Poetry Monday- Dog Days of Summer

I spent the morning picking blueberries at an organic, u-pick blueberry farm near by. I’m thrilled to make those tasty berries into sweet blueberry jam, but more about that later in the week. By noon, me, my best friend from elementary school, and her two children, had already picked a whopping ten pounds. That’s pretty good for two little ones less than three feet tall!! I apologize if this seems like a side note, I promise I’m getting to the poetry folks, long story short, we only picked until noon because by then it was already triple digits. And now, at 5:30 in the evening it’s still 106 degrees outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love the heat, but today got me thinking about the phrase “dog days of summer.”

Because it is sweltering outside (at least where I live) I’ve decided to dedicate this Poetry Monday to the dogs. Today, all of our poems will be coming from Bruce Guernsey’s collection titled From Rain: Poems, 1970-2010.

I purchased this collection while under the impression that I would need it for a poetry course, however, the collection was not on the syllabi. When I asked our professor if I should send it back in the mail, she firmly said no. She told me to read it front to back, treasure it, and learn from Guernsey’s use of every-day objects in his poetry. The back of the collection’s cover says the following, and I know that’s just why Laurie Lamon told me to hold on to it:

In simple, spare language the poetry in FROM RAIN: Poems 1970-2010 examines the common objects around us as if they were clues to solving some kind of mystery. Ice, glass, stones, moss, and similar inanimate things take on meaning as the poet seeks to answer who and why we are.

Although I haven’t had time to read the collection through, I can contest Guernsey is using objects in this way with his poetry. Below I will include three poems included in this collection, all having something to do with the subject of dogs. I assure you this won’t be the last you hear about him on this blog, as I have found many other favorites of mine.

THE LADY AND THE TRAMP

As my mother’s memory dims
she’s losing her sense of smell
and can’t remember the toast
blackening the kitchen with smoke
or sniff how nasty the breath of the dog
that follows her yet from room to room,
unable, himself, to hear his own bark.

It’s thus they get around,
the wheezing old hound stone deaf
baying like a smoke alarm
for his amnesiac mistress whose back
from petting him is bent forever
as they shuffle toward the flaming toaster
and split the cindered crisp that’s left.

I think this is beautiful. My favorite image is of the woman’s bent back, and how the speaker contributes it to petting her animal and friend. I also love how Guernsey gets away with using the word “nasty” in a poem. This next one points out a truth that is so commonplace, we often overlook it; Guernsey makes it new.

SOMETIMES FOR HOURS

At my feet my dog,
a pastoral scene,

master and beast,
except in his dream

he’s chasing a car,
flinching awake

as the wheels hit–
the way we do

falling through sleep
suddenly saved.

What the mind questions,
the heart believes

and we lie there reasoning,
afraid.

The dog instead
scratches his ear,

nips at a flea
and is soon back twitching.

And the last one is just for fun.

THE SEEING-EYE DOG

sneaks out nights,
cool in beret,

his master’s dark glasses,
sips cointreau

at the dog cafe
and watches;

is the poet of dogs
with a voice that sees

for the man who can’t,
that speaks the meaning

of read, of green;
is the loneliest dog

at the dog cafe
where hounds down suds

and the barking
is loud.

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Poetry Monday and Family Secrets

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Don’t fret, the title seems more scandalous than it really is. In last week’s Poetry Monday I mentioned my great-grandmother who died of Alzheimer’s. Although she died of this disease when I was young, I vividly remember walking down the long gravel drive with my younger sister to her house to share cookies and visit. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned more about the wonderful woman who would offer us cookies, and constantly push my sister’s growing bangs out of her child-face.

Some of what I’ve learned about her resulted from doing research for the family cookbook I mentioned in my About page. In assembling my cookbook, I wanted to keep an equal amount of recipes from all sides of my family, so I asked my grandmother for the recipes her mother used when she was a child. My grandmother laughed and claimed my great-grandmother, we’ll call her Grandma Hazdovac, despised working in the kitchen. Instead, she focused her creative juices on painting and writing poetry. Although I could not include any recipes from Grandma Hazdovac, I still wanted to commemorate her, and I did so by using her paintings throughout the cookbook.

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Along with her paintings, my grandmother discovered copies of poetry Grandma Hazdovac had written, published, and received awards for. Not only was I surprised about Grandma Hazdovac’s creative side, I was even more astonished that she earned money for her poetry. Her poetry is a contrast to Jane Kenyon’s simple, yet powerful poetry from last week. Instead, Hazdovac’s poetry achieves boldness through a different means.

The Spirit That Was, Still Is

There is a rumble in the land
As of a giant awakening
After long years of slumber.
The land became languid
Nearly lost her freedoms
And relinquished her rights
To those who rule.
She found herself void
Of all her dreams and values
Power became her god
And the land was steeped in greed
It was ripe for ruin.

The spirit of the past bestirs
The voice of concern is heard
And shakes the foundations of her apathy,
The giant awakes- –
The land again becomes the people.

Anna Hazdovac

Perhaps one of my favorite poems we found of Grandma Hazdovac’s is the following which refers to wanderers or drifters when she was growing up in a Slovakian immigrant family in Monterey, California.

The Mark On The Gate

He came to gate
Stopped, lifted the latch
Shuffled through the garden
Up the back steps
Knocked on the door.
I remember his dusty shoes
The old crushed hat
Red handkerchief around his neck.
He sat on the steps
Mama gave him some food and milk.
“Where did he come from Mama?”
“The railroad tracks,” she answered.
Oh, I remembered–
Papa told me about them
They left a mark on the gate
If people were kind to them.
He finished his lunch
Shuffled back to the gate
Put the latch in place–was gone.
“Mama, can little girls be hobos?”

Anna Hazdovac

If you’re a Mad Men fanatic like me, this will remind you of something. If not, watch it; it’s great. Not only do I like this because it provided me with a childhood story of my great-grandmother I probably would have never heard, but I love the question at the end. The answer to the child’s question is obvious. Women could not be hobos, instead they would likely be prostitutes, or some other form of the fallen woman. It’s a simple question, yet it got the women’s and gender studies side of my brain working.

What do you think about these poems? How do you respond to them in comparison to Kenyon’s poetry?

Poetry Monday–Finding Beauty in Aging and Alzheimer’s

 

For our first poetry Monday I’d like to highlight Jane Kenyon who I was introduced to by Laurie Lamon. The three poems I will post are out of her collection titled Otherwise. One of the many reasons why I enjoy Kenyon’s writing as much as a I do is because of her poetry’s accessibility. While she is by no means a simplistic poet, she takes simple topics and expands them beyond anything I could imagine.

Much of the poetry in this collection touches on the topic of aging and death. I chose these three poems for today because in my initial reading of them all, they instantly reminded me of my great grandmother who died at age 96 from Alzheimer’s disease. I would love to hear what you think about them; hopefully you find them as beautifully heartbreaking as I do.

In The Nursing Home

She is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.

She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles.
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.

Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.

 

The Needle

Grandmother, you are as pale
as Christ’s hands on the wall above you.
When you close your eyes you are all 
white–hair, skin, gown. I blink
to find you again in the bed.

I remember once you told me
you weighed a hundred and twenty-three,
the day you married Grandfather.
You had handsome legs. He watched you 
working at the sink.

The soft ring is loose on your hand.
I hated coming here.
I know you can’t understand me.
I’ll try again,
like the young nurse with the needle.

 

Ironing Grandmother’s Tablecloth

As a bride, you made it smooth,
pulling the edges straight, the corners square.
For years you went over the same piece
of cloth, the way Grandfather walked to work.

This morning I move the iron across the damask,
back and forth, up and down. You are ninety-four.
Each day you dress yourself, then go back to bed
and listen to radio sermons, staring at the ceiling.

When I visit, you tell me your troubles: 
how my father left poisoned grapefruit on the back 
porch at Christmas, how somebody comes at night
to throw stones at the house.

The streets of your brain become smaller,
old houses torn down. Talking to me
is hard work, keeping things straight,
whose child I am, whether I have children. 

 

To me, Kenyon is summing up the heartbreaking, yet beautiful aspects of growing old through these poems; how she does both simultaneously is inspiring to me.

What do you think?

An Introduction to Poetry Monday

One of my goals for this blog is to be able to focus on at least one poem or poet a week. Hopefully this will introduce both you and me to new poems, poets, and types of poetry. Before I introduce the three poems for this week (I couldn’t just choose one) I’d like to start with a disclaimer. A year ago I wasn’t even reading poetry let alone writing it; my relationship with poetry was one of avoidance. This all changed when I finally took a required course for my writing major at Whitworth University. The course was an upper-division course called Advanced Poetry Workshop, which for me, was a more intimidating course title than Francophone African Literature and Film, or Literary Criticism. However, my fears faded during our first class session when the amazing woman and wonderful poet Laurie Lamon introduced herself wearing green tights and bearing Oreo cookies. Although she doesn’t have biological children of her own, Laurie is one of the most motherly women I know, and her efforts to re-introduce me to poetry completely changed my mind about poetry being ‘confusing’ and ignited an appreciation of poetry of my own. In my course reflection I wrote the following about the course:

“I think I can best describe my personal writing process as learning how to become a runner. Like poetry, running is difficult for me. I’ve often told myself I hated it. However, this is not true—I don’t hate running, and I certainly don’t hate poetry, but both take deliberation, patience, and a vow to keep moving. Also like running, before sitting down to write, or start, a poem I found myself finding any excuse to get out of it, but when I finished I feel refreshed and accomplished.”

With this being said I’d like to invite you to give poetry another try–look at it from a fresh perspective– or just further your own love for poetry. Also, I would like to invite any comments on the poetry I post, what you like, what you think could have been executed better, and any poets or poetry you are currently reading. I certainly do not consider myself an expert on contemporary poetry and I would love to learn a few more names.