Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Looking forward to this conference

I'm driving to Harrisburg on Thursday morning and taking the train to New York City!

Will be at this conference until the 30th!

Schedule of Conference


Thursday, April 27

Welcome Reception and Banquet
5:00 p.m. / 12th Floor Lounge, Corrigan Conference Center
Keynote Lecture and Reading
7:30 p.m. / Pope Auditorium

Dana Gioia
Introduction: Angela Alaimo O’Donnell

Friday, April 28

Continental Breakfast
8:15 a.m. / Lowenstein
Welcome Greeting
9 a.m.
/ Pope Auditorium

Concurrent Session I : 9:15 - 10:30 a.m.

  1. Contemporary Catholic Fiction: ‘Making Belief Believable’
    Pope Auditorium
In one of her essays, Flannery O’Connor addresses one of the central challenges of the Catholic / Christian novelist writing in a secular era, stating that it has become “more and more difficult in America to make belief believable.” This panel explores this challenge, raising the question of whether it is possible to create credible characters and an authentic contemporary fictional world that takes faith seriously and makes it tenable to readers who do not necessarily hold those beliefs.
Mary Gordon (Barnard)
Ron Hansen (Santa Clara)
Paul Lakeland (Fairfield)
Moderator: Paul Contino (Pepperdine)
  1. Biography and the Catholic Literary Legacy
    McNally Amphitheatre
Every writer labors in the hope that her books will outlive her. In many ways, the literary legacy of Catholic writers is determined by the biographers that record and pass judgment on their lives and their work. This panel explores the key role played by biographers in crafting, shoring up, and challenging the literary reputations of key Catholic writers, both those well-known and those whose voices might otherwise be lost.
Dana Greene (Emory)
Michael McGregor (Portland State)
Mark Bosco, SJ (Loyola Chicago)
Moderator: Angela Alaimo O’Donnell (Fordham)

Concurrent Session II : 10:45 a.m. - 12 p.m.

  1. Irish Incarnations of the Catholic Imagination
    Pope Auditorium
Featuring four award-winning novelists and poets and a scholar of Irish drama, this panel explores the rich contributions made by Irish and Irish-American writers to contemporary literature and the variety of ways in which the Irish-Catholic Imagination informs the work of many writers of Irish descent, including their own.
Peter Quinn
Alice McDermott (Johns Hopkins)
Micheal O’Siadhail
Kathleen Hill (Sarah Lawrence)
Moderator: John Harrington (Fordham)
  1. Catholic Memoir and Spiritual Autobiography
    McNally Amphitheatre
Ever since Augustine’s Confessions, Catholic writers have engaged in telling stories of their moral, intellectual, and spiritual formation. This panel brings together practitioners of the genre who will discuss the challenges, pleasures, and risks of writing about one’s life & loves, sexuality & sexual orientation, friends & family, faith & doubt, neighborhood & nation.
Mary Gordon (Barnard)
Carlos Eire (Yale)
Richard Giannone (Fordham)
Moderator: Ken Garcia (Notre Dame)
12 p.m./ Lowenstein Atrium

Plenary Poetry Reading
1 - 2:15 p.m.
/ Pope Auditorium
Philip Metres
Angela Alaimo O’Donnell
Introduction: Paul Contino (Pepperdine)

Concurrent Session III : 2:30 - 3:45 p.m.

  1. Beyond The Sopranos: The Ethnic Catholic Imagination
    Pope Auditorium
This panel engages the work and contributions of ethnic Catholic writers from the practitioner’s, the critic’s, and the reader’s perspective. Panelists will explore the influence of ethnicity on a writer’s work, both in terms of form and content, and the role Catholic writers play in shaping perceptions of the ethnic groups they belong to as well as the particular flavor of the Catholicism they have inherited.
Philip Metres (John Carroll)
Carlos Eire (Yale)
Dana Gioia (USC)
Thomas Kelly
Moderator: Angela Alaimo O’Donnell (Fordham)
  1. Theory and Theology: Religious Criticism and the Catholic Literary Tradition
    McNally Amphitheatre
This session will explore various intersections of literature, theology, spirituality, and critical reflection. Drawing on “sources and resources” of the Catholic literary tradition, the panelists will reflect on the Catholic imagination as a cultural production and will also illuminate arts and fictions themselves as theologies. The panel will engage both traditional and 21st century approaches to texts and topics.
Michael Murphy (Loyola Chicago)
Amy Hungerford (Yale)
Phil Klay
Moderator: Mark Bosco, SJ (Loyola Chicago)
  1. Form andContent: The Art of Good Writing
    Law School Lecture Classroom 3-09
The goal of the session is to emphasize the elements, life experiences, and skills that lead to strong and effective writing and to successful publication. Of the four participants, all of whom have published multiple books and articles, one is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, another is a publisher and literary columnist for America, another has just published the investigative biography of an American nun murdered in El Salvador, and the moderator is the America book editor who has taught journalism for 40 years. He will call upon Hemingway and Orwell for inspiration.
James Dwyer (New York Times)
Eileen Markey
Jon Sweeney
Moderator: Ray Schroth, SJ (America)

