Monthly Archives: October 2015

Poets for Peace and Change

Tmol Shilshom (Those were the Days)

Tmol Shilshom (Those were the Days)

https://www.facebook.com/events/1708318449383461/

These are the poems for you to follow along that I will be reading at the poetry event with the international organization “100 Thousand Poets for Change: Peace, sustainability, and social justice” October 27th 2015 if time permits:

Back to the Future

Raanana, October 21, 2015, 07:28

You see

The thing about

Terror

Is that

The little things

Walking Daisy

Buying milk

Giving directions

Boarding a bus

Going to a poetry reading

With only the poems

Protecting your heart

Become

an

act

of

courage.

What is Beauty for?

Raanana, October 18, 2015

Don’t tell me there’s no connection

Between physical beauty and

The beauty of your soul.

What is physical beauty for

If not to hint at spiritual beauty?

Better you had hidden your loveliness

Behind some formless burqa

So we wouldn’t trust you.

I saw a photograph of you

So young and lovely

Before she shot and killed you,

A young and pretty soldier

They don’t show her face

I only saw her long blonde hair

Before you came up to her

With your open friendly face

And asked her where some street

On some map was

She apologized for not knowing where

Before you pulled out your long knife

From the folds of your robe

And lunged at her

Allahu akbar in your heart

But met your maker halfway

In death’s banal pornography.

I’m an old man

Don’t lie to me

I might have understood

Had evil hiding in your soul

Raised its ugly head instead of yours.

What were the last thoughts

Passing through your mind?

Did you think they’d carry you

As a martyr on their shoulders

All the way to Jannah?

Life goes on among your people

As it goes on for us

Already discarded as yesterday’s news

With only one old poet to lament

The waste of youthful beauty.

A Tale of Two Cities

Raanana, October 9, 2015

It was the blessed of cities

It was the cursed of cities,

A city located halfway between heaven and earth

And a city halfway between earth and hell,

A city where stones are cool and soft

From evening breezes and countless feet

A city where stones are hot with blood

And sharp with crashing down on heads,

A city purchased with the blood of David

From Jebusites for more than it was worth,

A city worth more today than the blood of all our children,

One city’s Mount Moriah where Isaac was bound for sacrifice

Another’s Al-Masjid al-Aqsa where Mohammed ascended,

A city protected by youthful soldiers

And a city defiled by youthful soldiers,

Jerusalem the capital of Israel

And al-Quds the capital of Palestine

But in truth the capital of no earthly nation,

A city twice destroyed

A city indestructible,

A city about which everything said is true

And one about which nothing said is true.

By the River Jordan

Raanana, August 5, 2015

Once upon a time forgotten,

Or so they say,

God walked alongside Abraham

On goat paths crisscrossing mountains

When they were still new and green,

When Moriah was not yet named.

But sometime later God took his angels

And his box of miracles to his bosom

Leaving us to our own devices,

Existentialism and science.

Perhaps because our faith was not enough,

Because we understood the letter

And not the spirit,

Because His creation could not create

But only destroy itself,

He left us to ourselves.

We fought our enemies oh so bravely

But, when the enemy was ourselves, capitulated.

Now we live in a moral flatland,

Two dimensional creatures on a yellowing page

Without height or depth.

We kill because we can,

We hate and hatred makes a home of death.

By the River Jordan,

By the caves of Qumran,

By the hills of Jerusalem,

We lay down and wept for thee Zion.

Roots

Raanana, October 16, 2015

Many years ago

Shortly after I came to this country

One drizzling January

Near the border

I was patrolling with my rifle

Slung on my shoulder

Left hand cupping the stock

And right hand over the trigger

The red mud they call hamra

Was up to my knees

And made a smooching sound

As I lifted one leg out

And put it back in

Making slow progress

Towards the southern hills

And I remember thinking

How much I was like a plant

With my legs rooted in the mud

Like some sad eucalyptus

Or weeping willow

How I wished I could have pulled up my roots

And put them down somewhere else

If only for a little while

Perhaps in one of their villages

Blocked by our walls and soldiers

And their muezzin’s calls for jihad

From hope on this earth

And I wondered what if any poetry

I would have written with roots

In such a place

But then I think it doesn’t matter

Where you come from

So much as where you’re going.

Three Haiku

Raanana, June 26, 2015

1.

One hundred thousand

Cicadas for change buzzing

On a summer night.

2.

How many poems

Burning on a summer night

To reach my dead love?

3.

