List Poem by Joe Somoza

In poetry class, we’re working on list poems this week. One way to do it is to sketch your surroundings–in detail. Poet Joseph Somoza has for many years used his backyard in Las Cruces as if it were Paris–that is, as his muse.

The Clouds

It’s New Year’s again.
I wonder what Frank O’Hara’s
thinking. The clouds
are roiling to the north,
difficult to tell
what they’ll be bringing.
Under the clouds,
it’s just us chickens
among the houses and streets
leading to the desert that seems
empty wilderness—if you’re
from the city, and brought only
dancing shoes along.
Because nothing
can be empty that’s so
full of itself—such as Orlando,
moving thickly in winter fur
across the yard
to nap under a yucca.
A siren up Missouri Avenue
diminishes and disappears.
Someone’s dying or getting
born, going
or coming.
The clouds might know.

Icelandic Rune Poem

We are working on alphabet poems in poetry class.

Anna Garforth


The Icelandic Rune Poem
(in Old Icelandic)
Fé er frænda róg
ok flæðar viti
ok grafseiðs gata
aurum fylkir.
Úr er skýja grátr
ok skára þverrir
ok hirðis hatr.
umbre vísi
Þurs er kvenna kvöl
ok kletta búi
ok varðrúnar verr.
Saturnus þengill.
Óss er algingautr
ok ásgarðs jöfurr,
ok valhallar vísi.
Jupiter oddviti.
Reið er sitjandi sæla
ok snúðig ferð
ok jórs erfiði.
iter ræsir.
Kaun er barna böl
ok bardaga [för]
ok holdfúa hús.
flagella konungr.
Hagall er kaldakorn
ok krapadrífa
ok snáka sótt.
grando hildingr.
Nauð er Þýjar þrá
ok þungr kostr
ok vássamlig verk.
opera niflungr.
Íss er árbörkr
ok unnar þak
ok feigra manna fár.
glacies jöfurr.
Ár er gumna góði
ok gott sumar
algróinn akr.
annus allvaldr.
Sól er skýja skjöldr
ok skínandi röðull
ok ísa aldrtregi.
rota siklingr.
Týr er einhendr áss
ok ulfs leifar
ok hofa hilmir.
Mars tiggi.
Bjarkan er laufgat lim
ok lítit tré
ok ungsamligr viðr.
abies buðlungr.
Maðr er manns gaman
ok moldar auki
ok skipa skreytir.
homo mildingr.
Lögr er vellanda vatn
ok viðr ketill
ok glömmungr grund.
lacus lofðungr.
Ýr er bendr bogi
ok brotgjarnt járn
ok fífu fárbauti.
arcus ynglingr.


The Icelandic Rune Poem
(in Modern English)
source of discord among kinsmen
and fire of the sea
and path of the serpent.
lamentation of the clouds
and ruin of the hay-harvest
and abomination of the shepherd.
torture of women
and cliff-dweller
and husband of a giantess.
aged Gautr
and prince of Ásgarðr
and lord of Vallhalla.
joy of the horsemen
and speedy journey
and toil of the steed.
disease fatal to children
and painful spot
and abode of mortification.
cold grain
and shower of sleet
and sickness of serpents.
grief of the bond-maid
and state of oppression
and toilsome work.
bark of rivers
and roof of the wave
and destruction of the doomed.
boon to men
and good summer
and thriving crops.
shield of the clouds
and shining ray
and destroyer of ice.
god with one hand
and leavings of the wolf
and prince of temples.
leafy twig
and little tree
and fresh young shrub.
delight of man
and augmentation of the earth
and adorner of ships.
eddying stream
and broad geysir
and land of the fish.
bent bow
and brittle iron
and giant of the arrow.


There were several rune poems in Old Norse, basically set up as alphabet poems. Like many alphabet poems, they don’t attempt to create holistic narratives but essentially are a way of remembering the order of things. This one is so beautiful, though, with its tiny definitions that seem like the answer to riddles, that I know I won’t be able to resist its influence in terms of my own writing.
The work is off the web–no translator given–but thanks to whoever did it.

Edie Tsong’s Snow Poems Project with Students

Check out the corner of Paseo de Peralta and Alameda. The New Mexico School for the Arts is lit with poems–installation by artist Edie Tsong and text by students.

Edie Tsong says–“The real beauty of the project is from inside the building, where light passes through. and throughout the day the poems create unexpected shadows around the room. teachers have also commented how shadows fleet across the wall as cars go by.”

