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Archive for the ‘life & the human condition’ Category

A good poem for me has to slip under my skin and inhabit my being. Here is a poltergeist poem that has set up residence in my conscious mind and keeps rustling through and disturbing my thoughts when least expected.  Its range from statistics to thermodynamics is broad. But such matters are inconsequential compared with the theme of this poem, which stretches beyond the universe and outside of time.

This extract from the book Generosity by Richard Powers is an embedded poem of polestar brilliance. (As quoted in The Australian 19/12/09 Book Review Geordie Williamson)


Art is a way of saying what it means to be alive,

and the most salient feature of existence

are the unthinkable odds against it.

For every way there is of being here,

there are an infinity of ways of not being here.

Historical accident snuffs out whole universes

with every clock tick.

Statistics declare us ridiculous.

Thermodynamics prohibits us.

Life, by any reasonable measure, is impossible,

and my life – this, here now –

infinitely more so.

Art is a way of saying,

in the face of all that impossibility,

just how worth celebrating it is

to be able to say anything at all.

Richard Powers

Richard Powers is the author of ten novels, including Galatea 2.2 and The Echo Maker , Generosity. His writing often combines fiction with the themes of historical events or, as with his latest book, scientific developments. He has received numerous honors and awards including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction. He lives in Illinois. (Photo credit:Lorenzo Ciniglio. Books can be purchased through Richard Powers website.)

Generosity (Atlantic 2009)

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When a poet writes an essay they cannot help themselves. Trapped within the essay are literary jewels, poems of exquisite beauty crafted and polished by the poet’s word-smithing skills. Michael Leunig is a poet so it is not surprising that his essay ‘Sleeping in on Doomsday’ from the Good Weekend, The Age (Sat 28th Nov 2009) had a poetic sensuality. This embedded poem in the essay addresses the hopes Leunig has for his children, that they will not be tethered to the family tree but rather free to fly. free as they wish. Moreover, it is within all our capabilities to escape the gravitational pull of our origins.

…no shares in any great cultural franchise

with stories of tragedy and triumph,

and don’t have much in the way of extended family.

None of this to enshrine and uphold.

They are unadorned earthlings.

Human nature is their story.

The spirit of the country runs out of the earth

And the air and into their bodies like a mystery.

This is their inheritance.

It is no virtue, no deficiency and no advantage;

This is simply their lot.

 

I see them asleep at night, these beautiful earthlings;

their faces still so glowing and  open and young.

There are many of them in this world and in this land.

When they awaken they will create their own way.

Michael Leunig  

 

 Michael Leunig is a Melbourne cartoonist, artist and poet. His short and often melancholic poems are published in a number of Australian newspapers. His  enchanting poems have been published in books available through his website.

Earthlings pic karstenkneese’s photostream

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Defoe-daniel Daniel Defoe (1659 – 1731) is best known for writing Robinson Crusoe. He was also a satirist and he was put in stocks and had vegetables thrown at him for ridiculing the Tories, a conservative, pro-monarchy party of the time. The wooden stocks were called a pillory and, even to this day, ‘pillorying’ is a term used to describe mocking or abusing someone. Defoe earnt his place in the real pillory for writing a poem: The True-Born Englishman. Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic, (See entry below) included extracts of Defoe’s poem in a recent article. Even today, the words ring true.
   

A true-born Englishman’s a contradiction

 In speech an irony, in fact a fiction

The Scot, Pict, Briton, Roman, Dane, submit,

And with the English-Saxon all unite …britian image

Fate jumbled them together, God knows how;

Whate’er they were, they’re true-born English now …

Since scarce one family is left alive,

Which does not from some foreigner derive.

by Daniel Defoe

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Andrew Sullivan 1

Poempig is always delighted to find an embedded poem in a newspaper article. They are, indeed, rare but worth the search. 

  Andrew Sullivan writes on business, politics and food for The Altlantic.  His article titled ‘Americans don’t know how black they are'( The Australian 27 Oct 2009) and also ‘Scratch white America and beneath it is black’ ( The Sunday Times, UK, on 25th Oct 2009) was not only a clear headed critique of race relations, it was a secular sermon laced with poetic phrases that brought beauty and charm and dignity to the issue of race.  His words didn’t just inform, they sang from the heart. 

These varied roots, these mongrel evolutions,

this hybrid inheritance

make us who we are.crowd zzzed

And it is this mixture

that is authentically American,

just as the wave after wave of immigration,

ancient and modern,

has made Britain Britain.