Half buried Buddha

Brings peace to my small garden

But not to my heart.

The Law of the Desert

Raanana, July 7, 2014

We say that we follow God

But we are only following our own nature.

This is not a poem, but a prophecy:

Cover your mouth and your eyes,

For there will be an eye for an eye

And a tooth for a tooth

Until we are all toothless and blind.

— Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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We Are the Universe … Resistance is Futile

There is a higher wisdom that our species will probably never attain. It is that we are the universe, not something separate from it. We are the proof that the universe is a living conscious thing. We can never escape from the universe, just like we can never lift ourselves up by our bootstraps, because the universe cannot escape from itself.

The universe is one and it is evolving toward a higher and higher level of organization, some entropy but mostly syntropy.

The purpose of this essay is not to persuade us to abandon our freedoms to be couch potatoes in front of The Price is Right, to ignore the needy, to park in handicapped spaces, to hurt people’s feelings, to poison our environment, to wage war, or to make a buck by taking away someone else’s buck, but to provide a glimpse of what will be considered obviously true by beings not born yet, at least on our small planet.

Just like our atoms, cells, legs and arms, eyes, ears, and mouth don’t have free will, neither do we, because we are not free of the universe and we are not free of each other. Only the universe is free to follow its own will, if it thinks in those terms at all. Maybe it does what it has to do. Freedom is never free of the consequences of its behavior. If it is aware of those consequences, then it is probably not free.

I remember my bayonet training back in 1970 when I was at Fort Campbell Kentucky. This was during the Vietnam war. We were told to yell “What is the spirit of the bayonet fighter? To kill, to kill, with cold cold steel!” and taught the purpose of the runnel on bayonet blades. I couldn’t imagine plunging a bayonet into another living being, human or animal. Of course, US Army indoctrination represented “Charlie”, as we called the Viet Cong, as less than human. They were the enemy. Don’t think twice. Don’t think at all. He who hesitates is lost. Incidentally, the purpose of the runnel is to allow the blood displaced by the bayonet to escape, allowing the blade to plunge deeper. I understood the rationale but I still couldn’t imagine the aesthetics of killing. Never could. Probably never will. Fortunately for me, I was sent to Oberammergau to study military law instead of to Vietnam to fight.

If we are not separate from the universe then we are not separate from each other. There is no duality, no I as opposed to you, no we as opposed to them. There are no winners or losers in wars; there is only loss or entropy. In any future enterprise no one will be left behind because, if someone or something is left behind, he or it will spearhead the entropy that will eventually correct that faulty course of action. That is true for governments, religions, economics, politics, and any social contract.

I am neither the only nor the first to work out the broad outlines of this wisdom. The last lines of W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” say the same thing, though more elegantly and with greater impact. See my previous post on The Power of Poetry for an analysis of his and other impactful poems. Often our poets are the early warning radar that warn us of our incoming follies and provide us with our necessary course corrections.

Think universally but act individually because that is all you can do.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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The Power of Poetry

What is it about some poetry that makes such an impact on us? Of course there are those who see any and all poetry (or art for that matter) as effete snobbery and foppery, princing and prancing around on slippered tiptoes; in other words, less than useless. This is not for them. They’ve probably already clicked on something else.

Back to the power of poetry. Is it a quality of the poem itself or is it an attribute of the reader? If there are those who are impervious to poetry, then there must be others who allow themselves to be vulnerable to the subtle nuances of particular words. If they are vulnerable, then they can be moved, strengthened or weakened, created or destroyed.

But given that, what is it about a poem that can push us over the edge of our banal comfort zones? Poems are often studied in terms of their rhyme, meter (iamb, trochee, dactyl, anapest, spondee, pyrrhic, and choriamb to name a few), patterns (tetrameter, pentameter, hexameter, octameter, etc.) form, device, style, and figures of speech. Although certain of these poetic features can strengthen the punch of a poem, if the punch isn’t there, there’ll be nothing to strengthen; for instance, dactylic hexameter can drive home a powerful message with the galloping of horses’ hooves but the message is the rider.

Sometimes the power of a poem creeps up low and slow behind you and you don’t know what hit you until after you’ve read the last line and sometimes the power of the poem is delivered in just a couple or a few lines, the punch lines as it were.

I asked ten of my friends and relatives to tell me about the poems that had the greatest impact on them. Granted it wasn’t a statistically unbiased sample. Some of my friends are poets and some are philosophers. None of them indicated his or her own works. Here is the question I asked:

What is the most eye or heart opening, gut wrenching, life changing poem you’ve ever read?