Images: Elizabeth Lende, nmsa
Sabina Hayutin, nmsa
Kirsten Mundt’s poem at Marji gallery, downtown

Two Versions of a Poem by Sudasi Clement–Your Preference?

Sudasi, poetry editor of the Santa Fe Literary Review, has kindly allowed us to look at two versions of one of her poems. Which do you prefer? Why? Basically, do you want that extra stanza in or out?

Elegy for My Brother’s Hair

He was a king once, and you were his crown—
waist-length waves of brown threaded with gold.
During his brief reign we swam in the river,
strolled home through the center of town.

The eyes of a woman across the street 
found him, his splendid braid 
come undone, wild mane in the wind—
she walked into a telephone pole.

Fine locks, you’ve gone the way of rosy skin
and easy muscle. You’ve followed our sleek black
dog with the white-tipped tail to the kingdom 
of blue-berried, woods-wandering days. 


Elegy for My Brother’s Hair

He was a king once, and you were his crown—
waist-length waves of brown threaded with gold.
During his brief reign we swam in the river,
strolled home through the center of town.

The eyes of a woman across the street 
found him, his splendid braid 
come undone, wild mane in the wind—
she walked into a telephone pole.

Today he called: I don’t know how to wear
my hair, there’s so little of it left on my head.
I cast my vote for clean-shaven, rings 
in each ear, a tattoo on the back of his skull.

Fine locks, you’ve gone the way of rosy skin
and easy muscle. You’ve followed our sleek black
dog with the white-tipped tail to the kingdom 
of blue-berried, woods-wandering days. 

Philip Levine on Ruth Stone

This is from the New York Times. I’m reblogging it for all the readers of Ruth Stone, not to mention Philip Levine. It is a marveloudly fitting homage.

Ruth Stone, b. 1915

By Philip Levine
Must have been nearly 20 years ago, and I was scheduled to give a noon poetry reading in Paterson, N.J. My host, the poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan, picked me up on a sunny September morning across from the big post office on Eighth Avenue, and through the tunnel to Jersey we went. It was then that Maria told me I was only half the show; the other half was a woman named Ruth Stone. I would get the same “honorarium” (we are so pretentious in the poetry world), so not to fret. I’d never heard of Ruth Stone, and I figured she was an upstart from the corps of 10,000 American poets younger and better than I. We stopped at a humble house deep in a civilized part of New Jersey. When Maria honked her horn, nothing happened, so I was dispatched to go to the door. An elderly woman answered. She seemed out of breath or nervous or both. (No, I’ve never had that effect on elderly women, or on younger ones either.) “We’re here to pick up Ruth Stone,” I said. “Is this her house?” It was the right house, and the elderly woman I was speaking to — actually she looked to be about my own age — was Ruth Stone herself. “I must finish dressing,” she said. “Have a seat.” Up the stairs she went. I heard a door close, then another, then a toilet flush, and down the stairs she came, looking exactly as she did when she answered my knock. “And who might you be?” she said, knowing damn well who I was, and then she gave me a moment of her marvelous laughter.

Photograph by David CarlsonI realized later Ruth was neither out of breath nor nervous: she was excited to be giving a public poetry reading and to be paid for it. Excited to be finally honored for the work she’d done for decades in an America that rarely honors or pays its poets. The reading took place in a modest, filled-to-capacity room in what appeared to be a school building in downtown Paterson. The schedule called for me to read last, but I insisted that I go before Ruth, that we observe the rule of the alphabet. Really, I just wanted to get it over with before I became nervous. And I also knew that if Ruth read before me, I’d be busy plotting my own reading and unable to focus on her work.
I do not remember what I read, and I expect no one in the audience does, either. Ruth simply became the show, and not because she was an especially good reader. In fact, that day her voice was ragged, almost strident. So what made her the unforgettable one? The amazing things she said between the amazing poems she read. On the surface, she seemed to be having a hell of a good time, moving effortlessly from poem to poem, barely pausing between them, never quite allowing you to digest what you heard before she moved on. Her chat and her poems were loaded with pugnacity, sass and humor, but they were also painful and desperate. She read and spoke of betrayal, rage, suicide, loneliness, despair. There are some poets who, when they read, leave at the end of each poem a little silence to be filled by the sighs of the audience as it recoils from so much wisdom in such an exquisite package. Ruth was not one of them. I think we all felt her need to unburden herself of an enormous weight of language and imagery. She’d already waited too long.
Why at 65 was I just discovering one of the truly significant poets of my era? Let me give two self-serving answers to justify my ignorance: we have never had an effective means to discover the best poets among us — think Emily Dickinson — and Ruth never learned how to play the game. Perhaps she took Whitman seriously when he urged the poets of the future never to humble themselves to anyone.
When I heard that Ruth died, I went back to my journals to see if I’d written anything about that incandescent afternoon all those years ago. In my notes I found some random lines of poetry that I must have copied as Ruth read: “and then the apple trees were new,” “it was the same worm eating the same fruit,” “they barely let you through the checkout line,” “the shock comes slowly as an afterthought,” “now cold borscht alone in a bare kitchen.” I kept looking for the line “Things will be different,” but I didn’t write it in my journal. Whenever I think of Ruth, I don’t think of the hennaed hair or her beautiful features bearing the lines of age and grief. I think of that line and the time I first heard it.
Ruth lived in the only world of poetry that matters, the one without publishers, awards, prestige, competition, jealousy, money — the one we might call “poetry eternal,” the same world the great poems live in. Now she is there forever.

Philip Levine is the poet laureate of the United States.

Why Devon Miller-Duggan’s Christmas Tree is Still Up

One of the weird things about having been raised as a New Critic—or maybe it’s just a natural inclination that learning to close-read Eliot in the 9th grade brought to the front of my brain/personality—is that I do tend to read pretty much everything as having layers of meaning for me to pull apart. Which is mostly great fun. So I helplessly apply that even to stuff like noticing when different neighbors dump their Christmas trees. Which means that I get a nasty sort of smile every year when the first tree to hit the curb is outside the house of the guy who runs Campus Crusade for Christ. His wife NEVER smiles at anyone in the neighborhood. Neither do his kids. I’ve never understood evangelicals who are grim—I mean, if you’re so sure of your own salvation, why wouldn’t you be cheerful?

But this post is actually about Christmas trees. Maybe you were hoping that you wouldn’t have to hear any more about it until after Halloween. Well, I’m not done with it. I don’t mean the theological side of it, not entirely, though I am much more oriented toward Incarnation than toward Resurrection as a Christian. Nope, I’m talking about the excessive, exhausting, blithering decorative practice of Christmas. Or, more to the point, why my tree is still up and my lights are still on.

I was taught to decorate a tree by my father. My father was a dentist. Most dentists are profoundly artisanal by nature and very often aesthetically obsessive. My father certainly was. Decorating the tree was a very specific and slightly crazed process: First you put the lights on and make sure they are perfectly, beautifully, lavishly placed. Then you turn the lights off to put the ornaments on—bigger ornaments toward the bottom. Every ornament must be hung so that it can hang freely (the tree should be able to shiver slightly when anyone walks by), and if it doesn’t, then you can trim the branch to make it hang right—but you must trim the branch so that it doesn’t look trimmed. You must make sure the tree is lavishly arrayed in ornaments. Then you do the tinsel—one piece at a time, each piece hanging freely (scissors help here). Then you turn the lights back on. And your tree is magical. God, my father made a beautiful tree. You can imagine how he was about the lights outside. The angriest I ever saw him was one year when local boys went on a bulb-shattering spree. Those boys were very lucky that he never caught them.

I’m much less obsessive than he was (my family might dispute this), and do different things with the tree every year (all red, all green, all this or that), but I am still finicky as all get out. I gave up on tinsel 30 years ago when I realized the cats were eating it, though.

Since a tree is essentially a huge floral arrangement, and floral arrangements are, by definition (not a huge fan of silk, me) ephemeral, why would you expect it to last very long? Besides, the needles fall off, don’t they? Not always, esp. if you’re careful about what sort of tree you buy. Still, the holiday is over by 12th Night/Epiphany, so why’s my tree still up? Aside from the fact that it still has its needles.

It makes my husband goofily happy. He grieves when it finally comes down every year on his birthday (mid-February) or right before Lent, whichever comes first. He grew up with Eugene-O’Neil-Irish-family Christmasses (ever seen the SNL Disfunctional Family Christmas skit?). And Christmas was pretty much the one thing my family was good at. Seamus has rejoiced in the folderol and fa-la-la of my family’s practice for 35 years and shows no sign of stopping. So the tree stays up and the outside lights stay on to brighten winter nights for as long as we can keep them. Unlike my mother (who lives in a bed-sit on our ground floor), I don’t actually have to fight him to take things down by that time. She’d leave her stuff up all year if I wasn’t able to convince her that it’s more fun when it comes out (the day after Thanksgiving, NOT the day after Halloween) if it’s been packed a way for a few months.

Besides, didn’t Dickens suggest that the world would be a kinder place if we all kept Christmas in our hearts?
Read more by Devon.