Concurrent Session IV : 4 - 5:15 p.m.

  1. Catholic Women’s Voices
    Pope Auditorium
This panel will consider the role of Catholic women writers in shaping literature of the past and present. Panelists will discuss their own writing along with the work of their predecessors who have influenced and encouraged them to find their voices amid a church culture—and a secular culture—that has not traditionally valued women’s voices or perspectives.
Mary Gordon (Barnard)
Kathleen Hill (Sarah Lawrence)
Anne Higgins DC (Mount St. Mary’s)
Moderator: Angela Alaimo O’Donnell (Fordham)
  1. Ecumenical Perspectives : Spirituality and Contemporary Literature
    McNally Amphitheatre
This panel features four writers who are editors of journals and presses that are not explicitly Catholic but publish writing by Catholic authors. Jill Peleáz Baumgaertner (poetry editor of The Christian Century), Nathaniel Hansen (editor of The Windhover), Mark Burrows (poetry editor at Arts, Spiritus, and Paraclete Press), and Kim Bridgford (founder and editor of Mezzo Cammin) will discuss the role writers of faith play in contemporary literature, the contributions of Catholic and Christian writers to the publications they edit, and the challenges they themselves face as writers and editors.
Mark Burrows (Protestant University of Applied Sciences)
Jill Peláez Baumgaertner (Wheaton)
Nathaniel Hansen (Mary Hardin Baylor)
Moderator: Kim Bridgford (West Chester)
5:15 - 6:15 p.m. / Lowenstein Atrium

Plenary Lecture / Reading
6:30 p.m.
/ Pope Auditorium
Ron Hansen

Saturday, April 29

Continental Breakfast
8:15 a.m. / Lowenstein

Concurrent Session I : 9 - 10:15 a.m.

  1. The Catholic Poet in the Secular World
    McNally Amphitheatre
In her celebrated essay, “The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South,” Flannery O’Connor explores the conundrum of writing as a Catholic amid a culture that seems alien to her belief. What she reveals, ultimately, is that her culture has shaped her work as much as her faith has. This panel explores similar terrain, posing the question, “What does it mean to be a Catholic poet in a secular culture?” Can the contemporary Catholic poet succeed in writing for readers who share his/her belief and for those who do not? What are the challenges of being true to one’s Catholic vision while writing for a universal (or small “c” catholic) readership? Panelists will draw on their own experience as practitioners and readers.
Dana Gioia (USC)
Paul Mariani (Boston College)
Angela Alaimo O’Donnell (Fordham)
Anthony Domestico (SUNY Purchase)
Moderator: Paul Contino (Pepperdine)
  1. America and Commonweal: National Catholic Magazines and the Flourishing of the Catholic Imagination
    Pope Auditorium
This panel features editors of two long-standing American Catholic journals in conversation about the role of the Catholic press in creating conditions under which good Catholic writing can flourish. Led by veteran editor and journalist, Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, Matt Malone and Paul Baumann, along with their assistant editors, will discuss the role each of their magazines has played historically and continues to play in creating a Catholic lens through which to view the events in our world and conditions of our culture, and in highlighting and promoting the work of Catholic writers.
Matt Malone, SJ (America)
Kerry Weber (America)
Paul Baumann (Commonweal)
Dominic Preziosi (Commonweal)
Moderator: Margaret O’Brien Steinfels (Commonweal)
  1. Curating the Catholic Imagination: Editors’ Roundtable Discussion
    Law School Lecture Classroom 3-09
This panel features a gathering of editors of Catholic/Christian journals and presses in conversation about the state of Catholic publishing today. Each editor will discuss the audience, mission, and contributors to his/her publication(s) and also address larger questions about the role of publishers in creating conditions wherein the Catholic Imagination might flourish.
Angela Cybulski (Wiseblood Books)
Wendy Galgan (Assisi)
Bernardo Aparicio Garcia (Dappled Things)
James Keane (Orbis Books)
Jon Sweeney (Ave Maria Press)
Moderator: Mary Ann B. Miller (Presence)

Concurrent Session II: 10:30 - 11:45 a.m.

