Tag Archives: American poets

Ellen Bass’s ‘Relax’

Ellen Bass

  
Ellen Bass’s most recent book of poems, The Human Line, was published by Copper Canyon Press in June 2007. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973), has published several volumes of poetry, including Mules of Love (BOA, 2002) which won the Lambda Literary Award.
 
Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, The Progressive, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Sun. She was awarded the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman’s Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and a Fellowship from the California Arts Council.
 
She is also co-author of Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth (HarperCollins 1996) and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Harper Collins 1988, 1994), which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into ten languages. She teaches in many beautiful locations and at Pacific University’s Low-Residency MFA Program.
  
  
  
Relax
 
Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat —
the one you never really liked — will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours for a month.
Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up — drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice — one white, one black — scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.
  
  
First published by American Poetry Review (July/August 2010).
 
Visit Ellen’s website.
 
Order The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007).
  
Order Mules of Love (BOA Editions Ltd, 2002).

Ellen Bass: Three Poems

Ellen Bass

 
Ellen Bass’s most recent book of poems, The Human Line, was published by Copper Canyon Press in June 2007. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973), has published several volumes of poetry, including Mules of Love (BOA, 2002) which won the Lambda Literary Award.
   
Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, The Progressive, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Sun. She was awarded the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman’s Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and a Fellowship from the California Arts Council.
  
She is also co-author of Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth (HarperCollins 1996) and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Harper Collins 1988, 1994), which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into ten languages. She teaches in many beautiful locations and at Pacific University’s Low-Residency MFA Program.
     
     
  
Ode to Dr. Ladd’s Black Slit Skirt
Ellen Bass

   
Praise to the little girl whose grandmother taught her to embroider,
slip the tip of the needle through the taut cloth and scallop
       the clouds,
fasten the feathers to blue bird wings.
 
And praise to the student who gulped muddy coffee
and memorized maps of muscles, puzzle of bones,
slid tendons through their shafts, curling and uncurling
each finger of the corpse like a deft puppeteer.
 
When I got to the ER Janet lay there, the morphine
not strong enough to winch up the pain.
Her arm looked like a carcass where a lion had fed.
 
Praise Dr. Ladd pulling green scrubs over her head
and gathering her long hair under a cap.
 
All the days we drove up to Stanford and waited for hours
in the room with the ugly orange carpet
thumbing through tarnished pages of National Geographic,
wondering what Dr. Ladd would be wearing,
until we heard the strike of her high heels on the hallway linoleum,
distinctive as the first notes of Beethoven’s fifth.
 
Praise her hands that lifted Janet’s hand, her fingertips brushing
over the gnarled scars, flesh lumped like redwood burl.
 
Praise her for getting up early to outline her eyelids,
slick her lips. And praise to her blouses, the silk creamy
as icing on a cake, the generous buttons open
like windows in summer. And praise
 
her bracelets coiled gold and her wide leather belts
encircling her waist like two strong hands about to lift her.
Praise to her earrings, little tinkling tambourines
and her perfume that braced us like a dry martini.
 
But most of all, praise to her slim black skirt
with the slit up the front so that when she sat down
and crossed her legs, the two panels parted like the Red Sea
and we were seized by the curve of her calves,
the faceted shine of her knees sheathed in sheer black mesh,
a riff of diamonds rippling up her thighs.
 
 
 
When You Return
Ellen Bass

   
Fallen leaves will climb back into trees.
Shards of the shattered vase will rise
and reassemble on the table.
Plastic raincoats will refold
into their flat envelopes. The egg,
bald yolk and its transparent halo,
slide back in the thin, calcium shell.
Curses will pour back into mouths,
letters un-write themselves, words
siphoned up into the pen. My gray hair
will darken and become the feathers
of a black swan. Bullets will snap
back into their chambers, the powder
tamped tight in brass casings. Borders
will disappear from maps. Rust
revert to oxygen and time. The fire
return to the log, the log to the tree,
the white root curled up
in the un-split seed. Birdsong will fly
into the lark’s lungs, answers
become questions again.
When you return, sweaters will unravel
and wool grow on the sheep.
Rock will go home to mountain, gold
to vein. Wine crushed into the grape,
oil pressed into the olive. Silk reeled in
to the spider’s belly. Night moths
tucked close into cocoons, ink drained
from the indigo tattoo. Diamonds
will be returned to coal, coal
to rotting ferns, rain to clouds, light
to stars sucked back and back
into one timeless point, the way it was
before the world was born,
that fresh, that whole, nothing
broken, nothing torn apart.
 
 
 
Ode to The God of Atheists
Ellen Bass
  
The god of atheists won’t burn you at the stake
or pry off your fingernails. Nor will it make you
bow or beg, rake your skin with thorns,
or buy gold leaf and stained-glass windows.
It won’t insist you fast or twist
the shape of your sexual hunger.
There are no wars fought for it, no women stoned for it.
You don’t have to veil your face for it
or bloody your knees.
You don’t have to sing.
 
The plums that bloom extravagantly,
the dolphins that stitch sky to sea,
each pebble and fern, pond and fish
are yours whether or not you believe.
 
When fog is ripped away
just as a rust red thumb slides across the moon,
the god of atheists isn’t rewarding you
for waking up in the middle of the night
and shivering barefoot in the field.
 
This god is not moved by the musk
of incense or bowls of oranges,
the mask brushed with cochineal,
polished rib of the lion.
Eat the macerated leaves
of the sacred plant. Dance
till the stars blur to a spangly river.
Rain, if it comes, will come.
This god loves the virus as much as the child.
  
  
Visit Ellen’s website.
  
Order The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007).
  
Order Mules of Love (BOA Editions Ltd, 2002).

The Creative Spirit

  
  
“The creative spirit moves in a body or ego larger than that of any single person. Works of art are drawn from, and the bestowal nourishes, those parts of our being that are not entirely personal, parts that derive from nature, from the group and the race, from history and tradition, and from the spiritual world.”
 
– Lewis Hyde, The Gift (New edition. Canongate, 2007)
 
 
Visit Lewis Hyde’s website.

Grace Schulman’s ‘Apples’

 
 
“Fruit-stand vendor, master of Northern Spies,
let a loose apple teach me how to spin
 
at random, burn in light and rave in shadows.”
 
– from ‘Apples’ by Grace Schulman (The Broken String, 2007)
 
 
Read the entire poem here.

Jocelyn Page’s ‘Pufferfish’

  
 
Jocelyn Page is a poet from Connecticut, USA, who currently lives in South East London. Her work has appeared in Smiths Knoll, The Interpreter’s House, City Lighthouse anthology (Tall Lighthouse, 2009), and on various music websites including the Royal Philharmonic Hear Here project. In 2008 her work was Highly Commended by The New Writer Prose & Poetry Magazine. Her debut pamphlet will be published in 2010 by Tall Lighthouse.
  
  
Pufferfish
Jocelyn Page

 
You’re on your way to the mall
to an air-conditioned day
 
where customers will be right
& you’ll need to ask a manager
 
to authorize any refund, when driving
through that octopus of an intersection
 
where you’re always surprised your light’s green
you’ll see his car & your bowels’ll prickle
 
then swell like a pastry bag prepped to pipe
you’ll see someone else where you used to be
 
that spot in the car that was yours
like the chair at the dining room table
 
where Dad always sits & nobody else
would even think of sitting there.
 
& she’ll be in the middle of that bench seat
next to him, the stick shift denting her thighs
 
& you’ll drive by, changed.
It’ll be with you then, you’ll carry it
 
like a terminal diagnosis
all nine hours of your shift
 
& between sales it’ll dwarf you
at the cash register it’ll hide
 
& in the stock room you’ll feel faint
all day long it’ll loiter
 
like a pufferfish, ready to flood itself
big onto the scene or rest alert
 
behind the treasure chest
small, ready & all about the poison.
 
 
 
Read more of Jocelyn’s poetry here and here.

Kim Addonizio on fear of failure

 
   
“Fear of failure is the biggest thing that blocks creativity. It makes you give up too soon on a project, or on a writing life.”
  
– Kim Addonizio, about creativity interview, 2007
  
  
” … How many days
are left of my life, how much does it matter if I manage to say
one true thing about it –”
  
– Kim Addonizio, ‘The Numbers’
Tell Me (BOA Editions, 2000)

C K Williams’s The Singing

 
     
I’ve been reading C K Williams’s ninth collection, The Singing (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), for which he received the 2003 National Book Award.  The four part volume includes meditations on family, relationships, aging, mortality and bereavement.  The final section concerns terrorism, destruction and the nature of civilization.
   
I am awed by ‘The Hearth’, a reflection on war, moved by the tender ‘Elegy for an Artist’ dedicated to Tucson painter Bruce McGrew and, in the final stanza of ‘Lessons’ (previously published in Tin House), find five lines particularly striking in their honesty and simplicity:
   
” … And the way one can find oneself strewn
so inattentively across life, across time.
Those who touch us, those whom we touch,
we hold them or we let them go
as though it were such a small matter.”
   
There’s a flare of recognition every time I read these words.  This recognition, this resonance, this fleeting identification and connection with a stranger, is one of the reasons I read poetry.

Cecilia Woloch

 
“I fall out the door on my way to you with the passionate suitcase that I’ve carried so long flapping its one broken arm in the breeze. It spills all the words in the street like coins. The words for desire and regret. I fall out the door on my way to you. The night slams shut. I don’t look back.”
 
Cecilia Woloch, from ‘The Passionate Suitcase’
  (Late, BOA Editions, 2003)

Siri Hustvedt

 
“I think we all have ghosts inside us, and it’s better when they speak than when they don’t.”
 
– Siri Hustvedt, The Sorrows of an American (Sceptre, 2009)

Anne Waldman

 
“One is always writing the “first poem””.
 
– Anne Waldman
 
 
“I remember an early (second?) reading at the St. Marks Church in-the-Bowery parish hall circa 1966/1967.  I was nervous.  I was seated at a wooden table.  I wore a yellow and blue striped dress and my head was bent over my “works”, hair probably in my face.  I remember hearing my young woman – more like a girl – voice and thinking “This isn’t the real voice”.  The real voice was deep inside in my hara – and it was a deeper, more seasoned and musical voice – an ageless voice.  I realized I would eventually have to find the words to match it – the words would have to grow up to the voice and the wisdom of that voice.  This is maybe my life’s work.  It’s not that I have to “find my voice” – it’s already there waiting for me.”
 
– Anne Waldman