Writer in the Closet

Closet
I have noisy neighbors. That won’t surprise anyone who has ever lived in an apartment. There’s always that neighbor who doesn’t believe they’re noisy. Or just doesn’t care.

Quiet isn’t always available to writers who need it. Here’s how Robert Bly described the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.

“Rilke had begun a way of living that later — except for visits to castles or the apartments of the rich — became typical for him: a city, not much money, one respectable suit, a small room, often on a noisy street because it takes money to purchase silence….”

Unlike Rilke, I was able to purchase silence via noise-reducing headphones. While a little uncomfortable, they cancel out most sound.

When I inherited a small wooden desk, I found another way to effectively achieve quiet: I put it in one of my walk-in closets. There’s a decent ceiling light, and the door shuts.

It’s a little strange, but it blocks out distracting sound.

“Und warum trifft es immer mich?” Rilke asked: “And why am I always the one who hears it?”

Copyright 2017 by Brian Dean Powers

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Can You Say It in Just Two Lines?

Blake Manuscript
When I first started writing poetry seriously, it took years to learn how to make longer poems with fully developed ideas. Lately I’ve been interested in the opposite challenge: how much can a poet pack into a couplet?

Here are some examples, some of which you will probably recognize. I’m also posting one of my own.

Richard Wilbur included this work in his collection, Mayflies. Although the poem was published in the 21st century, it’s written in rhyming iambic pentameter.

     A Short History

     Corn planted us; tamed cattle made us tame.
     Thence hut and citadel and kingdom came.

This example by Mark Doty is from his book, School of the Arts.

     Shahid’s Couplet

     Your old kitchen, dear, on Bleeker: sugar, dates, black tea.
     Your house, then ours. Anyone’s now. Memory’s furious land.

Walt Whitman put this little poem in the 1871 edition of Leaves of Grass.

     The Untold Want

     The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,
     Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.

This famous poem by Ezra Pound was written in 1912.

     In a Station of the Metro

     The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
     Petals on a wet, black bough.

This tiny poem with the enormous title appears in Mary Oliver’s Redbird.

     Watching a Documentary about Polar Bears Trying to 
     Survive on the Melting Ice Floes

     That God had a plan, I do not doubt.
     But what if His plan was, that we would do better?

This is my first attempt at a two-liner.

     [Broken] [Shine]

     I don’t know who broke my bedroom window.
     Sunlight blazes the long edge of cracked glass.

So what do you think? Do these poems feel satisfying, or do you want more? Is it fair to say this brief form sometimes requires a good title in order to succeed?

Van Gogh’s Bedroom

Bedroom

The artist returned to the Yellow House in Arles
after painting all day in the fields. Nature
stuck to him like a burr as he walked into his bedroom.
Pale-blue sky seeped into his walls, and the outstretched
wings of crows slipped into the window’s
dark sash-bars. Sunflowers settled
into the center-woven seats of the ocher chairs,
blossoming over the worn path of earth-hued floorboards.
A field of poppies managed to inhabit his red blanket,
but not even nature could make the room contain
the artist’s seismic swirls of moon and stars. 

Copyright 2016 by Brian Dean Powers
Published in the Spring/Summer 2017 edition of Word Fountain

“Adam’s House”

adams-house
Edward Hopper lightly sketched an ordinary white house,
the one on the hill above Gloucester, the one
with the ornamental overhang. Then the artist

brushed on watercolors to enliven the sky and shadows,
the street and fences, the shutters at every window.
The building’s light-washed gaze shuttles your eye

to a high wooden pole with its crossarms and insulators.
Let’s not speculate why there are no birds on the wires
and no people in the street: the picture’s not meaning—

it’s moment. At Gloucester, he said, when everyone else
would be painting ships at the waterfront
I’d just go around looking at houses—

structures that became radiant matter-of-fact
like the one on the hill with the sun’s weightless palm
shining on its face.

Copyright 2005 by Brian Dean Powers

I Keep a Wooden Buddha

Buddha Carving
I keep a wooden Buddha by my bed.
I don't know who carefully carved
the folds of his robe, the curve of his
lips, the eyes soft-closed. I don’t know
whose face is actually displayed.
I do know the woodworker sanded
the surface smoother than any life
could ever be. And I know the carver
is an artist: this cross-legged figure
has been transformed into a small, steady
flame. Sometimes its quiet calm
seeps into my skin.

Copyright 2007 by Brian Dean Powers
Published in the 2010 Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar

“First Men in the Moon”

First Men
The book's original cover had been replaced
by a plain gray cloth binding. I remember

finding it in the school library on the last-
part-of-the-alphabet shelf. I remember

devouring the adventures of two Earthmen exploring
tunnels and caves beneath another world.

I was ten, and that was the first novel
I didn't want to put down. 

Nowadays I own a paperback edition with yellowed
pages found in a second-hand bookstore. I still

imagine a journey through "that enormous
void in which all light and life and being

is but the thin and vanishing splendour
of a falling star," a journey

with The First Men in the Moon
as told by the man who made the Morlocks.

Copyright 2014 by Brian Dean Powers

Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows”

Wheatfield
These fields that should feed us
ignite, the wind-twisted wheat

barbed with flames. These roads
that should take us home

go to nothing but fists of gray smoke
punching bruised and cindered clouds.

There's no escape for the black birds
burned to animate ash, crows

like stitches ripped from the sky.
Two fields like lungs struggle to breathe

in the heat. Listen how the air carries
the crackling language of mindless fire.

Copyright 2013 by Brian Dean Powers
Published in the 2015 Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar