Florida Poems

I grew up in Florida and know the state has many layers. It’s a complex place with a long history, going back to ancient indigenous civilizations and early Spanish explorers in search of treasure and the Fountain of Youth.

Florida gets a bad rap in the media and recent events haven’t helped dispel the reputation of the state as a place where people do crazy things. When I was 12, I began to write about it. What evolved was a long poem, “The Sailor Circus,” named for the Sarasota high school afterschool circus program (which still exists). In my 20s, an agent encouraged me to write a novel based on the poem, but she later decided not to take it on. For many years both the poem and novel languished among my papers and computer files. A few years ago I used much of it in a novella, Covenant: Growing up in Florida’s Lost Paradise. These past few weeks I added in more of the original words, adapting them when needed to fit the narrative. And then, I took parts of it and made this poem. I’m offering it to give people a different perspective on the great state, the elusive and always transforming, place called Florida.

Florida

Visions of Atlantis.
The trading ships of the world come into harbor,
bringing their gift, their legacy.
Sailing, circling, orbiting, we ride the tides,
before we merge with the fold and mantle of sea and sky, 
will we circle around to the other side,
     will we come back alive?
The resort town lies weblike on Florida’s Gulf Coast,
banyan roots in backland glades,
points of anchorage, where gravity takes hold,
rolls the city up each night like a window-shade.
Each morning beneath a peg-leg, pirate's sun,
the land unfurls, surfaces beneath the surface of the sky.
Mirages and miracles: buildings, beaches, marinas, 
     alligator farms, the circus. 

White pelicans mirror the clouds, 
moonflowers glow, passion vine 
and coral bells flourish, herons nest,
and a mockingbird sings of paradise. 
Ghost towns in morning glory and dust, 
carnivals and suburban malls in the marshes.
On the southern Gulf Coast, burial grounds
     of forgotten civilizations.

Echoes of Atlantis. 
Lost worlds, new worlds spiral, drop,
      rise and soar in a divine glare.

Gulf Coast’s angels’ wings and rare Juno shells,
a sea of dreams, with all things sailing
we navigate by the sun and moon,
flowing into ports of call, 
sailing with grief and ecstasy,
     the circuitous circus.

The trading ships of the world come into harbor,
bringing their gift, their legacy—
the heavy vessels of the past empty their holds
and are refilled, flowing to the future with a purpose—
we carry precious cargo: hope, love.
Swinging across the globe, in tumult and calm,
we circle with the joy of fulfillment in time,
creating designs so potent
     they shape eternity.

Copyright 1974-revised 2022 by Mary Clark

The song, “A Salty Piece of Land,” by Jimmy Buffet, who pioneered Caribbean Rock’n’Roll in Key West, Florida, communicates the allure of a place, the sense of freedom, on the boundless sea.

Mary Clark’s fiction and poetry, all set in Florida:

Children of Light, poetry novel, Ten Penny Players/Bard Press

Covenant, Growing Up in Florida’s Lost Paradise (kindle only)

The Horizon Seekers, Amazon/Kindle

Racing The Sun, The Horizon Seekers Series Volume 2, Amazon/Kindle and Smashwords

Sappho’s Poetry

Wikimedia Commons: Red-figure vase (hydria, or kalpis) by the Group of Polygnotos, ca. 440–430 BC. Seated, Sappho is reading one of her poems to a group of three student-friends. National Archaeological Museum in Athens, 1260.

Sappho’s poetry exists only in fragments, except for one poem and about four others with missing pieces that are long enough to attempt reconstruction. Her work once filled at least four volumes and was disseminated around the ancient Mediterranean world. Homer, her predecessor, wrote epic poems of war in a poetic style (dactylic hexameter) that suited historical episodes, lists, and long speeches, while she wrote in her own style (Sapphic stanza) of the battles and triumphs of love.

Her poems were meant to be accompanied by a lyre, thus lyrical poetry, the words either spoken or sung. Each line contained syllables that were at different pitches. Today, modern stresses give each word a greater or lesser emphasis but do not indicate pitch. 

Sappho wrote at a time when heroic poems were being replaced by more personal ones. She included direct conversations in her poems. At times, she turned Homeric phrases around: rosy-fingered dawn became rosy-fingered sunset, and “black earth” created by armies was juxtaposed with fields of flowers.

Some say a cavalry corps,
some infantry, some, again,
will maintain that the swift oars
of our fleet are the finest
sight on dark earth; but I say
that whatever one loves, is.

This translation is by Mary Bernard, who didn’t keep to the four lines and meter but often communicated the poetic intent (IMHO).

42.

I have not heard one word from her
Frankly, I wish I were dead.
When she left, she wept
a great deal; she said to
me, "This parting must be
endured, Sappho. I go unwillingly."
I said, "Go, and be happy
but remember (you know
well) whom you leave shackled by love.

Translation by William Harris, showing what is missing in the fragment:

I just really want to die.
She, crying many tears, left me
And said to me:
"Oh, how terribly we have suffered, we two,
Sappho, really I don't want to go away."
And I said to her this:
Go and be happy, remembering me,
For you know how we cared for you.
And if you don’t I want to remind you
.............and the lovely things we felt
with many wreathes of violets
and ro(ses and cro)cuses
and.............. and you sat next to me
and threw around your delicate neck
garlands fashioned of many woven flowers
and with much...............costly myrrh
..............and you anointed yourself with royal.....
and on soft couches.......(your) tender.......
fulfilled your longing..........

Wouldn’t be great to have this poem in its entirety? It’s about someone who has to go away, and how terribly (amazingly, wonderfully, deeply) we have felt, but we won’t forget each other. Memories are what we have, and hope.

Harris shows her alliteration in this stanza. It’s a wonder of the internet that we can see the Greek.

kai gar ai pheugei, taxeos dioxei
ai de dora me deket', alla dosei
ai de me philei, tacheos philesei
kouk etheloisa.

Translated:

And if she flees, soon will she follow,
And if she does not take gifts, she will give,
If she does not love, she will love
Despite herself"

Harris says about this stanza:

… each line shows a remarkable balance of structure, with a compelling progression toward Unity. First “pheugei/flee” is balanced by “dioxei/follow” where the Greek words have nothing in common phonetically. The next line speaks of Getting as opposed to Giving (in Greek deket’ and dosei) with clear initial alliteration of “-d-” (In English -g- ). But the third line uses the same actual verb stem: (philei/philesei meaning “love/will love”, bringing together the words as symbol for the bringing together of the two lovers. Very subtle and most effective because it doesn’t show right away, a sly effect suiting Sappho as the arch “weaver of wiles.”

Harris – Here is another delicate fragment with a celestial figure set against a very human backdrop:

hespere, panta pheron osa phainolis eskedas' auos
phereis oin, phereis aiga, phereis materi paida
Evening-star, bringing all things that morning dawn scattered
You bring back the sheep, you bring the goat,
you bring the child to its mother.

The Greek words especially in the last line are compact, repeated rhyme, so precise, it’s sublime.

Wikimedia Commons: Sappho holding a barbitos, from a Six technique kalpis c.510 BC by the Sappho painter. The vase is the earliest surviving depiction of Sappho. Now in the collection of National Museum of Warsaw. Drawing from D.M. Robinson’s Sappho and Her Influence, 1924.
whiter than virgin snow in the sun
gentler than water stirring to the gentlest breeze
a voice that pleases as no lyre can
bearing grander than a proud mare’s
skin so fair no rose has petals more delicate
softer than the thickest fur
far more precious than the most precious metals
               This loving has burst into my head
as mountain wind falls into the crowns of oaks.

Copyright 1981 by Ulf Goebel translated with Dimitrios Moschopoulos

I hope you’ve enjoyed this visit to the work of one of Western society’s oldest known poets.

References:

William Harris, Middlebury College: http://wayback.archive-it.org/6670/20161201174348/http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/Translations/Sappho.html

Finding Sappho: https://stanforddaily.com/2017/10/29/finding-sappho-four-translations-in-conversation/

Poetry 2022

I’m going to do poetry posts for a while. I think we’ll need it in 2022! Next up, I’ll name some of my favorite poets, including some of their poems.

Basho

In praise of Matsuo Basho, the famous Japanese haiku poet:

Frog, jump in the pond,

when the ripples are no more,

are you in the pond?


The original Basho haiku:

古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音

Furuike ya/ Kawazu tobikomu/ Mizu no oto

The old pond

A frog leaps in.

Sound of the water.

Into The Fire, A Poetry Memoir

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen

Monica Brinkman of Writing Chats & Friends wrote this wonderful review of my book on Amazon.

I truly didn’t know what to expect when I began reading Into the Fire. Simply thought it was a tale of poetry and prose. I am so pleased to say it was much, much more! She shares her own experiences, yet within a story of strength, determination and dedication to the arts.

Mary Clark takes us behind the scenes of the many individuals, be they celebrities, poets, artists, or actors and how this group of dedicated people changed an area of New York from undesirable to one of the most sought after places to showcase talent. Not only does Clark provide actual photos but also bits of prose, poetry and works of the people involved . . . This is truth and the reality of what it took to bring the name Hell’s Kitchen to a positive vein, rather than negative.

You will meet celebrities; many not so famous back in the day and you will find great works and such talent.

Could not put this book down and will be one I read again and again. Just loved it.

This is a book worth reading as it not only entertains but gives the reader an inside look of what it took and takes to keep arts alive. Bravo Mary Clark. You show the greatness as well as the sadness of the era.

Thank you, Monica. That last sentence means a lot to me. The attunement to the fragility and strength of human beings is expressed not only in your review, but in your own work. You are not afraid to take chances, to push the boundaries of literature and love, and the poets of the 1970s and early 1980s weren’t either.

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen – a great holiday gift for the poet in your family or among your friends

A young, aspiring writer comes to St. Clement’s Church on West 46th Street in New York City looking for a job in the church’s theater. Soon she is helping with the New York Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s, which features many well-known poets of the 1970s and 80s as well as up-and-coming and marginalized poets. The memoir takes place in the rough-and-tumble Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side, a neighborhood that reflects the passion of the times. By 1980, both the arts scene and New York neighborhoods are on the verge of change. The author’s life in the arts weaves in and out of the neighborhood’s narratives, and she must make a choice between two possible lives.

Poets of Our Time

And now for another excerpt from my book, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen

St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, restored window

St. Clement’s. Beauty under the grime. Muted mosaics flaring in sunlight. Chanting poets.

Rich wanted to ask Allen Ginsberg to read a section of The Odyssey at an anti-nuclear event he was planning for a Sunday at St. Clement’s on August 6th, “Hiroshima day.”

He asked me to go with him to Allen Ginsberg’s reading at a nuclear disarmament rally. He read most probably from “Plutonian Ode.”

Poets we knew and became connected to moved forward, a gentle tide, rocked by the new thing, our ability to create oblivion, and to answer with our voices evoking the voices of consciousness to carol our spirits inside the death-rendering, until there we were, the Poets of Our Time right up in front of the crowd, serious, dolorous, Kerouac cool, smiling antennas up and on the tips of our toes. Ginsberg threw himself into the poetry, sparked our responses: nodding heads, nodding bodies. Handclaps, psalming our way beyond. We were in love.

I was in love. With Allen Ginsberg!

In the excitement Richard and I were swept away. Rich had no chance to ask Ginsberg to read at the St. Clement’s anti-nuclear event. We rode over the East River to a party at Maurice Kenny’s Brooklyn apartment, and after that, unwilling to give up the day, although it was midnight, we walked to the Esplanade to feel and hear the breath-song of New York harbor.

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen, by Mary Clark

NEW! THE SECOND VOLUME OF NEW YORK CITY MEMOIRS: INTO THE FIRE

I’ve just published this book about my experiences running the poetry program at a midtown Manhattan church. This takes place before the time period in Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen. This book is about the transition from the arts to community work.

Summary

A young, aspiring writer comes to St. Clement’s Church on West 46th Street in New York City looking for a job in the theater. Soon she is helping run the church’s poetry program. The New York Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s features many well-known poets of the 1970s and 80s as well as up-and-coming and marginalized poets. The poetry scene, occurring alongside Punk Rock and the waning days of experimental dance and theater, is part of the last grassroots artistic era in the United States.

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey takes place in the rough-and-tumble Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side. This story is set in a neighborhood that reflects the passion of the times. By 1980, both the arts scene and New York neighborhoods are on the verge of change. The author’s life in the arts weaves in and out of the neighborhood’s narratives. She must make a choice between two possible lives.

St. Clement’s Church has a storied history in the arts, beginning with the American Place Theater in the 1960s to the present day. Cameo appearances in this memoir are made by Robert Altman, Amiri Baraka, Daniel Berrigan, Karen Black, Raymond Carver, Cher, Abbie Hoffman, Spalding Gray, Al Pacino, and Paul Simon. Erick Hawkins, June Anderson, and Daniel Nagrin dance through.

Poets and writers include Carol Bergé, Ted Berrigan, Enid Dame, Cornelius Eady, Allen Ginsberg, Daniella Gioseffi, Barbara Holland, Bob Holman, Richard Howard, Maurice Kenny, Tuli Kupferberg, Eve Merriam, Robin Morgan, Sharon Olds, Alicia Ostriker, Alice Notley, William Packard, Robert Peters, Rochelle Ratner, Grace Shulman, and Kurt Vonnegut. Mentioned or discussed: Joseph Bruchac, Gregory Corso, Emily Dickinson, David Ignatow, Joy Harjo, Rashid Hussein, Kim Chi Ha, Denise Levertov, Audre Lorde, Anais Nin, Ron Padgett, Pedro Pietro, Muriel Rukeyser, and Anne Sexton, among others. Along the way, I recommend poems that can be found online.

Native American Poets, A Poet’s Journey

At the next Monday night reading, I greeted people and collected donations at the door to the downstairs theater. Afterwards, Richard, and poets Rochelle Ratner, Jim Bertolino, Maurice Kenny, and I went for coffee.

A compact, intense but friendly older man with a short pony tail, Maurice was co-editor with Josh Gosciak of Contact/II, a Bimonthly Poetry Review.

Maurice Kenny

I had noticed that he was selling postcards of Native American poetry and artwork at the reading. Maurice said he was a Mohawk from upstate New York. The postcards were from his Strawberry Press, publishing the work of diverse Native Americans. Among them were Joseph Bruchac, Wendy Rose, and Joy Harjo. (In 2019, Harjo was named the United States Poet Laureate.)

The conversation flowed as lively as a deep woods stream tangling with the strong tides of an urban harbor, a stirring concordance of languages. I had a wonderful time and did not get home ’til 2 a.m.

Maurice Kenny remembered on Dawnland Voices (I recommend his Wild Strawberry poem)

Maurice Kenny about Joy Harjo and Louis Oliver

This is part of the memoir, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen, by Mary Clark. All rights reserved.

A Poet’s Journey 2 St. Clement’s Church

St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, 423 West 46th Street, New York circa 1978

When the frost cleared, I returned to Hell’s Kitchen. It was a risk, a life in the arts, but I had to script my own life.

Jeff Jones, the administrator of the church and Theater at St. Clement’s, welcomed me to his office. He was tall, the office small. He enormously filled the room. *

“I came to a poetry reading here,” I said, and told him I knew Richard Spiegel from another reading series he ran in Midtown several years ago. “I would like to work in the theater. Behind the scenes. Is there anything part-time?” Seeing his reaction, I amended, “or volunteer?”

Jeff asked if I would like to help Richard with the poetry program, but I said, “I want to do something different, to work with a group of people and get away from writing.” I meant to say, though it took me from my usual writual, little that was new and unexpected seemed impossible.

“There’s lots to do,” Jeff said. “There’s nothing paid at this time.” He added, “It’s a place to start.”

I was living in a Single Room Hotel and on the dole. This would be on-the-job training.

“Would you be interested in helping build the set?

I perked up. “I think I could do that.”

Jeff said to talk to Steve Cramer, the TD, which he explained meant Technical Director. As I was leaving, he said again, “Are you sure you don’t want to do something with the poetry program?”

No, I nodded, “I want to try this.”

Down, down, down the stairs I tumbled, into the shadowbox of the theater, a hall lit by hanging lamps, and tall windows in one red-brick wall opening on a garden. By the windows leaned tall plywood boards painted black, to be set in place to block off any light during performances. The other walls were a light-absorbing matte black.

Into this dark space, with its two visions of a secret garden, filled with roses in summer, a tall, lean man, Steve Cramer, appeared magically from another portal.

Richard Spiegel and Steve Cramer in the downstairs theater at St. Clement’s circa 1978

Steve and I positioned wooden platforms to form a stage and seating area.

“How do you lift these all by yourself?”

Moving one end of a platform, he placed it on the edge of another. “Don’t lift when you can leverage.”

Some had rows of red plush folding seats bolted on.

“Old Roxy seats,” he said. “We salvaged them when they tore down the theater.”

Roxy Theater, Broadway, NYC

We secured scrims in place to create a black backdrop and obscure the machine shop backstage.

“If you have to move furniture or other props, mark where they belong with small x’s in white chalk.” The poetry program and the church both used the space, but they had to replace anything they moved to its original location to keep the actors from being disoriented.

I watched the lighting crew work, clipping lights on the exposed grid of cables and pipes.

And I bloomed in the small space, as the roses did, and carried the secret garden within myself.

In the office I talked to Jeff. He said “At St. Clement’s, liturgy and the arts collide and divide, and sometimes coalesce. When it comes together, it’s transcendent.” He paused. “But when not, it’s a disaster.

He worried that Richard was trying to do too much. Benefits for causes, poets theater, weekly readings. “Richard could use some help with the Poetry Festival.”

I wavered. After all, I wanted to escape the fate of Emily Dickinson. I wanted to be out in the world. Did Richard need help? “I don’t know if he’ll want my help.

“I think he will.”

Wondering if I would fit in and what the future would bring, I sat with Richard as the poets arrived for the Monday night reading.

After a while, I asked him, “Would you like me to help with the poetry program?”

He answered quietly, but emphatically, yes. And began immediately to talk of scheduling readers.

* Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

This and the previous post are from a memoir in progress called Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen. All rights reserved. Photos by Mary Clark.

A Poet’s Journey Through Hell’s Kitchen

West 46th Street, New York City

Poetic License

1978

I had my poetic license in the back pocket of my blue jeans. And miles to go, miles of snow, a transfigured night and all in sight covered in a winding sheet of white.

Stopping at a snowy Ninth Avenue, face and hands wrapped against the wind, I contemplated the divide before me. Ice-crystals glittered in streetlights and snow fenced sidewalks. The city streets were deserted, and I was alone in the canyoned silence. On the avenue’s arctic slope, deep within the haunting sound of a muted city I could hear gypsy cabs snorting dragon-breath in the dark, and I would have stayed to watch fringes of icicles on fire escapes glow in the dying light. *

Crossing Ninth Avenue, I heard the wolf howl in the wind. Into a gap hacked in frozen snow I pioneered westward to a narrow trail leading past four- and five-story buildings. Snow camel-backed on parked cars. Bare choirs of trees fell silent, only ticking now and then in frozen despair,* until a faint glow, just the slightest cinematic glimmer, fell on the crooked path. I leaned back, one hand on a rack of ice, to see above me a living painting: a red brick building with tall arched windows of earth and sky-colored glass, indigo peaked gables and copper crosses with a green patina springing from a luminous, roiling gray sky.

Double wooden plank doors painted in vertical stripes of chipped and tattered red, white, and blue were shuttered against the cold and any vagrants or visitors who might venture in. Hiking up the steps, kicking footholds in rime-encrusted snow, I peered through wire netting at an empty stairway to heaven. Tracking again through Technicolor traces from the lighted windows, I discovered a second set of steps and a brightly lit hallway. A bare bulb in a metal cage hung above the steps. I looked up and down the street of tenements and brownstones, and on windowsills and steps festooned with snow, there was no other light.

A royal blue and white plaque with a strident red cross sparked through a crust of frost: Welcome to St. Clement’s.

On the far side of a railing, steps led to a single recessed arch, and winding down and up again, I began knock-knocking-knocking on heaven’s door.

A small round bell bolted to the brick caught my eye. I heard the buzz resound and die. *

Richard Spiegel, the director of the Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s, opened the door. “Mary?”

In his early thirties, Richard’s long, wavy chestnut hair and trimmed beard shone with a soft gleam of mahogany and substrata strands of red.

I stepped inside. “I promised I’d come one day.” My eyes pulsated with red and white light as I thawed from the glacial trek.

I was one of only three. We read wine-poetry and drank red wine in chipped cups from St. Clement’s kitchen.

Inspirations: * Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Robert Frost; “Sonnet 73,” William Shakespeare; “I heard a Fly buzz,” Emily Dickinson.

This is the first part of a memoir, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen, by Mary Clark. All rights reserved.

Common Ground

This poem by John Daniel is one of my favorites.

Common Ground by John Daniel

Everywhere on earth, wet beginnings:

Fur, feather, scale, shell,skin,bone, blood,

Like an infant discovering sound after sound
A voice is finding its tongue

And we, in whom earth chose to light
A clear flame of consciousness,
Are only beginning to learn the language—

We who are made of the ash of stars,
Who carry the sea we were born in,
Who spent millions of years learning to breathe,
Who shivered in fear at the reptiles’ feet,
Who trained eyes and hands in the trees
And came down, slowly straightening
To look over the grasses, to see
That the world not only is
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . But is beautiful—
We are Earth learning to see itself,
To hear, touch, and taste. What it wants to be
No one knows: finding a way
In starlight and dark, it begins in beauty,
. . . . .  . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . It asks only time.