Monday, February 28, 2011

"Lost," by Carl Sandburg

Phases of Poetry-Writing


Phases of Poetry-Writing

Poets starting out write
poems to please themselves,
one way or another.

Later they write poems
to please others,
then poems to please

themselves and others.
In the next and last phase,
they know what a good

poem is in their way
of writing is and, nothing
personal, they don't care

too much what others think.
Dickinson passed through
these phases all at once

and stayed
in all these phases

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom


An imitative, improvised response to William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) and his ultra-famous poem, "Invictus":


Out of the day that covers me,
Gray as the gray of dull wool,
I thank what gods may hang around
For reminding me I'm a fool.

When things have gone real wrong,
I've reacted well, badly, or okay,
Sometimes up to the challenge, sometimes
Not: the usual human way.

Beyond this sphere of our mortality
Lies who knows what for sure?
Hell, yes, I'm afraid to die--
To go from here to were.

To say you are the captain of your
Fate is bluster and delusion.
Accidents happen all the time,
And captains experience confusion.

If there's such a thing as fate,
Then it's the Admiral,
And we're just lowly deckhands:
How much can we control?

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

"Judeo-Christian Codicil," by Hans Ostrom

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Work Without Hope," by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Adam and Jack, Jill and Eve


Jack and Jill in Eden

Jack and Jill
went up the hill
and ended up
in Eden.

Jack looked 'round.
And so did Jill.
A few stray goats
were feeding.

Jack looked at Jill.
There she stood.
Jack said to Jill,
"You're looking good."

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Poets and Society


Poets and Society

Society doesn't owe the poet
anything. Even if it did,
what leverage does the poet
have to collect what's due?

Do poets owe society
anything? If they want
something from or for
society, then they owe

society poetry that
satisfies something in
parts of that mass. Other-
wise, poets are free. Free

to be sojourners of the
interior, dedicated to
introspection; and to inspection
of the exterior--if they

so choose. Society will
support a relatively few
poets (chosen from a list)
at a time--a mere gesture.

The rest are on their own.
(How wonderful to be on
one's own.) They follow
their own way, which may

(but may not) feature
a sense of
duty to others. Poets owe
themselves poetry.

Hans Ostrom Copyright 2011

Crows, Contented


Crows, Contented

Each time crows
gather I
get glad. They
They are black.
feathers shine. They
look forward.
Have brows.
Are big
and awkward and
deft and smart.
glide well.
are not satisfied.
I do sense,
that crows
with their
irascibility, their
with each other and
the world. And
such nests they build.

Hans Ostrom 2011 Copyright

Sunday, February 13, 2011

W. H. Auden - The Unknown Citizen

"Love," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

A Spinoza/Rubber Bands Re-Post

So someone in the Netherlands re-posted something from this blog--a brief homage to my favorite philosopher, Spinoza, followed by a poem I'd written about rubber bands and in which I mentioned Baruch--or Benedict.

A Spinoza/Rubber Bands re-positng doesn't happen every day. Well, at least not to me.  Yes, yes, I know there are more pressing matters out there, but still: Spinoza, rubber bands, re-posting.

And thanks to those folks in the Netherlands.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"A Girl Combs Her Hair," by Li Ho

Tired of Talking About Race? Really?



Some white folks sometimes say,
"I'm tired of talking about race."
I'd get tired of hearing them say
that and other things about race--
except then I say to myself, Tired?
Really? Try 300 years of slavery,
then getting emancipated into
the terrors of Jim Crow and the
Klan, then 60 more years, and
counting, of endless bullshit.

I've not yet met a Black man
in the U.S. who hasn't been
stopped by the police only
because he's Black. Some
white folks need to warp
who their president is so
desperately, they'll believe

anything--or say anything
to to those who will believe
anything. This isn't about
politics.  It's about something
much deeper and even more
awful than politics. Speaking
of which, I know

this smart man in the South who
knows his politics, I mean
real politics, knows it cold. He's
white. Twice he's told me,
"If it weren't for race, there'd
be no Republican Party  in the South."

