Until He Comes to Rain
New book of original poetry. Check it out here:
The Abundance of Brightness
The Abundance of Brightness
By Dorothy Walters
(1928 - 2023)
God is not unknown on account of obscurity
but on account of the abundance of brightness.
-- St. Thomas Aquinas
Dante Mounting to the Rose of Heaven
Not one of us
could breathe this air,
face this naked radiance
Here music turns to light,
a tone so sweet
that we, dulled by
our familiar calliope,
mistake its sound for silence.
Dante, mounting to tiers of
found light. Light everywhere.
light on light,
a dance of invisibles.
The flames pulsating, as if
measuring the breath of heaven.
At the last, he falls forward,
caught in widening rings
of implacable bright.
Even at Eleusis,
after the long journey,
the sea-bath among the sacred waves,
the accounts of the grieving mother
and her vanished child,
at the end
the shouts rang out
like birth-cries in the throats
of the startled pilgrims, blinded
by the flare of torches sweeping
from frames of darkness.
Then silence. Then they saw.
And then quiet.
Someone who whispers:
now we are free.
Which was, almost,
but only in the way
leaving a limb,
goes freely into
a different realm,
but that, too,
maintaining its fixities.
[for those who] have beheld the Tao... gems sparkle on dusty roads; puddles appear as pools of lapis lazuli; tough weeds acquire fragile beauty...
-- John Blofield
The I Ching calls it clinging, fire:
"Fire has no definite form,"
"but clings to the burning object
and thus is bright."
We lost a great poet this week. One of my favorites. I think I may have more of his books than of anyone's. Quite a few, anyway. I got to meet him some years ago when he was here in Minneapolis to do a reading at Plymouth Church. Robert Bly was there as well. I bought a new book or two from him that night, and asked him to sign some other books I had brought along. Wonderful night. Wonderful poet. I will miss him.
Charles Simic, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, dies at 84 Jan 10, 2023
NEW YORK (AP) — Charles Simic, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who awed critics and readers with his singular art of lyricism and economy, tragic insight and disruptive humor, has died at age 84. The death of Simic, the country’s poet laureate from 2007-2008, was confirmed Monday by executive editor Dan Halpern at Alfred A. Knopf. He did not immediately provide additional details.
WATCH: Charles Simic: From Belgrade to Poet Laureate
Author of dozens of books, Simic was ranked by many as among the greatest and most original poets of his time, one who didn’t write in English until well into his 20s. His bleak, but comic perspective was shaped in part by his years growing up in wartime Yugoslavia, leading him to observe that “The world is old, it was always old.” His poems were usually short and pointed, with surprising and sometimes jarring shifts in mood and imagery, as if to mirror the cruelty and randomness he had learned early on.
In “Two Dogs,” Simic writes of how one dog in “some Southern town” and another in the New Hampshire woods reminded him of a “little white dog” who became “entangled” in the feet of marching German soldiers. “Reading History” is a sketch of the “vast, dark and impenetrable” skies for those “led to their death.” In “Help Wanted,” life is a cosmic joke, and the narrator a willing dupe:
They asked for a knife
I come running
They need a lamb
I introduce myself as the lamb
But Simic also loved wordplay (“The insomniac’s brain is a choo-choo train”), catcalls (“America, I shouted at the radio/Even at 2 a.m. you are a loony bin!”) and the interplay of great thoughts and everyday follies: “What was that fragment of Heraclitus/You were trying to remember/As you stepped on the butcher’s cat?” he wrote in “The Friends of Heraclitus.” In “Transport,” sex becomes a near-literal feast of the senses:
In the frying pan
On the stove
I found my love
And me naked
Fell on our heads
And made us cry
It’s like a parade,
I told her, confetti
When some guy
Reaches the moon
His notable books included “The World Doesn’t End,” winner of the Pulitzer in 1990; “Walking the Black Cat,” a National Book Award finalist in 1996; “Unending Blues” and such recent collections as “The Lunatic” and “Scribbled in the Dark.” In 2005, he received the Griffin Poetry Prize and was praised by judges as “a magician, a conjuror,” master of “a disarming, deadpan precision, which should never be mistaken for simplicity.” He was fluent in several languages and translated the works of other poets from French, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, and Slovenian.
