poetry

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Diane Seuss & the Sonnet Renaissance

Diane Seuss, whose element is poetry, has found a more refined element still. Sonnets. Or at least something sonnet-like. In her new book, frank: sonnets, she delivers a generous serving of poetry stretching 130 pages long. Not something Petrarch or Shakespeare would recognize, but sonnets nonetheless, at least by modern standards, where poetic licenses can be had with a quick visit to town hall (bring your driver’s license).

What makes a Seussian sonnet? Fourteen lines, mostly. In an interview, Seuss says she holds somewhat to the meter and rhythm clause, too, which is visually evident on each page, what with the line breaks staying close like sled dogs under the command, “Mush!” Voltas can be found, too. It’s Italian for “turn,” and signals a change in the poem’s direction.

Beyond that, though, the sonnets show little resemblance to what we were force-marched through in school. But boy, do they go down easy. Voice in spades. An easy style. A way with words. Each sonnet is double-spaced. Each shows a special knack for naming things – choosing the right specific nouns to help readers visualize just so. Sound devices, too, like alliteration, assonance, consonance. And yes, everyone’s favorite: metaphor in abundance, like roadside daisies.

The design is memoir-like. Seuss mines her past, her childhood, the death of her father. It moves on to her own coming of age, a relationship with a man named Kev, the birth of a child named Dylan. And the man on the cover – Mikel Lindzy – a friend of Seuss’s who would be lost to AIDS during the 80s, plays a role in some poems, as does a man named Frank makes cameos, too.

If you must know what it’s about, then, I’d say “life,” which translates to “pretty much everything.” To quote Traci Brimhall’s blurbed list: “poverty, death, parenthood, addiction, AIDS, and the ‘dangerous business’ of literature.”

Raw? At times. Bittersweet? That, too. Wry and funny? Yes. In short, the narratives and the voice in these sonnets win readers over and make of the them a willing confidant. What’s more, as is true with all good poetry books, once you finish you need not feel lonely (another theme, by the way). You can dive right back in. There are a lot of pearls on the ocean floor, after all, and sometimes you see new and better ones the more you dive.

You don’t have to be from the Show Me state to crave examples, so I’ll offer two no matter what your state of mind. They will give you the gist, I think, and if you’re like me, you’ll like what you see. For that matter, if you’re like me, you’ll say this is one of the stronger poetry collections you’ve read in 2021. And finally, if you’re like me, you’ll rejoice at the rumor that Seuss plans to write another collection of sonnets in the near future.

Like I said: Diane Seuss, whose element is poetry, has found a more refined element still. Sonnets.

 

 

 

All things now remind me of what love used to be. Swollen cattails in lonely

places. Gluey conditioner in my hair. Firm books. Their variegated spines.

Swirl of words like a stirred cocktail, whirled umbilicus, pulsing asterisk.

The past is this: to have been young and desirous and to be those things

no more. In the future the cattails will explode without me. I pray they will

not go unseen. Who will ride the cemetery horse? Incorrigible blond forelocks

blowing in their eyes. The present tense: to take a loveless path is to court

a purple-blue emptiness, like a disco or a grotto. Or the cave where dead bodies

are stored in the winter, when a shovel can’t break through frozen ground.

I have seen such spaces. I have been alone in them. Sound of water lapping.

Animals calling to each other. Echo of my own breath. Smoke pouring

from my mouth in the cold. Memory, interloper in the corner who means to kill,

heavy rock in its hand. And poetry. This poem right now. This one-night stand.

 

 

I fell in love with death, he isn’t mean, his kisses wet and sweet.

Broken pocket watch, strange chain, like an extra in a Western

who appears at the edge of the screen perched atop a lame horse.

Thinness at the hips, the incubator of is breath. Mother tongue

in his mouth. Kinky, but in the most earnest, heartfelt way: he

sucked my fingers while I read him Peter Pan, itself a children’s book

about dead children. His only perversion is innocence, doesn’t try

to ruin Christmas but ruins it anyway, young uncle in the disturbing

T-shirt who just can’t get into the spirit of the holiday. Try, some

female relative whispers in his ear through her lipstick, just try.

He wipes away her kisses, disingenuousness not in his repertoire.

Can’t fake it. If his eyes are hollow it’s because he’s feeling hollow.

If he’s in the mood he calls me at twilight from some meadow,

Describes how the sun digs its own grave, the copper afterglow.

Old Books’ Fountain of Youth? TikTok.

