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Meeting Poets -- Eunice deSouza

Guest poem submitted by Gauri Keshavan:
(Poem #1076) Meeting Poets
 Meeting poets I am disconcerted sometimes
 by the colour of their socks
 the suspicion of a wig
 the wasp in the voice
 and an air, sometimes, of dankness.

 Best to meet in poems:
 cool speckled shells
 in which one hears
 a sad but distant sea.
-- Eunice deSouza
The third of "Five London Pieces".

This is my favourite Eunice de Souza poem. She always keeps it simple and
straight, without using too many words. The suggestion is that poetry is
distant from poets as sea shells are from the sea... as if the work of art
creates a distance between itself and the artist...



Eunice de Souza was born in Pune, India in 1940, and educated there. She
received an MA from Marquette University in Wisconsin and a PhD from Bombay
in 1988. She is now a lecturer in English in St Xavier's College, Bombay.
Apart from writing extensively on contemporary literature and culture, she
has written four books for children, and was the co-editor of Statements
(1976), an anthology of Indian prose in English. Her collections of verse
are Fix (1979), Women in Dutch Painting (1988), and Ways of Belonging: New
and Selected Poems (1990); the last of these was a Poetry Book Society

Dolor -- Theodore Roethke

(Poem #1075) Dolor
 I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
 Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper-weight,
 All the misery of manila folders and mucilage,
 Desolation in immaculate public places,
 Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
 The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
 Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
 Endless duplication of lives and objects.
 And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
 Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
 Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
 Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
 Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.
-- Theodore Roethke

The first time I read this poem [1] I misinterpreted it as being just
another rant (albeit a rather good one) against the increasing mechanization
of modern society, and the concomitant death of craftsmanship and
individuality. Certainly that is one of Roethke's points, and it's not one I
disagree with. But the poet has a subtler message as well: that the
insidious spread of uniformity across _things_ has a deleterious effect on
_people_. It's easier to put a human being in a box when there are other
boxes all around; easier to contain thought when the world seems merely a
container for other objects. All neatly labeled and categorized and indexed,
in inexorable, desolate order.

[1] Ermm, let's be honest. It was all of five minutes ago :)


Notice how Roethke, like Whitman in "When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer"
(Minstrels Poem #54), uses long and decidedly unpoetic words in clunky,
choppy phrases to convey the stultifying effect of mechanical repetition and
duplication. Unlike the Whitman poem, however, there is no final easing up,
and so "Dolor" feels somewhat heavy-handed... On the other hand, "long
afternoons of tedium" could very well have been the inspiration for a phrase
we all know and love, so who am I to complain? :)


[Minstrels Links]

Poet #Roethke
Poet #Whitman


While I agree with the overall thrust of Roethke's poem, on further
reflection I must take exception to the first couple of lines: I happen to
_like_ the easy weight of sharp new pencils, the smell and texture of fresh
sheets of paper. They always make me feel creative :)

The Consecration Of Coffee -- Rafael Jesús González

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian:
(Poem #1074) The Consecration Of Coffee
    to Archbishop Oscar A. Romero

   One day of god
   drinking coffee in my patio
   nothing is normal--
       not the calla
       with its penis of gold
       nor the iris
       like purple lava
       a volcano spills.
   I find in the depths of the cup
   chasubles embroidered
   with black moths
   & red stains--
       the sun fires
       a scintillation of silver bullets
       & of candles drowned--
           there is blood in its shine.
   I place the cup on its saucer
   with a most tender care
   as if it were a chalice
   & say the litany:
           El Salvador
   & one side of my heart
   tastes white & sweet
   like cane sugar
       & the other,
           like coffee,
               bitter & black.
-- Rafael Jesús González

I rather like this man's vivid brush and rich sense of color. Extremely
rich, kind of like a visual version of Colombian coffee.

Wonderfully evocative - the beauty of South America hiding blood and
violence.  Black moths and red stains to remind you of bullet holes and
splashes of blood from all the people shot in long years of guerilla
warfare, coups and counter coups.

Yes, a lot like a perfect blend of cane sugar and coffee, as the man says.



   Rafael Jesús González

   was born in El Paso, Texas, attended the University of Texas at El
   Paso, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, & the University of
   Oregon. Professor of Creative Writing & Literature, he taught at the
   University of Oregon, Western State University of Colorado, Central
   Washington State University, the University of Texas at El Paso, and
   for thirty years at Laney College. His poetry and scholarly articles
   are widely published in reviews & anthologies in the U.S., Mexico &
   abroad; his collection of verse El Hacedor De Juegos / The Maker of
   Games published by Casa Editorial, San Francisco, went into a second
   printing. Also a visual artist, his work has been exhibited at the
   Oakland Museum; the Mexican Museum of San Francisco; & others in the
   U.S., Mexico, and abroad. He was Poet in Residence at the Oakland
   Museum of California and the Oakland Public Library under the Poets &
   Writers "Writers on Site Program" in 1996.


