We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed

We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed, photo of Naheed

We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed

Cooking, cleaning, laundry and making a little music have eaten my weekend. I am exhausted from fighting off a winter sickness and cleaning my basement. Forgive me for not presenting a researched and original written piece this day. Instead I would like to present a poem, “We Sinful Women”,  from one of the “badass” feminist poets: Kishwar Naheed.  Naheed is an Urdu poet from Pakistan. She is the founder of the Hawwa Foundation that supports women who do not have an independent source of income. A copy of this poem in English and its original can be found in We Sinful Women: Contemporary Urdu Feminist Poetry by Rukhsana Ahmad.

We Sinful Women

It is we sinful women

who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives

who don’t bow our heads

who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women

while those who sell the harvests of our bodies

become exalted

become distinguished

become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women

who come out raising the banner of truth

up against barricades of lies on the highways

who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold

who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.

Now, even if the night gives chase

these eyes shall not be put out.

For the wall which has been razed

don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women

who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies

who don’t bow our heads

who don’t fold our hands together.

What Sort of Savage?


The world is such an amazing place. So much to explore, so many discoveries to be made, so much to do. It is almost dizzying and sometimes the questions I have spin me. I doubt if I could live five, ten, a hundred lifetimes if I would learn all I want to learn.

Because I cannot live without poetry, I am just going to post a poem by Gary Snyder from his Pulitzer Prize winning collection titled “Turtle Island”.

The Great Mother

Not all those who pass

In front of the Great Mother’s chair

Get passt with only a stare.

Some she looks at their hands

To see what sort of savages they were.

National Poem in Your Pocket Day


Poetry is a happy thing! It is like a puzzle where words are used as tightly as possible to convey multiple meanings and emotion. I love poetry. I love the economy of poetry. And the possible impact.

Today, I am carrying “Crystal Spider Ascension” by Charles Wright in my pocket. What are you carrying in your pocket?

Crystal Spider Ascension

The spider, juiced crystal and Milky Way, drifts on his web through the night sky
And looks down, waiting for us to ascend …

At dawn he is still there, invisible, short of breath, mending his net.

All morning we look for the white face to rise from the lake like a tiny star.
And when it does, we lie back in our watery hair and rock.

Poetry: The Red Poppy by Louise Gluck

I found this poem this evening in my insomniac wanderings across the internet. It struck a chord. Louise Gluck is a poet from New York who is currently a poet in residence at Yale University. Her work has been characterized as being neither “confessional” nor “intellectual.” I liked the simplicity of this poem. It brought to mind the floral paintings of Emil Nolde.

The Red Poppy
by Louise Gluck

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

Poetry: “When You Are Old” by W.B. Yeats

I am currently writing a story revolving around a changeling and have been reviewing Yeats’ poetry. Much of the poetry of William Butler Yeats draws from Irish folklore and mythology. He was greatly influenced and participated in the Celtic Revival of his time period and was linked romantically with Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne. Even though they each married other people and drifted apart, she influenced his poetry. Ezra Pound was also an influence on Yeats’ poetry and Yeats’ poems grew more modern in their expression and imagery but he never gave up using traditional verse forms.

W.B. Yeats left a large and fascinating body of work. He won the Nobel Prize for poetry in 1923. This morning I was reading “When You Are Old.” This one does not draw from Irish folklore and is not romantic in the sense of the romantic movement. I have been thinking about the phrase “pilgrim soul” and what that conjures for me. The final stanza I am still puzzling through. The overall tone of this one for me is regret and lost love. Yeats himself lived to be quite old and passed away when he was 73 in 1939. Please read and enjoy Yeats’ “When You Are Old.”

When You Are Old

by W. B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

The Ode Less Traveled

Next week I will post more six sentence stories!

Today I would like to recommend a fabulous book about poetry titled The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry. Stephen Fry writes in the book:

“I have a dark and dreadful secret. I write poetry…. I believe poetry is a primal impulse within all of us. I believe we are all capable of it and furthermore that a small often ignored corner of us positively yearns to try it.”

