The Friday Poem ‘The Land of Counterpane’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

There has been quite a bit of ‘health@work’ news this week as one of the major candidates for U.S. President took a couple of sick days away from her campaign.

In the spirit of taking a respite to heal, enter the imagination of writer and poet Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

Robert Louis Stevenson  from ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ 1913

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‘The Ageing Athlete’ a poem by Neil Weiss

As the Games of the XXXI Olympiad come to an end, a ‘Friday Poem’ to consider life after sport…and other career transitions.

The Aging Athlete

You’re through – no walking up and down,

you think of speed and dig your heels,

testing this soil and that for a start,

but it’s no go…Practicing for leaps,

you start forward but exhaust the push

and end up with a damaging rush,

arms hanging, hands twitching at your sides,

chin bobbing on your chest: no pride

that once sustained you as you leapt

the next hurdle, hair up then down,

the wind in your ears, the crowd beside

itself, shouting, Come on! Come on!

and you smashed the tape with your chest

and sank into the arms of many lovers.

Neil Weiss      Poetry Magazine, August 1956

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Photo Credit: Getty Images/USA TODAY Sports 8/15/16

‘Summer Olympics Look’ a poem by J. Allyn Rosser

From the origin of the Olympic games in ancient Greece, to the modern games of the twentieth century, poets played a central role along with sport. Each generation added their point of view.

Author Tony Perrottet wrote of ‘Poetry’s Relationship With the Olympics’.

“In ancient Greece, literary events were an indispensable part of athletic festivals, where fully clothed writers could be as popular with the crowd as the buff athletes who strutted about in the nude, gleaming with olive oil. Spectators packing the sanctuary of Zeus sought perfection in both body and mind. Champion athletes commissioned great poets like Pindar to compose their victory odes, which were sung at lavish banquets by choruses of boys. (The refined cultural ambience could put contemporary opening ceremonies, with their parade of pop stars, to shame.) Philosophers and historians introduced cutting-edge work, while lesser-known poets set up stalls or orated from soapboxes.”

In 1912, a poem ‘Ode to Sport’ won the first gold literature medal of the modern games. But as Boston Globe reporter Amanda Katz discovered, a bit of intrigue accompanied the entry.

“Presented in full in both French and German versions, attributed to the duo of Georges Hohrod and Martin Eschbach, it was called “Ode to Sport”—a rhapsodic, nine-verse prose poem praising athletics as a model of “Joy,” “Audacity,” “Justice,” and other virtues. The judges went wild. As they wrote in their published review of the poem, “It is of the exact type that we sought for the competitions….It praises sport in a form that to the ear is very literary and very sporting.” So taken were the judges with this Olympic gold poem that they refused to award either the silver or the bronze.

Weeks later, however, according to Stanton, the judges were still trying to get a solid address where they could send Hohrod and Eschbach’s medal and certificate. Only sometime after that did the truth emerge: There was no Hohrod or Eschbach, and the perfect fit of the poem with the initial impulse behind the arts events was no accident. Worried that there wouldn’t be enough entries in his beloved arts competitions, the baron had written the poem himself.”

In London, four years ago, British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy‘s poem ‘Eton Manor’ traced the 100 year history of the venue chosen for the Paralympics.

The Friday Poem this week is ‘Summer Olympics Look’ American poet J. Allyn Rosser‘s observation of how we view the Olympics @home.

Summer Olympics Look

Only five of us were arguing about the score
of a forward one-and-a-half triple twist
with absolutely rip entry, executed
by an unpronounceable stiff-stepping Russian,
because the sixth was busy in the kitchen.
I couldn’t help noticing how Jane had made
every surface sparkle, clutter-free, neat tray
of snacks, napkins fanned on the coffee table,
fresh daisies on the mantel and by the door.
The Russian’s entry was smooth, minimal splash,
but his come out had been a tiny bit clumsy.
So Jane’s future ex-husband said, anyway,
and when he called out that he wouldn’t mind
another beer as long as she was up,
and she called back that she’d just brought him one,
he had to say something. Because there it stood,
still frosty, darkening the coaster at his elbow.
He said now that’s the sign of a good wife,
like a good waitress, you’re hardly even aware
when she’s there. By now Jane had entered,
her arms crossed in a kind of tuck position.
Her approach was understated but forceful,
and the deftness of the look she sent him
when he finally looked up at her
was so pure and deep and swift, it left
hardly a ripple there in the room among us.

