It is not an actual word, but I like to call it “bardism.”  You know it as poetry.  I am a believer in bardism, and to me it is a free form of art.  Edgar Allan Poe said, “I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty.”  But, as you are aware, for some time now, words have not needed to rhyme in order to be poetry.  As far as I’m concerned, poetry can be almost anything.  Bob Dylan claims that “a poem is a naked person…” and some poets, like those in Bruce Springsteen’s Jungleland, “don’t write nothing at all/They just stand back and let it all be.”  That’s bardism.

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoEach April, the Academy of American Poets sponsors National Poetry Month, a celebration of  poetry in the United States. And each year since I have been blogging at The Endless Further, I have joined in by offering posts on bards and bardism.

According to the Academy, the goals of National Poetry Month are to:

highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets

• encourage the reading of poems

• assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms

• increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media

• encourage increased publication and distribution of poetry books, and

• encourage support for poets and poetry.

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month.

I thought I would start the month off with something from the first poet whose work truly inspired me, e. e. cummings.  As I wrote in 2013, “His ‘[in-just] spring’ was the first poem I read that really suggested the possibilities of poetry . . . I think I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, and I loved the way the words were un-capitalized, run together, out of order, and arranged so unusually on the page . . . He wreaked havoc with the form of poetry and the structure of the sentence, he fractured spelling, ect&ect. His Influence on modern poetry is immense . . .”

It being Spring and all, it would be nice to post cummings’ ‘in-just spring’ but the format cannot be reproduced in WordPress (at least, I have not figured out how to do it), so I offer the following instead.  It is from his 1940 collection, 50 Poems, a piece simply titled 38:

cummings-barn2love is the every only god

who spoke  this  earth  so  glad  and  big
even a  thing  all  small  and  sad
man,may  his  mighty  fortress  dig

for love  beginning  means  return
seas who  could  sing  so  deep  and  strong

one queerying  wave  will  whitely  yearn
from each  last  shore  and  home  come  young

so truly  perfectly  the  skies
by merciful  love  whispered  were,
completes its  brightness  with  your  eyes

any illimitable star


little tree

I have a somewhat unusual relationship with December 25th, the day we all know as Christmas – it’s my birthday. Fortunately, I had parents who went out of their way to make sure I didn’t feel slighted, as has been the case with other Christmas babies I’ve met. We had Christmas in the morning and my birthday in the afternoon. When everyone else had already unwrapped all their presents and getting that “is that all there is?” feeling, I still had more presents coming my way. So, I can’t say that I have ever resented sharing my birthday with Jesus, even though he was actually born sometime in April.

As an adult, I could easily do without both Christmas and a birthday. Neither mean what they once meant to me. Obviously since I am neither Jewish or Christian, the season has no religious significance for me, and I still reject the over-commercialization of the season but have come to live with it. It’s bigger than me, so no matter how much I gripe, it ain’t going away.

As everyone should know by now, the celebration of Christmas originated from the Winter Solstice festivals. And I think that fact gives those of us who have nothing invested in the religious aspect of the holidays an excuse to go ahead and celebrate. Now, while I usually start out like a Scrooge, by the time the day rolls around I’ve got a couple of Christmas movies under my belt and I’m ready to get into the mood with some secular holiday tunes like Brenda Lee’s Jingle Bell Rock, or perhaps something more poignant like John and Yoko’s Happy Christmas (“War is over, if you want it”).

This year is different. I have the specter of cancer hanging over my head. And as well, serious health issues facing other members of my family. Stuff like death tends to put a pall on things, if you know what I mean.

Despite all that, I am trying to keep my heart light and hope that by next year all our troubles will be out of sight, to paraphrase the song (Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas) that Judy Garland sang in 1944, which expressed the sentiment of so many people at that time when the world was at war.

Therefore, in that spirit, let me present you with a little poem by e.e. cummings. It is by no mean one of his major poems, but anything by cummings is just all right with me. Accompanying the poem is a painting by the poet himself. You can actually purchase the original here, if you can pony up $12,500.

According to Random House, “In a warm and touching poem, e.e. cummings describes the wonder and excitement of a young brother and sister who find a little tree on a city sidewalk and carry it home, where they adorn it with Christmas finery.”

little tree

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look     the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

“little tree” was originally published in The Dial Vol. LXVIII, No. 1 (Jan. 1920). New York: The Dial Publishing Company, Inc.


Do You Believe in Magic?

I long ago I gave up trying to explain to those who don’t appreciate or understand poetry why it is so wonderful, what makes it work or what it’s all about. In that regard, I’m reminded of something John Sebastian once wrote in a song: “I’ll tell you about the magic, and it’ll free your soul/But it’s like trying to tell a stranger ’bout rock and roll.”

Art, whether it is poetry or painting or music or something else, has a certain indefinable quality that seems transcendent, and I’ve come to understand that some people are just not wired to be receptive. Art either speaks to you or it doesn’t, and because we are all different, some forms of art resonate with us while other forms do not.

Ultimately, poetry resists our attempts to define it precisely and analyze its nature. That may have something to do with what Sigmund Freud once noted: “[P]oets are masters of us ordinary men, in knowledge of the mind, because they drink at streams which we have not yet made accessible to science.” So, for me, poetry is magical. Not because it springs from some supernatural source but because it comes out of the human spirit, something as equally indefinable as we find poetry.

The first poem to cast its spell on me in a big way I read when I was in the third or fourth grade. It was e.e. cummings’ “in Just-“:

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




balloonMan          whistles

This poem’s simplicity and innovative structure bowled me over. Even at that young age, it made me feel nostalgic. More so now, of course, reading it as an adult, for the poem never fails to take me back to a time of innocence, a time of splashing in mud-puddles and running with childish abandon.