In The Ode Less Traveled, Fry offers exercises so that the reader can learn about, explore, and write poetry. It is both a kind of workbook that he expects you to deface as well as a textbook to learn about poetry. He wrote the book and kind of operates on the assumption that most people don’t like poetry because it is mysterious and intimidating. He leads the reader through lessons that help them to not just write poetry but to read poetry with a new perspective.

I highly recommend this book. I write poetry to improve my fiction. I want my words to pull multiple duties and have muscle. Writing poetry helps, I believe, to strengthen prose. I am going to work my way through The Ode Less Traveled in the next few months. I will post about the book and what I discover as I work my through it.

The first lesson in the book is about iambic pentameter. The heroic line. It is about listening to the lines, savoring them, and finding where the stresses are that give the words rhythm.

Go forth and listen aptly for the beats in language!

Poems About Gardens

I was thinking this evening about my gardens in Michigan. It has been a few years since I was able to tend them. I am sure they are filled with weeds and overgrown. Gardens themselves are like poems of the earth to me. This caused me to search for poems about gardens. Here are a few in honor of gardens:

Digging Potatoes, Sebago, Maine
by Amy E. King

Summer squash and snap-beans gushed
all August, tomatoes in a steady splutter

through September. But by October’s
last straggling days, almost everything

in the garden was stripped, picked,
decayed. A few dawdlers:

some forgotten carrots, ornate
with worm-trail tracery, parsley parched

a patchy faded beige. The dead leaves
of potato plants, defeated and panting,

their shriveled dingy tongues
crumbling into the mud.

You have to guess where.
The leaves migrate to trick you. Pretend
you’re sure, thrust the trowel straight in,
hear the steel strike stone, hear the song
of their collision—this land is littered
with granite. Your blade emerges
with a mob of them, tawny freckled knobs,
an earthworm curling over one like a tentacle.
I always want to clean them with my tongue,
to taste in this dark mud, in its sparkled scatter
of mica and stone chips, its soft genealogy
of birch bark and fiddleheads, something

that means place, that says here,
with all its crags and sticky pines,

its silent stubborn brambles. This
is my wine tasting. It’s there,

in the potatoes: a sharp slice with a different blade
imparts a little milky blood, and I can almost

smell it. Ferns furling. Barns rotting.
Even after baking, I can almost taste the grit.

Garden of Bees
by Matthew Rohrer

The narcissus grows past

the towers. Eight gypsy

sisters spread their wings

in the garden. Their gold teeth

are unnerving. Every single

baby is asleep. They want

a little money and I give

them less. I’m charming and

handsome. They take my pen.

I buy the poem from the garden

of bees for one euro. A touch

on the arm. A mystery word.

The sky has two faces.

For reasons unaccountable

my hand trembles.

In Roman times if they were

horrified of bees they kept it secret

Herb Garden
by Timothy Steele

“And these, small, unobserved . . . ” —Janet Lewis

The lizard, an exemplar of the small,
Spreads fine, adhesive digits to perform
Vertical push-ups on a sunny wall;
Bees grapple spikes of lavender, or swarm
The dill’s gold umbels and low clumps of thyme.
Bored with its trellis, a resourceful rose
Has found a nearby cedar tree to climb
And to festoon with floral furbelows.

Though the great, heat-stunned sunflower looks half-dead
The way it, shepherd’s crook-like, hangs its head,
The herbs maintain their modest self-command:
Their fragrances and colors warmly mix
While, quarrying between the pathway’s bricks,
Ants build minute volcanoes out of sand.

Poetry: Jean Valentine’s Ghost Elephants and To the Black Madonna of Chartres

Jean Valentine is a poet from New York whose poems often contain imagination and unexpected elements. Here are two of her poems:

Ghost Elephants
by Jean Valentine

In the elephant field
tall green ghost elephants
with your cargo of summer leaves

at night I heard you breathing at the window

Don’t you ever think I’m not crying
since you’re away from me
Don’t ever think I went free

At first the goodbye had a lilt to it—
maybe just a couple of months—
but it was a beheading.

Ghost elephant,
reach down,
cross me over—

To the Black Madonna of Chartres
by Jean Valentine

Friend or no friend,
darkness or light,
vowels or consonants,
water or dry land,

anything more from you now
is just gravy
—just send me down forgiveness, send me down
bearing myself a black cupful of light.