J. Allyn Rosser   The Smithsonian Magazine, July 2012

 

The Friday Poem ‘To the Indifferent Women’ by Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman

Last night a woman accepted the nomination of a major political party for the first time in the history of the United States. The next president will preside over the commemoration of the centennial of the 19th amendment, which extended suffrage – the right to vote, to women.

To mark history, the Friday Poem this week is ‘To the Indifferent Women’ and was first published in 1911. Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman called herself a humanist. She was a poet, author, magazine editor and feminist in a lifetime that began with the civil war and ended in the great depression.

Although the words were set to paper over a century ago, the message resonates today.

“We all may have our homes in joy and peace
When woman’s life, in its rich power of love
Is joined with man’s to care for all the world.”

To The Indifferent Women

A Sestina

You who are happy in a thousand homes,
Or overworked therein, to a dumb peace;
Whose souls are wholly centered in the life
Of that small group you personally love;
Who told you that you need not know or care
About the sin and sorrow of the world?

Do you believe the sorrow of the world
Does not concern you in your little homes? —
That you are licensed to avoid the care
And toil for human progress, human peace,
And the enlargement of our power of love
Until it covers every field of life?

The one first duty of all human life
Is to promote the progress of the world
In righteousness, in wisdom, truth and love;
And you ignore it, hidden in your homes,
Content to keep them in uncertain peace,
Content to leave all else without your care.

Yet you are mothers! And a mother’s care
Is the first step toward friendly human life.
Life where all nations in untroubled peace
Unite to raise the standard of the world
And make the happiness we seek in homes
Spread everywhere in strong and fruitful love.

You are content to keep that mighty love
In its first steps forever; the crude care
Of animals for mate and young and homes,
Instead of pouring it abroad in life,
Its mighty current feeding all the world
Till every human child can grow in peace.

You cannot keep your small domestic peace
Your little pool of undeveloped love,
While the neglected, starved, unmothered world
Struggles and fights for lack of mother’s care,
And its tempestuous, bitter, broken life
Beats in upon you in your selfish homes.

We all may have our homes in joy and peace
When woman’s life, in its rich power of love
Is joined with man’s to care for all the world.

Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman  ‘Suffrage Songs and Voices’ 1911

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Convention photo credit: Marcus Yam for The Los Angeles Times

 

‘In the Planetarium’ a poem by James Doyle

In the past couple of days we marked two events in the history of U.S. space exploration: man’s first walk on the moon and the end of the space shuttle program.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist John Noble Wilford recalled his coverage of the moon landing for the New York Times from NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“July 20,1969 — a date that lives in my memory as the great divide, the B.C. to A.D., in my journalism career. It was the day of the first walk on the moon by humans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and I covered the event for The Times from mission control in Houston.

I began my front-page article with a sentence as simple as it was astonishing:

Men have landed and walked on the moon.

Two Americans, astronauts of Apollo 11, steered their fragile four-legged lunar module safely and smoothly to the historic landing yesterday at 4:17:40 P.M., Eastern daylight time.

Neil A. Armstrong, the 38-year-old civilian commander, radioed to earth and the mission control room here:

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

On July 21, 2011 the space shuttle Atlantis landed on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida ending the 135th mission and 30 years of the U.S. Space Shuttle program. Today visitors can tour an exhibit at the site in Florida “displayed as only spacewalking astronauts have seen her before — rotated 43.21 degrees with payload doors open and its Canadarm (robotic arm) extended, as it has just undocked from the International Space Station.” 

Astronauts still travel into space. As I write this, the 60th woman to fly in space, Kate Rubins, orbits among the stars above us.

I wonder if this Friday’s poem was written for her by a friend who accompanied her on a school field trip to the Planetarium.

In the Planetarium

I read the palms of the other
kids on the field trip to see
which ones would grow up

to be astronauts. The lifeline
on Betty Lou’s beautiful hand
ended the day after tomorrow,

so I told her how the rest
of our lives is vastly over-rated,
even in neighboring galaxies.

When she asked me how I knew
so much, I said I watched
War of the Worlds six times

and, if she went with me to
the double-feature tomorrow,
I’d finish explaining the universe.

I smiled winningly. The Halley’s Comet
lecture by our teacher whooshed in
my one ear and out the other.

