Bob's Blog of Poetry

About Poetry and Stuff

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Location: Southwick, Massachusetts, United States

I've read and written poetry intermittently for over forty years. Had a staged reading of a play on Off Off Broadway. Been published in a few places, both print and online. I was just thinking that maybe I'm spending too much time on the computer, and then I started this blog. I'm nothing if not inconsistent.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Tide of Words

In Jeffrey Hart's review of Juliet Barker Ecco's biography of Wordsworth he brings up several interesting points. The one that most sticks in my mind is what he says about water.
Watch out when Wordsworth hears that sound of waters. He seems then to gain access to his unconscious mind... The sound of waters signals Wordsworth's moment of access to his own childhood mind--really, as he believes, to his pre-infant mind.

This echoes in my mind as I read the poetry of Paul Celan, particularly this poem

In Egypt

Thou shalt say to the eye of the woman stranger: Be the water.
Thou shalt seek in the stranger's eye those thou knowest are in the water.
Thou shalt summon them from the water: Ruth! Naomi! Miriam!
Thou shalt adorn them when thou liest with the stranger.
Thou shalt adorn them with the stranger's cloud-hair.
Thou shalt say to Ruth and Miriam and Naomi:
Behold, I sleep with her!
Thou shalt most beautifully adorn the woman stranger near thee.
Thou shalt adorn her with sorrow for Ruth, for Miriam and Naomi.
Thou shalt say to the stranger:
Behold, I slept with them!

and I think of how Celan, like Shelley, Hart Crane, Rene Crevel, Berryman, and (probably) Weldon Kees died in or near the water. As if they wrote to save their lives until writing wasn't enough and they submerged into the unconscious that was all they felt they had. (One might object that Shelley wasn't a suicide, but he reportedly felt inadequate next to Byron, and his boat trip could possibly be construed as suicidal.)

And, since I've been reading "The Courtier and the Heretic", a book by Matthew Stewart about Leibniz and Spinoza, I felt the pang of Jungian synchronicity when Hart writes
The term "pantheist" has been applied to Wordsworth, as if he were a follower of Spinoza. No, I think he was proto-Christian.

Well, these are just vagrant thoughts banging around my head. I'm trying to see more worth in Wordsworth than I have before.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

What I've learned and from whom

I was inspired to put this together by a similar list on Jude Goodwin's blog.

  • From Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash: I learned that verse could be humorous, even silly.
  • From Edgar Allan Poe: I learned the good lessons of delight in rhythm and rhyme, and the bad lesson of obsession with morbidity.
  • From e. e. cummings: I learned that language could be wrenched however you want it, that simplicity can be profoundly moving, that form can be subtle, and that you can like the "thrill of under me you so quite new" without "you" being in a grave.
  • From Emily Dickinson: I learned that you can relate the quirky small things to important big things.
  • From Vachel Lindsay: I learned that poetry can be verbally exuberant to physically delight the ear. (He recited for food.)
  • From William Blake: I learned poetry could deal effectively with spiritual and social issues.
  • From Edward Arlington Robinson: I learned that a character's essence can be dramatically revealed in an unforgettable way.
  • From Sylvia Plath: I learned you can be fearless on the page.
  • From John Crowe Ransom: I learned to distinguish between Latinate and Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.
  • From William Stafford: I learned that inspiration is not willing an idea, but being receptive to the ideas that come to you. I learned that it's ok to write a less successful poem on the way of getting to a more successful poem. I learned not to attempt to learn the voice that others think I should have, but to simply listen to the voice I already own.

Monday, February 06, 2006


Muslims throughout the world are outraged at the cartoons desecrating Muhammad. I understand, and I sympathize. I'd prefer those cartoons were not published. While we're at it, there's something else I prefer wouldn't have happened over the past several decades. Can you guess what it is?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Cure for the mad poet

W. B. YeatsJust read an article by John B. Amos about joining a poetry discussion group that turned out to be a writing workshop. He tells of a person reading a beautiful and terrifying poem about insomnia, only to have people respond by criticizing the first line...
I glanced over at the fellow to see how he was taking such criticism. His face twitched slightly, and then suddenly he exploded. Purple with rage, he screamed, "Just read the damned thing! Quit trying to analyze it!"
And I would say, that I would have to agree. Often, criticisms in critique groups can be more along the lines of, "well, if it were me, with my aesthetic..." I feel I have been guilty of that myself. And one thing I like about the poetry discussion group at the Forbes Library in Northampton is that we don't get into what should be in the poem or what shouldn't be in the poem, but how does what is in the poem work for us as readers? Still, when I feel vaguely dissatisfied with a poem of mine, I like to bring it to a critique group. First will be the positive responses: I liked this or that, but then come the questions about what didn't work, and suggestions for improving the reader's experience. With that dynamic, critique groups can be an essential component of making a poem successful.