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03 April 2014 @ 06:02 pm
Movement Song
Audre Lorde
I have studied the tight curls on the back of your neck
moving away from me
beyond anger or failure
your face in the evening schools of longing
through mornings of wish and ripen
we were always saying goodbye
in the blood in the bone over coffee
before dashing for elevators going
in opposite directions
without goodbyes.
Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof
as the maker of legends
nor as a trap
door to that world
where black and white clericals
hang on the edge of beauty in five oclock elevators
twitching their shoulders to avoid other flesh
and now
there is someone to speak for them
moving away from me into tomorrows
morning of wish and ripen
your goodbye is a promise of lightning
in the last angels hand
unwelcome and warning
the sands have run out against us
we were rewarded by journeys
away from each other
into desire
into mornings alone
where excuse and endurance mingle
conceiving decision.
Do not remember me
as disaster
nor as the keeper of secrets
I am a fellow rider in the cattle cars
you move slowly out of my bed
saying we cannot waste time
only ourselves.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992), 'black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet', was born in Harlem to Caribbean parents. Lorde spent her life fighting for feminism, civil rights, gay rights, and most of all for the intersection between all of these - 'I am defined as other in every group I'm part of,' she declared. She was almost legally blind and battled breast cancer for 14 years, in the last year of which she became New York Poet Laureate before she passed away aged 58.
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02 April 2014 @ 03:29 pm
Twelve Songs (excerpt)
W. H. Auden

O last night I dreamed of you, Johnny, my lover,
You'd the sun on one arm and the moon on the other,
The sea it was blue and the grass it was green,
Every star rattled a round tambourine;
Ten thousand miles deep in a pit there I lay:
But you frowned like thunder and you went away.

Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973) was an Anglo-American writer, born in Birmingham and later a naturalised US citizen.  He believed all his life in the sanctity of faithful love and marriage, which sucked a bit for him because most of the men he fell in love with were not big on commitment (e.g. Chester Kallman), although he often remained friends with ex-lovers and probably had a lengthy friends-with-benefits arrangement with Christopher Isherwood.  He wedded the German writer and actress Erika Mann in 1935 in a marriage of convenience so she could escape the Nazis on a British passport.  His oeuvre includes over 400 poems in a huge variety of form and style, including Anglo-Saxon meter.
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01 April 2014 @ 01:01 pm
It is April and thus one of the biannual poetry months! It is also a cruel month, wet and full of course essay as it is, but I shall do my best to keep up regular poetry.

This month will be dedicated to work by LGBTQ poets, in part to honour same-sex marriage becoming legal recently in my country of residence, while my country of birth remains frustratingly backward on the topic.

And who better to begin with than the woman who got a whole sexuality named after her address?

Sappho (trans. Richard Lattimore)

Some there are who say that the fairest thing seen
on the black earth is an array of horsemen;
some, men marching; some would say ships; but I say
she whom one loves best

is the loveliest. Light were the work to make this
plain to all, since she, who surpassed in beauty
all mortality, Helen, once forsaking
her lordly husband,

fled away to Troy - land across the water.
Not the thought of child nor beloved parents
was remembered, after the Queen of Cyprus
won her at first sight.

Since young brides have hearts that can be persuaded
easily, light things, palpitant to passion
as am I, remembering Anaktória
who has gone from me

and whose lovely walk and the shining pallor
of her face I would rather see before my
eyes than Lydia's chariots in all their glory
armored for battle.

Sappho (born between 630-612 BC, died 570 BC) of the Isle of Lesbos was considered by the Alexandrians to be one of the nine great lyric poets. Little is known of her life beyond the fragments of her poetry, which document love for both men and women, that survive today (of which new ones have shown up!) Her contemporary Alcaeus described her as 'violet-haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho'. It is thought that she taught a school for young women on Lesbos. Before the late 19th century, the word 'lesbian' referred to any derivative or aspect of Lesbos, including a type of wine.
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31 October 2013 @ 06:17 pm
Here is the round-up for this October's Songs Are Poetry Too bonanza!

