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Tulips Sans Chimneys

Tulips for Elsie cover image

Mr. Potter’s given us a bold adventurous book with plenty of sharp turns at high speed, with some gestures toward Neruda and Merwin but also “Sk8,” a gr8 skateboarding poem, and sonnets, and brave ventures into rhymed verse, poems for friends and relatives, “Stopping by Blogs on a Frosty Evening,” and poems of passionate love with angels looking down from above. Plus tulips and Elsie. —Garrison Keillor

I have enjoyed the company of Jonathan Potter’s poetry for years and rejoice at the arrival of this new collection with its unabashed delight, authentic intimacy, and emotionally convincing, often playful music. Potter is at turns a graceful, organic monologist and a wry, deft formalist. These are poems of generous mythmaking, self-deprecating humor, passion, and the glories of fatherhood. They inhabit a Seattle of historical icons and the poet’s own skateboarding youth, a London of “tidy grime” and love, and the derelict and divine streets and poetry community and waterfall of Spokane, this poet’s answer to William’s Paterson. By the time Potter wishes he could “become myself with vengeance / and take you with me,” he has done both. —Jonathan Johnson

In an era of poetry that plumbs humanity’s darker depths, it is a pleasant respite to read Jonathan Potter’s Tulips for Elsie, a collection that wears its pathos and its prosody lightly as it confronts life’s familiar concerns—love, sex, family life, and his beloved native place (Spokane, Washington)— with full-bodied affection and gentle irony. Many poems here are sonnets—not just Petrarchan or Shakespearean but also Onegin stanzas!—yet Potter makes rhyming in these conversationally-toned fourteeners look effortless. Particularly engaging are the portrait sonnets featuring poets and writers associated with Spokane (Alexie, Howell, Walter among them), the longer poems about the poet’s lively and accomplished daughters, and the poetic palimpsests replying to or parodying well-known classics. By the time we finish reading, we may feel ourselves, with the poet, to have “co-authored  . . . a beautiful book of longing.” —Carolyne Wright

‘… Still With You.’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘… I rose up and am still with you.’

Psalm 139: 18

‘… His Sepulchre Shall Be Glorious.’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

In that day the root of Jesse, who stands for an ensign of the people, him the Gentiles shall beseech, and his sepulchre shall be glorious.’

Isaiah 11: 10

‘Let Him Not Lose What He So Dear Hath Bought.’

From Cell 25 of the Convent of San Marco, by Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), 15th Century

Think on the very làmentable pain,

Think on the piteous cross of woeful Christ,

Think on His blood beat out at every vein,

Think on His precious heart carvèd in twain,

Think how for thy redemption all was wrought:

Let Him not lose what He so dear hath bought.

–Pico della Mirandola (translated by St Thomas More)

‘… Wounded for Our Iniquities …’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘… he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins….

Isaiah 53: 5

‘They Parted My Garments Amongst Them….’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘They parted my garments amongst them; and upon my vesture they cast lots.’

Psalm 22: 19

‘… He Shall Be Led as a Sheep to the Slaughter …’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth: he shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth.’

Isaiah 53: 7

‘I am ready for scourges….’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘For I am ready for scourges: and my sorrow is continually before me.

Psalm 38: 18

‘I have not turned away my face …’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me.

Isaiah 50:6

‘… They Strike the Cheek of the Judge of Israel.’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘ Now shall you be laid waste, O daughter of the robber: they have laid siege against us, with a rod shall they strike the cheek of the judge of Israel.’

Micah 4:14

‘…They Shall Bind You…’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘And you, O son of man, behold they shall put bands upon you, and they shall bind you with them: and you shall not go forth from the midst of them. And I will make your tongue stick fast to the roof of your mouth, and you shall be dumb….’

Ezekiel 3: 25-26

‘…Even the Man Who Ate My Bread….’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

… Even the man … in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has greatly supplanted me.’

Psalm 41: 10

‘…My Victim, Which I Slay for You…’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘Assemble yourselves, make haste, come together from every side to my victim, which I slay for you, a great victim upon the mountains of Israel: to eat flesh, and drink blood.’

Ezekiel 39:17

‘…Be Clean…’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘… when you multiply prayer, I will not hear: for your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, be clean, take away the evil of your devices from my eyes, cease to do perversely, learn to do well: seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge for the fatherless, defend the widow.’

Isaiah 1: 15-17

GK Reads JP

https://www.garrisonkeillor.com/radio/twa-the-writers-almanac-for-march-30-2021/

The Piano Student

The scroll of shadows gentles the flat shape
++Of wallpapered surfaces while sunlight,
++++Elliptic and crimped through drawn slatted shades,
++++Understates its own grace notes in grades
++Of gold that no one would die for, or fight
To distraction’s pure gain — so drop the drape
+++++And return to counterpoint’s metronome.
Measured impositions wait to resume.

One moment kills the next in crude cascades
++Of dark on light on final dark. Though night
++++Recites its nocturnes to beautifully ape
++++Conservatory postures, scraps of crape
++Conceal blisters on cherry veneer slight
As settled dust. So Grecian colonnades,
+++++Redundant with gods, once held heaven’s dome.
The measured dispositions must resume.

Practical inspiration finds escape
++In imperfect struggling sounds that, weighed
++++To balance, make a sacrifice of delight.
++++So bully the muse if you must — incite
++The bristled scales on a dragon’s back, trade
On spider webs, hammer the sour grape —
+++++But time with both its hands will push you home
To measured compositions.
+++++++++++++++++++++++Now. Resume.

http://korrektivpress.com/2021/03/32155/

Coming in April