Monday, August 28, 2006
artwork by Zoe Sernak
Autumn Begins In Martins Ferry, Ohio
In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.
All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.
James Arlington Wright (December 3, 1927 – March 25, 1980), was one of the most beloved American poets of the second half of the 20th century. Wright first emerged on the literary scene in 1956 with The Green Wall, a collection of formalist verse that was awarded the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Prize. But by the early 1960's, Wright, increasingly influenced by the Spanish language surrealists, had dropped fixed meters. His transformation achieved its maximum expression with the publication of the seminal The Branch Will Not Break (1963), which positioned Wright as curious counterpoint to the Beats and New York schools, which predominated on the American coasts.
This stunning transformation had not come by accident, as Wright had been working for years with his friend Robert Bly, collaborating on the translation of world poets in the influential magazine The Fifties (later The Sixties). Such influences fertilized Wright's unique perspective and helped put the Midwest back on the poetic map.
Wright had discovered a terse, wildly imagistic free verse of stunning grace, clarity, and power. During the next ten years Wright would go on to pen some of the most beloved and frequently anthologized masterpieces of the century, such as "A Blessing," "Autumn Begins in Martin's Ferry, Ohio," and "I Am a Sioux Indian Brave, He Said to Me in Minneapolis."
Monday, August 21, 2006
Dreaming Of Hair
Ivy ties the cellar door
in autumn, in summer morning glory
wraps the ribs of a mouse.
Love binds me to the one
whose hair I've found in my mouth,
whose sleeping head I kiss,
wondering is it death?
beauty? this dark
star spreading in every direction from the crown of her head.
My love's hair is autumn hair, there
the sun ripens.
My fingers harvest the dark
vegtable of her body.
In the morning I remove it
from my tongue and
through my dream, sprouts
from my stomach, thickens my heart,
and tangles from the brain. Hair ties the tongue dumb.
Hair ascends the tree
of my childhood--the willow
one bare foot and hand at a time,
feeling the knuckles of the gnarled tree, hearing
my father plead from his window, _Don't fall!_
In my dream I fly
past summers and moths,
to the thistle
caught in my mother's hair, the purple one
I touched and bled for,
to myself at three, sleeping
beside her, waking with her hair in my mouth.
Along a slippery twine of her black hair
my mother ties ko-tze knots for me:
fish and lion heads, chrysanthemum buds, the heads
of Chinamen, black-haired and frowning.
Li-En, my brother, frowns when he sleeps.
I push back his hair, stroke his brow.
His hairline is our father's, three peaks pointing down.
What sprouts from the body
and touches the body?
What filters sunlight
and drinks moonlight?
Where have I misplaced my heart?
What stops wheels and great machines?
What tangles in the bough
and snaps the loom?
Out of the grave
my father's hair
bursts. A strand
pierces my left sole, shoots
up bone, past ribs,
to the broken heart it stiches,
swirling in the stomach, in the groin, and down,
through the right foot.
What binds me to this earth?
What remembers the dead
and grows towards them?
I'm tired of thinking.
I long to taste the world with a kiss.
I long to fly into hair with kisses and weeping,
remembering an afternoon
when, kissing my sleeping father, I saw for the first time
behind the thick swirl of his black hair,
the mole of wisdom,
a lone planet spinning slowly.
Sometimes my love is melancholy
and I hold her head in my hands.
Sometimes I recall our hair grows after death.
Then, I must grab handfuls
of her hair, and, I tell you, there
are apples, walnuts, ships sailing, ships docking, and men
taking off their boots, their hearts breaking,
which they love more, the water, or
their women's hair, sprouting from the head, rushing toward the feet.
Li-Young Lee (b. 1957) was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, of Chinese parents. In 1959, after spending nineteen months in jail as a political prisoner, Lee's father fled Indonesia with his family. The family traveled through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan before settling in the United States. Lee studied at several American universities, earning his B.A. at the University of Pittsburgh, and taught at various schools, including Northwestern University and the University of Iowa. During 1990, he traveled in Indonesia and China gathering material for an autobiographical prose work.
His work has been honored with numerous prizes and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1987. His second book of poems, The City in Which I Love You (1990), was the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. His most recent book is The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (1995).
Monday, August 07, 2006
This inspiring poem, written by William Ernest Henley, comes from intern Anthony Punt as what he terms "a humble contribution."
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.