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Julius Meinl exchanges coffee for poems on World Poetry Day
Julius Meinl coffee roasters are exchanging coffee for poems today.
In honor of World Poetry Day, Viennese coffee roaster Julius Meinl is giving away free coffee in exchange for original poems by its customers.
According to The Local, 1,100 bars, cafes, and restaurants in 23 different countries will be accepting customer’s original, handwritten poems in exchange for cups of coffee on Saturday, March 21. Presumably, coffee can be had regardless of rhyme quality.
Participating coffee shops can be found on a Facebook page for the Pay with a Poem campaign. Most of the participating cafes are in Europe, but there is a Julius Meinl location in Chicago, and it is reportedly participating in the promotion as well.
According to the company, the “pay with a poem” idea came from “a desire to recapture the traditional cultural benefits of Viennese coffee houses, a culture steeped in tradition that has drawn the best from artists and writers for more than a century.”
Cafes across the world are exchanging coffee for poems on World Poetry Day
This World Poetry Day, cafes are thanking writers for the infinite cups of coffee they’ve consumed--while sitting in armchairs and at tiny tables, scribbling in notebooks or tapping on Macbooks, finding some revelation or getting nowhere at all--by giving out cups of coffee for poems.
Thousands of cafes are participating in more than 30 countries for "Pay with a Poem." It’s a way to bring poetry back into the everyday, make it a part of people’s lives again.
Image: Julius Meinl
So get your pencils and your Moleskine notebooks ready, dust off that long-forgotten dream of being a poet and write some free-form, prose, haikus, sonnets, sestinas, pantoums, villanelles or anything with line breaks.
You’ll get a cup of a coffee out of it and be a part of the Global Movement to Revive Poetry. Plus, you might even get featured on some Instagram page somewhere. The whole event is sponsored by Julius Meinl coffee.
If this really catches on, you soon might be able to pay other bills with poetry. Imagine mailing out a poem every time rent is due? Emailing your cell phone provider a poem at the end of each month based on your best, late-night texts? Bringing a few food poems with you to the grocery store each week?
Poetry is an art form on the outskirts. Few people read poetry regularly and few people’s knowledge of poetry extends beyond cheesy rhyming.
But that doesn't mean poetry is dead. The flame of poetry is being fanned by enthusiastic readers around the world and countless poets are pushing boundaries and creating beautiful, satisfying and disorienting work.
For all the people into poetry there remains at least two places where it can be read aloud: bars and coffee shops, both of which are great for getting into the zone.
Coffee is especially good for poetry because it sharpens and heightens your mind. It warms you up, it invigorates you, it makes you feel better.
And writers are especially good for cafes because they buy a lot of coffee.
So, basically, this World Poetry Day initiative is a perfect match.
Poetry is ultimately about self-expression, somehow translating the noise of your brain into something coherent and meaningful, something that can move others.
Poetry has moved and connected people for thousands of years. Imagine translators across time toiling to pull meaning from foreign symbols written by someone thousands of miles away, summoning the nuance of the original language and being inspired and transformed when they crack some of the code and see that the messages within are just as relevant to this new audience as they were to the original.
Poetry can be about anything. It can be about dogs or frogs, rain or pain, or a relationship.
It can be a total word-vomit or it can be meticulously crafted over countless drafts. Most of the time, it’s somewhere in between.
If you’ve never approached poetry before, don’t worry. Poetry is for everyone. All you have to do is approach it. Start reading. Start writing. Start learning. Today’s a great day to start. The whole world will be writing alongside you.
as you write that first poem,
you’ll suddenly find yourself
in an endless loop
of sipping coffee and
writing poetry so that everything else fades
and you’ll forget about your job, climate change,
Last November when I shared Pablo Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet,” I didn’t realize that a couple of weeks later, a new anthology would be released titled after lines from the same poem.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Last spring, while we were all frantically washing our hands, stressing over toilet paper and disinfectant wipes, and adjusting to lockdown restrictions, Ms. Quinn “reached out to poets across the country to see if, and what, they were writing under quarantine.” She was so moved by the response that she began collecting and curating the poems arriving in her inbox.
These poets voiced our collective shock, grief, fears, and hopes — an array of layered emotions many of us did not yet have a language for. From their unique, diverse perspectives, they were able to paint an intimate portrait of a world woefully attuned to this exotic moment in history.
Strange, to experience what could never have been imagined, to step into an altered reality.
Sudden, to have life, livelihood, routines, priorities upended in the blink of an eye.
The 107 poets featured in this anthology vary by age, gender, and sexuality, and employ different styles and poetic forms to unmask human fragility, vulnerability and resilience in trying times. Some of the poems were quite cathartic, moving me to tears.
Here are two that really spoke to me. The first describes precisely how I made it through the past year, and the second reinforces my gratitude for the power of poetry to heal, sustain, and connect.
It’s interesting to see the mindsets of these two poets during the early days of the pandemic. Since then, they, and we, have learned a lot more about the virus while developing our own coping strategies. Hope is on the horizon, yet this story is still unfolding with uncertain end. What is oddly comforting is that whatever happens, we’re in this thing together, united against a common invisible enemy.
ALICE QUINN, the executive director of the Poetry Society of America for eighteen years, was also the poetry editor at The New Yorker from 1987 to 2007 and an editor at Alfred A. Knopf for more than ten years prior to that. She teaches at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and is the editor of a book of Elizabeth Bishop’s writings, Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments, as well as a forthcoming book of Bishop’s journals. She lives in New York City and Millerton, New York.
Enjoy this video of Alice Quinn speaking with Ron Charles at Politics & Prose, with guest poets reading their contributions.
TOGETHER IN A SUDDEN STRANGENESS: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic
edited by Alice Quinn
published by Knopf, November 2020
Poetry Anthology, 208 pp.
*Also available as an Audio Book and an eBook
The lovely and talented Karen Edmisten is hosting the Roundup at her blog today. Take her a cup of freshly brewed coffee and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Have a good weekend and stay safe.
*This post contains Amazon and Bookshop Affiliate links. When you purchase an item using either one of these links, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee at no cost to you. Purchase via Bookshop to support independent bookstores. Thank you!
**Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.
Buy Coffee With Poems on World Poetry Day - Recipes
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A Taste of Ireland: Irish Coffee
by Bridget Haggerty
We've updated this article to include a little bit more of the history of where Irish Coffee originated. Now a favorite after-dinner drink all over the world, many people are surprised to learn that its a relatively recent invention.
The Irish Coffee story begins at Foynes Airbase in Limerick. By 1937, the base was well-established as the main airport for Flying Boats between America and Europe. By 1940, the airport was handling a large number of passengers, including VIPs such as John F Kennedy, Yehudi Menuhin, Humphrey Bogart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Edward G Robinson, Ernest Hemmingway and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. they, along with all of the other passengers would rest in the airport while the flying boat was prepared for its next journey. Sometimes the wait could be overnight due to bad weather.
While there was a restaurant in operation, when DeValera visited Foynes he saw the need for a 1st class establishment which would serve only the best of Irish food and drink. A young man named Brendan ORegan was offered the job of creating a venue that would present a new image of Ireland and its people to the world. Brendan contacted John & Putzel Hunt to design the interior and in 1942, the new restaurant was up and running. with Chef Joe Sheridan at the helm.
Born in Bridgetown, Castlederg, Co. Tyrone in 1909, Joe Sheridan was one of seven children of Michael and Mary Margaret Sheridan. In 1928, the family moved to Dublin. Joe was working in Pims of Georges Street, Dublin when he applied for the position of Chef at the new restaurant in Foynes. He was offered the job and he accepted.
One winter night, in 1942, a flight left Foynes for Botwood, Newfoundland and then on to New York. After five grueling hours of battling a storm, the decision was made to turn back - not an unusual occurrence. The restaurant was informed to prepare food and drink, as the passengers would be cold and miserable.
