POETS ONLINE ARCHIVE
The Art Of

In "One Art", ELIZABETH BISHOP (From The Complete Poems 1927-1979) gives what Ed Hirsch calls "an instruction manual on loss." Though it sounds quite everyday in speech, the poem is in the villanelle form and uses the repetitions of rhyme and words to create her catalog of losses. It builds from the loss of door keys, to the loss of a continent. The final loss - the "you" of the poem - is the the greatest loss, the one that inspires the poem and its ironic tone.

The "art of" suggests something one is gifted with - not a totally learned skill. We might hear of someone mastering a skill to such a degree that they "raise it to an art form." One can learn to accept loss, but to take it to the degree of an art is much more.

Select something that you will describe as the art of. It should be something that we normally would not think of as an art. The art of leaving, or listening or breathing are, like Bishop's losing, things we would not think of as even being skills. You might give instructions on acquiring your art, describe it, or your own abilities (or lack of them) in mastering it.


YOUR OLD MAN

It could be any old man--
gin-blossom cheeks, beard bled
to coarse and hoary white,
sparking eyes, culpable--

but he is your old man.
Not like they say when they mean
to say "father." Nothing so quaint.
He belongs to you.

It's there around the eyes--
the way they seem to leer
at someone standing just behind
the camera, a woman no doubt,

an oryx or a dikdik in the veldt
gaze of a starving lion - the uncanny
family resemblance. It's you.
You made him this way,

framed the shot yourself,
forced him into this idiot
pose, half fool, half satyr,
half drunk half the time--

but why? Why make this
the money shot? Give him
the years, why not give him
the wisdom? Only make-believe,

this photograph that doesn't exist.
So why put him in a bar
with a drink in his hand?
Why the flaccid face,

the haunted, hollow eyes?
Son, if I were you and I had
to make myself an old man,
I'd ask myself about these

choices. Like any other art,
it's all vision and revision.
Trick is see what you can now
so when you see it again later

it's closer to your heart
than your old man.

R.G. Evans


FENCE-SITTING

On a fence is a precarious place to be - it rankles my ass,
yet I can balance there quite nicely, indefinitely - it's all about anatomy.
I've learned to straddle perfectly
so I needn't tumble
this way

or that way.
It's all about anatomy

and positioning.
When in doubt, don't - someone told me that once,
and I've taken it to an art form - kept it as my mantra.
One can never be sure what's the good side of the fence
or the bad side of the fence - why take a fat chance?
I can fence-sit forever - it may rankle my ass,
but all I have to do is sit on it

indefinitely.
An art form, truly,
and it's all about anatomy.

Pammy


THE ART OF WAITING FOR NIGHT

In her bedroom
Radiant with every shade of orange
There's a desk drawer
Filled with days and
What the sun breeds.

From her window
She can see a moist bank
Near impossible meadows
Draped in gowns of pink and brown.

At the foot of evening's curtain
She waits for night's embrace.

For him, she has to look the way
She always does
After a walk in the rain.

For him, she brings her evening song.
She anticipates his obedient ear.
His soft caresses to follow.
His lips.
Their dance.
And how only the light from
Her eyes guides them
Before they stumble into bed,
Where she gives night
All that she has left
Which is all that she ever has.

But now she's by the window
Next to some memory
That won't go away.
She waits to become
Small enough for night to swallow her
Whole again and again and again.

Twilight is memory that never dies
Before night arrives.
It gives her too much to tend to,
Always too much to have to hold onto.

The last rays of its light
Drill holes in her mind
Forcing upon her a
Grace gentle like rain
That she despises but night demands.

She loves night's rescue though,
His way of making
Her certain that
She was never alive.

The art of waiting for night
Is the end of time.
The abyss in the back of her mind.
The sun and the moon both in
The palms of her hands.

Jim Cody


THE FINAL ART

"How long will it take to learn to pray?"
I asked, even in those early years,
"Will some twilit glimmer show the way?"

Though Mama’s knee, at close of every day
became the safety haven from my fears;
it takes much more than that to learn to pray.

As a growing girl I dreamed away
of angels, heaven, God - all that endears
childhood’s twilit glow along the way.

