Year of Poems: Week 1-18

(Reading a poem a day for a week and reporting back. Read the commentaries on each week's selections, starting from the bottom of the post and working up. See the full listing of poems, with links here.)


Year of Poems - Week 18
Making my way into the greater wide world of poetry this week, there are works by a pair of Russians - Alexander Pushkin and the more modern poet, Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev. There are also a pair of poems named The Cloud, one by the aforementioned Pushkin and another by Théophile Gautier, who was a French poet, as was the surrealist, Robert Desnos. Hafez was a fourteenth century Persian poet and then there were a pair of Americans - Lilla Cabot Perry, who was better known as a painter, and Heather McHugh, who differs from the rest of the week's roster in that she is still alive. Alas, there was nothing this week that truly knocked my socks off, but the Desnos work was probably the best of the bunch for me.


Year of Poems - Week 17
Mark Twain is, of course, best known for his poetry. Or perhaps I'm mistaken. Actually, poetry was a small part of what Twain did. And yet, the highlight of this week's selections is his poem, Warm Summer Sun. It's only eight lines and it's about as simple and understated as could be, but it's worth a look.

As I've noted before, I tend to be more interested in poets of yore. So to try to balance out that tendency, living poets are represented this week by works from Eileen G’sell and Matthew Zapruder. From the Dead Poets Society this time around, there are works from better known poets such as Yeats and Baudelaire, whose gloomy Spleen is another highlight for the week. Also up, Philip Pain, about whom not much seems to be known, and the apparently obscure American poet, S.C. Mercer.


Year of Poems - Week 16
I started this project with a poem by Tennyson. The plan was to read as widely as possible and not duplicate poets but I read a second poem by the surrealist poet Federico García Lorca last week and a second one by Tennyson this week. I think there have been a few other duplications along the way but this week's other selections were fairly diverse. The surrealists are represented again by The Poet's Great Days, from Robert Desnos.

I don't keep up with living poets too well so I'm not that familiar with Tracy K. Smith, the new poet laureate here in the US of A. So I took a look at her poem, Sci-Fi. Also, still living, John Giorno, who is also represented this week. A Legend of Tyrone, by the not-living nineteenth century Irish poet, Ellen O’Leary, is also on the list. You can go here to read a short essay on this poet by none other than William Butler Yeats.

Other works of note this time around by the Uruguayan poet, Sara de Ibáñez, and Madison Julius Cawein, the so-called "Keats of Kentucky," whose poem Waste Land, was known to Eliot before he wrote his similarly named great work.


Year of Poems - Week 15
If you're looking for a great resource for older poetry, you could do worse than, from whence six of this week's selections come. Several of those were from Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century, a 1907 collection by Alfred H. Miles, which includes "critical biographies of 47 women such as Nairne, Hemans, Browning, Kemble, Brontë, Rossetti, and Meynell are illustrated by 403 expertly chosen verse selections." Also up this week, some really old school stuff from Aristophanes and Propertius.

Going against my unofficial rule again of not reading multiple works by a poet during this project, I chose another selection by Federico García Lorca. I didn't like Dawn as well as Sleepless City, the previous selection, but it’s a pretty good one nonetheless.


Year of Poems - Week 14
My point with this project is to read a wide range of poets and poetry and to try to explore some areas I've never explored before. So even though it might be tempting to read two poems by the same poet I've tried not to. But rules were made to be broken, I suppose. When I was reading Blake's The Book of Thel last week I ran across the considerably darker work, The Book of Urizen, and so there's two in a row by Blake. Also from the wayback dead white guy zone, is a work by Coleridge that was okay but didn't really do too much for me.

I've never read much by E.E. Cummings, a white guy who hasn't been dead as long as the aforementioned, so I took steps to rectify the matter. His is an okay gimmick, I guess. I have read some fiction by the late, great Ambrose Bierce and liked some of it quite. The poem I read this week - The Day of Wrath / Dies Iræ - is also quite good.

Trying to diversify a bit I thought I'd try some stuff by a Bengali and an Indian poet. Lord of Unnumbered Hopes, by Govinda Krishna Chettur, the Indian poet, was the highlight of this week's selections.


Year of Poems - Week 13
I read two poems twice this week. Huh? Sleepless City is one I discovered not so long ago and it made a great impact. It's by Federico García Lorca, a poet who was associated with the Surrealists, which certainly shows in this work. Sleepless City, the first of the versions I read, gets my vote. City That Does Not Sleep, a translation by Robert Bly, is not that much different but didn’t work quite as well for me. The other poem I read twice this was is The Seafarer, an Anglo-Saxon work. The first version is the one I liked best. It reminded me somewhat of Ulysses, by Tennyson. I don't know who translated the first version but Ezra Pound translated the other one I read.