When opportunity knocks, you say “TikTok” and open the door.  The New York Times reports that books released years ago have come on like Lazarus and his pet Phoenix thanks to teenage girls.

“Huh?” you say. The answer (like most, as in “Dr. Oz.” after “Who was Jeopardy‘s most ill-advised guest host?”) lies in cultural happenings of the moment. In a symbol, it’s #BookTok, wherein girls read excerpts from any old book (and books grow old quickly), then cry with the beautiful sadness of it all.

As any husband or boyfriend will tell you, crying is powerful stuff. Teen criers (a modern version of Ye Olde Towne Criers) have taken such books as We Were Liars (published 2014), The Song of Achilles (2012), and The Cruel Prince (2018), returning them to release-date sales status.

For authors with books gathering dust under their beds, this can only mean one thing. (Hint: It does not involve sending review copies to magazines and newspapers or doing readings in front of three socially-distanced mask wearers who left their wallets home.)

That’s right: send copies of your books to the teary girls mentioned in the Times article. Or to your nieces and granddaughters on TikTok. Instructions: Read, cry, record.

Why? Because TikTok, previously the province of teen dance moves, is now the latest publishers’ marketing plan no matter when your book came out.

P.S. If you are a #BookTok reviewer in search of some sad (as in the emotion, not quality) poetry, please hashtag contact me #ASAP for free review copies of my first two collections. I will make your job easier by pre-sticky noting the especially teary ones while supplies (and attached dust bunnies) last.

Don’t look in your rearview mirror now, Amanda Gorman, but here come my new sales numbers now.

Yours, too, if you calibrate your TikTok correctly. Good luck!

“Attica! Attica!” (Or, “Please Don’t Tell Me What to Write”)

viet

For most, the year 2020 couldn’t end soon enough. It finished on more than one sour note, two of them being Covid’s sprawling gains and Donald Trump’s all-consuming narcissism, which rendered itself both in his pouting refusal to accept defeat and in his willingness to burn down the country as retribution for that defeat.

Less seen but equally disturbing is a trend that popped up in the literary scene: critics who have decided what writers should and should not be writing about under circumstances such as these. Two good examples appeared in The New York Times just as the year 2020 fizzled out.

Let’s start with the lesser of the two: Times critic Dwight Garner’s review of Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn. Garner panned the book in a big way, which is his right. It’s what critics do, after all.

What struck me as odd, though, was Garner’s reasoning. He lifted a Salman Rushdie quote on what a poet’s work is: “to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep,” and used it as  both beginning and end — as propped-up Gospel and reason to rip the majority of the book’s poems:

“Much of the tepid free verse is about flowers. Or birds. Or trees. Harold Ross, when he edited The New Yorker, was wise to rage against tree poems.

“Three poems talk about senior hours at the supermarket. Others consider Netflix, pesto, almond tarts, tidying up the pantry, going for a drive, owning six boxes of penne that is gluten-free. ‘Free the Glutens’ was Tom Waits’s memorable chant. ‘They’ve never had a country of their own.’

“A few of these poems evoke the realities of blue-collar life, but mostly they’ve been written as if by comfortable indoor cats.”

It’s snarky fun and makes for splashy press, but it all sounds rather imperious, as if definitions of poetry are the province of Salman Rushdie (and his pawns) or, for that matter, Salman Rushdie alone. Yes, that’d be a Salman Rushdie who does not write poetry — or, if he does, certainly doesn’t specialize in it.

Bigger transgressions occurred on The Times front page, where novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen penned an op-ed piece called “The Post-Trump Future of Literature: What Will Writers Do When the Outrage Is Over? Will They Go Back to Writing About Flowers and Moons?”

It’s a rhetorical question, obviously. Yes, they will, Nguyen complains, but no, they should not. His argument is that writers should be dealing in politics by writing against colonialism, war, white privilege, and similar riders of the apocalypse.

In Nguyen’s opinion, at present, only marginalized writers are holding up their end of the deal:

“Mr. Trump destroyed the ability of white writers to dwell in the apolitical. Everyone had to make a choice, especially in the face of a pandemic and the killing of George Floyd, both of which brought the life-or-death costs of systemic racism and economic inequality into painful focus.

“But in 2021, will writers, especially white writers, take a deep breath of relief and retreat back to the politics of the apolitical, which is to say a retreat back to white privilege?

“Explicit politics in American poetry and fiction has mostly been left to the marginalized: writers of color, queer and trans writers, feminist writers, anticolonial writers.”

