When Adam and Ever were expelled from Eden;
Yet when the bitter gates clanged to
The sky beyond was just as blue.

For the next ocean is the first ocean
And the last ocean is the first ocean
And, however often the sun may rise,
A new thing dawns upon our eyes.

For the last blossom is the first blossom
And the first blossom is the best blossom
And when from Eden we take our way
The morning after is the first day.

Original Poem 1: “A toast to you in sestina form I’ll write”

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Cara and Nate

This sestina was written for Cara and Nate on September 26th, 2013, the day before their wedding. Before reading, here is a tidbit of information about the sestina form:

The sestina is a complex form that achieves its often spectacular effects through intricate repetition. The thirty-nine-line form is attributed to Arnaut Daniel, the Provencal troubadour of the twelfth century. The name “troubadour” likely comes from trobar, which means “to invent or compose verse.” The troubadours sang their verses accompanied by music and were quite competitive, each trying to top the next in wit, as well as complexity and difficulty of style. 

Courtly love often was the theme of the troubadours, and this emphasis continued as the sestina migrated to Italy, where Dante and Petrarch practiced the form with great reverence for Daniel, who, as Petrarch said, was “the first among all others, great master of love.” http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5792#sthash.71bPt4mm.dpuf

 

“A toast to you in sestina form I’ll write”

September 26, 2013

A toast to you in sestina form I’ll write—

It seems a fitting way to tell of love.

For like a marriage, you must commit

and find a way to marry the words together,

like joining of names, from Rowe to Hoch,

soon Mr. and Mrs. forever.

Companionship you’ll share forever,

over cups of tea as Cara writes

while Nate enjoys the latest match of hockey

or Modern Family. And in their lovely

living room, college friends will gather,

to celebrate their marriage and commitment

to each other.  Now think, before committing,

you’ll be stuck with her forever,

together at every gathering,

every day he’ll be there, right

beside you, and she your love,

always there, watching like a hawk.

I kid! I kid! Now future Hochs,

don’t look at me that way. You must commit!

You must, you must for I tell you love

is true, when couples could spend forever

watching King Arthur as you do. Together

you make a perfect couple, right

in all the right ways. So to the right

and to the left the Rowes and Hochs

are joined, a new family coming together

to bless the couple and wish them forever.

Tomorrow when the two commit,

in sickness or health, good or bad, their love

will warm our own hearts. I love

you both and am honored to write

a poem for your special day. And I commit

to not tripping tomorrow, though I may hock

up some tears. You are my friends forever

and I’m overjoyed that you are together.

In short, Cara and Nate, Mr. and Mrs. Right, Mr. and Mrs. Hoch, Nara—however, we may say it—

I wish you love, commitment, and happiness together forever.

Enjoy your wedding day!

Preface: Experimentation in the Lyrical Ballads

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To begin, I shall repost an entry authored by yours truly in Erik Simpson’s Romantics Seminar as it relates to my inspirited attempt at a poetry blog. I shall term it a “Preface,” though it was not written directly for an audience with the intent to introduce. Yet it offers a glimpse into the writer that I was in college, and by revisiting this entry I have been provoked to consider the intent and purpose of poetry and art. And so I begin with this in mind:

“Experimentation in the Lyrical Ballads” February 15, 2011

In reading Wordsworth’s Preface (though I guess I’d rephrase that to be “Wordsworth’s account of what Coleridge wanted us to hear”),  I couldn’t help but think of Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading, which we are currently covering in the short course poetry class that I am taking. Specifically, pages 174 and 175 of the Preface in Lyrical Ballads offer what I believe to be very important insights into the craft of poetry: “Feelings exist in a state of greater simplicity and consequently may be more accurately contemplated and more forcibly communicated,” “Accordingly such a language arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings is a more permanent and a far more philosophical language,” “Poems in these volumes will be found distinguished at least by one mark of difference, that each of them has a worthy purpose,” and “my descriptions of such objects as strongly excite those feelings.”

Unfortunately, after feeling like I had read something very insightful and wise in Wordsworth’s Preface, my opinions about the Preface were completely destroyed by Gamer. Well, maybe “completely destroyed” isn’t the right phrase, because Gamer does raise an interesting question. How is literature valued? How do the audiences and events of the time shape those values? And how is literature experimented with? In the article, Gamer discusses Alan Liu’s claim that “Wordsworth’s experimentalism of 1798 is at least in part forced by the literary landscape he inhabits” (107). Wordsworth begins the Preface saying, “It was published, as an experiment which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain, how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of please may be imparted, which a Poet may rationally endeavour to impart” (171, Italics are mine). This idea that Wordsworth is experimenting seems important in my opinion. Though Gamer suggests that we reread the Preface “as a strategic rather than wholesale rejection of gothic sensationalism, as “defence” of the first volume of Lyrical Ballads rather than as manifesto, as response to reviewer criticism rather than revolution against it” (126), I believe that the Preface can also be seen as an artist contemplating art. Ezra Pound states, “The proper METHOD for studying poetry and good letters is the method of contemporary biologists, that is careful first-hand examination of the matter, and continual COMPARISON of one ‘slide’ or specimen with another” (17). In this way, Wordsworth appears to be studying poetry in Lyrical Ballads. Furthermore, throughout his writing career it seems as though Wordsworth was comparing both the gothic and the more “natural” and “low” forms of writing.

Wordsworth’s later retraction of the Preface to me suggests that he battles with the question “what is valuable literature?” To me it seemed as though Wordsworth enjoyed writing gothic pieces, but found more artistic qualities in more natural, realistic forms of poetry. The Preface suggests that Wordsworth at one point may have believed that natural forms of poetry were better than gothic when measuring artistic value and form. However, pleasure is also a means of valuing literature, and while the form of meter offers pleasure, so too do feelings derived from the natural and from the supernatural. Therefore, though gothic works may have seemed contrived due to the popularity and abundance of “frantic novels,” perhaps Wordsworth felt that there was literary value within the gothic genre, but for some reason he felt as though he could not prove such a hypothesis to a critical audience.