Four Poets for March beginning with Jane Hirshfield

March 4, 2020

As you all know by now, many of the poets and publishers who were scheduled to appear at the AWP conference in San Antonio this week have had to cancel due to concerns about the Coronavirus. It’s possible that by the time you read this post, the entire conference may be shut down. People who have cancelled their participation have done so unselfishly, not just worried about their own health but by the possibility of being vectors in the communities to which they will return. It is my hope that those of us who can will support poets and their publishers this month. So much hard work and expense has gone into the creation of many books that would have seen robust sales at the conference.

Today’s post will highlight the first of four poets with recent publications that I’ll be featuring over the next week or so: Jane Hirshfield. Future posts will include Patrick Cahill, Ulalume Gonzalez de Leon and Joseph Zaccardi.

Before moving on to Hirshfield’s work, however, I’d like to share one comment I received about the work of Buffalo poet Irene Sipos, WordTemple’s most recent highlight.

“Katherine, thanks for the introduction to Irene Sipos. Sometimes it amazes me to think how many fine, unrecognized poets and writers there are in the world. I especially enjoyed the imaginative quality of ‘Globe.’ One of those poems I wish I had written! ‘Election 2016’ was sobering and brought back some memories I’d rather forget, but that’s a sign of the effectiveness of the poem. I love the quoted sign from the Women’s March: ‘My arms are tired from holding this sign since the seventies.’ Isn’t that the truth! Thanks for your blog. It is so wonderful to hear your voice speaking about poetry (and I can hear it in my mind). It reminds me of the wonderful introductions you gave to poets who came to WordTemple.

— Jodi Hottel, Santa Rosa CA

Jane Hirshfield

I gave a heads up about a month ago that Jane Hirshfield has a new book coming out, her ninth, from Knopf. The book is Ledger and will be released on March 10. When I asked her to provide me with a personal statement about the collection, Hirshfield couldn’t help being her kind, generous self:

“I’ve so long admired the work Katherine Hastings does on behalf of poems and poets, from the time I was part of the launch reading of her WordTemple Poetry Series…in Sonoma County, until now: This new book, in turn, is trying to work on behalf of beings wordless, speechless…newts and old-growth cedars, spider monkeys and jumping spiders, rivers and marshes and mountains. They are of course also foundation stones, rafters, and windows of this temple we live in.” — Jane Hirshfield

Ledger has already been called “masterful” by Publisher’s Weekly and “clarion” by Booklist, in starred early reviews. The San Francisco Chronicle praises its ‘exploration of the capacity for life, its value and purpose.’ Knopf says this is a “book of personal, ecological and political reckoning…(it’s) center of gravity lies in poems that recount, and take account of, the crises of the biosphere and social justice. There are poems with other subjects as well — poems on wanting to be surprised, on reading a library book with previously turned-down pages, on the death of a friend of forty years. Hirshfield has come to stand among the ranks of our master poets. This new book, both tonic and essential, faces the challenges of the current world with acute tenderness and compassion, amid the abiding remembrance of shared fate.”

Here now are a few poems from Ledger by Jane Hirshfield. I welome your comments.

Let Them Not Say

Let them not say:   we did not see it.

We saw.

.

Let them not say:  we did not hear it.

We heard.

.

Let them not say:   they did not taste it.

We ate, we trembled.

.

Let them not say:   it was not spoken, not written.

We spoke,

we witnessed with voices and hands.

.

Let them not say:   they did nothing.

We did not-enough.

.

Let them say, as they must say something:

.

A kerosene beauty,

It burned.

.

Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,

read by its light, praised,

and it burned.

.

A Ream of Paper

I have a ream of paper,

a cartridge of ink,

.

almonds,

coffee,

a wool scarf for warmth.

.

Whatever handcuffs the soul,

I have brought here.

.

Whatever distances the heart,

I have brought here.

.

A deer rises onto her haunches

to reach for an apple,

though many fallen apples are on the ground.

.

Cataclysm

It begins subtly:

the maple

withdraws an inch from the birch tree.

.

