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Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

The Algebra of Inequality*

Once they enter the algorithms
consult their computer oracles
assigning dollar value to life & limb
with suitable aplomb

In the boardrooms of corporations
where the wolves run free
who will pay due compensation
for the sheep they slay?

 

%22Algebra%22

 

*Title derived from “Report” (short story by Donald Barthelme)

© 2014  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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DSC00570First Snow

 

Winter invariably defeats
the colorful palette
that precedes it

trees brutally denuded, stripped
of their plumage

hillsides and glens
made barren by the
mass killing of flowers

 
July 1, 2014

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Poetry1I wanted a dedicated space for the fine volumes of poetry I’ve managed to accumulate over the course of my reading life.

Books of poetry have been scattered around various locations of the house but now, thanks to Sherron, we have a charming little bookcase that’s perfect for highlighting our collection. She happened to spot a garage sale on the way home from work and couldn’t believe her luck when she spied this little beauty. Four shelves and solidly constructed.

Poetry has taken on increased significance and importance in my life over the past five or ten years. I’ve developed the patience and maturity required for verse and have a real appreciation for authors who have the vision, concision and mental discipline to execute truly great poetry.

I have numerous volumes by my current favorites—Paul Celan, Arthur Rimbaud, Ted Kooser, W.S. Merwin, Billy Collins—and offerings by lesser known poets like Naomi Shihab Nye and Carolyn Forsche. A cool, eclectic mix of new and old, with a few oddities thrown in to keep things interesting.

I’ve heard it said most people are only interested in poetry for use in weddings or funerals and that’s unfortunate, an indication of how badly poetry is taught in school. Dissected for its component parts like a frog, rather than appreciated for its beauty and, with the very best poetry, universality. Most readers are afraid of poetry, intimidated by it—poetry is “difficult”, “elitist”, “frustrating”.

I wonder how much of Ted Kooser’s work they’ve read. The simplicity and clarity of his language might surprise them. I advise them to pick up a copy of his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Delights and Shadows (Copper Canyon Press; 2004), encounter a writer who doesn’t hide behind opacity or cloak his ideas and themes in haughty esoterica.

Time to rediscover the joy of reading well-crafted, superbly conceived poetry.

Believe me, there’s a lot of it about.

Seek and ye shall find!

poetry2

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Dilemma

 

Let’s say I do it, let’s say, dearest,

I tear down this crummy, old fence

of ours—then what?

 

Do I replace it with another fence,

clean and white and perfectly straight,

the wood treated with poison

solvents to keep it from weathering?

 

Perhaps a higher fence, six feet

or more, the boards squeezed close

together to dissuade prying eyes;

a solid wall to keep others out.

 

If I plant some kind of hedge, caragana

or what have you, as has been suggested,

will I feel suitably secure (i.e. is such a flimsy

barrier a credible deterrent against thieves)?

 

The other option is to leave our backyard

wide open and accessible to the alley…but

I’m not comfortable with that.

 

I agree that our fence is worn out,

dilapidated, something of an eyesore;

I apologize if it embarrasses you.

 

But as I’ve just explained, it’s no easy

matter replacing it—and some of your ideas

involve considerable expense. We must not

act hastily, allow emotion to over-rule reason.

 

I think for now I’ll keep propping it up as best

I can, until a practical solution presents itself

or, more likely, the entire goddamned thing finally

collapses, defeated by a horde of years.

 

Fence

 

 * * * * *

Diagnosis

 

Apparently I suffered from a

“cute anxiety”, that’s what Miss Haynes,

the school counselor, told my mother,

which somehow explained the boils,

bed-wetting and frequent crying fits.

 

I remember wondering if this cuteness

was curable and how I got it when I

was such an ugly child, my sisters said

so, and no one else took my side or

stated a contrary view.

 

boy

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Finity

(for Crad Kilodney)

Sic transit something something”
like glory, memory fades

Don’t let us be bashful:
I came, I’ll stay awhile
and I shall die

The narcissist is dismayed,
the absolutist justified

 

 

© Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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Time’s crooked arrow
describes an erratic arc
heedless of any damage
it might incur
an unrepentant apologist
Holocaust denier
skilled at self-deception
feigning objectivity
dissembling endlessly
(in the Hegelian fashion)
tipped for advancement
all the right clubs
holding a mirror before
a cold, blue corpse
writhing with flies
dubbing it progress
with bland assurance
cue the teleprompter
for the usual disclaimers

© 2014  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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Poems:CoverThis just in:

My volume of New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) has been shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award.

Read about it here.

The ReLits celebrate the best books released from independent Canadian presses and I’m pleased to make the final roster and delighted to be in the company of some really fine writers.

My thanks to the administrators and sponsors and all involved.

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Shipwrecked

You are the tumult my life requires
out-witting dull routine, monkey-wrenching the works
keeping us ageless despite the slow accumulation of years
possessed by wonder, intimations of a higher power
concealed in the metronomic regularity
of the tides that stranded us here

 

Weak Moment

I think tonight I’ll be selfish,
refusing to disclose the shameful
extent of my passion, withholding
from you those sentiments I
normally share in this context
like a box of buttered popcorn,
except at the moment I find I’m
lonelier than usual, than I should
be, feeling the need to hoard
everything we are, keeping us
all to myself.

 

© Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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Front coverAn astonishing review of my New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) just posted over at a site called Pseudo-Intellectual Reviews.

The reviewer and I belong to the same LibraryThing group and she mentioned she was picking up a copy but, sheesh, I didn’t expect such a smart and, yes, glowing review.

It’s the first critique of any sort the poems have received. I get general rumblings of praise from the people who’ve read New & Selected Poems but folks seem reluctant to address the subject matter or prominent themes. I worried, in my Afterword, that the collection might be too personal, too intense and I think there might be something to that. If you watch the footage of the book launch, the poems are often received in what I would describe as strained silence. Sherron told me that at one point a woman near her was softly weeping.

Dear Lord

What kind of strange zeitgeist has my verse tapped into?

Poems are a hard enough sell these days—apocalyptic, mind-bending excavations on the human spirit may not be what readers are looking for.

Cripes, look at the bestseller list.

Yup, once again, it appears I’ve missed the mark.

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feed2I was one of the invited guests at the launch of the second installment of the Battlefords’ only homegrown arts magazine, Feed the Artist. I contributed a brief essay to this latest issue and was impressed by the quality of the work (prose and visuals) I found throughout. It’s quite gorgeous; make sure you check it out.

Congratulations to everyone involved with Feed the Artist, the editors and artists who worked so hard to bring a dedicated arts and culture publication to the citizens of this region.

Here’s what I said to the sixty or so people who assembled at Crandleberry’s to give the magazine a grand send-off.

Thanks to everyone who attended. It was a magical evening.

* * * * *

I think it’s appropriate that we’re launching the new issue of “Feed the Artist” here, in a very public venue as opposed to a more formal setting.  While there might be benefits to holding events in clean, well-lighted places, featuring all the latest bells and whistles, there’s also something cold and antiseptic and, let’s face it, increasingly corporate about these fancy-shmancy new galleries and performing arts centers.

Some of you either participated in or were witnesses to the “Tree” piece that was conceived and created around a locale in Battleford. The natural setting became an important element within the performance. I’m also thinking about the “Flash Mobs” that have broken out in this region of late, people congregating in public places and singing and dancing while startled spectators try to take everything in.

All of this is happening outside the rarefied air of institutions and brick and mortar facilities. Because art, after all, is portable, not confined to designated areas and “safe” zones. Why not utilize non-traditional locations to tell stories and highlight the rich history and culture of this region?

Time for artists to escape museums and galleries and theaters and bookstores and re-enter public spaces, remind the citizens of our communities that we have something to say about life, the universe…and the human condition. Something essential, something they need to know if they’re to stay sane in an increasingly frantic and chaotic world.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Populist Manifesto” addressed some of these points nearly forty years ago, so I’ll conclude by reading an excerpt from that work (what’s an arts gathering without a manifesto?).

Populist Manifesto (Excerpt)

Poets, come out of your closets, 
Open your windows, open your doors, 
You have been holed-up too long 
in your closed worlds. 
Come down, come down 
from your Russian Hills and Telegraph Hills, 
your Beacon Hills and your Chapel Hills, 
your Mount Analogues and Montparnasses, 
down from your foothills and mountains, 
out of your teepees and domes. 
The trees are still falling 
and we’ll to the woods no more. 
No time now for sitting in them 
As man burns down his own house 
to roast his pig 
No more chanting Hare Krishna 
while Rome burns. 
San Francisco’s burning, 
Mayakovsky’s Moscow’s burning 
the fossil-fuels of life. 
Night & the Horse approaches 
eating light, heat & power, 
and the clouds have trousers. 
No time now for the artist to hide 
above, beyond, behind the scenes, 
indifferent, paring his fingernails, 
refining himself out of existence. 
No time now for our little literary games, 
no time now for our paranoias & hypochondrias, 
no time now for fear & loathing, 
time now only for light & love.

-Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Copyright, 1974)

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