It is a pied kind of beauty, this diversity.

And those who wish to simplify it,

to reduce it to some biological or racial element

that renders us something other than we actually are,

are not in any way conservatives. 

They are fantasists and bigots,

deaf to the music true nations make,

and the many variations that still make their melodies soar.


Andrew Sullivan


same-sex  

Books by Andrew Sullivan include HE CONSERVATIVE SOUL: HOW WE LOST IT, HOW TO GET IT BACK and SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: PRO AND CON. Books are available at Amazon.
conservative_soul_pb

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This poem by Zoe Deleuil captures a rare moment of intimacy in a relationship made distant by the generations and then made intense again by a simple act. The power of the poem also lies in its simplicity. 

Sometimes, not enough,

I’d really look at you

and say: Let me clean your glasses.

You’d take them off.

Blink. Hand them over.

Pull out a folded handkerchief

from your trouser pocketglasses

and give that up, too.

 

It’s always the edges that get blurry.

I’d work on those the longest, teasing out

flecks of leaf and breakfast smudges and wattle pollen

until the glass was clear. Like making them new

again. You’d put them on – just as slowly

as you took them off – look around

at your familiar world and say:

There’s no doubt about you.

by Zoe Deleuil

zoe-deleuil-2 Zoe Deleuil grew up in Perth, Australia, studied Communications at Murdoch University, and now works in London as a sub editor and features writer. #mce_temp_url#

Her first novel is, She Left, You Came, a teenage love story set in Western Australia. This poem first appeared on the Cordite Website: #mce_temp_url#

B & W pic: Accent on Eclectic’s Photostream: #mce_temp_url#

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This poem of Melinda Smith’s sets the two-faced coin of motherhood spinning. How it lands today or any day you do not know. Will you see the face of love or the flip-side, loss?  To give birth is to experience a joyous connection with the miracle of life. Yet to give birth is also to face an ocean of uncertainty. While motherhood is often presented as a flowery, sickly sweet confection the images and rhythm of this poem pounds home the uncertainty.

 

Wave after wave, the ocean counts the cost
by piling sheets of water on the sand.
I dreamt before your birth that you were lost.
I think I have begun to understand.

By piling sheets of water on the sand
the sea offers its body, slice by slice.
I think I have begun to understand.
I love you knowing sorrow is the price.

The sea offers its body, slice by slice,
heaving itself onto an empty beach.
I love you knowing sorrow is the price.
beach
I start a task whose end I’ll never reach.

Heaving itself onto an empty beach,
the sea still finds the energy to give.
I start a task whose end I’ll never reach.
I give you life, not knowing how you’ll live.

The sea still finds the energy to give.
I dreamt before your birth that you were lost.
I give you life, not knowing how you’ll live.
Wave after wave, the ocean counts the cost.

 

Melinda Smith

Photo of Melinda SmithPrize winning poet Melinda Smith is a widely published ACT poet. Her poems have appeared in Quadrant and The Canberra Times. This poem comes from her book Mapless in Underland , Ginninderra Press #mce_temp_url#

You can read more of Melinda’s poems on her  mull and fiddle blog#mce_temp_url#

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It is important to realise in this era of political spin that some of the greatest speeches ever given had impact because they expressed the profound truth and raw beauty of poetry. This is especially true of the speech given by Robert Kennedy delivered 4 April 1968 in Indianapolis, IN, following the assassination earlier that day of Martin Luther King (pictured left).

 #mce_temp_url# martin luther king

Race riots broke out in cities across America but not in Indianapolis. Robert Kennedy stood quietly before the distressed audience and spoke about someone close to him (His brother JFK) also being killed by a white man. But it was this poem by the Ancient Greek playwright, Aeschylus (525 – 456 BC)

#mce_temp_url#  

that expressed the raw grief and crushing despair of that moment. Maybe, just maybe, finding the words to express such pain disarmed those who could only express their feelings through anger and violence. While this poem sites God it could have evoked Life. It is a universal poem about the human condition written over 2,500 years ago made tragically poignant by the assassination of Robert Kennedy two months later by a white man. 

My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus.  And he once wrote:Robert_F_Kennedy_crop


Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget


falls drop by drop upon the heart,

until, in our own despair,


against our will,


comes wisdom


through the awful grace of God.

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