The porcupine

wants nothing to do with the skink.

.

Fish unschool,

sheep unflock to separately graze.

.

Clouds meanwhile

declare to the sky

they have nothing to do with the sky,

which is not visible as they are,

.

nor knows the trick of turning

into infant, tumbling pterodactyls.

.

The turtles and moonlight?

Their long arrangement is over.

.

As for the humans.

Let us not speak of the humans.

Let us speak of their language.

.

The first person singular

condemns the second person plural

for betrayals neither has words left to name.

.

The fed consider the hungry

and stay silent.

Irene Sipos

February 19, 2020

One of the first poets I heard read in Buffalo was Irene Sipos. She was celebrating the release of her collection Stones (NFB Publishing, 2018) at one of my favorite bookstores, Talking Leaves on Elmwood Avenue. Between the poems she was reading and the way she presented them, the experience was a full-on delight.

“If stanza means ‘room,’ then there is perhaps no better form for Irene Sipos’s intimacies than these rooms of her own making, these lines of verse that hold — that host — family and friends. The poem in her practice is a hospitable act, inviting to the table as equals the newborn and the departed, welcoming memories of one, and hopes for the others.” — Andrew Rippeon, Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature, Hamilton College.

As you shall see, however, Sipos reaches beyond her immediate family and friends to a world we all recognize, sometimes with joy, sometimes with its opposite. In talking about the collection, she says “These are mostly poems of quotidian events sometimes illuminated by a flash of sunlight or darkened by a passing cloud. Some are laments for a broken world or meditations on how we could do better. All are invitations to look and listen.”

Here are three poems from Stones.

Election 2016

I

Maples leaves flutter gold, pin oak leaves

shimmer red, sun shines brightly, Bekah exclaims

that the air has turned iridescent pink.

.

At the corner we greet our friend and her daughter,

walking on their way to vote at the Unitarian church.

They wear borrowed pantsuits too big, floppy, at first

.

we don’t get it, then we laugh.  We also voted with

confidence this morning for our first woman president.

We hug and wish each other well.  By nightfall our

.

optimism is slipping.  Through the evening we worry

more, we wait anxiously for the final count at 3 a.m.

Next morning we startle awake from the nightmare that has just begun.

II

I lit three candles

in glass jars inviting fire.

The past is never dead

.

said Faulkner, it’s not even past.

We carry the weight and we repeat

mistakes: as a poster held high at

.

the Women’s March on Washington

read My arms are tired from holding

this sign since the seventies.

.

Sea salt & ginger, frosted snow, balsam

& cedar, I like diversity even in candles

whose gentle glow brings a memory of the

.

small fireplace in our carriage house 1977

which was framed by a mysterious fresco.

Vines dripped from the ceiling, owls and snakes

.

peered out from brown entangled branches.

The artist, we were told, had studied in Florence.

No heat or electricity, the blaze from this fire

.

warmed us through the famous blizzard.  We

concocted cowboy chili on the hearth where

we later curled up in sleeping bags, dreaming

.

as wind howled and embers crackled, of the

progress we believed to be unfolding in our time,

finally, toward social equality and peaceful compassion.

.

Forty years ago, dear marchers, what did we know?

.

Globe

We bought a globe at a bookstore

but did not anticipate that on the ride

home, salt water oceans would slosh

against the car doors, or that the spin

of the earth’s axis would make us dizzy.

.

that we would have to open the windows to try

to catch our breath.  I was impressed by how you

kept on driving in spite of the weight of the

tectonic plates as we changed lanes, how you

held lightly to the steering wheel regardless of

.

the shifting migration of mantles and how calmly

you turned on a classical radio station to take

the edge off negotiating traffic while we were

experiencing the axial tilt of our oblate spheroid

and my excitement in holding the world on my lap.

.

Stones

I place a small

stone on my father’s

marker flat to the ground

to say, your memory lasts

solid and enduring.

.

I place a small

stone on my father’s

flat to the ground

to say, rest peacefully

no need to ache and wander.

.

I place a small

stone on my father’s

marker flat to the ground

to say, this pebble, your name,

is carried in God’s sling

.

as long ago the stones of shepherds

tallied with the numbers

of the flock for safe-keeping

across mountain tops. I catch

strains of an ancient song as

.

I place a small

stone on my father’s

marker flat to the ground, that says,

There are men with hearts of stone

and stones with hearts of men.

.

As always, I look forward to receiving your comments at kfhastings (at sign) mac (dot) com.

Devreaux Baker

February 7, 2020

It has been my pleasure since about 2007 to know Mendocino poet Devreaux Baker. She is the author of five full-length collections of poetry, including Hungry Ghosts; out of the bones of earth; Red Willow People; Beyond the Circumstance of Sight; and Light at the Edge. She also co-edited, with Sharon Doubiago and Susan Maeder, Wood, Water, Air and Fire, The Anthology of Mendocino Women Poets.

Baker is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the 2017 Joe Gouveia Outermost National Poetry Prize, the 2014 Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Prize from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the 2012 Hawaii Council on Humanities International Poetry Prize, the 2011 PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Poetry Award, and the 2010 Women’s Global Leadership Poetry Prize. She is a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, the Hawthornden Castle and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. She lives on the magnificent Mendocino Coast in Northern California.

I hope you’ll treat yourself now to two poems by Devreaux, the first from out of the bones of earth (Wild Ocean Press, 2015); the second from her most recent collection, Hungry Ghosts (Wild Ocean Press, 2018). Please send any comments or questions you have about the work to me at kfhastings (at sign) mac (dot) com.

NOSTALGIA FOR THE RAIN

It began with a tin roof

sounds like silver sticks

falling from air

a dash of bird feet

despair or love at all the edges

It began with a car

gleaming bumpers

wind shield wipers forming a pattern

of lost and found

the truth of the seen versus

the unseen

It began with a picnic

wicker basket of fruit

grass still dazed from a sudden

shower

It was spring

or was it fall

the brush of winter

woven into scarves

It arrived in the blue smell

at the base of clouds

became a dark thought

fell in torrents

released us from ourselves

It began with a mattress

on the cabin floor

the smell of wet pines

redwoods singing

in hidden groves

It came in a rush

unfolded wet knees

a vertebrae of desire

It began with your body

in the afternoon

the smell of rain

conjuring memories

silver sticks falling across

our shoulders

A dash of bird feet

on all the rooftops

of the world

STARDUST LOUNGE

My mother came for a visit

even though she died last spring.

She was standing by the foot of my bed

releasing vowels from the afterlife

smelling of moss and spring rain

on the tarmac.

Here we go again, old recipes and lectures,

I thought, stumbling out the door into the back yard

while the history of all forgotten things

was leaking out of her apron pockets

like the Andromeda strain or the Milky

Way filled with impossible features of dead stars.

All she really wanted was for me to follow

her lead in this shuffle-foot shim-sham, this

millennial foxtrot of flesh turning into

stardust, that long unwinding road

pale as beer made from wheat where

we all crowd into a room and wait for

the unmarked bus to transport us into the highlands

of the forever lands.  This is the way it feels

when she presses her hand against the small of my back.

The valley gorge that rests between my hips and heart

wakes up and smiles and even the smallest bones

like the swing when she says anything is possible

and I want to answer her but am lifted off my feet

shucking the chrysalis of my life, resurrecting the

boogie-woogie, dancing in the midnight arms

of her Stardust Lounge.

Responses to Charles Cote and Learning the Blog Biz

As I mentioned in my first entry last month, I’m new at blogging and will learn as I go. Hopefully, it won’t take too long before I can at least fake my way into something that looks like its supposed to look. “Just LOOK intelligent,” my mother told me as a child. I’ll try.

Responses to Charles Cote’s Poems

A few days ago, I posted three poems from I Play His Red Guitar by Rochester poet Charles Cote. If you read them and would like to send me a short response, please send it to kfhastings (at sign) mac (dot) com. Meanwhile, here are partial comments I received from two California poets, Gregory Randall and David Beckman. (Our cross-country conversations have begun!)

