{#npm’17: p7, talking back to Rilke}

It’s the first Friday of National Poetry Month, which means a doubly special poetry challenge, participated in by Kelly, Sara, Liz calling in from the road; Laura, and Tricia (Andi is sitting this one out) as part of the Poetry Seven’s Year in Poetry challenge. This month, Sara chose a poem by Rilke for us to respond to directly –

You, darkness, of whom I am born—

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But the dark embraces everything
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations—just as they are.

It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me

I believe in the night.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Stirling Holy Rood Church T 13

We all read this poem a few times, and then a few more, and then decided what to do with it. I tried to write a line-to-line response first, which didn’t work at all. Then I tried to write a kind of …Big Picture Thought about how the poem made me feel. Also didn’t work. As I was trying to work through my daily poem challenges for National Poetry Month, I begin to get a little worried… Rilke, with his usual straightforwardness, was not striking any sparks with me.

And then, I started thinking about sparks… little spangles of light, illumination. And the opposite of said. Sparks don’t actually let us do anything but see that there’s contrast. They don’t help us see anything but the light itself, and what is it, really?

This is a dude who likes the dark. I respect that about him. Few people actually do. Oh, we think we love the dark, the stars. We quote “When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer,” and gaze up wistfully. But, where most of us live is so much light pollution we don’t actually have dark. I have become acquainted with the night, because I briefly lived way out in the country, in Glasgow. Our neighbors were sheep. It was flippin’ dark out on those country lanes. It was …kind of amazing. And, I knew I was walking right next to spiders. I had to decide how much I was going to let that bother me.

In the end, I decided that I agreed with ‘ol Rainer, because I like the dark, but I also want to like the dark. Being who I am, the literal girlchild who has thought a great deal about the word “black” as reflected in theology and hymnody, darkness is going to mean a little something different to me — and I could see that reflected in the seven’s poetry, as we wrote on our shared Google document. I may be the only one who likes the dark, but I won’t hold that against anyone. I have walked a different (spider-adjacent) road, and I tend to have to reject the experience that “most” people have with darkness – because I am not most people.

Took me long enough to figure that out.

“the absence of color”

from darkness thou art formed & dust thou art
first secreted within thy mother’s womb
deep shadows, holding fast creation’s start
to secret hopes in dreamer’s sleep entombed

(blackness is sin, a moody study’s brown
and white holds light, a purity renown
a Presence stirs, beneath the surface bright
foul fiend, forfend, or wisdom’s erudite?)

before the light can drown thy timid sheen
enlightening with fact that still deceives
hold to thine task: believe what is not seen
and be ye blesséd by the unperceived.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene Lantham at her blog, LIVE YOUR POEM. Check it out, for more!

{poetry seven: the cloister ekphrastic}

This month, Andi had the most amazing images for us to share of a site in her home state, the Glencairn Cloister, family home of Mildred and Raymond Pitcairn. If you want to take a digital stroll there, you can look at the front of the church that the cloister adjoins. As to what a cloister is:

During medieval times cloisters served as a quiet place for religious contemplation, and cloister arcades were often carved with symbolic sculptures to encourage mindful meditation. In planning Glencairn’s cloister, Pitcairn, a member of the Bryn Athyn New Church congregation (Swedenborgian Christian), continued this tradition. The visual focal point of the space is a series of symbolic bird capitals surmounting the columns that form the inner arcade. According to E. Bruce Glenn, author of Glencairn: The Story of a Home, in New Church tradition birds are used as spiritual symbols of “those ideals of the mind that lift us above worldly concerns as the flight of a bird draws our eyes from the earth.”

There are birds and arches and courtyards and benches carved with animals, and they’re full of meaning. It’s lovely, and I really want to go there in person someday.

There’s a tiny bench carved with a sheep and a lamb – representing family – that especially spoke to me. In this Sturm und Drang world in which we live right now, a tiny bench, where we’re forced to sit close and look at each other seems… ideal. When I was teaching, I was fond of the “Nose-to-nose, knee-to-knee” approach. With fifth graders, who seem to boil up into quick conflict that fades nearly as quickly, it was a surefire way to force my grudging grumps into proximity with each other. If you’re sitting facing someone, it’s harder to lie to them – and to yourself – about what happened to your friendship. It’s also harder to avoid each other. It’s harder to interrupt someone who is right there (well, usually). It’s easier to listen (mostly). One on one, knee-to-knee, the problems we face could take the first steps toward healing, if we could just listen. Reason. Together.