Poetry: Gary Snyder’s “The Uses of Light”

Today was National Poem in Your Pocket Day. I carried Gary Snyder’s “The Uses of Light” in my pocket.

Here is the poem from Snyder’s Pultizer Prize winning collection titled Turtle Island:

The Uses of Light

It warms my bones
say the stones

I take it into me and grow
Say the trees
Leaves above
Roots below

A vast vague white
Draws me out of the night
Says the moth in his flight–

Some things I smell
Some things I hear
And I see things move
Says the deer–

A high tower
on a wide plain.
If you climb up
One floor
You’ll see a thousand miles more.

Poetry: Sestinas

The sestina is a complex poetic form that uses intricate repetition rather than rhyme to achieve what can sometimes be an amazing effect. It requires a great deal of skill and ability to play with words which makes this form a good form to challenge one’s writing abilities. It makes the writer think about how to use words and how to play with the multiple meanings of words.

The thirty-nine-line form was first created by a French troubadour of the twelfth century named Arnaut Daniel who Dante and Petrarch acknowledged as the master of the form. The name “troubadour” probably comes from trobar, which means “to invent or compose verse.” Troubadours sang their verses of courtly love and court intrigue accompanied by music. They were quite competitive with another. Wit, style, and complexity were the weapons that they used to slay one another and vie to be the preeminent troubadour.

The sestina utilizes a pattern of repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas, ending in a three-line “envoi.” The lines may be of any length. The form is as follows, where each numeral indicates the stanza position and the letters represent end-words:

1. ABCDEF
2. FAEBDC
3. CFDABE
4. ECBFAD
5. DEACFB
6. BDFECA
7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

The “envoi” must also include the remaining three end-words, BDF, in the course of the three lines so that all six recurring words appear in the final three lines. If you want to write a sestina, here is a link to the sestin-a-matic that will help keep the order of the end words in line for you while you compose your poem: http://dilute.net/sestinas/

Sestinas can be fabulous! They require that each use of a word capitalize on a different meaning in order to keep the poem fresh and expand the meaning as a whole. Sestinas can be about any subject and have any tone the poet wishes. Luminary poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Ezra Pound, W.H. Auden, and John Ashbery. Enjoy this selection of sestinas!

Here is Elizabeth Bishop‘s “A Miracle for Breakfast”

At six o’clock we were waiting for coffee,
waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb
that was going to be served from a certain balcony
–like kings of old, or like a miracle.
It was still dark. One foot of the sun
steadied itself on a long ripple in the river.

The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river.
It was so cold we hoped that the coffee
would be very hot, seeing that the sun
was not going to warm us; and that the crumb
would be a loaf each, buttered, by a miracle.
At seven a man stepped out on the balcony.

He stood for a minute alone on the balcony
looking over our heads toward the river.
A servant handed him the makings of a miracle,
consisting of one lone cup of coffee
and one roll, which he proceeded to crumb,
his head, so to speak, in the clouds–along with the sun.

Was the man crazy? What under the sun
was he trying to do, up there on his balcony!
Each man received one rather hard crumb,
which some flicked scornfully into the river,
and, in a cup, one drop of the coffee.
Some of us stood around, waiting for the miracle.

I can tell what I saw next; it was not a miracle.
A beautiful villa stood in the sun
and from its doors came the smell of hot coffee.
In front, a baroque white plaster balcony
added by birds, who nest along the river,
–I saw it with one eye close to the crumb–

and galleries and marble chambers. My crumb
my mansion, made for me by a miracle,
through ages, by insects, birds, and the river
working the stone. Every day, in the sun,
at breakfast time I sit on my balcony
with my feet up, and drink gallons of coffee.

We licked up the crumb and swallowed the coffee.
A window across the river caught the sun
as if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony.

Here is Ezra Pound‘s sestina titled “Sestina: Altaforte”

Loquitur: En Bertrans de Born.
Dante Alighieri put this man in hell for that he was a
stirrer-up of strife.
Eccovi!
Judge ye!
Have I dug him up again?
The scene in at his castle, Altaforte. “Papiols” is his jongleur.
“The Leopard,” the device of Richard (Cúur de Lion).

