Monthly Archives: April 2013

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Final Entry: “Trellis” by James Merrill

  • By David M. Kinchen, with information from Knopf 
  • A final toast, from the grape of James Merrill (1926-1995). Like the vine in this poem, we will bloom again next year. And don’t miss the last installment in our Cavafy audio celebration below—Merrill, who lived in Athens on and off during his lifetime and spoke Greek, would approve.
Thank you for reading with us this month.

The Knopf Poetry Team

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Trellis

Again, ramshackle skeleton,
You spare the house what is about to happen.

Out of nowhere, up from the bleak ground,
My greedy twinings overcome your frame,

Climb, put blue suns forth, suicidally thicken,
And, spoiled at summer’s end no doubt

By so much wooden acquiescence, brag
Of having woken a response in you.

Who can say? A night is coming, I remember,
When I share your body with frost. A second,

And I withdraw into myself for winter.
Never mind. I’ll bloom next year.

You only, love’s uncomprehending object,
Will be replaced after a season or two.

More on this poem and author:

Excerpt from COLLECTED POEMS © 2001 by The Literary Estate of James Merrill at Washington University. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: ‘Trouble in Mind’: Lucie Brock-Broido

  • By David M. Kinchen, with information from Knopf 
APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH:   'Trouble in Mind': Lucie Brock-Broido

Lucie Brock-Broido’s last book, Trouble in Mind, came out in 2004, so we are more than ready for a major new collection from her; watch for Stay, Illusion, to come this October. Looking both back and forward, then, here’s one of Brock-Broido’s many turns on the self-portrait poem.

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Self-Portrait with Her Hair on Fire

Now, it is as dark as the pathos of pushing a wheel-

Chair through the museum of a great metropolis.

I cannot tell you this, not now, not ever, even

In the letter I have written that is so epic

That if you were to open it, the pages would sail out

In the wind like confection moths being born

In the thousands out of their sacks, blowing

Away, page by page, in a wind the color of her hair

Across a medieval pillow endlessly scorched,

The singe of something living tinged with fire.

I will go on loving as I love the backs

Of things and the invisible,

As I love the hideous or an attention

So attentive it is next to worshipping.

 

 

Excerpt from TROUBLE IN MIND, © 2004 by Lucie Brock-Broido. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: ‘Facing the Wave’: Gretel Ehrlich

  • By David M. Kinchen, with information from Knopf 

The writer Gretel Ehrlich, a longtime passionate student of Japanese poetry and culture, returned to Japan in 2011 after an earthquake and Tsunami devastated the Tohoku coast. As Ehrlich explains, during a literally earth-shattering six minutes on March 11, there were “Three sorrows: quake, tsunami, meltdown. In the quake’s ‘seismic moment,’ the total energy released was two hundred thousand times the energy at the earth’s surface, equal to six hundred million times the energy of the bomb dropped at Hiroshima.”

In Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami , poetry is one of the tools she uses to try to understand what she is seeing and the hardships suffered by the people of that region. She finds solace in lines from T. S. Eliot, Roberto Calasso, Basho, Saigyo, and others, and she writes poems of her own along the way. Even the instructions of her driver and friend Abyss-San—advice on how to avoid radiation or how to make curry—become poetry, their sustenance worthy of heightened attention in the face of seismic devastation and grief. Below, one from Ehrlich’s pen, and one from Abyss-San.

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At Ishinomaki Where Matsuo Basho Once Wrote a Poem

Finally the twisted roadbed drains
and the daily floodtides at
Ishinomaki dry out.
The sky unmists itself and
loss upon loss begins to
feel like company.
Nothing touches. Nights are brittle and soft,
ink scraped smooth.
To the south Fukushima Daiichi blazes. Flames
we can’t see. Sixty-six years ago
two other seacoast towns vanished.
I stick my forearm out
in moonlight. Looking seaward
my skin burns.

Abyss-San’s Curry Recipe

Sauté cloves, bay leaves, fenugreek, chili peppers, cardamom,
curry leaf, and garlic in mustard oil.
Add sliced onion, turmeric, coriander, and cumin.
Add chopped potatoes and carrots, then tomatoes.
Rinse China beans and lentils, then add in with salt.
Add enough water to cover. Cover and cook for one hour or
more, or until beans are soft.
Make an equally large pot of rice with wheat berries.
Fry Aju hing seeds and add to the curry at the end. Serve.
Eat with gratitude.