I've never read much (any?) John Updike and I didn't realize that he wrote poetry, but Wikipedia claims that he published about eight books worth of his poesy. I read Ex-Basketball Player this week and wasn't all that impressed. Also on the list this week, an okay work by Dickens - The Song of the Wreck - and a quite good one by Blake - The Book of Thel.


Year of Poems - Week 12
A note on the format for this project. Prior to this week I've been doing a separate post per week, but I've now rolled them all into one. As always, the link to the complete list of poems I've read thus far is located at the top of the page.

Did I mention that Atlas Poetica, "A Journal of World Tanka," is a mighty fine publication? Probably, but it bears mentioning again. They have 26 issues in all, so they've been doing this for a while now. I've been gradually working my way through issue 24, which is a rather substantial piece of work, and intend to move on to the other issues after finishing that one.

Also worth a look, if you have any interest in the tanka form, is an online version of the ancient Japanese work known as the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. It's brought to you courtesy of the Japanese Text Initiative, a joint project of the University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center and the University of Pittsburgh East Asian Library, and it is also worth a look - or two. Those who can't get enough of free Japanese works of ancient poetry can head on over to the Kindle store (and presumably to other online book outlets) for a copy of Japanese Literature Including Selections from Genji Monogatari and Classical Poetry and Drama of Japan. Check the spreadsheet link at the top of this post for a link.

I started this project, in part, as a way to seek out a wider range of poetry than I otherwise might. Which worked, at least to a point, but I can't resist throwing in a old favorite now and then. This time around that would be Sailing to Byzantium, by Yeats.


Year of Poems - Week 11
More tanka and haiku this week, including selections from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, issue 17 of failed haiku, and the quite excellent Atlas Poetica. In the non-tanka categories, there's Potato Bug Exterminators, by James McIntyre, an alleged poet of some notoriety. Also a short work from Woodrow Wilson - yes, that Woodrow Wilson. And the Shadow Award contest winners, from an online publication called The Molotov Cocktail. Of special note here, not that you asked, is the 2nd Place winner, stark raving naked, which to my ear sounded like a pretty adept take on Ginsberg's Howl. Also of note, the 3rd Place winner, Children of the Damp.


Year of Poems - Week 10
More tanka from Atlas Poetica this week, as well as a few days worth of classic examples of the from an ancient Japanese work called the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. Then there's issue 19 of Prune Juice, a Journal of Senryu, Kyoka, Haibun & Haiga, and a few "regular" poems by Mark Strand and Regie Cabico.


Year of Poems - Week 9
More tanka (short Japanese poems similar to haiku) this week, but not exclusively. Also Weltende Variation #I, an interesting work by Bill Knott, a poet I was not familiar with. I read a good bit of issue 13 of Unbroken Journal, who specialize in short prose poem forms. On the tanka front this week, I spent a few days this week reading issue 24 of the quite excellent, Atlas Poetica, which is devoted to tanka. As with anything else, there were a number of pieces I liked, some that didn't do much for me and one, by Alexis Rotella, that jumped right off the page. Here it is.

Forgive me mother
for not visiting
your stone
I’ve grown tired of
taking care of you.


Year of Poems - Week 8
The focus was on tanka (a Japanese poetry form that's not unlike haiku) again this week. Also a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva, said to be "one of the most renowned poets of 20th-century Russia."


Year of Poems - Week 7
My intention when I commenced upon this project was to jump around as much as possible when selecting each day's poems. However, this week I got stuck on tanka, with much of the week being devoted to reading examples of this form. Tanka is not too far removed from haiku - obviously the better known of the two forms. According to one definition, a tanka is "a Japanese poem consisting of five lines, the first and third of which have five syllables and the other seven, making 31 syllables in all and giving a complete picture of an event or mood." All but one of this week's readings were dedicated to examples of this type of poem. Since they are so short, some days I read and listed more than one.


Year of Poems - Week 6
Highlights this week - Adam Cast Forth, in which Borges imagines what it might be like for Adam, after he is cast out of the Garden of Eden. Also, Moth-Terror, by Benjamin De Casseres, a piece of "modern" poetry. Or at least it was nearly a century ago when it appeared in The Second Book of Modern Verse, in 1922.


