Poetry Friday: “The Aging Maria”

a plaster house with a yellow painted wooden door sits behind a tree with draping green foliage. the image is light and warm.The prose poem is a challenging genre. After all, what distinguishes “plain prose” from “prose poetry”? Here, in Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “The Aging Maria,” I’d say it’s, first, the liberty with sentence structure. Take the opening sentence: in a prose work we’d say it’s too long, stretches in too many directions. But here, each phrase moves us further into the image and context of this garden statue of Mary: she forbears the elements, the tropical hurricanes; she has held her place through generations; her “calm blue gaze cut[s] through time”; she stares at the avocado tree. Also, there’s the hint of an iambic beat in most of these opening phrases. Second, what feels poetic is the changes rung throughout the poem on the statue’s aging, the vivid imagery of its disintegration over time. Finally, the movement back and forth between mere statue and Mary the “Queen of Heaven” feels poetic: reality and saint seamlessly interchanging places. The saint wins out at the poem’s very end, where—in the twilight—“the yellow patina of age briefly turn[s] to a luminous gold, as though she were lit, as she is, from within.” Listen, too, to all the luscious alliteration of “l”s in this final sentence, and you’ll know you’re hearing poetry.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “To Jenya on First Noticing the Dog’s Bowl of My Imagination”

image of a bluish bowlI was first drawn to this poem by Carol Ann Davis because of its long and curious title. Who is Jenya? How does imagination correspond to a dog’s bowl? The peculiarity of these details led me into a surprising poem of weighty questions and deep meditation. Davis asks, “My emptiness/loves yours. Can you hear it?” After a contemplative Lenten season, this poem challenges me to continue to make room for mindfulness and reflection in my life, each and every day. To commit to listening versus distraction. To allow my “animal mind” to empty “its bowl of needs” in order to make room for something larger and more profound to enter. I am grateful for Davis’ conviction that we will all find our way to our own form of reverence.

—Jessica Gigot [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Sewing Box”

Painting of a Girl sitting in front of a sewing machine facing a window that lets in slats of light on the girl and the burnt orange walls.We don’t think enough—or at least I don’t—about how objects can contain memory. But Murray Bodo’s poem “Sewing Box” shows us how: in this box in which memory is literally contained. Each of the four stanza takes us deeper into the box. At first it’s just “the busy / sewing box I’d organize on visits home.” So it’s a box, we guess, that belonged to the speaker’s mother. In the second stanza, it becomes “a memory chest,” as the speaker recalls his mother’s using it “to mend socks and hearts” after a hard day’s work. At the start of stanza three, the box becomes (alarmingly) “a sepulcher”; evidently the mother has died, and the box remains untouched between the speaker’s visits home, its “spools of thread, / buttons, thimbles, needles, and pins” all “stilled.” Then the final stanza heralds an unexpected discovery: “This year I found a hidden drawer / not noticed before…” The speaker finds in the drawer long-ago objects, including a needle-holder that he “made / for you in fourth grade.” But then the drawer reveals even more unexpected contents: holy cards and other religious aids to prayer. With these, which ends the poem, I see the box sacralized—as at the same time, the entire history of the speaker’s relation to his mother is sacralized as well.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Dancing with Words During National Poetry Month

Impressionistic painting of an expansive room with vaulted windows that open to the green of the outside. In the room, various dancers gathered by a bar or in the center of the room, practicing pointing their toes and stretching out their legs. They are wearing loose white and pale lavender tutus and leotards. In the left hand corner, an instructor in black sits and observes.Here’s your assignment. Choose a poem you’ve written (it could be any piece of writing, really, an email message, a shopping list, a complaint to a cable service provider, a toast for a wedding—you get the idea. If it’s a poem, chose only a few lines. If it’s another piece of writing, choose a portion of it. Then, translate those lines.

But here’s the thing. Don’t translate a word from one language into its equivalent word in another language. Instead, translate each letter of each word, in the order in which they appear, into an image, a concrete noun or active verb (“be” is an active verb, too!). What does the shape of each letter resemble? That “h”, is it a shovel? That “s”, is it snow or a leaf falling to the ground?

First do a raw translation, letter to word (or words), letter to word, letter to word. Now, using these words, arranging and adding words as needed to write complete sentences, write a poem. Or, if poetry isn’t for you, write a new shopping list! Or a letter to your senator! In this visual language, tell your senator to protect funding for the NEA! Or write a confession to God. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “The Last Supper”

photo of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. A long white table sits in a large, well lit hall. In the center of the table, Jesus stands, leaning over the table. Around him crowd his disciples, spread and talking amongst each other.This poem is a meditation on Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, “The Last Supper.” But the meditation moves in an unexpected direction. The first stanza stays with the painting, though with a comical interpretation of “torn bread” scattered on the tablecloth. In stanza two, the poet moves to the wine—“or seeming / lack of it.” In the painting, no chalice is visible—nothing “bigger than a shot glass.” It’s from this image of a shot glass that the poem’s speaker takes off in stanza three. He seems to be pondering its meaning, as he twice says “that makes sense.” What makes sense now to the speaker is that a single shot of liquor suffices: it reveals “the power” that a bartender serves (as Jesus serves God?); it is sufficient for lingering camaraderie. From here, the speaker reflects on other smallnesses that are sufficient in life: “Only a heartbeat /of belief is necessary.” And “by small increments we learn to taste.” To taste what? The poem doesn’t say, but in the context of the de Vinci painting, I recall a song that we often sing during Communion in my Catholic parish: “Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.”

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]