Poetry

All things poetical

On Poetry and Pictures

The rest of us watch from beyond the fence
as the woman moves with her jagged stride
into her pain as if into a slow race.
We see her body in motion
but hear no sounds, or we hear
sounds but no language; or we know
it is not a language we know
yet. We can see her clearly
but for her it is running in black smoke.
The cluster of cells in her swelling
like porridge boiling, and bursting,
like grapes, we think. Or we think of
explosions in mud; but we know nothing.
All around us the trees
and the grasses light up with forgiveness,
so green and at this time
of the year healthy.
We would like to call something
out to her. Some form of cheering.
There is pain but no arrival at anything.

Margaret Atwood, "The Rest"

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I started pairing my photographs with poems I found on the Internet as a way of playing with the mood of the photograph, and to discover new poems and new poets. It is fast becoming a favorite hobby, and is very effective at relieving stress, anger, and sadness. (Which is why I found myself spending a lot of time with it the last few weeks.)

I'll look at a photograph and write down my first impressions of it: what it means to me, why I like it or not, and what I was trying to say with it when I took it. From this, I'll gather select keywords and use these to search for a poem at a site, such as Plagiarist or the Academy of American Poets. I'll wander about through the results until finding the poem that best connects.

For instance, the Margaret Atwood poem was, fortuitously, in the list that resulted when I searched for the keywords for the photo of the fence. Since I had recently been exposed to her work, hers was one of the first I read, and it felt right for the picture.

When searching for poems for my second photograph, below, another Atwood poem appeared, which clearly demonstrates something. When I find out what it is, I'll let you know. Regardless, I fell in love with this poem and it was the perfect one for the photograph.

Now, if people ask, "What does the photograph mean?", I can answer, "Read the poem". If they ask, "What does the poem mean?", I'll answer, "Look at the photograph." I no longer have to explain myself, and can hold my inner thoughts secret, in plain view.

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and as you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

Margaret Atwood, "Variation on the Word Sleep"

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Writings:

Creating:

There were a Thousand Things I could have done today

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There were a thousand things I could have done today,
but all I did was sit at my window and watch
the storms move past.

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Instead of doing my laundry
I watched the wind rip the blossoms
from the tree across the road
forcing it into full green.

Instead of cleaning house or reading a book
I stood out on the deck to better see,
forgetting to close the door behind me,
getting everything very wet.

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If I closed the window and turned my back
I could have finished my taxes, or written about war and injustice
but all I did was look at the sky
and listen to the thunder.

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Writings:

Daughters, 1900

Five daughters, in the slant light on the porch,
are bickering. The eldest has come home
with new truths she can hardly wait to teach.

She lectures them: the younger daughters search
the sky, elbow each others' ribs, and groan.
Five daughters, in the slant light on the porch

and blue-sprigged dresses, like a stand of birch
saplings whose leaves are going yellow-brown
with new truths. They can hardly wait to teach,

themselves, to be called "Ma'am," to march
high-heeled across the hanging bridge to town.
Five daughters. In the slant light on the porch

Pomp lowers his paper for a while, to watch
the beauties he's begotten with his Ann:
these new truths they can hardly wait to teach.

The eldest sniffs, "A lady doesn't scratch."
The third snorts back, "Knock, knock: nobody home."
The fourth concedes, "Well, maybe not in church. . ."
Five daughters in the slant light on the porch.

Marilyn Nelson "Daughers, 1900"

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Writings:

Believing in Iron

The hills my brothers & I created
Never balanced, & it took years
To discover how the world worked.
We could look at a tree of blackbirds
& tell you how many were there,
But with the scrap dealer
Our math was always off.
Weeks of lifting & grunting
Never added up to much,
But we couldn't stop
Believing in iron.
Abandoned trucks & cars
Were held to the ground
By thick, nostalgic fingers of vines
Strong as a dozen sharecroppers.
We'd return with our wheelbarrow
Groaning under a new load,
Yet tiger lilies lived better
In their languid, August domain.
Among paper & Coke bottles
Foundry smoke erased sunsets,
& we couldn't believe iron
Left men bent so close to the earth
As if the ore under their breath
Weighed down the gray sky.
Sometimes I dreamt how our hills
Washed into a sea of metal,
How it all became an anchor
For a warship or bomber
Out over trees with blooms
Too red to look at.

Yusef Komunyaka "Believing in Iron"

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Writings:

House on a Hill

They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
Around that sunken sill?
They are all gone away.

And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

Edwin Arlington Robinson - "The House on the Hill" second version

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Writings:

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