William Stafford, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” … poem & audio

•July 4, 2015 • 1 Comment

William Stafford

“A Ritual to Read to Each Other”

…reading his poem at the William Stafford Archives

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,a ritual draft
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give – yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Elizabeth Bishop, “Cirque d’Hiver” …

•June 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

IMG_4199 cirque d'hiver
Elizabeth Bishop
“Cirque d’Hiver”
Across the floor flits the mechanical toy,
fit for a king of several centuries back.
A little circus horse with real white hair.
His eyes are glossy black.
He bears a little dancer on his back.

She stands upon her toes and turns and turns.
A slanting spray of artificial roses
is stitched across her skirt and tinsel bodice.
Above her head she poses
another spray of artificial roses.

His mane and tail are straight from Chirico.
He has a formal, melancholy soul.
He feels her pink toes dangle toward his back
along the little pole
that pierces both her body and her soul

and goes through his, and reappears below,
under his belly, as a big tin key.
He canters three steps, then he makes a bow,
canters again, bows on one knee,
canters, then clicks and stops, and looks at me.

The dancer, by this time, has turned her back.
He is the more intelligent by far.
Facing each other rather desperately—
his eye is like a star—
we stare and say, “Well, we have come this far.”


Rodrigo y Gabriela, “The Russian Messenger” … live in the studio

•June 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Rodrigo y Gabriela (Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero) … live in the studio

“The Russian Messenger”


“Three Stanzas for My Father” …

•June 18, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Lifetime Pic's 579A poem about my Dad, originally published in Necessary Fiction … as part four of Appalachian Silence among the Dark Selves

“Three Stanzas for My Father”

Wind across the Bradfords is
a perfect silence through glass —
fourth floor — life in silent mode
where a tumor is a tumor is

a tumor. The leg wraps pulsing
to hold back the clots. Titanium
rod buried in bone. Two blankets
for the cold as if winter were hiding

somewhere in the dawn, and
the wobble in your voice were
enough to explain the need
for one more spring, and…

Ornette Coleman, “We in the Western world suffer…” & song

•June 12, 2015 • 2 Comments

o coleman“We in the Western world suffer from too many categories and classes; we’ve forgotten that we all still have diapers on. We’ve separated music from life.” – Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman Quartet, “Turnaround”

Jorge Luis Borges, “To the One Who is Reading Me” …

•June 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Jorge Luis Borges
“To the One Who is Reading Me”

You are invulnerable. Didn’t they deliver
(those forces that control your destiny)
the certainty of dust? Couldn’t it be
your irreversible time is that river
in whose bright mirror Heraclitus read
his brevity? A marble slab is saved
for you, one you won’t read, already graved
with city, epitaph, dates of the dead.
And other men are also dreams of time,
not hardened bronze, purified gold. They’re dust
like you; the universe is Proteus.
Shadow, you’ll travel to what waits ahead,
the fatal shadow waiting at the rim.
Know this: in some way you’re already dead.

(Trans. Tony Barnstone | Photograph by Diane Arbus)

José Garcia Villa, from “Lyrics,” 22 … poem & comment

•June 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

José Garcia VillaJosé Garcia Villa

– from “Lyrics”


O Lovely. O lovely as a panther. O
Creation’s supremest dissenter.
Enter. Teach me thy luminous ire.
O jeweled, pacing, night-displacing
Fire. O night’s nimble-dancing, No-
Saying lyre. Embrace me. Defy me.
Reave me. None shall defend me.
Not God. Not I. Purify me. Consume
Me. Disintegrate me to thy ecstasy.
O lovely and without mercy. O dark-
Footed divinity. O Lovely and Terrible.
O Death-irreducible. O Unimpeachable.


The ecstasy at work in José Garcia Villa’s poem is the voice in the presence that is the poem. Its power made dark and beautiful in the form of a panther. The great “dissenter” – a bit of paradoxical language music – that enters. Using enjambments, line after line, forces the reader to lunge forward. The stop and go syntax is a perfect fit for the tone that is a radiant anger, a glow of passion:

        O jeweled, pacing, night displacing

The energy of the language creates a poetry that is bold, stripped-down to essentials – a music that is both holy and sensual: “Not God. Not I.” … but “dark-Footed … Lovely and Terrible”. The idea of language as violence – in its creative workings – is a focus that Villa, a Filipino / Asian / American and giant of an underread, brilliant poet … and here recall the famous photo, Gotham Book Mark, 1948, of Villa with, among others, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Randall Jarrell, Edith Sitwell … a poet who would continue to develop throughout his oeuvre an expansive, unorthodox use of syntax, punctuation, and grammatical mechanics.

This piece presents a vision of poet as creator … as one might encounter in the world of Jorge Luis Borges’s El Hacedor. There is a truth here that is “without mercy,” a poetics that is relentless in forcing the reader to a new place. But it’s a place that is welcomed. No turning back.

Villa’s collected poems, Doveglion, was published in 2008 by Penguin Classics – a collection made inevitable by the success of The Anchored Angel: Selected Writings (Kaya, 1999), Eileen Tabios’s edited volume that reintroduced his neglected work to the English speaking world. His is a poetry that is raw and fearless.


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