state natural area poems #9 a and b: riveredge creek and ephemeral pond

sedge sings out in tussocky throbs

to lonely kettle’s close

skunk cabbage now green parasols

riveredge 2

riveredge creek slinks on

rivulets run like a web

while silent iris strains

riveredge 3

riveredge 4riveredge creek and ephemeral pond state natural area is part of the riveredge nature center, a 61-acre slice of land that includes fen-like habitat with lots of skunk cabbage and spotted cranesbill (wild geranium).

thanks to the riveredge nature center for protecting and rehabilitating this area.

a programming note for myself and anyone who might care: as the final lines of both these poems allude to, i think the timeline of this project has closed. it was originally conceived as a way to get out of the house in safety either alone or with my family when the pandemic first really hit and we were all sheltering in place hard. but with the return of the warm weather and the first serious pushes of reopening, it feels like this project has done its work. i may continue to add more here and there when i get out, but i’m retiring the series as a reason/impetus to go out in the first place. i know several folks have been reading lots of these, and i appreciate your time and care. thanks for reading.

we’ll see if more press themselves on me…

 

amid troubles, a happy st. petroc’s day…

In the midst of all our troubles in the States and around the world at the moment, this may seem frivolous, but the liturgical year presses on with the vicissitudes of history. Today is the feast of St. Petroc, a relatively obscure sixth-century saint of Cornwall. (Not on the universal calendar, but his feast is still in the current Martyrologium Romanum.)

I did work on St. Petroc at UW-Madison under the wonderful medievalist Dr. Sherry Reames and ended up writing my first long poem on his life. It’s basically a verse adaptation of his Latin prose life, and you can see it here if you’re in need of a momentary retreat/diversion.

St. Petroc, pray for justice and peace!

 

back on quarantine poetry/natural space project…state natural area poems #4

With the lifting of restrictions at Wisconsin state recreational sites, I’m back on my lockdown project of visiting my regional State Natural Areas with three-liners. Here’s the latest…

 

state natural area poems #4: kewaskum maple-oak woods

in early spring sun

frogs croak in chorus

bloodroot stands in lobed splendor

 

Located on the lands of the Northern Unit Kettle Moraine State Forest, Kewaskum Maple-Oak Woods is a set of two parcels east of the Milwaukee River in Washington County, Wisconsin.

bloodroot kewaskum sna

Gratitude to the Wisconsin DNR for preserving these lands.

Translation of the Old English “Ruin” in Presence–Audio

I’m delighted to (belatedly) announce that my translation of the Old English poem “The Ruin” appears in the newest issue of Presence, a great journal run by great people.

I read the poem in the audio file below, but here’s some basic context too:

“The Ruin” is a poem found in the tenth-century Exeter Book, which is the first anthology of English poems and a great treasure of English speakers’ literary inheritance. The poem is spoken by an Anglo-Saxon as he stands before what seems to be a Roman ruin in Britain, and he meditates on the transience of culture and human life as he marvels at what the ruin suggests about the creative energies that once existed where he stands. In my translation, I take this scene and “update” it to a Euro-American standing in front of a Middle Woodland burial mound in Milwaukee, WI’s Lake Park, with the same kind of brooding on transience etc.

The picture below shows the Lake Park mound (the green slope between trees with the stone marker on top) and the audio provides a reading of part of the original Old English and of the whole Modern English translation.

I hope you enjoy what was an immensely rewarding project for me.

lake park mound

 

 

New Project for the Pandemic Era…

To maintain sanity, encounter the natural world in my area, and keep the literary instincts moving if not honed, I’m going to start a new project here and on Twitter. (Yes, I’m on Twitter now at @riyeff–those who know me personally will be shocked, I’m sure!)

