Friday, April 25, 2008

The Anactoria Poem by Sappho

This week: Jim Powell’s beautiful translation of Sappho’s Anactoria poem. Her passion, as always, shines through.

The Anactoria Poem

Some say thronging cavalry, some say foot soldiers,
others call a fleet the most beautiful of
sights the dark earth offers, but I say it's what-
ever you love best.

And it's easy to make this understood by
everyone, for she who surpassed all human
kind in beauty, Helen, abandoning her
husband--that best of

men--went sailing off to the shores of Troy and
never spent a thought on her child or loving
parents: when the goddess seduced her wits and
left her to wander,

she forgot them all, she could not remember
anything but longing, and lightly straying
aside, lost her way. But that reminds me
now: Anactória,

she's not here, and I'd rather see her lovely
step, her sparkling glance and her face than gaze on
all the troops in Lydia in their chariots and
glittering armor.

Sappho lived in 7th-6th Century BC on the Greek island of Lesbos. While not much is known about her life, she is believed to have run a school for women that was dedicated to the cult of Eros and Aphrodite. She was highly regarded by the ancients and remains highly regarded today.

Friday, April 18, 2008

This Is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams

Williams was an oddity in that he rarely used metaphor. There are no hidden meanings in This Is Just to Say. The poem is exactly what it claims to be. Its power stems from its images, clarity of language, and the "energy" Williams creates using line breaks. He recreates the experience of actually tasting the plums.

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

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.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Nichol by Kwame Dawes

Nichol, by Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes, is part of a series Dawes wrote about his home country's battle against HIV/AIDS. The Pulitzer Center has put together a terrific website on the issue, using Dawes' poems a launching point. Check it out here.


How coolly it has broken you,
trying to mask the knowing
wit behind your eyes—

every smile, brilliant
against your gleaming
black skin, is defiance.

You stammer, push out
words; tell your story;
slap your knees to show

where your stroke frozen
body would crawl
across the concrete

to reach the yard,
with the gawking
on-lookers. You laugh

“Man must live.
Man must live.”
How casually broken.

Tall lanky man,
hands clawed, yams
dangling, and the sweet

club mans charm
in your grin, still all those
women slain by your art.

You stretch out your legs,
tell your story slow,
persistent as the crawl

you made towards sunlight,
the way you pulled
your body upright,

the way you made tender
the toughness of hard men
who would soon wash you,

feed you with oily fingers
full of mashed ackee
and tomatoes, who have

held you against
the night, men, tough
as teeth, hard men.

"Man must live.
Man must live."
The virus stalks

through your blood,
manages to tickle,
make you laugh

at a new sunny day--
and yours is the posture
of survival.

Kwame Dawes was born in Ghana and raised in Kingston Jamaica. He currently teaches English and is the Poet in Residence at the University of South Carolina.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Excerpt from The Ghost Trio by Linda Bierds

This excerpt from her poem The Ghost Trio is Bierds at her best: evocative imagery and smooth yet dramatic transitions. The full poem is available here.

The Winter: 1748

A little satin like wind at the door.
My mother slips past in great side hoops,
arced like the ears of elephants
on her head a goat-white wig,
on her cheek a dollop of mole.

She has entered the evening, and I
her room with its hazel light.
Where her wig had rested is a leather head,
a stand, perfect in its shadow but
carrying in fact, where the face should be,
a swath of door. It cups

in its skull-curved closure
clay hair stays, a pouch of wig talc
that snows at random and lends to the table

a neck-shaped ring.
When I reach inside I am frosted,
my hand like a pond in winter, pale
fingers below of leaves or carp.

I have studied a painting from Holland,
where a village adjourns to a frozen river.
Skaters and sleighs, of course, but
ale tents, the musk of chestnuts,

someone thick on a chair with a lap robe.
I do not know what becomes of them
when the flow revisits. Or why
they have moved from their warm hearthstones
to settle there—except that one step

is a method of gliding,
the self for those moments
weightless and preened as my leather companion.
And I do not know if the fish there
have frozen, or wait in some stasis
like flowers. Perhaps they are stunned
by the strange heaven—dotted with

boot soles and chair legs
and are slumped on the mud-rich bottom—
waiting through time for a kind of shimmer,
an image perhaps, something
known and familiar, something

rushing above in their own likeness,
silver and blade-thin at the rim of the world.

Linda Bierds was raised in Anchorage, Alaska. She teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of Washington. Her books include First Hand, The Seconds, and The Profile Makers.