Joe decided the passengers needed something special to warm them up. He brewed dark, rich coffee, splashed in some Irish whiskey and topped each cup off with freshly whipped cream. Supposedly, there was a hushed silence as cups were raised and the brew was tasted for the first time. "Hey Buddy," said a surprised American passenger, "is this Brazilian coffee?" "No," said Mr. Sheridan, "that's Irish Coffee."
Needless to say, the coffee received rave reviews. In fact, Stanton Delaplane, an international travel writer, enjoyed it so much, he brought the recipe back to Jack Koeppler, a bartender at the Buena Vista Hotel in San Francisco. They attempted to recreate it, but without success. The cool cream on top kept sinking. Mr. Koeppler returned to Ireland to learn the correct way to make it - and that led to an interesting twist on this story.
In October 1945, as the era of the Flying Boat came to an end, Foynes Airbase closed in order to make way for landplanes. A new airport was opened on the other side of the Shannon Estuary - Rineanna, which is now known as Shannon International Airport. Joe Sheridan took his famous drink to the new airport and then, in 1952, he was offered the opportunity to spread his wings. He accepted a position at the Buena Vista in San Francisco where he continued to make and introduce customers to his uniquely Irish creation.
The rest, as they say, is more than 60 years of history. What follows is Mr. Sheridan's original recipe. If possible, use Bewleys coffee which is readily available, but don&rsquot try to make it at all unless the whiskey is genuine Irish. (To see our article, please click Irish Whiskey.)
Cream - Rich as an Irish Brogue
Coffee - Strong as a Friendly Hand
Sugar - Sweet as the tongue of a Rogue
Whiskey - Smooth as the Wit of the Land.
Heat a stemmed whiskey goblet
Pour in one jigger of Irish whiskey
Add one spoon of brown sugar. Fill with strong black coffee to within one inch of the brim
Stir to dissolve the sugar. Top off with whipped cream, slightly aerated, by pouring it over the back of a spoon, so that it floats.
Do not stir after adding the cream as the true flavor is obtained by drinking the hot coffee and Irish whiskey through the cream.
IRISH COFFEE FESTIVAL
Today, the town of Foynes, along with the Powers Whiskey Company, holds an Irish Coffee Festival every year. Visitors can look forward to enjoying a wide range of free family activities, including choosing the Powers World Irish Coffee-making champion. More details will be posted at the official Irish Coffee site as they become available.
To learn more please click Foynes Irish Coffee Festival.
Click here for our related article on Irish Whiskey
Any purchase made helps to support our site (and our coffee addiction we confess to three pots a day). Thank you.
What Would Gwendolyn Brooks Do
Dawn oversees percolating coffee
and the new wreckage of the world.
I stand before my routine reflection,
button up my sanity,
brush weary strands of hair with pomade
and seal cracked lips of distrust
with cocoa butter and matte rouge.
I ready myself once again
for morning and mortify.
Stacking poetry and bills in a knapsack
I bundle up hope (it’s brutal out there).
For a moment, I stand with ghosts
and the framed ancestors surrounding me.
I call out, hoping she can hear me
over the day-breaking sirens—
hoping she’s not far away,
or right down the street,
praying over another dead black boy.
How will we make it through this, Ms. Brooks?
When she held a body,
she saw much worse than this.
I know she was earshot and fingertip close to oppression.
She saw how hateful hate could be.
She raised babies, taught Stone Rangers,
grew a natural and wrote around critics.
She won a Pulitzer in the dark.
She justified our kitchenette dreams,
and held on.
She held on to all of us.
Another day, when I have to tip-toe
around the police and passive-aggressive emails
from people who sit only a few feet away from me.
Another day of fractured humans
who decide how I will live and die,
and I have to act like I like it
so I can keep a job
be a team player, pay taxes on it
I have to act like I’m happy to be
slammed, severed, and swindled.
Otherwise, I’m just part of the problem—
a rebel rouser and rude.
They want me to like it, or at least pretend,
so the pretty veils that blanket who we really are—
this complicated history, can stay pretty and veiled
like some desert belly dancer
who must be seen but not heard.
We are a world of lesions.
Human has become hindrance.
We must be stamped and have papers,
and still, it’s not enough.
Ignorance has become powerful.
The dice that rolls our futures is platinum
but hollow inside.
Did you see that, Ms. Brooks?
Do you see what we’ve become?
They are skinning our histories,
deporting our roots,
detonating our very right to tell the truth.
We are one step closer to annihilation.
Hold On, she says, two million light years away.
Hold On everybody.
Hold On because the poets are still alive—and writing.
Hold On to the last of the disappearing bees
and that Great Barrier Reef.
Hold On to the one sitting next to you,
not masked behind some keyboard.
The one right next to you.
The ones who live and love right next to you.
Hold On to them.
And when we bury another grandmother,
or another black boy
when we stand in front of a pipeline,
pour another glass of dirty drinking water
and put it on the dining room table,
next to the kreplach, bratwurst, tamales, collards, and dumplings
that our foremothers and fathers—immigrants,
brought with them so we all knew that we came from somewhere
somewhere that mattered.
When we kneel on the rubbled mosques,
sit in massacred prayer circles,
Holding On is what gets us through.
We must remember who we are.
We are worth fighting for.
We’ve seen beauty.
We’ve birthed babies who’ve only known a black President.
We’ve tasted empathy and paid it forward.
We’ve Go-Funded from wrong to right.
We’ve marched and made love.
We haven’t forgotten—even if they have—Karma is keeping watch.
Hold On everybody.
Even if all you have left
is that middle finger around your God-given right
to be free, to be heard, to be loved,
and remembered…Hold On,
Copyright © 2017 by Parneshia Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
How to Choose Specialty Coffee Bean
Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the entire world along with water and tea. It is made from roasted coffee seeds or specialty beans. People usually drink it hot but there are some who prefer it cold while others add sweetener, milk, cream or nondairy creamer to their preference.
For a great cup of coffee every time you should invest in the specialty coffee beans you can afford rather than choosing an ordinary beans. In this article, we will discuss how to choose specialty coffee bean but before that you should have known the difference between specialty coffee bag and regular coffee. Let’s get started:
Difference between Specialty Coffee & Regular Coffee
The overall consumer’s statement is that regular or mainstream coffee is packed in a little bottle or grounded and packed in tin or plastic collapse brick.
On the other side specialty coffee is sold as whole beans, especially this coffee is sold direct to roasters or to the coffee traders, maintaining the great taste.
At last the specialty coffee ends with great taste in your cup!
First of all you need to establish what you are looking for. This will make the search process easier and enable you to find what you want faster.
All coffee originates from plant seeds which are produced into the two main types of coffee beans Arabica and Robusta. Arabica are the tastier and more commonly used of the two, however you may recognize them both as they are often found on the packaging of coffee products. But Robusta is sometimes used to substitute it, to cut cost.
There are other species of the plant and these are coffee Liberec and coffee silica. Most of the Arabica beans come from 3 major regions, namely, Latin America, Africa and Asia.
The beans or seeds must be roasted before it can be sold. To do this, the fruits or berries must be picked from the tree, dried, sorted out and sometimes even aged.
As they are roasted, they turn dark due to the natural occurrence of caramelized sucrose.
The roasted product must undergo grinding before it can be mixed with water and consumed by people. Grinding usually occurs at the factory but some people prefer to grind their whole beans themselves at home. For the freshest taste possible it is recommended that you buy roasted coffee beans and grind them yourself. This way the coffee will keep its rich, aromatic flavor, and because you only need to grind what you need, the rest can be stored until you’re ready to use them again.
As well as getting the best coffee beans you have to find the best roast to suit your palate.
- Light Roast – Sometimes known as a cinnamon roast. The coffee beans roasted in this way are pale brown and the flavor is a sharp acidic one.
- Medium Roast – probably the most popular. This roast gives the coffee beans a bitter/sweet flavor and the beans are brown in colour.
- Dark Roast – Also known as the Continental or Viennese Roast. This gives the beans as the name suggests a dark brown colour, almost black in the case of very dark roasted beans. The flavor is rich.
