Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lisel Mueller and Amy Lowell

This past week saw the birthdays of two more formidable American poets: Lisel Mueller (February 8th) and Amy Lowell (February 9th). Both of them are among my favorite poets and neither is currently receiving the kind of recognition they deserve.

Lisel Mueller is a fine contemporary poet, whose volume Alive Together: New and Selected Poems I recommend to anyone who enjoys thoughtful, considered modern verse. Here's a couple of examples:

After Your Death

The first time we said your name
you broke through the flat crust of your grave
and rose, a movable statue,
walking and talking among us.

Since then you've grown a little.
We keep you slightly larger
than life-size, reciting bits of your story,
our favorite odds and ends.
Of all your faces we've chosen one
for you to wear, a face wiped clean
of sadness. Now you have no other.

You're in our power. Do we
terrify you, do you wish
for another face? Perhaps
you want to be left in darkness.

But you have no say in the matter.
As long as we live, we keep you
from dying your real death,
which is being forgotten. We say,
we don't want to abandon you,
when we mean we can't let you go.


This year spring and summer decided
to make it quick, roll themselves into one
season of three days
and steam right out of winter.
In the front yard, the reluctant
magnolia buds lost control
and suddenly stood wide open.
Two days later their pale pink silks
heaped up around the trunk
like cast-off petticoats.

Remember how long spring used to take?
And how long from the first locking of fingers
to the first real kiss? And after that
the other eternity, endless motion
toward the undoing of a button?

Small Poem About The Hounds And The Hares

After the kill, there is the feast.
And toward the end, when the dancing subsides
and the young have sneaked off somewhere,
the hounds, drunk on the blood of the hares,
begin to talk of how soft
were their pelts, how graceful their leaps,
how lovely their sacred, gentle eyes.
Lisel Mueller

Winner of many prizes, including the National Book Award and the Pulitzer, those interested may find out more about Lisel Mueller in this article by Nell Casey.


Amy Lowell was, in my mind, a major figure of late 19th and early 20th century American poetry. Despite or perhaps because of Ezra Pound, she was a major figure of the Imagist movement, championing the work of many poets and producing a large body of her own quality poetry. Along with other Imagists, she helped popularize Eastern works for English speaking readers; one of her volumes, Fir-Flower Tablets, contains lyrical renderings of literal translations of classic Chinese poetry. Here's a good example of her Imagist work:

Wind and Silver

Greatly shining
The Autumn moon floats in the thin sky;
And the fish-ponds shake their backs and flash their
----dragon scales
As she passes over them.

Although this appears a pretty little bauble, and it is, still there is a perfect lyrical moment captured here in the interplay of light and shadow, neither of which is mentioned by name.

Her love poems are remarkable:

A Decade

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savor,
But I am completely nourished.

A Sprig Of Rosemary

I cannot see your face.
When I think of you,
It is your hands which I see.
Your hands
Holding a book,
Resting for a moment on the sill of a window.
My eyes keep always the sight of your hands,
But my heart holds the sound of your voice,
And the soft brightness which is your soul.

The Giver Of Stars

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

We should all be loved so well, eh? Even more remarkable is thinking that these were composed around 1900; what else on this level, with this power and frankness, was being written at that time?

I have somehow misplaced my volume of the complete poetry of Amy Lowell, so can't go right to the work I've marked for return reading. I have a selected poems volume here, A Shard of Silence, that has some interesting items, so I'll finish up with that.

from Twenty-Four Hokku On A Modern Theme

Again, the larkspur,
Heavenly blue in my garden.
They, at least, unchanged.

When the flower falls
The leaf is no more cherished.
Every day I fear.

As a river-wind
Hurling clouds at a bright moon,
So am I to you.

Foolish so to grieve,
Autumn has its colored leaves—
But before they turn?

When the aster fades
The creeper flaunts in crimson.
Always another!

And, finally:

Ombre Chinoise

Red foxgloves against a yellow wall streaked with
----plum-colored shadows;
A lady with a blue and red sunshade;
The slow dash of waves upon a parapet.
That is all.
As solid as the center of a ring of fine gold.



Charles Gramlich said...

Are there any of our best living poets recieving the recognition they deserve? I often think it's something of a shame how we don't recognize genius in poetry, or prose, until after the writer is gone.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Touché - you have hit the nail on the head.


Ed Baker said...

Pictures of the Floating World many free pages/sections

here is POETRY just one of the free preview pieces/paged

maybe we need a Secretary of Poetry to decide/choose who gets 'recognized' beyond their 22 friends who read their (poetry on their) blogs! etc..

nice point to that nail you hit a common nail? or a finish nail? galvanized? hot-tipped? so many choices..

hey, DW thanks for opening some eyes/ears!

Grant Hackett said...

Exquisite poetry. Lowell's last line here:

"As solid as the center of a ring of fine gold"

stopped my breath.

Thanks for the experience, Don.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ed, as always, thanks for pointing the (many) Way(s) ...

Grant, that line hit me very powerfully also - Lowell has been a personal favorite for many years and, though I remember reading "Ombre Chinoise," it must have been with eyes closed.


Ally Malinenko said...

I can not begin to thank you for the wonder that is Lisel Mueller. I ordered her book via the library.