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Tag:  National Poetry Month

Tag: National Poetry Month

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LitStack Rec: my name on his tongue & Hild

my name on his tongue, by Laila Halaby In the climate of inflamed rhetoric about immigrants that has predominated in this election year, a small, quiet book like Laila Halaby’s my name on his tongue can speak volumes. In her first book of poetry, published in 2012, Halaby mines issues of identity, geography and the […]

Spring and All, 1923 ed.

 Spring and All,

William Carlos Willams

In the frenzy that was my final term of grad school, I signed up for a seminar on Spring and All, by the classic American poet, William Carlos Williams. It would have been fine had I been studying poetry, but I was on the fiction track, and so began my dizzying encounter with this seminal work. For a good portion of that seminar I was completely lost, but reader, I’m hear to say I love this book, and it’s now among my favorites.

The volume, first published in 1923, is one of the major collections published by Williams (who was born in 1883), who is perhaps the best known of contemporary literary physicians, one that defined him as a major influence of the American Modernist movement. While his peers, like Pound, lived and worked abroad, finding influence in European and Asian forms, Williams intently remained in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, aiming to forge a distinctly American language—raw, vernacular, reflective of the time and place in which he lived. And he achieved it in Spring and All, which is a hybrid form of both poetry and prose.

Even if you don’t know the collection, you likely know it’s most well-known poems, I and XXIII. The first, the title poem begins:

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind.

Or the its most well-known poem, The Red Wheelbarrow:

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens.

During that grad seminar, I clung to the familiarity of those works, and yet there were other pleasures, less understood by me in my reading, but which all the same stunned with impressions, objects, moments.  “Civitas,” the instructor stated, was the locus from which Williams meant to make his art—a language arising from, and for, the social body. The patient in the ward, the overworked hospital staff, each poem was Williams’ attempt at a new American form, revivifying a desolation of consciousness. Williams rejected the European-influenced, elevated images and tone, and like American realist painters of that post WW1 period, found meaning and relevance in the realistic, in unembellished subject and form that reflected a contemporary consciousness.

Williams famously described his creative method as “No ideas but in things,” and though I struggled with the form his ideas took, his work taught me how life is contained in things, and in voice on the page.

Watch Allen Ginsburg read from Spring and All, here.

—Lauren  Alwan

Pages: 1 2

my name on his tongue, by Laila Halaby

In her first book of poetry, published in 2012, Halaby mines issues of identity, geography and the dislocation that comes from inhabiting two worlds. Halaby, the author of two novels, and recipient of a PEN/Beyond Margins Award, calls this volume a memoir in poems: a story of home, borders, arrivals, departures, airports, memory, childhood, motherhood, the Iraq war, occupied Palestine.

“I come from there and I have memories,” wrote Mahmoud Darwish, and the celebrated Palestinian who spent most of his life in exile is present in the mood of Halaby’s collection. Though hers is a different brand of exile: growing up between places and cultures. With my name on his tongue, she mines a doubleness, or what she calls in-betweenness, which as she describes as allowing for “more immediate stories, those that demand raw descriptions.”

The collection mines Halaby’s concerns from different vantage points: as a tourist, a child, an exile, and an opponent to the wars in the Mideast and Palestine. In “how a tour guide in Petra reminded me of all I’ve lost (or never had to begin with),” a tourist in an unnamed Mideast country experiences a sudden and intense desire for a homeland. In “home,” the speaker charts the contradictions and ambiguity of growing up culturally and racially mixed. “I thought/I belonged /to the Whites because that/was where/my house was,” but that doesn’t prevent her from coming under, or even fearing, scrutiny: “…they questioned/my name/my face/my place of birth/my father’s absence.” Later on, she writes, “I opted for the Arabs.”

Halaby also addresses the roles of exile and the outsider, both of which address the connection of person and place. These roles are also examined in the context of relationships, of kinship and love. In “your country,” the uncertainty of connection becomes a metaphor: “…if I were your country/you wouldn’t be tired/in the evenings.” The poem features some of the book’s best writing, in the speaker’s voice that joins seamlessly with the subjunctive tense and stripped down images. As here, as the speaker wonders:

if you would compose songs for me
in honor of my springtime

would you fold my cotton dresses
the way you might fold your flag
if you were allowed to show it?

The American war in Iraq dominates the book’s final section. In “short video clip: Baghdad tattoo/November, 2006,” the setting features “three naked bulbs” and a man on a table. The man is waiting for a tattoo, and has a “rectangle of shaved hair/credit card in size/etched onto a pale slab of his thigh,” where his name, address and phone number will be tattooed as ID in the event he is killed. Wisely, Halaby fixes her camera on the small things. The stubble on the tattoo artist’s face, the neatness of the letters inked onto his subject’s skin. The poem’s tight focus renders it one of the collection’s most powerful.

Read Laila Halaby’s post for National Poetry Month at the Syracuse University Press blog.

—Lauren Alwan

Pages: 1 2

Neil Gaiman, New ReadingNew York Times bestselling author and darling of the spec fic crowd (and the world), Neil Gaiman, wrote an original poem in celebration of National Poetry Month. Published on Tor.com, Gaiman’s “House” is accompanied with an illustration by Allen Williams. The poem was acquired for Tor.com by consulting editor Ellen Datlow.

 

“House”

Sometimes I think it’s like I live in a big giant head on a hilltop
made of papier mache, a big giant head of my own head.
I polish the eyes which would be windows, or
mow the lawn, I mean this is my house we’re talking about here
even if it is a big giant papier mache head that looks just like mine.
And people who go past
in cars or buses or see the house the head on the hill from trains
they think the house is me.
I’ll be sleeping there, or polishing the eyes, or weeding the lawn,
but no-one will see me, no-one would look.
And no-one would ever come. And if I waved no-one even knows it was me waving.
They’d all be looking in the wrong place, at the head on the hill.

I can see your house from here.

 

“House” copyright © 2013 Neil Gaiman

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