#1 - Anon., Westron Wynde
#2 - W. B. Yeats, Those Dancing Days Are Gone
#3 - Joni Mitchell, Chelsea Morning
#4 - Langston Hughes, Song For A Dark Girl
#5 - William Shakespeare, Full Fathom Five
#6 - Zhou Lanping and Pan Yingjie/Gao Yudang, 綠島小夜曲 [Green Island Serenade]
#7 - Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence
#8 - W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, Tit-Willow
#9 - Elizabeth Bishop, Visits To St. Elizabeth's
#10 - Anon., Tam Lin
#11 - Tom Waits, Tom Traubert's Blues
#12 - Geoffrey Chaucer, To Rosemounde
#13 - Tori Amos, Silent All These Years
#14 - Caedmon, Caedmon's Hymn
#15 - Vienna Teng, Shasta
#16 - Anon., Mary Hamilton
#17 - David Bowie, Rock n' Roll Suicide
#18 - Edgar Smith and Alfred Baldwin Sloane, Heaven Will Protect The Working Girl
#19 - Anon., Pōkarekare Ana
#20 - Anon., The House of the Rising Sun
#21 - John Donne, Song
#22 - Leonard Cohen, Chelsea Hotel #2
#23 - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Erlkönig
#24 - Anon., Lazarus
#25 - Guillaume de Machaut, Ma fin est ma commencement
#26 - Regina Spektor, Ain't No Cover
#27 - 三毛 [San Mao], 橄榄树 [Olive Tree]
#28 - Lewis Carroll, The Lobster Quadrille
#29 - Abel Meeropol, Strange Fruit
#30 - J. R. R. Tolkien, The Death Song of Boromir
#31 - Bob Dylan, Desolation Row

I hope you have had as fun reading as I have had fun posting.
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31 October 2013 @ 12:16 pm
Desolation Row
Bob Dylan

They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad, they're restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
'It takes one to know one,' she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning
'You belong to me, I believe'
And someone says, 'You're in the wrong place, my friend
You better leave.'
And the only sound that's left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing
He's getting ready for the show
He's going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she's 'neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
You would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They're trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She's in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
"Have mercy on his soul"
They all play on penny whistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Across the street they've nailed the curtains
They're getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
In a perfect image of a priest
They're spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls
"Get outta here if you don't know
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row."

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody's shouting
"Which side are you on?"
And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fisherman hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
About the time the doorknob broke
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more letters, no
Now unless you mail them
From Desolation Row

This 11-minute magnum opus by the great American folk singer Bob Dylan (b. 1941) is many things.  It is a tribute to minstrel ballads.  It is an epic of urban entropy.  It is a carnivalesque parade of grotesques that puts one in mind of Franz Kafka or Federico Fellini.  It is quite possibly a Waste Land of the Waste Land (even Pound and Eliot appear in there).  It is also hands down my favourite Dylan song, and considering all the Dylan songs I love and pray to, that's saying a lot.

Nobody is quite sure where Desolation Row really is.  Dylan told people it was some place in Mexico that has a coke factory.  Critics think it is a mash-up of Jack Kerouac's Desolation Angels and John Steinbeck's Cannery Row.  The opening line, 'They're selling postcards of the hanging', probably refers to an incident in Duluth, Dylan's birthplace, where three black men accused of raping a white woman were lynched, and postcards sold of the execution.

And that brings us to the end of National Poetry Month: Songs! I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.
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The Death Song of Boromir
J. R. R. Tolkien

Through Rohan over fen and field where the long grass grows
The West Wind comes walking, and about the walls it goes.
'What news from the West, O wandering wind, do you bring to me tonight?
Have you seen Boromir the Tall by moon or by starlight?'
'I saw him ride over seven streams, over waters wide and grey;
I saw him walk in empty lands, until he passed away
Into the shadows of the North. I saw him then no more.
The North Wind may have heard the horn of the son of Denethor.'
'O Boromir! From the high walls westward I looked afar,
But you came not from the empty lands where no men are.'

From the mouths of the Sea the South Wind flies, from the sandhills and the stones;
The wailing of the gulls it bears, and at the gate it moans.
'What news from the South, O sighing wind, do you bring to me at eve?
Where now is Boromir the Fair? He tarries and I grieve.'
'Ask not of me where he doth dwell - so many bones there lie
On the white shores and the dark shores under the stormy sky;
So many have passed down Anduin to find the flowing Sea.
Ask of the North Wind news of them the North Wind sends to me!'
'O Boromir! Beyond the gate the seaward road runs south,
But you came not with the ailing gulls from the grey sea's mouth.'

