Category Archives: Poetry

The Big Giveaway

During the months of May and June, during selected five-day periods, I will be giving away the Kindle versions (E-books) of all my books. I will share this with all my friends and followers, and everybody else who views my posts on the social networks to which I contribute. If you know someone else who might enjoy taking advantage of my generosity, please feel free to spread the joy to your friends. After June 10th I go back to being my usual miserly self.

Poetry:

Science Fiction:

Essays:

If you don’t have a Kindle to read the book you want to download, click on the “READ ON ANY DEVICE” button or the “Read with Our Free App” link on the book page to download the free Kindle software to your pc, Mac, tablet, or smartphone. Then click on the Buy now with 1-Click. You will see that the cost is $0.00. Make sure you download the book during the period next to the book you want to read.

Additional Offer!

The first six people to write a review (preferably glowing) about the book they read will receive a free hardcopy paperback version of one of my books from the list above.

So what are you waiting for?

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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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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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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The Flying Poetry Creation Contraption

Most people are not very creative. They are very good at doing what they’re told but are often stuck in neutral when they have to figure out what to do by themselves. Even creative people have a difficult time being creative. Their creative ideas go only so far and then that well can dry up for an awfully long time. There’s a reason for that. Creativity requires a certain degree of randomness, unpredictability, or surprising yourself. It’s not something you can use logical deduction or induction to get to. It’s not linear. It’s a step function. You don’t have it, don’t have it, don’t have it, don’t have it, until Eureka! You have it. Where did it come from? Out of the clear blue sky.

Most humans are pretty good at deduction and induction, but we aren’t very good at randomness at all.

We tend to do the same things over and over, we tend to be predictable, and we don’t know how to surprise ourselves. Actually we are not as predictable as machines because of our all-too-human errors creeping into everything we do, but we don’t know how to harness those errors yet for creativity. My signature is slightly different every time I sign it. I suppose I could invent something that turned the differences in my signatures into random numbers but it’s much easier and cheaper to use a random number generator function in a MS Excel macro, which brings me to the rather strange title of this blog post: “The Flying Poetry Creation Contraption”.

I’ve programmed an Excel spreadsheet to help me freely associate my noumena (the objective world, the external world as it is) and phenomena (my subjective world, my internal representation of the world) to generate in a semi-automatic fashion ideas for poems. It’s semi-automatic because it can’t generate a finished poem, although it sometimes comes pretty close.

Here’s how it works:

  1. I created 10 categories or lists. My categories are People, Animals, Plants, Places, Time, Objects, Phenomena, Senses, Emotions, and Actions. These are the dimensions of my experience. You can make your own categories and lists.
  2. I populated each list with 31 different power words or names, different sets of words for each category. A power word is a word or name that elicits a powerful response in you when you contemplate it. Each of us has his or her own power words. I won’t share mine with you because they are internal, raw, deeply personal, and they wouldn’t have the same impact on you as they have on me. You can come up with your own power words for your own or my categories. Why 31? It’s just a number. I’ll probably increase it over time. You could start out with 6 or 12, or any other number. I’ll explain why 6 or 12 below.
  3. Then I created a function (randbetween) in Excel that generates a random integer between 1 and 31 and uses it as an index into each of the 10 lists to pull out the word at that offset. If you don’t have Excel or know how to write functions, you can use a single die or a pair of dice to generate a random number as an index into your lists. Just roll the die or dice for each list (not one time for all the lists, but once for each list).
  4. This is one of the lines I randomly generated:
People Animals Plants Places Time Objects Phenomena Senses Emotions Actions
Dad frogs orange tree woods eternity stars stories unseeing adventurous limp

Randomness is the basis for an algorithm of creativity. This is how creativity will be programmed into robots and artificial intelligence.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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100,000 Poets for Change

I have been invited to read some of my poems at an event associated with the Israeli chapter of 100,000 Poets for Change to be held in Jerusalem on November 6th at 8:30 p.m. Then I got to thinking about it.

First off, 100,000 seems like an awfully big number for poets even on a good day. I wish there were. Think of what the world could do with 100,000 Homers, Virgils, Shakespeares, Miltons, Whitmans, Eliots, Pounds, Bonnefoys, … You get the idea. Still, if I could wish for 100,000, I could wish for a million or a billion. What if everyone were a poet?

Secondly, “Poets for Change” sounds like something with a political agenda. Poets and politics don’t really mix. I remember writing a poem in Israel during the summer of 1983:

Sitting at a bus stop
outside the village of the grandfather,
attending to the quiet flickflicking
of the sprinklers in the orange grove.
My eyes rest on the concrete water tower
squatting behind the distant eucalyptus.
It seems so out of place,
Like a politician at a poetry reading.

Thirdly, what kind of change are we talking about here? Changing from what to what? It’s a common enough cry over a megaphone in mass demonstrations: the people want change! Have you ever tried to make your way through the crowd to the guy with the megaphone and ask him what kind of change does he mean exactly? The people want change! What do the people want? Change!

But seriously, what the organizers of 100,000 Poets for Change around the world want, and have wanted since the group’s inception in 2011, is real, is simple, and is worth wanting; just two things: peace and sustainability.

Peace means live and let live. Let others live even if they think differently than you. Do no harm. Be at peace with others. Be at peace with yourself. Be at peace with your planet. That would be a change. That would be the biggest change in our history.

Sustainability is kind of like what I was talking about in my previous post, “Morality and Religion“. Sustainability is Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Sustainability means doing things that, if everyone did them, would not destroy our society or our world. Peace is sustainable, if you can achieve it. War is not. When asked what weapons would be used to fight WWIII, Albert Einstein was reputed to have answered, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” This would be an even bigger change than peace.

I believe that poets, artists, and musicians are better suited than most to carry the banner of change into our future. As I wrote in Morality and Religion, “Literature, poetry, music, and art train us to feel things we’ve never felt before, to sympathize, and to empathize with anyone and anything around us.” Sympathy and empathy are what we need for peace and sustainability.

See you all at the poetry reading.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Giacometti on Pluto

We walked tall

Like creatures of a Giacometti god,

Our heads among clouds,

Our feet on clods of dirt,

And our hearts somewhere in between.

We loved in the clouds,

We swooped and soared

Our sweet insanities,

We were gods in our heads,

Gods of the seventh sphere.

We defecate and give water

In the mud and dry leaves,

We couple and give birth

In the long shadows of drowsing mosquitos,

We die in shallow worm holes

Until we can die no more

And then our crackling bones

Turn to dust in the slow fires of time.

And our hearts?

Tell us about our hearts!

They are broken,

They are bleeding,

They are the food of Incan gods now gone,

They are as useless

As a poem on Pluto.

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Nisht a’hair un nisht ahin

What’s it really like to be an English-language poet in Israel? What’s it like to speak, read, and write in more than one language? I was inspired to write this post after reading an excellent article by Dara Barnat, entitled No One’s Mother Tongue: Writing in English in Israel, appearing in the English & French poetry journal “Recours au Poeme”. It is well worth your reading, but don’t be daunted by the French at the beginning of the article if you are monolingual; the original English follows immediately. For those Francophiles struggling along in English, Sabine Huynh translated Dara’s article into French. Sabine is a talented poet in both French and English, and translates six languages at last count.

To answer the first question, I suppose it’s somewhat like being a Hebrew-language poet in America; not because so few people read English in Israel or Hebrew in America, but because so few people read poetry in any country. More people would rather read a blog post on poetry or see a movie about a poet, than read an actual poem. But seriously, Dara makes a valid point that being an English-language writer in Israel makes one “different”, “not normal”, and casts one in the undesirable role of being an outsider, insiders being those who are “normal”, who eat out of the same mess kit as you, who love what you love and hate what you hate. The funny thing about that is that’s the way I felt in America too. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing, except that’s the way I feel in a synagogue too.

Now would be a good time to explain the title of my post, “Nisht a’hair un nisht ahin”. It’s Yiddish for “neither here nor there”. That’s how a true outsider feels.

As for the second question, I speak, read, and write in English and Hebrew. English is my native language, my mama lushin, but I’ve lived in Israel more than half my life, so I don’t have to translate my thoughts from English to Hebrew. I think in both languages. I used to speak Spanish and German too, but unfortunately those tongues have atrophied in my mouth. So a curious monolingual might ask “what’s it like?” We see the world around us through our eyes but we filter what we see through the structures of our language. Actually there are a lot of different filters that raw reality has to pass through before it enters our minds, such as the structures of culture, of religion, and of nationality, but language precedes them. If we experience something for which we have no word or form of word, then we are not likely to remember that thing. We may not even be aware of it. Most languages possess common structures, or else we’d never be able to translate from one language to another, but every language also has its own unique structures. Hebrew speakers see the world through both common and unique language structures, for instance the concurrency of biblical time with modern time, the timelessness of the Holocaust, the synesthesia between our children and our soldiers, our love-hate relationship with religion and politics, our dependence on and mistrust of the outside world, the suspicion of abandoned baggage, to name only a few of our unique language structures. These will never be translatable into English or any other language. So what I am saying is that I see the world through both sets of language structures at the same time. The realities I see are painted from a richer palette. Richer is not necessarily happier. In my case, it’s sadder.

There is so much to love, but there is so much to lose and it can be so lonely when you’re an outsider looking in.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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