James Doyle   ‘The Long View Just Keeps Treading Water’, Accents Publishing, 2012

(Photo Scott Kelly #YearInSpace “Looking out to the Milky Way”)

@ the Crossroads – A Sudden American Poem by Juan Felipe Herrera

The Friday Poem this week was posted on Sunday by U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera.

“The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.”

With ‘@ the Crossroads – A Sudden American Poem’, Mr. Herrera fulfills his national role in memorializing and celebrating the lives of all…as a first step.

@ the Crossroads—A Sudden American Poem

RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all their families. And to all those injured.

Let us celebrate the lives of all

As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths

Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace

& chanted Black Lives Matter

Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect

Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,

Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke

Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately

Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find

The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing
Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him

what happened in Afghanistan

what

flames burned inside
(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot

Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm

& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was

That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas)
This could be the first step

in the new evaluation of our society This could be

the first step of all of our lives

Juan Felipe Herrera,  July 8, 2016  (originally published on Poets.org)

‘From the Somme’ a poem by Leslie Coulson

The Friday Poem this week is ‘From the Somme’, by journalist, poet and soldier of the first world war, Leslie Coulson. The poem was included in a collection of poetry, ‘first world war  poems’, published in 2014.

“Leslie Coulson fought in Malta, Egypt and Gallipoli, where he was wounded. He recovered in hospital in Egypt, was sent to France and was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme. Shortly before he died, he wrote in a letter, ‘If I should fall do not grieve for me. I shall be one with the wind and the sun and the flowers.'”

In remembrance of the Battle of the Somme, one of the lesser known poets of the great war reflects on the impact of the battle on his worldview. His voice carries through the century to speak to all who are transformed by tragedy.

From the Somme

In other days I sang of simple things,
Of summer dawn, and summer noon and night,
The dewy grass, the dew-wet fairy rings,
The larks long golden flight.

Deep in the forest I made melody
While squirrels cracked their hazel nuts on high,
Or I would cross the wet sand to the sea
And sing to sea and sky.

When came the silvered silence of the night
I stole to casements over scented lawns,
And softly sang of love and love’s delight
To mute white marble fauns.

Oft in the tavern parlour I would sing
Of morning sun upon the mountain vine,
And, calling for a chorus, sweep the string
In praise of good red wine.

I played with all the toys the gods provide,
I sang my songs and made glad holiday
Now I have cast my broken toys aside
And flung my lute away.

A singer once, I now am fain to weep,
Within my soul I feel strange music swell,
Vast chants of tragedy too deep – too deep
For my poor lips to tell.

Leslie Coulson (1889-1916)  ‘first world war poems’ edited by Jane McMorland Hunter, 2014

The Friday Poem ‘so you want to be a writer?’ by Charles Bukowski

The Friday Poem selection this week asks a question about career choice. Poet Charles Bukowski is advising the aspiring writer, but his message is universal. Just substitute your dream job and recognize the parallels. “…if you’re doing it for money or fame, don’t do it.”

so you want to be a writer?

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

Charles Bukowski  published posthumously 2003

The Friday Poem @ the intersection of Maya Angelou, Hillary Clinton and Muhammad Ali

Maya, Muhammad and Hillary. Not three names you would intuitively link together, but that’s what history claimed this week, as a ‘political poet’ passed, and a deceased poet’s 2008 words echoed in the background of a rally at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The news of the death of Muhammad Ali literally stopped the presses at the New York Times early Saturday morning. On Wednesday, newspapers across the country led with the history making headline reporting “Hillary Clinton‘s nomination: A win 96 years in the making”.

It will not be an easy road to November for Secretary Clinton as reported by Patrick Healy and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

“When Hillary Clinton swept onto the stage at her victory rally Tuesday night, the thunderbolt of history struck many Americans, no matter their love or loathing for her: A woman could be the next president of the United States.

But like so much about Mrs. Clinton, her speech, which lit up televisions and smartphones and social media all day Wednesday, produced conflicting emotions.

For some, it was an inspiring moment that brought home in a visceral way that Mrs. Clinton is the first woman to become the presumptive nominee of a major party. For others, there were chills and discomfort that this next step forward in our national story was unfolding with this particular woman.”

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The candidate might take heart from the poem Maya Angelou submitted to The Observer in 2008, with the backstory told by Vanessa Thorpe for The Guardian.

“She is supporting Clinton despite her close friendship with television personality and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, a prominent backer of rival Democrat Barack Obama, the first black presidential hopeful with a real chance of reaching the White House.

Angelou is steadfast in her loyalty to Clinton. She said recently: ‘I made up my mind 15 years ago that if she ever ran for office I’d be on her wagon. My only difficulty with Senator Obama is that I believe in going out with who I went in with.’

Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, said of the poem: ‘This is a great thing for The Observer to have.’ He favourably compared it with the ‘vivid flourishes’ of Angelou’s recent work. ‘With this kind of poem Angelou has decided to interpret public writing as a verbal equivalent of making a poster, and there’s nothing wrong with this. The rhetoric is full of big gestures that make a direct appeal to our feelings, rather than getting to it by the little winding ways more personal poetry might use.'”

The poem:

State Package for Hillary Clinton

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may tread me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

This is not the first time you have seen Hillary Clinton seemingly at her wits’ end, but she has always risen, always risen, don’t forget she has always risen, much to the dismay of her adversaries and the delight of her friends.

Hillary Clinton will not give up on you and all she asks of you is that you do not give up on her.

There is a world of difference between being a woman and being an old female. If you’re born a girl, grow up, and live long enough, you can become an old female. But to become a woman is a serious matter. A woman takes responsibility for the time she takes up and the space she occupies. Hillary Clinton is a woman. She has been there and done that and has still risen. She is in this race for the long haul. She intends to make a difference in our country. Hillary Clinton intends to help our country to be what it can become.

She declares she wants to see more smiles in the family, more courtesies between men and women, more honesty in the marketplace. She is the prayer of every woman and man who longs for fair play, healthy families, good schools, and a balanced economy.

She means to rise.

Don’t give up on Hillary. In fact, if you help her to rise, you will rise with her and help her make this country the wonderful, wonderful place where every man and every woman can live freely without sanctimonious piety and without crippling fear.

Rise, Hillary.

Rise.

Maya Angelou, 2008

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On Thursday, Henry Louis Gates Jr. recalled ‘Muhammad Ali, the Political Poet’. In the essay he linked Angelou and Ali by their poetry, often labeled ‘doggerel’.

“Perhaps Maya Angelou, whose own poetry is sometimes labeled doggerel, said it best: “It wasn’t only what he said and it wasn’t only how he said it; it was both of those things, and maybe there was a third thing in it, the spirit of Muhammad Ali, saying his poesies — ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’ I mean, as a poet, I like that! If he hadn’t put his name on it, I might have chosen to use that!”

“It would be a mistake to say that Ali made black oral poetry more sophisticated or complex, but he did make it more political. After learning his local draft board had declared him eligible for induction into the Army in 1966, Ali recited this poem:

Keep asking me, no matter how long,
On the war in Vietnam,
I sing this song:
I ain’t got no quarrel with no Viet Cong.

On this Friday, we pause to remember the athlete, humanitarian and role model who was Muhammad Ali, we celebrate a milestone for women, and reflect on the words of two American poets who significantly influenced our culture.

 

 

‘The Work of Happiness’ a poem by May Sarton

The Friday Poem this week is ‘The Work of Happiness’ by May Sarton a writer whose talent was expressed in fiction, autobiography and poetry.

“My first book was a book of poems, Encounter in April, followed by my first novel, The Single Hound. There was quite an interval before the second novel, The Bridge of Years. And then Shadow of a Man. Then it goes on and on for a long time with a book of poems between every novel. That was my wish, that the poems should be equal in number, that the novels should not be more important than the poems because the poems were what I cared about most. Much later, when I was forty-five or so, I began to do nonfiction—first the memoirs and finally the journals, which came as the last of the forms which I have been using. Altogether now I think it amounts to seventeen novels, I don’t know, five or six memoirs and journals, and then twelve books of poems, which are mostly in the collected poems now.”  The Paris Review interview, Fall 1983

Her poetry emerges from reflection and solitude, a choice she explored in a 1974 essay, ‘The Rewards of Living a Solitary Life’.

“The other day an acquaintance of mine, a gregarious and charming man, told me he had found himself unexpectedly alone in New York for an hour or two between appointments. He went to the Whitney and spent the “empty” time looking at things in solitary bliss. For him it proved to be a shock nearly as great as falling in love to discover that he could enjoy himself so much alone…Solitude is the salt of personhood. It brings out the authentic flavor of every experience.”

In the poem, Ms. Sarton provides an alternate view of happiness – “for what is happiness but growth in peace”.

The Work of Happiness

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall—
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

May Sarton   ‘Collected Poems 1930 – 1993’

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