It is a call to arms against arms, and a noble one in spirit, but there’s one small problem with its packaging. As was true with Garner’s criticisms, Nguyen is not so much suggesting as demanding that writers dive into blue collar slash political slash social justice issues. Ironically, his op-ed piece is a type of colonialism unto itself — occupying and suppressing, as it does, writers’ choice and free will. Instead of the ignominious “Build a wall, because I said so!” we get an equally ignominious “Write political outrage, because I said so!”

It all reminds me of high school, where writing topics were dictated by the indisputable arbiter and iron rule of the teacher. If a student was moved by, say, nature, his or her topic was forbidden or frowned upon. Robert Frost, you can take this note to the office while the rest of us write about the assigned topic, and all that.

The poet Jericho Brown, in an interview, says that all love poems are about politics and all political poems are about love. His is a wider, more generous scope, allowing writers to write what they know best and / or what moves them, allowing readers to not only choose their own subject matter but to interpret their readings in more metaphorical ways.

If we as readers are not happy about moon or flower or tree poems, we are free to use our ultimate power and not read books about such frivolous topics. And if we are more invested in crows circling over a pond on a windy fall day than the whims of Mitch McConnell’s power plays in Washington, so be it.

Both of these come from the same basic rights that make us free — at least in a democratic society — to define poetry or any other genre for others, and to say what should or should not be written and judge writers not by how they write, but by what they write. That is, I disagree with Rushdie, Garner, and Nguyen, but in the spirit of Voltaire. I defend their right to rant about it, even while I question their logic.

After all, these words themselves are political. They are my choice — a word I happen to like more than Garner or Nguyen do, I think.

Annotations of a Chapter on Revision: Part II

dobyns

As a follow-up to the post before this, here are the remaining annotations I made in the “Revision” chapter of Stephen Dobyns’ estimable book, Next Word, Better Word.

  • “Rilke said in a letter, during the writing of New Poems, that subject matter is always pretext.”
  • “A different sort of change of perspective is to write in other forms, especially sonnets, but also villanelles.”
  • “…in one’s readings, one should also seek out different perspectives, and read for contrast: contemporary, modern, nineteenth-century poems and before, and poems in translation from any language. To read only contemporary American poetry limits one’s sense of possibility.”
  • “When one changes from first to third [point of view], it puts emphasis on details that might have gotten short shrift when the poem was in first person.”
  • “…the poem may have a vague you who might be lover, mother, father, or friend. Such a usage only confuses the reader. Putting the poem in third person can clarify the nature of that you and help to show where necessary information is missing.”
  • “The Belgian novelist Georges Simenon once described his revision process as going through the manuscript and cutting out everything he thought beautiful, by which he meant anything self-indulgent. Be suspicious of what you consider the most successful parts of the poem. Just because a line is well written doesn’t mean it’s necessary.”
  • “The poem, among other things, is a piece of theater. That, too, needs to be reflected in the writing. Lines should have interesting words.”
  • “One’s use of small words — conjunctions, prepositions, articles, pronouns, and so on — may be necessary to form unaccented syllables to set against accented syllables, but a line made up mostly of small uninteresting words saps the poem’s energy. In addition, each line has to contain within it a reason to read the next line.”
  • “One must constantly go over one’s word choices to see if they connote or suggest a meaning one doesn’t intend.”
  • “In a classical sentence the most important words are the final words. This also creates energy as we try to anticipate what will happen. Are important words revealed too early in the sentence?”
  • “Likewise, the writer should restate his or her sentence in its simplest form — See Spot run. –and then compare it to the original. Are those extra words necessary?”
  • “The tone of the poem should be established at the beginning. If it changes later, it must be by design. Likewise, the range of diction — the word choice, or vocabulary — used in the poem must be established in the beginning. If some other sort of diction appears later, it can change the tone.”
  • “Generally, what we get in the first lines is the poem’s range in diction and tone. Any poem teaches us how to read it. This is how that teaching begins.”
  • “The line and the sentence can have a slightly different rhythm. The contrasting sound of both together is called counterpoint. Where the sentence begins on the line affects this rhythm. Some writers, such as Charles Simic, begin most of their sentences at the head of the line, which creates a sense of control. Many inexperienced writers begin their sentences at any available point, which creates a sense of the gratuitous.”
  • “To bury an important word in the middle of a line weakens the sentence. Emphasizing an unimportant word at the beginning or end of a line does likewise.”
  • “An enjambed line creates tension; an end-stopped line creates rest. A long sentence creates tension; a short sentence creates rest. Obscurity creates tension; clarity creates rest.”
  • “…any sound or rhythm within the poem can be repeated to create the expectation of a reappearance.”
  • “If tension keeps building without a rest — for instance, using one enjambed line after another — the reader may grow weary and turn away from the page.”
  • “If we come upon a double stress or a spondee, we assume the writer is trying to tell us something. Otherwise, why would he or she insert the emphasis? The same is true with a trochaic substitution. In fact any departure from the rhythmic norm can be used to create nuance.”
  • “A line made up of long-duration syllables and soft consonants will move slowly and seem long even if it is short.”
  • “Many synonyms of small words have the same meaning: someone, somebody; just, only; start, begin; seem, appear; out of, from; another, each other, etc.  These words are interchangeable, as are many others, and the addition or subtraction of a single syllable or noise can affect the rhythm.”

Annotations from a Chapter on Revision

dobyns book

As I read Stephen Dobyns’ Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry, I annotated the margins and occasionally talked back to Dobyns (not that he was listening).

Here, for posterity, are a few of the quotes of note from that chapter:

  • “…the first axiom for being a writer is to forgive yourself for writing badly, I learned that no matter how badly I had written, I could make it better.”
  • “…the poem exists not in that first burst of creativity, but in revision.”
  • “The shift between composition and revision is the shift from the imaginative to the analytic, the nondiscursive to the discursive, the expansive to the controlled, from freedom to restraint, license to judgment.”
  • “In letters Rilke condemned his early poetry, meaning poetry he wrote before 1900, saying the poems didn’t have enough patience in them.”
  • “Rilke’s impatience sprang from a worry about how the poem would end. Most of us do the same. I’ve got it rolling, I think, but where is it going? This is where Rilke said he didn’t wait long enough. He would force an ending that sounded good, but it didn’t resolve the poem. Many poets do this.”
  • “A common revision tool is to rewrite the poem using that last line as the first line to see what might happen.”
  • “Don’t let the critical mind interfere with the creative; make it wait.”
  • “After the poet has spent a fair amount of time with the poem, things begin to seem obvious that perhaps would not be obvious to the reader, or things may seem strident that are really only in the middle range of emotion.”
  • “All poets hate to be called ‘too obvious,’ and so they may erase necessary material. Th poet may also begin to mute his or her voice. This is usually destructive. Try to read from the reader’s point of view to see whether you are muting your voice or you’ve cut out necessary bits and pieces.”
  • “A wide variety of interior forces also affect one’s writings, such as emotions, physical well-being or the lack of it, and the complicated effects of the unconscious. All can diminish free will.”
  • “If there is a discrepancy between what one wants and what is on the page, it can be helpful to write out a prose description of one’s intention and then compare the results to the draft of the poem.”
  • “…a reader comes to understand a poem by asking questions of it, and one question is: ‘Why does this poem have this shape rather than another?'”
  • “Stanzas of equal length can create a sense of orderliness; stanzas of unequal length can create a sense of an organic development; one long unbroken stanza can create a sense of unrelenting thought and/or narrative. The shape of the poem creates certain expectations that are useful to its understanding. The poet needs to make use of this, or at least give the poem a shape that doesn’t distract.”
  • “…for instance, if the title is several words drawn from an important part of the poem, then when the reader reaches that part of the poem, those words take on special emphasis.”
  • “Labels are often the weakest titles because they don’t do enough work.”
  • “But if, after a number of readings, nothing is clarified by the title, then the reader will be frustrated, not to say irritated.”
  • “…in looking at the beginning of one’s poem, one has to ask why it starts where it starts. What if it began with the third line, or the tenth, or the last? Sometimes the first few lines serve as a runway into the important part of the poem. They were useful once, but are useful no more.”
  • “You need to question your use of chronological sequence. Start with the action, start with something that takes the reader’s attention. Editors are swamped with submissions, and when they read, they mostly are looking for a reason to stop reading.”

More to follow later this week! If this piques your interest, give Dobyns’ book a look.

Bad Words: They Creep In

word

Bad words. They lose themselves in the crowd, but they are more prevalent than you think. Some of them are obvious, like the word “closed” in the expression “closed fist.” Modifiers are always guilty until proven innocent, and a better noun or verb always trumps an unnecessary modifier, so until they prove themselves good, adjectives and adverbs are suspect.

