Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Poem Poems

Since the ‘90s, April has not only been the month folk longen to goon on pilgrimages, nor just the month that lilacs are bred of the dead land… it’s also National Poetry Month here in Canada. While it’s great to have a whole month dedicated to fostering an appreciation of poetry, poets certainly didn’t wait for Poetry Month to show their love (or self-love). A casual flip through most intro-to-poetry textbooks will reveal almost as many poems about poems as it will poems about graceful, unattainable women. Poems about poems share many thematic points with love poems. Poem poems range from selfish and jealous to pleading and desperate, painting the writer’s relationship with poetry as everything from a plate-throwing, fiery mess, to a an arm-in-arm stroll along the beach at sunset. Whatever their take on the relationship of the writer to the word, however, all of these poems explore the hold that poetry has on the writer. In fact, love poems and poem poems are often blurred, so that it becomes difficult to tell if the writer is more in love with the subject of the poem, or the act of writing. In honour of National Poetry Month, here are a few of my favourite odes to poetry.

from A Kite is a Victim
by Leonard Cohen

A kite is a victim you are sure of.
You love it because it pulls
gentle enough to call you master,
strong enough to call you fool;
because it lives
like a desperate trained falcon
in the high sweet air,
and you can always haul it down
to tame it in your drawer…

A kite is the last poem you've written,
so you give it to the wind,
but you don't let it go
until someone finds you
something else to do.

Poem Poem
by Milton Acorn

Yesterday a bust of breath
Poems broke from the white dam of my teeth.
I sang truth, the word I was;
And with each shout curling my tongue
Heart and fist thumped together.

But the poem I write today grins
While I chop it like a mean boy,
And whittles my spine.
Insinuating friend or stranger
It is truth, the word I am not.

from Sonnet 18
by William Shakespeare

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

from Ars Poetica
by Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

from The Thought-Fox
by Ted Hughes

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.
Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness

from Eunoia: Chapter I
by Christian Bök

Writing is inhibiting. Sighing, I sit, scribbling in ink
this pidgin script. I sing with nihilistic witticism,
disciplining signs with trifling gimmicks -- impish
hijinks which highlight stick sigils. Isn't it glib?
Isn't it chic? I fit childish insights within rigid limits,
writing schtick which might instill priggish misgiv-
ings in critics blind with hindsight. I dismiss nit-
picking criticism which flirts with philistinism. I
bitch; I kibitz - griping whilst criticizing dimwits,
sniping whilst indicting nitwits, dismissing simplis-
tic thinking, in which philippic wit is still illicit.

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Helen Hajnoczky recently completed her BA Honours in English and creative writing from the University of Calgary, where her research focused on feminist avant-garde poetics. Her work has appeared in Nod, fillingStation, Rampike, and Matrix magazines, as well as in a variety of chapbooks. She is the current poetry editor of fillingStation magazine. Her first book of poetry, Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising, is forthcoming from Snare Books.


gary barwin said...

Nice to be reminded of all of those. Thanks! (I think, most days, I might have a thought-guppy rather than a fox.)

Here's on of my favourites by Martin Laba. (I'm not sure if I've got the lineb reaks correctly as I'm doing it from memory)


one, two,
three, four, five,
you idiot.



(BTW, Paper Kite Press has reently published both a great website and a print anthology of poems about poems. The site is and the anthology is *poem, home: An Anthology of Ars Poetica*) Lots of good stuff there.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen Rob Budde's Poem Poems? A great series, see here: this one's about the end of Poem, but the rest of them, if you have time, follow Poems's trials and days. I'm hoping Rob will put them out as a collection.