Year of Poems - Week 5
A wide ranging exploration this week, from Togray, a poet whom I couldn't find out much about but who apparently made posey in the 12th century. All the way up to the present day with two poets - James Tate and Bill Knott - who died within the past few years. Nothing quite knocked my socks off this week but I guess these latter two were the highlights.


Year of Poems - Week 4
The prize for best title this week has to go to Small Insects and Their Place Among Main Sequence Stars, by Juanjo Bazán. Which appears in the online speculative fiction magazine, Strange Horizons. Also of note, a poem by very well-known fantasy writer who was not particularly well known for his poetry. That's Tolkien, whose Goblin Feet is of interest more as a curiosity than anything else.

Speaking of writers not primarily known for their poetry, there's James Joyce, whom I have mixed feelings about. Finnegan's Wake is a fine piece of work that I don’t even pretend to understand and which is best taken in very small doses. Much of Ulysses is deadly dull, if I dare say so, but also contains some of the greatest passages ever written, so go and figure that one out. Nightpiece doesn’t quite rise to those heights but it's one of the better works I've read since starting this project.

Also on hand this week, Very Jones, Ellen Sturgis Hooper, Anne Bradstreet and Vasko Popa.


Year of Poems - Week 3
Who is the worst poet ever? I'm sure there's plenty of competition for that title and who's to say, after all? There are those who would say that it's Scottish poet, William Topaz McGonagall, who has a very in-depth web site devoted to his glorious works. See the link below for a sample of his poetic goodness. Then there's O Donald! Ye Are Just the Man, by eighteenth century poet Susaanna Blamire, which had a nice ring to it. Don't ask me why.

The favorites this week included Lunar Baedeker, by Mina Loy, a poet I hadn't heard of before, and a snippet from War is Kind, by a poet I had heard of before and rather like - Stephen Crane. Also of note, I Cannot Give the Reasons, by Mervyn Peake. He's best known for his Gormenghast books but apparently was also a nonsense poet of some renown.


Year of Poems - Week 2
A number of curiosities this week. A poem by Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) that diverges somewhat from the loopy style he often used for his song lyrics. Clark Ashton Smith takes a crack at surrealism and a poem by Ina Rosseau about the Garden of Eden. Also, not one, but two poems about hippopotamuses (hippopotami?), one of them a rather mystifying work by none other than T.S. Eliot.


Year of Poems - Week 1
A while back I decided it might be interesting to read through the massive Norton Anthology of Poetry, nearly 2,200 pages worth. I didn't come close to completing that task and it was interesting, but only to a point. It's still one of my favorite books but it's not the kind of tome that one wants to read straight through. I prefer to jump around and pick out stuff that looks interesting rather than being stuck on a linear path. So I've ditched that project for now.

With the Year of Poems project, the game plan is to do something similar, with a goal of reading a poem a day for one year. While it's probably not quite accurate to say that a 2200-page anthology of poetry is not diverse, the goal this time around to cast the net even wider than the esteemed Norton editors did. Thus, while the first week's entry includes a Norton-friendly piece by a DWEM (Dead White European Male), there also one by a DWEF from the century before, as well as one from ancient Greece and another from ancient Egypt.

galloping blue millions

pickled pigs in foam suits
bird beams disintegrate butterflies
hands breathing gaping dripping roar
you're gonna need a bigger pop coupler

an infinity of shoelaces

frank otter is perpetually autocorrecting
computer mouses on the radio
doused with purple deodorant paint
in the billboard lightning circuit
we watch peoria fingers
with a hair spoon button

the pet monkey commits suicide

awful dead bristling with ants
eyes popping out
let me up out of this

i get my kicks above the waistline
refrigerators gleaming with ripolin
rile them up with a bite from a sheep

wait for the snake to grow wings
shining high where the blue milk upsets
i have no special regard for satan

how to become beautiful and true and authentic and explain dreams

wild adventures
electric air
letters to ladies pigeons and rabbits
if we only live long enough
these small things are useless

of the of the air
of the of the clouds
through the clouds
kindly turn the handle

ghost dancers under the skin
there surreal touches to be found
a clearing of space for voices
sting like a gooseberry
it do very little harm

you can tell by a glance
the fatal mistake
the keep birds

lurch gurch

lurch gurch
tinkling bell joe
hee haw ho
bob rimbaud

gizzard giggled
sequestered with nestor
bigapig bigapig

wallow whistle and squeak eek
the squeek ook
the squook
ork this mook



tanka 7 & 8

real dreaming decays
slower than titanium
fast as forever
slippery skin from the sidewalk
annihilating new lands

trilobite hammocks
for sale, three acre raincoat
clowns in the mountains
live dolls are storming the walls
and pigs can finally fly