From Gregory Randall: I can see why you appreciate his work — it feels…graceful, felt, propulsive, no superfluous words and a rehabilitating of old forms to new needs. I’m eager to read more NY poets…It must take an incredibly evolved nature to turn the terrible and horrific into a poetry that can be shared and can endure (Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Hernandez…). And so, I re-read Charles Cote’s poems and realize how generous he must be to toil so hard on behalf of us, his readers, to turn his journey through loss into a journey we can all share.

From David Beckman: “I Curse You, Melanoma, Curse” is a controlled outburst of pain, driven by the courage to make of a poem a sieve through which pain is washed. For Cote, technique and vocabulary are in the service of life deeply lived and the white anger of its loss. “Tin Man Villanellle,” is a thrumming meditation on fear that both contains it and, if anything, deepens its hold…”Ultimately, these are poems that deliver what we yearn for: awe at the human spirit struggling under pressure and relief for its strength.

Other News

Congratulations, Gwynn O’Gara!

Sonoma County, California poet Gwynn O’Gara‘s new collection, Clio’s Daughter With Head on Fire has placed as a finalist in the Faulkner Society Poetry Collection contest and has won the Shirley Holden Helberg grant of $1,000 from the National League of American Pen Women, judged by Upstate New York poet Philip Memmer.

News from Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield tells me that her new book, Ledger, will be published by Penguin Random House with a publication date of March 10, 2020. Her first reading from the book will be held at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. More on this book soon.

January 25, 2020

Introducing: Charles Cote

One of the pleasures of moving to a new state has been the opportunity to hear and meet poets I had not been aware of in my old Northern California stomping grounds.  One of these poets is Charles Cote.  A few months ago, I had the pleasure of sitting with him in a Rochester café where we shared stories and work.  It gives me great satisfaction now to introduce him to you.  I’ll begin with a statement from Cote himself about his remarkable collection, I Play His Red Guitar, followed by a few poems from the book. 

Gregory Orr writes that “poetry is the thread that leads us out of the labyrinth of despair and into the light.” Poems that emerge from crisis have the power to heal and re-stabilize us. That’s what I set out to do with this collection, to fashion a container for the chaos and grief of losing a son to cancer. Kim Addonizio in Ordinary Genius writes about Eckhart Tolle’s concept of the pain body, how our despair can be seductive, a perverse drama, and that art is a creative response, a way to transcend pain and come into the light. Rumi said, Become the light. So hopefully, the poems in I Play His Red Guitar sing toward the light. Not surprisingly, I’m teaching myself to play George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun on my son’s red guitar, and I’d say it’s all right. My intention is to help others who are grieving a terrible loss to find some solace and light in the art of poetry and any form of creative writing, to share my book with bereavement groups across the country. David Whyte talks about how poetry initiates us into a conversation with profound silence which is a kind of liberation, the place we reconnect with our most authentic self so we don’t get lost in the chaos of everyday confusion. For me, that’s essential and why I write these kind of poems.

                                                                        — Charles Cote

I Curse You, Melanoma, Curse

your humidity and bitter taste,

your fattened spiders spoiling

in metastatic corners, curse

.

your rotting cinders and peeling paint,

walls that bear no weight,

curse your pumps and wasted gates,

.

the scourge of putrid shapes,

forsaken stink in Gehenna, blackened

moles and pock-marked face.

.

May you drown in the bile

of your clogging drains,

choke in coagulate bags,

.

die with tumors that gorge

and fester, wracked

by relentless spasms

.

and unbearable break-through

pain, over-medicated, rotting

in a vat of tasteless radon.

.

Tin Man Villanelle

Fear’s the tail that wags the beast,

the scarecrow skitters in the straw.

Oz never did give nothing?  Please.

.

As famine trumps the wedding feast,

a wife will find a husband’s flaws.

Fear the tail that wags the beast,

.

the bit of leaven that bloats the yeast.

A swollen tongue.  A rusty jaw.

Oz never gives nothing, see?

.

He’s the one who would be last but never least,

who wouldn’t know his license from the law.

Fear’s the tail that wags that beast

.

as far as west is west and east is east,

as cooked is good and bad is raw:

Oz never did give nothing.  Please,

.

your gold is lead, your wallet fleeced.

Your house is cold.  The pipes won’t thaw.

Fear’s the tail that wags the beast.

Oz never did give nothing?  Please.

.

My Body

takes the shape of graves in church yards, of blossoms

falling off the tree, the roots of rhododendron

on backdoor paths.  I press its hunger

.

into the osprey’s nest, a branch curled

toward heaven, rapt beaks and claws, an ache

in every soft belly.  My body hangs

.

between a sycamore and black walnut,

between shale defining the shore, wind chimes

bright in the rafters.  It spills

.

out to the marsh, to the heron’s grace

in the current’s meditation, lazing open

to the sea.  My body, a diamond lair, a gaslit

.

labyrinth, a timbered kingdom that takes

the shape of flame before match strikes flint,

that listens to catbirds mewling for space

.

in flits and calls, brother to cardinals and crows,

gathering what it can of this spoken world.

__________________________________

All poems shared with the permission of the author. 

.

You can order I Play My Red Guitar by going to www.tigerpress.com.

Please send your reactions, comments or questions about this work to me at kfhastings (at sign) mac (dot) com.

.

“Yet you shall sometimes find the lotus flowering

In the mortal mind’s so narrow room..”

— Babette Deutsch, “The Lotus”




January 18, 2020

OUT OF THE ASHES

As you know from reading the introductory page, this website has, as just one of its purposes, a desire to bring together the work of poets from New York and California. When you walk to the poetry section of your local bookstore you are certain to see works by Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman and a few others. But unless you are in a store like City Lights in San Francisco, you may not have a clue as to the hundreds of other poets who have books out that might also call to you.

Because we left Northern California for Upstate New York, in part, as a result of the October 2017 wildfires in Sonoma County, I’m going to start this blog off with a poem by Santa Rosa poet, Jodi Hottel. It appears in her chapbook Out of the Ashes, a collection she dedicates to the 42 people killed in the fires and to the first responders who put their lives on the line.

Firestorm

First, came orange incandescence

            from beyond the hills.

Then wind and embers, clearing the way

            for a roaring flame-river.

When it passed — ash-fall,

            sigh of silence.

.

Second came the uncertain waiting

            for the gut punch or the guilt of relief,

the ghostly images sent by satellite

            where red means green

and white means gone.

.

The visits to a changed-same landscape

            of black spires and brick monuments,

parked skeletons, sad sifters, searchers for felines.

            then the flood of insurers and law firms

clamoring to be first.

.

Third came a deluge of videos, each a blow

            to the brain, vision of hellfire

that blew through our neighborhood.

            And the telling of tales —

each devastating or heartening but singular.

.

Soon came the saws, falling redwoods

            and ancient oaks, the stumps.

Shiny guardrails replacing

            charred, twisted ones.

Then a held breath.

.

Later, hazmat suits of white,

            blue tents, floodlights, trucks

roaming a moonscape.  Close behind,

            the front-loaders, breaking earth

and silence.  Coyote howls.

.

Then came sprouts of promise,

            earth resilience, responding to

the lure of rain, beacon of velvet hills

            trimmed with singed-oak lace,

hooped straw-wattles.

.

Backhoe-clangs, tractor-trailer deluge,

            night and day, weeks and weeks,

leaving cleared lots, for-sale signs.

            Vacancy awaits the inevitable —

contractors, architects, surveyors.

.

I hunger for a poured foundation,

            fresh lumber, barrage of hammers.

My eyes search for leaf-sprout, yellow

            peeping from deeply buried bulbs,

spot Canada geese on their return journey.

.

Jodi Hottel’s previous chapbooks are Voyeur from WordTech Press (2017); Heart Mountain, winner of the 2012 Blue Light Press Poetry Prize, and Through a New Lens, 2015. She lives in the Larkfield neighborhood of Santa Rosa, CA.