Category Archives: Poetry Month 2010

One Poem at a Time -25-

I am fascinated by owls. Always have been. When I discovered this poem I was stunned by Oliver’s powers of observation, her use of language. Meet Mary Oliver, nature’s Poet Laureate. Field reporter of life’s intangibles. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive (1983).



Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard


His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes – when he lifts their soft lids –
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder –
Blake, maybe,
or the Book of Revelation.

Never mind that he eats only
the black-smocked crickets,
and the dragonflies if they happen
to be out late over the ponds, and of course
the occasional festal mouse.
Never mind that he is only a memo
from the offices of fear –

it’s not size but surge that tells us
when we’re in touch with something real,
and when I hear him in the orchard
down the little aliminum
ladder of his scream –
when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,

a flurry of palpitations
as cold as sleet
rackets across the marshlands
of my heart
like a wild spring day.

Somewhere in the universe,
in the gallery of important things,
the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,
sits on its pedestal.
Dear, dark dapple of plush!
A message, reads the label,
from that mysterious conglomerate:
Oblivion and Co.
The hooked head stares
from its house of dark, feathery lace.
It could be a valentine.



[Listen to an audio clip of Margaret Atwood reading “From An Italian Postcard Factory”.]

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Seven Days to Shower Us With Poems

Are you a poet?

 Do you write poetry, secretly call yourself a poet, but refuse to do so out-loud because you think only people who’ve been published have the right to the title? Are astronomers the only ones able to look up and wonder about the universe? Are doctors the only people qualified to diagnose a cold?

Well, that’s not much of a case, we realize, but we want to read your poetry regardless. Why? Because at some point you were compelled to set pen to paper and such moments are divine.

Every single one of you will receive a response. The winner’s poem will be posted on this blog, along with others’ if they’re so good we can’t help ourselves. The winner will receive a basket filled to the brim with the best books our Poetry Section has to offer, along with a POAB Gift Card to be used any way you fancy. We will either arrange to have it delivered to you if you live far away, or invite you in for a cup of tea, a tour of all 5 square feet of the bookstore and present you with your prize in person.    

One poem per person, please. Send it to mail(at)portraitofabookstore(dot)com, with “Poetry Contest” in the subject line. No length, style or content restrictions.

Deadline: April 30, 2010 at Midnight

Hurry, we don’t have much time!


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One Poem at a Time -24-

It was the height of summer. My five year old self and my younger sister were both wearing what was called “baby doll” p.j.’s, back when these things were made of 100% cotton. We lay together, head touching head, as our mother read from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. I was very annoyed that we were being put to bed when it was not yet dark out, not yet night time. Amused, but not swayed by my protests, the final poem my mother read us that night was “Bed In Summer”. So there you have it. I dedicate this poem to all the little kids who have to go to bed when the light beyond the window shade glows in a perfect straight-edged frame around it.
  In winter I get up at night
  And dress by yellow candle-light.
  In summer quite the other way,
  I have to go to bed by day.

  I have to go to bed and see
  The birds still hopping on the tree,
  Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
  Still going past me in the street.

  And does it not seem hard to you,
  When all the sky is clear and blue,
  And I should like so much to play,
  To have to go to bed by day?

[Listen to an audio clip of Paul Muldoon reading “A Polar Explorer”.]

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Six Sonnets at a Time -23-

Happy 445th to the Bard!


Here are a few of our most beloved sonnets

 by William Shakespeare.




Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thy self thy beauty’s legacy?
Nature’s bequest gives nothing, but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free:
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive:
Then how when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,
Which, used, lives th’ executor to be.



Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: ‘Thou single wilt prove none.’



When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.



Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war,
How to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture’s sight would bar,
My heart mine eye the freedom of that right.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie,
A closet never pierc’d with crystal eyes,
But the defendant doth that plea deny,
And says in him thy fair appearance lies.
To ‘cide this title is impannelled
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart;
And by their verdict is determined
The clear eye’s moiety, and the dear heart’s part:
As thus: mine eye’s due is thine outward part,
And my heart’s right, thine inward love of heart.



My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear;
That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming,
The owner’s tongue doth publish every where.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,
And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough,
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
Therefore like her, I sometime hold my tongue:
Because I would not dull you with my song.



To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d,
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.



Which sonnets not included here make your heart sing?

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Two Poems at a Time -22-

As far as I’m concerned, the first poem below is as much an ode to Mother Earth as anything can be. But, just for fun, and for your reading pleasure, please find the second, in honor of Earth Day!



