Friday, April 30, 2010

Weekend on the Farm

I had no time to put together a profile of my last rural poet, but he really needs no introduction. He is, of course, Walt Whitman, the first poet I read who found a way through words to encompass the vast skies and canyons of my childhood home. Enjoy this final rural poem, straight from the barbaric yawper himself:

The Prairie-Grass Dividing

The prairie-grass dividing, its special odor breathing,
I demand of it the spiritual corresponding,
Demand the most copious and close companionship of men,
Demand the blades to rise of words, acts, beings,
Those of the open atmosphere, coarse, sunlit, fresh, nutritious,
Those that go their own gait, erect, stepping with freedom and
command, leading not following,
Those with a never-quell'd audacity, those with sweet and lusty
flesh clear of taint,
Those that look carelessly in the faces of Presidents and governors,
as to say Who are you?
Those of earth-born passion, simple, never constrain'd, never obedient,
Those of inland America.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Weekend on the Farm

Because I haven't yet posted a poem about a river:

Climbing the Chagrin River

by Mary Oliver

We enter
the green river,
heron harbor,
mud-basin lined
with snagheaps, where turtles
sun themselves--we push
through the falling
silky weight
striped warm and cold
bounding down
through the black flanks
of wet rocks--we wade
under hemlock
and white pine--climb
stone steps into
the timeless castles
of emerald eddies,
swirls, channels
cold as ice tumbling
out of a white flow--
sheer sheets
flying off rocks,
frivolous and lustrous,
skirting the secret pools--
full of the yellow hair
of last year’s leaves
where grizzled fish
hang halfway down,
like tarnished swords,
while around them
fingerlings sparkle
and descend,
nails of light
in the loose
racing waters.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rural Poet #3: Mary Oliver

No list of rural poetry would be complete without a mention of Mary Oliver. Born in Ohio, Oliver made her way to the rich green world of New England, and her work is brimming with both the wild plains of the midwest and the verdant hollows of the forest.

May, and among the miles of leafing,
blossoms storm out of the darkness --
windflowers and moccasin flowers. The bees
dive into them, and I too, to gather
their spiritual honey.

from May

Oliver likes to inhabit not only wild environments, but also wild animals. Using the poem as a vehicle for transformation, Oliver is able to step into bodies furry or feathered, and rejoice in a new way.

deep in the forest you
shuffle up some tree, you rip the bark,

you float into and swallow the dripping combs,
bits of the tree, crushed bees -- a taste
composed of everything lost, in which everything
lost is found.

from Honey at the Table

And rejoicing is really what she's doing. Oliver imbues her work with joy, wonder, and praise at the miraculous in nature, from the great bear to the lowly mushroom. To read Oliver is awaken again to childhood, when we could reach the heights of spiritual awakening by running barefoot in the grass, watching a meteor shower, or eating fruit warmed and ripened by the sun.


is a taste before
it's anything else, and the body

can lounge for hours devouring
the important moments. Listen,

the only way
to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it

into the body first, like small
wild plums.

from The Plum Trees

For further reading:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Weekend on the Farm

This poem by David Lee, my rural poet of the week, struck a chord with me. We are considering leaving the farm (gasp!) and moving into town...though it's hard to think about leaving when the weather is so spectacular. So, as we consider the pros and cons, you can enjoy this wonderful poem. And who knows? Maybe it'll make our decision easier.

The Farm

We sold it. To a man
who would be a patriarch.
I told John we were closed in,
subdivisions and trailers all around,
complaints of the smell (though
there was none), Ira came out
and told me to keep them fenced
(though none broke out), the neighbors
frightened because someone's cousin's
friend heard of a hog
that ate a child who fell in the pen (though
their children rode my sows
at feeding time), because I was tired,
because Jan carried our child and could
no longer help, because she wanted a home.

And the patriarch lost his first crop
to weeds, threw a rod in the tractor,
dug a basement and moved the trailer on
for extra bedrooms, cut the water lines
for a ditch, subdivided the farm
and sold the pigs for sausage. I told John
they were his, they were no longer mine,
I couldn't be responsible.