His 2022 collection “No Land in Sight” presented a dark vision of contemporary life, such as the poem “Come Spring” and its warning: “Don’t let that birdie in the tree/Fool you with its pretty song/The wicked are back from hell.” In 1964, Simic married fashion designer Helene Dubin, with whom he had two children. He became an American citizen in 1971 and two years later joined the faculty of the University of New Hampshire, where he remained for decades.
Born Dusan Simic in Belgrade in 1938, the year before World War II began, he would describe his youth as “a small, nonspeaking part/In a bloody epic.” His father fled to Italy in 1942 and was apart from the family for years. Home was so oppressive that Simic came to see the war as a needed escape. “The war ended the day before May 9, 1945, which happened to be my birthday,” he told the Paris Review in 2005. “I was playing in the street. I went up to the apartment to get a drink of water where my mother and our neighbors were listening to the radio. They said, ‘War is over,’ and apparently I looked at them puzzled and said, ‘Now there won’t be any more fun!’ In wartime, there’s no parental supervision; the grown-ups are so busy with their lives, the kids can run free.”
Simic would refer to Hitler and Stalin as his “travel agents.” Nazi rule gave way to Soviet-backed oppression and Simic emigrated to France with his mother and brother in the mid-1950s, then soon to the U.S. His family settled in Chicago, where his high school was once attended by Ernest Hemingway, and he became interested in poetry — for the art and for the girls. His parents unable to pay for college, he spent a decade working at jobs ranging from a payroll clerk to house painter while taking night classes at the University of Chicago and eventually New York University, from which he graduated in 1966 with a degree in Russian studies.
His first book, “What the Grass Says,” came out in 1967. He followed with “Somewhere Among Us a Stone is Taking Notes” and “Dismantling the Silence,” and was soon averaging a book a year. A New York Times review from 1978 would note his gift for conveying “a complex of perceptions and feelings” in just a few lines.
“Of all the things ever said about poetry, the axiom that less is more has made the biggest and the most lasting impression on me,” Simic told Granta in 2013. “I have written many short poems in my life, except ‘written’ is not the right word to describe how they came into existence. Since it’s not possible to sit down and write an eight-line poem that’ll be vast for its size, these poems are assembled over a long period of time from words and images floating in my head.”
By Mary Oliver
(1935 - 2019)
Everyone should be born into this world happy
and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.
Halleluiah, anyway I'm not where I started!
And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you too decided that probably nothing important
is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years.
Halleluiah, I'm sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.
For my Granddaughters at Thanksgiving
CAROM OF GRACE
Shining from your eyes
Directly into mine
IT'S THE SEASON I OFTEN MISTAKE
Birds for leaves, and leaves for birds.
The tawny yellow mulberry leaves
are always goldfinches tumbling
across the lawn like extreme elation.
The last of the maroon crabapple
ovates are song sparrows that tremble
all at once. And today, just when I
could not stand myself any longer,
a group of field sparrows, which were
actually field sparrows, flew up into
the bare branches of the hackberry
and I almost collapsed: leaves
reattaching themselves to the tree
like a strong spell for reversal. What
else did I expect? What good
is accuracy amidst the perpetual
scattering that unspools the world.
- Ada Limón
24th Poet Laureate of The United States
Rumi: "Insanity, they say..."
The mystic dances in the sun,
hearing music others don't.
"Insanity," they say, those others.
If so, it's a very gentle,
The day the world ended
As we awaken every day with the full knowledge of the Anthropocene, the temptation to despair may be strong. I ask myself, what would I like to be doing on the last day, and I think, I would like to be making art. I also might want to read the poetry of Robert Lax again. I've been thinking often lately of this poem. Number 26, from A Thing That Is.
What is missing
can fill the Milky Way.
My life has more locks
Silence is making me deaf.
In a dream I’m pouring
over a book
I cannot read.
When I can’t sleep
I still have
Rabbi Jacob used to say:
Better a single moment of awakening in this world
than eternity in the world to come.
And better a single moment of inner peace
in the world to come than eternity in this world.
A single moment of awakening in this world
is living in this world with full attention.
The two are one, flip sides of a coin
forever tumbling and never caught.
Pirke Avot 4:22
I have written some poetry, and translated a few short poems from the ancient Chinese.