This is a repost of a blog by our fellow-reader June Hymas. Thank you June, for letting me repost it on this blog to reflect our April open-mic reading for national poetry month.
mammillaria cactus

“This little beauty always reminded me of firecrackers. I think it is a mammilaria cactus (so-called because each of the spine-bearing protrusions are like little nipples.) The firecrackers are the flowers. Alas, it succumbed to last years unusually hard frost (one of only three we’ve had in the 48 years we have lived at this place.) These frosts are particularly hard on cacti and succulents. Tonight I found this photo of one of my little cactus favorites and decided to use it with this post about poetry and language. Because the eclectic reading made a lot of little firecrackers go off for me.

“Tonight was a get-together of local poets for the annual reading celebrating Poetry Month:April. They have monthly meetings at the Willow Glen Library in San Jose. I enjoyed it so much I thought I would talk about it here. The idea was that each person who wanted to would read and share with us a published poem, and also read us one of their own.

“Here is a list of the names of the poets people chose to read: I am not sure I got them all, or spelled everyone right, but I think I understood most of the names. I was writing them down because I wanted to check out poets unfamiliar to me. I was reminded of several favorites that I hadn’t looked at for a long time. I just got Blue Hour on my Kindle and will look at it as soon as I finish this.

“Frank O’Hara, Joy Harjo, Luis J. Rodriguez, A.E.Solomon/Sullivan? Debra Greger, Adam Cornford, Mary Oliver (2,) Gregory Orr, Adrienne Rich, Norman Dubie, Frank Jasper, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Marcia Casoly, Billy Collins, Louise Bogan, Sylvia Plath, Caro-lyn Forche, from Blue Hour, published in 2003 (how did I miss that!) Lucia Perillo, Csezlaw Milosz (2,) Martin Espada, Emily Dickenson, Mirabai–translated by Jane Hirshfield, Maura Stanton.

“I was particularly interested in the fact that only two poets were chosen by two people. So we got a very interesting short anthology of poems.

“The poem I chose to read has been a favorite of mine for 30 years. I just checked and it seems I have never used it on this blog, even though I can hardly believe that! Below the poem on the page is a date: 1936. I never noticed before that this poem is about my same age: I was born in 1935. So it is a pre-World War II poem that takes place in Central Europe many, many years ago. It is the first poem (page 3) in Bells in Winter (Ecco Press, 1978) by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by the author with Lillian Vallee”.

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today, neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

“By Czeslaw Milosz, translated by the author and Lillian Vallee.

“Notice the form of this poem: nine full lines, many of them complete sentences. A question without a question mark. A unfancy vocabulary, and straightforward thought. Try writing a poem using this model and shape. Good night, and it has been a very good night.

“The poems of their own that each of the poets read were good, very varied and remarkable for a lack of whining, I felt. I came away feeling again that this is a great time and place to write poems and share them with others. I am feeling energized!”


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