I

Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let’s to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.

II

In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth’s foul peace,
And the lightnings from black heav’n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God’s swords clash.

III

Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
Better one hour’s stour than a year’s peace
With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
Bah! there’s no wine like the blood’s crimson!

IV

And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And pries wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might ‘gainst all darkness opposing.

V

The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth’s won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.

VI

Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There’s no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle’s rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges ‘gainst “The Leopard’s” rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”

VII

And let the music of the swords make them crimson!
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
Hell blot black for always the thought “Peace!”

Here is W.H. Auden‘s “Paysage Moralise”

Hearing of harvests rotting in the valleys,
Seeing at end of street the barren mountains,
Round corners coming suddenly on water,
Knowing them shipwrecked who were launched for islands,
We honour founders of these starving cities
Whose honour is the image of our sorrow,

Which cannot see its likeness in their sorrow
That brought them desperate to the brink of valleys;
Dreaming of evening walks through learned cities
They reined their violent horses on the mountains,
Those fields like ships to castaways on islands,
Visions of green to them who craved for water.

They built by rivers and at night the water
Running past windows comforted their sorrow;
Each in his little bed conceived of islands
Where every day was dancing in the valleys
And all the green trees blossomed on the mountains
Where love was innocent, being far from cities.

But dawn came back and they were still in cities;
No marvellous creature rose up from the water;
There was still gold and silver in the mountains
But hunger was a more immediate sorrow,
Although to moping villagers in valleys
Some waving pilgrims were describing islands …

“The gods,” they promised, “visit us from islands,
Are stalking, head-up, lovely, through our cities;
Now is the time to leave your wretched valleys
And sail with them across the lime-green water,
Sitting at their white sides, forget your sorrow,
The shadow cast across your lives by mountains.”

So many, doubtful, perished in the mountains,
Climbing up crags to get a view of islands,
So many, fearful, took with them their sorrow
Which stayed them when they reached unhappy cities,
So many, careless, dived and drowned in water,
So many, wretched, would not leave their valleys.

It is our sorrow. Shall it melt? Ah, water
Would gush, flush, green these mountains and these valleys,
And we rebuild our cities, not dream of islands.

Here is John Ashbery‘s “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape”

The first of the undecoded messages read: “Popeye sits
in thunder,
Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain’s hue, a tangram emerges: a country.”
Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: “How
pleasant
To spend one’s vacation en la casa de Popeye,” she
scratched
Her cleft chin’s solitary hair. She remembered spinach

And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
“M’love,” he intercepted, “the plains are decked out
in thunder
Today, and it shall be as you wish.” He scratched
The part of his head under his hat. The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller. “But what if no pleasant
Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my
country.”

Suddenly they remembered how it was cheaper in the country.
Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number 2 can of spinach
When the door opened and Swee’pea crept in. “How pleasant!”
But Swee’pea looked morose. A note was pinned to his bib.
“Thunder
And tears are unavailing,” it read. “Henceforth shall
Popeye’s apartment
Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or
scratched.”

Olive came hurtling through the window; its geraniums scratched
Her long thigh. “I have news!” she gasped. “Popeye, forced as
you know to flee the country
One musty gusty evening, by the schemes of his wizened,
duplicate father, jealous of the apartment
And all that it contains, myself and spinach
In particular, heaves bolts of loving thunder
At his own astonished becoming, rupturing the pleasant

Arpeggio of our years. No more shall pleasant
Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the
scratched
Tree-trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and
thunder.”
She grabbed Swee’pea. “I’m taking the brat to the country.”
“But you can’t do that–he hasn’t even finished his spinach,”
Urged the Sea Hag, looking fearfully around at the apartment.

But Olive was already out of earshot. Now the apartment
Succumbed to a strange new hush. “Actually it’s quite pleasant
Here,” thought the Sea Hag. “If this is all we need fear from
spinach
Then I don’t mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon
over”–she scratched
One dug pensively–“but Wimpy is such a country
Bumpkin, always burping like that.” Minute at first, the thunder

Soon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder,
The color of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched
His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country.