I’m going to visit the State Natural Areas of Milwaukee County and the four adjacent counties to practice social distancing but also maintain an intimate connection to the natural spaces around my neck of the woods. Then to try to forge some kind of virtual connection with anyone who’s interested, I’ll take a photo and make an impromptu three-line poem (not a haiku unless by accident), posting them here and on Twitter. Maybe other folks will share theirs from other natural areas?

That’s the idea; we’ll see where it goes…

Dame Gertrude More Book Now Available!

In this very strange time in the world, I’d like to offer at least a small bit of good news: my new book, an edition of the poems and shorter prose works on prayer and contemplation of Dame Gertrude More, is now available!

Dame Gertrude was a seventeenth-century Benedictine. A great-great-granddaughter of Saint Thomas More, she left home at 17 to co-found the Abbey of Our Lady of Comfort in what is today Cambrai, France. This monastery was part of a movement to revive monastic life among English Catholics after the Reformations and was so successful that the community continues today as Stanbrook Abbey back in England.

Dame Gertrude More was a strong, talkative, and likable woman who, under the tutelage of Dom Augustine Baker, also became a great lover of contemplation. She wrote poems, several shorter prose works, and a longer work sometimes called her “Confessions,” all of which were published in 1658, years after her early death. This book made her one of the earliest women published in the English language.

Her works celebrate and describe the nature of contemplation and divine union. With a plain style that was unconcerned with technicalities and intellectual hair-splitting, Dame Gertrude’s teachings on prayer and contemplation are beautiful testaments to the value of pursuing, as she puts it, “the one thing necessary” (experiential intimacy between the soul and its Maker).

She, Dom Augustine Baker, and the community at Cambrai more generally were instrumental in passing on the ancient and medieval teachings on contemplation in the Christian west, and I am delighted that both the community at Stanbrook Abbey and Gracewing have helped me to make Dame Gertrude’s works more readily accessible to a new generation.

I hope that in this uncertain time, we might find some solace in the kind of unwavering attention Dame Gertrude gives to what is most pressing and important in this earthly life.

You can find a copy on Gracewing’s website and on Amazon. I hope you enjoy!

Translation Night at Boswell Book Company! Nov 26th at 7 pm

This coming Tuesday, November 26th at 7 pm, anyone in the Milwaukee area who wants to support translators and/or the literary arts in general should come on down to Boswell Book Company on Downer Ave. (more details on their homepage).

I’ll be talking about and reading from my translation of Swami Abhishiktananda’s French poems (In the Bosom of the Father), along with Dr. Lorena Terando of UW-Milwaukee and former Boswellian Caroline Froh.

After brief readings from each of us, we’ll have a Q&A about translation in general and the works themselves.

Hope to see folks there!

Tea Poems (from “Sunk” Collection)

A short poem for the weekend from my collection, Sunk in Your Shipwreck. Good tea has been one of the most constant companions thru-out my life, from early days going to the Teachery up in Madison, WI on Willie Street, to the long days and evenings I spent sipping at Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder, CO over two years, to the visits to Red Blossom Tea in San Francisco, to everywhere else I’ve been. Good loose-leaf tea is it: the texture of its leaves, the color of its liquor against white clay, the smells that just don’t stop, the copious array of flavors is like nothing else. Black’s all right, but Dragon Well, Big Red Robe, Cloud Mist—that’s where it’s at.

Here’s a tiny suite of poems on tea culled from two lonely but beautiful nights from years past. (The text follows the audio file.) Happy long weekend—drink some tea!

 

Tea Poems

 

I. Dushanbe Tea House—Boulder, CO 2001

The seats are strangely cool

tonight, the tea is not:

its yellow-green mass

coddled in white clay.

New sounds splash on the air,

and still there’s quiet inside.

 

II. 3rd Street and Highway 101—San Rafael, CA 2005

Alone, I watch my step walking

a familiar street in San Rafael.

 

The air tonight is oolong tea—

glowing lights wrap me up

and tangled blankets shape the horizon.

 

The stars of evening shine and I

see them, knowing a moment’s peace.