Tag Archives: Christopher Smart

Playing with Poetry (or T2)

The other day I realized that I do need to be systematic to stay organized and to be organized to feel productive (thank you, Jill Weatherholt). Chaos doesn’t work for me. Neither does too much spontaneity. Some, yes, but not too much.

I keep trying to get organized around poetry, and it keeps fighting back.

I had the possibly annoying brilliant idea that I would come up with a systematic way to share poetry tidbits and trivia (called T2) on a more regular basis. But what structure to use for that systematic organization?

Heh. I tried birth dates of poets. You know, like this: it’s June 20, so I will share something about Irish poet Paul Muldoon who was born on June 20, 1951. Kinda left me cold. Not Muldoon or his work, but his birthdate as an arbitrary choice of tidbit or trivia.

I wondered what happened in the poetry world on a June 20? I found this about Sylvia Plath on Poetry Foundation:

It was during her undergraduate years that Plath began to suffer the symptoms of severe depression that would ultimately lead to her death. In one of her journal entries, dated June 20, 1958, she wrote: “It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative—whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it.” This is an eloquent description of bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, a very serious illness for which no genuinely effective medications were available during Plath’s lifetime.

I’m sure I read that before because when I was Plath-obsessed I studied her journals pretty, um, obsessively. But I wouldn’t remember that she wrote that on a June 20, would I? And while this is a very important quote for anyone with or touched by bipolar disorder, many other Plath quotes speak to me much more.

What I really like to do with poetry doesn’t have a lot to do with systems or schedules (maybe poetry fights back because it doesn’t like systems). I like to write it, for one. Too hot right now for that (we’re having a dangerous heat wave in Arizona) When I taught future elementary teachers, I had them make big posterboard collages for teaching particular poems.  I like to make collages about poems, too. Too hot for that for sure. I like to read poems and write in a journal the most random idiosyncratic* responses to them.

* When I was a new grad student in Riverside, I had a meeting with a professor about a paper I wrote.  He thought it was good, but very “idiosyncratic.” I had the embarrassment of asking him what that meant. Yes, I was an English grad student and had always read a lot, but sometimes it’s clear I am not an expert on English. If you grew up like I did, this is what idiosyncratic means: “peculiar or individual.”

Yup, peculiar. Hah. Individual. It also means one-of-a-kind. My paper was one-of-a-kind. I had no idea. But I was perceptive enough to realize that it wasn’t good to be “idiosyncratic” in grad school. (It was worth it because now I love the word).

Back to the subject of what I like to do with poetry. Journaling about poetry is therapeutic and creative. It’s lots of fun.

Have I mentioned I haven’t done it in a long time? So it isn’t just the heat over here.

You can see why I want some interesting way back into immersing myself in poetry that isn’t just the poetry I’m writing. I am lazy. And easily distracted. I thought maybe if I shared a poetry T2 on a regular basis, even if it’s within a post about something else, it would be a way of playing with poetry. Like making mud pies or playing with a bucket in the sand. Maybe if it’s just fun, poetry won’t notice that there is a schedule/system in place.

For today, since it’s so hot, how about a quote from a poem I love? I posted a long portion in the fall of 2013, but this passage gets to the heart of my sweet Felix’s nature. From Christopher Smart’s (1722-1771) “Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]”. The trivia is that Christopher Smart’s nicknames were Kit Smart and Kitty Smart. Kitty Smart is a good name for some of my cats! The poem is very wide, so be sure to use the slide bar to read to the end of each line if the ends are not visible to you

For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary. 
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

 

For my cat Felix

Let me know, please, if you have ideas for what kind of T2 you would like for me to share about poetry. Maybe it’s not as hot by you . . . . After all, it did get to 118 yesterday.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Poetry, Writing, Writing goals, Writing Tips and Habits

Pay Attention: What Makes a Good Poem

Have you ever felt so totally alive and present in that one particular moment that you realized how rare a feeling it was?

According to Donald Revell in his book The Art of Attention, this moment comes to us through paying “attention.” He says that “Attention is a question of entirety, of being wholly present.”

On noting how a good poem can cause the reader to feel concern for an injured bird, though the poem was written years before (and the bird, if it existed, has long since died), Revell says, “it’s wonderful to be drawn to attend what I am reading so entirely that even the most ephemeral presents are Present to me and matters of concern.”

As I read Revell’s thoughts, I knew what he meant about poems that are so attentive that they make me attentive as a reader.

Here is an example of a poem (part of a longer poem, really), which was written between 1759 and 1763, and shows such attention to a pet cat that I sense Jeoffry the cat is still alive today.  And he is, in my own four cats. I do watch them attentively :).

Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]

by Christopher Smart

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.

For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.

For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.

For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.

For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.

For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.

For this he performs in ten degrees.

For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.

For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.

For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.

For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.

For fifthly he washes himself.

For sixthly he rolls upon wash.

For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.

For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.

For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.

For tenthly he goes in quest of food.

For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.

For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.

For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.

For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.

For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.

For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.

For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.

For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.

For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.

For he is of the tribe of Tiger.

For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.

For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.

For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.

For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.

For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.

For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel

from Egypt.

For every family had one cat at least in the bag.

For the English Cats are the best in Europe.

For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.

For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.

For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.

For he is tenacious of his point.

For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.

For he knows that God is his Saviour.

For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.

For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.

For he is of the Lord’s poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually–Poor Jeoffry!

poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.

For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.

For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.

For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.

For he is docile and can learn certain things.

For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.

For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.

For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.

For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.

For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.

For he can catch the cork and toss it again.

For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.

For the former is afraid of detection.

For the latter refuses the charge.

For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.

For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.

For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.

For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.

For his ears are so acute that they sting again.

For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.

For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.

For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.

For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the

bodies both of man and beast.

For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.

For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.

For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.

For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.

For he can swim for life.

For he can creep.

For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.

For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.

###

Source of the poem

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Filed under Essay, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing