List Wednesday – Five Creepy Halloween Poems

By next Wednesday, Halloween will have come and gone. Always one of my favorite holidays, it conjures up newly frosty nights filled with the scrape of bare tree branches, swirling leaves, and a newly graveyard grey landscape. In college, I used to love to wander the local graveyard which was filled with very old gravestones, ornately carved and bearing melancholy sentiments. The long twilight of this time of year reminds us that it’s time to gather for stories and poetry to bind us all together. So, here you go. Five scary poems for your Halloween or Samhain  pleasure.

  1. The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe – this one is kind of a “gimme.” Sure the content is pretty spooky, the depressed narrator, the creepy giant bird, but it’s really the incantatory quality of the rhythm and rhyme scheme that fuels this romp through the macabre.
  2. Empire of Dreams by Charles Simic. It’s the combination of the nameless black dog and the fact that the speaker carries a mask with him of which he is terrified that makes this plainspoken poem so odd.
  3. The Emperor of Ice Cream by Wallace Stevens. It’s the frighteningly cold feet that protrude from the sheet that get me every time. Or perhaps it’s the sly way that Stevens asserts that death awaits all of us with a reference to ice cream which really gives me the chills.
  4. Patsy Sees a Ghost by Lola Haskins. Haskins simple language and everyday details make this encounter with the ghost of drowned girl a truly haunting experience.
  5. All Hallows by Louise Gluck.
Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:
This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here

Come here, little one
And the soul creeps out of the tree.

Trusting Grateful Inspired Friday – the trapeze edition

Trusting – “Poetry begins where language starts: in the shadows and accidents of one person’s life,” Eavan Boland from A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet. Nothing is wasted, everything unfolds exactly as it should, all of your life is food for your art.

Grateful – for the life I was given that has room in it for poetry, for my love of words that was not squelched by overwhelming poverty or lack of education, for the strong poets who came before me and whose work sustains me like air and earth.

Inspired – by Deborah Digges’s poetry, like a finely crafted crystal splinter that hurts so much but is so beautiful.

Trapeze by Deborah Digges

See how the first dark takes the city in its arms
and carries it into what yesterday we called the future.

O, the dying are such acrobats.
Here you must take a boat from one day to the next,

or clutch the girders of the bridge, hand over hand.
But they are sailing like a pendulum between eternity and evening,

diving, recovering, balancing the air.
Who can tell at this hour seabirds from starlings,

wind from revolving doors or currents off the river.
Some are as children on swings pumping higher and higher.

Don’t call them back, don’t call them in for supper.
See, they leave scuff marks like jet trails on the sky.

Trusting Grateful Inspired Friday – the Art & Fear edition

Trusting – “The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.” – David Bayles and Ted Orland in Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. I’m trusting in this process. Another anecdote in the book has been really helpful in illustrating this point:

A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weight the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds would be an A, forty pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one poet – albeit a perfect on – to get an A. Well, came grading time a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busy churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more the show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Trust in the fact that ten mediocre poems will be followed by one brilliant one, but to get to that shining one, you need to track through the mud of the prior ten.

Grateful – Between 2006 and 2009, my upcoming week would have been filled with discussions about writing, laughter shared among people for whom “the work” is the highest goal, mornings in a cathedral of thought and evenings sitting before mentors and friends listening to stories and poetry. Last year, I salved my “residency withdrawal” with Breadloaf. This year I have nothing on the burner but am thinking of those who are reading and those who are graduating. Wish I could be there with you all, but will content myself with being there in spirit.

Inspired – from Dan Albergotti’s book The Boatloads, which I have been forcing myself to read slowly rather than gulping it down in one evening:

“Song 378” by Dan Albergotti

They say grace is amazing
They say fools rush in.
Pope was a wise man. This is a song.

This is a song because it says song,
says song insistently, says sibilance.
Hisses a background for sharp notes.

It says there is a note that marries

skulls to smile, despair to hope

if only for one trembling moment.
It sounds the diphthong between birth
and death. This song says mystery.

When the great composer was asked to name
his favorite music, he said, No music.
The dead and dying sing a silent song.