- Check The Manufacturing Date
Actually while roasting the best aroma exists in coffee but day by day it loses its actual aroma.
Generally specialty coffee preserves good aroma and best cup within 2-10 days after roasting and further till 30 days. So while purchasing roasted coffee be sure to check the date.
The closer the roasting date, the better your cup. But in case of regular coffee, the surety cannot be given as the beans are not so strictly roasted and ground.
When comparing online prices to those in store, you will find that when you buy on the web even some of even the top, more expensive brands will be cheaper, saving you money on your favorite gourmet blends and flavors. For the most affordable place to buy coffee online, visit the Google and search for the best among price after reading consumer reviews.
Specialty coffee industry is now blooming across the world. The coffee shops mainly offer espresso and espresso variations as special coffee drinks.
We know that espresso is a different brewed process, not like regular coffee brew. It is thicker than regular coffee and made by forcing hot water into the coffee ground tightly taped. Many prefer to add milk, water to plain espresso and make the variations of different popular espresso drinks.
However, with above-mentioned techniques, you will be able to crack the best quality specialty coffee bean that let you enjoy the most delicious coffee right at the comfort of your home.
Poetry and Ambition
1. I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems.
An ambitious project—but sensible, I think. And it seems to me that contemporary American poetry is afflicted by modesty of ambition—a modesty, alas, genuine . if sometimes accompanied by vast pretense. Of course the great majority of contemporary poems, in any era, will always be bad or mediocre. (Our time may well be characterized by more mediocrity and less badness.) But if failure is constant the types of failure vary, and the qualities and habits of our society specify the manners and the methods of our failure. I think that we fail in part because we lack serious ambition.
2. If I recommend ambition, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy or pleasurable. "I would sooner fail," said Keats at twenty-two, "than not be among the greatest." When he died three years later he believed in his despair that he had done nothing, the poet of "Ode to a Nightingale" convinced that his name was "writ in water." But he was mistaken, he was mistaken. . If I praise the ambition that drove Keats, I do not mean to suggest that it will ever be rewarded. We never know the value of our own work, and everything reasonable leads us to doubt it: for we can be certain that few contemporaries will be read in a hundred years. To desire to write poems that endure—we undertake such a goal certain of two things: that in all likelihood we will fail, and that if we succeed we will never know it.
Every now and then I meet someone certain of personal greatness. I want to pat this person on the shoulder and mutter comforting words: "Things will get better! You won't always feel so depressed! Cheer up!"
But I just called high ambition sensible. If our goal in life is to remain content, no ambition is sensible. . If our goal is to write poetry, the only way we are likely to be any good is to try to be as great as the best.
3. But for some people it seems ambitious merely to set up as a poet, merely to write and to publish. Publication stands in for achievement—as everyone knows, universities and grant-givers take publication as achievement—but to accept such a substitution is modest indeed, for publication is cheap and easy. In this country we publish more poems (in books and magazines) and more poets read more poems aloud at more poetry readings than ever before the increase in thirty years has been tenfold.
So what? Many of these poems are often readable, charming, funny, touching, sometimes even intelligent. But they are usually brief, they resemble each other, they are anecdotal, they do not extend themselves, they make no great claims, they connect small things to other small things. Ambitious poems usually require a certain length for magnitude one need not mention monuments like The Canterbury Tales, The Faerie Queen, Paradise Lost, or The Prelude. "Epithalamion," "Lycidas," and "Ode: Intimations of Immortality" are sufficiently extended, not to mention "The Garden" or "Out of the Cradle." Not to mention the poet like Yeats whose briefer works make great connections.
I do not complain that we find ourselves incapable of such achievement I complain that we seem not even to entertain the desire.
4. Where Shakespeare used "ambitious" of Macbeth we would say "over-ambitious" Milton used "ambition" for the unscrupulous overreaching of Satan the word describes a deadly sin like "pride." Now when I call Milton "ambitious" I use the modern word, mellowed and washed of its darkness. This amelioration reflects capitalism's investment in social mobility. In more hierarchal times pursuit of honor might require revolutionary social change, or murder but Protestantism and capitalism celebrate the desire to rise.
Milton and Shakespeare, like Homer, acknowledge the desire to make words that live forever: ambitious enough, and fit to the O.E.D.'s first definition of "ambition" as "eager desire of honor"—which will do for poets and warriors, courtiers and architects, diplomats, Members of Parliament, and Kings. Desire need not imply drudgery. Hard work enters the definition at least with Milton, who is ready "To scorn delights, and live laborious days," to discover fame, "the spur, that last infirmity of noble minds." We note the infirmity who note that fame results only from laborious days' attendance upon a task of some magnitude: when Milton invoked the Heavenly Muse's "aid to my adventurous song," he wanted merely to "justify the ways of God to men."
If the word "ambitious" has mellowed, "fame" has deteriorated enough to require a moment's thought. For us, fame tends to mean Johnny Carson and People magazine. For Keats as for Milton, for Hector as for Gilgamesh, it meant something like universal and enduring love for the deed done or the song sung. The idea is more classic than Christian, and the poet not only seeks it but confers it. Who knows Achilles' valor but for Homer's tongue? But in the 1980s—after centuries of cheap printing, after the spread of mere literacy and the decline of qualified literacy, after the loss of history and the historical sense, after television has become mother of us all—we have seen the decline of fame until we use it now as Andy Warhol uses it, as the mere quantitative distribution of images. . . . We have a culture crowded with people who are famous for being famous.
5. True ambition in a poet seeks fame in the old sense, to make words that live forever. If even to entertain such ambition reveals monstrous egotism, let me argue that the common alternative is petty egotism that spends itself in small competitiveness, that measures its success by quantity of publication, by blurbs on jackets, by small achievement: to be the best poet in the workshop, to be published by Knopf, to win the Pulitzer or the Nobel. . . . The grander goal is to be as good as Dante.
Let me hypothesize the developmental stages of the poet.
At twelve, say, the American poet-to-be is afflicted with generalized ambition. (Robert Frost wanted to be a baseball pitcher and a United States senator: Oliver Wendell Holmes said that nothing was so commonplace as the desire to appear remarkable the desire may be common but it is at least essential.) At sixteen the poet reads Whitman and Homer and wants to be immortal. Alas, at twenty-four the same poet wants to be in the New Yorker. . . .
There is an early stage when the poem becomes more important than the poet one can see it as a transition from the lesser egotism to the greater. At the stage of lesser egotism, the poet keeps a bad line or an inferior word or image because that's the way it was: that's what really happened. At this stage the frail ego of the author takes precedence over art. The poet must develop, past this silliness, to the stage where the poem is altered for its own sake, to make it better art, not for the sake of its maker's feelings but because decent art is the goal. Then the poem lives at some distance from its creator's little daily emotions it can take on its own character in the mysterious place of satisfying shapes and shapely utterance. The poem freed from its precarious utility as ego's appendage may possibly fly into the sky and become a star permanent in the night air.
Yet, alas, when the poet tastes a little fame, a little praise. . . . Sometimes the poet who has passed this developmental stage will forget duty to the art of poetry and again serve the petty egotism of the self. . . .
Nothing is learned once that does not need learning again. The poet whose ambition is unlimited at sixteen and petty at twenty-four may turn unlimited at thirty-five and regress at fifty. But if everyone suffers from interest, everyone may pursue disinterest.
Then there is a possible further stage: when the poet becomes an instrument or agency of art, the poem freed from the poet's ego may entertain the possibility of grandeur. And this grandeur, by a familiar paradox, may turn itself an apparent 180 degrees to tell the truth. Only when the poem turns wholly away from the petty ego, only when its internal structure fully serves art's delicious purposes, may it serve to reveal and envision. "Man can embody truth"—said Yeats I add the italic—"he cannot know it." Embodiment is art and artfulness.
When Yeats was just south of fifty he wrote that he "sought an image not a book." Many aging poets leave the book behind to search for the diagram, and write no more poetry than Michael Robartes who drew geometrical shapes in the sand. The turn toward wisdom—toward gathering the whole world into a book—often leaves poetry behind as a frivolity. And though these prophets may delight in abstract revelation, we cannot follow them into knowing, who followed their earlier embodiments. . . . Yeats's soul knew an appetite for invisibility—the temptation of many—but the man remained composite, and although he sought and found a vision he continued to write a book.
6. We find our models of ambition mostly from reading.
We develop the notion of art from our reading. When we call the poem more important than ourselves, it is not that we have confidence in our ability to write it we believe in poetry. We look daily at the great monuments of old accomplishment and we desire to add to their number, to make poems in homage to poems. Old poems that we continue to read and love become the standard we try to live up to. These poems, internalized, criticize our own work. These old poems become our Muse, our encouragement to song and our discouragement of comparison.
Therefore it is essential for poets, all the time, to read and reread the great ones. Some lucky poets make their living by publicly reacquainting themselves in the classroom with the great poems of the language. Alas, many poets now teach nothing but creative writing, read nothing but the words of children . (I will return to this subject).
It is also true that many would-be poets lack respect for learning. How strange that the old ones read books. . . . Keats stopped school when he was fifteen or so but he translated the Aeneid in order to study it and worked over Dante in Italian and daily sat at the feet of Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton. ("Keats studied the old poets every day / Instead of picking up his M.F.A.") Ben Jonson was learned and in his cups looked down at Shakespeare's relative ignorance of ancient languages—but Shakespeare learned more language and literature at his Stratford grammar school than we acquire in twenty years of schooling. Whitman read and educated himself with vigor Eliot and Pound continued their studies after stints of graduate school.
On the other hand, we play records all night and write unambitious poems. Even talented young poets—saturated in S'ung, suffused in Sufi—know nothing of Bishop King's "Exequy." The syntax and sounds of one's own tongue, and that tongue's four-hundred-year-old ancestors, give us more than all the classics of all the world in translation.
But to struggle to read the great poems of another language—in the language—that is another thing. We are the first generation of poets not to study Latin not to read Dante in Italian. Thus the puniness of our unambitious syntax and limited vocabulary.
When we have read the great poems we can study as well the lives of the poets. It is useful, in the pursuit of models, to read the lives and letters of the poets whose work we love. Keats's letters, heaven knows.
7. In all societies there is a template to which its institutions conform, whether or not the institutions instigate products or activities that suit such a pattern. In the Middle Ages the Church provided the model, and guilds and secret societies erected their colleges of cardinals. Today the American industrial corporation provides the template, and the university models itself on General Motors. Corporations exist to create or discover consumers' desires and fulfill them with something that satisfies briefly and needs frequent repetition. CBS provides television as Gillette supplies disposable razors— and, alas, the universities turn out degree-holders equally disposable and the major publishers of New York City (most of them less profitable annexes of conglomerates peddling soap, beer, and paper towels) provide disposable masterpieces.
The United States invented mass quick-consumption and we are very good at it. We are not famous for making Ferraris and Rolls Royces we are famous for the people's car, the Model T, the Model A—"transportation," as we call it: the particular abstracted into the utilitarian generality—and two in every garage. Quality is all very well but it is not democratic if we insist on hand-building Rolls Royces most of us will walk to work. Democracy demands the interchangeable part and the worker on the production line Thomas Jefferson may have had other notions but de Tocqueville was our prophet. Or take American cuisine: it has never added a sauce to the world's palate, but our fast-food industry overruns the planet.
Thus: Our poems, in their charming and interchangeable quantity, do not presume to the status of "Lycidas"—for that would be elitist and un-American. We write and publish the McPoem—ten billion served—which becomes our contribution to the history of literature as the Model T is our contribution to a history which runs from bare feet past elephant and rickshaw to the vehicles of space. Pull in any time day or night, park by the busload, and the McPoem waits on the steam shelf for us, wrapped and protected, indistinguishable, undistinguished, and reliable—the good old McPoem identical from coast to coast and in all the little towns between, subject to the quality control of the least common denominator.
And every year, Ronald McDonald takes the Pulitzer.
To produce the McPoem, institutions must enforce patterns, institutions within institutions, all subject to the same glorious dominance of unconscious economic determinism, template and formula of consumerism.
The McPoem is the product of the workshops of Hamburger University.
8. But before we look into the workshop, with its training program for junior poets, let us take a look at models provided by poetic heroes of the American present. The university does not invent the stereotypes it provides technology for mass reproduction of a model created elsewhere.
Question: If you manufacture Pac-Man, or a car called Mustang, and everyone suddenly wants to buy what you make, how do you respond? Answer: You add shifts, pay overtime, and expand the plant in order to saturate the market with your product. . . . You make your product as quickly as you can manufacture it notions of quality control do not disturb your dreams.
When Robert Lowell was young he wrote slowly and painfully and very well. On his wonderful Library of Congress LP, before he recites his early poem about "Falling Asleep over the Aeneid," he tells how the poem began when he tried translating Virgil but produced only eighty lines in six months, which he found disheartening. Five years elapsed between his Pulitzer book Lord Weary's Castle, which was the announcement of his genius, and its underrated successor The Mills of the Kavanaughs. Then there were eight more years before the abrupt innovation of Life Studies. For the Union Dead was spotty, Near the Ocean spottier, and then the rot set in.
Now, no man should be hanged for losing his gift, most especially a man who suffered as Lowell did. But one can, I think, feel annoyed when quality plunges as quantity multiplies: Lowell published six bad books of poems in those disastrous last eight years of his life.
(I say "bad books" and would go to the stake over the judgment, but let me hasten to acknowledge that each of these dreadful collections—dead metaphor, flat rhythm, narcissistic self-exploitation—was celebrated by leading critics on the front page of the Times and the New York Review of Books as the greatest yet of uniformly great emanations of great poetical greatness, greatly achieved. . . . But one wastes one's time in indignation. Taste is always a fool.)
John Berryman wrote with difficult concentration his difficult, concentrated Mistress Bradstreet then he eked out 77 Dream Songs. Alas, after the success of this product he mass-produced His Toy His Dream His Rest, 308 further dream songs—quick improvisations of self-imitation, which is the true identity of the famous "voice" accorded late Berryman-Lowell. Now Robert Penn Warren, our current grand old man, accumulates another long book of poems every year or so, repeating himself instead of rewriting the same poem until it is right—hurry, hurry, hurry—and the publishing tribe celebrates these sentimental, crude, trite products of our industrial culture.
Not all poets overproduce in a response to eminence: Elizabeth Bishop never went on overtime T. S. Eliot wrote bad plays at the end of his life, but never watered the soup of his poems nor did Williams nor Stevens nor Pound. Of course everyone writes some inferior work—but these poets did not gush out bad poems late in their lives when they were famous and the market required more products for selling.
Mind you, the workshops of Hamburger University turned out cheap, ersatz Bishop, Eliot, Williams, Stevens, and Pound. All you want. . . .
9. Horace, when he wrote the Ars Poetica, recommended that poets keep their poems home for ten years don't let them go, don't publish them until you have kept them around for ten years: by that time, they ought to stop moving on you by that time, you ought to have them right. Sensible advice, I think— but difficult to follow. When Pope wrote "An Essay on Criticism" seventeen hundred years after Horace, he cut the waiting time in half, suggesting that poets keep their poems for five years before publication. Henry Adams said something about acceleration, mounting his complaint in 1912 some would say that acceleration has accelerated in the seventy years since. By this time, I would be grateful—and published poetry would be better—if people kept their poems home for eighteen months.
Poems have become as instant as coffee or onion soup mix. One of our eminent critics compared Lowell's last book to the work of Horace, although some of its poems were dated the year of publication. Anyone editing a magazine receives poems dated the day of the postmark. When a poet types and submits a poem just composed (or even shows it to spouse or friend) the poet cuts off from the poem the possibility of growth and change I suspect that the poet wishes to forestall the possibilities of growth and change, though of course without acknowledging the wish.
If Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Robert Penn Warren publish without allowing for revision or self-criticism, how can we expect a twenty-four-year-old in Manhattan to wait five years—or eighteen months? With these famous men as models, how should we blame the young poet who boasts in a brochure of over four hundred poems published in the last five years? Or the publisher, advertising a book, who brags that his poet has published twelve books in ten years? Or the workshop teacher who meets a colleague on a crosswalk and buffs the backs of his fingernails against his tweed as he proclaims that, over the last two years, he has averaged "placing" two poems a week?
10. Abolish the M.F.A.! What a ringing slogan for a new Cato: Iowa delenda est!
The workshop schools us to produce the McPoem, which is "a mold in plaster, / Made with no loss of time," with no waste of effort, with no strenuous questioning as to merit. If we attend a workshop we must bring something to class or we do not contribute. What kind of workshop could Horace have contributed to, if he kept his poems to himself for ten years? No, we will not admit Horace and Pope to our workshops, for they will just sit there, holding back their own work, claiming it is not ready, acting superior, a bunch of elitists. . . .
When we use a metaphor, it is useful to make inquiries of it. I have already compared the workshop to a fast-food franchise, to a Ford assembly line. . Or should we compare Creative Writing 401 to a sweatshop where women sew shirts at an illegally low wage? Probably the metaphor refers to none of the above, because the workshop is rarely a place for starting and finishing poems it is a place for repairing them. The poetry workshop resembles a garage to which we bring incomplete or malfunctioning homemade machines for diagnosis and repair. Here is the homemade airplane for which the crazed inventor forgot to provide wings here is the internal combustion engine all finished except that it lacks a carburetor here is the rowboat without oarlocks, the ladder without rungs, the motorcycle without wheels. We advance our nonfunctional machine into a circle of other apprentice inventors and one or two senior Edisons. "Very good," they say "it almost flies. . . . How about, uh . . . how about wings?" Or, "Let me just show you how to build a carburetor. . . ."
Whatever we bring to this place, we bring it too soon. The weekly meetings of the workshop serve the haste of our culture. When we bring a new poem to the workshop, anxious for praise, others' voices enter the poem's metabolism before it is mature, distorting its possible growth and change. "It's only when you get far enough away from your work to begin to be critical of it yourself"—Robert Frost said—"that anyone else's criticism can be tolerable. . . ." Bring to class only, he said, "old and cold things. . . ." Nothing is old and cold until it has gone through months of drafts. Therefore workshopping is intrinsically impossible.
It is from workshops that American poets learn to enjoy the embarrassment of publication—too soon, too soon—because making public is a condition of workshopping. This publication exposes oneself to one's fellow-poets only—a condition of which poets are perpetually accused and frequently guilty. We learn to write poems that will please not the Muse but our contemporaries, thus poems that resemble our contemporaries' poems—thus the recipe for the McPoem. . . . If we learn one thing else, we learn to publish promiscuously these premature ejaculations count on number and frequency to counterbalance ineptitude.
Poets who stay outside the circle of peers—like Whitman, who did not go to Harvard like Dickinson for whom there was no tradition like Robert Frost, who dropped out of two colleges to make his own way—these poets take Homer for their peer. To quote Frost again: "The thing is to write better and better poems. Setting our heart when we're too young on getting our poems appreciated lands us in the politics of poetry which is death." Agreeing with these words from Frost's dour middle-age, we need to add: and "setting our heart" when we are old "on getting our poems appreciated" lands us in the same place.
11. At the same time, it's a big country. . . .
Most poets need the conversation of other poets. They do not need mentors they need friends, critics, people to argue with. It is no accident that Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey were friends when they were young if Pound, H.D., and William Carlos Williams had not known each other when young, would they have become William Carlos Williams, H.D., and Pound? There have been some lone wolves but not many. The history of poetry is a history of friendships and rivalries, not only with the dead great ones but with the living young. My four years at Harvard overlapped with the undergraduates Frank O'Hara, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Peter Davison, L. E. Sissman, and Kenneth Koch. (At the same time Galway Kinnell and W. S. Merwin attended Princeton.) I do not assert that we resembled a sewing circle, that we often helped each other overtly, or even that we liked each other. I do assert that we were lucky to have each other around for purposes of conversation.
We were not in workshops we were merely attending college. Where else in this country would we have met each other? In France there is an answer to this question and it is Paris. Europe goes in for capital cities. Although England is less centralized than France or Romania, London is more capital than New York, San Francisco, or Washington. While the French poet can discover the intellectual life of his times at a cafe, the American requires a degree program. The workshop is the institutionalized cafe.
The American problem of geographical isolation is real. Any remote place may be the site of poetry—imagined, remembered, or lived in—but for almost every poet it is necessary to live in exile before returning home—an exile rich in conflict and confirmation. Central New Hampshire or the Olympic Peninsula or Cincinnati or the soybean plains of western Minnesota or the lower East Side may shine at the center of our work and our lives but if we never leave these places we are not likely to grow up enough to do the work. There is a terrible poignancy in the talented artist who fears to leave home—defined as a place first to leave and then to return to.
So the workshop answers the need for a cafe. But I called it the institutionalized cafe, and it differs from the Parisian version by instituting requirements and by hiring and paying mentors. Workshop mentors even make assignments: "Write a persona poem in the voice of a dead ancestor." "Make a poem containing these ten words in this order with as many other words as you wish." "Write a poem without adjectives, or without prepositions, or without content. . . ." These formulas, everyone says, are a whole lot of fun. . . . They also reduce poetry to a parlor game they trivialize and make safe-seeming the real terrors of real art. This reduction-by-formula is not accidental. We play these games in order to reduce poetry to a parlor game. Games serve to democratize, to soften, and to standardize they are repellent. Although in theory workshops serve a useful purpose in gathering young artists together, workshop practices enforce the McPoem.
This is your contrary assignment: Be as good a poet as George Herbert. Take as long as you wish.
12. I mentioned earlier the disastrous separation, in many universities, of creative writing and literature. There are people writing poetry—teaching poetry, studying poetry—who find reading academic. Such a sentence sounds like a satiric invention alas, it is objective reporting.
Our culture rewards specialization. It is absurd that we erect a barrier between one who reads and one who writes, but it is an absurdity with a history. It is absurd because in our writing our standards derive from what we have read, and its history reaches back to the ancient war between the poets and the philosophers, exemplified in Plato's "Ion" as the philosopher condescends to the rhapsode. In the thirties poets like Ransom, Tate, and Winters entered the academy under sufferance, condescended to. Tate and Winters especially made themselves academically rigorous. They secured the beachheads the army of their grandchildren occupies the country: often grandsons and daughters who write books but do not read them.
The separation of the literature department from the writing department is a disaster for poet, for scholar, and for student. The poet may prolong adolescence into retirement by dealing only with the products of infant brains. (If the poet, as in some schools, teaches literature, but only to writing students, the effect is better but not much better. The temptation exists then to teach literature as craft or trade Americans don't need anyone teaching them trade.) The scholars of the department, institutionally separated from the contemporary, are encouraged to ignore it. In the ideal relationship, writers play gadfly to scholars, and scholars help writers connect to the body of past literature. Students lose the writer's special contribution to the study of literature. Everybody loses.
13. It is commonplace that, in the English and American tradition, critic and poet are the same person—from Campion to Pound, from Sidney to Eliot. This tradition started with controversies between poets over the propriety of rhyme and English meter, and with poets' defense of poetry against Puritan attack. It flourished, serving many purposes, through Dryden, Johnson, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats in his letters, Shelley, Arnold. . . . Although certain poets have left no criticism, there are no first-rate critics in the English tradition who are not also poets—except for Hazlitt. The poet and the critic have been almost continuous, as if writing poetry and thinking about it were not discrete activities.
When Roman Jakobson—great linguist, Harvard professor—was approached some years ago with the suggestion that Vladimir Nabokov might be appointed professor of Slavic, Jakobson was skeptical he had nothing against elephants, he said, but he would not appoint one professor of zoology.
