Thursday, September 27, 2007

Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio by James Wright

Teaching intro workshops, I read a lot of bad poems about football. This is a good one.

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 Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on December 13, 1927. His father worked for fifty years at a glass factory, and his mother left school at fourteen to work in a laundry; neither attended school beyond the eighth grade. In 1972, his Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He died in New York City in 1980.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Green Crab's Shell by Mark Doty

Here's a poem that revels in its images. Notice how the poem celebrates the crab (it's an Ode, really) then springboards out to say something about human life. And you people eat these things!

A Green Crab's Shell

Not, exactly, green:
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,

something retrieved
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly

muscular. We cannot
know what his fantastic
legs were like--

though evidence
suggests eight
complexly folded

scuttling works
of armament, crowned
by the foreclaws'

gesture of menace
and power. A gull's
gobbled the center,

leaving this chamber
--size of a demitasse--
open to reveal

a shocking, Giotto blue.
Though it smells
of seaweed and ruin,

this little traveling case
comes with such lavish lining!
Imagine breathing

surrounded by
the brilliant rinse
of summer's firmament.

What color is
the underside of skin?
Not so bad, to die,

if we could be opened
into this--
if the smallest chambers

of ourselves,
revealed some sky.

Mark Doty was born in 1953. He is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently School of the Arts (HarperCollins, 2005), Source (2002), and Sweet Machine (1998). Doty has received fellowships from the Guggenheim, Ingram Merrill, Rockefeller, and Whiting foundations, and from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Houston, Texas, where he teaches at the University of Houston.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus by William Carlos Williams

This William Carlos Williams poem is an example of ecphrasis: a written description of a visual work of art. It comes from the Greek for to "speak out" or "name" an inanimate object. I've included the Brueghel painting below. You can see poor Icarus' legs just below the ship.

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1883. He was a practicing doctor, and a principal poet of the Imagist movement, which stressed precision of imagery, and clear, sharp language. His major works include Kora in Hell (1920), Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), the five-volume epic Paterson (1963, 1992), and Imaginations (1970). Williams's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1948 and a series of strokes, but he continued writing up until his death in New Jersey in 1963.