C. D. Wright, 1949–2016

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The following article appeared on January 14th 2016, in The Paris Review and was written by by .

“The poet C. D. Wright died unexpectedly this week at the age of sixty-seven, in Providence, Rhode Island. “It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free,” Wright once said, “and declare them so”; poetry was “the one arena where I am not inclined to crank up the fog machine.” Over the course of more than a dozen books, she “found a way,” as The New Yorker put it, “to wed fragments of an iconic America to a luminously strange idiom, eerie as a tin whistle.”

Wright’s poem “Our Dust,” which might double as a kind of eulogy—“I made / simple music / out of sticks and string … I / agreed to be the poet of one life, / one death alone”—appeared in the Winter 1988 issue of The Paris Review, and is reprinted in full below. It was later collected in her book Steal Away. You can watch her read it aloud here.

Our Dust

I am your ancestor. You know next-to-nothing
about me.
There is no reason for you to imagine
the rooms I occupied or my heavy hair.
Not the faint vinegar smell of me. Or
the rubbed damp
of Forrest and I coupling on the landing
en route to our detached day.

You didn’t know my weariness, error, incapacity,
I was the poet
of shadow work and towns with quarter-inch
phone books, of failed
roadside zoos. The poet of yard eggs and
sharpening shops,
jobs at the weapons plant and the Maybelline
factory on the penitentiary road.

A poet of spiderwort and jacks-in-the-pulpit,
hollyhocks against the tool shed.
An unsmiling dark blond.
The one with the trowel in her handbag.
I dug up protected and private things.
That sort, I was.
My graves went undecorated and my churches
abandoned. This wasn’t planned, but practice.

I was the poet of short-tailed cats and yellow
line paint.
Of satellite dishes and Peterbilt trucks. Red Man
Chewing Tobacco, Black Cat Fireworks, Triple Hut
Creme Soda. Also of dirt dobbers, nightcrawlers,
martin houses, honey, and whetstones
from the Novaculite Uplift. What remained
of The Uplift.

I had registered dogs 4 sale; rocks, dung,
and straw.
I was a poet of hummingbird hives along with
redhead stepbrothers.

The poet of good walking shoes—a necessity
in vernacular parts—and push mowers.
The rumor that I was once seen sleeping
in a refrigerator box is false (he was a brother
who hated me).
Nor was I the one lunching at the Governor’s
mansion.

I didn’t work off a grid. Or prime the surface
if I could get off without it. I made
simple music
out of sticks and string. On side B of me,
experimental guitar, night repairs and suppers
such as this.
You could count on me to make a bad situation
worse like putting liquid make-up over
a passion mark.

I never raised your rent. Or anyone else’s by God.
Never said I loved you. The future gave me chills.
I used the medium to say: Arise arise and
come together.
Free your children. Come on everybody. Let’s start
with Baltimore.

Believe me I am not being modest when I
admit my life doesn’t bear repeating. I
agreed to be the poet of one life,
one death alone. I have seen myself
in the black car. I have seen the retreat
of the black car.

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The Landlord’s Tale. Paul Revere’s Ride (Part Two) ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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The Landlord’s Tale. Paul Revere’s Ride

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled, —
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farm-yard wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm, —
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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The Landlord’s Tale. Paul Revere’s Ride (Part One) ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As this is such a long poem, and this also being the week that Independence Day is celebrated, I thought I would split the poem into two; the second part will appear on Wednesday.

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The Landlord’s Tale. Paul Revere’s Ride

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,—
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said, “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street,
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade, —
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay, —
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Wednesday Poem: Possibilities ~ Wislawa Szymborska

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Possibilities

I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

By Wislawa Szymborska
From “Nothing Twice”, 1997
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

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Wednesday Poem: Sunset Haiku Trio ~ Andrea Dietrich

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Sunset Haiku Trio

bright rays of yellow
ride the rolling ocean waves. . . .
sun is hanging ten

sun spreads marmalade
on a toasty warm evening. . . .
the sky eats it up

day ends at the beach
twilight spills orange delight
onto the water

Andrea Dietrich

Wednesday Poem: The Jumblies ~ Edward Lear

jumblies
The Jumblies

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, `You’ll all be drowned!’
They called aloud, `Our Sieve ain’t big,
But we don’t care a button! we don’t care a fig!
In a Sieve we’ll go to sea!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
`O won’t they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it’s extremely wrong
In a Sieve to sail so fast!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, `How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And all night long they sailed away;
And when the sun went down,
They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,
In the shade of the mountains brown.
`O Timballo! How happy we are,
When we live in a Sieve and a crockery-jar,
And all night long in the moonlight pale,
We sail away with a pea-green sail,
In the shade of the mountains brown!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And in twenty years they all came back,
In twenty years or more,
And every one said, `How tall they’ve grown!
For they’ve been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
And the hills of the Chankly Bore!’
And they drank their health, and gave them a feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;
And every one said, `If we only live,
We too will go to sea in a Sieve,—
To the hills of the Chankly Bore!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

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Review: Poems of Christina Rossetti ~ Christina Rossetti, Florence Harrison (Illustrator), Kathryn W. Plosica (Designed by), Gail Harvey (Introduction)

Poems of Christina rosettiISBN ~ 978-0517118511
Publisher ~ Gramercy
No. Of Pages ~ 120 pages
Links ~ Project Gutenberg,

In poems ranging from fantasy and verses for the young to ballads, love lyrics sonnets and religious poetry, Rossetti was regarded was by many of her contemporaries as Britain’s finest living poet.

3 Thumbs-UpChristina Rossetti was first published at the age of 17 and from there went on to publish hundreds of poems; the majority religious and this may dissuade those who don’t hold with religion from reading her work, all I can say is please don’t let it.

One of my favourite pieces of her writing is ‘Goblin Market’, the tale of two sisters Lizzie and Laura, and their almost fatal encounter with the goblin men.  On first read I found it to be quite confusing, but the more I read this poem the more I came to realise that it was a morality tale, and that the broken rhythm in which it was written was as compelling and tempting as sin itself.  It is full of a sexual innuendo that makes it hard to ignore, even more so when these innuendo lay next to implied religious imagery.  However, like most poems the interpretation and intent of the poetry is dependent on the reader, and another may read this poem and come away from it with a totally different picture and meaning in their mind.

Another of my favourite pieces of Ms. Rossetti is ‘Remember’.  It is beautifully written and covers the subject of death and grieving.  I first read this poem shortly after I had lost my Father, and it struck such a chord in me that I immediately started devouring all and any works by this poet.  Even though years have passed since I picked up any of her writings, reading this collection has reminded me why I enjoy poetry as much as literature.

Trying to review a collection of poems is difficult under any circumstances, but to give the poetry in this collection the reviews they truly deserve I would have to write about each one individually, and that would result in there been no need for anyone to pick it up and read them.  The Project Gutenberg edition (see link above) is considerably longer than the edition I have listed the ISBN for, and contains a larger selection of Ms. Rossetti’s poetry.  In my opinion, the ‘Gutenberg’ collection gives a better reading experience than the short collection I’ve based my review on here, and is worth the time to download.  It is also broken down into easy to reference sections including devotional pieces, so if the reader wishes to skip these particular works, they may.

I would recommend this short collection to any who may have heard of Christina Rossetti but have not yet read her work, but for a more extensive collection would highly recommend downloading the version from Project Gutenberg.   Yes, some of the poems are a little difficult to understand; yes, there is a religious theme in most of her work and yes they can be highly emotional to read, however, what they are not is a waste of time.

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