I received back 21 powerful (to someone) poems which I analyzed in terms of their punch lines and deliveries, while examining commonalities. Here is what I encountered.

Some of the most powerful poems deliver their punch with irony in the first few lines and then soften it so that you may accept the blow and even bless it, like “On Love” from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet or “On Children” from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Others, like Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish”, deliver a punch that leaves you gasping and continues raining down an onslaught of invective and praises at God, his mother, his other relatives, death, and life, that run together in a confusion of dialectical humanity that leave you reeling. To me Ginsberg’s Kaddish is far more effective in dealing with grief over the loss of a loved one than the traditional Kaddish of Judaism that only praises God and asks for peace for his children without mentioning a word about the deceased or the grief of the survivors. I would venture to say that the real power of Ginsberg’s Kaddish lies in its blasphemy, which we are forbidden to judge, since it was cried out during his mourning. Another example, this time presenting us a view of reality we seldom see, is Ocean Vuong’s “Tell Me Something Good” that starts off in the middle of a minefield and leaps between deaths. In a similar vein, yet more powerful than the previous example, is “Home” by Somali poet Warsan Shire, that pummels you with punch line after punch line about what it’s really like to be a homeless refugee that is guaranteed to wipe that cynical smile of our well-fed comfortable faces.

There are poems that deliver their punch lines at the beginning of each verse, like Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning”, for instance his “Why should she give her bounty to the dead? / What is divinity if it can come / Only in silent shadows and in dreams?” in his second verse or “Death is the mother of beauty” in his fifth.

Sometimes a poem seems the diametrical opposite of power, as with ee cummings’ “l(a” or “loneliness”. Its delicate vulnerability demands your vulnerability in order to respond to it. It is so small, so quiet, so singular that, if you aren’t paying attention, you miss it altogether. The power is in the unfolding of interpretations, the singularity of loneliness, the loneliness of singularity. Another example of the power of vulnerability is William Carlos Williams’ “Of Asphodel that Greeny Flower”, which begins with the poet searching for his beloved in hell (as Orpheus searched for his beloved Eurydice in the underworld of Hades) and was encouraged to find flowers also in hell, and ends saying that, although it is difficult to get something newsworthy out of poetry, “men die miserably  … for what is found there” (in poems).

A poem can be powerful without punch lines, such as “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry, when it taps into a sadness or apprehension that we all feel, in this case the trepidation of mortality and the envy of wild things that seem unaware of their own mortality, although maybe that’s wishful thinking as current evidence suggests that many animals sense death’s approach and fear it. Another example, this time of the continuing relationship of the living to the dead and the dead to the living, is “What the Living Do” by Marie Howe. There are no punch lines. The power of the poems is in the sum of the lines. Yet another example is Theodore Roethke’s “I Knew a Woman” about martyring one’s soul just to be caught up in the moving grace of dancing with a beautiful woman and the greater worth of a moment with her than freedom or eternity. Sometimes the power of a poem comes in the questions posed and answers demanded by the poet of the invisible reader, such as “Scheherazade” by Richard Siken, in his last lines “Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us. / These, our bodies, possessed by light. / Tell me we’ll never get used to it”.

I think I need a special category just to deal with the poems of Sharon Olds who uses extraordinary means to deal with all too common subject matter, like going back in time to warn her young parents not to get married (Sharon Olds’ “I Go Back to May 1937” from The Gold Cell) or to give succor to her abusive father when he was a child abused by his own father (Sharon Olds’ “Late Poem to My Father” from The Gold Cell), traveling forward into the future to glimpse her unborn child pleading to be conceived (Sharon Olds’ “The Unborn”), and staring forlornly at the glittering air of molecules left from her small daughter as though she were beamed down to summer camp (Sharon Olds’ “The Daughter Goes to Camp”).

What else can be said about the summary power of the mystical image at the end of T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” from The Four Quartets: “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time … And all shall be well and / All manner of thing shall be well / When the tongues of flames are in-folded / Into the crowned knot of fire / And the fire and the rose are one.”

Finally there are poems like W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”, two years before America entered the Second World War, that deliver their powerful punch at the end: “And the lie of Authority / Whose buildings grope the sky: / There is no such thing as the State / And no one exists alone; / Hunger allows no choice / To the citizen or the police; / We must love one another or die”. Auden was Anglo-American.

Poems that Had an Impact on one of the Contributors

Contributors

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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