  1. Panel 13 Scorsese, Silence, and The Ignatian Imagination
    Pope Auditorium
One of the finest works of the Catholic Imagination in recent memory is Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence. Based on the novel by Japanese Catholic writer, Shisaku Endo, Scorsese’s film follows the plight of two young Jesuits who travel to Japan in the 16th century during a time of persecution of Christians. The work is powerfully informed by the Ignatian imagination as the men undergo a trial of their faith and everything they believe in. Fr. James Martin, who served as spiritual director to the actor who plays one of those Jesuits, Andrew Garfield, and Paul Elie, who conducted a lengthy interview with Scorsese for the New York Times, will address the influence of the Spiritual Exercises and the Jesuit ethos on the film and the ways in which Scorsese’s work bears the mark of a Catholic Imagination.
Paul Elie (Georgetown)
James Martin, SJ (America)
Moderator: Kathryn Reklis (Fordham)
  1. Catholic Writers : The New Generation
    McNally Amphitheatre
This panel features younger Catholic writers who will discuss their work and its relationship to the future of the Catholic literary Imagination. These award-winning writers will engage in conversation about what it might mean to be a Catholic writer today along with the influence of their faith and religious background on their work.
Matthew Thomas
Phil Klay
Kathleen Donohoe
Philip Metres (John Carroll)
Moderator: Anthony Domestico (SUNY Purchase)
  1. Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry Reading
    Law School Lecture Classroom 3-09
This panel features short readings from new work published in the newly-founded journal of Catholic poetry, Presence. Contributors will read poems from the inaugural issue and discuss the vocation of writing in the Catholic Literary Tradition.
Moderator: Mary Ann B. Miller (Caldwell)
12 p.m. / Lowenstein Atrium

Plenary Poetry Reading
1:15 - 2:15 p.m.
/ Pope Auditorium
Micheal O’Siadhail

Concurrent Session III : 2:30 - 3:45 p.m.

  1. Catholics Writing for the Stage and Screen
    Pope Auditorium
Expressions of faith in art come in many genres and forms. This panel features award-winning screenwriters, television writers, producers, and playwrights whose work is informed by a religious imagination. Led by dramatist Fr. George Drance, Tom Fontana, Thomas Kelly, and Karin Coonrod will discuss their writing in light of their formation (including the experience of Jesuit education) and its influence upon their work.
Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz)
Thomas Kelly (Bluebloods, Copper, The Get Down)
Karin Coonrod (texts&beheadings/ElizabethR, Everything that Rises Must Converge)
Moderator: George Drance, SJ (Fordham)
  1. The Legacy of Dante in Art, Literature, and Culture
    Law School Lecture Classroom 3-09
This panel explores the cultural foundation and the influence of Dante’s poetic imagination on contemporary thought and the arts. Participants will discuss Dante's reinterpretation of the Christian tradition, its role in the development of Dante's poetics, and the legacy of Dante's visionary experiment in the Divine Comedy on the contemporary imagination, from pop culture to literary criticism.
Giuseppe Mazzotta (Yale)
Kristina Olson (George Mason)
Dennis Looney (Modern Languages Association)
Moderator: Susanna Barsella (Fordham)
  1. New York Novelists: The Voice of the Boroughs
    McNally Amphitheatre
This panel features novelists who hail from and set their stories in the boroughs of New York City: Mary Gordon (Queens), Peter Quinn (Bronx & Manhattan), Kathleen Donohoe (Brooklyn), Matthew Thomas (Queens), and Eddie Joyce (Staten Island) will discuss the challenges and pleasures of bringing the local to life in the pages of their books and making the world of urban Irish Catholics accessible to a broad readership.
Mary Gordon (Final Payments)
Peter Quinn (Banished Children of Eve)
Kathleen Donohoe (Ashes of Fiery Weather)
Matthew Thomas (We Are Not Ourselves)
Eddie Joyce (Small Mercies)
Moderator: Keri Walsh (Fordham)
Plenary Poetry Reading
4 - 5 p.m.
/ Pope Auditorium
Mary Gordon
5:15 p.m.
/ The Church of St. Paul the Apostle
405 West 59th Street
New York, NY 10019
Celebrant, James Martin, SJ (America)
Deacon Ron Hansen (Santa Clara)
6:15 - 7:15 p.m. / Lowenstein Atrium

Plenary Lecture / Reading
7:30 p.m.
/ Pope Auditorium
Alice McDermott

Sunday, April 23, 2017

All this juice and all this joy

Yesterday's all day rain has given way to the breathtaking beauty of today.

