Slept In

My parents loved poetry and read it to my bro and me all the while we were growing up. Then, in school we studied even MORE poetry. In high school we read a LOT of poetry, so much that I graduated with the belief that poetry was a big thing for everyone in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD.

I know now that what we studied says a lot about the generation to which my teachers belonged. Some of the poetry was called “experimental” because of the use of language, the way it looked on a page, and probably a bunch of stuff I don’t remember.

The three main guys from that group who found their way into these distant strands of my life are William Carlos Williams, e. e. cummings and Theodore Roethke. I know there were others, but they didn’t “stick,” and among the three who have? Williams and cummings “stuck” because I couldn’t forget them (even though I wanted to). Williams proffered that infernal red wheel-barrow glazed with rain water beside the stupid white chicken, and cummings inflicted my life with a little lame balloon man who whistles far and wee (???).

But Theodore Roethke stuck because a couple of his poems informed my life (and are beautiful).

There were other poets, of course, the main guys, Frost, Sandburg. On my own I found the Beats, but Roethke has remained a different kind of voice.

So there we were, a bunch of kids, analyzing poetry written by this very, very, very complicated man. The poem that my teacher thought was most important was “The Waking.” I did not know when I was 17 how true it is, but I know now. And she was right. It is important.

The Waking

BY THEODORE ROETHKE

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

Featured photo: Me, Mr. Nichols, D. Ballard, Miss Decou looking at a drawing for our literary magazine which was very grandly named The Empyrean. And that’s how we dressed in high school until sometime my senior year.

In other news, WP just informed me that I’m on “a streak” and have posted “8 days in a row.” Huh? Seriously, “encouragement” from WP creeps me out.

One Foot in Front of the Other

^ NOT Colorado! Southern California. ^
^ Southern California! ^
^ Every path… ^

The Waking

BY THEODORE ROETHKE

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/06/06/rdp-saturday-the-path-ahead/

A Candid, Backward Look at Mid-Century American Poetry

Lacking the candor of dogs, I kiss the departing air,” wrote Theodore Roethke in “Praise to the End.’

What does that mean? That he is too inhibited to piss on the hydrant as he passes by? I have never known… Just now I tried to find a way to link the poem to this blog, and all I found were academic papers about the poem. Not the poem. That’s kind of how I thought things might go here in the future.

When I was in high school, Theodore Roethke was regarded as an Important Contemporary American Poet. I don’t know if his work is even taught any more. I know that I believed Miss Cohen and I bought a thin volume and read it back to front. Some of the poems I wrote in those days emulate Roethke and Ferlinghetti. I thought I might grow up to be a poet.

Roethke was not one of the “beat poets” yet rhythm was important to him. When we read his poems aloud, my teacher made a big deal out of this. “Hear it? Hear the 3/4 beat behind his words?” She was reading “My Papa’s Waltz” which is a poem about Roethke getting slapped around by his alcoholic father.

Anyway, since we read Roethke at the same time we were reading “the beats,” they are conflated in my mind — and they are poets of a generation. Of the beats, we mostly read Ferlinghetti. Our teacher mentioned Ginsberg’s Howl, but she made it  clear that it was a questionable piece of literature and had been censored by the Supreme Court. Or something. Not that she objected to that. I got to know her well as a friend, and I’m sure, now, she was following the orders of the Board of Education in not teaching it. Not that Howl makes any sense. It doesn’t. What does is “Supermarket in California” and, especially, “America.”

But time rubs the edges off of horror (as we see daily in the news, that shithole) and by the time I was in my thirties, Howl was required reading in many college and university Intro to American Lit classes. Here’s a photo of West Point cadets reading that unspeakable work.

Gordon-Ball_CadetsReadingHowlBB

Oddly, one day in San Francisco some 40 years after I left high school, I found myself in Ferlinghetti’s old neighborhood, not far from the Haight, my friend and I, hours away from a toilet and in desperate need of a good pee, availed ourselves of a dark corner in a parking structure before we headed down to find Chinese food in North Beach. We, too, lacked the candor of dogs, but in every sense that was a memorable urination and a really good poem.

Still, lines of their poetry linger in my memory. Of Roethke, from his poem, “In a Dark Time,” “What’s madness but nobility of soul At odds with circumstance?”

I will think of this line from Ferlinghetti, In Golden Gate Park that day, a man and his wife were coming along, thru the enormous meadow that was the meadow of the world.”

I’ve been to Golden Gate park and Ferlinghetti exaggerates, but I get the idea, and sometimes, when I’m walking through a field, even at my slough I think of that line. I refuse to be a party to the ultimate nihilism of Ferlinghetti’s poem. It’s cheap, facile, juvenile and useless here in the “meadow of the world.”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/candid/