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So I'm going to Europe in two weeks.  I deliberately haven't much of a plan...it's all very napkin-sketch.  My very limited itinerary includes:

1) Drink a fresh Kolsch in Koln/Cologne
2) See Brueghel's "The Fall Of Icarus" at the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Brussels
3) Attend the international MINI festival/party MINI United in Amsterdam
4) Visit Meteren, a tiny town in Geldermalsen, Netherlands that is the origin of my surname
5) Send home postcards and Belgian chocolates (more on that later)
6) Time permitting, hang- or para-glide in the Alps
7) Spend some time futzing around in Prague
8) TIme permitting, visit honorary family member Fenar in Copenhagen
9) As much as possible, take only pinhole and zone plate photographs. *

* I don't want to take the same Europe photos thousands of others have taken, and this seems like a good restriction to encourage creativity.  I'll have only one other lens with me, for portraits of friends made along the way and other things that don't lend themselves to long exposures.

So, in honor of my impending journey, I'll be expanding the Tuesday poem into a series of posts over the next two weeks.  This first one is perhaps the greatest travel poem ever written, most of all because it is not necessarily about travel.

Ithaka


As you set out for Ithaka
hope the journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
may there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbours seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Constantine Cavafy
Tr. Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard
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On The Roof

The trouble with me is that whether I get love or not
I suffer from it. My heart always seems to be prowling
a mile ahead of me, and, by the time I get there to surround it,
it's chewing fences in the next county, clawing
the bank-vault wall down or smashing in the window
I had just started etching my name on with my diamond.

And that's how come I end up on the roof. Because even if I talk
into my fist everyone still hears my voice like the ocean
in theirs, and so they solace me and I have to keep
breaking toes with my gun-boots and coming up here
to live—by myself, like an aerial, with a hand on the ledge,
one eye glued to the tin door and one to the skylight.

- C.K. Williams
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It's Election Day! If you haven't voted yet, I implore you stop reading and go do so. I care not what you're voting for, I wish only to see you participating. It's the only weapon we have against the (mostly) guys in charge.

For Election Day 2006, I've chosen a selection of poems about American democracy. I urge you to read them all, because they're all bloody brilliant, and all but one of them is short.

"Election Day" by William Carlos Williams provides a subtle reminder of the condition of our democracy. Don't let this discourage you...vote anyway, and resolve to fix it up in future elections.

"Election Day, November, 1884" by Walt Whitman was written in response to one of the most rancorous, negative, and bitterly contested elections in American history. Yes, even then they had perfected mudslinging to a cruel science. Despite the nature of that election, Whitman celebrates something larger than a single election, larger than the man who won: the power of the choosing itself. "While the heart pants, life glows" - a hopeful truth.

And finally, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda celebrates, during a visit to America, the democracy of rail-splitter Abraham Lincoln, and wishes for an awakening in our modern world. What's printed here is merely an excerpt from "Let The Rail Splitter Awake", but it's one of my all-time favorite pieces of poetry and well worth your time.

On Election Day 2006, "Let us think of the entire earth / and pound the table with love."

Election Day, by William Carlos Williams )

Election Day, November, 1884, by Walt Whitman )

An excerpt from Let The Rail Splitter Awake, by Pablo Neruda )


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I msised last week's Tuesday poem, but we're back on schedule this week.  I wanted to do something apropos of our coming election, and after considering a number of more well-known protest poems, I stumbled across this lesser-known gem by e.e. cummings.  Enjoy the poem,.and don't be afraid to answer "no" on election day.

[why must itself up every of a park]

by e.e. cummings

why must itself up every of a park
anus stick some quote statue unquote to
prove that a hero equals any jerk
who was afraid to dare to answer "no"?
quote citizens unquote might otherwise
forget(to err is human;to forgive
divine)that if the quote state unquote says
"kill" killing is an act of christian love.
"Nothing" in 1944 AD
"can stand against the argument of mil
itary necessity"(generalissimo e)
and echo answers "there is no appeal
from reason"(freud)--you pays your money and
you doesn't take your choice.Ain't freedom grand
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Quoth the lovely [info]phylomath: "I wish I knew more great poems about food." 

Herewith, one of my favorite food poems:

Blackberrying
by Sylvia Plath

Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks —
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me
To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.

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This week's poem selection is inspired by a combination of the following:

1) McKee's numerological glossing on [profile] phylomath's recent review of Alinea,

2) [personal profile] greycat's impending adoption of a Japanese bobtail cat, and

3) My recent work on assembling a mix called "The Nymph's Reply To The Passionate Lloyd Cole", which is a collection of songs that do the same sort of cultural call-and-response that Sir Walter Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd" did in 1600.

So, this week's selection is a reply of sorts: "Wild Gratitude", by Edward Hirsch. The poem it replies to is a well-anthologized excerpt from Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno.  Smart was institutionalized in the 18th century for attempting to carry out his public mission of praying in every single one of London's multitude of streets.  While behind the walls of Bethnal Green, he wrote the Jubilate, a devotional poem of course, but also a passionate celebration of the intricate details of life.  In the course of the poem, Smart celebrates everything from the mystical power of numbers and letters ("For One is perfect and good being at unity in himself.") to the nobility of postal workers and the unique characteristics of all insect and animal species ("Let Giddalti rejoice with the Mocking-bird, who takes off the notes of the Aviary and reserves his own."), to a delightfully personal sense of humor ("For there is a traveling for the glory of God without going to Italy or France."). 

As a love poem to the whole of creation, it has few equals.

You can find the entire text of Jubilate Agno here, but I'm going to quote only the part Hirsch is most directly replying to...

For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry
by Christopher Smart


And that brings us round at last to the actual poem of the day...

Wild Gratitude
by Edward Hirsch

Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey,
And put my fingers into her clean cat's mouth,
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens,
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air,
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight,
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart,
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing
In every one of the splintered London streets,

And was locked away in the madhouse at St. Luke's,
With his sad religious mania, and his wild gratitude,
And his grave prayers for the other lunatics,
And his great love for his speckled cat, Jeoffry.
All day today—August 13, 1983—I remembered how
Christopher Smart blessed this same day in August, 1759,
For its calm bravery and ordinary good conscience.

This was the day that he blessed the Postmaster General
"And all conveyancers of letters" for their warm humanity,
And the gardeners for their private benevolence
And intricate knowledge of the language of flowers,
And the milkmen for their universal human kindness.
This morning I understood that he loved to hear—
As I have heard—the soft clink of milk bottles
On the rickety stairs in the early morning,

And how terrible it must have seemed
When even this small pleasure was denied him.
But it wasn't until tonight when I knelt down
And slipped my hand into Zooey's waggling mouth
That I remembered how he'd called Jeoffry "the servant
Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him,"
And for the first time understood what it meant.
Because it wasn't until I saw my own cat

Whine and roll over on her fluffy back
That I realized how gratefully he had watched
Jeoffry fetch and carry his wooden cork
Across the grass in the wet garden, patiently
Jumping over a high stick, calmly sharpening
His claws on the woodpile, rubbing his nose
Against the nose of another cat, stretching, or
Slowly stalking his traditional enemy, the mouse,
A rodent, "a creature of great personal valour,"
And then dallying so much that his enemy escaped.

And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him—
Who can teach us how to praise—purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.

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In the interest of having more excuses / digital guilt-trips to prod me into posting here, I'm starting a new posting series.  Every Tuesday I'll post a poem, beginning this week with a lovely poem by French Surrealist Robert Desnos. 


The Landscape
by Robert Desnos

I dreamt of loving. The dream remains, but love
is no longer those lilacs and roses whose breath
filled the broad woods, where the sail of a flame
lay at the end of each arrow-straight path.

I dreamt of loving. The dream remains, but love
is no longer that storm whose white nerve sparked
the castle towers, or left the mind unrhymed,
or flared an instant, just where the road forked.

It is the star struck under my heel in the night.
It is the word no book on earth defines.
It is the foam on the wave, the cloud in the sky.

As they age, all things grow rigid and bright.
The streets fall nameless, and the knots untie.
Now, with this landscape, I fix; I shine.


(Translated from the French by Don Paterson)

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