Bob Schwartz

Category: Poetry

Three Ways Through a Wall

Three Ways Through a Wall


Fists feet and head
bruised from banging
barely a crack


Build an opening in a wall
a wall around an opening


Walk through
what wall?





the petal
pink and curved
scallop edged
delicate barely
vibrating in
an exhaled breath
tentative finger
hovers and descends
to touch it
pliant and firm



the chattering geniuses
drive singing birds
from nearby branches


Caps or no caps



Caps or no caps

blow them off



The New Possibility

Kazuaki Tanahashi, Miracles of Each Moment

It is possible, possible, possible. It must
Be possible.
Wallace Stevens

The meaning of Christmas depends on who you are. From devout Christians to casual ones, from non-Christians to non-believers in anything but overall goodness, it is still an imposing and inescapable enough day to merit thought and maybe spiritual solace and strength, if that is something you seek.

The lines above are from the great American poet Wallace Stevens. I have for years quoted them out of their context, which is the multi-part epic called Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction.

Entire theses have been written about that masterwork, and I claim no depth to fully comprehend the poem, the poet, or the learned experts about its meaning. One thing I get is that among the Supreme Fictions he notes are the arts of creation and religion.

Those lines are taken from a section entitled It Must Give Pleasure:

It Must Give Pleasure


He imposes orders as he thinks of them,
As the fox and snake do. It is a brave affair.

But to impose is not
To discover. To discover an order as of
A season, to discover summer and know it,

To discover winter and know it well, to find
Not to impose, not to have reasoned at all,
Out of nothing to have come on major weather,

It is possible, possible, possible. It must
Be possible. It must be that in time
The real will from its crude compoundings come,

Seeming at first, a beast disgorged, unlike,
Warmed by a desperate milk. To find the real,
To be stripped of every fiction except one,

The fiction of an absolute — Angel,
Be silent in your luminous cloud and hear
The luminous melody of proper sound.

So on Christmas morning, all that I believe, all that I have studied, all that I have embraced and discarded, tried and tried again, comes down to this. To the new possibility embodied in each birth, of the seeming lowliest to the seeming loftiest, which are themselves labels of convenience and fictional distinction:

It is possible, possible, possible. It must
Be possible.

Second Christmas

Second Christmas

The second Christmas
no easier than the first
for parents anxious awaiting
the new next.
Mary dreamt
as mothers will
with a one year old
sleeping beside her.
But sometimes she couldn’t wake
from dreams sweet and bitter
and incomprehensible
other times she couldn’t sleep
the baby slept.
A first birthday
is like any other but better
the count begins
of days and years
seasons and eras
who knows what they bring
what they take
what you give?
Promises of the best
fears of the worst
the finite and infinite
potential of the world.



Form: Constraint or Liberation? Should Tweets Be Shorter or Longer? What About Haiku?

Haiku, along with other conventional poetry, is a lesson in form.

By tradition, haiku are poems composed of seventeen syllables, divided into lines of 5-7-5.

Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States, wrote this in his Introduction to Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years:

Along with the outbreak of haiku in America in the 1950s came the Great Seventeen-Syllable Debate, which continues to simmer in the haiku community to this day. Many poets, myself included, stick to the basic form of seventeen syllables, typically arranged in three lines in a 5-7-5 order. This light harness is put on like any formal constraint in poetry so the poet can feel the comfort of its embrace while being pushed by those same limits into unexpected discoveries. Asked where he got his inspiration, Yeats answered, “in looking for the next rhyme word.” To follow such rules, whether received as is the case with the sonnet or concocted on the spot, is to feel the form pushing back against one’s self-expressive impulses. For the poet, this palpable resistance can be a vital part of the compositional experience. I count syllables not out of any allegiance to tradition but because I want the indifference and inflexibility of a seventeen-syllable limit to balance my self-expressive yearnings. With the form in place, the act of composition becomes a negotiation between one’s subjective urges and the rules of order, which in this case could not be simpler or firmer. My hope is that such fixity will keep the pulsations of the ego in check by encouraging a degree of humility in the face of the form.

These thoughts are a subset of the bigger and more consequential issue of how form may be either constraining or liberating, and whether it may be beneficial for our wandering ways. A form, in expression or practice, should not be overvalued. But form should not be ignored or rejected, as it can be a “light harness” which “keep the pulsations of the ego in check by encouraging a degree of humility.”

This brings us to Twitter, which in 2017 expanded to 280 characters per tweet. As in text messages, which were the inspiration for Twitter’s original 140 character limit, and as in telegrams (the ur-Twitter) that cost more per word, forced brevity drives creativity.

Have there been creative and thoughtful people who make beneficial use of Twitter’s expansion? Of course. Might those same people be even more creative constrained by the original limit? Of course. Are there plenty of people for whom 280 or 140 characters are too many? Of course.

If you do tweet, consider self-imposing a limit below the mandated one. Maybe go back to the original 140 characters. Maybe choose an even smaller number: 64 (the number of I Ching hexagrams), 22 (the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet), or any other number that calls to you. Again quoting Billy Collins:

I count syllables not out of any allegiance to tradition but because I want the indifference and inflexibility of a seventeen-syllable limit to balance my self-expressive yearnings.

To a Shuttered Church

To a Shuttered Church

The route I walked
passed the church
alone among the ordinary
it seemed ten times taller
a hundred times more quiet
than the buildings and traffic.
The pews were mostly empty
but glory and beauty abide and never care.
Back tables stacked with votive candles
slots asking for a dollar a prayer
pray the church would be there
not to fulfill a prophecy
just to grace the street and every day.
The wooden doors are barred
a signed fenced perimeter
as it awaits its foregone fate
though butterflies still flock
to the flowering bushes
not knowing the difference
good for them.
I do not walk that route anymore
but when I see a candle burning
I am there where it was and will be.
Tear down the church or
surround it with one more box
the light is sure.


Not You

Not You

A film of a festival
long ago across an ocean
I wasn’t there you weren’t either.
The camera panned from stage
to a hill above the crowd
where a bare legged lady lay
voluptuous and young.
From this distance
filtered through screen and years
she looked like you.
All of us are elsewhere though
only one was there though
wasn’t that me floating above you
saying something that made her smile
legs langouring to that summer music?
If not you who
is she?



Red Flower

Red Flower

The red flower cannot help it
not the orange or yellow
being there for bee or bird
or me just as they are