Thursday, October 6, 2011

Off the Shelf Archive~October

It's time to refresh the Off the Shelf selection for the month of October, which marks one year of blogging here at Verse Escape, and is also the month of All Hallows, when everything that goes bump in the night does its best bumping. 

So I'm bringing out the big guns of the macabre, my old childhood companion, Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)with my utmost favorite from him, Ulalume, in all its ineffable soaring and occasionally silly bleakness, plus, because Halloween is my favorite holiday, an extra poem--just a small side dollop of the stark with In the Desert by Stephen Crane (1871-1900) to take some of the purple pouffe out. 

Sometimes it's hard to read Poe with a totally straight face as an adult, and yet he comes up with some amazing language that just knocks you backwards, even as you're shaking your head going, "over the top" or "sometimes less is more."

Crane is Crane, in this one, short, sharp and merciless. If you're only familiar with him as the author of The Red Badge of Courage, his poetry is more than worth exploring. 

You'll find both poems here on the Off the Shelf Page

And here is the previous selection for one last reading before it enters the vault, The Day I Saw Barack Obama Reading Derek Walcott's Collected Poems, by Yusef Komunyakaa, this years winner of the Wallace Stevens Award for Poetry. I wrote more about him last month and included some links here if you're curious about him.

As always please feel free to comment on either poem here, as comments are disabled off the main page. Suggestions for next time are always welcome, also.

The Day I Saw Barack Obama Reading Derek Walcott's Collected Poems

Was he looking for St. Lucia's light
to touch his face those first days 
in the official November snow & sleet 
falling on the granite pose of Lincoln?
If he were searching for property lines
drawn in the blood, or for a hint
of resolve crisscrossing a border,
maybe he'd find clues in the taste of breadfruit.
I could see him stopped there squinting
in crooked light, the haze of Wall Street
touching clouds of double consciousness,
an eye etched into a sign borrowed from Egypt.

If he's looking for tips on basketball,
how to rise up & guard the hoop,
he may glean a few theories about war   
but they aren't in The Star-Apple Kingdom.

If he wants to finally master himself,
searching for clues to govern seagulls
in salty air, he'll find henchmen busy with locks
& chains in a ghost schooner's nocturnal calm.

He's reading someone who won't speak
of milk & honey, but of looking ahead
beyond pillars of salt raised in a dream
where fat bulbs split open the earth.

The spine of the manifest was broken,
leaking deeds, songs & testaments.
Justice stood in the shoes of mercy,
& doubt was bandaged up & put to bed.

Now, he looks as if he wants to eat words,
their sweet, intoxicating flavor. Banana leaf
& animal, being & nonbeing. In fact, 
craving wisdom, he bites into memory.  

The President of the United States of America
thumbs the pages slowly, moving from reverie
to reverie, learning why one envies the octopus
for its ink, how a man's skin becomes the final page.
by Yusef Komunyakaa 



  1. Why doesn’t it surprise me that All Hallows is your favorite holiday? Congratulations on one year!

    I adore the Stephen Crane poem! Holy bitter cow. Stunned. I have not read his poetry in a long time, and I had not read this one. Thank you.

    As for EAP, that is some poem too. What great rhythm, meter and refrains he set up for himself (like another fine poet, you). And I see you have the same muse. So perfectly creepy. ☺

    As for Komunyakaa’s poem, it is tremendous to me for many reasons. One is the litany of benefits from a poet’s collected verse. What a beautiful thing, a table of lessons. Another is the sheer wonder of this fact, of our president being “caught” reading a book of poems, highlighted in that top line of the final stanza. Just saying the words is praise and demonstrates the kind of intelligence I look for in my president, though perhaps can’t often be found in those running for that office.

  2. oo me some poe...his use of words and language are masterful...will go check that out...and i get the straight face as well...smiles.

    congrats on the year hedge! that is awesome and i appreciate the opportunity to share just a bit of that with you. the month that our small group teamed up on the poetry challenge really pushed me in new directions and i appreciate that...also having you on the dverse team. you are an incredible talent and a great person.

    so i hope the great pumpkin is good to you on all hallows...smiles.

  3. @Ruth: Yes, that Crane poem was a new one for me too and really fit the occasion, I thought. I'm glad you can enjoy the Poe as well--I am such a sucker for him, he seems to almost get drunk on words--and though he could have used some stern critique on over-writing a thought, he is the master of tolling, echoing repetition.The Komunyakaa poem I also thought said so much that we blow over about our current president, who we expect so much from. And it also introduced me to Walcott, whom I intend to read more of. Thanks for coming by and glad you enjoyed my Halloween candy.

    @bri--thanks man. Yes, I'm glad a lot for that April challenge--for getting to know you better as a poet and person, and also for the faith it gave me that I actually could write something every day if I tried--very empowering. It's been a great year for me here, and I'm glad you, dVerse and everyone else that is kind enough to come read my scribbles, are all around to share it with me.

    And I have an in with the great pumpkin--he knows not to mess with my juju or he'll be pumpkin pie. Or muffins, or something. ;-)

  4. Oh Joy, I just saw the flowers on the side bar as I got to Ulalume's tomb (and being my mushy self cried :)). Congratulations on one year!!! May your indelible words never suffer 'the Lethean peace of the skies', I know they are etched in my heart.

    Now on to Poe's sad ode to his dead wife - thank you, I'd never read it and fell in love with its language (ulalume, possibly from the Latin ululare (lament); senescent; sere; scoriac; liquescent) and the line 'she rolls through an ether of sighs'! I love that he shows Psyche mourning first, in agony her wings fall, as the soul is not tricked by all the 'Sybilic splendor' and 'tremulous light'. It has not forgotten the tomb and then the narrator (as the conscious mind) begins to understand. The soul sees clearly what the heart alleges to forget. An appropriate remembrance at All Hallows Eve, thank you, deeply affecting poetry.

  5. @Anna: I love my tussie mussie thing, let us bathe in its tremulous light. I am so glad to find kindred spirits on this poem. It really is one of the reasons I write poetry, reading it as a young girl. You anatomize it perfectly. It encapsulates Poe's famous quote: "The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world."

    I love it for the way the words just roll off the tongue--I used to say them out loud like a protective mantra walking home from middle school. I especially love the middle purely descriptive stanzas(well, and the penultimate one for pure drama, and the opening ones for mood, and..) but there's something quintessential about the poetic view in these lines:
    And now, as the night was senescent,
    And star-dials pointed to morn-
    As the star-dials hinted of morn-
    At the end of our path a liquescent
    And nebulous lustre was born..."
    when I first read them I didn't even know what senescent meant and thought it made the night fall at high noon. Now *I* am senescent, and it seems even more delicate and perfect a stanza.
    Thanks as always for reading and offering your beautiful and cogent thoughts, my friend.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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