World Poetry Day is March 21st, 2016: Celebrate Poetry Globally
To honor this day and #Women’s History Month, both, I’m reviewing and discussing some of the poems from one of my favorite poets and authors, fellow #feminist/#Buddhist Ursula K. Le Guin. Her latest collection, Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014, is a delight.
Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin is my favorite writer. No contest. In fact, I wrote a review of another poetry collection early this year, which I enjoyed enormously: https://sallyember.com/2016/01/19/homage-to-and-review-of-ursula-k-le-guins-finding-my-elegy-new-and-selected-poems/ Some of the explanations of my connection to Le Guin are repeated from that post, below.
I have enjoyed, admired, appreciated, envied and learned from her novels, novellas, short stories, essays, and poetry for over forty years. She is about my mom’s age (in her early 80s, now) and still going strong. She is my idol, my mentor, and my role model. I also found out, after reading a recent collection, that she and I share not only a love of writing, speculative fiction, feminism, social justice, pacifism and environmentalism, but also, Buddhism and meditation. Frabjous day!
Poetry is meant to be read aloud. I enjoy reading poetry aloud as if I am the poet, wondering as I hear each word, line, idea, image, stanza, what the poet was imagining and how this exact turn of phrase came to capture it. Knowing how long many poets take to conjure the precise manner in which to describe and evoke every part of their intention, I want to savor it.
I do NOT read in that artificial, almost-questioning (upturned inflection on the end of lines), drawling almost-monotone that many poetry readers make the horrible mistake of using.
I read poetry aloud as if each poem is its own story, because this unique version of that story is interesting, new, and not mine. I use the line breaks and punctuation as suggestions to help me go with the poet’s flow. I smile, I laugh, I pause, I taste the words on my tongue.
Try it. You’ll like it!
In her introduction, Le Guin discusses the interdependent relationships among seemingly inanimate objects (whose apparent lack of sentience she and others challenge), places, humans, animals, life events and circumstances with eloquence and grace. As in all of her public writing and speeches, she has a way of turning things around with her verbal kaleidoscope to inspire us to see things from new perspectives with each turn. Her unique points of view become more accessible as one continues to read and ponder her body of work, which I’ve been doing for over forty years (she’s been writing for over 60).
This collection is divided into eight sections: Relations, Contemplations, Messengers, Four Lines, Works, Times, The Old Music and Envoi, but I couldn’t explain them or why some poems are in one but not another section. I was very impressed, though, with her poems about things, especially kitchen objects. Amazing.
Enough of all that explanatory stuff. You can get that elsewhere and any time. Let’s enjoy some of her poems!
I marked pages of this book with pieces of scrap paper so I’d remember which stanzas, poems, titles, lines caught my heart. Here are some, in no particular order. I sometimes annotate or explain. Find your own parts to love and for your own reasons.
Le Guin has many poems rooted (pun intended) in nature, and those in this collection follow that trend. She is also the child of two anthropologists and somewhat of a social and physical scientist herself. I love this opinion she expressed poetically and eloquently, from the introduction to this volume (excerpted from a speech she gave in May, 2014, at a conference that occurred at the University of California/Santa Cruz, “Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet”), in which she explained her view of the relationship between poetry and science and why we need both:
Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Science explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe. We need the languages of both science and poetry to save us from merely stockpiling endless “information” that fails to inform our ignorance or our irresponsibility.
By replacing unfounded, willful opinion, science can increase moral sensitivity; by demonstrating and performing aesthetic order or beauty, poetry can move minds to the sense of fellowship that prevents careless usage and exploitation of our fellow beings, waste and cruelty. (p. ix)
One of my favorites from this collection, Constellating, situates relationships between people as if between stars:
Mind draws the lines between the stars
that let the Eagle and the Swan
fly vast and bright and far
above the dark before the dawn.
Between two solitary minds
as far as Deneb from Altair,
love flings the unimaginable line
that marries fire to fire.
How beautifully she depicts that intangible bond humans create to connect us which is like nothing else, yet she finds the commonality in constellations.
In The Games, Le Guin manages to indicate our views on aging and reflecting on past accomplishments in a perfect metaphor:
The crowds that cheered me when I took the Gold,
who were they then? Where are they now?
It’s queer to think about. Do they know how
you look at the hurdles, long before you’re old,
and wonder how you ever ran that race?
I’m not sorry, now all’s said and done,
to lie here by myself with nowhere to run,
in quiet, in this immense dark place.
