Today, I am delighted to welcome poet, author and blogger Colleen Chesebro to the “Treasuring Poetry” series. The aim of this series is to introduce poets and poetry lovers to each other and to share reviews for some of the lovely poetry books available.
What is your favorite poem? Include it with your answer
This is a difficult question because I enjoy many kinds of poetry. However, I love the Beat Poets the most. Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg always come to mind, both with their excellent Haiku. However, my favorite poem from Allan Ginsberg is called, “Sunflower Sutra.”
I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—
—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem
and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past—
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye—
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives,
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown—
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these
entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen,
—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.
Thank you, Colleen, for this introduction to Allan Ginsberg’s poetry, which I have not read before. This is an amazing and meaningful poem.
What is your interpretation of this poem?
This poem was written before I was born, but it is an example of Ginsberg’s view of a desolate America destroyed by the wiles of modern society. Who knew this prophetic poem would mean so much more to me in the twenty-first century?
Ginsberg’s poetry often railed against societal norms. As a Jew, and a gay man, he experienced a different world than most of us in America. What made this poem different from some of his other work, was at the end, he offered a glimmer of hope.
I also love that he titled the poem a Sutra, which is a Buddhist literature form that uses a string of aphorisms (tersely phrased statements of a truth or opinion; an adage). miriamwebster.com
The imagery of the sunflower suggests that America has been battered out of recognition but has the ability to become beautiful again. Ginsberg gives a political commentary on America’s core values: the freedom of expression, and the ability of the people to share in forward thinking political and social thought. I can’t help but wonder what he would say about today’s political climate?
In this poem, Ginsberg refers to “…memories of Blake.” Here he is talking about William Blake, one the leading poets from the Romantic era. Ginsberg rejected the ugliness of the modern world in all of its industrial glory. This is his way of wishing we were back in the Romantic era before industry destroyed the natural beauty of our land. The last part of the poem is where he compares Americans to “golden sunflowers,” encouraging us all to find and embrace our own beauty in this world.
The poem doesn’t contain beats or syllables. Instead, it moves with the rhythm of our breath. Ginsberg loved spoken poetry. The short stanzas, like a Haiku, share a moment of enlightenment or truth making this poem a classic Sutra.
This interpretation of the poem is fascinating, Colleen.
What emotions does this poem invoke in you?
This poem inspires me to take poetic action to help spread the word of hope through my own poetry. Like the “crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye sunflower,”(Ginsberg’s Sunflower Sutra) we have to look beneath the ugliness to find the beauty in the world. Once we find that beauty, we should share it through poetic expression.
Sharing beauty through poetry is a wonderful goal, Colleen.
If you could choose to write like any well-known poet, who would it be?
Ginsberg wrote some pretty raw stuff, (Howl, is long and contains profanity) but I can’t dispute the genius of his word combinations, imagery, or unconventional writing styles.
Raw and unconventional writing styles make a big impression on the reader.
What is special to you about this poet’s writing style?
I wrote a term paper about Ginsberg in college because he also liked writing Haiku and Senryu, although his poems are found by searching for Haiku. In fact, he was one of the first to write Haiku in a single line and not in the 5/7/5 format of the traditional Haiku in English that was popular at the time. He argued that with the differences between Japanese and English that particular form wasn’t important for English Haiku. I’m sure this was another reason why academic poets use the 3/5/3 or 2/3/2 format for Haiku in English.
Most of all, his words always speak to me. Listen to the specific patterns of speech he uses in his poetry. He bares it all and says it all, in a style that shouts freedom of expression. He defied traditional academic disciplines and wrote the way he wanted to. That’s pure creativity!
I agree, Colleen, and I take my hat off to his innovation and imagination.
Find Colleen Chesebro
Speculative Fiction Novelist, Prose Metrist, Word Witch
Fairies, Myths, & Magic: A Summer Celebration
What Amazon says
Step into a world where fairies, dragons, and other magical beings converge in a collection of poetry and short stories inspired by the celebration of Litha, the Summer Solstice.
Meet Drac, a dragon cursed by his own poisonous deeds, and two pixies who help an old man remember a lost love. You’ll meet a pair of fairies with a sense of humor, and a young girl who fulfills her destiny after being struck by lightning. Learn what happens when a modern witch’s spell goes terribly wrong. Meet the Sisters of the Fey, a group of Slavic Witches who sign a pact with the Rusalki Fey to preserve their magic for the good of all.
Atmospheric and haunting, the prose and poetry, will rewrite the mythologies of the past bringing them into the future.
This book includes a delightful array of short stories and poems with fairies, myths and magic as the central themes that link them all. The author provides an interesting introduction to fairies and shares her own personal thoughts and ideas about this subject. There is also an intriguing overview of myths and how they originated.
The poetry takes numerous shapes and forms and there are tankas, haibuns, double tankas, cinquains and freestyle poems all of which contribute into making this book an interesting reading adventure.
My favourite story was The Leaving – A Story of Supernatural Magic which features the elderly Miss Pensie Taylor as the main character. Miss Pensie has lived in her house in the same town all her life and is a well know character to the older residents. Her house overlooks a swamp and a graveyard and she has an intimate knowledge of the inmates of the graveyard as her father was the caretaker when she was a child. Miss Pensie is a brave soul with a gift that enables her to see the spirits of those long dead.
One evening, during a heavy thunderstorm, Miss Pensie notices something unusual about the graveyard and goes out to investigate after the rain has abated. She has an interesting experience alone in the darkness.
My favourite poem in this collection is titled The magical Tree and my favourite stanza is the following:
“In Autumn –
the Lady shows us her splendor
whose bright orange leaves herald
the darkness of another winter slumber.”
If you enjoy poetry and have an interest in myths, magic and fairies, you will love this beautiful collection.
Purchase Fairies, Myths, & Magic: A Summer Celebration
About Robbie Cheadle
Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.
I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.
I have participated in a number of anthologies:
- Two short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Dark Visions, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre;
- Three short stories in Death Among Us, an anthology of murder mystery stories, edited by Stephen Bentley;
- Three short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Nightmareland, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre; and
- Two short stories in Whispers of the Past, an anthology of paranormal stories, edited by Kaye Lynne Booth.
I also have a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.
Find Robbie Cheadle
Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads
Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram
Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books
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