Featured Poem: Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda

16463906_963513210449747_5598583530687823872_n

Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,

Or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,

In secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms,

But carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;

Thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,

Risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;

Therefore, I love you because I know no other way

Than this: where I does not exist, nor you,

So close that your hand on my chest is my hand,

So close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

 

Junior year, high school. My creative writing teacher furnishes the entire class with a copy of Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XVII. As soon as each student has the paper in hand, our teacher launches into a sonorous reading of the poem. I read along with him, silently mouthing the words, thrilled and confused by the staggering and yet, straightforward imagery.

Somewhere in the stash of angst-ridden journals I keep in a drawer at home, the photocopied poem is pasted on an empty page. Crumpled and yellowing, I no longer need the copy. It is one of those few poems I know by heart. But I keep it handy to remind myself of the day I felt the promise of poetry strike, hot and impressive and terrifying. If Sylvia Plath’s Mirror had been the catalyst, the fever behind my writing aspirations, Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XVII was what ignited my passion for poetry.

This is a poem with a heartening twist. A poem naked in its honesty and teeming with relatability. I remember reading its first lines that first time and thinking, “How terrible to be at the receiving end of this poem!”

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose or topaz| or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.| I love you as certain dark things are to be loved| in secret between the shadow and the soul.

A salt-rose, a topaz, and even the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off—those were stunning images of something to value, of something easy to love because of their beauty. But instead, the persona described his/her lover as a dark thing to be loved in secret. The next lines had seemed equally unflattering, I thought.

I love you as the plant that never blooms| but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers.| Thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance risen from the earth| lives darkly in my body.

A plant that never blooms. Never mind that it was the type of plant that held the promise of hidden flowers… And the way love was described almost felt as if it were something contagious, unexplainable, and almost unwanted.

But the rest of the lines made me realize, this was not the traditional love poem that exalted the lover’s virtues, it was one that explained the unfathomable depth—and maybe, the irrationality—of true and lasting love.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where| I love you straightforwardly without complexities or pride.| Therefore I love you because I know no other way

Than this: where I does not exist nor you| so close that your hand on my chest is my hand| so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

This wasn’t a poem that spoke of love at its first blush, with its rose-colored glasses and the consequent blindness to the lover’s flaws. This was a poem that spoke of what happens after the honeymoon hour. It’s a poem about commitment and a love so deeply forged that the lovers cease to be ‘each other,’ for they are as much the other as they could ever be. Oneness in the face of reality. As my theology professor would say, this is a difference between “falling in love” and actually “loving.” Love—with its becauses, and more importantly, with its despite ofs.

Also, that line break. That glorious, glorious line break from “Therefore I love you because I know no other way” to “than this.” I am always in awe with how clever this poem turned out. How unexpected and beautiful its message happens to be. Definitely one of the best and most honest love poems in history.

 

About the Poet

Pablo Neruda is one of the most well-known and best-loved poets of the 20th century. In 1971, the Chilean poet-diplomat was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He remains one of the most inspirational poets today—and rightfully so. While translated poetry often experiences a slight and unfortunate, though unintentional diminishment, an accidental dwarfing caused by the barriers of language, Neruda’s works retain their vivid imagery and vast, hard-hitting meanings. No doubt, we have his highly skilled translators to thank for this, but it is also very possible—if not, downright true—that the potency of the poet’s words cannot be contained by something as insignificant as a difference in language.

Featured Poem: Bluebird by Charles Bukowski

eastern-bluebird-1669845_640

Bluebird by Charles Bukowski

There’s a bluebird in my heart that

Wants to get out

But I’m too tough for him,

I say, stay in there, I’m not going

To let anybody see

You.

There’s a bluebird in my heart that

Wants to get out

But I pour whiskey on him and inhale

Cigarette smoke

And the whores and the bartenders

And the grocery clerks

Never know that

He’s

In there.

There’s a bluebird in my heart that

Wants to get out

But I’m too tough for him,

I say,

Stay down, do you want to mess

Me up?

You want to screw up the

Works?

You want to blow my book sales in

Europe?

There’s a bluebird in my heart that

Wants to get out

But I’m too clever, I only let him out

At night sometimes

When everybody’s asleep.

I say, I know that you’re there,

So don’t be

Sad.

Then I put him back,

But he’s singing a little

In there, I haven’t quite let him

Die

And we sleep together like

That

With our

Secret pact

And it’s nice enough to

Make a man

Weep, but I don’t

Weep, do

You?

(from poemhunter.com)

 

Like most of Charles Bukowski’s other works, Bluebird is a straightforward, hard-hitting, and rather gut-tugging poem. A literary punch to the gut. A hyper-dose of reality, so to speak. In this poem, Bukowski speaks of a bluebird in his heart. A bluebird that he repeatedly smashes down to hide away from prying eyes. He is too tough for the bluebird, he pours whiskey on it, smokes it down with cigarettes, so none of the whores, the bartenders, and especially none of his readers can see it. As a writer who makes his living by selling pain sealed under a hard casing of machismo, there is little room for vulnerability, let alone, a kindle of happiness.

Well, maybe this is conjecture or maybe this is fact, but it’s highly possible that the bluebird Bukowski speaks of in this piece is the bluebird of happiness. The very same feathered friend that Tyltyl had in the 1908 play by Maurice Maeterlinck called The Blue Bird. Also the same avian in the 1934 song “Bluebird of Happiness” by Edward Heyman and Sandor Harmati.

Now, looking at the poem with the idea of the bluebird signifying happiness, particularly a childlike wonder or glee, it tells us of the inner workings of the persona’s or the writer’s mind. Bukowski’s works often describe a very adult world of alcohol, grief, a string of bimbos, and electric rage. And so, the bluebird is kept secret. Let out once in a while, when everyone’s asleep. I know that you’re there, so don’t be sad.

This is a feeling we can all identify with. It is the universal theme of how most of us deal with adulthood. We don our masks and our everyday armor, tap down our childlike wonder, afraid of being found out. Afraid of being taken less seriously, as if happiness were a stain in our otherwise pristine, unbreakable façade. We hide our real selves away—our weak points and vulnerabilities. Until the time we can finally be ourselves again. Until we can finally breathe again. When no one else is looking.

About the Poet

Now, who in this day and age wouldn’t know of Charles Bukowski? As a poet and writer, his confessional style of writing matched with his grit-and-grime-covered take on real life has made him one of the foremost leaders of the Dirty Realism movement. But as a man, he was larger than life.

Although his writing aspirations started in his late teens, a series of rejection slips coupled with a decade-long binge had Bukowski almost giving up on his dreams. It wasn’t until he was 35 that he started writing professionally, oftentimes choosing to publish with underground and independent presses instead of major publishers. This is something Bukowski continued to do throughout his long and successful career.

His experiences with boozin’ and floozin’, and living in the “frayed edge of society,” as Stephen Kessler puts it, figured heavily in Bukowski’s writings. Oftentimes his characters were staggering reflections of his own person, or literary persona, depending on who you ask. The result is an irresistible body of work that resonates loudly and richly with its readers.

 

Featured Poem: Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

(The mess I call my journal) In the process of copying Phenomenal Woman
(The mess I call my journal) In the process of copying Phenomenal Woman

In terms of impact, Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou might just be one of the most empowering poems ever written for the fairer sex. This work was originally published (and copyrighted) in Dr. Angelou’s 1978 autobiography, “Still I Rise.” With its flowing rhymes and straightforward wording—this poem is a breeze to read and a joy to be heard when read out loud.

Now, I’m not particularly well-versed when it comes to copyright laws, so I’m linking you guys to the full poem instead of posting it on this blog. (Read Phenomenal Woman in full here.)

In this poem, the writer attempts to explain her ‘inexplicable’ allure. First, to the “pretty women” puzzled by her magnetic charms, then to the men who are drawn to her like a “hive of honey bees.”

Strangely enough, she starts out with a strong disclaimer: “I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.” It’s an admission that sums up the confusion felt by the men and women who are drawn to the writer. Then, as if to drive the point even further, she lists a number of purposely vague reasons behind her appeal. In the first verse, she says:

 “It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.”

The rest of her explanations are just as nebulous—“the fire in my eyes, the flash of my teeth, the swing in my waist, and the joy in my feet…” and so on and so forth. Now, read carefully, dear reader and you’ll find that these are all qualities possessed by the everywoman. There are no race-restrictive, size-specific, or socioeconomically exclusive terms to be found here. Just a general description of your everyday woman. And therein lies the beauty of this poem. Rather than alienating a large chunk of its readers, the poem seeks to be inclusive. It revels in its inclusivity.

Another striking feature of this poem is the repetitive nature of a particular phrase. The words:

“I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.”

Figure beautifully at the end of every stanza. Beyond bridging the persona’s thought process, this acts as a celebration of her womanhood. The secret of the Phenomenal Woman is that she is her own woman. Her magnetic nature doesn’t lie in anything outside of the ordinary. She is phenomenal because she is herself.

Now, as far as analysis goes, that’s just us scratching the surface. While Phenomenal Woman remains an empowering and relevant piece of literature, to truly understand its impact and gravity, we need to delve into historical context.

There’s no denying that Maya Angelou was a very beautiful woman—physically, mentally, and emotionally. She was the complete package. But for an African-American girl growing up in the 1930s—a time when racist ideals and actions ran rampant in the Land of the Free—the standards of beauty excluded anything outside the ‘white.’

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), Angelou remembers a moment of insecurity when she was a child. She thought, “Wouldn’t they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream and my real hair, which was long and blonde, would take the place of the kinky mass that Momma wouldn’t let me straighten?”

We’re not going to delve into how wrong, cruel, and painful it is for a child to have such thoughts—that’s for another discussion—but it’s important that we also look at the unconventional nature of Maya Angelou’s beauty. Unconventional for that period, at least. When she reached adulthood, Angelou’s brand of beauty continued to challenge the norms. Unlike the petite, fair-skinned lookers of the 1950s, Angelou grew to be a voluptuous, 6-foot-tall woman.

These days, we look up (for some, like myself, quite literally) to those modelesque proportions. But bear in mind that during that period, even Sylvia Plath who purportedly stood tall at 5’9”, felt some semblance of insecurity over her height.

Now, simply put, there was a period when Angelou struggled with accepting her looks and sexuality. And putting that struggle into perspective makes Phenomenal Woman even more poignant because it speaks of the writer’s acceptance and celebration of her unique and magnetic beauty. It’s speaks of her triumph in transcending the norms to embody what is truly beautiful in a woman.

All in all, this poem is a glorious, timeless, and inspirational work. It is poetry at its finest, folks.

 

On a Personal Note:

The first time I encountered the poem, Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou, it was through my mother’s copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul. (Or was it “Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul?”) Though only 16, and by no means a woman at that point, my teenage self was immensely moved by Dr. Angelou’s words. I immediately wrote down the poem in my high school journal, thinking, “Here is the type of woman I want to be.”

Now at 30, the poem remains an inspiration to me. It spans a page of every journal I’ve ever had. And every time I feel a pang of insecurity, I read the poem out loud and I tell myself—“Now, that’s the type of woman I ought to be.” Reading this poem never fails to put a smile on my face. Hopefully, it will have the same effect on you.

Featured Poem: Resumé by Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker

RESUMÉ

BY: DOROTHY PARKER

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

ANALYSIS.

Unlike most poems that require extensive poring over and stringent analysis, Resumé, by the renowned critic, satirist, poet, and writer, Dorothy Parker, is written in a rather unflinching and straightforward manner. The work almost reads like a catchy anti-suicide ditty, detailing the cons of each potentially fatal method.

From the simplicity of its ABAB rhyming sequence, to its absolute brevity, Resumé is testament to Parker’s incomparable wit and mastery over words. The sparse nature of its lines, completely devoid of the shroud of metaphors, only adds to the impact of the poem.

You might as well live. Its abrupt conclusion speaks volumes of what the poem is about. While the message is positive in its attempt to dissuade the reader from offing himself/herself, it also has an undeniably sardonic edge to it. The actual message being “don’t bother committing suicide,” – as if staying alive was a sorry compensation for not succeeding in accomplishing the otherwise.

And then we have the title of the piece: Resumé—note the accent on the letter e. Remove the accent, and we have resume, which means to move on. That would make perfect sense. But resumé? A resumé, simply put, refers to a brief summary of a person’s qualifications, achievements, educational background, etc. It’s what you submit when you’re applying for a position in an organization—or when you want to reassure someone of your expertise on a particular topic or subject. So, why resumé?

I must admit, the first time I read this poem, which was back in college—eight or so, odd years ago—I had chosen to ignore the accent, thinking ‘resume’ made better sense. But upon closer study of Dorothy Parker’s life, it appeared that the title was just excellent wordplay from her end. Having survived four suicide attempts, Parker is more than qualified to discuss the merits and demerits of suicide and its various methods. The sense of disillusionment that cloaks the closing line also makes better sense upon discovering these details. In a way, this is a part of her resumé, giving us a brief glance of the chapters in her life that she’d had to live through.

Extras:

Tidbit#1: Dorothy Parker lived to the age of 73. She died of a fatal coronary on the 7th of June, 1967.