More on this poem and author:

Excerpts from FACING THE WAVE © 2013 by Gretel Ehrlich. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

April IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Sandra Cisneros: ‘You Called Me Corazón’

  • By David M. Kinchen, with information from Knopf 

Love is bilingual: from the frank heart (corazón) of Sandra Cisneros.

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You Called Me Corazón

That was enough
for me to forgive you.
To spirit a tiger
from its cell.

Called me corazón
in that instant before
I let go the phone
back to its cradle.

Your voice small.
Heat of your eyes,
how I would’ve placed
my mouth on each.

Said corazón
and the word blazed
like a branch of jacaranda.

More on this poem and author:

Excerpt from LOOSE WOMAN © 1994 by Sandra Cisneros. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: John Updike’s ‘Piet’

  • By David M. Kinchen, with information from Knopf 
APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH:   John Updike's 'Piet'

John Updike (1932-2009) delighted us during his lifetime with the variety of his gifts—as novelist, literary critic, poet, and also as a keen commentator on the art scene. In the fall, Always Looking: Essays on Art, appeared, collecting his final considerations of certain highlights of Western art over the last two hundred years—from the landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church to the steely sculptural worlds of Richard Serra, from the extravagances of Klimt to the Pop of Oldenburg and Lichtenstein. Today’s poem brings us this American master of word and image reflecting on the trajectory of the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

To share the poem-a-day experience with friends, pass along this link >>Piet

How strange to see an arrow-straight career!

Trees, the attempt to do the branches justice

in honest Dutch style, led him, twig by twig,

into the net of the rectilinear,

of crosses and dashes and then thick frames

for colors prime and pure as chalice jewels,

panels of heaven blazing between girders;

he believed the world could be sublimated.

 

Things and scenes no longer troubled him;

a square tipped onto its corner was all

he needed grant the cockeyed real until

Manhattan greeted his exile with jazz,

with boogie-woogie and a grid of streets

that proved his dream to be (bull’s-eye!) the fact.

 

Click here to download the printable broadside of this poem.

 

More on this poem and author:

Excerpt from AMERICANA © John Updike 2001. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right’: Debunking Widespread Myths About the Success of Texas and What the U.S. Can Learn from the Lone Star State

 

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right': Debunking Widespread Myths About the Success of Texas and What the U.S. Can Learn from the Lone Star State

Erica Grieder’s “Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas” (PublicAffairs, 288 pages, notes, index, $26.99) is the latest entry in a series of books and articles countering the largely East Coast liberal party line that that there is no “Texas Miracle” —  that the jobs created in the Lone Star State have been minimum wage no-future positions, that the state is governed by knuckle-dragging Evangelicals, that Texas represents a “What’s The Matter With Kansas” situation of people voting against their own interests, etc., etc.

Grieder, in a style and format that reminds me of the late, great John Gunther’s “Inside” series (“Inside Europe,” “Inside U.S.A.”, etc)  writes that while it’s true that evangelicals play a role in Texas (although not as big a one as outsiders claim), most Texans believe in separation of church and state (dating from the days before the creation of the Texas Republic in 1836 when Mexico required all Texans to be Roman Catholics) and the United States has a great deal to learn from Texas. She cites experts who say that today’s Texas may represent what  the U.S. will  be 20 years from now.

Back in January (link: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/54492) I reviewed Chuck DeVore’s “The Texas Model” which had as its goal much the same debunking as Grieder’s. DeVore, a transplanted California  state legislator who works for the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation — a conservative think-tank — has just published an article that “myth busts” comparisons between California and Texas that he considers flawed or outright erroneous (Link:   http://www.texaspolicy.com/sites/default/files/documents/2013-04-PP20-Te…).

Grieder and DeVore have a lot of work to do to counteract the mythological Texas created by writers for influential publications like The New York Times. Writers point to Texas’ death row, the busiest in the country (Virginia is the runner-up), neglecting to mention that California still has the death penalty in contrast to, say, benighted West Virginia, which abolished it in the 1960s.

With a brief warts and all historical look at the creation of Texas in the 1830s from a far from Mexico City and almost unpopulated Mexican province,  Grieder traces the political history of a state that was always larger than life. From its rowdy beginnings, Texas has combined a long-standing suspicion of government intrusion with a passion for business. Looking to the present, Grieder assesses the unique mix of policies on issues like immigration, debt, taxes, regulation, and energy, which together have sparked a bonafide Texas Miracle of job growth. While acknowledging that it still has plenty of twenty-first-century problems to face, she finds in Texas a model of governance whose power has been drastically underestimated. Her book is a fascinating exploration of America’s underrated powerhouse.