So,when I think I might be
tired of what some white
folks say when they use
"tired" as an excuse not
to engage, I think, Really?
Tired? You're tired? Well,
what do you know?

Friends Black and White


Friends Black and White

History made us Black.
History made us White.
Anyway, my wife and I
(history made us White)
invited three friends over
(history made them Black),
women. We five laughed

all night, it seemed. Sure,
we talked about some serious
stuff. One of the friends said,
"I'm about to tell you some
sad shit."  But mostly we laughed.
Teased each other.

One of the women asked me
what I was up to, as I'm always
up to something. "Among other
things, I'm writing blues lyrics--
but," I added, "white guy--blues
lyrics?--I don't know . . . ." She
said, "It's okay. You're on the list."
And we laughed.

History made two of us White.
History made three of us Black.
We made us friends. I mean,
real friends. It takes some work:
friendship--hell, you know that.

You have to want it. You have
to know your histories. You
have to like to laugh and know
when not to laugh, as when somebody's
telling you some sad shit. You
have to want to learn, especially
if History made you White.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Recommended Film: Two Indians Talking

Two Indians Talking is a new independent Canadian film directed by Sara McIntyre and written by Andrew Genaille. It's deftly directed, understated film about what it says it's about: two Cree Indians talking about life, love, right and wrong, beliefs, aspirations, and especially their people.  The conversations occur as the two wait for reinforcements are supposed to help them block a major highway as a way of advocating for tribal rights and title.

Nathaniel Arcand plays Nathan, who is heading toward 30 if not already there. He dropped out of high school and has given up on his dream of being a famous musician.  He is, however, savvier than he pretends to be.  His main interests are women and looking out for the best interests of his people.

Justin Rain plays Adam, a kind of prototypical gifted child who eventually went off to college.  He's well read and opinionated, fierce in his own way, but also a shy loner who is less certain of his views than he pretends to be. He's the reluctant participant in the impending protest, caught between the instinct to live life through gaining knowledge and the necessity to fight back by means of activism.  Adam and Nathan are cousins but the dynamic of their relationship is more like that of younger and older brother.

There are faint echoes of My Dinner With Andre, from back in the day, but these conversations are earthier, less pretentious, and well grounded in the predicament of the Cree in Canada.  Nonetheless, Nietzsche plays more than a cameo role, thanks to Adam and his philosophical bent.

A lot of droll, wry humor threads itself through Adam's and Nathan's bickering and reminiscences as the film develops toward its denouement.

The actor Sam Bob also injects a superb comic performance about two-thirds of the way through.  He appears to be the sum total of the reinforcements but assures Adam and Nathan that "one Cree is all it takes." 

Denyc and Ashley Harry also turn in strong performances as two young Cree women who drop by to see the lads. Denyc plays Tara, who matches Adam opinion for opinion.  Sara McIntyre's careful direction brings out the best in these and other scenes.

The film is, among other things, perfectly suited to college classes in Canada and the U.S. that focus on the situation of contemporary Indians, aboriginal peoples,  multi-ethnic issues, and independent film-making.

Two Indians Talking has already won awards from the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival. It will also be featured at the Victoria B.C. film festival, and this weekend, Sara McIntyre (and the film) will visit the Spokane Film Festival; she will be there February 11 and 12.

Here is a link to the facebook page for the film.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Acceptance," by Robert Frost

As My Generation Dies


Generation Blues

Death's eating into my generation
as it's done with every other one.

I knew it was coming but am
transfixed and awfully grieved still.

A heart-attack here, cancer there,
suicide, accidents, crime . . . "He wasn't

feeling well, so he went up to his
room. They found him dead a few

hours later. Stroke, they think."
The funerals mostly bore me.

Boredom makes me feel guilty,
although the one spoken of isn't

there, and if she or he were, he
or she would be bored, too.

Eventually I'm moved. There is
that one point in every funeral.

The generation blues is an exercise
in sitting still, as in kindergarten.

It's about wondering who's next
and thinking nothing matters--

until after the funeral, when again
we get caught up in life, which matters,

until the next one we know dies, and
we become still again, or the next one

is me, is I, who, dead, will get
instantly and forever still and might

be talked about to people who are
getting fidgety, thinking when will it end?

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Personal Collages


Personal Collages

Early I get there where they're not
waiting for me because they don't
get there early and because they
expect somebody just-on-time.

Short-cuts I like to take when
sauntering back, maybe a
diagonal leaving a sidewalk walking
or taking a strange street driving.

A long time I'll spend on something
because I'm absorbed or compelled
or habitual or relentless. Hardly
any time will I spend on some task

if I'm bored, I'll get it done. These
collages of how each of us lives:
they're assembled from pieces of
temperament and formation,

resistance, weakness, strength,
fear, instinct, desire, and distraction.
Brain-chemistry plays role. They say.
Enchanted, I am, often, when I look

at others' collages of habits. Their ways.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Professional Golfers


Professional Golfers

Each walks in front of someone hauling
a bag of silver sticks. Each one selects
one stick and wags and wields it,
comically attacking a white nut on
the ground.  A groomed pasture
without animals is the setting.

Sometimes there's a lost pond or
a piece of stolen beach among
the undulations.  Even the old
golfers look like girls and boys,
with caps and visors and colorful
clothes. Apparently the ritual

is absurd but remunerative.
The Platonic Ideal is to never
strike the spherical nut, so that
your score is zero--no strokes
of  silver sticks in a pastoral
frieze without lambs. Now up

out of one of the denatured
beaches comes a hermit-crab,
surrounded by a dry, green
ocean, blinking, bewildered,
not a member of the club.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Bedtime," by Denise Levertov




Is it out of fashion? Naive? Quaint?
People are nice, cool, okay, decent,
and all right. But: kind? Kindness is
small-town and small-time. I like it.
I like the hell out of it.

To be friendly for no reason other
than the person is your kind (human).
To do a good turn. To look away
at just the right moment. To notice
when noticing's needed. To provide
some assistance.  Narcissists

and bullies hate and therefore exploit
kindness like wild dogs devouring meat.
Don't spend kindness on or near them.
Don't impose kindness on anyone.
The kind move, it seems, must
be a deft move. Just enough.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

slow down


slow down

a north carolinian i know continues
a quest to know himself & out west
i think that's good because most people
are on the same kind of path but don't
know it or won't admit it. me, i've

been running, pushing, working,
catching up, and attempting
most of my life & now have to
train myself to stop, look, think,
but mostly stop: life's not

something to solve through work
and will. if you'd know something,
then slow something down, i
tell myself, thinking of the north
carolinian in question, his schedule
spare and regular, allowing
 patient thought. slow down.
slow, i tell myself. whoever
myself is must look into that.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

One Poem, Three Readers: "Shivering Sands," by Philip Quinlan

Nic Sebastian manages the site, Whale Sound, which features, among other things, group-readings; the way they work is that three readers read (record) the same poem.  Nic kindly invited me to read Philip Quinlan's "Shivering Sands," so thanks to her for the invitation, and to the poet for the poem.  Here is a link to the three readings (the poem is not long):

"Shivering Sands"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Frederick Douglass 1817-1895," by Langston Hughes

A Lake


A Lake

A lake's a lovely dot
that should have ought
to have been if it weren't.
Lakeside, see the burnt
place inside stones:
campfire. The many zones
of any sort of lake
amaze: here fish wake,
there sleep. Shelves, shallows,
a glass surface where swallows,
evenings, select sweet bugs
to eat. Cool shade for slugs.
Shadows, where the muck
rules. A cove where a duck
feels safe and mutters.
Trees behave like shutters,
filtering light, allowing moss.
Humans can't help but toss
junk into lakes. I don't know why.
In the lake, see the sky.
Sit by the lake. My Lord, the sounds.
Even in small lakes life abounds,
from single-cell and bug to frog
to worms beneath a sunken log.
Fish jump, cruise, dive, and school.
Patient lakeside raccoons drool.
Kingfisher and eagle do espy,
and hawk with an awful eye
perceives a chipmunk by the lake.
(Back up that tree, for heaven's sake.)
A blue acceptance, is a lake,
made of snow or stream or spring,
a lovely, yes, a functional thing.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom