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Archive for February, 2011

Today I went to the Museum of Outdoor Arts in Englewood, Colorado (near Denver) to see the Nick Bantock “Griffin & Sabine & Beyond” Retrospective exhibit.

One of the things I love about the found-art object / collage art of Nick Bantock is the way he interweaves literature and poetry into his work. He is a poet’s artist!

As I wandered through his work, looking here and reading there, I noticed that he used this stanza from nursery rhyme as part of one elaborate wall of found-artwork:

Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye —
four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing!
Oh, wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?

Of course, I loved the reference to birds, and the idea that they lived and sang when they otherwise might have died in an oven. So I went home to find the rest of the rhyme, and it goes like this:

The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
the queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey,
the maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes —
when down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

This second verse isn’t nearly as magical or wondrous as the first. It made me wonder what the poem could really be about! So I read around online and discovered an explanation that sees this as a commentary on King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Whether it is or isn’t, Nick Bantock makes striking use of the rhyme in his art.

But he doesn’t stop with children’s verses. He also illustrates Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, evokes Dante’s journey though purgatory, and imagines a dream of the Artful Dodger from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. He does astonishing things with color and juxtaposition. I love his work.

In some ways, it takes me into my own soul. In others, it takes me into the wonder and the wildness of nature. Then, finally or once again or from the beginning, it draws me into the ever-expanding universe of darkness and light.

The Elephant Luggage

Oregon Pairs

The Forgetting Room

Blue Flowers

Orange Triptych

At the exhibit, there’s a short film that ends by quoting one of Sabine’s letters to Griffin. (Griffin and Sabine are Nick Bantock’s two most famous characters, two people who may or may not be real, and who carry on a correspondence that reveals their deep love for each other even though it seems impossible that they will ever meet.) I think it is a fitting note from the artist to his admirers … and, as I end this post, from me to you:

“Bring yourself home to me, and I will immerse you

in every bit of tenderness I possess.”


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Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a one-man dramatic performance by John “Chuck” Chalberg who was impersonating G.K. Chesterton, “the prince of paradox,” a man who wrote the Father Brown mysteries, a biography of Saint Francis, and more than 75 other books; he famously influenced C.S. Lewis. As Chalberg showed, he was dramatic, funny, and meaningful. And tho’ of course I don’t agree with everything Chesterton believed, I can’t deny that Chalberg made him very persuasive!

One of the types of poems that Chesterton delighted in writing was the “clerihew,” and to celebrate the Chesterton evening last night, the audience was challenged to write clerihews, too.

What is a clerihew? Invented by Edward Clerihew Bentley, it is a whimsical biographical poem usually poking fun at famous people. The first line names the person. The poem has a total of four lines and a rhyme scheme of AABB. Anyone can be subjected to clerihew treatment  — architects, economists, and even other poets! Here are some examples from the clerihew inventor himself:

(1)Sir Christopher Wren
Went to dine with some men
He said, “If anyone calls,
Say I’m designing Saint Paul’s.”

(2) John Stuart Mill,
By a mighty effort of will,
Overcame his natural bonhomie
And wrotePrinciples of Economy.

(3)The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes;
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.

Edward Clerihew Bentley (1905)

Michael Curl wrote a clerihew in honor of the inventor of the clerihew. Here it is:

E. C. Bentley
Mused while he ought to have studied intently;
It was this muse
That inspired clerihews.

So the question that naturally emerges from gaining knowledge of this most recent of poetic forms is  … do you clerihew? Try it!

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My sister Alice is awesome. At the moment, she’s a senior in high school and getting all her college acceptance letters (hooray! I am so proud of you!!) after months of waiting on pins and needles. She’s also a devout Christian, and her youth pastor has asked her to preach to her youth group, the Rebellion. (Yes, the Rebellion, an inner city youth group at Church on the Hill in Vallejo, California.) She’s preaching on the theme made fearless. She called to tell me about it, and I got to encourage her. Women preachers run in our family: I preach, our sister Anne preaches, and now Alice will preach the gospel, too. Soli Deo gloria.

As we talked, Alice shared with me a poem she recently wrote. It is modeled on a poem by José Martí, a 19th century Latin American poet from Cuba who wrote in Spanish. The poem by Martí emphasizes a repeated refrain; likewise, the poem by Alice does, too. Alice’s poem is in Spanish (about which she modestly says, “not perfect Spanish, I wish I was fluent!”), but she has provided an English translation for readers of The Poetry Place. I’ve provided a translation of of José Martí. Spanglish readers, read on!

“Selección de Versos Sencillos: XLIV”
José Martí

Tiene el leopardo un abrigo the leopard has a coat
En su monte seco y pardo: in his mountain dry and dark:
Yo tengo más que el leopardo, I have more than the leopard
Porque tengo un buen amigo. because I have a dear friend.

Duerme, como en un juguete, She sleeps, as if inside a toy,
La mushma en su cojinete the Japanese girl on her cushion
De arce del Japón: yo digo: under a Japanese maple. I say:
“No hay cojín como un amigo.” “there is no cushion like a friend.”

Tiene el conde su abolengo: The count has his ancestry,
Tiene la aurora el mendigo: the dawn has her beggar,
Tiene ala el ave: ¡yo tengo the bird has its wing:  but I have,
Allá en México un amigo! there in Mexico, a friend!

Tiene el señor presidente The respectable old president
Un jardín con una fuente, has a garden with a fountain,
Y un tesoro en oro y trigo: and a treasure of gold and wheat,
Tengo más, tengo un amigo. but I have more: I have a friend.

“Un Dios Quién Me Ama”
Alice Holthuis

Se dice que está contento
con la vida tal como es,
pero tengo un Dios
quién me ama.

Se dice que se vive para el fin
de semana, ¿Por qué no vive para
hoy? Porque tengo un Dios
quién me ama.

Se dice que “Estoy tan enamorado.”
Pero el día siguente, se rompa
el corazón. ¿Puedo decirle
de Dios quién me ama?

Se dice que ha tratado eso antes,
que éste no es su “cosa.”
¿Sabe qué me alegro porque
Dios me ama?

Se dice que no hay esperanza, propósito, no tiene prisa…
Yo he encontrado esperanza, propósito,
y un razón para vivir
en el Dios quién me ama.

“A God Who Loves Me”
Alice Holthuis

You say that you are content
with life as it is,
but I have a God
who loves me.

You say that you live for the weekend,
but why not live for today?
Because I have a God
who loves me.

You say that you’re so in love,
but the next day you break her heart.
Can I tell you about the God
who loves me?

You say you’ve tried that before,
this isn’t your “thing.”
Do you not know that I rejoice
because God loves me?

You say there is no hope, no hurry,
no purpose. I found purpose,
hope, and a reason to live
in the God who loves me.

I appreciated my sister’s poetic work because it really is a well structured, bilingual poetry lesson. Begin with a poem in a language other than English. Translate it. Write your own poem in the language of the poet, following the model the poet has provided, but enlarge or change the meaning, the message, with your own ideas. Then translate your own poem into English. Every poet can and should do this kind of work in order to explore the possibilities of poetic language in translation.

I encourage you to try it!

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Haiku by Issa

the willow yields

to let me pass

beyond the hedge

Issa

trans. Nobuyuki Yuasa

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VANISHING POINT

Staring, you look for clues.
Where is the evidence, the proof.

In your stare, I watch myself gazing,
enamored, at skylines,
or blinded by a pine cone in hand.

Love, when it stays, is traceless.
Whose hand stretched first offering is no matter.
The bodies press together in their many ways.

The one coarse piece of cloth drapes us both
and softens on the curves of our bodies
and our lives fit well.

When two people walk far enough into the distance,
they merge.

Gary Metras

in Passionate Hearts (1996)

LOVERS IN A RED SKY

If only I could enter the paint,
and become one with the paint,
we could fly across the red sky
over the charcoal outline of the town.

I could show you my breasts
above the white skirt of my wedding dress,
and wrap my arm around your head like a charm,
gazing at your face, looking into your eyes.

The yellow fish would leap over death!
Gabriel would bring us baby’s breath!
The bird of hope would flutter by like a butterfly,
opening to the future, closing to the past.

Jane Beal

Love-Song (2010)

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… in his poetry collection, SEVEN NOTEBOOKS:

“But here’s one perfect, heart-shaped berry, and half a row later, three more, in the shadows, overlooked. Where has my family gone? Where is everybody? I find myself abandoned in the fields, illumined by shafts of sunlight through lavender clouds, bodiless, unmoored and entirely happy.” Blueberry Notebook (p.13)

“Reading Walt Whitman at Dawn”

Wakened by the sound
of feet on the porch I find
two sparrows, hopping!

What is the dune grass
trying to do — praise the sun
or go back to sleep?

Friendly grasshopper,
tell me the name of that bird
and I’ll sing with you.

Dawn Notebook (p.110)

“Why have these haiku chosen me as their instrument?” from “August 6” (p.134)

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