15 January 2017 – Message Clear

Today I really just wanted to share this beautiful poem in the back of one of my books. I have a soft spot for poetry like this, that not only relies on meter, rhyming and vocabulary to perfectly convey a message, but the shape of the words. Poetry in design.

am                          i
if
he
i am
he r                 o
h         ur       t
the re                    and
he            re          and
he re
a                                  n      d
the r                                    e
i am        r                                         ife
i  n
s            ion and
i                                              d         i  e
am     e res       ect
am     e res       ection
o                      f
the                                         life
o                      f
m      e                      n
sur  e
the                              d          i e
i                    s
s      e  t       and
i am the     sur                    d
a     t      re            t
o                   life
i am   he r                                           e
i a                           ct
i                r    u             n
i   m     e   e            t
i                                t                        i  e
i                    s          t       and
i am th                      o            th
i am        r                        a
i am the     su             n
i am the     s             on
i am the   e      rect on              e  if
i am        re                  n         t
i am            s                    a                fe
i am            s       e       n         t
i          he   e                          d
i        t   e    s           t
i                re                     a  d
a     th   re                      a  d
a                 s          t on                     e
a      t     re                     a   d
a     th   r                  o                       e
i                resurrect
a              life
i am                          i  n                  life
i am        resurrection
i am the resurrection and
i am
i am the resurrection and the life

(Edwin Morgan)

14 January 2017 – In memoriam

You don’t get to my age without losing a few people.

Honestly, I’m not actually that old, but I have been to my fair share of funerals. The sad part is that most of them have not been for elderly relatives. Instead it’s one great-grandmother, one grandfather, two suicides, an accident, and a murder.

The murder was the hardest. She had been a close friend in highschool. A time when I was the emotional, romantic, poetry-writing, My Chemical Romance loving, angsty teenager who had so many ideals and feelings she had to share with anyone who would listen. This friend would always listen.

I didn’t speak at her funeral. Sometimes I think I should have, but over the years after highschool we had become more distant, seeing each other only at parties, making fake promises to catch up over a drink together sometime, just us two. Instead I listened to others speak, simple sentiments, the occasional poem. Songs were played in her memory, I still can’t listen to Zombie by the Cranberries without feeling sad. And we all separated, a funeral home bursting full of young, lively people, dressed in black, grieving for someone that shouldn’t have been grieving for.

The person who killed her stabbed two hitchhikers before he was caught.

I don’t remember the poems they read at her funeral. I wish I did. Many poems read at funerals are not in the best taste. It’s as if those who are reading it never actually read it. It sometimes comes across like a mournful hallmark card. And it’s rarely as if those people enjoyed poetry. At least not to my knowledge.

Funerals are not really my thing. It’s not for those who have departed, but for those who are left. And in these circumstances, I would rather be alone. Then the poetry isn’t for them, it’s only for me.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put the crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

(W. H. Auden)

13 January 2017 – The Language of the Heart

When did we stop writing poetry to woo our intendeds? Probably when we stopped calling the men/women/other we date intendeds.

Being the slightly strange, romantic, whimsical sort of girl in high school, I had a few men dedicate little bits of verse to me in high school. It’s unfortunate I never kept any of them – some were very sweet. And looking back, it’s warming to know that someone wanted to impress me so badly that they actually sat down and created something especially for me. And created something that could’ve had them mocked by their peers if I had been the sort of person to spread it around school. To those boys who wrote me poetry back in the day, thank you for putting your self-esteem on the line. And I’m sorry it didn’t work out.

I have also written poems for the men I love, but they rarely saw them. Because often, while they inspired poetry, many were tainted by a little sadness and the suggestion of loss, or walking down a path together that would eventually end in heartbreak. I couldn’t help but insert those feelings into the poems, so they immediately became personal, and not something I could share with anyone else. At the time I would tell myself that it was just a story, that I didn’t actually feel that way. But that wasn’t true.

These honest love poems are the ones that, for me, have stood the test of time. Those that talk about love’s imperfections, fleetingness, or ability to stand just out of one’s reach feel so much more real than verse that waxes on about some unknown’s beautiful nose. Today’s poem was one that is both incredibly harsh but incredibly sweet – a perfect love poem that takes the object of his affection off her podium and places her on the ground beside him. That’s the perfect relationship – where both parties are equals who can see the other for who they are. Imperfections and all.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
          And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
          As any she belied with false compare.

(William Shakespeare)

10 January 2017 – Dead Poets Society

It’s been years since I’ve seen this movie.

Imagine if every public school still taught Yeats, Keats, Whitman, Browning, and Byron. I don’t know what it’s like in Australia, England, Canada, US etc but it’s not the case here (NZ).

