How to write a poem for Haiti…

I have yet to post about the recent earthquake in Haiti. The state of Haiti was already fragile at best and the recent disaster seems to have ripped the already wounded country wide open. It may seem frivolous to think about poetry during a time where people are crushed beneath broken buildings or sleeping on the street or starving or a half dozen other horrors that are occurring in Haiti right now. However, after the initial shock of the devastation, my first thought was, who will be the first poet to write about this event?

I had similar thoughts in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. My own personal need to write, to document was surprisingly strong. I wanted to write poems, badly, about all these events but they were slow to come. In fact, some of them are still coming. I finally wrote a poem about 9/11 more than five years after it happened. These events are thorny subjects for me when it comes to getting them down on paper in a form that even begins to do them justice. I know my biggest fear, and I suspect I share it with many other writers, is that I will not accurately portray the event. That the poem will offend instead of inspire or whatever else it was meant to do.

The New Yorker has published this poem by Aime Cesaire, “Earthquake” (translated by Paul Muldoon) and it is the first poem I’ve seen in direct response to Haiti:

such great stretches of dreamscape
such lines of all too familiar lines
staved in
caved in so the filthy wake resounds with the notion
of the pair of us? What of the pair of us?
Pretty much the tale of the family surviving disaster:
“In the ancient serpent stink of our blood we got clear
of the valley; the village loosed stone lions roaring at our heels.”
Sleep, troubled sleep, the troubled waking of the heart
yours on top of mine chipped dishes stacked in the pitching sink
of noontides.
What then of words? Grinding them together to summon up the void
as night insects grind their crazed wing cases?
Caught caught caught unequivocally caught
caught caught caught
head over heels into the abyss
for no good reason
except for the sudden faint steadfastness
of our own true names, our own amazing names
that had hitherto been consigned to a realm of forgetfulness
itself quite tumbledown.
I’ve spent the afternoon reading The Metaphysician in the Dark by Charles Simic. Last night I taught three poems by Simic in my creative writing class. The poems were “Watermelons”, “Coal”, and “Fork,” and my students responded very well to all three. The essays I read this afternoon are a lot about art and its relation to poetry, which is something that’s always interested me. I teach ekphrastic poetry in my classes and I like reading about how different poets are influenced by painters, sculptors, and photographers. Simic speaks of this triptych by Bosch:

He also mentions the photographer Abelardo Morell. His website can be found here. A few of his photographs below :

Some of my favorite quotes from the essays I’ve read today:
“Much of lyric poetry is nothing more than a huge, centuries-old effort to remind our immortal souls of the existence of our genital organs.” “In the Praise of Folly”
“Empty space makes us discover our inwardness.” “The Power of Ambiguity”
“I, too, wish to make contact with some unknown person’s inner life. Out mutual hope is to bequeath a phrase or image to the dreamers so that we may live on in their reverie.” “The Power of Ambiguity”
“The alchemy of turning what is visible to us into what is visible to others is what all the arts are about.” “Verbal Image”

Monday (Woke up at 7:18 am) Musings

Poem of the Week (courtesy of The New Yorker)

Master of Disguises

Surely he walks among us unrecognized:
Some barber, store clerk, delivery man,
Pharmacist, hairdresser, bodybuilder,
Exotic dancer, gem cutter, dog walker,
The blind beggar singing, Oh lord, remember me,

Some window decorator starting a fake fire
In a fake fire place while mother and father watch
From the couch with their frozen smiles
As the street empties and the time comes
For the undertaker and the last waiter to head home.

O homeless old man, standing in a doorway
With your face half hidden,
I wouldn’t even rule out the black cat crossing the street,
The bare light bulb swinging on a wire
In a subway tunnel as the train comes to a stop.

Charles Simic

Have you ever read a poem about a subject that you’ve also written about, but the other poet’s poem is far superior to yours? I like Simic’s poem. A lot. I also wrote a poem about a homeless man, “Changing Lights.” It is one of my newer poems and I included it in my thesis, even though I think it still may need some tweaks. While I’m encouraged by the fact that I can find poems inside these kind of subjects, I am constantly frustrated that my execution isn’t as strong as other writers.

Disclaimer: I am not comparing myself to Charles Simic. He’s brilliant but his poem made me think about my poem, which I think is a compliment.


General verdicts to date: it’s an archaic, risible, underpaid job; none of the truly major poets (Heaney, Walcott, Hill, Muldoon, Prynne, etc) will be eligible, or considered, or interested; it should go to a woman; that woman should preferably be an accessible entertainer such as Pam Ayres.

Mark Doty calls for Animal poems.

I never knew this existed:

He should consider reviving the Federal Writers’ Project, a Great Depression-combating New Deal program — part of the Works Progress Administration — that lasted from 1935-1939 (in some states until 1943). Under its aegis, some 6,600 people — not all of them trained writers — found useful work. The Project created the enduring landmark series of populist American Guide books about individual states and cities, including 1943’s Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors. (There were also Federal Art, Music and Theatre Projects; the latter staged productions at the Emery Theatre.)


Speaking of animals, this article was in the Indy Star this morning. I’ve been saying the same thing for years, but if your kitty tears up your furniture, buy them a scratching post.

The Humane Society and the American Veterinary Medical Association say declawing a cat should be a last resort, because it causes pain