The Friday Poem ‘The Three Goals’ by David Budbill

We need poets to convert obfuscation into clarity: to communicate, not “confuse, bewilder or stupefy”. The Friday Poem this week, ‘The Three Goals’ by David Budbill does just that.

Author, poet, playwright and musician David Budbill “took a workman’s attitude toward art and despised pretension. Asked about the sources of his inspiration, he said: “It comes from out of nowhere, from my imagination, from the voices I hear, from somewhere. In short, I don’t know where it comes from, and I don’t care.”

The Three Goals

The first goal is to see the thing itself
in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly
for what it is.
No symbolism, please.

The second goal is to see each individual thing
as unified, as one, with all the other
ten thousand things.
In this regard, a little wine helps a lot.

The third goal is to grasp the first and the second goals,
to see the universal and the particular,
simultaneously.
Regarding this one, call me when you get it.

David Budbill   ‘Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse’   2012

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Photo credit: Peter Miller

The Friday Poem ‘Why I Wake Early’ by Mary Oliver

The first Friday Poem of 2018 is for the early risers, the folks who ‘seize the day’ as first light tints the sky in pastels. Poet Mary Oliver shares ‘Why I Wake Up Early’.

“Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Mary Oliver   ‘Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver’ Penguin Press, 2017

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‘Open A New Window’ – Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman

The ‘Friday Poem’ this holiday week comes from the 1966 Broadway musical, ‘Mame’: the lyrics to ‘Open A New Window’ by Jerry Herman.

The musical, based on the 1955 novel ‘Auntie Mame’ by Patrick Denis, “opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on May 24, 1966. Three years later, it transferred to the Broadway Theatre, where it remained until closing on January 3, 1970. It ran a total of 1,508 performances and five previews.”

This was the play that produced ‘We Need A Little Christmas’, and the lesser known ‘Open A New Window’. Sung by Angela Lansbury to Frankie Michaels playing her nephew, it conveys some of the best ‘mentoring’ advice for the new year.

Open a New Window

Open a new window,
Open a new door,
Travel a new highway,
That’s never been tried before;
Before you find you’re a dull fellow,
Punching the same clock,
Walking the same tight rope
As everyone on the block.
The fellow you ought to be is three dimensional,
Soaking up life down to your toes,
Whenever they say you’re slightly unconventional,
Just put your thumb up to your nose.
And show ’em how to dance to a new rhythm,
Whistle a new song,
Toast with a new vintage,
The fizz doesn’t fizz too long.
There’s only one way to make the bubbles stay,
Simply travel a new high way,
Dance to a new rhythm,
Open a new window ev’ry day!

Jerry Herman 1966 (Original Cast Recording)

 


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The Friday Poem ‘The Question’ by Karla Kuskin

Before poetry was printed on the back of NYC Metro Cards, there was ‘Poetry in Motion’, a joint effort of the MTA and the Poetry Society of America. Between October, 1992 and August, 1997 commuters, families and tourists could sample poems, reading from the placards displayed in subway cars and buses.

Poetry in Motion® places poetry in the transit systems of cities throughout the country, helping to create a national readership for both emerging and established poets.”

The Friday Poem this week was one of those selected for the inaugural NYC program: ‘The Question’ by Karla Kuskin. In this holiday season, revisit career choice through the eyes of your younger self.

The Question

People always say to me
“What do you think you’d like to be
When you grow up?”
And I say, “Why,
I think I’d like to be the sky
Or be a plane or train or mouse
Or maybe a haunted house
Or something furry, rough and wild…
Or maybe I will stay a child.”

Karla Kuskin   ‘Poetry in Motion: 100 Poems From the Subways and Buses’ 1996

The Friday Poem – The Purpose of Poetry

On October 26, 1963, less than a month before his death, U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited Amherst College to deliver a speech at the groundbreaking for the Robert Frost Library.

“In publishing the remarks after Kennedy’s murder, The Atlantic noted that he“identified himself, as no president before him has done so poignantly, with ‘books and men and learning.’ ”

Today, 54 years later, rather than a Friday Poem, the text of the address delivered that day by the 35th President of the United States, in recognition of the contribution of Robert Frost and the place of poetry in our national value set. This is what American leadership looks like.

Our national strength matters, but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost. He brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society. His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. “I have been” he wrote, “one acquainted with the night.” And because he knew the midnight as well as the high noon, because he understood the ordeal as well as the triumph of the human spirit, he gave his age strength with which to overcome despair. At bottom, he held a deep faith in the spirit of man, and it is hardly an accident that Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.

The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, a lover’s quarrel with the world. In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored in his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet in retrospect, we see how the artist’s fidelity has strengthened the fibre of our national life.

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeish once remarked of poets, there is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style. In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society–in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.”

I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.

Robert Frost was often skeptical about projects for human improvement, yet I do not think he would disdain this hope. As he wrote during the uncertain days of the Second War:

Take human nature altogether since time began . . .
And it must be a little more in favor of man,
Say a fraction of one percent at the very least . . .
Our hold on this planet wouldn’t have so increased.

Because of Mr. Frost’s life and work, because of the life and work of this college, our hold on this planet has increased.”

Listen to speech

Text and recording courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library and the U.S. National Archives.

 

The Friday Poem ‘What Kind of Times Are These’ by Adrienne Rich

It has been a week. Another week. A week that began with NFL players joining Colin Kaepernick‘s protest@work. If you are confused by the fog of publicity over the past week, let Charles Blow clarify the issue for you.

“…patriotism is particularly fraught for black people in this country because the history of the country’s treatment of them is fraught. It’s not that black people aren’t patriotic; it’s just that patriotism can be a paradox.”