There is something inspiring about the idea of young people gathering to share poetry, creativity and ideas. Any group of people coming to create rather than destroy is always inspiring, especially in the young and impressionable. I wonder how different my life would be if those sorts of positive influences had been around in my informative teenage years. Better or worse? My teenage years created a lot of material.

I forgot how many amazing young actors were in this film. Ethan Hawke. Gale Hansen. Yum.

I am hoping this year will encourage me to spend my time consuming media that is far more intellectually stimulating than vegging on the couch watching Gilmore Girls. I want to be the sort of person who can discuss the difference between Robert Frost or Walt Whitman, not the sort of person who can talk about Lorelai’s favourite shoes.

Today’s poem is where O Captain! comes from. Oh Captain! My Captain by Walt Whitman.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
(Walt Whitman)

9 January 2017 – Maggots and Death

It hasn’t been the most poetic of days. As I prepared to do the vacuum, I found a plastic bag full of half-decomposed sushi left by my flatmate and his friends over Christmas. To spare you the gory details, I’m going to be having maggoty dreams for months.

Speaking of death and maggots, I thought I would share you another favourite poem of mine by the master of the gruesome, Edgar Allen Poe. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with The Raven. It’s heptametre beat had me absolutely enamoured and I dreamed of being able to memorise every verse. I never got it all, but enough to sometimes crack out at parties. I’ve added it to my useless tricks. Including dancing the Charlston.

The Raven is by far his most famous work. Partly because it once starred in a Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror. For something a bit different, he’s a link to the episode (read by James Earl Jones).

However, this isn’t my favourite of his anymore. As well as being a master of horror, Poe was also gifted at writing about loss, fulfilling the age old adage “write what you know.” This poem is about two lovers unable to unite, and the eventual death of the muse, Annabel Lee.

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABELL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love –
I and my ANNABEL LEE;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
       In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful ANNABEL LEE;
So that her high-born kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
       Went envying her and me –
Yes! – that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my ANNABEL LEE.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we –
Of many far wiser than we –
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful ANNABEL LEE,
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful ANNABEL LEE;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful ANNABEL LEE;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling – my darling – my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

(Edgar Allen Poe)

8 January 2017 – When We Were Very Young

Poetry was something always in the background growing up. It wasn’t that my parents were particularly fond of it, or that I was private schooled with teachers that had us reciting Shakespeare at age 5. No, my upbringing was pretty normal – lots of running around, jumping in puddles, getting myself dirty (so I’ve been told). However, so many of the picture books I owned were not only brightly coloured, but in rhyming verse.

A particularly popular children’s book in New Zealand is Hairy Macleary from Donaldson’s Diary by Lynley Dodd. It sparked a series of wonderful books about Hairy Macleary and his friends, all in verse. The feel of the mete is just so natural to children – beating in time with the heart – ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum.

There are lots of poets whose best work catered to children, and who remain in the hearts of many as they grew into adults. I had copies of A. A. Milne’s (of Winnie the Pooh Fame) poetry collections. Spike Milligan, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, T. S. Elliot and of course Dr Seus – some of the most recognisable poets wrote for children.

When I was about six, I remember having to memorise and recite The Owl and the Pussycat in front of the class. To this day, I can still recite it without a pause.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea 
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
(Edward Lear)

7 January 2017 – Midnight Poetry

Written at 12:30am (a draft)

And so it is
Our Carousel
Brightly coloured
The music loud
We step up, step up
Our expectations
Deflated and thin
Our smiles spin
With the world around
Tilting up
And down
The lights blur
We’re moving fast
But only go
So far.

(Sarah Kelly)

There is something very reflective about the wee hours of the morning. Most of your side of the world is asleep, the streets are quiet. The peace sinks into your bones and the ideas start too bubble to the surface.

Some days it’s really hard to get out of bed. This morning, I lay here looking up at the horrible 1970s stipple ceiling, smothered by the weight of the world. My heart is tight and fear hangs over the bed like a Harry Potter dementor. All the happiness is draining, and if I stay long enough, the fear will turn into numbness. Which seemed like a better feeling. With too many late nights, I hadn’t the energy to resist.

Fortunately, because of incredibly supportive friends, I was dragged out of bed by the afternoon and thrown into the sunlight. Light, fresh air, and exercise. It isn’t much, but enough for me to break the surface and come up for air.

There is a great deal of sadness in poetry. There are millions of verse written about loss, heartbreak, teenage hormones, or death. Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, W. H. Auden, Emily Dickinson, all of them have known enough sadness to write poetry that is both beautiful, and utterly depressing.

It’s unclear whether the creativity itself contributes to the mental illness, or if extreme creativity is the single ray of light in the storm – the karma for the rest of the shit we have to put up with.