From the Gate of Kings the North Wind rides, and past the roaring falls;
And clear and cold about the tower its loud horn calls.
'What news from the North, O mighty wind, do you bring to me today?
What news of Boromir the Bold? For he is long away.'
'Beneath Amon Hen I heard his cry. There many foes he fought.
His cloven shield, his broken sword, they to the water brought.
His head so proud, his face so fair, his limbs they laid to rest;
And Rauros, golden Rauros-falls, bore him upon its breast.'
'O Boromir! The Tower of Guard shall ever northward gaze
To Rauros, golden Rauros-falls, until the end of days.'

This is the death song of Boromir son of Denethor in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, as sung by Aragorn and Legolas at the setting adrift of his funeral boat upon the Anduin.  It is one of the many, many moments in the novel that people spontaneously break into song.  If the novel were to be truly adapted onto screen, it would have to be a freaking musical.  (Considering how the actual Lord of the Rings: The Musical turned out, I'm glad Peter Jackson didn't try.)

I don't think anybody has actually done justice to the awesomeness of this song, so here, have a complimentary clip of Sean Bean dying again.
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29 October 2013 @ 11:27 am
Strange Fruit
Abel Meeropol

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

'Strange Fruit', often called 'the original protest song', is an iconic jazz piece written in 1937 by New York high school teacher Abel Meeropol.  Meeropol, who was Jewish, was inspired by a photo of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana.  The song became one of the standards of jazz diva Billie Holiday, who first performed it in 1939 at the Cafe Society in lower Manhattan and later went on to record it despite fears of retaliation from record retailers in the South.  At the Cafe Society, she would close her set with 'Strange Fruit'; the waiters would stop all service in advance, the room would be completely dark except for a spotlight on her face, and there would be no encore.  When the song ended, the spotlight would go off, and when the lights came back on, Holiday would be gone.

Here is some rare live footage of Holiday performing 'Strange Fruit'.
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The Lobster Quadrille
Lewis Carroll

“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail.
“There's a porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle – will you come and join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?

“You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!”
But the snail replied “Too far, too far!” and gave a look askance –
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

“What matters it how far we go?” his scaly friend replied.
“There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
The further off from England the nearer is to France –
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?”

'The Lobster Quadrille', or 'The Mock Turtle's Song', appears in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a song-and-dance that the Mock Turtle performs for Alice during a small break in the action in the gardens of the Queen of Hearts.  It is a parody of Mary Botham Howitt's 'The Spider and the Fly'.

Here it is performed by Gene Wilder as the Mock Turtle in the 1999 Alice in Wonderland film.
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27 October 2013 @ 11:50 am

流浪远方 流浪

流浪远方 流浪

为什么流浪 远方

为了我 梦中的橄榄树

[trans. own]

Olive Tree
San Mao

Do not ask me where I come from
My hometown is far away.
Why have I wandered, wandered so far?

For the little birds that soar in the air
For the tiny streams that flow clear between mountains
For the wide grasslands
I have wandered far, wandered.

What is more, what is more
For the olive tree in my dreams
Do not ask me where I come from
Why have I wandered so far?
For the olive tree in my dreams.

San Mao, literally 'three hairs', is the pseudonym for Taiwanese author Chen Maoping (1943-1991).  Self-taught from the age of twelve, she was an avid wanderer and travelled through Germany, Spain and America.  She married her Spanish husband, Jose Maria Quero y Ruiz, in the Western Sahara desert.  She wrote '橄榄树' based on her travels.  The song was made famous in 1979 by Taiwanese singer Qi Yu; in the same year, San Mao's husband died in a drowning accident.  San Mao committed suicide in 1991 by hanging herself in a hospital bathroom with a pair of silk stockings.

This is Qi Yu's rendition of '橄榄树'.
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26 October 2013 @ 11:33 pm
Ain't No Cover
Regina Spektor

it ain't no cover
it ain't no style
I shouldn't bother
he's eight miles high
but I adore him
and I implore him
saying I love none other
but this ain't no style

he sits there smoking
his breath away
he sits there choking
on what they say
but I adore him
and I implore him
saying one of these mornings
I'm going away

the sun is setting
the day is done
good night, my lover
good night, my son
I shouldn't bother
he's eight miles high
but I love none other
til the day that I die

Moscow-born, New-York-based musician Regina Spektor (b. 1980) is my favourite female singer of all time.  But you knew that.