You’ll learn how the creation of the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) saved the state from losing the benefit of oil discoveries from Spindletop in 1901 to later ones throughout much of the state — and even served as a model for the much maligned Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that was founded in 1960. Texans may be suspicious of government, with a legislature that meets for 140 days every two years, but Grieder writes that Texans are  nobody’s fools, that the TRC represented a well-thought-out concept.

(From the Wikipedia entry for the TRC: “Established by the Texas Legislature in 1891, it is the state’s oldest regulatory agency and began as part of the …Progressive Era. From the 1930s to the 1960s it largely set world oil prices, but was displaced by OPEC   after 1973. In 1984, the federal government took over transportation regulation for railroads, trucking and buses, but the Railroad Commission kept its name. With an annual budget of $79 million, it now focuses entirely on oil, gas, mining, propane, and pipelines, setting allocations for production each month.”)

Grieder presents the best explanation I’ve seen of how once reliably Democratic Texas over the past 40 years or so has become an equally reliable GOP stalwart. It’s not as simple as most commentators have painted it, and  Texan Grieder  puts the transition in context. She even discusses the (remote) possibility that Texas may once again be a battleground state. From my five years of living in Texas, I find that a very remote possibility indeed. There are plenty of Hispanics in Texas, but many of them are much more conservative than commentators on the East Coast realize. I live in a majority Hispanic county — Calhoun —  that regularly voted for Ron Paul for Congress in what was then the 14th District stretching from Galveston to the suburbs of Corpus Christi. Grieder writes that this relaxed attitude toward immigration is one reason why the Texas GOP gets a much higher percentage of the Latino/Hispanic vote than its national counterpart.

In “Big, Hot, Cheap and Right” you’ll learn that:

> Texas, with about 26 million residents, has a larger economy than much more populous South Korea or Mexico.

>  From  2009 to 2011, Texas created 40 percent of the nation’s net new jobs and in 2012 it accounted for 8.7 percent of the nation’s economic output. Meanwhile it’s been a net contributor to federal tax receipts.

> While oil is still a major driver of the Texas economy, the state has more installed wind power capacity than any other state, including California.

> Unlike strident Arizona (sorry, I love you Grand Canyon State!) Texas, which became a minority-majority state in 2005 has a relatively relaxed immigration policy, which Grieder says may have been Gov. Rick Perry’s downfall in the 2012 GOP primaries.

> If Texas is so bad, why do people keep moving there? Six of the nation’s 20 largest cities are in Texas and millions of people are moving there. In fact, one-third of its total population was born somewhere else.

> Contrary to popular belief, Grieder says that  Perry isn’t afraid to take federal money when it makes sense, like when Texas A&M won a $176 million dollar federal grant for bioscience development last year. Too, Perry isn’t afraid to pick winners and losers by focusing on and investing in technology clusters like aerospace, defense and biotech with tools like the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.
 About the author
Erica Grieder is a senior editor at Texas Monthly. From 2007-2012, she covered Texas as the southwest correspondent for The Economist, to which she still contributes. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Spectator, the AtlanticForeign Policy, and the New Republic. She lives in Austin.

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Franz Wright’s ‘Kindertotenwald’

  • By David M. Kinchen, with information from Knopf
Franz Wright’s recent Kindertotenwald  is a dark wood the poet journeys through in illuminating short narratives like the one below. To share the poem-a-day experience with friends, pass along this link >>

Goodbye

Each day I woke as it started to get dark and the pain came. Month
after month of this—who knows when I got well, the way you do,
whether you like it or not. With dawn now, risen from the rampage
of sleep, I am walking in the Lincoln woods. A single bird is
loudly singing. And I walk here as I always have, as though from
tall room to room in a more or less infinite house where the owner’s
not home but is watching me somehow, observing my behavior,
from behind the two-way mirror of appearances, I suppose,
and listening, somewhat critically, to what I am thinking. Not too,
however. At certain moments I could swear there is even a sense of
being liked, as sunlight changes swiftly, leaving, leaving and arriving
again. A bird is chirping bitterly, as if these words were meant
for me, as if their intent was within me, and will not speak. Nothing
is left me of you.

More on this poem and author:

Excerpt from KINDERTOTENWALD © 2011 by Franz Wright. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Blood of Tyrants’: George Washington, the Continental Congress, and the Forging of the Constitution

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
 BOOK REVIEW: 'Blood of Tyrants': George Washington, the Continental Congress, and the Forging of the Constitution

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — William Faulkner, “Requiem for a Nun” 1950

“The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1787

The United States of America is a work in progress — and always has been, as Logan Beirne demonstrates in his readable and scholarly “Blood of Tyrants: George Washington and the Forging of the Presidency” (Encounter Books, 440 pages, notes, index, $27.99).