Definition, or, Seeing the Horse is the type of poem about poetry that I usually eschew. But, one stanza from it is so perfect I have to share it, here, because it perfectly captures the limitations of poetry:
Definition, or, Seeing the Horse
from iii. Judith’s Fear of Naming
To define’s not to confine,
words can’t reach so far.
Even the poet’s line can only hold
a moment of the uncontainable.
The horse runs free.
Le Guin has written many essays, books and articles about the art and craft of writing, but never have I read or heard her convey what she feels about being a writer so well as in this poem, My Job. She lyricizes about writing’s being something she first learned as a child (“I started out as a prentice”) and is still learning. My favorite of her sentiments are these:
from My Job
Sometimes the pay is terrible.
Sometimes it’s only fairy gold.
Then again sometimes the wages
are beyond imagination and desire.
I am glad to have worked for this company.
Two poems, side-by-side in this book (which cannot be an accident), show her wonderful deployment of language and imagery: Sea Hallowe’en and Between. In all of her poems, she demonstrates her mastery of many different poetic forms: rhyming and non-rhyming, exploding into free verse and staying within those more formally ruled for meter, line length, repetition and other constraints. She calls herself a “caperer,” in her essay about her poetic choices and learning to write in various forms in her Afterword, meaning, one who moves among all forms and free verse as she wishes. She also writes here about how a form can “give” her a poem. Fascinating stuff. Love to read about her process.
From Between, I especially admire this final couplet:
A winter wind just whispers where
two winter trees stand tense and bare.
And, from Sea Hallowe’en, who can’t love this whimsical phrasing that ends each of the stanzas?
west to the tide rising,
cold, cold and wild.
a ghost on a north wind blowing
wild, wild and cold.
At best, I am a mediocre poet, despite having been published and won poetry prizes at a younger age, having written songs that were performed, and including my poetry in my science-fiction books as if written by its protagonist, Clara (http://www.sallyember.com/Spanners for more information). I make no claims to being an actual poet if Ursula K. Le Guin is an example. I yield and bow to her and many others for entertaining, informing, inspiring and enlivening us with their use of words and images.
She writes and speaks often about the rewards of writing and art and the politics and capitalism that haunt the industry. This poetry collection is ended with a speech she gave on these topics. The final lines are very moving:
I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds, but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. its name is freedom.
image from her website, photo ©by Marian Wood Kolisch
Thank you, Ursula, for sharing your deep and soulful moments with us all. May your contributions to our literary and emotional landscapes always be known as blessings while you still live and after you die, and may all beings benefit.
Find these poems, this and all her other work here: http://www.ursulakleguin.com
For more information about poetic forms and World Poetry Day:
Poetry adds moments of beauty to our everyday lives, connects our emotions in unique ways, and helps people everywhere express themselves in amazing ways. Poetry of all kinds is definitely something to celebrate, so join us in looking around the world for inspiration. In honor of World Poetry Day, we (The New Rivers Press) wanted to share with you some unique global poetry styles.
Ghazal: an ancient form of poetry dating back to 700 CE in the Arab lands, and later Persia. It is fairly intricate, but contains anywhere from 5 to 15 independent couplets that create a beautiful whole, all with lines of the same length, meter, or syllable count. It is an extremely well-known form in Iran, where the 14th-century Persian writer, Hafez, published his famous ghazal collection, the Divan of Hafez. For examples of ghazals and more detailed information, visit http://poets.org or The Ghazal Page.
Haiku: arguably one of the most well-known types of international poetry forms, this form comes from ancient Japan. It consists of three short lines with five, seven, and five syllables each. The subject of a haiku was originally restricted to nature and the seasons, but that later was opened up to many different subject matters. Some of the most famous Japanese haiku writers include Basho (the “saint of haiku” in Japan), Buson, and Issa. For more in-depth history of the haiku, check out Poetry through the Ages or Encyclopedia Brittanica.
Doha: another ancient form of poetry common in India. It is a 24-syllable couplet, typically in Hindi. The lines are split unevenly, with the first line having 13 syllables and the second having 11 syllables. It was made more famous by such poets as Kabir and Nanak at the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th century, as well as Goswami Tulsidas, whose work, Ramcharitmanas, is still famous among Hindus across northern India. To find out more about this and many other poetry forms, explore the book A Poet’s Glossary, by Edward Hirsch.
from The New Rivers Press‘ newsletter, Riverine, Volume 3, Issue 7, http://www.newriverspress.com/
Also, the Poetry Foundation has a great website and mobile phone app that can put almost any poem and poet right into your hands any time: http://www.poetryfoundation.org They also put out Poetry Magazine and a poetry podcast.