When teen years held their adolescent sway,
garbled talk of know-it-all brought jeers:
"why should anyone learn how to pray?"

college brought more reasons yet to stray
from childhood gods, I had to join my peers:
losing twilit glow along the way.

Now that years have passed and I am gray
and done with all that endless change of gears,
I know at last that I have learned to pray
as FINAL twilight’s glimmer lights my way.

Catherine M. LeGault


OF WHOM ONE WRITES
"I would never write about someone who is not at the end of his rope" - Stanley Elkin

I who live at the end of a rope
Swinging over an oil burning sea,
I never said, I end with hope.

Yet it is not in my scope
To sing calmly a fatal let it be,
I who live at the end of a rope.

Blinded in eye, stented in heart, cope
While one waits for disaster three,
I never said I end with hope.

When younger I thought I might elope
And now I dream of being free
I who live at the end of a rope.

So holding on one swings, I cope
Hand wedded to tree and destiny
I who live at the end of rope
I never said I end with hope.

Edward N Halperin


COLLAGE
“Test knowledge through experience, be prepared to make mistakes, and be persistent about it.” Da Vinci

Never one to enjoy crayons and paint,
left-handed awkwardness with scissors and paper,
I found peace only in the collage project.

Tearing (no straight cuts for me) people,
bright objects, the wide sea of green grass,
pieces of brick walls and chapel ceilings,
fresco of skin and ocean, waves, sands,
Paris clouds covering part of Chaplin’s face, black and white
then
burst of red poppy!

Gluing as Picasso, Braque and Matisse,
not so childish after all
these colors, textures and associations.
The most poetic of assignments,
one image prompts the next,
some crumbled then pressed flat again,
the edges curl and feeling French we
take colle in hand and squeeze out
more to hold my thoughts.
Coats of matte and gloss will seal it
from your hands.

I tear the world apart
to rebuild it
in my own image.

Pamela Milne


ON SPEAKING

The art of saying more than enough, results in over-kill.
I overstep bounds without consent.
This takes not a wit of skill.

It’s all that empty space I try to fill.
I’m trying to explain what I meant
But, the art of saying more than enough, results in over-kill.

Some politicians I’ve heard have mastered the art of the trill.
Voices are sweet; words are clear, meaning to some extent.
This takes not a wit of skill?

Of the chattering speaker is it fair to think ill?
Her words may be of the best intent
But, the art of saying more than enough, results in overkill

You might say it’s best for her to be still,
But, the voice of the generous speaker is to the shy person leant.
This takes not a wit of skill.

Meaning and context is part of the drill.
Language is personal it’s evident;
As a power play it can kill
But, as a lullaby, with a kind voice my heart fills.

Ellen Kaplan


ON THE ART OF ENOUGH

Life begins when enough is all you need
stars birth light to guide your path each night
with newborn virgin wonder you dream where enough can lead.

Selfish wants and flesh desires come dressed as greed
black as earthly evil had blotted out all light
life begins when enough is all you need.

Abundance scattered and sown like a mustard seed
will prosper and grow when the time is right
with newborn virgin wonder you dream where enough can lead.

In absence of pain you won’t feel your heart bleed
with lightness and grace you surrender the fight
life begins when enough is all you need.

Not trapped nor tempted by lure of speed
you abandon all thoughts of fancy and flight
with newborn virgin wonder you dream where enough can lead.

Only the wise and those alone take heed
stars birth light to guide your path each night
life begins when enough is all you need
with newborn virgin wonder you dream where enough can lead.

Susan Stewart


CHAPTERS 25 - 27

The test is coming soon.
The art of turning,
the art of walking away,
the art of forgetting.
Three key chapters
to learn and master.

More difficult than the earlier tests
the meeting, talking, touching, tasting, sharing
seem so easy now having been passed
I tend to forget the struggle -
the hand not raised to answer,
the foolish answer that got a laugh,
staring at a page
without seeing meaning,
at a loss for words.

Then, the fresh start,
how good it felt to be right again,
to know before I was asked,
to read and understand,
the pencil writing on its own.

And now, the undoing.
Skills learned pass
through us and some
find the art
and see it all.
One piece,
woven by experience,
each thread its own
color, its own place.

Ken Ronkowitz

 

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