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Hot Weather Poem: The Emperor of Ice Cream

July 25, 2016

Stevens said this was his favorite of his own poems.  I’ve always loved it, first for the sounds and lush words, gradually for the scene that began to emerge.  My grandparents, just  a little younger than Stevens, shared his sense of ice cream as something new and magical.  My grandfather smiled at its mention in the same way he did when he described seeing women’s ankles for the first time as hems began to creep up.  My mother remembered hand-cranked pineapple ice cream as her favorite childhood dessert, and made a note in my baby book when I had my first taste of ice cream–then finished the bowl and wanted more.  Stevens’ poem captures the thrill and delight and sensual pleasure of ice cream, and its evanescence: death is just in the other room.  I found this great account at the Poetry Foundation.

Feel free to add your own thoughts about the poem, ice cream, and other hot weather favorites.

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
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Poetry Makes Nothing Happen

June 15, 2016

51hnlWJ4w2L._UY250_Auden said that, not as a criticism of poetry but as a defense of it against ideological pressures in the 1930s from both the right and the left that poets take sides.  When it comes to writing my own poetry, I am with Auden, and with John F. Kennedy, who declared that “Society must make the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him [or her].”  And I agree with Yehudi Amichai that “all poetry is political. This is because real poems deal with a human response to reality and politics is part of reality, history in the making. Even if a poet writes about sitting in a glass house drinking tea, it reflects politics.”  Following a number of recent tragedies people have posted Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” just as the New Yorker did after the nine-eleven attacks.  He didn’t write the poem to address any specific event, but it speaks to our hearts and minds about many of them.  I’m interested to hear your thoughts about how poetry speaks to tragedy, and whether it’s most moving to you if it does it deliberately or indirectly.

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June 4, 2016

Welcome to The Poem Itself: A Conversation, the new incarnation of The Poetry Conversation.  I chose the new title for several reasons.  First of all, that’s what all our talk comes down to: the poem on the page, in the throat, in the heart and in the mind.  “No ideas but in things,” said William Carlos Williams.  And Wallace Stevens titled a poem “Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself.”  I’m interested in the poem as a thing, made of words and music.  T. S. Eliot dedicated The Waste Land to Ezra Pound not as the better writer, but as il miglio fabbro, the better maker.  We poets write things in our notebooks, and then we make something of them.  We translate private worlds into public objects that can be walked around, talked about, and peered into.  I hope our conversation will include a wide range of subjects, from individual poems and poets, to different kinds of poetry, to the relationship of poetry to other art forms, to its social and cultural context, to aspects I’ve never thought of–but you have.  You can comment on the current post by clicking on its title to the right, and after you make your comment you can check a box to see all responses to it.  You can also subscribe to receive the most recent post automatically.  I hope to see you here soon.


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