Friday, May 25, 2007

Take the I Out by Sharon Olds

Notice how this Sharon Olds poem moves smoothly and swiftly between variations on “I,” and how it delights in its language. Olds is one of our best-known confessional poets, and her vulnerability, power, and sensuality are demonstrated here.

Take the I Out

But I love the I, steel I-beam
that my father sold. They poured the pig iron
into the mold, and it fed out slowly,
a bending jelly in the bath, and it hardened,
Bessemer, blister, crucible, alloy, and he
marketed it, and bought bourbon, and Cream
of Wheat, its curl of butter right
in the middle of its forehead, he paid for our dresses
with his metal sweat, sweet in the morning
and sour in the evening. I love the I,
frail between its flitches, its hard ground
and hard sky, it soars between them
like the soul that rushes, back and forth,
between the mother and father. What if they had loved each other,
how would it have felt to be the strut
joining the floor and roof of the truss?
I have seen, on his shirt-cardboard, years
in her desk, the night they made me, the penciled
slope of her temperature rising, and on
the peak of the hill, first soldier to reach
the crest, the Roman numeral I--
I, I, I, I,
girders of identity, head on,
embedded in the poem. I love the I
for its premise of existence--our I--when I was
born, part gelid, I lay with you
on the cooling table, we were all there, a
forest of felled iron. The I is a pine,
resinous, flammable root to crown,
which throws its cones as far as it can in a fire.

Born in San Francisco on November 19, 1942, Sharon Olds is the author of many successful books of poetry. She held the position of New York State Poet from 1998 to 2000. She currently teaches poetry workshops at New York University's Graduate Creative Writing Program as well as a workshop at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"What Do Women Want?" by Kim Addonizio

This one's pretty self-explanatory.

"What Do Women Want?"

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.

Kim Addonizio was born in Washington, D.C., in 1954. She is the author of three books of poetry. She currently teaches in the M.F.A. program at Goddard College and lives in San Francisco.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Colonel by Carolyn Forche

The Colonel is a prose poem: a poem that isn't broken up into lines. You're probably thinking, "doesn't that just make it a story?" Well, sort of. The line between a prose poem and a very short story is pretty much negligible, but, in general, a prose poem should exhibit the characteristics of poetry more strongly than prose does. For example, it may be thematically structured like a poem, it may be more musical, and it may pay more attention to imagery and metaphor.

This is one of a series of poems about Forche's experience working for Amnesty International in El Salvador in the late 70's. You can read these in her book The Country Between Us.

The Colonel

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistolon the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

Carolyn Forché was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1950, and is the author of four books of poetry. She teaches in the MFA Program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Self Portrait by Adam Zagajewski

Adam Zagajewski’s Self Portrait (translated by Claire Cavanaugh) is clever, moves easily between the common/sentimental and the high-minded, and feels honest. How would you describe yourself to an audience, in so many lines?

Self Portrait

Between the computer, a pencil, and a typewriter
half my day passes. One day it will be half a century.
I live in strange cities and sometimes talk
with strangers about matters strange to me.
I listen to music a lot: Bach, Mahler, Chopin, Shostakovich.
I see three elements in music: weakness, power, and pain.
The fourth has no name.
I read poets, living and dead, who teach me
tenacity, faith, and pride. I try to understand
the great philosophers--but usually catch just
scraps of their precious thoughts.
I like to take long walks on Paris streets
and watch my fellow creatures, quickened by envy,
anger, desire; to trace a silver coin
passing from hand to hand as it slowly
loses its round shape (the emperor's profile is erased).
Beside me trees expressing nothing
but a green, indifferent perfection.
Black birds pace the fields,
waiting patiently like Spanish widows.
I'm no longer young, but someone else is always older.
I like deep sleep, when I cease to exist,
and fast bike rides on country roads when poplars and houses
dissolve like cumuli on sunny days.
Sometimes in museums the paintings speak to me
and irony suddenly vanishes.
I love gazing at my wife's face.
Every Sunday I call my father.
Every other week I meet with friends,
thus proving my fidelity.
My country freed itself from one evil. I wish
another liberation would follow.
Could I help in this? I don't know.
I'm truly not a child of the ocean,
as Antonio Machado wrote about himself,
but a child of air, mint and cello
and not all the ways of the high world
cross paths with the life that--so far--
belongs to me.

Poet, novelist, and essayist Adam Zagajewski was born in Lwów, Poland in 1945. He is one of Poland's most famous contemporary poets. Since 1988, he has served as Visiting Associate Professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston.