Bob Schwartz

Category: Poetry

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.

©

 

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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

©

Wrestling with Yourself

The Action Bible, illustrated by Sergio Cariello (Genesis 32.24–32)

Jacob Wrestles All Night with an Angel or with God

Yaakov is left alone, and a man wrestles
With him until daybreak.
When the man sees he has not won against Yaakov,

He strikes him on the hip socket,
And as he wrestles with him
Yaakov’s hip comes out of joint.

Then he says, “Let me go. Dawn is breaking.”
But Yaakov says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
So he tells him, “What is your name?”

And he answers, “Yaakov.”
And he says, “You shall no longer be called Yaakov, but Yisrael,
For you have fought with God and men

And you have won.”
And Yaakov tells him, saying, “Please tell me your name.”
But he says, “Why are you after my name?”

And there he blesses him.
And Yaakov names the place Penuel, saying,
“I have seen God face to face and I am alive.”

The sun rises over them
But Yaakov is limping because of his hip.
Therefore, the children of Yisrael

Do not eat the thigh muscle of the hip
Because he (the nameless) struck Yaakov
On the socket of his hip.

Willis Barnstone, Poets of the Bible

 

The People, Yes: Where to? what next?

“The People, Yes, an epic prose-poem, is in many ways the culmination of Carl Sandburg’s work as a poet and is believed by Lilian Sandburg to be his favorite work. He crafted it over an eight-year period, fusing the American vernacular with the details of history and contemporary events….Believing that economic inequity lay at the root of all social injustice, from labor conflict to racial and civil strife, he responded to the economic and social upheavals of the 1930s with The People, Yes.”
Carl Sandburg Home, National Parks Service

“Sandburg had a subject—and the subject was belief in man.”
Archibald MacLeish at the Carl Sandburg Memorial


The People, Yes

107

The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback.
You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it.
The mammoth rests between his cyclonic dramas.

The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
is a vast huddle with many units saying:
“I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
and it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself
and maybe for others.
I could read and study
and talk things over
and find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time.”

The people is a tragic and comic two-face:
hero and hoodlum: phantom and gorilla twisting
to moan with a gargoyle mouth: “They
buy me and sell me . . . it’s a game . . .
sometime I’ll break loose . . .”
Once having marched
Over the margins of animal necessity,
Over the grim line of sheer subsistence
Then man came
To the deeper rituals of his bones,
To the lights lighter than any bones,
To the time for thinking things over,
To the dance, the song, the story,
Or the hours given over to dreaming,
Once having so marched

Between the finite limitations of the five senses
and the endless yearnings of man for the beyond
the people hold to the humdrum bidding of work and food
while reaching out when it comes their way
for lights beyond the prisms of the five senses,
for keepsakes lasting beyond any hunger or death.
This reaching is alive.
The panderers and liars have violated and smutted it.
Yet this reaching is alive yet
for lights and keepsakes.

The people know the salt of the sea
and the strength of the winds
lashing the corners of the earth.
The people take the earth
as a tomb of rest and a cradle of hope.
Who else speaks for the Family of Man?
They are in tune and step
with constellations of universal law.
The people is a polychrome,
spectrum and a prism
held in a moving monolith,
a console organ of changing themes,
a clavilux of color poems
wherein the sea offers fog
and the fog moves off in rain
and the labrador sunset shortens
to a nocturne of clear stars
serene over the shot spray
of northern lights.

The steel mill sky is alive.
The fire breaks white and zigzag
shot on a gun-metal gloaming.
Man is a long time coming.
Man will yet win.
Brother may yet line up with brother:

This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.
There are men who can’t be bought.
The fireborn are at home in fire.
The stars make no noise.
You can’t hinder the wind from blowing.
Time is a great teacher.
Who can live without hope?

In the darkness with a great bundle of grief
the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for
keeps, the people march:
“Where to? what next?”

The People, Yes
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

Dreams

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Dreams

In dreams
those who can’t walk walk
those who walk fly
the long lost is found
the precious disappears
hearts are broken and mended
without reason.
Is the night different from day
sleep from wake?
All and nothing
are possible.

©

Front Yard Birds, Back Yard Birds

Front Yard Birds, Back Yard Birds

Sitting between
open window and open window
I hear the birds articulate and awake
sounding sweet, sometimes shrill,
and wise by nature.
They do not compete or argue
and I in the middle
listen and learn not to talk back.

©

Key

Key

When you leave take the key
even for a few steps out the front door
out the back.
What if the door locks behind you?
Even if there’s someone inside
to hear you knocking pounding
ringing calling.
What if she locks it
not knowing where you are?
What if she needs help
and you are locked out helpless?
What if she knows and decides
that this trip to the trash
should be your last?
Only a few possibilities
there are more
prevented by that key in pocket.
One man’s prudence
built on irrefutable logic
is an observer’s key to personality.
What of it?
Analysis is theory
being locked out an inconvenient fact.
Take the key.