I love this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush         
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush         
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.         

What is all this juice and all this joy?         
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,         
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,         
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,         
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.  


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Road Grows Wet With Light

I have only recently come across the poetry of Brigit Pegeen Kelly (  1951-2016) who died when she was only 65. Her poems blend weird and disturbing mythic images with stunning evocations of human emotion and experience.   Here is one of them, called "Visitation."  I am not sure what it's about, but I really like it:

Visitation               by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

God sends his tasks
and one does
them or not, but the sky
delivers its gifts
at the appointed
times: With spit and sigh,
with that improbable
burst of flame, the balloon
comes over
the cornfield, bringing
another country
with it, bringing
from a long way off
those colors that are at first
the low sound
of a horn, but soon
are many horns, and clocks,
and bells, and clappers
and your heart
rising to the silence
in all of them, a silence
so complete that
the heads of the corn
bow back before it
and the dog flees in terror
down the road
and you alone are left
gazing up
at three solemn visitors
in a golden cage
beneath that unbelievable chorus of red
and white, swinging
so close you cannot move
or speak, so close
the road grows wet with light,
as when the sun flares,
after an evening storm
and you become weightless, falling
back in the air
before the giant oak
that with a fiery burst
the balloon
just clears.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

Springtime is calling a love song of now

Here are some photos I took today at the university where I teach...

The lyrics are from a song I wrote about 48 years ago.

Leave all your books of past burdens and sorrows
closed on the white open page of tomorrow!
Springtime is calling a love song of now,
Springtime is calling a love song of now.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What if God breaks my heart again?

painting:  Christian Schloe   The Heartache

I just read this poem by Sandra Cisneros on another poetry site, and it blew me away!

God Breaks the Heart Again and Again Until It Stays Open
after a quote from Sufi Inayat Khan
But what if my heart is a 7-Eleven after
its third daytime robbery in a week?

What if my heart is a piñata trashed to
tissue and peppermint shrapnel?

What if my heart is a peeled mango bearing
an emerald housefly?

What if my heart is an air conditioner
weeping a rosary of rusty tears?

What if my heart is Sebastião Salgado’s
sinkhole swallowing another child?

What if my heart is Death Valley in
wide-view Cinemascope?

What if my heart is a chupacabrón
chanting, Build the wall?

What if my heart is the creepy uncle’s
yawning zipper?

What if my heart is a Pentecostal babbling
a river of tongues?

What if my heart is the cross-eyed Jesus
bought at the Poteet flea market?

What if my heart is El Paso, Texas, in bed
with the corpse of Ciudad Juárez?

What if my heart is unhinged from the
weight of its lice-ridden wings?

What then for an encore, oh my soul, when
you have blessed me a


Monday, April 17, 2017

Global Warming

This photo was taken of my on the morning of my first Communion, which was about May 20 of 1956.

Note the tulips.

Today, April 17, 2017,  the tulips are just about done, and the lilacs are blooming.

Spring arrives a month sooner than it did 60 years ago.

I'm glad for the Spring,   but I worry about this.

It means that Summer will also arrive a month early, and probably stay long and hot a month longer.

This is such a small example, but with the violent "weather events" of the last year, I sense that we are creeping toward catastrophic climate change.

