Poetry came alive for me when I came to the Minnesota Men’s Conference and heard men recite poems. But my appreciation for the rhythm of words began with hymns in church, in the choir, reading ahead while singing the Hoar – y Or – a – tory, spelled out beneath the notes on the staff. Maybe it was from a love of word play and attention-seeking or because I was bored in grade school that I began to look for ways to reinterpret what I was being told, looking for tricky secondary meanings. Eventually, I managed to work “let us relish” into my marriage vows and to this day I never go anywhere without reservations. – mg
Romanticizing the Everyday
In some ancient English class I was presented with a poem and a question that became as permanent in my mind as a scar on my arm. It was a small poem called Limited by Carl Sandburg. I now learn, published in 1916.
I AM riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains
of the nation.
Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air
go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.
(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men
and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall pass to ashes.)
I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he
~ Carl Sandburg
The first words that the English teacher spoke after sharing the poem with us were, “What does Omaha mean?” Unwittingly, we were being taught that words in poems can have secondary meanings. Some of us might have known that Omaha was a city in Nebraska. None of us knew, nor could Carl Sandburg have known, that Omaha was to become one of the Normandy beaches where men would die in a reprise of the Great War in progress in 1916. The teacher told us something that may or may not be true, that Omaha means home. Home? Ha. Preposterous I thought, how could any of us be expected to know or credence that! Note the literalism of youth. Now, I wonder how many more incredible interpretations could ‘Omaha’ or the poem itself have for other ears.
After years of listening to others, I began to get the full sense of poetry when the lines rolled in my own mouth while resonating into the outer world. Lyrics are different, sung not spoken. Speaking poetry aloud reveals the natural cadence inherent in the sounds of the words themselves and emotions conveyed by the sequence of vowel sounds.
I was amazed at the tactile sensations I felt when I read aloud, (and with verve, as Robert had taught us) On Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh.
On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day….
Wow! It’s not quite a tongue twister. Maybe it’s the second cousin of one.
Writing poetry requires us to listen to strings of sound coming out of silence, like water in a brook, recording what we hear, and then keeping our poems from the light until they have had time to rest. Like stones in a colonial New England wall, words begin to nest together. The forced relationships with extra words stuffed in the chinks stand out as shoddy masonry and must be repaired. Is that why Robert loved to read to us his work in progress? To see what worked and what didn’t? To make us laugh? We gave him our thoughts and love. He taught us that our attempts at sharing our poetry require that we provide protection for them when they do come out of hiding. So, modeling my words on his, I say, with a wink, by way of protection, “these are not poems and they are not any good.” But, here are three of mine. ~ mg
I went to the laundromat
and I came home.
— a spontaneous imitation of contemporary poetry, spoken by Robert Bly
* * *
A cottage between trees in a wooded neighborhood caught
my eye it had a barber pole affixed to it
I stopped the car on a side street and approached on foot
The sign said CLOSED, the barber pole still, not spiraling its ancient message
of blood and bandaging, but there was a young man sitting
on the porch, scratching the head of a Labrador Retriever.
Later I learned the dog’s name was Hank.
I said, “The sign says CLOSED but I wonder when it
is open.” It, being a barbershop in someone’s house
The dog came over to me and the young man said,
“I’ll ask my mom.” That is how I met Teena….
She asked, “Did I want a haircut, now?”
She showed me the photo of a mountain lion
She said I was handsome in an outdoorsy way
She inquired after my family, where I was from
She said I had beautiful hair
After the haircut, She touched me
on the arm, and said “come back”
and then I came home, mostly.
– Mark Gardiner
I hear the blue
plate of fish and lemons
arriving through the
fog onto the parquet tabletop
the hard mattress
comes down the dusty
stairs to the orange bed
Every night the
best man steadies
himself with a
Every night the
girl in white does
passing the dark red cup still full
to the boy whose cuffs drape
his heals like a bridal train
it is the krumhorns
and chrysanthemums who take
our place in the wooden dance
and we who run to the
wet grass grinning
Every night suddenly and oddly
after eighteen years apart
Who authorized your visits
from 4 a.m. til dawn?
How is it that you haven’t aged
but now your breasts are large
And why is it we play for laughs
crimes imagined and unforgivable
How wonderful and puzzling
this unsought gratitude
for the good intensions
of young fools like us
marrying too soon.
– MG Oct 2005
For fish that fly at night,
Chocolate from Italy,
For carpets stained with wine—
For good things made of wood,
We give our thanks to thee.
For quiet days and nights—
For houses in a tree…
Immune from toil and strife,
together now we plead
For coffee in a cup,
And something good to read.
Bells and Motley Consort