Archive for the Poetry Category

Ben Shahn on Poetic Form

Posted in Poetry with tags on July 25, 2014 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

Perhaps my young friend would never under any circumstances have become a good poet. Perhaps he should have had the drive and persistence to master those forms which have defeated him–I myself think he should. But I wonder whether it was ever made clear to him that all poetic forms have derived from practice; that in the very act of writing poetry he was, however crudely, beginning to create form. I wonder whether it was pointed out to him that form is an instrument, not a tyrant; that whatever measures, rhythms, rhymes or groupings of sounds best suited his own expressive purpose could be turned to form–possibly just his own personal form, but form; and that it too might in time take its place in the awesome hierarchy of poetic devices.


But teaching itself is so largely a verbal, a classifying, process that the merely intuitive kinds of knowing, the sensing of things which escape classification, the self-identification with great moods and movements in life and art and letters may be lost or obliterated by academic routine. They are not to be taught but rather absorbed through a way of life in which intensively developed arts play an easy and familiar part. For it is just such inexact knowing that is implicit in the arts.


It is this kind of knowing also–the perceptive and intuitive–that is the very essence of an advanced culture. The dactyl and the spondee, the heroic couplet, the strophe and the antistrophe may be valuable and useful forms to the poet; but the meaning of the poem and its intention greatly transcend any such mechanics.

The Regiment of Pleasure

Posted in Philosophy, Poetry with tags on July 18, 2014 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

Do not speak of guilt, do not speak of responsibility. When the Regiment of Pleasure passes by, with music and flags; when the senses quiver and tremble, whoever stands apart is foolish and impertinent: whoever does not rush to join the good crusade, to the conquest of pleasures and of passions.

All the laws of morals — as ill-considered as they are ill-constructed — are naught and cannot stand fast even for a moment, when the Regiment of Pleasure passes by accompanied by music and by flags.

Do not let a single shadowy virtue stop you. Do not believe that a single commitment binds you. Your duty is to give in, give in always to your longings, which are the most perfect creations of perfect gods. Your duty is to fall in, a faithful soldier, with simplicity of heart, when the Regiment of Pleasure passes by accompanied by music and by flags.

Do not shut yourself inside your house and deceive yourself with theories of justice, with the superstitions about reward held by ill-made societies. Do not say, My toil is worth so much, and so much I’m due to enjoy. Since life is an inheritance and you had nothing to do to earn it, so an inheritance, too, must Pleasure necessarily be. Do not shut yourself inside your house; but keep the window open, completely open, so that you might hear the first sounds of the passing of the soldiers, when there arrives the Regiment of Pleasure accompanied by music and by flags.

Do no be deceived by the blasphemers who tell you that this service is risky and toilsome. Service to Pleasure is a constant joy. It exhausts you, but it exhausts you with heavenly intoxications. And when at last you fall down in the street, even then your fate is to be envied. When your funeral procession passes by, the Shapes that your longings fashioned will cast tulips and white roses on your coffin, and onto their shoulders the youthful Gods of Olympus will lift you, and they will entomb you in the Cemetery of the Ideal where the mausoleums of poetry gleam white.

Young Masters #10

Posted in Photo, Poetry, Surrealism with tags , , on July 16, 2014 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

Young Samy Rosenstock aka Tristan Tzara, with his father and grandfather circa 1912?


Le Rayon Poétique

Posted in Object, Poetry with tags on July 14, 2014 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

La réalité ne se révèle qu’éclairée par
le rayon poétique

La Bonne Heure II

Posted in Dylan Thomas Hayden, Poetry with tags , on July 13, 2014 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

the ruined fruits
the ragged walls
the dead snow
the sullied hours
the locked steps
have broken the streets
the shame of living
floods my eyes

the lightless homes
the toothless laugh
the crushed squares
the harried old age
profiled in the hearth
all the misery
to walk over
disemboweled horses
in the arena of heads
the stolen shutters
the open houses
the children outside
words of straw
the only truth

empty mattress
for no sleep
neither laughter nor dream
cold in the gut
iron in the snow
burning in the throat

what have you done what have you done
with the warm hands of tenderness
have you lost the sky
in the head by the world
in the stone in the wind
friendship and the smile
like stray dogs
like dogs

