Tell it Slant: How to Write a Wise Poem, essay by Camille Dungy

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Few essays on writing poetry grab me by the collar, slam me against the wall, and say “Listen, dammit!” But this one did.

Camille Dungy’s words sear through the fog. She tells it slant. She tells it true. She explains how some masters have done it. If you’ve not read her poetry, seek it out. You’re in for a treat. If you have the good fortune to attend a lecture or reading by her, do so. She’s energetic, wise and kind. She knows.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/247926

Last posted in April 2017.

Cedar Grove (after Wang Wei)

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Cedar Grove (after Wang Wei)

I sit alone among the cedars,
play my guitar and hum.
In this dark forest
no eye spies me but the moon’s.

My take on Wang Wei’s “Bamboo Grove,” from this transliteration copied somewhere along the way:

alone sit dark bamboo among
strum lute again long whistle
deep forest man not know
bright moon come mutual shine

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“Cedar Grove” made its first appearance here in March 2014. I adapted it to fit my circumstances…

You might find the Wikipedia entry on Wang Wei of interest.

Still Hands (Cento)

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Still Hands (Cento)

I let it burn, rooted as it is. Now
nothing else keeps my eyes

in the cloud – get close to a star,
and there you are, in the sun.

What about all the little stones,
sitting alone in the moonlight?

Silence complicates despair.
I have believed so long in the magic

of names and poems,
and I know that you would take

the still hands to dryness and
loose rocks, where the light

re-immerses itself. It’s not the story
I want. We cannot live on that.

* * *

Credits:
Sharon Wevill, Julia de Burgos, Francis Ponge, Mary Oliver,
Alberto de Lacerda, Robert Hass, HD, Jacques Dupin, Francesca Abbate, George Oppen.

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In Praise of Rain (with recording)

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In Praise of Rain

Which is not to say lightning or hail.
Sometimes I forget to open the umbrella

until my glasses remind me: Wake up, you’re
wet! If scarcity breeds

value, what is a thunderhead worth
in July? A light shower in August?

Even spreadsheets can’t tell us.

***

“In Praise of Rain” is included in my micro-chapbook, You Break What Falls, available via free download from the Origami Poems Project.

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Echo Charm

Echo Charm

Right on left, or returned

what circles back, unbroken
yet opened?

Your mouth centers me.

Diminished, I rise, listening.

Grass rubbing against grass.
The lizard’s scarlet throat, swelling.

Not refusal, but denial.

Eyes the color of blood.

You practice your words carefully,
repeating each special phrase.

Blood the color of sky.

Sky the color of eyes.

And always the warm shade.

Scarecrow Remembers

 

Scarecrow Remembers

I recall nothing before my eyes captured
the horizon and the looped whorl of night’s
afterglow, the first crow-plumes
crossing from left to right, awakened to
everything but my history and what
preceded the morning. By midday
I had mastered the secret language of
corvids and learned to interpret the wind’s
folly. When the sun eased below the hills,
I divined the angle of declination and tilted
my head to true north, thinking this is my
calling, to point the way.
But how few
of us bottle our life’s cause to sip as
needed. Later my dark friends whispered
the truth, and we laughed among the
rustling stalks as I pointed the way
not to the Alhambra or even Wichita,
but to the choicest kernels. Placed here
for one purpose, another claimed me.
I am the future without past, the present
decaying, tomorrow’s joke, impermanent
and shadowed. I am anomaly, risen.

* * *

“Scarecrow Remembers” was first published at The High Window in December 2016.