Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Poems for Old Poets

I'm excited to share with you today two books by Alabama poets who have been writing for decades! And neither is afraid to write about old age or old poets or what life is like in their current chapter.

Isn't that marvelous? I hope to be just like them someday.

So, first, from Betty Spence, a lovely Mobile poet I've been lucky enough to meet a few time and publish in Birmingham Arts Journal: TRACES OF PRESENCE by Betty Spence . Here's one of my favorite poems in the book:

The Richer for It
- after May Sarton, "Coming into Eighty"

I think I shall live to be eighty-something --
I've seen how loath old poets are to leave.
stick-figures in wind-puffed sleeves
staring down an ocean of words unsaid
languishing for want of naming things
to others and themselves.

I've seen them piping like shore birds
on finding half-buried in the sand
a bottle thrown into a river at flood stage,
a bottle, for all I know, bearing the words:
Write the vision, make it plain.

For all the times time has hurried me
I think I shall live to worry time along.
Already half-past the wakefulness of noon,
I'd like to live to sleep-in, sleep off poems,
live until lines in my face story forth,

love long enough to give away whatever
to whomever I please and be the richer for it.
I'll say goodbye but once -- and that at the gate.
You can, if you like, watch me out of sight.

-- Betty Spence

Next, the latest book offering from our current Alabama Poet Laureate, Andrew Glaze, who is still writing in his 90s! (And to think, I wrote a poem for him entitled "I Want to be Eighty-Five," and here he is a decade later, still naming things and chasing down words.)

His new book, OVERHEARD IN A DRUGSTORE by Andrew Glaze includes a poem he wrote for me called "Climbing the Sky," and it makes me feel so tender and grateful that I can hardly talk about it (though I did try at the release event this past Sunday -- see pic below of me and Andy!). But there's another poem on the theme that I'd like to share with you today.

Old Poet

Clouds don't come at him any more
seething inside with green fire nor
does the skin of lovers often proclaim,
like a trumpet, fearful surprises.
And where are the river-roads that once he attended,
the quarrels that whistled around him like bullets,
the streaming tracks that swept him along come midnight
with the gift of a single mountain lantern?

Wherefrom are the words that used to hurt,
that hurt now twice as often, --
and were are the friends he loved enough to wish
he might give them a bit of his time on earth.
Also, old man, why can't left encounter right
anymore for a battle?
And where are the rattling snare drums of daylight?

Why do there not canter up these days
poems that stamp the hoof,
and offer the bridle, so he must clamber top-side
the saddle, and set himself to thunder off,
not caring to guess where the gallop goes,
or by what fork of the road,
or by what fork of the road.

-  Andrew Glaze
and finally, May Sarton's title poem from her book COMING INTO EIGHTY:

Coming into Eighty

Coming into eighty
I slow my ship down
For a safe landing.
It has been battered,
One sail torn, the rudder
Sometimes wobbly.
We are hardly a glorious sight.
It has been a long voyage
Through time, travail and triumph,
Eighty years
Of learning what to be
And how to become it.

One day the ship will decompose
And then what will become of me?
Only a breath
Gone into nothingness
Or a spirit of air and fire
Set free?
Who knows?

Greet us at landfall
The old ship and me,
But we can’t stay anchored.
Soon we must set sail
On the last mysterious voyage
Everybody takes
Toward death.
Without my ship there,
Wish me well.

- May Sarton

Andrew Glaze & me at book launch Aug. 16, 2015


  1. I <3 this post so much, Irene!! I am going to save these poems. Keepers, all.

  2. So beautiful, Irene. Thank you for these. As I am eldering and caring for parents who are oldering :) I am grateful to see these mindful words. Maybe being a poet keeps your mind sharp! Let's hope so.


Your thoughts?