The analogy compares the elegant and stylish Nabokov— novelist in various languages, lepidopterist, lecturer, and critic—to the great, gray, hulking pachyderm, intellectually noted only for memory. . . . By jokes and analogies we reveal ourselves. Jakobson condescends to Nabokov—just as Plato patted little Ion on his head, just as Sartre makes charitable exception for poets in What Is Literature? , just as men have traditionally condescended to women and imperialists to natives. The points are clear: (1) "Artists are closer to nature than thinkers they are more instinctive, more emotional they are childlike." (2) "Artists like bright colors artists have a natural sense of rhythm artists screw all the time." (3) "Don't misunderstand. We like artists . in their place, which is in the zoo, or at any rate outside the Republic, or at any rate outside tenured ranks."
(One must admit, I suppose, that poets often find themselves in tenured ranks these days. But increasingly they enter by the zoo entrance, which in our universities is the department of creative writing.)
Formalism, with its dream of finite measurement, is a beautiful arrogance, a fantasy of materialism. When we find what's to measure and measure it, we should understand style-as-fingerprint, quantifying characteristic phonemic sequence . or whatever. But it seems likely that we will continue to intuit qualities, like degrees of intensity, for which objective measure is impossible. Then hard-noses will claim that only the measurable exists—which is why hard-nose usually means soft-head.
Once I audited a course of Jakobson's, for which I am grateful the old formalist discoursed on comparative prosody, witty and energetic and learned, giving verbatim examples from Urdu and fifty other languages, exemplifying the multiplicity of countable noise. The journey was marvelous, the marvel diminished only a little by its terminus. The last lecture, pointed to for some weeks, turned out to be a demonstration, from an objective and untraditional approach, of how to scan (and the scansion was fine, and it was the way one scanned the poem when one was sixteen) of Edgar Poe's "The Raven."
14. A product of the creative writing industry is the writerly newsletter which concerns itself with publications, grants, and jobs—and with nothing serious. If poets meeting each other in 1941 discussed how much they were paid a line, now they trade information about grants left wing and right united to be Establishment is to have received an N.E.A. grant to be anti-Establishment is to denounce the N.E.A. as a conspiracy. . . . Like Republicans and Democrats, all belong to the same capitalist party.
Poets and Writers publishes Coda (now Poets and Writers), with chatty articles about self-publication, with lists of contests and awards. It resembles not so much a trade journal as a hobbyist's bulletin, unrelievedly cheerful, relentlessly trivial. The same organization issues the telephone-book, A Directory of American Poets, "Names and addresses of 1,500 poets. . . ." The same organization offers T-shirts and bookbags labeled "Poets and Writers."
Associated Writing Programs publishes A.W.P. Newsletter, which includes one article each issue—often a talk addressed to an A.W.P. meeting—and adds helpful business aids: The December, 1982, issue includes advice on "The 'Well Written' Letter of Application," lists of magazines requesting material ("The editors state they are looking for 'straightforward but not inartistic work'"), lists of grants and awards ("The annual HARRY SMITH BOOK AWARD is given by COSMEP to . . ."), and notices of A.W.P. competitions and conventions. . . .
Really, these newsletters provide illusion for jobs and grants go to the eminent people. As we all know, eminence is arithmetical: it derives from the number of units published times the prestige of the places of publication. People hiring or granting do not judge quality—it's so subjective!—but anyone can multiply units by the prestige index and come off with the product. Eminence also brings readings. Can we go uncorrupted by such knowledge? I am asked to introduce a young poet's volume the publisher will pay the going rate but I did not know that there was a going rate. . . . Even blurbs on jackets are commodities. They are exchanged for pamphlets, for readings reciprocal blurbs are only the most obvious exchanges. . . .
If it seems hopeless, one has only to look up in perfect silence at the stars . . . and it does help to remember that poems are the stars, not poets. Of most help is to remember that it is possible for people to take hold of themselves and become better by thinking. It is also necessary, alas, to continue to take hold of ourselves—if we are to pursue the true ambition of poetry. Our disinterest must discover that last week's nobility was really covert rottenness, etcetera. One is never free and clear one must work continually to sustain, to recover. . . .
When Keats in his letters praised disinterestedness—his favorite moral idea, destroyed when it is misused as a synonym for lethargy (on the same day I found it misused in the New York Times, Inside Sports, and the American Poetry Review)— he lectured himself because he feared that he would lose it. (Lectures loud with moral advice are always self-addressed.) No one is guiltless of temptation, but it is possible to resist temptation. When Keats worried over his reputation, over insults from Haydon or the Quarterly, over Shelley's condescension or Wordsworth's neglect, he reminded himself to cultivate disinterest to avoid distraction and to keep his eye on the true goal, which was to become one of the English Poets.
Yeats is responsible for a number of the stars in the sky, and when we read his letters we find that the young man was an extraordinary trimmer—soliciting reviews from Oscar Wilde and flattering Katherine Tynan, older and more established on the Celtic turf. One of the O.E.D.'s definitions of ambition, after "eager desire of honor," is "personal solicitation of honor." When he wrote, "I seek an image not a book," he acknowledged that as a young man he had sought a book indeed. None of us, beseeching Doubleday or Pittsburgh, has ever sought with greater fervor.
And Whitman reviewed himself, and Roethke campaigned for praise like a legislator at the state fair, and Frost buttered Untermeyer on both sides. . . . (Therefore let us abjure the old saw that self-promotion and empire-building mean bad poetry. Most entrepreneurs are bad poets—but then, so are most poets.) Self-promotion remains a side issue of poetry and ambition. It can reflect a greed or covetousness which displaces the grand ambition—the kind of covetousness which looks on the life lived only as a source of poems "I got a poem out of it." Or it can show only the trivial side of someone who, on other occasions, makes great art. At any rate, we should spend our time worrying not about other people's bad characters, but our own.
Finally, of course, I speak of nothing except the modest topic: How shall we lead our lives? I think of a man I admire as much as anyone, the English sculptor Henry Moore, eighty-four as I write these notes, eighty when I spoke with him last. "Now that you are eighty," I asked him, "would you tell me the secret of life?" Being a confident and eloquent Yorkshireman, Moore would not deny my request. He told me:
"The greatest good luck in life, for anybody, is to have something that means everything to you . to do what you want to do, and to find that people will pay you for doing it. if it's unattainable. It's no good having an objective that's attainable! That's the big thing: you have an ideal, an objective, and that objective is unreachable. . . ."
16. There is no audit we can perform on ourselves, to assure that we work with proper ambition. Obviously it helps to be careful to revise, to take time, to put the poem away to pursue distance in the hope of objective measure. We know that the poem, to satisfy ambition's goals, must not express mere personal feeling or opinion—as the moment's McPoem does. It must by its language make art's new object. We must try to hold ourselves to the mark we must not write to publish or to prevail. Repeated scrutiny is the only method general enough for recommending. . . .
And of course repeated scrutiny is not foolproof and we will fool ourselves. Nor can the hours we work provide an index of ambition or seriousness. Although Henry Moore laughs at artists who work only an hour or two a day, he acknowledges that sculptors can carve sixteen hours at a stretch for years on end—tap-tap-tap on stone—and remain lazy. We can revise our poems five hundred times we can lock poems in their rooms for ten years—and remain modest in our endeavor. On the other hand, anyone casting a glance over biography or literary history must acknowledge: Some great poems have come without noticeable labor.
But as I speak I confuse realms. Ambition is not a quality of the poem but of the poet. Failure and achievement belong to the poet, and if our goal remains unattainable, then failure must be standard. To pursue the unattainable for eighty-five years, like Henry Moore, may imply a certain temperament. . If there is no method of work that we can rely on, maybe at least we can encourage in ourselves a temperament that is not easily satisfied. Sometime when we are discouraged with our own work, we may notice that even the great poems, the sources and the standards, seem inadequate: "Ode to a Nightingale" feels too limited in scope, "Out of the Cradle" too sloppy, "To His Coy Mistress" too neat, and "Among Schoolchildren" padded. . . .
Maybe ambition is appropriately unattainable when we acknowledge: No poem is so great as we demand that poetry be.
Cigarettes, Coffee, a Stop at the Liquor Store
Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems,” the little black dress of American poetry books, redolent of cocktails and cigarettes and theater tickets and phonograph records, turns 50 this year. It seems barely to have aged.
O’Hara wrote these poems, some during his lunch hour, while working at the Museum of Modern Art. He started at MoMA as an information desk clerk and, though he lacked formal training, became a curator. He had a painterly eye and a silvery personality.
“Lunch Poems” was urbane and sociable, a cheerful rebuke to the era’s more determined academic verse. “I do this I do that” poetry, O’Hara called his work, and this collection’s first poem, “Music,” sets the tone of his free-associating voice and method.
If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian
pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe,
that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf’s
and I am naked as a table cloth, my nerves humming.
“Naked as a table cloth,” “nerves humming”: These are not-bad distillations of O’Hara’s sensibility. Similarly, in “The Day Lady Died,” about Billie Holiday, he says:
I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it
It can be hard to recall how groundbreaking O’Hara’s poetry seemed in 1964. John Ashbery, in his preface to a new edition of “Lunch Poems,” explains “how conservative and formal most American poetry was at the time, except for the Beats, who had only recently arrived.”
(This is true, so far as it goes, though 1964 was also the year of the publication of John Berryman’s “77 Dream Songs,” with its mix of high and low diction. It won a Pulitzer Prize the next year.)
America in 1964 was straining to break out of black and white and into color, and “Lunch Poems” was part of the brewing social drama. The directness of O’Hara’s voice was a tonic. Taxis are preferable to subways, he declared in one poem, because “subways are only fun when you’re feeling sexy.”
In another, America is seen as “full of indecision and cognac and bikinis.” It makes sense that in an episode of “Mad Men,” Don Draper pokes though a volume of O’Hara’s work, trying to divine where the zeitgeist is pushing him.
One of the most alive men of his time, O’Hara died in 1966, just two years after “Lunch Poems” was published. It was a freak accident. He was hit by a beach taxi on Fire Island. He was 40.
O’Hara was born in Baltimore and grew up in a suburb of Worcester, Mass. His father helped run a family business that included a dairy farm, a hardware store, a mill and a John Deere dealership. During World War II, O’Hara served in the South Pacific aboard the destroyer Nicholas.He got into Harvard on the G.I. Bill and thought he might become a concert pianist. His roommate at Harvard was Edward Gorey, the author and illustrator. At Harvard he also became friends with Mr. Ashbery and turned toward writing, publishing stories and poetry in The Harvard Advocate.
Once in Manhattan, he was able to live freely as a gay man, and he became a convivial leader of the so-called New York School, which included poets like Mr. Ashbery and Kenneth Koch and Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell. Artists liked to paint him.
O’Hara appraises high culture in “Lunch Poems,” art and opera and writers like Ionesco and Beckett and Lionel Trilling. But he was also tuned in to camp. One of his best-known poems concludes this way, with the poet glimpsing a headline:
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I have never collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up
Another of this book’s radical qualities was its openness about its author’s sexuality. “Lunch Poems” is dedicated to O’Hara’s friend and lover Joseph LeSueur. In a poem called “Song,” the narrator notices a handsome lout with a “very bad character.” So what if he’s dirty, the poem implies, New York is a hot mess, as are we all. The poet drinks the stranger in. The poem ends this way: “you don’t refuse to breathe do you.”
O’Hara talked about his work in sexual terms. Speaking about “measure and other technical apparatus” in his verse, he declared: “If you’re going to buy a pair of pants, you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you.”
O’Hara often wrote his poems quickly (the Lana Turner poem was dashed off on the Staten Island Ferry) and stuffed them into boxes or kitchen drawers. He couldn’t always find them again.
This new edition of “Lunch Poems” includes several years of correspondence between O’Hara and an exasperated Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who published “Lunch Poems” at his City Lights Books. One lost letter, Mr. Ferlinghetti says, was “one in which I jumped up and down, waving my arms and hollering that I must have ‘Lunch’ immediately or I would starve. (It worked.)”
This is a book worth imbibing again, especially if you live in Manhattan, but really if you’re awake and curious anywhere. O’Hara speaks directly across the decades to our hopes and fears and especially our delights his lines are as intimate as a telephone call. Few books of his era show less age.
Even his more abstract poems demonstrate his demotic gift. His verse never, as Augustus bitched about Marc Antony’s speeches, stinks of far-fetched phrases.
A lunch poem called “Steps” includes these lines:
oh god it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much
That same poem talks about the Pittsburgh Pirates, my team while I was growing up, shouting because they’ve won a game. O’Hara adds:
4. “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
What the heart of the young man said to the Psalmist
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time—
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Meaning of the Poem
In this nine-stanza poem, the first six stanzas are rather vague since each stanza seems to begin a new thought. Instead, the emphasis here is on a feeling rather than a rational train of thought. What feeling? It seems to be a reaction against science, which is focused on calculations (“mournful numbers”) and empirical evidence, of which there is no, or very little, to prove the existence of the soul. Longfellow lived when the Industrial Revolution was in high gear and the ideals of science, rationality, and reason flourished. From this perspective, the fact that the first six stanzas do not follow a rational train of thought makes perfect sense.
According to the poem, the force of science seems to restrain one’s spirit or soul (“for the soul is dead that slumbers”), lead to inaction and complacency from which we must break free (“Act,—act in the living Present! / Heart within, and God o’erhead!”) for lofty purposes such as Art, Heart, and God before time runs out (“Art is long, and Time is fleeting”). The last three stanzas—which, having broken free from science by this point in the poem, read more smoothly—suggest that this acting for lofty purposes can lead to greatness and can help our fellow man.
We might think of the entire poem as a clarion call to do great things, however insignificant they may seem in the present and on the empirically observable surface. That may mean writing a poem and entering it into a poetry contest, when you know the chances of your poem winning are very small risking your life for something you believe in when you know it is not popular or it is misunderstood or volunteering for a cause that, although it may seem hopeless, you feel is truly important. Thus, the greatness of this poem lies in its ability to so clearly prescribe a method for greatness in our modern world.
World War Two Poetry
Many people ask why there are fewer poems from World War II, compared to the First World War. The answer is simply that most of the poets and their poems did not survive the conflict.
What we do have for World War Two poetry is no less remarkable and documents the struggles of a different generation. Many of the World War Two poets were children of World War One soldiers and grew up with stories of the Great World War all around them.
Following are three poems from soldier poets who served in the war.
Fighting World War 2 on Horseback
Keith Douglas was already a published poet while studying at Oxford when the war began. He served almost three years before he was killed in action at Normandy.
The noble horse with courage in his eye,
clean in the bone, looks up at a shellburst:
away fly the images of the shires
but he puts the pipe back in his mouth.
Peter was unfortunately killed by an 88
it took his leg away, he died in the ambulance.
I saw him crawling on the sand, he said
It&aposs most unfair, they&aposve shot my foot off.
How can I live among this gentle
obsolescent breed of heroes, and not weep?
for they are fading into two legends
in which their stupidity and chivalry
are celebrated. Each, fool and hero, will be an immortal.
These plains were their cricket pitch
and in the mountains the tremendous drop fences
brought down some of the runners. Here then
under the stones and earth they dispose themselves,
I think with their famous unconcern.
It is not gunfire I hear, but a hunting horn.
Alun Lewis, a Soldier Poet in World War II
A Soldier Poet, Alun Lewis saw combat against the Japanese in Burma. He died there from a gunshot wound in 1944. He was 29.
Two volumes of World War Two poetry survive as well as many short stories.
All Day It Has Rained
All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the moors
Have sprawled in our bell-tents, moody and dull as boors,
Groundsheets and blankets spread on the muddy ground
And from the first grey wakening we have found
No refuge from the skirmishing fine rain
And the wind that made the canvas heave and flap
And the taut wet guy-ropes ravel out and snap,
All day the rain has glided, wave and mist and dream,
Drenching the gorse and heather, a gossamer stream
Too light to stir the acorns that suddenly
Snatched from their cups by the wild south-westerly
Pattered against the tent and our upturned dreaming faces.
And we stretched out, unbuttoning our braces,
Smoking a Woodbine, darning dirty socks,
Reading the Sunday papers – I saw a fox
And mentioned it in the note I scribbled home
And we talked of girls and dropping bombs on Rome,
And thought of the quiet dead and the loud celebrities
Exhorting us to slaughter, and the herded refugees
– Yet thought softly, morosely of them, and as indifferently
As of ourselves or those whom we
For years have loved, and will again
Tomorrow maybe love but now it is the rain
Possesses us entirely, the twilight and the rain.
And I can remember nothing dearer or more to my heart
Than the children I watched in the woods on Saturday
Shaking down burning chestnuts for the schoolyard&aposs merry play
Or the shaggy patient dog who followed me
By Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree
To the Shoulder o&apos Mutton where Edward Thomas brooded long
On death and beauty – till a bullet stopped his song.
Troop Train in World War 2
Karl Shapiro served for the U.S. in the Pacific during World War Two. He died at the age of 86 in the year 2000, leaving behind a full body of poetic works. He is commended for his collection of World War Two poetry (Poets of World War II) which remains as the definitive poetry legacy of the war. I encourage you to get a copy.
It stops the town we come through. Workers raise
Their oily arms in good salute and grin.
Kids scream as at a circus. Business men
Glance hopefully and go their measured way.
And women standing at their dumbstruck door
More slowly wave and seem to warn us back,
As if a tear blinding the course of war
Might once dissolve our iron in their sweet wish.
Fruit of the world, O clustered on ourselves
We hang as from a cornucopia
In total friendliness, with faces bunched
To spray the streets with catcalls and with leers.
A bottle smashes on the moving ties
And eyes fixed on a lady smiling pink
Stretch like a rubber-band and snap and sting
The mouth that wants the drink-of-water kiss.
And on through crummy continents and days,
Deliberate, grimy, slightly drunk we crawl,
The good-bad boys of circumstance and chance,
Whose bucket-helmets bang the empty wall
Where twist the murdered bodies of our packs
Next to the guns that only seem themselves.
And distance like a strap adjusted shrinks,
Tightens across the shoulder and holds firm.
Here is a deck of cards out of this hand
Dealer, deal me my luck, a pair of bulls,
The right draw to a flush, the one-eyed jack.
Diamonds and hearts are red but spades are black,
And spades are spades and clubs are clovers – black.
But deal me winners, souvenirs of peace.
This stands to reason and arithmetic,
Luck also travels and not all come back.
Trains lead to ships and ships to death or trains,
And trains to death or trucks, and trucks to death,
Or trucks lead to the march, the march to death,
Or that survival which is all our hope
And death leads back to trucks and trains and ships,
But life leads to the march, O flag! at last
The place of life found after trains and death –
Nightfall of nations brilliant after war.
Piles of shoes found at Auschwitz
World War Two Poetry also includes poetry about the Holocaust, the world&aposs most disturbing memory of this war. So profound was its effect on humanity, that it has its own remembrance day and has become a literary genre as well.
Yes, I have seen the great caches,
Rooms full of shoes and eyeglasses
Inside the barbed fence of Auschwitz.
And in Treblinka 1 , plowed in rows,
The tiny little shoes and clothes.
Where is the field of teddy bears?
"They did not come this far with those,
They only came here with their clothes."
One million little girls and boys
Would not have come without their toys.
They must have come with teddy bears
Held tightly with little fingers.
Would not have come without their toys.
"They did not come this far with those,
They only came here with their clothes."
Where is the room where you keep those
Ten million little child-fingers
And the ten million tiny toes?
"In Poland now, nobody knows."
You&aposre wrong, I said, GOD knows. GOD knows!
A child&aposs shoe and chess piece found at Treblinka
1 Dr. Adolf Berman, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, was with Soviet troops when they reached the Treblinka concentration camp. The former death camp had been destroyed and plowed under.
Testifying in Jerusalem at the Eichmann Trial (May 3, 1961, session 26), he recalled, "I saw a sight which I shall never forget, a tremendous area of many kilometers, and all over this area there were scattered skulls, bones – tens of thousands and piles of shoes – among them tens of thousands of little shoes." Berman carried away one of the &aposlittle&apos shoes. "I brought it as a very precious thing, because I knew that over a million of such little shoes, scattered over all the fields of death, could easily be found." This shoe is now on display at the Yad Vashem Museum of the Holocaust in Jerusalem, Israel. It is the last exhibit.
The Exodus Arriving in Haifa Port in 1947
The Exodus Ship with its 4,515 passengers (1,672 of whom were children) was sent back to the DP camps of Germany.
Jordanian Artillery Fire over Jerusalem, 1948
Vietnam War Songs
Few poems from the Vietnam era have survived in popularity but the songs remain. There was a moment in musical time – between the surfing songs of the late 1950s and the Beatles&apos release of their albums Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper&aposs Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) – when folk-pop emerged. Song lyrics were printed with albums for the first time. The demand was for the poetry. This is the unique mark that Vietnam War songs made on musical history.
Several recordings from the folk-pop music of those years have stood the test of time by retaining their popularity. What follows are favorite war song lyrics from the Vietnam War period. Many of these Vietnam War songs are cultural icons that play in any American war and military conflict.
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? by Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? shot to the top of the charts when the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary recorded it on their namesake, first album in 1962. The album was #1 in the U.S. for seven weeks and among Billboard Magazine&aposs Top Ten for ten months. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it became the ultimate protest song for the Vietnam War. The folk singing group – Mary Travers, Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow – continually performed this song until Mary&aposs death in 2009.
"Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one."
Watch this vintage recording of Peter, Paul and Mary in concert and then read the transcription of the lyrics below the video:
&aposWhere Have All the Flowers Gone&apos Vietnam War Song Lyrics
Universal Soldier by Buffy Sainte-Marie
Canadian folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie wrote the lyrics and music for Universal Soldier and released the song on her first album in 1964. It was picked up by a British folksinger, Donovan, who released his recording in the U.K. in the summer of 1965. Donovan&aposs record scored the hit for this song, and it reverberated back to the U.S. as the Vietnam War hit center stage when the lottery to draft conscripts began in December, 1969.
Sainte-Marie describes writing this poem:
"The 1960s [in the U.S.] for me was about alternatives and students. Students were saying what was on our mind. Everybody and his sister played a guitar and we were talking to each other. Caffeine was the drug and I think it was an incredible, incredible time of spontaneity, and sharing and communication. They were trying to tell us, however, that there was no war in Vietnam [in 1964]. But we knew that there was and we believed that there was.
"There was a night when I was travelling – somehow I was stranded in San Francisco airport – and I had a morning flight on the way to Toronto where I had an engagement in Yorkville at the Purple Onion, which was kind of a hippie place, a student-movement kind of center. It was the middle of the night and some soldiers came in wheeling their buddies on stretchers and wheelchairs. I had never seen anything like that. These guys were all bandaged and shot up. And I got to talking to some of these soldiers and they knew that there was a war.
"But what it did for me: It made me question, who is responsible for war? I mean, was it these guys? You can&apost just point your finger at them, although they were there. Or, maybe it&aposs generals maybe it&aposs the generals who make a career of telling these guys what to do. But maybe that doesn&apost go far enough. I mean, who tells the generals what to do? Who points the generals in the army at somebody else? Ah, it&aposs the politicians. But here I am, flying on the way to Toronto, and it had to go farther.
"By the time I got to the Purple Onion, I said, &aposWho elects the politicians?&apos Ah, it&aposs us. Right. &aposHis orders come from far away no more. They come from him and you and me. And brothers, can&apost you see, this is not the way we put an end to war.&apos So, it&aposs about individual responsibility."
This video is Donovan Singing Universal Soldier. Song lyrics are below the video. This is one of the most well-known Vietnam War songs.