House Your Heart

your head (my heart)
comprised of stone:
you (willful) push
and I (alone) retreat
and leave you to your phase –
our glacial war goes on for days.

my spirit (weak)
(my flesh) unnerved
I, at the table, bargain served,
but you (the victor) call the tune…
I cede the floor.
you dance (your doom).

don’t build your house (your heart)
of stone. foundations firm are fine,
but iron forged from chill confines
(of earth) do not then grow,
Or change. rebirth erupts from soil,
from honest sod (disruptive dirt!)

the breath of God breathes in
(and seeds. and life. and health)
the wind blows through and tides
that ebb become renewed.
contrive some wriggle-room to find
within the walls. (within the mind)

so hearts (still beating)
won’t anneal and iron wills
won’t meld to steel.
let distance, love,
(begin) to heal.

your head (my heart)
a maze of cracks
gray loneliness is our new black
life’s tepid soup no tears can season…
come, knee-to-knee, sit.
Let us reason.

More poetry abounds; the Seven Sisters celebrate another twelve months of poet-ing with forms of all kinds: Kelly, sharing a poulet-appointed, puffed-up perfection; Sara, who also found the same bench appealing; Liz, whose poem has itself a beautifully cathedral-like tone; Tricia, venturing aloft — and into love poems; Laura, hallowing the artistry of stone. Thanks, Andi, for the inspiration!

This concludes 2016’s Seven Sisters Poetry… next year should be interesting!

More poetry, hosted by Words for Wee Ones, in praise of community.

{p7 – ekphrastic on l’arlequin}

the poetry seven

The OED explains that the “arlequin,” is, a. A character in Italian comedy, subsequently in French light comedy; in English pantomime a mute character supposed to be invisible to the clown and pantaloon; …he usually wears particoloured bespangled tights and a visor… (In reference to quot. 1590, it may be noticed that the arlecchino is said, in Italian Dictionaries, to have originally represented the simple and facetious Bergamese man-servant. Cf. the stage Irishman.). Meant to be many amusing things – the arlequin is part of the fun, a figure to be made fun of, and a “funny” racial minority – Irish, if one is English, or, if one is Italian, Bergamo (a province in the state of Venice), a people ridiculed as clownish in manners and dialect by, among other famous folk, Shakespeare in 12th Night. Clowns. Based on real people.

Image from page 135 of "Masques et bouffons; comédie italienne" (1862)

The image to the left here dates from 1862, and was printed on the program for a theater troupe. So amusing, those eyes. Those exaggerated eyes remind me of blackface, actually. Punch, the viciously violent, wife-killing puppet from the Punch & Judy Victorian plays – started out as a harlequin called Pulcinella – with those same exaggerated eyes, the emphasized nose, and those hilarious murderous tendencies. Hah-hah, he’s subhuman, that Punch. Hah-hah, what a clown. The French sculptor responsible for this 1879 image, Charles René de Paul de Saint-Marceaux, recreated it in myriad forms – clay, bronze, marble, small, large, plain, painted. The arlequin is an eternal figure of fun, after all.

Which helps me understand that humor – and all things – change over time.


As I looked at this image Kelly chose for us this month, I did some freewriting, and produced words like romance (because my mind is ever with the Harlequins, I guess) smirk, insouciance, cheek, hidden, obscure, veil, misunderstood, concealed, suppressed – and a few more in that vein. I found that I was reacting mostly to his mask… apparently because, Mask = Somehow Not Good. Additionally, here’s this dude standing, arms crossed, stance wide, looking down – maybe in that down-then-up eye-flick thing that people do once they’ve looked you over and found you wanting. Flick. Dismissed.


Ugh on two fronts, really. I mean, REALLY, Tanita? All this angst? I keep rolling my eyes at myself for reading SO MUCH into a piece of artwork, but – well, ekphrasis by definition means description – and I’m describing, I guess, how this artwork makes me feel at first blush – granted, against the backdrop of everything else going on in the world that’s getting into my “feels.” Look at him, standing there. I’m ready to laugh with the joke. Resigned, equally, to being the joke. I’m uncomfortable, yes… but could he be, too?

Digging deeper past our first flinch responses is what creates a higher consciousness in the human animal than in the average mammal. I know I had to think deeper than my first response – often – when I was teaching. So, this poem goes out to all my clowns, all my little smirkers, and fast-talkers, the cocky little turkeys who drove me nuts with their attention-seeking — dragging the attention of the class from the lesson and onto them with their constant caprices and blethering. Did you derail the lesson because you couldn’t understand, and were afraid to ask…?

Come, be brave, my lads, my ladies. Take off the mask.


Imperfect paste, insouciance, affixing scorn to sneering mask
And closing minds to fresher things – for it ASSUMES and does not ASK.

Assumption traps the imprecise, beguiles wit to buffoonery
It builds a faith in rank surmise and makes “an ass” a guarantee.

Incorrigible, too cute to care that laughter only lasts so long
Consider that the spotlight’s gaze may soon become your siren song —

Ask, knock, and seek – old-fashioned tasks – find facts the proven way
Don’t stand and smirk and “guesstimate” – and lead yourself astray.


You’ll not want to miss the rest of the gang who could make it this week. We wave and blow kisses to Andi, under her pile of blankets this week, but Sara starts us off with wondering what this guy’s up to. Laura’s pretty sure she already knows. Liz remembers him as that one guy in high school. Despite a busy week, Tricia sneaked in there, too. And Kelly – who saw the trickster first – is the cherry on top, even though she’s still working on her poem.

Poetry Friday’s roundup is hosted today by Violet Nesdoly.

{p7: ekphrastic on wonder exhibit}


Today’s images are taken from Jennifer Angus’ show, “In The Midnight Garden” from the Wonder exhibit at the Renwick Gallery in Washington DC, courtesy of photographing poetry sister Sara Lewis Holmes.

I both love and kind of dread our ekphrastic months with the Poetry Sisters. We all have such eclectic tastes, artwork is so subjective, and I’m never sure quite what I think of a sculpture or image until I’m writing about it – which has been kind of an adventure. Lately, though, as I’ve been working to finish a book manuscript and kind of feeling the chill of the winds of change in the country lately, it’s been a struggle to stay on the …er, sunny side, as it were. I’m not actively depressed, but I have pretty much got the gallows humor going on, and …yeah. So, when Sara brought us pictures of a room full of bugs I… Hm. I looked at it. In a way, with its cochineal-washed walls, the exhibit space is gorgeous. The insects themselves are so beautiful, but then I got entangled in the details… details like, the bugs are DEAD. Sure, they were wonderful (perhaps wonder-full?) when alive, but they’re now simply rank on rank of dead bugs, or dead chitinous outer skeletons of bugs, ordered, empty, husks which should have been alive.


And can you believe it, of all the ideas I had? That one stuck.

Somehow, seeing that and the tiny drawers – which reminded me so much of the old card catalogues – made me think of emotions, or how we deal, or don’t deal with them… How, when they’re not alive within us, they become useless, dead things that we just …shuffle around in drawers? I don’t know. I would apologize AGAIN for being the weirdo in the room, but by now we all know this is apparently just who I am.

Asi es la vida.


Because there is no remedy for woe
And lacking physic, panacea, cure,
We package it, with labels, just to show
How fine we are. We can – we will! – endure.
Because life has no cure, save for the grave
(And deathless, sunless, half-life not our aim – )
What can’t be changed, we archive. We, the brave
Recorded, classed, but empty all the same.
Systemized sleight-of-hand is what we use
To keep what matters indexed deep inside.
Chameleons playing shell-games, we excuse
Our hollow places. (Grief? Undignified.)

Why, when this world would gut us, should we leave
Our undefended hearts upon our sleeves?

This, the month when summer school classes are ending, school is resuming, and the last frantic scramble of this and that is taking place, we didn’t all make today’s poetry date, but we’ll see them next month. Meanwhile, don’t miss Liz, Sara, Andi & Tricia’s contributions – which include a video and artist interview – for today.

Additional Poetry Friday contributions are hosted today at A Teaching Life.

{p7 poetry friday ♦ sedoka form}

Not to be confused with the math game Sudoku, the poetic form Sedōka is also mathematically based, but it’s a words-and-numbers logic game, rather than being numbers alone. It’s best described as shadow poetry; conceptually parallel, echoing the same syllable length as haiku, but in a different order. Inasmuch as a haiku is syllables organized as 5-7-5, the Sedōka is 5-7-7. Each grouping is a standalone stanza, but joined, they complete the stanzas complete each other.

The haiku-like form allowed several of us to race and just begin to work on them right before the deadline. Unfortunately, sometimes the shorter the poem is, and the tighter the form, the harder it is to be happy with it! When I’m stuck, often poetry I already know begins to ring in my mind. This one came from Whitman’s “Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking,” and the images of a fractured lullaby and a disquieted wandering nagged at me. I love the direction it’s going, but I’m not convinced that this is my best work – it’s hard to pack much of anything – for me, anyway – into such tight forms. I left the poem untitled, as the 1950’s era ad jingle seemed to suggest too much to some readers, and I wanted to let you draw your own conclusions. Anyway, the point of the exercise is to FINISH, so:

Sonoma County 178 HDR

A blanket of foam
Unfurling hypnotically
The surf roars a lullaby

Home is the sailor.
Landlocked. Sleepless; he listens
As the wind shrills sharp like gulls
2015 Benicia 54

the poetry seven

There are more pithy little poems from the Poetry Seven littering the landscape. Laura’s was written in Taco Bell. No, really. ♦ Sara, caffeinated, nonetheless managed to settle in, after a few jokes. ♦ And Andi’s back with a little poem to bring on the Spring. ♦ Tricia stopped by with a little background on the recent space return. ♦ Finally, Liz continues to be adored by her dog.

More Poetry Friday submissions can be found at the Teacher Dance blog, and stay tuned for another ekphrastic poetry series from the Poetry Seven next month… a ceiling fresco from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.