Paths to Pathos


Poets:  a pathetic lot—

Who sing, off-key, of their own refusing.

On a quest for what is not,

Entranced with their own maudlin musing

In that zone where life gets buffered

As the pages load; confusing

Pain with what their souls have suffered:

Lyric bombs for your defusing.



write a self-portrait poem in which you make a specific action a metaphor for your life –
one that typically isn’t done all that often, or only in specific circumstances.
For example, bowling, or shopping for socks, or shoveling snow, or teaching a child to tie its shoes.

Californian Emmy

The loves of my childhood and youth were for the most part purely romantic obsessions which fuel and inspire my soul to this day. Until the end of 9th grade, I had never even kissed a girl. The most magical of my loves were the earliest, the most sublimated—and the most childish.

In 1972 a secret love began smoldering deep within my Fourth grade soul. A new girl, Emmy, had joined our class in the first weeks of September. She was unremarkable; pleasant and present. It became known that she was from distant and mysterious California, a state I knew nothing about. As the first weeks of school became months, I found myself strangely attracted to this new arrival from distant coasts. I don’t know why Emmy B. made such an impression on me. I recall intense details about her: light brown wavy hair, a silvery laugh, and a slight accent, indefinable, something that set her apart from the New England kids in the cohort I had known since preschool. California began to appeal to me in some vague exotic way; notable because Emmy was from there. Her name began to take on significance and magic. I began to notice what she wore, how she smiled, what kind of jokes she made.

This was the first time I got a ten-speed bike. It was a Christmas gift, and it seemed to me a very extravagant thing. The down-curved handlebars and the dual stick-shifts really had me dazzled. I remember I had coveted this bike at the store and probably pestered my parents about buying it for me. It cost in dollars something close to the date of that romantic year of ’72, which seemed an impossibly high price to my mind. Later, as spring warmed the Northeast, kids began biking to school. It seemed noteworthy that Emmy B. rode a Motobecane racing bike, another exotic name I always associate with her in memory. My friend once mocked her by calling it a motor-pecan, and I flinched at this callous outrage.

It must be partly due to Emmy that I developed a love of rhyming poetry. Miss Prescott had asked all of us to memorize a poem. It may have been in late winter, I’m not sure. I chose Tennyson’s The Eagle, mainly because it was short but I also liked the sound of it. Emmy had developed an inseparable bond with another girl; it was one of those grade-school best-friendships where the two students are so often together their names meld into one, in this case DebbyandEmmy. They requested permission to memorize their poem together. Finally the week of recitation arrived. I had no problem rattling off my six lines of avian intensity . . . but later, Debby&Emmy blew the whole class away. They stood up and flawlessly intoned Alfred Noyes Highwayman in its entirety. I can still see them before the grey-green board and smell the chalk-dust of that hallowed moment. Those two girls looked us all in the eye, stated title and author, then launched into it, every galloping rolling stanza. I had never heard of it. I can never forget it. They did the whole thing from memory.

We presented a Greek drama that spring outdoors in a sacred grove .
It was the abduction of Persephone to the underworld by Hades.  I was Hades.
I think Emmy was Persephone but she might have been Demeter or a member of the chorus, not sure. The fact that I remember her as Persephone to my Hades says a lot. In any case, I recall adoring her in her chiton. As spring grew warmer, Emmy started wearing these embroidered girl-shorts to school. I have a distinct visual memory of the floral designs along the hem. By this time, I was smitten. I found her very . . . fascinating. She had said she was moving back to California at the end of the year. I learned that she lived on Appleton Street, about ten blocks away. That name began to conjure up magic in my fourth grade soul. Sometimes I would ride my bike past her home, a grey house with high walls enclosing a shady yard. With racing heart, pedaling past those high barriers, I would think to myself: somewhere inside that house lives Emmy, the mysterious Californian whom I adore. The place held my soul in bondage and enchantment. But I knew she was leaving in June and would not be in fifth grade with all of us.

When school ended that year, after the Mayday celebration and with the plaintive melodies still ringing, the reality that Emmy was leaving hit me very hard. I had not even said goodbye and now school was over. I rode my bike alone past her house, but did not know if they had already moved out. A great melancholy overwhelmed my mind. I never saw her again. I sometimes pray for her still.

The Columbiad’s Wild Hemispheres

Juaneco y su combo: PERÚ

Near and more near the long drawn coasts arise,
Bays stretch their arms and mountains lift the skies,
The lakes, high mounded, point the streams their way,
Slopes, ridges, plains their spreading skirts display,
The vales branch forth, high walk approaching groves,
And all the majesty of nature moves.

O’er the wild hemisphere his glances fly,
Its form unfolding as it still draws nigh,
As all its salient sides force far their sway,
Crowd back the ocean and indent the day…

Columbus traced, with swift exploring eye,
The immense of waves that here exalted lie,
The realms that mound the unmeasured magazine,
The far blue main, the climes that stretch between.
He saw Xaraya’s diamond banks unfold,
And Paraguay’s deep channel paved with gold,
Saw proud Potosi lift his glittering head,
And pour down Plata thro his tinctured bed.
Rich with the spoils of many a distant mine,
In his broad silver sea their floods combine;
Wide over earth his annual freshet strays,
And highland drains with lowland drench repays;
Her thirsty regions wait his glad return,
And drink their future harvest from his urn…

So taught the Saint. The regions nearer drew,
And raised resplendent to their Hero’s view
Rich nature’s triple reign; for here elate
She stored the noblest treasures of her state,
Adorn’d exuberant this her last domain,
As yet unalter’d by her mimic man,
Sow’d liveliest gems, and plants of proudest grace,
And strung with strongest nerves her animated race.

[excerpts from The Columbiad, Book I  by Joel Barlow, published in 1807]
indian pipe girl pin up

What Poetry Is (n’t)

Due to erroneous Modernist and Postmodernist assumptions,
we must define poetry in terms of negatives.

Poetry is not words to be declaimed or sung. Poetry is words printed on a page, meant to be read in private, in contemplation, and in a place where sustained mental focus is possible. The voice of the poet is relatively unimportant; the  explicit or implicit message of a poem is. Poetry is not about saying things in new ways  or pushing the boundaries of language. The role of poetry is not to agitate for social change, although that may be an indirect secondary side-effect. Poetry is not convulsive unburdening of personal esthetic/emotional observations. Just because snow on a tree-limb looked beautiful to you, please don’t write a haiku about it. Poetry is not ephemeral or disposable. It must be composed of words which will endure long enough to be viable either short-term or long-term. Intentional obscurantism is the unpardonable poetic crime. Esoteric cryptography is not to be considered valid poetry. Ad jingles and Hallmark card verses constitute a more noble art than linguistic obfuscation. Say what you want to say poetically. Then work and re-work it.

Poetry is the most useless of arts and the most important. Why? Because it is difficult to commodify. But don’t fall for that drivel they taught you in school, “poetry is whatever you want it to be“. I call BS on that RIGHT NOW. Don’t just vomit it out there and make us clean it up. Dang. The hell wrong wit chu people?  Poetry knows who you are and where you LIVE. Poetry is not playing around—those days are long over. Poetry kicked your English teacher’s cowardly ass and then spat on the semi-conscious twitching body before paying for everyone’s drinks and dancing her way out the emergency exit.  What is poetry? I have NO IDEA, but Poetry knows. Problem is, that bitch won’t tell me.  I still love her, though.