Enough of the Doomsday tone on this truly magnificent Monday.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Morning

Here's an Easter poem by Richard Wilbur, one of my favorite poets. It's a poem about his long grief over his little brother who died as a child, but it's about so much more:

Easter Morning

I have a life that did not become,
that turned aside and stopped,
I hold it in me like a pregnancy or
as on my lap a child
not to grow old but dwell on

it is to his grave I most
frequently return and return
to ask what is wrong, what was
wrong, to see it all by
the light of a different necessity
but the grave will not heal
and the child,
stirring, must share my grave
with me, an old man having
gotten by on what was left

when I go back to my home country in these
fresh far-away days, it’s convenient to visit
everybody, aunts and uncles, those who used to say,
look how he’s shooting up, and the
trinket aunts who always had a little
something in their pocketbooks, cinnamon bark
or a penny or nickel, and uncles who
were the rumored fathers of cousins
who whispered of them as of great, if
troubled, presences, and school

teachers, just about everybody older
(and some younger) collected in one place
waiting, particularly, but not for
me, mother and father there, too, and others
close, close as burrowing
under skin, all in the graveyard
assembled, done for, the world they
used to wield, have trouble and joy
in, gone

the child in me that could not become
was not ready for others to go,
to go on into change, blessings and
horrors, but stands there by the road
where the mishap occurred, crying out for
help, come and fix this or we
can’t get by, but the great ones who
were to return, they could not or did
not hear and went on in a flurry and
now, I say in the graveyard, here
lies the flurry, now it can’t come
back with help or helpful asides, now
we all buy the bitter
incompletions, pick up the knots of
horror, silently raving, and go on
crashing into empty ends not
completions, not rondures the fullness
has come into and spent itself from

I stand on the stump
of a child, whether myself
or my little brother who died, and
yell as far as I can, I cannot leave this place, for
for me it is the dearest and the worst,
it is life nearest to life which is
life lost: it is my place where
I must stand and fail,
calling attention with tears
to the branches not lofting
boughs into space, to the barren
air that holds the world that was my world

though the incompletions
(& completions) burn out
standing in the flash high-burn
momentary structure of ash, still it
is a picture-book, letter-perfect
Easter morning: I have been for a
walk: the wind is tranquil: the brook
works without flashing in an abundant
tranquility: the birds are lively with
voice: I saw something I had
never seen before: two great birds,
maybe eagles, blackwinged, whitenecked
and –headed, came from the south oaring
the great wings steadily; they went
directly over me, high up, and kept on
due north: but then one bird,
the one behind, veered a little to the
left and the other bird kept on seeming
not to notice for a minute: the first
began to circle as if looking for
something, coasting, resting its wings
on the down side of some of the circles:
the other bird came back and they both
circled, looking perhaps for a draft;
they turned a few more times, possibly
rising—at least, clearly resting—
then flew on falling into distance till
they broke across the local bush and
trees: it was a sight of bountiful
majesty and integrity: the having
patterns and routes, breaking
from them to explore other patterns or
better ways to routes, and then the
return: a dance sacred as the sap in
the trees, permanent in its descriptions
as the ripples round the brook’s
ripplestone: fresh as this particular
flood of burn breaking across us now
from the sun.


Friday, April 14, 2017

The holy bread, the food unpriced

Here's a poem for Good Friday  by John Masefield:

From “The Everlasting Mercy”

O Christ who holds the open gate,

O Christ who drives the furrow straight,

O Christ the plough, O Christ the laughter

Of holy white birds flying after,

Lo, all my heart’s field red and torn,

And thou wilt bring the young green corn,

The young green corn divinely springing,

The young green corn forever singing;

And when the field is fresh and fair

Thy blessed feet shall glitter there.

And we will walk the weeded field,

And tell the golden harvest’s yield,

The corn that makes the holy bread

By which the soul of man is fed,

The holy bread, the food unpriced,

Thy everlasting mercy, Christ.

John Masefield

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I understand about courtly love

The students at my university went home for Easter after classes today. We'll be off for five days.
At this point in the semester, it seems like the end of the semester.  Spring is in full force; it's warm and everything is alive in green and pink.

Yesterday I had an email from someone I have not heard from ever on email , because I knew him before there was email.  He said he came across my name by chance. 

A flood of memories rushed back, aided by the Spring.

I had a major infatuation with this fellow, a professor of mine who was only six or seven years older than me.  And married.   Because I believed in marriage and believed in being true to his wife,
I never pursued the relationship. It was not physical, but it was very romantic.

He is now in his seventies, still married, the father of one and grandfather of four.  I wonder what his life has been like.  It sounds very settled and happy.

I was in love many times after him.  But his email sparked something I had long forgotten.

