Why You Should Read Poetry… Even If You Don’t Like To

There’s something about the power of poetry… what it can do that other forms of literature cannot. If you don’t know what I mean, read Robert Lowell’s collection Near the Ocean.

Harriet Zinnes, a poet, introduced me to Robert Lowell when I was in my junior year at Queens College, CUNY, in 1969. I bought a copy of Near the Ocean, a small volume then in its 4thedition.

I remember liking his poetry very much. Particularly this collection. But I hadn’t seen it in years. It had mysteriously disappeared. Then – just as mysteriously – it reappeared in my library at our home in Nicaragua. And so, when the family was at the tennis courts and Helen, my mother-in-law, was napping, I sat under the palapas-topped pavilion by the pool and read it.

Among its many virtues, is this example of concentration – loosely translating the Cleopatra story (from Book 1 of Horace’s Odes) to something modern and powerful and deep:

 

Cleopatra

Now’s the time to drink,

to beat the earth in rhythm,

toss the flowers on the couches of the gods,

Friends!

Before this, it was infamous

to taste the fruit of the vine,

while Cleopatra with her depraved gangs,

germs of the Empire, plotted

to enthrone her ruin in the Capitol,

and put an end to Rome…

Impotent,

yet drunk on fortune’s favors…

but Caesar tamed your soul

you saw with a now sober eye

the scowling truth of his terror,

Of Cleopatra, scarcely escaping,

and with a single ship, and scarcely

escaping from your limping feet, on fire,

Cleopatra, with Caesar running on the wind,

three rising stands of oars, with Caesar

falling on you like a sparrow hawk

fallen on some soft dove or sprinting rabbit

in the winter field. And yet you sought

a more magnanimous way to die.

Not womanish, you scorned our swords,

you did not search for secret harbors.

Regal, resigned and anguished,

Queen, you even saw your house in ruin.

Poisonous snakes give up their secrets,

you held them with practiced hands,

you showed your breasts. Then bolder, more ferocious,

death slipping through your fingers,

how could you go aboard Octavian’s galleys,

how could you march on foot, unhumbled,

to crown triumphant Caesar’s triumph –

no queen now, but a private woman?

Continue Reading

America Speaking – a Work in Progress*

The Real Estate Developer

The real estate developer loves me

Hard hat on a sixty-dollar haircut

Wrinkled specs under a fragrant armpit

Cashmere sweater to warm her

And give power if power is needed

Standing again before the towering

Thing that was born from her faith

And desperation, head back, she is

Quietly amazed

At not just its towering verticality

But also its capacity to

Absorb so much interest

Its potential to yield a profit

Even if it takes longer to sell

Than expected

It was always a labor of love

For someone living in a small house

Who sees her children on weekends

Reads biographies of great women

Women for whom, like Einstein and Napoleon,

Found strength in audacity

That was their secret she carries with her

To work sites and to parties

* An earlier version of this series was published in my first poetry collection: Back and  Out  Again https://www.amazon.com/Back-Again-Mark-Morgan-Ford

Continue Reading

America Speaking – a Work in Progress*

The Copywriter

The copywriter loves me

Grateful for the great markets he’s been given

The work is hard but when the results are published

And he sees the response rate for Split B

The six-tenths of one percent lift

He is happy for several good reasons

First because he’s become richer by six thousand dollars

And second because he’s proven his point once again

And won’t fail to remind them

If battle victories were as sweet

He might be a soldier

But marketing is love, not war

And his words are silky fish

His sentences shimmering images

His work a pool of restoration

And hope to millions

Without a cudgel to swing

He has metaphors, which, like bubbles,

Swell up prettily and then pop off

Gone until another takes its place

He likes to say he’s a lover, not a fighter

And he tells himself that every day

In the morning, washing his face

In the mirror’s bright reflection

* An earlier version of this series was published in my first poetry collection: Back and  OutAgain https://smile.amazon.com/Back-Again-Mark-Morgan-Ford

 

 

Continue Reading

America Speaking – a Work in Progress*

 The Car Washer

The car washer loves me

Rag in hand, ready to move

When each wet car emerges

Dripping and happy

To dry the gleaming bodies

The shining reminders of

What he does not have and

Does not deserve

These pampered pet things

Toys from another class

He will not think about it

But he moves like a cat

And like a cat there is

No room in his heart

Nor time in his day

For resentment

Neither for the owners

Or for his pot-bellied, cigar-chomping boss

He has no time for that

And these hulking creatures

Wet and happy as they are

Deserve to be kindly handled

And anyway one day he could

Have one of his own

And for that he is happy

* An earlier version of this series was published in my first poetry collection: Back and Out Again https://smile.amazon.com/Back-Again-Mark-Morgan-Ford