Continue reading

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Raymond Carver’s ‘Eagles’

  • By David M. Kinchen, with information from Knopf 

 Raymond Carver (1938-1988), was a poet before he was celebrated as a writer of short stories. Here is “Eagles,” from his 1985 collection Where Water Comes Together with Other Water.

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Eagles

It was a sixteen-inch ling cod that the eagle
dropped near our feet
at the top of Bagley Creek canyon,
at the edge of the green woods.
Puncture marks in the sides of the fish
where the bird gripped with its talons!
That and a piece torn out of the fish’s back.
Like an old painting recalled,
or an ancient memory coming back,
that eagle flew with the fish from the Strait
of Juan de Fuca up the canyon to where
the woods begin, and we stood watching.
It lost the fish above our heads,
dropped for it, missed it, and soared on
over the valley where wind beats all day.
We watched it keep going until it was
a speck, then gone. I picked up
the fish. That miraculous ling cod.
Came home from the walk and—
why the hell not?—cooked it
lightly in oil and ate it
with boiled potatoes and peas and biscuits.
Over dinner, talking about eagles
and an older, fiercer order of things.

More on this poem and author:

 

Excerpted from ALL OF US, © 1996 by Tess Gallagher; WHERE WATER COMES TOGETHER WITH OTHER WATER © 1984, 1985 by Raymond Carver. Excerpted by permission of Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Willa Cather’s Poems and Letters

  • By David M. Kinchen, with information from Knopf 
Willa Cather (1873-1947) published her first volume of poems, April Twilights, in 1903, when she was still a young writer. Twenty years later, she revised it, cutting some poems and adding a number of new ones. Knopf was the publisher of April Twilights and Other Poems, which appeared in the spring of 1923. With the addition of “Going Home” and other poems like it, writes Robert Thacker in the introduction to a new Pocket Poets edition of the work, Cather “turned her face to the West, to the stuff of her own experience in her home place.” Meanwhile, this season sees the publication of The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout. As they attest, the letters, which have not been available to the public before, reveal their author to be “a complicated, funny, brilliant, flinty, sensitive, sometimes confounding human being.” Below the poem, we offer a letter that Cather wrote to a friend who reviewed the first edition of April Twilights.

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Going Home

(Burlington Route)

 

How smoothly the trains run beyond the Missouri;

Even in my sleep I know when I have crossed

the river.

The wheels turn as if they were glad to go;

The sharp curves and windings left behind,

The roadway wide open,

(The crooked straight

And the rough places plain.)

 

They run smoothly, they run softly, too.

There is not noise enough to trouble the lightest

sleeper.

Nor jolting to wake the weary-hearted.

I open my window and let the air blow in,

The air of morning,

That smells of grass and earth—

Earth, the grain-giver.

 

How smoothly the trains run beyond the Missouri;

Even in my sleep I know when I have crossed

the river.

The wheels turn as if they were glad to go;

They run like running water,

Like Youth, running away . . .

 

They spin bright along the bright rails,

Singing and humming,

Singing and humming.

They run remembering,

They run rejoicing,

As if they, too, were going home.

 

 

TO GEORGE SEIBEL

 

April 28 [1903]

 

My Dear Mr. Seible;

Certainly you are better at not forgetting old acquaintance than anyone I know. I could not at all tell you over the telephone how much I feel your good will in going into that review [of April Twilights] so heartily. Of course the appreciative tone of the notice will help the book, but it was not that which especially pleased me. There was a frank and friendly ring about it that put courage into me and made me feel equal to trying almost anything. Of course I am mighty glad that you like the verses, but I am much more pleased that you seem glad to like them, and that you blow upon me with such a friendly wind. Surely we can disprove Hesiod’s epigram that,

 

“Potter hates Potter,

and poet hates poet.”

 

To tell you the truth, you have so often handled me severely in private apropos of some of those same verses that I rather expected chastisement and sunny clemency has quite taken my breath away.

We shall expect you on Thursday night, and please come early, as soon after seven oclock as possible.

 

Faithfully always

Willa S. Cather

 

More on this poem and author:

 

 

Excerpt from APRIL TWILIGHTS AND OTHER POEMS © 1923 by Willa Cather; excerpt from THE SELECTED LETTERS OF WILLA CATHER © 2013 by The Willa Cather Literary Trust. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.