I went back to my journal from those days fifty years ago, which I don' t think I have read in at least forty five years.   Here's one of the poems I found:

The Last Last Day

Now I leave
the place of ghosts.
Now I leave a ghost
to walk with yours.
What a love they have,
my ghost and yours,
walking in spring always,
flowers to pick.
Walking to the old building
always the white ghost-car
Always the whistle on the steps, the shadow of a sway.
Now on the last last day
I leave my ghost behind.
She is laughing,
butterflies are laughing
in the wide green field.
she walks with yours.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Mystery of Great Cost

I had never read this one before today, but here is an amazing poem by Anne Sexton:

The Big Heart             by Anne Sexton

"Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold." - From an essay by W. B. Yeats

Big heart,
wide as a watermelon,
but wise as birth,
there is so much abundance
in the people I have:
Max, Lois, Joe, Louise,
Joan, Marie, Dawn,
Arlene, Father Dunne,
and all in their short lives
give to me repeatedly,
in the way the sea
places its many fingers on the shore,
again and again
and they know me,
they help me unravel,
they listen with ears made of conch shells,
they speak back with the wine of the best region.
They are my staff.
They comfort me.

They hear how
the artery of my soul has been severed
and soul is spurting out upon them,
bleeding on them,
messing up their clothes,
dirtying their shoes.
And God is filling me,
though there are times of doubt
as hollow as the Grand Canyon,
still God is filling me.
He is giving me the thoughts of dogs,
the spider in its intricate web,
the sun
in all its amazement,
and a slain ram
that is the glory,
the mystery of great cost,
and my heart,
which is very big,
I promise it is very large,
a monster of sorts,
takes it all in—

All in comes the fury of love.




Monday, April 10, 2017

the mind of day

When I was looking for something else, a poem with the word "blindly" in it, I came across this poem by W.S.Merwin.

I have loved his poetry for a long time, and puzzled over many of his poems. This one really haunts me:

By Dark   by W.S. Merwin

When it is time I follow the black dog
into the darkness that is the mind of day

I can see nothing but the black dog
the dog I know going ahead of me

not looking back oh it is the black dog
I trust now in my turn after the years

when I had all the trust of the black dog
through an age of brightness and through shadow

on into the blindness of the black dog
where the rooms of the dark were already known

and had no fear in them for the black dog
leading me carefully up the blind stairs.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

painting by  Hypolyte Flandrin, 19th century

Here's a short poem by Henry Vaughn:

Palm Sunday

Hark! how the children shrill and high
Hosanna cry,
Their joys provoke the distant sky,
Where thrones and seraphims reply,
And their own angels shine and sing
In a bright ring:
Such young, sweet mirth
Makes heaven and earth
Join in a joyful symphony.

Hosannah in the Highest    painting by Hannah Varghese

Saturday, April 8, 2017

An April Morning, Fresh and Clear

I can't see a morning like this without thinking of the English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth:

It was an April morning, Fresh and Clear

It was an April morning: fresh and clear
The Rivulet, delighting in its strength,
Ran with a young man's speed; and yet the voice
Of waters which the winter had supplied
Was softened down into a vernal tone.
The spirit of enjoyment and desire,
And hopes and wishes, from all living things
Went circling, like a multitude of sounds.
The budding groves seemed eager to urge on
The steps of June; as if their various hues
Were only hindrances that stood between
Them and their object: but, meanwhile, prevailed
Such an entire contentment in the air
That every naked ash, and tardy tree
Yet leafless, showed as if the countenance
With which it looked on this delightful day
Were native to the summer.--Up the brook
I roamed in the confusion of my heart,
Alive to all things and forgetting all.
At length I to a sudden turning came
In this continuous glen, where down a rock
The Stream, so ardent in its course before,
Sent forth such sallies of glad sound, that all
Which I till then had heard, appeared the voice
Of common pleasure: beast and bird, the lamb,
The shepherd's dog, the linnet and the thrush
Vied with this waterfall, and made a song,
Which, while I listened, seemed like the wild growth
Or like some natural produce of the air,
That could not cease to be. Green leaves were here;
But 'twas the foliage of the rocks--the birch,
The yew, the holly, and the bright green thorn,
With hanging islands of resplendent furze:
And, on a summit, distant a short space,
By any who should look beyond the dell,
A single mountain-cottage might be seen.
I gazed and gazed, and to myself I said,
'Our thoughts at least are ours; and this wild nook,
My EMMA, I will dedicate to thee.'
----Soon did the spot become my other home,
My dwelling, and my out-of-doors abode.
And, of the Shepherds who have seen me there,
To whom I sometimes in our idle talk
Have told this fancy, two or three, perhaps,
Years after we are gone and in our graves,
When they have cause to speak of this wild place,
May call it by the name of EMMA'S DELL.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Song for the Rainy Season

painting  "Rain in an Oak Grove"  1891   by Ivan Shishkin

Here's a wonderful poem by Elizabeth Bishop, appropriate for this April day:

