Category Archives: Poetry and its forms and meanings

“Wistfulness”–A poem for “the one who got away” (so far!)

This is probably one of the shortest poems I’ve ever written, but sometimes, when saying is simple and enough, however justified or not, it’s enough.  The title is, of course, a key feature of this poem.

Wistfulness

You and I shall meet again, in the darkness
Or in the light, should by chance we see God’s face,
The surprise may be yours, mine the glory,
Still unknown to both of us the time, the place.

The things we say, the things we do leave our warrant
And our deed, and our habits, and our trace,
Still, I hope to enfold you in my welcome,
And to share with you in God’s most loving grace.

©9/28/2018 by Victoria Leigh Bennett

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Filed under commonplace "the vanity of human wishes", Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

More love poetry for the misadventurous–“Destiny’s Mayflies”

As I wrote to friends to whom I sent this poem this morning, if one is constantly vocal and expressive of one’s great misery over someone, chances are that one is mostly healed already, as the severely injured don’t usually mourn aloud.  Anyway, here’s my latest mournful love poem:

Destiny’s Mayflies

Me in my little, tight, hurting world
And you, somewhere in the great world
out there
Are both objects
Of the same grammarless sentence,
A sentence passed by what passes for fate,
A cruel joke made by a sentinel over people’s
fortunes,
A cunning lout with hair sprouting from his ears
and nose,
A subordinate who need not fear the distant
authority he represents,
His particular jest those people who try
To maintain some dignity in the face of
what confounds them
And makes them look silly or confused.

My partiality for you,
Your need to withdraw
He sneers at, picks that monstrous organ
In the middle of his face
And wipes the proceeds on his trouser bottom,
Not even having the grace to envy us
Our drama.
What is drama to him?
What irony? what compositional strategies?
He just guffaws at all these as words,
And says, “Not worth my time.”

Our tale doesn’t need to compose nicely
To suit him,
He’s the sort to watch a bug, fascinated,
For a minute or two,
Then, when it is trying loop-de-loops
Just in reach of his hand,
Performing, writing its name across the stars
As a miracle of nature,
He lifts his big, fat thumb
And squashes it flat
Against the table in front of him,
Indifferent to artistry.

But back to us, and our responsibilities:
I loved you, and it was all I could do,
For you were so worthy to be loved.
You could not love me the same,
And so gave it up as a bad job,
A trick with smoke and mirrors,
Something I had imagined
Or cooked up to fool the fates.
Enter our surly lieutenant,
And here I am back to him,
As if we had had no hand
In it at all.
Could it be, is he devious enough
To have brought us together in the first place?
Is he even sufficiently attentive
To the jokes he plays
To extend his feeble concentration
To the experiment
Of placing us together?

Whatever the case,
I still think of you, and wonder
Whether you are looping-the-loop
Somewhere else,
Daring to face him down
Perhaps by flying out of his range,
Your wings lighter
For having lost the burden of me.
I sit, quiet and still,
Or all wound up in knots,
Escaping attention for the moment
By my lack of motion.
He is evidently confident
That I am already dead,
And so all I have
Is my little, tight, hurting world,
And you in my thoughts,
Somewhere in the great world out there.

©by Victoria L. Bennett, 8/14/18

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Purity, blankness, innocence, guilt, and knowledge–An attempt at philosophy in “The Blank Slate”

Occasionally, I make an attempt at a philosophical/rhetorical poem, though sad to say, it’s difficult to make it a truly “poetic” poem at the same time, at least for me.  But I hope, at least, that what this poem loses in meter, or rhyme, or word play (though there are a few paradoxes here and there), it gains in comprehensive, overall clarity in covering the subject.  I think the subject of purity is still a riddle for most of us, since we leave the safe confines of total ignorance and innocence from the moment we are born and steadily accumulating impressions and knowledge.  At any rate, here is an attempt to comment on the subject of purity from an adult’s perspective, after the fact:

The Blank Slate

Scholars, people of learning
Have spilled oceans of ink
Have typed, have dictated,
Have processed, have created
Countless words
About the tabula rasa.
Yet none were so innocent
As to simply shrug
Or keep silent.
And none of their words
Were so guilty
As to tell the real truth.
Purity, of a sort,
Is like their ignorance.

Purity’s feet stink
Because an honest person sweats;
Purity cries out
Because an injured person
Grieves aloud;
Purity is like that.
Purity stares at you, uncertain
What you mean
And waiting for you to explain.
Purity is like that.

Purity, like yin or yang
Paradoxically
Has an element of knowledge in it
Some slight awareness of the other
Or else how would you know
What to compare it to?

Purity
Gets tripped up easily
By its opposite,
Maybe knowing there’s something
To avoid,
But not sure of what, how, or why.
It is too unschooled.
Purity is like that.

Purity and existence are at odds most often–
Just as Sartre claimed we all have dirty hands,
And “existence precedes essence,”
So we always have to ask ourselves,
“What price purity?”
If someone is pure, who made them so?
Who kept them in the dark
About starving hordes, and ticks,
And malevolence?
What makes them so special,
That they are allowed to be ignorant
Of what hurts?
Yet, we are still wistful
For the days when we too were somewhat blank,
Even if guilty by birth.

Purity, in sum,
Is something that,
Whether we ever had it or not–
We had in our mind’s most fervent imagination
From the first time we were asked,
“Who did this?”
And we were able genuinely to answer,
“Not I.”
Yes, purity is like that.

©by Victoria L. Bennett, 8/10/18

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Filed under Literary puzzles and arguments, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

A poem for true denizens of the temperate zone–“The Comfort of Dread”

Oh, if only it were always summer!  But then, perhaps if it were, we wouldn’t appreciate it, so goes the temperate zone dweller’s argument.  The last winter (winter 2017-18) was so severe here in the American Northeast, however, and lasted so long into Spring that one shivers in advance, even at the end of July, especially when we’re already having (and have never stopped having) storms and rain and yucky skies.  Right now, though, I can afford to be a bit blasé, perhaps, at least enough to write a poem on the topic which is not totally despairing.  It does perhaps have one of those human contradictions in it that we often run across when listening to people discussing the weather.  Here goes:

The Comfort of Dread

It’s almost the end of summer,
There is only one month left,
I’m dreading already the winter,
And the cold weather’s mighty, strong heft.

The ice, and the snow, and the chilblains,
(What are chilblains?)
What one used to have
When the frozen air got on one’s knuckles,
And one couldn’t afford a fine salve.

Yes, I dread even antique disasters,
Such as visited people of yore,
When the wind whistled ’round the high turrets
And the snow blew in under the door.

It’s useless to tell me I’m modern,
And I live in apartmented bliss,
After all, these things are so comparative,
And someone lives better than this.

Oh, it’s almost the end of warm greetings,
From one’s family and lovers and friends,
For on cold days they’re bundled and shivering,
And they all complain so without end.

Why, oh why, can’t there be a fine climate
Where we can determine the air,
Where the heat and AC are like indoors,
And follow us everywhere?

But I guess I wouldn’t be happy
Not to live through the change and to bitch,
So the temperate zone, chill or hotter,
Is where I will serve out my hitch.

©by Victoria L. Bennett, 7/29/18

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Yet another poem on the commonplace of “the vanity of human wishes”–“The Department of Crossed Wires”

Perhaps you have heard an English instructor or professor use the expression “commonplace” in referring to an idea or topic for a poem.  This is not a casual usage of the term “commonplace,” such as occurs when we are speaking of the notions used in casual conversation with our friends; instead, it is an actual technical term in English and literary studies, referring to a topic or subject written on traditionally many, many times by different writers and poets, each of whom has his or her own “take” on it.  The particular commonplace known as “the vanity of human wishes” is in fact the subject of a poem by Samuel Johnson by the same title, “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” which in turn was based upon Juvenal’s Tenth Satire.

Not to be too grand, but I’ve come up with a little, less austere and more playful variety of a poem on the commonplace of “the vanity of human wishes.”  It’s called “The Department of Crossed Wires.”  One word of warning about a possible caveat–a beta reader pointed out that in stanza five, the impression is produced that a cow was conceived and brought to birth by a man, a double impossibility.  My response to that is that the main intent was to suggest the ridiculousness of what fate sometimes deals us out, such as having a farmer needing to get rid of his three-legged cow to another farmer.  But I willingly accept the other possible interpretation as well, being as it’s the sort of story which usually turns up in cheap tabloids such as The National Enquirer, wherein stories as fantastic as the one suggested regularly appear.  I still recall a story about a cross between a rabbit and a cat being born, a story that I allowed my bemused glance to fall across while on a train once, picking up someone else’s discarded reading material.  Anyway, here we go:

The Department of Crossed Wires

Somewhere in the universe
There is that special department,
That lone mountain,
That strange star
Of crossed wires.

There reside a little old man
And a little old woman
By his side,
Busy with so many things,
So many, many things,
That they constantly
Cross the wires
Of human wishes and desires.

It’s not their intention
To be difficult,
Rather, they are more offended
And frustrated themselves
By their shortcomings
Than anyone else, they think,
Could be,
For it disturbs their few moments
Of tranquility.

I love you, but you don’t love me,
She wants to go to college,
But her folks want her to work
right away, and show earning potential.
He is married to a woman who doesn’t
value him, while his son still looks up to him
And he fears
That it won’t be long now before
His son weeps for him, and shares his tears.

“Tsk!Tsk!” says the little old man, then,
Relinquishing his model of himself in his mind,
“Damn it all to hell!” he exclaims,
“Why won’t these things come right!”
“Dear, if you have to swear, then do it
On your own time, for we’re behind now,”
The little old woman preaches,
Meanwhile wondering how
To find a farmer who will take
A three-legged cow
Which she couldn’t prevent from being born
To a man in Lucknow.

They have to believe, the little old man and woman,
That even they, somewhere, have an arbiter
Of their destinies,
A Fate for them, the minor Fates,
Something to blame, someone to believe in,
Even a godling to hate.
Or is it all circular?
Does the lowest worm, deep in the ground,
In the circuits of its digestive system,
Determine the why and how
Of what will become of the crossed-up
Little man and woman
And the ruminant from Lucknow?

©by Victoria L. Bennett, 7/28/18

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The old-fashioned tendency to use a poem “to point a moral”–“Aggregates”

Sometimes, it’s fun to unearth an old-fashioned poetry book, one which has a lot of good poems, vital and essential and award-winning poems, but which in addition has a number of more average attempts to charm or woo our interests.  And among these more average poems, there are always a number of poems, even by major authors, which “point a moral and adorn a tale,” to quote a phrase.  They are collected as a form of offering comfort in addition to presuming to give guidance, because many people find reassurance in the mere fact that someone else thinks it possible to give guidance at all, with our poets (and poetasters, sometimes) becoming our spiritual parents, teachers, leaders.  So, with appreciation for all those poems I was forced to read in childhood by my teachers, poems which were usually of this ilk, and which reinforced their ideas with rhymes and other poetic devices, I offer this poem of my own, which came along as most poems do, mysteriously to some degree, deliberately to some degree:

Aggregates

Little pebbles gathered up
Make a mighty mountain

Little waters borne together
Gush a fulsome fountain

Little kisses, little hugs
Raise our expectations

Little lies and little slights
Douse our speculations.

Little moments, little days
Bear us slowly deathward

Little glories, little rays
Show our sun at westward.

Little hopes and little fears
Sum up our claim on heaven

Little sins and little graces
Weigh our scales down even.

When we must, we add things up
As well as we are able

So let us live by careful sums
Here ends my counting fable.

©6/21/18 by Victoria Leigh Bennett

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Thoughts on synchronicity, Elizabeth Lesser’s book “Broken Open,” and a poem inspired by two near-autodidacts

Recently, I have been feeling out-of-sorts more than usual, and sunk in a sort of spiritual case of the doldrums.  So, I figured I needed to return once again to my old habits of reading more, crocheting less (though I’m backed way up with craft projects!), and writing poetry again.  As it so chanced, I got Elizabeth Lesser’s book Broken Open:  How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow off one of my library websites.

Now, when I read a self-help book, even a more spiritually-inclined one, it’s a rare day.  I automatically have my critical claws out for grammar and punctuation and style errors, since many such books are self-forgiving in their copy editing.  And as expected, I found a number of mistakes and one nearly unforgiveable error–to an English teacher, anyway–in which T. S. Eliot was quoted or referred to knowledgeably, apparently, but spelled T. S. Elliot.  These sorts of things always make me suspicious of the author, because I reason that if their message is so vital and earth-shaking, they could at least eliminate errors and distractions, somewhat in the way that the first steps of any spiritual routine that I am aware of first concentrates on accuracy and repetition of some chant or discipline or physical exercise done correctly, which them later morphs into a higher reality.  Maybe Lesser reasoned that she was already on a higher level and so didn’t need to be cautious about her basics, but that didn’t wash with me.  The book wasn’t done with me, however.

Sure enough, once I started reading, my old friend synchronicity gave me a visit.  As Lesser more or less quotes the prophet of synchronicity (that prophet being Carl Jung), what is not brought to consciousness returns to us as fate.  Thus, all the many things I’d been meaning to have another look at popped up at once in the references in her book.  There was Jung, Joseph Campbell (yes, the mythologizing Hero With a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell), Rainer Maria Rilke, whom I’d also checked out before opening her book, and various other not-new-but-surprisingly-recurring items.  So, I kept reading.  It was an uneven book, but helpful and except for what I believe she herself calls a few “hippy-dippy” moments, for which anyone can be forgiven who’s writing about such intangibles as spirit and its manifestations, a restorative read.  After reading her, I went back to the two-disc set of DVDs in which Joseph Campbell was interviewed before the end of his life by Bill Moyers.  Though their conversation is dense with reference and complicated points in storytelling, it’s an enlightening and provocative set of interviews, and well worth anyone’s time who wants to feel more in tune with humanity in general.

This morning, I was feeling disgruntled again, so I decided to try to put down my thoughts in a poem, and boy, did I!  It may not be the best poem in the world, may in fact be thought of by some as very prosaic, but it’s three pages long, and I think encapsulates the experience I’ve recently been having.  Though the mystic in the poem is a “she” (as a sort of indirect nod to Lesser, though I wasn’t consciously writing about her), the real figure I was thinking of was a sort of femininized Campbell, a spirit guide.  As well, I thought of Kenneth Burke, the great rhetorician of roughly the same time frame as Campbell, who had many illuminating thoughts about the human situation as well, though his most flagrantly spiritual thoughts were protectively couched in terms of how rhetoric functions.  These two men were both loosely or closely at different times associated with teaching and universities, but both were often autodidacts in the sheer amount of syncretic learning and thinking they did, on many issues.  So, here’s the poem, in all of its perhaps dubious glory.  I have to apologize for the length of this post, but without all its parts, I don’t think it would make sense.

The Only Road in Town
(To Kenneth Burke and Joseph Campbell)

Wayfarers
We all are,
The signposts irregular
  and confused.
As children,
Proud of new abilities
To scan and read,
We make fun 
Of the ancient spellings,
Pronounce them in the
  distorted fashions
They seem to suggest,
Ignorant we, ignorant-seeming they.
Seeming, in fact, is what we know,
How things seem to interpret
  themselves out,
Lazy children, letting things
  go their own ways.
We think we split into many myriad paths,
I a doctor, you a lawyer, he a merchant,
She a mystic,
And we all shrug at her especially,
For she keeps insisting
That there's only one road in town.
But when we need, in the middle
  of the night,
It's her words we try to recall,
And if we are shameless of our pain,
We dial her up,
Hold her on the phone for hours,
Not thinking about whether or not
She too has children, or a garden,
Or a husband who's leaving
Because he can no longer
Stand the mice roaming in the cupboard
Which she refuses to kill
Because she wants to drive them out gently.
We laugh at her when we gather,
Sometimes to her face,
Which she takes in good part
Even while saying "You'll see,"
And we do see sometimes,
Though we are always newly astonished
That someone could hold that askew-view
Perpetually, instead of only now and then.
When we think we need God,
We speak about it timidly to her,
And usually her only,
As if she were a purveyor of pornography
Or other specious wares,
And we not wanting to be known to be
  a customer.
She doesn't tell us we need God,
But only confirms that we have something
  like a soul, needing water like a plant,
Though which plant and body of water
She refuses to say, only nourishing us
  with a taste of it
Through her listening and her rare words.
Her words too are signs, reminiscent
Of the signposts of old, though more intriguing
Through being more abbreviated and scant.
She lets us be, and it seems so rare and refreshing
Just to be let be, to share her sun,
To live under the same stars
With someone who seems to breathe sun and stars,
And breezes and antelopes and gazelles and tigers,
All in one.
Her rare earth is ours, for a while,
And though she can't explain it to us,
And doesn't try with phrases and such,
We respond like heliotropes and sunflowers
To her being, and go away feeling refreshed.
There comes the time, though, when we lose her,
Whether through our mortal dereliction or her own,
And we reach to try to preserve the intangible,
To recover the spirit that even those lazy children
We once were seemed to recognize in themselves.
And when we ask, from our deathbed or hanging
  solicitously over her in her moment of departure,
"Tell us, which road shall the funeral cortège take?"
Seeking either her last advice or her last wish,
She says but "The only road in town."
And we are thrown into tactless confusion,
Scrambling to assign a coherent meaning
To words that seem much like the signposts of old,
Contradictory, sublime, but oxymoronic all the same.
It may be then at that moment that she restores us
To the common lot, the way of it all,
To our not being doctors, or lawyers, or merchants,
Or even mystics, but to a being we can rejoin
Now that we have completed this leg of our journey,
This fine spectacle of a wayfaring,
This conundrum of existence,
And we are she, and she is we, and then someone departs,
Via the only road in town.

©by Victoria Leigh Bennett, 4/28/18

 

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