“We have to accept that different Americans see pride and principle differently, but that makes none of them less American.”

The Friday Poem this week, ‘What Kind of Times Are These’ was written in 1995 by poet and activist, Adrienne Rich. It was one poem in a collection described by her publisher:

“Her explorations go to the heart of democracy and love, and the historical and present endangerment of both.”

“This parable-like poem raises difficult questions about the nature and dangers of leadership and the complicity of ordinary citizens in their government’s uses (and abuses) of power.”

It just seemed the right choice for this week@work. “our country moving closer to its own truth and dread..”

What Kind of Times Are These

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

 

Adrienne Rich
‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995’ (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1995)

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Listen to the poet read ‘What Kind of Times Are These’

 

The Friday Poem ‘Baseball’ by John Updike

The Friday Poem this week is for the ‘Boys of Summer’: those who go to work playing baseball, those who spend their hours after work on a diamond with friends, and the real boys who grab bat and glove after school on the way to Little League practice.

On Wednesday evening, one of those who make a living @baseball, the Dodger’s Rich Hill, threw eight perfect innings of baseball in Pittsburgh, coming up short of both a perfect game and a no-hitter when a third base error in the ninth and a lead off home run in the 10th gave the Pirates the win.

Less than 200 miles northeast, the Little League World Series approached its championship weekend as players ages 11-12 years competed for a chance to represent their country in the international final.

With baseball in the air, John Updike, baseball writer, is our choice for this week’s Friday Poem.

Baseball

It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.

The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not—those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop’s wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.

There is nowhere to hide when the ball’s
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It’s easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody’s right,
beginning with baseball.

John Updike from ‘Endpoint and Other Poems’ 2009

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Photo credit: Charles LeClaire USA TODAY sport

You can’t go home again – keeping a journal to tell your story

“If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.”             Terry Pratchett*

How do you turn your life into a story? A timeline of your social media posts might provide a hint to your narrative’s trajectory, but the best way is to begin recording what’s happening in your life on a daily basis; on paper, in a journal.

One of the best jobs I ever had was leading a freshman seminar, ‘You Can’t Go Home Again, Now What?’. At the beginning of the fall semester I gave each first year student a blank Moleskine notebook.  The direction was simple – “record your observations of people and place… keep your memories the old fashioned way – on paper. This is your personal space for your personal thoughts.”

Keeping a journal is way to establish a routine in a new environment and at the same time reflect on the unique experience of joining a new community. It’s a practice where you take ownership of your story.

“When  you leave college, there are thousands of people out there with the same degree you have; when you get a job, there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living.

But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.”
Anna Quindlen**

College is just one catalyst to begin the process of recording  and reflecting. The ‘Back to School’ aisles in your local Target are full of notebooks in every imaginable shape and size, just waiting to capture your creativity.

Why a notebook and not an online journal? It’s important to disconnect and avoid distraction when you’re talking to yourself about your day. And then there’s the apocalyptic view: when we are all off the grid, we’ll still have our journals.

When we scribble a few words, we are compiling a record that simply makes sense of the day. And on those days when things have not worked out as planned, it’s the perfect place to vent, in the privacy of the lined (or unlined) page.

What happened to all those first year students and their Moleskine journals? I think some may still be in a storage bin, blank. But for many, they contain the treasure of a story of transition and change, a template for continuous, lifelong learning.

String a few years of journal entries together and you begin to see career patterns emerge: choices, consequences and course corrections.

Your journal is your story. There are no rules. You’re writing your story in real time. Don’t edit, but do read what you write.

Take care of the life of your mind while paying attention to the life of your heart.

*Terry Pratchett   ‘The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents’ 2001
**Anna Quindlen   ‘A Short Guide to a Happy Life’ 2000

 

The Friday Poem ‘The Good Life’ by Tracy K. Smith

The new U.S. poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith, considers the writing of poetry “a superpower.” 

“A good poem teaches you to look at the ordinary world and see something completely new within it.”

On Thursday she was interviewed by Charlie Rose on the CBS Morning News. He asked, “Why did you become a poet?”

“I loved what poems did for me as a reader. Even as a child I loved the sound of language and the sense of surprise that poems could inspire.”

The Friday poem this week is ‘The Good Life’ from the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winning collection, ‘Life On Mars: Poems’.

The Good Life

When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.

Tracy K. Smith    ‘Life on Mars: Poems’ 2011

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Photo credit: Shawn Miller/Library of Congress

 

 

The Friday Poem ‘The Way It Is’ by William Stafford

“There’s a thread you follow.” opens this week’s Friday Poem, ‘The Way It Is’, from poet, writer, and photographer William Stafford.

As a conscientious objector during the second World War, Stafford worked in civilian public service camps for the U.S. Forest Service in Arkansas and California. In 1948 he moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College.

In 1963 he was selected to receive the National Book Award from a group of nominees including William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost. He served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1970, a position that today carries the title of Poet Laureate.

In addition to his 65 volumes of poetry and prose, he left a collection of 16,000 photographic negatives to the archive at Lewis and Clark College. In a 2014 interview for Oregon Public Broadcasting, his son, Kim Stafford commented on his father’s discomfort with the spotlight. “When he became famous, the camera allowed him to leave the center of the circle and document the other writers.”

His lifetime spanned decades of dramatic change, and yet he stayed true to his values. His accomplishments and awards did not distract. “…You don’t ever let go of the thread”.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford   ‘The Way It Is’   Graywolf Press, 1999

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Photo credit: Kim Stafford