In his book Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry, Stephen Dobyns lists some so-called “bad words” to watch out for, but before we go there, know this: We all have our own personal list of bad words. These would be words we overuse without realizing it.

One way to track your word habits is to use the Search in Document function on Microsoft Word, the popular software many writers use. Or you could go to a website that will track words for you. Simply cut and paste your poem, essay, chapter, etc., and let the ghost in the machine scare up some statistical habits you have as a writer of words. Once such site is this one.

As for Dobyns, he lists the following culprits: still, even, some, yet, very, just, clearly, only, finally, quite, somewhat, rather, fairly, big, deep, loud, bright, etc.

You can highlight your poem or text and use the Search in Document function to scare these up one at a time. The deal then is to ask yourself: Can I do without this word entirely? Can I change it?

Sometimes the answer is yes. Strike, kill, and shout “Eureka! Less is more!” Sometimes the answer is no. This may be a “bad word,” you tell yourself, but if I use it infrequently and, where I do, it is key to the sentence or line’s meaning, it becomes a “good word.”

The point here is at least going through the exercise and making it part of your revision process. Add Dobyn’s bad words to your own list of unreliable go-to’s. Then search and, where appropriate, destroy.

“The Little Dooms Hiding in the Shadow”

harrison

T.S. Eliot cornered the market on April being the cruelest month, but that doesn’t mean other poets can’t weigh in. Below Jim Harrison takes up the theme in his poem “Gathering April.”

Here April’s cruelty is the cold, where succor can be found in corners or swales or even a warm cellar door. Say what you will, though, April’s violence, like all of nature’s, is still living.

In fact, reading about it, you feel very much alive and outdoors. Harrison seems to realize at much toward the end when he counts as a blessing “that an April exists,” because for it to exist, he must.

Meantime, a shout-out goes to Shigeyoshi Obata’s translations of Li-Po’s poetry. Now there’s an April thought. One you can take in during October, even.

Gathering April Jim Harrison

Stuffing a crow call in one ear
and an unknown bird's in the other,
lying on the warm cellar door out of
the cool wind which I take small sparing
bites of with three toes still wet from the pond's
edge: April is so violent up here you hide
in corners or, when in the woods, in swales
and behind beech trees. Twenty years ago
this April I offered my stupid heart up to
this bloody voyage. It was near a marsh
on a long walk. You can't get rid of those
thousand pointless bottles of whiskey
that you brought along. Last night after
the poker game I read Obata's Li Po.
He was no less a fool but adding those
twenty thousand poems you come up
with a god. There are patents on all
the forms of cancer but still we praise
god from whom or which all blessings flow:
that an April exists, that a body lays itself
down on a warm cellar door and remembers, drinks
in birds and wind, whiskey, frog songs
from the marsh, the little dooms hiding
in the shadow of each fence post.

“Finish the Wine in This Field of Air”

songs

Look at his picture and you might think Jim Harrison is Charles Bukowski-like. Craggy and gruff. Cigarette burning between two fingers. No-nonsense poems that allow for the occasional nonsense, usually involving alcohol.

In sustained reading of Harrison’s poems in his book, Song of Unreason, however, I’d say he’s more of a nature guy like Frost, say, or Bly. Unlike Frost, though, there’s little in the way of form poems with meter and rhyme scheme. Just off the cuff stuff that looks easy but, of course, isn’t.

Here’s the lead-off poem in the collection that gives you an idea of his range:

Broom by Jim Harrison

To remember you’re alive
visit the cemetery of your father
at noon after you’ve made love
and are still wrapped in a mammalian
odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable
surprise, the unexpected death
of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.
Now to home without looking back,
enough is enough.
En route buy the best wine
you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture
out the window and begin sweeping.
Sweep until the walls are
bare of paint and at your feet sweep
until the floor disappears. Finish the wine
in this field of air, return to the cemetery
in evening and wind through the stones
a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.

The Hazards in Speed Back or Feedback for Dollars

roadrunner

Submitting your work for publication? You and a few million others, it seems, and with increased submissions comes increased response times comes new ways to separate a writer from his or her money.

Let’s start with the ironies of time. We all know how tempus has a habit of fugiting, especially when it comes to that person in the mirror you see every day. You know the drill: a few gray hairs here, a few wrinkles there.

Wouldn’t it be nice to slow time down for yourself? Hey, I’ve got an idea! How about redefining your body as a poetry submission? Voilà! The process of aging slows to a turtle’s crawl.