Tidbit#2: She suggested that her epitaph be, “Excuse my dust.” Another suggestion she had was, “This is on me.”

Tidbit#3: Throughout her life, Parker had been a strong believer in social justice. Having no heirs, she decided to leave her literary estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., who she had never met, but shared ideals with. When Dr. King was assassinated a year later, the estate was turned over to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Image from: Wikipedia

Villanelle: How to Carve a Roast Baby.

20130527_122217

 

DISCLAIMER: Here’s a quick disclaimer, lest I seem more morbid than I actually am—the subject matter is not to be taken literally. I do not condone cannibalism in ANY way, nor do I believe that it is a solution to poverty. There is no intention to offend anyone. It is merely my 22-year-old self’s poor attempt at satire and my first go at creating a villanelle. That being said, on with the show.

 

How to Carve a Roast Baby.

By Kristel Marie Pujanes 

Everyone is a secret-sadist butcher;

Craving for little carvings of baby on a platter.

(If it’s below three, I don’t consider it murder.)

Mothers are natural meat carvers,

Trained from teen years to pierce flesh with a skewer,

Everyone is a secret-sadist butcher.

Grilled baby’s meat is always succulent and tender,

It drips with gravy, to keep separate in a saucer.

(If it’s below three, I don’t consider it murder.)

The only way to check if it’s dead is with an iron poker,

To gouge soup eyes and serve on a dish made of pewter.

Everyone is a secret-sadist butcher.

 

I checked for bones under my mother’s bed of flowers,

To see if I had there a family of little brothers.

(If it’s below three, I don’t consider it murder.)

Large families grow poor, until they make life better,

But to cook a few babies shouldn’t be quite a disaster.

Everyone’s a secret-sadist butcher.

(If it’s below three, I don’t consider it murder.)

(2008)

 

Villanelle defined: A villanelle, also known as a villanesque, is a poetic form that consists of 19 lines. It contains five tercets followed by a quatrain. It normally follows an A-B-A rhyming sequence for the first five tercets, then the rhyming becomes A-B-A-A at the quatrain. There’s a refrain that’s repeated throughout the piece. The first and third lines of the first tercet is added alternatingly in the tercets and found complete at the last two lines of the quatrain.

 

First published in my old blog: http://theobliterated.blogspot.com/2008/02/how-to-carve-roast-baby.html

 

Featured Poem: The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart by WB Yeats

20130516_081950

The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart by William Butler Yeats (1892)

All things uncomely and broken, all things worn out and old,
The cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart,
The heavy steps of the ploughman, splashing the wintry mould,
Are wronging your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.
The wrong of unshapely things, is a wrong too great to be told;
I hunger to build them anew, and sit on a green knoll apart,
With the earth and the sky and the water, re-made like a casket of gold
For my dreams of your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.

Notes and Analysis:

Back in freshman year in college, about a decade ago, the class was asked to pick a poem from our poetry book and to present our analysis of said work. I picked The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart by William Butler Yeats. Having had little exposure to W.B. Yeats’s works and little access to the World Wide Web, I ended up with a rather rudimentary and straightforward assessment of what I would later discover to be a historically rich piece.

Armed with handwritten notes, acetate film, and a projector, I proceeded to tell the class my limited understanding of the work. I spoke of how the simplicity of the every day becomes an affront to a man in love. The lover speaks of wanting to rebuild the world to suit the perfection of his loved one. The “wrongness” of the commonplace when set beside the luxurious line “re-made like a casket of gold,” implies the wealth of emotion the speaker feels for the addressed. How the mundane quality of everyday things pales in comparison to the depth of his emotions and the beauty of “the rose in the deeps of his heart.”  And while there may be some merit to this surface-level analysis, there are certain themes I feel I’ve missed. Consider this an attempt to correct my earlier report.

W.B. Yeats was born in 1865 in Dublin, Ireland. When he was a child, his family moved to London to help further his father’s career as an artist. Much of his youth and early adulthood was then spent in the capital city of England. In fact, Yeats purportedly wrote The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart during his stay in Bedford Park in 1892. Despite the long years spent abroad, Yeats seems to have remained profoundly devoted to his homeland. Closer examination of the abovementioned poem even discloses allusions to life in Ireland—“the cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart/the heavy steps of the ploughman, splashing the wintry mould/Are wronging your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.”

Could the “you” being portrayed here be something other than a person? Could it, in fact, be the land itself? He speaks of a “hunger to build them anew,” these “unshapely things.” Consider “you” to be Ireland, and the poem takes on a whole new meaning. This makes it altogether possible that the poem isn’t so much about romantic love as it is about nationalistic ideals—the desire to connect with and improve a country that is much beloved though distant. That’s one idea that can be explored.

The other, is that the piece is, in fact, really just a wonderfully written love poem dedicated to Yeats’s long-term love; the English-born feminist, actress, and Irish revolutionary, Maud Gonne. Maud figured heavily in Yeats’s writings throughout the span of his infatuation. She is said to have inspired works like “No Second Troy,” “This, This Rude Knocking,” and “A Man Young and Old.” The poet was so enamored with the Irish revolutionary that he proposed marriage to her, no less than five times (in 1891, 1899, 1900, 1901, and once again in 1916). Though by the time of the last proposal, the romance had reportedly long since fizzled out. It must have been an amicable break because that same year, the 52-year-old Yeats also proposed marriage to Maud’s 22-year-old daughter, Iseult. She also turned him down. When seen in this context, the straightforward analysis of yore works.

And here’s a personal observation from my 28-year-old self: how terribly prophetic that Yeats would use “re-made like a casket of gold” in a poem dedicated to Maud—how a grand gesture could in fact signal the end of a grand, long-standing romance, as one reads too much into the word “casket.” But that’s overreaching and over-reading, as a lover of words is wont to do.

The last idea, which is my favorite, is that like all great works from master wordsmiths, The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart is actually a complex combination of these ideas, and more. It’s a love poem written for both a ‘dream lover’ and the ‘dream of a better nation.’ I could also say that it’s an example of how great poetry works—with its ever-shifting meanings borne of the reader’s active imaginings.

The Sylvia Plath Connection: At this point, it’s no great secret that I am a big fan of Sylvia Plath’s works. It was Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror” which awoke my desire to write for a living. Being also a fan of W.B. Yeats’s writings, imagine my surprise when I found out that the two shared something other than great talent. At the time of Sylvia Plath’s death, she was living in a flat where William Butler Yeats once lived. She had taken it as a sign of greater things.

And that concludes today’s lengthy ramblings.

Featured Poem: The Rival by Sylvia Plath

the rival by sylvia plath

The Rival by Sylvia Plath

If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.

You leave the same impression

Of something beautiful, but annihilating.

Both of you are great light borrowers.

Her O-mouth grieves at the world; yours is unaffected,

 

And your first gift is making stone out of everything.

I wake to a mausoleum; you are here,

Ticking your fingers on the marble table, looking for cigarettes,

Spiteful as a woman, but not so nervous,

And dying to say something unanswerable.

 

The moon, too, abuses her subjects,

But in the daytime, she is ridiculous.

Your dissatisfactions, on the other hand,

Arrive through the mailslot with loving regularity,

White and blank, expansive as carbon monoxide.

 

No day is safe from news of you,

Walking about in Africa maybe, but thinking of me.

Note: The Rival is one of the most well-known poems featured in Sylvia Plath’s highly acclaimed posthumous work, Ariel. It was also one of the first poems I’ve read from Plath that really struck a chord with me. While Plath is known for the maelstrom of emotions her work produces, this one in particular encapsulated the universal idea of slow simmering resentment—the kind that’s forged over years of tempering and tolerance. The masterful comparison between the “addressed” and the moon speaks of a waxing and waning of emotions that suggests a long-term attempt to put up with the “addressed.” It also implies the ever-present nature of the subject, for “No day is safe from news of you,| Walking about in Africa maybe, but thinking of me.” These words have led to the popular speculation that the poem is about Plath’s mother, Aurelia.

This theory is further strengthened by the lines: “Your dissatisfactions, on the other hand,| Arrive through the mailslot with loving regularity.” In 1975, about 12 years after Plath’s death, Aurelia Schober Plath agreed to publish the abundance of letters Sylvia had written to her from 1950 to 1963. The collection, Letters Home, had not only given its readers insight into the mind of Sylvia Plath, it also gave them a glimpse of the complex relationship between mother and daughter—something that’s also clearly visible in the poem.

For while the initial wave of meaning that one experiences upon reading The Rival highlights resentment, the lack of action when it comes to severing ties with the subject also speaks volumes about the writer’s frame of mind regarding the “addressed.” Is the passivity in the piece caused by “resignation,” acceptance of “what is,” or does it underscore the dependency that comes with unconditional love? Whatever it implies, what makes The Rival such an enduring piece of literature is how it showcases Plath’s ability to capture the complexity of human emotions and relations.