kencraftpoetry

5 posts

My Poem in the Sunday Paper (Or: “Extra, Extra, Read All About It!”)

Although poetry is a familiar sight in small literary and university-based journals, it is increasingly rare to find it in larger, more mainstream magazines and newspapers. Meaning? When you do see poems in such widely-distributed periodicals, you cheer its editors and their priorities, which include getting more eyes on more poetry!

Perhaps the most famous example comes each Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, which features a regular column dedicated to poetry. 

Another, just up the coast a few miles, comes from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald’s Sunday paper, the Maine Sunday Telegram, where the poet Megan Grumbling edits and introduces the “Deep Water” poetry column each week. In the June 13, 2021, paper, she writes a gracious introduction to my poem, “Core Body Temperature,” which will appear in my third poetry collection, Reincarnation & Other Stimulants, due out in a matter of weeks.

Like many of my poems, the idea stems from a few simple words — in this case, a man who once knelt in a Maine lake, water neck-high, on a scorching hot day and told us he wasn’t coming out until he “lowered his core body temperature.” I’d never heard of such a thing, but both the words and the example surely impressed me, leading to this poem.

 

First-Person Point of Dock

dock

Here in Maine, we are in the very heart of what I call Dock Days — mornings and afternoons where you simply while away time on the smooth, sun-struck slats of a dock jutting over a lake.

After a brief heat wave, more reasonable weather has come in. The humidity went to Miami for a few days. The heat signed a cease fire, agreeing to be agreeable, to be more “Maine-like” for the time being.

Dock Days inspired a poem once. I dug it out for a reread yesterday. It’s one of those poems written last for a manuscript (which would become Lost Sherpa of Happiness). One that never had a chance to play the markets and look for a home in some poetry journal.

I often like these orphans best. Never accepted anywhere, but never rejected, either. They just “are,” which is the perfect metaphor for whiling away hours on a dock, like you did when you were a kid and time held nothing against you.

 

From a Dock on a Maine Lake
Ken Craft

Lying here, side of my head resting
on the crook of right arm and gazing
from the grotto of my right eye,
I hear the water and see the creased
dam of my left elbow, the occasional bird
flying through its wild blond grasslands.

The left eye, though. It peers over
the tanned levee, sees the high gold-shot
lake—so high it threatens
to flood and marl the east shore
where clear sky, punctured by treeline,
seeps anemic blue to airy bone.

Shifting to my back I get the sky’s
gas-flame blue scribed by pine and maple
treetops, the firmament a forgotten
language from first-person point of boy.

And my God, the wind! Needles and leaves
nodding like anxious ponies,
wagging like old ladies’ heads
at green gossip. Trees exhaling a ropey
poem of clouds. White thoughts, broken
words, startled birds put to flight. They flock,
elongate, twist and split open like smoky time
seeking its own shore to roost.

So On and So Fourth of July

fireworks

Here we go again. My third least favorite holiday (after Valentine’s Day and Halloween, I mean). The one no one calls July 4th and everyone calls “The Fourth of July.”

Still, this year brings an unusual Fourth. First there’s the elephant in the world, Covid-19, rubbing its hands in glee at the thought of big gatherings. Especially maskless, “I have my rights (to spread disease that might kill people)!” gatherings (thank you, Typhoid Donny).

Second, there’s the dream that America might actually be thinking of circling back. You know, to the mess the Founding Fathers left for future generations (Civil War being the result). The one still festering because of words like these: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (except women, Blacks, American Indians, and assorted other minorities) are created equal.”

What if, some people are finally asking? What if we went back to all the beautiful language and ideals in our roots and made it real for everyone, not just the few and the privileged?

So there’s that.

But this poem, a few years old and originally printed in Issue 14 of Unbroken Journal as well as in my second book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness, is more of a lark. A rant, in fact, against all the  (insert invective here) fireworks. And drinking. And general mayhem particular to colors red, white, and blue.

Hey. American or not, red or blue, too, Happy Fourth to you!

 

IT’S THE FOURTH OF JULY

by Ken Craft

and he’s listening to Oh Say Can You See in a sea of runners and an awakening 8 a.m. heat. The blue smell of Ben-Gay on the mentholated old guys & Axe on the sun-venerating young guys & armpit on the just-rolled-out-of-bed lazy guys & no one’s run a New Balance step yet. The ellipsis after the song’s last line is always a chant of USA! USA! USA! from the fun-run campers who must not read (at least footnotes) because they never feel the wet hand of irony in that disunited “U” running down their body-painted backs.

Jesus, but he bolts when the pistol goes, heat or no. On the course, though, he is passed by sausage-heavy middle-aged men & oxy-huffing retired men & stick-legged kids & women of all stars & stripes. Begrudge not, says the Bible, so he celebrates their speed or their youth, their fat or their fair sex—whatever hare-bodied thing there is to celebrate.

That night, after the picnic-table splinters & charred cheeseburgers, after the fries & bottles of we’re-out-of-ketchup, the fireworks mushroom into night clouds & umbrellas rain down hiss & heat sparkle, made-in-China reds, whites & blues. He cranes his neck, the skies soured with smoke & sulfur, holding tight the hand of his sweetheart.

Then it’s blessed be bed, after the grande finds its finale, only he is wakened by more (USA!) fireworks up the street (USA!) at 11:30 p.m. Still the holiday, after all, ignited by the undoubtedly drunk, after all, because booze is God-Bless-America’s drug of choice, after all. The outdoors explodes until midnight & he’s had about all he can stand lying down & cursed be Thomas Jefferson anyway, with his noble agrarian society & its whiskey rebellions & its pursuits of happiness & its God-given rights & its who-the-hell-are-you-to-tell-me, question comma rhetorical.