Business being business and mankind being mankind, there are always ways to cut the long line when submitting your work. But it’s going to cost you, of course. Like everything else in our times: Be prepared to pony up some money (or, in some journals’ cases, more money).

Which leads us to the world of “expedited responses” where your disappointment arrives much quicker and your wallet grows much lighter. My advice? Unless you’re 99% sure of acceptance (and who is?), don’t do it.

Like the reading fee, the expedited response temptation is a drain best defined by tracking it. Trouble is, most writers don’t. It’s similar to coffee drinkers who stop to buy a cup of java on the way to work each morning. Considering these drinks can cost $3-$5 (especially the iced variety with sweeteners), most people wisely leave their purchases untracked. Imagine that “little” cost multiplied by working days per year! Nice money if you can get it! (And to think, you actually had it, but at least you can argue you got some satisfaction from it.)

The other pocket hole to watch for is the feedback fee. Though I’m guilty of a few “expedited dice rolls” (all turning up “snake eyes”), I’ve never done the feedback option. In this scenario, a journal offers a critique on your work for a reasonable (in itself) but sizable (when multiplied by the habit it feeds) fee.

The problem here? There’s no telling who is offering the feedback and what his or her credentials are. Sure, if it’s a name-brand poet doing the reading and feeding, I might pay for my church supper and take a seat. But the responses are mostly from folks like us… people who like poetry, read poetry, have opinions in poetry. Sometimes an intern. Sometimes a reader. Or even an editor (which you or I could call ourselves if we decided to throw up an online zine tomorrow and open a Submittable account).

When it comes to feedback, then, mileage may vary, quality-wise. For the offering journal, however, mileage will surely accrue. It’s Finance 101 come to the Arts. In a numbers game (even one based on words), both speed and opinions translate into dollars made and dollars lost.

As for the market for such practices, it’s primed and ready due to the flock’s size. After waiting from 6 to 12 months for responses and receiving boilerplate rejection notices that give no clue as to any of the thousand reasons “why” work is rejected, writers with a little cash (or plastic) are remarkably vulnerable.

Proceed with caution, then. And repeat this pithy aphorism after me: “Unless there’s an extenuating circumstance guaranteeing more than free disappointment, patience is a virtue (not to mention a savings strategy).”

Signed,

Ben Franklin trying not to be Poor Richard

“The Stars Are Its Eternal Nuns”

sheep

Reading the new translation of Fernando Pessoa’s poetry, The Complete Works of Alberto Caeiro — especially the section called The Keeper of Sheep — has brought reading the Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu) to mind.

In poem after poem, the “shepherd poet,” a creation of Pessoa’s imagination, insists that there is no philosophy in his approach, but anti-philosophical attitudes are in themselves a philosophy of sorts, especially when they pile up and reinforce each other in poem after poem.

Let’s dip into The Keeper of Sheep anew, where the poems are numbered, to sample a few showing the simple pastoral writer’s views. These new translations are by Margaret Jull Costa and Patricio Ferrari:

#22

Like someone on a summer’s day opening the door of the house
And peering out, face-first, at the heat of the fields,
Sometimes, suddenly, Nature beats down
On the sum of my senses,
And I feel confused, troubled, trying to understand
I don’t know quite how or what…

But who ever said I should want to understand?
Who told me I needed to understand?

When the summer runs the soft warm hand
Of its breeze over my face,
I have only to feel pleasure because it’s a breeze
Or displeasure because it’s too hot,
And that however I feel it,
The way I feel it, because that is how I feel it, is how I feel it…

#24

What we see of things are the things themselves.
Why would we see one thing if there were another?
Why would seeing and hearing be an illusion
If seeing and hearing are just seeing and hearing?

The essential thing is knowing how to see,
Knowing how to see without thinking,
Knowing how to see when you see,
And not thinking when you see
Nor seeing when you think.

But this (alas for those of us whose soul wears clothes!),
This requires long study,
An apprenticeship in unlearning
And a solitude within the freedom of that convent
Of which the poets say the stars are its eternal nuns
And the flowers devout penitents for a single day,
But where, after all, the stars are just stars
And the flowers are just flowers,
Which is why we see them as stars and flowers.

A Pessoa-through-Caeiro poem holds equal contempt (though ever so gently) for both the scientist who must know why and for the poet who must see or feel something that is not there. That Pessoa uses metaphor himself to make the point is not intended as ironic, it just is.

And if saying something just is and so should just be seen for what it is strikes you as strange, then you, too, require some unlearning. For a good start, you can read all of The Keeper of Sheep.