In just a few lines, some of them repeated, cummings captures the wonder and joy of spring. Since then, I’ve always preferred shorter poems to longer ones (and developed a fondness for non-capitalized poesy). Anyone can use a lot of words to communicate, but to distill thoughts using fewer words lends a directness and immediacy to a poem that seems lost in longer works, even if, in being spare, the poet keeps his precise meaning vague,  abstruse, or completely hidden.

A great example of this can be found with a famous poem by William Carlos Williams:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

That’s the entire poem. You’ll notice that each line is shaped like a wheelbarrow. It’s said that Williams wrote this poem in just five minutes while gazing out his window. So much depends on the red wheelbarrow – like what? To do chores, or perhaps for some unknown, out of the ordinary reason? This, I think, is a part of Williams’ artistry: each reader can conjure for his or herself a back-story. I always thought it would be interesting to base an entire novel or a collection of short stories on this poem. Short poetry like this has a lot in common with Japanese haiku, where less is not only more, it’s a must.

One of my favorite short poems is by Aram Saroyan (son of Armenian American dramatist and author, William Saroyan) who once wrote a poem consisting of just one word – crickets – repeated down the page. Immediately upon glancing at the poem, you can almost hear the crickets chirping:

Some people would say that’s not poetry, but I feel it’s poetry in its purest form. Anything can be a poem. The word “poetry” comes from a Greek verb that is transliterated as poieo, meaning “I make or create.” But that was then and this is now, and I don’t believe that a poem has to be “created.” There are poets who will tell you they don’t write poems, that the poems already exist and the poet is merely the vehicle for the words to reveal themselves. Sometimes, poetry just is. It’s like the line in the Springsteen song, “the poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be.”

Henry David Thoreau called poetry “a natural fruit.” He said, “As naturally as the oak bears an acorn, and the vine a gourd, man bears a poem, either spoken or done. It is the chief and most memorable success, for history is but a prose narrative of poetic deeds.”

To appreciate poetry I think it helps to be a romantic and an idealist. Romantics can understand on an intellectual level that there is no supernatural, yet they can also believe in magic. And poetry is a lot like meditation. You have to let go of stuff and clear your mind to really appreciate it, especially much of the poetry that’s been produced since Whitman. You don’t necessarily have to understand a poem, and it certainly does not have to make sense – just appreciate the arrangement of the words and be open to the encounter with a poem. Be in the moment of the poem.

I have a little paperback book that I bought in a drug store in Omaha, Nebraska some 42 years ago. It’s called The Poetry of Rock, by a well-known (at the time) rock critic, Richard Goldstein. It’s a collection of lyrics from various rock songs. Although he is largely forgotten today, John Sebastian (quoted above) of the Lovin’ Spoonful has three of his songs included. Here’s one that no doubt you have heard many, many times, but have you ever seen it?

Hot town,
Summer in the city.
Back o’ my neck getting’ dirty and gritty.

Been down
Isn’t it a pity;
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city.

All around
People lookin’ half-dead,
Walkin’ on the sidewalk hotter than a matchhead.

Even without the music as support, the words have an impact. They are hard and terse and they hit you like hot air itself. Reading them, you feel summer, in the same way you feel e.e. cummings’ spring. Living in LA with the relentless sun, the words easily paint a scene where is it so hot and the sun beats down with such intensity that there doesn’t seem to be a shadow anywhere.

I think it does more than merely convey a feeling, and that poetry is more than just a snapshot in words of the world, a mirror of reality. If you love poetry, you understand. If you don’t, I’m not sure I can explain it to you.

One thing I feel strong about is that poetry is special, if for no other reason than that it brings beauty into our lives, and beauty is truth. It may be only an aesthetic kind of truth that appeals to our emotions, our senses, cultural values and the range of our experiences, and in the long run we may come to realize that nothing is beautiful, which, as Nietzsche said, is the first truth of aesthetics. Nevertheless, it is the kind of beautiful truth that appeals directly and forcibly to my romantic, idealistic nature.

I suppose the best way to end this post is with a poem about poetry. This is a selection from “La Poesia (Poetry)” by Pablo Neruda:

And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.


Poet Laureate of Harlem

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out by now that I love poetry. The first poem I read that gave me a real sense of how wonderful poetry could be was e.e. cumming’s “in-Just spring.” I was either in the 3rd or 4th grade and the poem just bowled me over because it was so simple and it was so different from any other poem I had read and it made you feel what he was writing about. “When the world is mud-lucious . . . puddle wonderful . . . eddieandbill” – I remember it was cold outside but as I read the poem, I felt I was touching spring.

Since then I have always preferred poets whose styles are similar in some way to cummings. People like William Carlos Williams, Aram Saroyan, and Charles Bukowski to name a few. For me, the best poets use as few words as possible. That’s one reason why I also like Chinese and Japanese poetry so much. Saroyan once wrote a poem that consisted of just one word – crickets – typed repeatedly down the center of the page. You can see that poem and more of his minimalist word experiments here.

Langston Hughes is another poet I admire.  He’s best known for the work he did during the Harlem Renaissance, a literary and intellectual cultural movement of the 1920s and 1930s and he was one of the first poets to experiment with blues and jazz rhythms.

Saturday’s post featured one of Hughes’ poems and I thought that some readers might not be too familiar with him or his work. You can read about Hughes here, while today, I present another of his poems. I think it’s one of the best pieces of poetry ever written.

Hughes wrote “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” while riding a train on his way to Mexico to visit his father. He was just 18 years old. Short and spare, yet containing powerful imagery, the poem manages to tell the story of human civilization in a mere 60 words.

I am not African-American, but this poem speaks to me. I, too, am familiar with rivers and very familiar with the last one he mentions, along with that city, and I’ve seen the river just as he describes.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.