The Red Cockatoo -- Po Chü-i

Thanks to John Vinson for introducing me to today's poem
(Poem #1073) The Red Cockatoo
 Sent as a present from Annam
 A red cockatoo.
 Coloured like the peach-tree blossom,
 Speaking with the speech of men.
 And they did to it what is always done
 To the learned and eloquent.
 They took a cage with stout bars
 And shut it up inside.
-- Po Chü-i
        (Translated by Arthur Waley)

Today's poginant and beautiful poem lends itself to a number of
interpretations. There is, first of all, the surface meaning, a lament for a
bird cruelly caged for no crime other than that of being pleasing - and,
while simplistic, this is a very valid reading of the poem. To call the bird
a metaphor and plunge instantly through it and into the deeper layers of the
poem is to miss a great part of its beauty, for there is a definite pathos
inherent in a caged bird, and Po Chü-i has delineated that pathos simply and

However, the bird *is*, of course, a metaphor, and not a particularly
subtle one at that - indeed, the poem makes the comparison explicit with
"what is always done/ to the learned and eloquent". I am unsure whether the
bars the poet refer to are political, societal or personal (or, indeed, to
the effective cage of Po Chü-i’s own paralysis), but the point is that it
doesn't matter - the situation is universal enough that most readers will
find something to identify with[1].

Apart from the imagery, I like this poem for its elegant minimalism, and for
the contrastive balance of ornamentation and starkness. The delicate
portrayal of the bird 'coloured like the peach tree blossom' provides an
effective contrast to the blunt, almost unpoetic "They took a cage with
stout bars/ And shut it up inside." There is also the indefinable but
palpable feel of a translated poem[2], marking Waley's success in capturing
both the poem's universal message and its Chinese origin.

[1] The following quote is nicely illustrative of the point:
      Arthur Waley sent Russell the translation of a Chinese poem, which he
      had not published. Russell quotes it in his autobiography to convey
      his feelings at the time. [...] The poem speaks of the thoughtless
      cruelty of imprisoning pacifists.
        -- [broken link]

[2] Nick Grundy expressed a similar view when referring to Nabokov's
    translation of Pushkin:
      The obvious advantage those translating from their native tongue have
      is that they can retain the feel of the original - there's something
      peculiarly Russian about this

    It is interesting to see how people translating from an acquired language
    manage to capture the oft-elusive *feel* of that language and its
    culture. Perhaps some Chinese speaker could comment further on today's


  A biography and selection of Po Chü-i's poems:

  An excellent piece on Waley:
    Arthur Waley selected the jewels of Chinese and Japanese literature and
    pinned them quietly to his chest. No one has ever done anything like it
    before, and no one will ever do so again.

    There are now many Westerners whose knowledge of Chinese or Japanese is
    greater than his, and there are perhaps a few who can handle both
    languages as well. But they are not poets, and those who are better
    poets than Waley do not know Chinese or Japanese. Also the shock will
    never be repeated, for most of the works that Waley chose to translate
    were largely unknown in the West, and their impact was thus all the more

    Full piece at [broken link]

  The history of Annam:

next to of course god america i -- e e cummings

Guest poem submitted by Vivian:
(Poem #1072) next to of course god america i
 "next to of course god america i
 love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
 say can you see by the dawn's early my
 country 'tis of centuries come and go
 and are no more what of it we should worry
 in every language even deafanddumb
 thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
 by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
 why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
 iful than these heroic happy dead
 who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
 they did not stop to think they died instead
 then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

 He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
-- e e cummings
Here's one for the Fourth of July [1]. This poem speaks for itself and to us
(or at least to me) now and further comment is perhaps unnecessary. It's
amazing how some things never change -- or maybe life imitates art. Note the
rhymes (especially "beaut"/"mute"!) and that he is playing with sonnets


[1] Sorry, we're late as usual - ed.

Coffee In Heaven -- John Agard

Guest poem submitted by Zenobia Driver:
(Poem #1071) Coffee In Heaven
    You'll be greeted
 by a nice cup of coffee
 when you get to heaven
 and strains of angelic harmony.

    But wouldn't you be devastated
 if they only serve decaffeinated
 while from the percolators of hell

    your soul was assaulted
 by Satan's fresh espresso smell?
-- John Agard
I love coffee and hence I had to check out a poem with a title that read
'Coffee in Heaven'. I love the contrast between a sterile, decaffeinated,
virtuous heaven and a strong espresso hell.


Wires -- Philip Larkin

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #1070) Wires
 The widest prairies have electric fences,
 For though old cattle know they must not stray
 Young steers are always scenting purer water
 Not here but anywhere. Beyond the wires

 Leads them to blunder up against the wires
 Whose muscles-shredding violence gives no quarter.
 Young steers become old cattle from that day,
 Electric limits to their widest senses.
-- Philip Larkin
Have we run Larkin's Wires? It's the antithesis of Lindsay's poem or more
precisely, perhaps, its explanation. I suppose it's the common bovine
imagery that's making me imagine a link, but Larkin's poem can be seen as an
explanation of how the young that Lindsay sorrows for end up this way. It
is, of course, characteristic that Larkin takes the pessimistic view, while
Lindsay offers, if not exactly optimism, a plea to think that way.


[Minstrels Links]

The Lindsay poem Vikram is referring to is
Poem #1069, "The Leaden-Eyed" -- Vachel Lindsay

For other poems by Philip Larkin, see Poet #Larkin on the Minstrels website.

[thomas adds]

Do note the rhyme scheme -- abcd dcba. I don't think I've seen that one