Friday, September 12, 2014

Short Poems (Arranged by Length)

I've wanted for several years to try arranging the poems in my Reading Poetry course not by period, genre, author, or form, but simply by length.  Haven't gone that far yet, but I am starting this term with a week or two on poems arranged this way, starting with two-line poems and working our way up to a 13-liner, just short of a sonnet.

(I could have started with one-line poems, but I don't know many, and the few I do were...distracting.  They needed too much contextual explanation to be helpful, and they didn't lend themselves to the close-reading techniques I was trying to foster.  Maybe next time.)

Here's the little sheaf of poems I handed out on the first day of class.  More next time on what I've asked my students to do with them.

A Sheaf of Short Poems

Two Line Poems

Anonymous Graffiti from a Bard College Men’s Room, when I was Eight Years Old

Don't switch Dicks in the middle of a screw,
Vote for Nixon in '72.

Max and Emmie’s Rhyme (from Dragon Tales)

I wish, I wish, with all my heart
To fly with dragons in a land apart.

Charles Reznikoff, “April”

The stiff lines of the twigs
Blurred by buds.

Robert Frost, “The Span of Life”

The old dog barks backward without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

Harryette Mullen, from Trimmings

Night moon star sun down gown.
Night moan stir sin dawn gown.

A.R. Ammons, "Their Sex Life"

One failure on
Top of another

A. R. Ammons, “Weathering”
A day without rain is like
a day without sunshine

Ronald  Johnson “Beam  10” of  ARK

daimon diamond Monad I
Adam Kadmon in the sky

Three Line Poems

Selected Haiku by Issa (Robert Hass, Trans.)

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house

    New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
    I feel about average.

    The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
    with children.

Emily Dickinson (untitled poem)

In the name of the Bee -
And of the Butterfly -
And of the Breeze - Amen!

Charles Reznikoff (untitled poem)

How shall we mourn you who are killed and wasted,
sure that you would not die with your work unended,
as if the iron scythe in the grass stops for a flower?

Ezra Pound, “Alba”

As cool as the pale wet leaves 
of lily-of-the-valley 
She lay beside me in the dawn.

D.H. Lawrence, “The White Horse”

The youth walks up to the white horse, to put its halter on
and the horse looks at him in silence.
They are so silent, they are in another world.

William Bronk, “Eternity”

Always isn’t at any particular time
so everness is also a neverness.
At times, we are more comfortable with that.

Susan Howe, from Hinge Picture

a king
s in War

Four Line Poems

Robert Herrick, “Upon Prue, His Maid”

In this little urn is laid
Prudence Baldwin, once my maid,
From whose happy spark here let
Spring the purple violet.

William Blake, “Eternity”

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

Coventry Patmore, "Constancy Rewarded"

I vow'd unvarying faith, and she,
To whom in full I pay that vow,
Rewards me with variety
Which men who change can never know.

“Small Song,” by A. R. Ammons

The reeds give
way to the
wind and give
the wind away

Howard Nemerov, “Happy Hour”

Here, on the way from source to sink,
Between the brewery and the piss,
The pale already golden drink,
The dream, the kindness, the company, and the kiss.

Robert Creeley, “A Step”

            come and go.
         let them.

Ron Padgett, “Poetic License”

This license certifies
That Ron Padgett may tell whatever lies
His heart desires
Until it expires

William Corbett, “July 28” from Columbus Square Notebook

If I abandon poetry
If poetry abandons me
I will be the man who owes
$531 on his gas bill.

Mary-Jo Salter, “Lullaby for a Daughter”

Someday, when the sands of time
invert, may you find perfect rest
as a newborn nurses from
the hourglass of your breast.

Longer Short Poems (Five Lines and Over)

Harvey Shapiro, “Desk”

After my death, my desk,
which is now so cluttered,
will be bare wood, simple and shining,
as I wanted it to be in my life,
as I wanted my life to be.

William Butler Yeats, “A Deep-sworn Vow”

Others because you did not keep         
That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;         
Yet always when I look death in the face,         
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,                
Suddenly I meet your face.

Susan Howe, from Pythagorean Silence
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwe that were wood
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwhen that a wide wood was

In a physical Universe playing with


Bark be my limbs my hair be leaf

Bride be my bow my lyre my quiver

Robert  Graves, “She  Tells  Her  Love  While  Half  Asleep”

She tells her love while half asleep, 
              In the dark hours, 
    With half-words whispered low: 
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep 
              And puts out grass and flowers 
      Despite the snow, 
      Despite the falling snow. 

untitled poem by “Archilochos” (“First Sergeant”), Trans. Guy Davenport

Some  Saian  mountaineer
Struts  today  with  my  shield.
I  threw  it  down  by  a  bush  and  ran
When  the  fighting  got  hot.
Life  seemed  somehow  more  precious.
It  was  a  beautiful  shield.
I  know  where  I  can  buy  another
Exactly  like  it,  just  as  round.

Frank O’Hara, “Today”                    
Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they've always talked about
still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers. They
do have meaning. They're strong as rocks.
William Matthews, “A Major Work”

Poems are hard to read
Pictures are hard to see
Music is hard to hear
And people are hard to love

But whether from brute need
Or divine energy
At last mind eye and ear
And the great sloth heart will move.

Lorine Niedecker, “Poet's Work”

    advised me:
            Learn a trade
I learned
    to sit at desk
           and condense
No layoff
    from this

Harvey Shapiro, “The Uses of Poetry”

This was a day when I did nothing,
aside from reading the newspaper,
taking both breakfast and lunch by myself
in the kitchen, dozing after lunch
until the middle of the afternoon. Then
I read one poem by Zbigniew Herbert
in which he thanked God for the many beautiful
things in this world, in a voice so absurdly
truthful, the entire wrecked day was redeemed.

James Merrill, “b o d y”

Look closely at the letters.  Can you see,
entering (stage right), then floating full,
then heading off  -  so soon  -
how like a little kohl-rimmed moon
o plots her course from b to d

--as y, unanswered, knocks at the stage door?
Looked at too long, words fail, 
phase out. Ask, now that body shines 
no longer, by what light you learn these lines 
and what the b and d stood for.

Harvey Shapiro, “God Poem”

Nobody does silence as well as God.
He fills whole cathedrals with it,
store-front churches and synagogues.
We once believed in the music of the spheres
but now we hear silence--static and silence.
It can be overwhelming--the way God
was said to be overwhelming in the old books:
when he talked to Job, for example,
or when he instructed Moses on
what plagues to deal out
or when he described to Noah just
what he was going to do, and then did it.
Better to be nourished by the silence.

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