Monday, September 22, 2008

Robert Bly's Treatment of the Domestic in "For My Son, Noah, 10 Years Old"

I have to admit, I haven't read much of Robert Bly's work, so I was happy to run across his poem "For My Son, Noah, Ten Years Old."

The manuscript I'm currently working on focuses much of its attention on the domestic sphere and it's exciting to see another poet writing on the subject. There is a specific difficulty inherent in the task of writing about family. I believe it requires the poet to examine his/her success, but also failure as a parent/spouse.

“For My Son, Noah, 10 Years Old” depicts a father/son relationship, and the tranquility created by that relationship. I’m interested in the way Bly sets up this moment. In my own poems, I tend to begin with a textual representation of the domestic and use this representation as a lens to explore/understand relationships/concerns of the outside/undomestic. In “For My Son,” Bly has done the opposite, describing various elements of the natural world before focusing in on the tenderness of the time a father spends with his son. There’s a deep conflict here between the elements of the natural/outside world and the tasks the father and son enjoy together: “but what is primitive is not to be shot out into the night and the dark.” For Bly, the work of the artist and the child are inherently original and distinctly separate from the horse, the chicken, the barn, and the lumber pile.

It’s a beautiful poem and I hope you enjoy the read. Also, if you run across any other poems which seek to depict or represent domestic concerns, please post here or e-mail I’d love to hear from you. Have a good week!

For My Son Noah, Ten Years Old
By Robert Bly

Night and day arrive and day after day goes by,
and what is old remains old, and what is young remains
young and grows old,
and the lumber pile does not grow younger, nor the
weathered two-by-fours lose their darkness,
but the old tree goes on, the barn stands without help so
many years,
the advocate of darkness and night is not lost.

The horse swings around on one leg, steps, and turns,
the chicken flapping claws onto the roost, its wings whelping
and whalloping,
but what is primitive is not to be shot out into the night and
the dark.
And slowly the kind man comes closer, loses his rage, sits
down at table.

So I am proud only of those days that we pass in undivided
when you sit drawing, or making books, stapled, with
messages to the world...
or coloring a man with fire coming out of his hair.
Or we sit at a table, with small tea carefully poured;
so we pass our time together, calm and delighted.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Haiku Guru Barry George

First, apologies for the lateness of this post; we were hit by the remnants of Ike pretty hard and are still without power. I am braving the vagaries of dial-up internet to send this!

And now, to our featured poet for the week: Barry George, a master of haiku and other Japanese forms. He is also featured on Cornell University's Mann Library daily haiku website. Check out this link: to read his work and to browse the archives.

Barry says he is "
drawn to haiku as a way to give attention and expression to immediate perceptions." What amazes me about his haiku is the seemingly impossible combination of the economic use of words with the largeness of image evoked by each poem. Please read and enjoy!

(photo by Marsh Muirhead)

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Short Lesson in Metaphor

One way to examine metaphor is to break it down into two distinct elements: tenor and vehicle. I.A. Richards first used these terms, but I think that they are pretty standard in contemporary analysis/criticism. The tenor is the subject of the metaphor, and normally the subject within a sentence in a poem. The vehicle is usually the predicate nominative, and “carries” the subject. If you’re a math person it might be easier to envision the metaphor as an equation:


Eavan Boland’s “Anorexic," found in her Selected Poems, begins with a perfect illustration of this equation with the simple and straightforward metaphor: “My body is a witch.” Here, “body” is the tenor or subject of the metaphor and “witch” is the vehicle, that which carries the subject into wider contexts of connotation and understanding. As you can see in the remainder of the poem, this simple metaphor in the first stanza directs and energizes the piece through the final line. I'm including a section below, but a google search will find the entire poem. Furthermore, a brief but engaging feminist analysis can be found at Outskirts, an online journal.


Eavan Boland

Flesh is heretic.
My body is a witch.
I am burning it.

Yes I am torching
her curves and paps and wiles.
They scorch in my self denials.

How she meshed my head
in the half-truths
of her fevers

till I renounced
milk and honey
and the taste of lunch.

I vomited
her hungers.
Now the bitch is burning.


In other news, a poem of mine originally published in the Spring 2008 issue of The Louisvile Review has been selected to be featured in American Life in Poetry. Sponsored by The Poetry Foundation, Library of Congress, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and edited and founded by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, ALP "provides newspapers and online publications with a free weekly column featuring contemporary American poems." I'm really excited to be a part of this project.

Monday, September 1, 2008


In my editorial work I am learning the importance of endings. I can be reading along, enjoying the
language and the cadence of a poem very much, eager to follow where the poet leads. And then I come to the end and pfft. Nothing to hold onto. No surprise. No door to re-enter the poem with a new understanding. And I realize that many of my poems are this way: I begin with a vague idea of where things are going, but never quite get there. I guess this becomes a revision issue. I must learn to write beyond the vagueness to find that surprising connection or the germ of the seed for which I've been digging. Otherwise, both reader and poet are left floating in a fog. It might be a beautiful fog, but a fog nonetheless.

Here is one of my favorite endings by Simon Armitage in his poem "The Shout":

We went out
into the school yard together, me and the boy
whose name and face

I don't remember. We were testing the range
of the human voice:
he had to shout for all he was worth,

I had to raise an arm
from across the divide to signal back
that the sound had carried.

He called from over the park-- I lifted an arm.
Out of bounds,
he yelled from the end of the road,

from the foot of the hill,
from beyond the look-out post of Fretwell's Farm--
I lifted an arm.

He left town, went on to be twenty years dead
with a gunshot hole
in the roof of his mouth, in Western Australia.

Boy with the name and face I don't remember,
you can stop shouting now, I can still hear you.

The poem begins in narrative with a relatively simple childhood recollection. The reader follows; suspense builds-- when will the voice no longer be heard? And the ending comes as a total shock: the voice is still being heard. As Kathleen Driskell said in her lecture this past May, the mark of a good poem is that one is compelled to re-enter it. After reading this last line, who can resist returning to the title and the first lines to find out what a second reading will yield with this new knowledge? I cannot. In fact, I often find myself thinking of those last lines.

Now to return to my own work, with an eye toward taking that step from vagueness to statement, from plain narrative to metaphorical significance.

And here's a little bonus video so you can get a taste of Simon Armitage's voice. He's reading a sonnet.