Saturday, December 05, 2009

Prose Poems and Henry David Thoreau

It's been a long time since I last posted. I spent the spring, summer and fall working on a manuscript of new and selected prose poems. Since the late 1970s, I've written around 80 prose poems. Many remained unfinished in manuscript boxes stored in Alma and Riverview. I selected 27 poems from my published work, and completed 27 new ones. The revision process included a great deal of cutting and rewriting. Prose poems are just that--poems in prose form, and one of the challenges is to decide how much detail to leave in, and how much to remove. The form is demanding, as the writer walks a high wire between traditional lyric poetry and prose. If the poem draws too much description to itself, it fails. If it remains too lyrical, then it fails as a prose poem.

For me, the masters of the form include Thoreau, Francis Ponge and Robert Bly. Thoreau in his Journals wrote dozens of descriptive passages, and I'm including one here. They're found throughout the Journals, tucked between philosophic meditations and catalogues of plants and animals. This entry is particularly fitting, as the first snow is supposed to fall over Alma tonight.


Very little evidence of God or man did I see just then, and life not as rich and inviting an enterprise as it should be, when my attention was caught by a snowflake on my coat-sleeve. It was one of those perfect, crystalline, star-shaped ones, six-rayed, like a flat wheel with six spokes, only the spokes were perfect little pine trees in shape, arranged around a central spangle. This little object, which, with many of its fellows, rested unmelting on my coat, so perfect and beautiful, reminded me that Nature had not lost her pristine vigor yet, and why should man lose heart?...I may say that the maker of the world exhausts his skill with each snowflake and dewdrop that he sends down. We think that the one mechanically coheres and that the other simply flows together and falls, but in truth they are the product of an enthusiasm, the children of an ecstasy, finished with the artist's utmost skill.

From The Journals, January 6, 1858

Notes Copyright Allan Cooper, 2009

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What We Expect from Ourselves

Here's another small poem from Heaven of Small Moments, this time an ecstatic love poem, newly revised.

What should we expect from ourselves? The mundane, the ordinary, or a wildness and intensity that heightens everything we see and feel? The ecstatic poet Mirabai writes in one of her poems about Krishna: "His seven notes play over and over,/and not even he can stop them." And Rumi writes in Coleman Barks' translation, "What was said to the rose that made it open was said to me here in my chest."


There's someone inside us
who doesn't believe in real time,
and doesn't want it. He knows
a love that is dark
and wild, and his hand

reaches instinctively for it.
A thirsty man claims water;
the cricket, feeling the cold
that is coming,
sings of the frost.

And Rumi saw
through the eyes of his friend
even after his friend was gone.
Why should we expect
anything less from ourselves?

(Copyright Allan Cooper 1998, 2008)

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Spring Poem

I wrote this small poem in 1993. It was later published in Heaven of Small Moments (Broken Jaw Press, 1998). I was influenced by the old Chinese poets, James Wright and Kabir when I wrote this poem.

I usually have a long trek across the hills in early spring to see what's happening in the natural world. The hummingbirds are just back, and they're busy in the river willows and at the feeder. A rose-breasted grosbeak visited us for a whole afternoon. And the centre of gold that I write about in the poem seems to be getting stronger every day.


Somehow the day begins
A few little willow leaves
Dry leaves of maples
that fell last autumn
give off their radiance.
This is the centre of gold I wanted.
All afternoon
I walk alone across the hills, content,
only by my shadow.

(Copyright Allan Cooper 1998, 2008)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Goldenrod in Winter

With the huge amount of snow we've been getting, I decided to sift through some poems and see if I could find something that reminded me of the fall. I found this goldenrod poem. I was thinking of two things when I wrote it: a line by John Haines ("disappearance begins with you"); and the quote in the poem by an anonymous Irish poet.


A delicate voice has been given to me. I hear it always,
rising and falling in joy or grief. It is the voice of the
hidden woman. If I take her hand she is here, then
gone. If I hold her waist, she dances away and is
gone. If I give her blossoms, her face blooms golden
and then fades.

Hold still a moment. I'm no one who will harm you.
I have a broken heart, and "a heart once broken
can never be healed."

Now she leans toward me and, as if it were the
most natural thing in the world, disappears into
the lost avenues of fallen light.

(Copyright Allan Cooper 2008)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Poem about Light

I was going through my third book, Bending the Branch, which was first published in 1983, and found this small love poem. I think this is a good place to start the new year. I've always liked the poem, but I'd forgotten about it, not having read the book in a number of years.


You first came to me
as light across fields,
light from a seed,
light from inside the body

And I knew this life
is but a moment of light
on earth: bloom
that gives itself entirely to the seed.

There are places I return to
to call all the particles of light
up into the form of beauty;

when you return, the light
will stand inside me
like a tree.

(Copyright Allan Cooper, 1983, 2008)

Friday, November 23, 2007


Juan Ramon Jimenez was one of the great modern masters. His colloquial style has always appealed to me. In his best poems he is having a dialogue with his reader, and each reader feels as if Jimenez is talking to them only.

Jimenez was a mentor for another great Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca's early poems resemble Jimenez's work in many ways. There is passion, depth and spontaneity in his poems. It's as if a wind that we recognize but have never felt before had suddenly arrived.

Here are two small poems by Jimenez, in Robert Bly's translation:


a naked woman
running mad through the pure night!


I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing
happens! Nothing...Silence...Waves...
--Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Monday, September 24, 2007

A New Book

Fall is coming along here now. The first few branches of the maples are turning red and yellow. The bees are busy among the white and purple asters and the hummingbirds are gone until spring. The days are shorter and at night sounds carry great distances--a good time to read Jimenez and Lorca again.

My next collection, I Didn't Come Here to Meet You, is starting to take shape. I've been writing this book for three years and wasn't even aware of the connections between the new poems. Two quotes made me aware of hidden shadow the manuscript was beginning to cast: "Absence makes what? Presence, presence" (John Thompson); and "All the waters of the world find one another again" (Hermann Hesse). It will be a varied book, style-wise: lined poems and prose poems, small poems and a long elegy called "Requiem." I figure another 12 months of revision and the manuscript will be almost there.

Finally, a small fall poem. The last of the blueberries are picked, but when I was in the field above the house last week, I remembered this little piece from twenty years ago:


After picking blueberries alone all afternoon
I carry
some consciousness of the fields back with me.

(Copyright 2007, Allan Cooper)