About Me

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As the resident poet at EcoHealth Alliance, my verse finds inspiration these days in the spectre of global pandemics. At LMU Munich's Amerika-Institut, where I tutor composition and poetics, I'm reappraising the sonnets of E. A. Robinson for my dissertation. I also teach at Münchner Volkshochschule and Amerikahaus.

20170220

On Being Brought from AFRICA to AMERICA

by Phillis Wheatley

'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die,"
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.

20170214

Orison

for Laura

When I consider how our time has sped,
I am amazed at all that we have done

both bridges fared and those we dared not tread

throughout this threefold circling of the Sun.

Yet not for this I come to you, whose bed
I share and where, my love, I thank the one
who gave me peace, revived my muse, and led
my soul to grace through touch and hearth and fun.

Mark Olival-Bartley
5 June 2013


Note:  A recitation can be heard here.

20170213

Walt Whitman's Brain Dropped on Laboratory Floor

by Thomas Lux

At his request, after death, his brain removed
for science, phrenology, to study, and,
as the mortuary assistant carried it
(I suppose in a jar but I hope cupped
in his hands) across the lab’s stone floor he dropped it.
You could ask a forensic pathologist
what that might look like. He willed his brain,
as I said, for study—its bumps and grooves,
analysed, allowing a deeper grasp
of human nature, potential (so phrenology believed)
and this kind of intense look, as opposed to mere fingering
of the skull’s outer ridges, valleys, would afford
particular insight. So Walt believed.
He had already scored high (between 6 and 7) for Ego.
And as if we couldn’t guess from his verses, he scored
high again (a 6 and a 7—7 the highest possible!) in Amativeness
(sexual love) and Adhesiveness (friendship,
brotherly love) when before his death
his head was read. He earned only 5 for Poetic Faculties
but that 5, pulled and pushed by his other numbers,
allowed our father of poesie to lay down some words
in the proper order on the page. That our nation
does not care does not matter, much.
That his modest federal job was taken from him,
and thus his pension, does not matter at all.
And that his brain was dropped and shattered, a cosmos,
on the floor, matters even less.

20170207

"No worst, there is none."

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief, 
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring. 
Comforter, where, where is your comforting? 
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief? 
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief 
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing — 
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling- 
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.'

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall 
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap 
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small 
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep, 
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all 
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep. 

20170130

Geography

by Rae Armantrout

1

Touch each chakra
in turn and say,


“Nothing shocks me.”

2

Watching bombs fall
on Syria,

we feel serious,

occupied,

not preoccupied
as we were

previously.

3

“Makes me end,
where I begun,”

wrote John Donne,

turning love
into geometry.

Note: A recitation can be heard.

20170129

Thanks in Old Age

by Walt Whitman

Thanks in old age—thanks ere I go,
For health, the midday sun, the impalpable air—for life, mere
life,
For precious ever-lingering memories, (of you my mother dear
—you, father—you, brothers, sisters, friends,)
For all my days—not those of peace alone—the days of war the
same,
For gentle words, caresses, gifts from foreign lands,
For shelter, wine and meat—for sweet appreciation,
(You distant, dim unknown—or young or old—countless, un-
specified, readers belov'd,
We never met, and ne'er shall meet—and yet our souls embrace,
long, close and long;)
For beings, groups, love, deeds, words, books—for colors, forms,
For all the brave strong men—devoted, hardy men—who've for-
ward sprung in freedom's help, all years, all lands,
For braver, stronger, more devoted men—(a special laurel ere I
go, to life's war's chosen ones,
The cannoneers of song and thought—the great artillerists—the
foremost leaders, captains of the soul:)
As soldier from an ended war return'd—As traveler out of
myriads, to the long procession retrospective,
Thanks—joyful thanks!—a soldier's, traveler's thanks.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


Note:  A recitation can be heard here.