Thursday, August 9, 2012

Martin Seay's favorite poem

My dear friends Kathy and Martin passed through Denver this week at the tailend of a road trip around the Southwest. Over dinner we asked them if they had any favorite ekphrastic poems, as we're teaching an ekphrastic poetry workshop next Thursday at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. That's how we learned that this, by W.B. Yeats, is Martin's favorite poem (he recited it to us, most wonderfully):

YOUR hooves have stamped at the black margin of the wood,
Even where horrible green parrots call and swing.
My works are all stamped down into the sultry mud.
I knew that horse-play, knew it for a murderous thing.
What wholesome sun has ripened is wholesome food to eat,
And that alone; yet I, being driven half insane
Because of some green wing, gathered old mummy wheat
In the mad abstract dark and ground it grain by grain
And after baked it slowly in an oven; but now
I bring full-flavoured wine out of a barrel found
Where seven Ephesian topers slept and never knew
When Alexander's empire passed, they slept so sound.
Stretch out your limbs and sleep a long Saturnian sleep;
I have loved you better than my soul for all my words,
And there is none so fit to keep a watch and keep
Unwearied eyes upon those horrible green birds.

He had such a twinkle in his eye as he said those horrible green birds....

Check out these crazy-ass flowers! They're like rainbow sherbet:


  1. Hey, thanks, EG! This is my favorite poem more because and less in spite of the fact I have next to no damn idea what it means. I think it has something to do with, like, gyres.

    The flower is a lantana! I remember seeing it gone feral at times back home in East Texas. Wikipedia tells me it packs the classic invasive-species one-two punch of having toxic foliage (i.e. critters don't eat it) and edible fruit (i.e. birds will propagate it). Oh, nature! It's cool-looking, though, that's for sure.

    1. Ol' WB sure liked his gyres. I love "the sultry mud" and "the mad abstract dark"

      By the way I really like this picture of you guys -- it almost looks like a portrait in a convex mirror.

    2. I had to look up "topers" by the way...

    3. I did too! It didn't clear much up . . .

  2. It was so good to see--and talk about ekphrastic writing--with you guys. And this picture is rad--it looks like we could be in a band ("The Horrible Green Birds," maybe), and this would be the photo they'd include with our album.

    1. Ha ha, I totally tweeted yesterday that Horrible Green Birds would be a good name for a band.

  3. This poem is so often anthologized and taught that my comment might border on cliche, but I love love love Auden's ekphrastic poem "Musee des Beaux Arts."

    It was one of the poems that really turned me on to poetry as something more than just an occasional or random interest about...oh seven years ago.

    I don't think I'd read this particular Yeats poem, but yeah, that dude did like his gyres, huh?

    1. That's one of the ones in our packet for the class! And Rilke's poem about the torso of Apollo, natch. But we have a couple of surprises (I think) too: a Rosanna Warren poem about a Turner painting and "The Disquieting Muses" by Sylvia Plath.

  4. My favorite ekphrastic poem (much as I shy from such terminology except under duress) is the poem "Black White and Gray and Red Carnations" by Olga Cabral.

    I looked for the poem online but didn't find it. (I quoted some lines from it once in my own blog, but I didn't find the full poem anywhere online.)

    The poem is in Cabral's book Voice/Over: Selected Poems published in 1993 by West End Press. The book is still listed in the publisher's website, though no price is listed, the page at the above link just says to contact the publisher regarding price -- my guess is just a few copies are left.

    The blog article where I quoted from the poem is here.

  5. Fave ekphrastic poem... maybe Girls on the Run. Or Baudelaire's "Une Martyre." (I've wondered if that poem has anything to do with rue de la Femme-sans-tete, where Jeanne Duval lived; but I'm too lazy to research the matter.) Here's an early fave ekphrasis: from Living at the Movies, by Jim Carroll, '72 or '73:


    Blue poles (well?) on the beach
    in a snowless winter and

    I'm too cold to ask you
    why we're here but of course "we are"

    where on the puzzled reef dwarves either
    fish or drown in the abandoned ships

    sharks dissever year-old children in search
    of "young blood" Jersey acting like Europe

    in an instant and lovely Mary kneeling along the quick tide
    to be anxious with thoughts of bare oceans

    that move as the thighs of an eventual sunlight
    like bathers moving closer to their season

    when again gulls perch in their lovely confusion
    "alone," as now, the sand sifting through

    your fingers like another's darkness, it's true,
    you are always too near and I am everything

    that comes moaning free and wet
    through the lips of our lovely grind

    Did something on the beach remind him of the Pollock painting--blue poles for a volleyball net, for example? Or were there some sad people from Poland gazing forlornly at the waves? I liked that the poem accomodated interpretations that were poles apart. "I have next to no damn idea what it means." When I first read it, I thought it had something to do with sex on the beach ("comes moaning free and wet through the lips of our lovely grind"). That was good enough for me. Living at the Movies was one of the first poetry books I bought. I was 19--had a library copy of Reality Sandwiches in my coat pocket--and I found Carroll's book in a mall book store. (Malls used to have book stores and "record stores.") I bought it, and then I went to an arcade and played video games, ho ho.

  6. Put Adam Golaski's Color Plates in your packet!