Monday, October 27, 2008

It Happens Like This

Reading "It Happens Like This" by James Tate, I feel like the poem keeps slipping through my fingers as it evolves in surprising ways. Only this isn't frustrating at all--it's enjoyable.

The critic Dana Gioia said that Tate "domesticated surrealism," which, previously, seemed foreign to Americans. See if you like how Tate employs surrealism here.

It Happens Like This

I was outside St. Cecelia's Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There's
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. "It's not my goat,"
I explained. "It's the town's goat. I'm just taking
my turn caring for it." "I didn't know we had a goat,"
one of them said. "I wonder when my turn is." "Soon,"
I said. "Be patient. Your time is coming." The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. "That's a mighty
fine goat you got there," he said, stopping to admire.
"It's the town's goat," I said. "His family goes back
three-hundred years with us," I said, "from the beginning."
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. "Mind if I pat him?" he asked.
"Touching this goat will change your life," I said.
"It's your decision." He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, "What's his name?" "He's
called the Prince of Peace," I said. "God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there's mystery
and wonder. And I'm just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry." "We forgive you,
Officer," I said. "And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince." The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.

James Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1943. He was something of a prodigy, winning the prestigious Yale Younger Poets prize for his book The Lost Pilot when he was just 23 years old. He currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Coming Thro' the Rye by Robert Burns

"Coming Thro' the Rye" is the poem referenced in J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye, from which Salinger hatched his title. Salinger's protagonist, Holden Caulfield, misquotes and misunderstands the poem, using it as the basis for a fantasy about catching children in a field before they fall off a cliff--thereby maintaining their innocence. But Burns beautiful poem is about innocence lost. It describes a woman, Jenny, who "meets" (if you know what I mean) a man in a rye field.

Coming thro' the rye, poor body,
Coming thro' the rye,
She draiglet a' her petticoatie
Coming thro' the rye.

O, Jenny's a' wat, poor body;
Jenny's seldom dry;
She draiglet a' her petticoatie
Coming thro' the rye.

Gin a body meet a body
Coming thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body -
Need a body cry?

Gin a body meet a body
Coming thro' the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body -
Need the warld ken?

Robert Burns (1759-1796) is considered the national bard of Scotland. His poetry often depicts traditional Scottish culture and farm life.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ode to Sean Hannity by John Cleese

This week, a stirring portrait of a journalist by comedic icon John Cleese.  It made me laugh.

Ode to Sean Hannity

Aping urbanity
Oozing with vanity
Plump as a manatee
Faking humanity
Journalistic calamity
Intellectual inanity
Fox Noise insanity
You’re a profanity

Ed's note: Hannity also features himself on the most smug website ever.

John Cleese is...oh, you know who he is.

Friday, October 03, 2008

England in 1819 by Percy Bysshe Shelley

This week, a brutal political poem from Shelley.  

England in 1819

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,--mud from a muddy spring,
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless--a book sealed;
A Senate,--Time's worst statute unrepealed,
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestous day.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4, 1792 in Sussex, England. He is considered to be one of the great poets of the British Romantic Period along with William Wordsworth, Lord Byron and John Keats. Like Keats, Shelley died young, drowning in a shipwreck shortly before his thirtieth birthday.