The wire connecting our voices was silent
for a moment. "You stupid sonofabitch," was all
he finally said. "You poor stupid bastard."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rural Poet #2: David Lee

David Lee's locus is the southwest, a completely different kind of country and one I know well. Growing up in rural Utah and working for pig farmers, it was inevitable that Lee's first, and most well-known book was named The Porcine Legacy.

For I will consider my black sow Blackula.
For she is the servant of the god of the feed bucket and serveth him.
For she worships the god in him and the secret of his pail in her way.

from Jubilate Agno, 1975

Lee's early work is filled with the dry, cranky characters of small-town southwest, those more prone to burying guns in their backyard than performing acts of neighborly hospitality. Maybe it's something about the heat which makes them this way.

my brother thrown one at me
with a pitchfork doing hay
when I's on the wagon
and it hit me
I thought it was a kingsnake
but it was a rattler
that sonofabitch thought I'd duck
and let it go on over

from Haystacking

His later work left town for the true wilderness: dusty trails, mountain peaks, delicate trees, and great big skies. There's a peace and silence in these later poems that approach spirituality. Which makes sense. Lee says, "Language is divinity," and he uses it to find the eternal in the spaces few people go.

When granite and sandstone begin to blur
and flow, the eye rests on cool white aspen.
Strange, their seeming transparency.
How as in a sudden flash one remembers
a forgotten name, so the recollection.

from Parowan Canyon

For further reading:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Weekend on the Farm

Since I am celebrating rural poets this NPM, I thought it would be nice to feature a complete poem as well. And, of course, I love poems about dogs. So, here's a little piece of the farm for the weekend, by Jane Kenyon:

The Clearing

The dog and I push through the ring
of dripping junipers
to enter the open space high on the hill
where I let him off the leash.

He vaults, snuffling, between tufts of moss;
twigs snap beneath his weight; he rolls
and rubs his jowls on the aromatic earth;
his pink tongue lolls.

I look for sticks of proper heft
to throw for him, while he sits, prim
and earnest in his love, if it is love.

All night a soaking rain, and now the hill
exhales relief, and the fragrance
of warm earth. . . . The sedges
have grown an inch since yesterday,
and ferns unfurled, and even if they try
the lilacs by the barn can’t
keep from opening today.

I longed for spring’s thousand tender greens,
and the white-throated sparrow’s call
that borders on rudeness. Do you know—
since you went away
all I can do
is wait for you to come back to me.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rural Poet #1: Jane Kenyon

Jane Kenyon was born in Ann Arbor and attended the University of Michigan. After earning both a B.A. and an M.A., Jane married Donald Hall, and the pair moved to Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire.

A fly wounds the water but the wound
soon heals. Swallows tilt and twitter
overhead, dropping now and then toward
the outward-radiating evidence of food.

from The Pond at Dusk

Kenyon's poems about this time period vacillate between two extremes: awe at the beauty of the wild world around her, and acute depression, caused by the loneliness of rural life.

I move from room to room,
a little dazed, like the fly. I watch it
bump against each window.

I am clumsy here, thrusting
slabs of maple into the stove.

from From Room to Room

Depression would continue to haunt Kenyon throughout her short lifetime. But in her work, what rises to the top, what endures, is her ability to render in spare, perfect detail the simple pleasures of rural life.

On the floor of the woodshed
the coldest imaginable ooze,
and soon the first shoots
of asparagus will rise,
the fingers of Lazarus....

Earth's open wounds--where the plow
gouged the ground last November--
must be smoothed; some sown
with seed, and all forgotten.

from Mud Season

For further reading:

Friday, April 2, 2010

Going National

How perfect that National Poetry Month kicks off spring every year. As our wisteria goes bonkers and our chestnut tree is about to burst into Eighties-style neon splats of flowers, I find myself in a very country state of mind. So, I've decided to celebrate by showcasing the rural poets I know and love. Look for the first profile on Monday. Happy reading, happy spring, and happy NPM!