National Poetry Month in the U.S.A.


Emily Dickinson


Dear Subscriber,

I guess normal humans remember when they met other humans for the first time. I remember when I met word artists for the first time.
I met Emily Dickinson at age 10, on a rainy day. My family was having one of their frequent fights at home, and I escaped into the local library, my refuge.
I picked up her collected poems and read the first one, from a random page:
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –
Despite my human trials and tribulations, she had opened an inner world of solitude and joy that would stay with me through it all. And it still does.

Emily Dickinson describing herself to a male mentor for whom she may have had “romantic” feelings:

“I am small, like the wren, and my hair is bold, like the chestnut bur, and my eyes like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves.”

That description of her eyes makes me fall in love with her, but I guess he didn’t.

Thanks, Em. Forever yours, Jim

Congratulations to the Poet Laureate of the Government in the United States!

“During her first term, Ada Limón has done so much to broaden and promote poetry to reach new audiences. She also laid the groundwork for multiple laureate outreach efforts to come, many with federal agencies,” Hayden said. “A two-year second term gives the laureate and the Library the opportunity to realize these efforts and showcase how poems connect to, and make sense of, the world around us.”

Sadly, this description of what poets are supposed to do, it seems, doesn’t fit with the poets I appreciate and enjoy. In fact, I like poetry, like my literature, to be what Kafka said a book should be:

“An axe to break the frozen sea within us.” Great poems, to me, are like that also. Society around us creates this “frozen sea,” so connecting to the world that causes it is hardly the remedy for me. Sorry/not sorry. I don’t believe it’s the “job” of the poet to “make sense of the world around us.”

It’s National Poetry Month until April 30th.
Emily Dickinson once said, poetry should “take off” the top of my head, leave me freezing; a cold no fire can warm.
Does the ego inflate when you open your gate?
The flow as it goes can hardly negate.
Your need for respect, it’s your life on the line.
Salinger always said, when asked why he wrote,
“Read my work, it’s all in there,” he spoke.
Why do we write, my fellows-in-muse?
The terrors in the night, the fantasies on the walls,
Of our bedrooms, in the asylums, and in the dirty stalls.
Our money made and lost, or lost relatives, our fear.
How many writers have read very little?
And yet they are so ready to share mettle.
Rilke said a poet should not write until he’s sixty.
I (ego) write because I can’t not write to create.
You review my soul and that’s why I wait.
Artists become fluid when their life is borne at last.
The work is the reward, and the soul is our refuge.
Writers know nothing about anything until the deluge.
Thousands of thoughts mixed in this heady stew.
No wonder some run from artistic expression like the plague.
I’ve been there, I still write, but the womb is making me vague.
Shall I try again? Move my fingers once more?
My brain merely wants to do what Salinger does: a haiku, perhaps?
Words make tapping noise.
Across a line if you see.
Your mind is the joy.
Copyright 2023 by James Musgrave


Emily at work


One final shot into outer space, as I worked at Caltech when we already sent our explorer to Jupiter and its moons in the 1980s (Galileo, 1989). Our Poet Laureate is charged with writing a poem about the 2023 iteration of this “exploration.” I’m afraid if I were in her shoes, I would write something so very abstract or sarcastic that I would certainly get one year cut from my job!

I guess NASA is going to Europa to experience Emily Dickinson’s poetic purpose: “to take the top of your head off.” In this instance, with radiation from Jupiter and sub-freezing temperatures. How poetic. Pretty expensive poem and mission also: 4.25 to 5 billion taxpayer dollars (and still growing). Now that blows my head off, since I pay more taxes than most corporations.

Thanks for reading poetry and artistic expression of your choice. The subsidies for real art are disappearing like the human bodies on Europa.

Best wishes,

James Musgrave

San Diego, CA

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