Doesn’t this poem make you want to marry a surrealist? (Nevermind the fact that Breton married 3 times…)



Freedom of Love
by Andre Breton
(Included in 99 Poems in Translation, edited by Harold Pinter)
(Translated from the French by Edouard Roditi)

My wife with the hair of a wood fire
With the thoughts of heat lightning
With the waist of an hourglass
With the waist of an otter in the teeth of a tiger
My wife with the lips of a cockade and of a bunch of stars of the last magnitude
With the teeth of tracks of white mice on the white earth
With the tongue of rubbed amber and glass
My wife with the tongue of a stabbed host
With the tongue of a doll that opens and closes its eyes
With the tongue of an unbelievable stone
My wife with the eyelashes of strokes of a child’s writing
With brows of the edge of a swallow’s nest
My wife with the brow of slates of a hothouse roof
And of steam on the panes
My wife with shoulders of champagne
And of a fountain with dolphin-heads beneath the ice
My wife with wrists of matches
My wife with fingers of luck and ace of hearts
With fingers of mown hay
My wife with armpits of marten and of beechnut
And of Midsummer Night
Of privet and of an angelfish nest
With arms of seafoam and of riverlocks
And of a mingling of the wheat and the mill
My wife with legs of flares
With the movements of clockwork and despair
My wife with calves of eldertree pith
My wife with feet of initials
With feet of rings of keys and Java sparrows drinking
My wife with a neck of unpearled barley
My wife with a throat of the valley of gold
Of a tryst in the very bed of the torrent
With breasts of night
My wife with breasts of a marine molehill
My wife with breasts of the ruby’s crucible
With breasts of the rose’s spectre beneath the dew
My wife with the belly of an unfolding of the fan of days
With the belly of a gigantic claw
My wife with the back of a bird fleeing vertically
With a back of quicksilver
With a back of light
With a nape of rolled stone and wet chalk
And of the drop of a glass where one has just been drinking
My wife with hips of a skiff
With hips of a chandelier and of arrow-feathers
And of shafts of white peacock plumes
Of an insensible pendulum
My wife with buttocks of sandstone and asbestos
My wife with buttocks of swans’ backs
My wife with buttocks of spring
With the sex of an iris
My wife with the sex of a mining-placer and of a platypus
My wife with a sex of seaweed and ancient sweetmeat
My wife with a sex of mirror
My wife with eyes full of tears
With eyes of purple panoply and of a magnetic needle
My wife with savanna eyes
My wife with eyes of water to he drunk in prison
My wife with eyes of wood always under the axe
My wife with eyes of water-level of level of air earth and fire




There is very little left to say about the state of our planet… That its moods know their twins inside our own veins is a truth. That the earth’s sorrows are our own is an irrefutable truth. That we are nothing, that our existence is rendered obsolete without a kind sun and an environment in harmony– well, read this poem

It is also a truth that no action for the greater good is taken by an individual unless it’s one understood in personal terms. To me, personally, nature functions as a kind of weaver of memories. As someone who has forgotten so much, a rainy day, a dewy morning, a scorching afternoon all serve to stop me. Make me remember. Without weather I would have no memories.




Rain, by Claribel Alegria (translated by Margaret S. Peden)

As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
a voracious
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.



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One Poem at a Time -21-

We’ve all read this poem time and time again. It is, perhaps, one of the best known poems in all of American history. But sometimes we can forget how important it is. Whenever I get to feeling I’m not much like the guy next door and wonder what’s wrong with me, I read this over and remember: there’s nothing really amiss. I’m just on that road not taken much.



The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


[Listen to audio clip of today’s poetry selection from]

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One Poem at a Time -20-

This poem (spell? mantra?) was composed (received as revelation?) sometime between 400 and 100 B.C. by Amhairghin, wordmaster to the “Sons of Mil”, the ancient Celtic conquerer/founders of Ireland. If you read this and are able to take it as truth rather than romance, then it’ll save you having to read “The Tao of Physics“, “The Dancing Wu Li Masters“, or “Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics“.



A Song of Amhairghin

I am an estuary into the sea
I am a wave of the sea
I am the sound of the sea
I am a powerful ox
I am a hawk on a cliff
I am a dewdrop in the sun
I am a plant of beauty
I am a boar of valor
I am a salmon in a pool
I am a lake in a plain
I am the strength of art



 [Listen to an audio clip of Czeslaw Milosz reading “Magpiety.”]

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