Song For The Rainy Season by Elizabeth Bishop
Hidden, oh hidden
in the high fog
the house we live in,
beneath the magnetic rock,
rain-, rainbow-ridden,
where blood-black
bromelias, lichens,
owls, and the lint
of the waterfalls cling,
familiar, unbidden.

In a dim age
of water
the brook sings loud
from a rib cage
of giant fern; vapor
climbs up the thick growth
effortlessly, turns back,
holding them both,
house and rock,
in a private cloud.

At night, on the roof,
blind drops crawl
and the ordinary brown
owl gives us proof
he can count:
five times--always five--
he stamps and takes off
after the fat frogs that,
shrilling for love,
clamber and mount.

House, open house
to the white dew
and the milk-white sunrise
kind to the eyes,
to membership
of silver fish, mouse,
big moths; with a wall
for the mildew's
ignorant map;

darkened and tarnished
by the warm touch
of the warm breath,
maculate, cherished;
rejoice! For a later
era will differ.
(O difference that kills
or intimidates, much
of all our small shadowy
life!) Without water

the great rock will stare
unmagnetized, bare,
no longer wearing
rainbows or rain,
the forgiving air
and the high fog gone;
the owls will move on
and the several
waterfalls shrivel
in the steady sun.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Garden, Spring, The Hawk

Cardinal - photo by Roger Harris

Here is the first part of a group of sonnets by the incomparable Ellen Bryant Voigt:


Like a struck match: redbird, riding the wet
knuckle of the longest limb of the leafless water oak,
pitching glissandi over the myrtle trees.  The yellow car,
one paw leveraged out of the soggy grass, then another,
has nothing to do with this: too slow, too old.
Nor the night-stunned snakes under the log, a cluster of  commas;
nor the cloistered vole, the wasp, the translucent lizard,
the spider's swaddle of gauze, waiting to quicken.
This hour belongs to the birds - where I am,
single ripe berry on the bush; where you are,
Cooper's hawk, on the rail fence, dressing her feathers;
and the indistinct domestics at their chores.

Coopers Hawk

Monday, April 3, 2017

This I saw on an April day

I am rejoicing each morning as I see my plants coming up!

Here's a poem I like by James Hearst:

In April

This I saw on an April day:
Warm rain spilt from a sun-lined cloud,
A sky-flung wave of gold at evening,
And a cock pheasant treading a dusty path
Shy and proud.

And this I found in an April field:
A new white calf in the sun at noon,
A flash of blue in a cool moss bank,
And tips of tulips promising flowers
To a blue-winged loon.

And this I tried to understand
As I scrubbed the rust from my brightening plow:
The movement of seed in furrowed earth,
And a blackbird whistling sweet and clear
From a green-sprayed bough.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Plant Dreaming Deep

The poet May Sarton was a gung-ho gardener in her middle and later years.  Her book Plant Dreaming Deep is a memoir about her creating/restoring a garden in the house she purchased in Maine.

Here is one of her gardening poems:

An Observation

True gardeners cannot bear a glove
Between the sure touch and the tender root,
Must let their hands grow knotted as they move
With a rough sensitivity about
Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,
Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.
And so I watched my mother's hands grow scarred,
She who could heal the wounded plant or friend
With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;
I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,
But now her truth is given me to live,
As I learn for myself we must be hard
To move among the tender with an open hand,
And to stay sensitive up to the end
Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Certainties of Place and Time

It's the first day of April, which is National Poetry Month.  This year, it's also eight days until Holy Week.

Here's a poem from George Oppen's "Five Poems about Poetry"


Sing like a bird at the open
Sky, but no bird
Is a man—

Like the grip
Of the Roman hand
On his shoulder, the certainties

Of place
And of time

Held him, I think
With the pain and the casual horror
Of the iron and may have left
No hope of doubt

Whereas we have won doubt
From the iron itself

And hope in death. So that
If a man lived forever he would outlive
Hope. I imagine open sky

Over Gethsemane,
Surely it was this sky.