You know how this ends: It’s insomnia again. In the shallow, post-patriotic hours of the Fifth of July. Come cock-crow morning, on his walk, Fido sniffs the empty nips & plastic fifths along the sandy shoulder of sleepy roads. There’s even a patriotic Bud box, hollowed-be-its-name, white stars emblazoned on the blue of its crumpled carcass.

God bless America, he tells it.

Poems Inspired by Football

football
Did you know that Super Bowl Monday—the day following the N.F.L.’s championship game—is the most called-in sick day in the United States? Talk about the tail (football) wagging the dog (country)!

As for those going to work, they will no doubt burn some water-cooler time discussing the merits of Super Bowl commercials, even to the point of grading them. So get your red pens out, fans, and see if you agree with the Chicago Tribune‘s writer.

As for me, football is mostly a reminder of my youth. And apparently I’m not alone. Here are three football-inspired poems, the last by me, and the first by people more famous than me (for me it’s 4th and 20 with a minute on the clock—but hope, and apparently Tom Brady, are eternal!):

 

Football Dreams
by Jacqueline Woodson

No one was faster
than my father on the football field.
No one could keep him
from crossing the line. Then
touching down again.
Coaches were watching the way he moved,
his easy stride, his long arms reaching
up, snatching the ball from its soft pockets
of air.

My father dreamed football dreams,
and woke up to a scholarship
at Ohio State University.
Grown now
living the big-city life
in Columbus
just sixty miles
from Nelsonville
and from there
Interstate 70 could get you
on your way west to Chicago
Interstate 77 could take you south
but my father said
no colored Buckeye in his right mind
would ever want to go there.

From Columbus, my father said,
you could go just about
anywhere.

 

First Practice
by Gary Gildner

After the doctor checked to see
we weren’t ruptured,
the man with the short cigar took us
under the grade school,
where we went in case of attack
or storm, and said
he was Clifford Hill, he was
a man who believed dogs
ate dogs, he had once killed
for his country, and if
there were any girls present
for them to leave now.
No one
left. OK, he said, he said I take
that to mean you are hungry
men who hate to lose as much
as I do. OK. Then
he made two lines of us
facing each other,
and across the way, he said,
is the man you hate most
in the world,
and if we are to win
that title I want to see how.
But I don’t want to see
any marks, when you’re dressed,
he said. He said, Now.

 

And finally, my own entry, from my most recent book Lost Sherpa of Happiness:

Trip, Memory
Ken Craft

It starts with the sound of a whistle.
The smell of cigar smoke
riding bareback on October air.
The cheerleaders’ “We got the T-E-AYY-M,”
the dry prayer of their pom-poms.
Me and the boys, uniformly cool—brave
in our home whites and eye black,
our grass-scarred helmets,
our nonfunctional mouthguards,
throwing Hail Mary’s and dropping f-bombs,
our bodies bolting
and dangerous with weedy want.

That’s all it takes—a somewhere referee’s
somehow whistle. I’m 13 again.
I haven’t even begun to think about thinking.
The smell of tobacco is a promise,
nothing foreboding.
And the sight of fallen, windblown leaves
rolling toward my cleats is just that
because my veins breathe and bulge as Coach yells
and my blood hits hard to feel the bruise of pleasure
and there’s no such thing as symbolism
because death is only something cowboys
and Indians do on black and white TV.

 

NOTE: Want to read a fourth football-themed poem? Jump ahead to this post I wrote later  which includes a football poem by Al Ortolani.

The Top 3 Posts of All Time

top3

… all time being since this blog began, that is. I must admit that I began this venture more for the business side of poetry. As the new saying goes, creating a blog would make me a “brand” like “Kelloggs” and readers would click, click, click to buy my books of poetry, poetry, poetry (Editor’s Note: Ha, ha, ha.)

As it turns out, blog readers come to read blogs, not buy poetry collections. But I kept writing anyway. Why? As a warm-up? There’s that. To help myself think when reading poetry? That, too. Therapy of a sort when I post “Random Thoughts” posts. Hoo, boy.

In any event, curious as to what was most popular in the now long history of posts here, I found WordPress’s stats area for posts and Voila! as they say during riots in France, the Top 3 for me were revealed! Here they are:

Number 3 (Third most popular post): 

How To Review a Poetry Collection   I don’t know. What do you think? Students, maybe, assigned a book review on a poetry collection? Maybe, but more likely adults because what teacher assigns poetry collections? Poems, yes. Usually war horses that keep web sites like Schmoop and Sparknotes dot coms in business.

Number 2 (Second most popular post):

A Poem Should Be   Mysteriously popular, as this post is more about what a poem should not be. But it includes Archibald MacLeish’s poem, “Ars Poetica,” along with a definition of that word. Maybe internet searches are seeking his poem? Or a little Latin lesson? Or inspiration to write their own ars poetica? Or jokes about swift kicks in the ars poetica?

Number 1 (Drum roll, please, for the most popular post of all time!)

“Apollo and Marsyas”: Zbigniew Herbert Redux   Apparently translations of Herbert’s “Apollo and Marsyas” on the Net are few and far between. Yes, I get a lot of visits from Poland, according to the country counter, but fans of Herbert are everywhere, poetry being the universal language. Thus, the first place finish. For now.

For now? Who knows. Clicks on my books of poetry, poetry, poetry (now standing at “two” on the counter) may some day catch up, so pass the French fries and salt….