–Tristan Tzara, trans. DTH

Snapshots of the Cotton South

Posted in Kansas, Photo, Poetry with tags , on January 3, 2014 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

Listen, you drawing men
I want a picture of a starving black
I want a picture of a starving white
Show them bitterly fighting down on the dark soil
Let their faces be lit by hate
Above there will stand
The rich plantation owner, holder of the land
A whip in his red fist
Show his pockets bulging with dollars spilled
From the ragged trousers of the fighting men
And I shall call it
“Portrait of the Cotton South.”

Co’n pone, collard greens, side meat
Sluggish sorghun and fat yams
Don’t care who eats them.
The popping bolls of cotton
Whiter than the snobbish face
Of the plantation owner’s wife
Never shrink in horror
At the touch of black cropper’s hands.
And when the weevils march
They send no advance guard
Spying at doors, windows
Reporting back
“This is a privileged place
We shall pass it by
We want only nigger cotton.”
Speeding in a streamlined racing car
Or hobbling on ancient crutches
Sniffs at the colour line;
Starvation, privation, disease, disaster
Likewise embarass Social Tradition
By indiscriminately picking victims
Instead of arranging
Black folk later–
But otherwise
Life officially flows
In separate channels.

Chisel your own statue of God.
Have him blonde as a Viking king
A celestial czar of race separation
Roping off a jim crow section
On the low lying outskirts of heaven
Hard by the platinum railroad tracks
Where there will dwell for eternity
Good darkies inferiority-conscious
Of their brothers and sisters
In the Methodist Episcopal Church, South
Have him a dealer of vengeance
Punishing in hell’s hot fires
Lynchers, quick trigger sheriffs,
Conniving land owners, slave driving overseers
While today’s black Christians
Look down on their endless torture
Then travel the golden streets of paradise
To the biggest mansions
In the best districts
And there feast themselves
On milk and honey
As say the preachers
In the little colored churches.
Of course
There is no intermingling socially
Between the races
Such is absolutely unthinkable
Oh my yes
At regular intervals
The wife of Mobtown’s mayor
Sees an Atlanta specialist
For syphilis contracted from her husband
Who got it from their young mulatto cook
Who was infected by the chief of police
Who received it from his washerwoman
Who was made diseased by the shiftless son
Of the section’s richest planter
One night before
He led the pack that hanged
The black bastard who broke into
A farm woman’s bedroom–
As was mentioned before
There is no intermingling socially….

Neither Socialist nor Communist lingers here
The Southern Tenant Farmers Union
Is officially a Grave Menace
Here we have Democracy at its best
Amid “native American”
“Bedrock of the nation”
Untouched by “The Foreign Element”
They have “Rugged Individualism”
“Any man may be President”
“Equality of Opportunity”
Which, translated, means
The rich men grow richer
Big planters get bigger
Controlling the land and the towns
Ruling their puppet officials
Feeding white croppers and tenant farmers
Banquets of race hate for the soul
Sparse crumbs for their thin bodies
The feast of animosity
Will dull their minds
To their own plight
So the starving po’ whites
Contemptuous of neighboring blacks
Filled with their pale superiority
Live in rotting cabins
Dirt floored and dirty
Happy hunting ground of hookworm and vermin
Overrun with scrawny children
Poverty sleeping on the front stoop
Enslaved on islands of rundown clay
And to the planter-owned commissaries;
Dying, then dumped into the grinning graves
Their worm-picked bones resting silently
In a white burial ground
Separated even in death
As were their fathers before them.