(tanka - a Japanese poem consisting of five lines, the first and third of which have five syllables and the other seven, making 31 syllables in all and giving a complete picture of an event or mood.)

that is why we need godzilla

sasquatch in the spring
realistic looking pig costume
funny sense of fun
nobody hipped me to that, dude

human beings want groovy gurus
time for an ass-whupping
the trick is not minding that it hurts
say goodnight to the bad guy

stealing from the ruins

a chicken and a pig
do their death scene

a flash of sunlight
the universe makes sense

a young man of cement
turned into a white bird

the powerful seek to
make the game less palatable

has the whale sunk?

a dancer born without limbs
dreams of a masked man
there’s no accounting for freaks
moments drag slowly

how fast are we going?
how did it come about?
how about the bananas?
bless my fingernails!

a desert would be a relief
you've nothing to fry
your possessions will go
what are you gonna do?

have you anything?
they are like medieval illiterates
it might as well be rocket science
bless my sunday hat!

go you to the dead

moon leaves rustle
shapes shift
traverse the miles
carrying good
carrying bad

it pleased the almighty
to quiet the storms with one voice
to quiet the thunder
at the center of the universe

they rise and fly in the air
past brilliant clouds
past suns lit in red
crossing the sea
in ethereal blue luminous

that place taboo

unspeakable secrets
restore the head
from deepest hollows
leave evil behind
this world deads us
star light decolorized
moving twinkling transformed

row, row, row your boat, prufrock

row, row, row your boat
like a patient etherized upon a table
gently down the stream
scuttling across the floors of silent seas
merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
i have heard the mermaids singing each to each
life is but a dream
til human voices wake us and we drown

row, row, row your boat
the love song of j. alfred prufrock - t.s. eliot

ode to a shoe

walk on by
nothing to see here
but water dripping from the ear of an ape
and azure smoke curling from your eye socket
like a floating hat in a thunderstorm
i hate your porch

this is common knowledge

hypergolic deformities of the face
separated from counterfeit
body parts of inferior quality
nomenclature things destroyed
by snipers, gang cats and looters
this the proper way to wash a church

antipathy to wigs

lachrymal purgatory canals
tale of sorrow ancestors
freeze blood congealed
so we will now
sing the ninetieth psalm

manage the horse
painter of horses
lenient with lobsters
turkey in my drum
i will take a dollar

prithee be gone

albania's hard to rhyme

house above the world
pre-prophetic symbols
planes of never

fleas love dogs
remember your etiquette
breast of flamingo

you need an usher?
twitterpated in the springtime
horse trough, row boat!
in a hotel?

she hasn't lost weight
handing out baseballs
but can she climb a tree
you owe me a cadillac

frank, we'll be down in the basement

21 years studying
funeral practices of french circus clowns
a surprisingly low figure
great at so many things
16 hours of hilarity and screaming
maybe you should, don
he was right, of course
don't know if you qualify
this is it
call now to find out more
let's meet
i'll explain everything

tanka 5 & 6

tongueless mouths running
the dead cement plants blooming
they can eat eat eat
gape like pure at the sin graves
by being dead you are dead

take my wife - and horse
my mother is now a sponge
murder by tungsten
it hurts when I don't do this
and space and time are shrinking

(tanka - a Japanese poem consisting of five lines, the first and third of which have five syllables and the other seven, making 31 syllables in all and giving a complete picture of an event or mood.)

the flowering of your flowers

thou expandeth
thou contracteth
licking thyself like a drunken cat
folding murderers into four equal parts and
tickling them under the table
don’t mention it

thy tiny wooden leg drags along behind thee
thou caresseth it in the pasture
and flee from the worms of death's sting
heaven fills with the azure glory of thy knee
the far stars fill the skies with a glee
and the winds of thy heart blow like a fart

tanka 3 & 4

you helped dress my horse
our hearts beating like crowbars
light gasses wafting you were slightly dim-witted
i ate a plum with my foot

your tongue has sideburns
a trombone flies out of your mouth
the waterfall flows back up i'm sorry it's a trombone
some of my best cats are mice

(tanka - a Japanese poem consisting of five lines, the first and third of which have five syllables and the other seven, making 31 syllables in all and giving a complete picture of an event or mood.)