Friday, May 23, 2014

Clock a Clay

English poet John Clare epitomizes for me something I'm often reaching for in my writing and occasionally dazzling into, in still and open moments. This poem, featured on Poetry Daily, amazes me, first into silence and then into writing.

The meaning of "clock a clay," as poet Susan Stewart tells us (she selected the poem for PD) comes from a rural Northhamptonshire belief. The idea is that you can tell time by counting the number of taps on the ground it takes to make a ladybug fly away. So the poem is in the voice of the ladybug, a vantage point I have visited on a summer day. I hope it amazes you into a summer's day of writing.

Clock A Clay
by John Clare (1793-1864)

In the cowslips peeps I lye
Hidden from the buzzing fly
While green grass beneath me lies
Pearled wi’ dew like fishes eyes
Here I lye a Clock a clay
Waiting for the time o’day

While grassy forests quake surprise
And the wild wind sobs and sighs
My gold home rocks as like to fall
On its pillars green and tall
When the pattering rain drives bye
Clock a Clay keeps warm and dry

Day by day and night by night
All the week I hide from sight
In the cowslips peeps I lye
In rain and dew still warm and dry
Day and night and night and day
Red black spotted clock a clay

My home it shakes in wind and showers
Pale green pillar top’t wi’ flowers
Bending at the wild wind’s breath
Till I touch the grass beneath
Here still I live lone clock a clay
Watching for the time of day

Monday, May 19, 2014

Afternoon with Monet

Lovely day here, the breezy and brilliant kind of spring day I imagined from Monet's painting, after which I wrote my poem. The traveling exhibition "Monet in Normandy" visited the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco some years ago and it inspired me to write back to several of the paintings. Bought the book too, so I can keep talking back to Monet -- or rather, asking questions, as in this poem. Do you ever talk back to poems with your own poems?

I Spend an Afternoon with Monet

The poet interrupts the painter.
It looks like a poem made of a thousand commas!
I didn’t mean to be abrupt. He tips back
his hat to raise the black commas of his eyebrows.
I can’t help myself; I ask When did the mists veil you
and make you this burly old bride?

He pretends not to hear, flips off
another series of commas. The strokes daisy in rows
of white, maybe foam, maybe snowflakes.
The skritch of his brush repeats itself
fifty times as I wait. Everyone assumes white
is his finishing touch, but I see he begins with airy patches,
flecking light into bush, sky, and ocean
as if seeing through lace. Is it his eyesight?

He begins with light, then adds dark
emphasis. Light on light, the whole
of sky and sea in rhythm, as though harmony
were endemic as minnows or weeds.
I stand back all afternoon and watch
as he accrues, like a greedy accountant, like God,
flakes, flocks, fleets, puffs, petals, and leaves.