No matter what the cost in taxes
Sacrificed by penniless croppers
Unmissed by money-grabbing land owners
There must be separate accommodations
And public institutions
For each race.
Impoverished white schools
Loosing tidewaters
Of anti-Negro propaganda
While the fallen-in buildings
For black children
Have courses in Manual Arts,
Writing, and a little figuring
In between cotton picking and sowing
And of course
Care must be taken
By public officials
Not to make the jails too strong
And thus inconvenience
The hungry lynchers.
There are some who say
Voteless blacks never get
A proportionate return of taxes paid
But since so many
Land in the hoosegow
On copyrighted charges
And the county pays their keep
In stockade, on chain gang,
They really use their share
Of public funds–
The arithmetic and logic
Are indisputable.

At sunrise
Into the broad fields they go–
Cropper, tenant, day laborer
Black and white–
Leaving behind
Shacks of logs and planks.
Arching their crooked backs
Slowly, like long mistreated cats,
They throttle the living cotton,
Hustle it, dead and grayish white,
Into the gaping sacks
Portable tombs
For the soft body
Of the South’s Greatest Industry–
While, nearby
Overseers stand
Throttling the living souls
Of the broken workers
Choking their spirit
Worn out and useless
They are crammed into
The waiting earth–
Another industry
Of the Cotton South.

Well, you remakers of America
You apostles of Social Change
Here is pregnant soil
Here are grass roots of a nation.
But the crop they grow is Hate and Poverty.
By themselves they will make no change
Black men lack the guts
Po’ whites have no the brains
And the big land owners want Things As They Are.
You disciples of Progress
Of the Advancing Onward
Communist, Socialist, Democrat, Republican
See today’s picture—
It is not beautiful to look upon.
Meanwhile paint pots drip over
There is fresh canvas for the asking.
Will you say,
“But that is not my affair”
Or will you mould this section
So its portrait will fit
In the sunlit hall
Of Ideal America?

This morning’s post brought my ordered copy of The Poetry of Black America (mine a sturdy hardback ex-San Antonio Public Library one) wherein I read this work of Frank Marshall Davis, who I am pleased to discover was another fine poet from my native Kansas. It’s an effective polemic with some vivid imagery, a match for Marion Post Wolcott’s unsparing “snapshots”.

We Real Cool

Posted in Kansas, Poetry with tags on December 13, 2013 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Back in the late eighties, when I was a teenager in San Francisco, this poem could be seen on the city’s buses, part of one of those public transport poetry schemes. I read it so many times it became a permanent fixture in my mind, though I hadn’t thought of it for some years until yesterday. A quick internet search discovered the poem and its author, Gwendolyn Brooks, who I was rather pleased to find was both a fine poet and a native of my own home state of Kansas. From the same collection, The Bean Eaters of 1960, comes this eponymous poem:

The Bean Eaters

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

Gwendolyn Brooks 1948, Wayne Miller

Gwendolyn Brooks,  by Wayne Miller, 1948

Dulce et Decorum Est

Posted in Poetry with tags on November 11, 2012 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

A Girl

Posted in Poetry with tags on October 30, 2012 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

The tree has entered my hands,
The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast -
The branches grow out of me, like arms.

Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child – so high – you are,
And all this is folly to the world.

–Ezra Pound


Posted in Poetry with tags on October 30, 2012 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

In your current is the laughter of the gods,
Saronica immortal, the blessing of our ship,
like your deep calm, and just as deep the tempest
we’d have heard here.

Beneath the hoar-frost, body damply torpid,
the dove that’s Athens shivers,
is enraptured, and awaits the distant sunrise
like a bride.

Where the clouds clear, there the sky is Pegasus’ flank,
as fair as the fate of the Parthenon;
Zeus inverts a glass to spill the
flood of dreamlight.

Prodigal, I arrive a child again to you, to bend
before the breeze just like a flower;
earth, sky, and sea of Attica, to you I’ll always
owe the Song!

Kostas Karyotakis
30 October 1896 – 20 July 1928

Photo DTH

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