 

Continue Reading

America Speaking – a Work in Progress*

The College Teacher

The college teacher loves me

Sitting alone in her classroom

Her students absent

Thinking about another teacher

Whose soothing voice calmed

And then inspired her

Who came in early Monday mornings

To tutor her privately in English

Their little secret

The gradual eradication of an unnecessary past

The gradual accumulation of invisibility

Making it possible in small degrees

To become if not the best dressed

Or most poised or most accomplished

At least the most thankful and for that,

As she should be, she is happy

* An earlier version of this series was published in my first poetry collection: Back and Out Again https://smile.amazon.com/Back-Again-Mark-Morgan-Ford

Continue Reading

America Speaking – a Work in Progress*

The Farmer

The farmer loves me

Sitting on his front porch

Looking out at his land

A hundred acres

Lying fallow now

Everything is resting

This is a good year

There have been others

He does not think for long on that

No, this is a time for sitting

For smoking a pipe

Thinking about his children

Gone now, busy elsewhere

Noisy, crowded places

Maybe this year he’ll visit

But the steel and grime

The haste, the tangled masses

What strength and foolishness

It takes to live like that

Yet he is proud of them

And happy to have this time

After this good harvest

To be, as he should be, grateful

* An earlier version of this series was published in my first poetry collection: Back and Out Again https://smile.amazon.com/Back-Again-Mark-Morgan-Ford

Continue Reading

America Speaking – a Work in Progress*

The Firefighter

The firefighter loves me

Resting on the station’s couch

Thumbing through an old magazine

Listening to Howard Stern

Proud as he should be to be chosen

Happy to be among my proud children

And although his body is relaxed now

He is strong and quick and ready

He is waiting, always waiting

For the chance to repay me

For the alarm to signal

His opportunity to show me

How much he loves me

* An earlier version of this series was published in my first poetry collection: Back and Out Again https://www.amazon.com/Back-Again-Mark-Morgan-Ford

Continue Reading

America Speaking – a Work in Progress*

The Immigrant

The immigrant loves me

Waiting by the side of the road

Watching for a truck to slow

Hablando con sus amigos

He is happy to have come this far

To have worked so hard and saved so long

And paid the many propinas that must be paid

He remembers kissing his wife goodbye

That last day, his niña in his arms, making promises

The endless, claustrophobic passage

And the first view of his new country

The overwhelming, eviscerating hope

A day’s work here, a month’s pay back home

Don’t tell me this was a mistake

Don’t tell me I’m not welcome

Don’t tell me I don’t deserve this

Tell me, “You! You with the crazy eyes!

Jump in the back of this truck…

This truck of rust and dreams”

* An earlier version of this series was published in my first poetry collection: Back and Out Again https://smile.amazon.com/Back-Again-Mark-Morgan-Ford

Continue Reading

Ataraxia

From Lexis in Wolf’s Clothing, my 3rd poetry collection.

 

I can’t relax

Though I try

I want to go soft

Liquid soft, yielding

Move like mercury

Yet I feel heavy

And that’s not good

 

I want to defy gravity

Rise above myself

Lifted by my own breath

I am getting denser

I don’t like it

 

I want to thin out, be

As thin as aluminum foil

And then thinner still

But I am nothing like that

I am a black hole

And everything around me,

Including you,

Is adding to my weight

 

I want to shed light

Not attract it

Lightness will come eventually

It always does – and often just in time

But I want to get there on my own

Continue Reading

Mark B and the Last Thing

A work in progress (from my “Stolen Poems” series)…

Your “worst” poem poked me

It felt like an umbrella tip of challenges

Because, like you, I was challenged

And, like you, it felt like

Your “bag of thank-you notes” felt

Like “enough art for one day”

 

You had your “boneless” kiss

And your time in the “floral trenches”

I wondered about that

What have I had lately?

I should know, I don’t

Things – images, conversations –

Slip away…

Thundering round the corner

The trick my own disappearance

 

And maybe that is why I am stealing

Your “cockshy quasihero” with his

“Latex lasso” and “flock of sparrows”

Because I’m hoping they will replace

Those little precious – if they were precious –

Memories I invented and then put aside

Or lost or disregarded or forgot

And if I can make from them

A wrenched together thing

That is worth the “filthy price” you speak of

Continue Reading