POETRY and POEM SAMPLER

John J. Ronan publishes poetry regularly in national reviews and journals.  Recent work appeared in Confrontation, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Southern Humanities Review, Portland Review, Big Muddy, and Tar River Poetry.  Pieces have also appeared in Folio, Threepenny Review, Hollins Critic, New England Review, Southern Poetry Review, Louisville Review, Greensboro Review, Notre Dame Review, NYQ, et al.  He is active in many poetry organizations, including Poetry Society of American, AWP, and Mass Poetry.   A collection, Marrowbone Lane, was published by The Backwaters Press and named a  “Highly Recommended” book by the Boston Authors Club in 2010.  From the back cover of Marrowbone Lane: “Like the crows he describes in one of his witty, wry poems, John J. Ronan casts a ‘cold eye on life, on death.’  These edgy, intelligent poems brim with emotion without ever nearing the sentimental.  Linda Pastan, former Poet Laureate of Maryland, has said of Mr. Ronan’s work: ‘Very good indeed: original, assured, just a touch sardonic.’  And from Tim O’Brien, the National Book Award winner: ‘Terrific – tender and moving and beautifully written.'”  John was named a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in 1999-2000 and has also been a Ucross Fellow and Bread Loaf Scholar.   COVERFINALA new book, Taking the Train of Singularity South from Midtown, will appear in January, 2017.   The collection is a homage to New York City and American pluralism, and about which Rhina P. Espaillat had said:  “I’m rejoicing in the kind of poetry intended, not exclusively for the solitary reader communing with himself, but also – and maybe principally – for the larger Self…”   (Reserve now!) 

 

Among other writing and media awards Ronan has garnered are a Silver Cindy, a Telly, and an Aurora Gold.  In addition, he has translated and published work by the renown Uruguayan-French poet, Jules Supervielle.  John used part of the NEA stipend to support a television program, The Writer’s Block, and for other writing projects in Gloucester, MA, where he was appointed for a term as Poet Laureate in June of 2008.  The Catching Self appeared in fall of 1996, a collection of twenty-four previously published poems.  Carol Dine, the author of Trying to Understand the Lunar Eclipse and Naming the Sky, wrote that “From Ronan we get perception, humor, and language: ‘A fly orbits your forehead/ understudy buzzard/ the underworld’s national bird.'”  The Curable Corpse appeared in December, 1999. The book’s twenty-one poems had been published individually in San Jose Studies, California Quarterly, The Recorder, and other journals.  Rhina Espaillat, author of Where Horizons Go and winner of the prestigious T.S. Eliot Award, says that “Ronan has a rare gift for the apt, unexpected phrase, the startling but accurate detail … Word of a new book … is very good news.”Early in 2001 Pudding House Publications announced the appearance of a new volume in its Greatest Hits series: John J. Ronan: Greatest Hits 1975-2000. The series, edited by publisher-poet Jennifer Bosveld, included such nationally acclaimed poets as Gary Fincke, Carol Morris, and Mark Halperin.  An anthology,  Sad Little Breathings and Other Acts of Ventriloquism, features two of John Ronan’s award-winning poems: “Nuance with Moose” and “The Five Stages of Grief.”  The poems were chosen by Heather McHugh, who introduces the volume,  from over 1,700 entries.   The anthology was published by PublishingOnline in the fall of 2001.John J. Ronan’s poems included here are:   “The School of Not Moving,” “In the Basement,” “On the Oubangui,” “The Parlor,” “At the Museum of Modern Art,”  and closing with “Taking the Train of Singularity South from Midtown,”  a tribute to the pluralism of New York City, and the nation, and the title poem of the recently announced new volume.  Read more at the Poetry Society of America.

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The School of Not Moving

 

Hands flat on his greywacke lap,

Pharaoh’s unfazed by city traffic,

Gabby guards, the bell of children

A gallery back as they meet the mummy.

 

Similar stillness marks the stern

Gravegood gods, the case of cats,

And hard headrests chipped from sycamore

Fig that would surely slow time.

 

The children charge, scend of the present

In a playful, plaid dash. They fog

And print the glass, they tickle toes,

Cry ‘Cookie!’ at canopic jars.

 

Only their flight to the future, ancient

Rome restores the ka of calm,

As slow, time-killing tourists,

Stiff as stelae, breathe easy.

 


In the Basement

 

On certain isolated, indifferent days

a bright bar of light will strike

clear across the basement.

Like Newgrange or Stonehenge, except

the basement’s not aligned with anything.

The light finds something to do.

It probes bundles of books, the white

washing machine, lingers over

Christmas bins, spots the wine

and LP’s, a swing set,

half-empty cans of Artisan Apple

and Pewter Blue, the last lapsed

décor idea, stored there in the dark.

Turning around, you notice the dull,

narrow window that allows light

to angle in just right, without warning,

an accident really because of how

the house sits oddly on its plot,

because of the drifting position of cloud,

because of sun, the season, and the trees.

 

 

On the Oubangui

 

Guides poled and guests paddled,

The bare-backed crew working currents

As the rest of us stroked slowly,

Wake and water snakes trailing

Our canoe on the broad Oubangui, border

Of Congo and a former French colony,

La Republique de l’Afrique Centrale,

Five desperate degrees above the equator.

The shortwave radio crackled static:

‘Snow in the Dakotas,’ ‘Season’s Greetings,’

And on Christmas, ‘Dean Martin has Died.’

Tourists toasted with palm wine

The voice, the Rat Pack, Vegas –

A fond belief in booze and crooning,

Remote as we were, on a river in Africa.

The first morning we had pushed into mist,

Splash followed by the splash of crocodiles,

On the tributary Mboumou. Second morning,

A portage past rapids and the start

Of a week on the big river west

Of Kemba, mud and a mile wide.

Many hours passed without hailing

Another dugout, then suddenly dozens

Would appear near the next village,

Where we’d stock up on water and wine,

Either bank of the bending river –

Or if the radio warned of rebels in Congo,

The next north, hugging the Republic.

A post office and goats, gusts

Of children, chickens, a mission, a mosque.

Animated gab in the taverns, our topics

Christmas, Amore, and small arms.

The guides would buy cassava bread

And fish and bake the fish on the bank,

Saying grace by day to Le Seigneur,

By night in Sango to mahogany and the moon.

 

 

The Parlor

 

The oldest of the grand houses along Washington

Dates from ‘84 and is one of our parlors,

A mansion with wraparound porches and bay windows

Built by a fishing magnate, a great man,

Himself buried from home, in the former custom.

Many evenings there are crowds of people and cars,

So a stranger would think party, again as earlier,

Though absent the orchestra and alcohol – or only sometimes

A pint flask pressed in a corner, a cello.

Mornings, the stranger would guess brunch, an awards

Ceremony for civic pride held in the restored

Structure, the women’s hats and silk bows

Another throwback. Like the calm, serious conversation,

The white leather guest book, and the garden.

 

 

At the Museum of Modern Art

 

Photography’s third floor, the brochure

Announcing pioneer artists and old

Prints of the liquid labial school –

Albumen silver, gelatin silver.

Turning a corner, you’re stopped dead

By Eugene Cuvelier: Will, in a bare

Wind-tangled tree – who knew

They were saying everything in 1860?

And by Auguste Belloc, whose sitter, unnamed,

Presents nevertheless with pride and attitude.

In ’99, Gertrude Kasebier

Speaks of attitude and self and hope,

As after her White, Modotti, Albers,

And Ilse Bing, if you can believe it, in the 30’s.

For perspective, the curators include Cygnus

By the Henry brothers, Paul and Prospere:

Star-spatter, lightyears wide,

Shot to correct our relentless spin,

No sliding lines of time trace

But points of light stock still –

Each like a faint magnesium flash

Sparked by someone looking back.

As certainly, in Cygnus there are other cities,

Sunday afternoons, Modern audiences

Individual in dress and piercings and hair,

Who with simple syntax gasp “Ooooh!”

At the early evolution of photography, a process

Demanding silver and somewhere else.

 

 

 

Taking the Train of Singularity South from Midtown

 

As the funnel of everyone in Times Square             42nd Street

cascades down the station stairs,

pace and urgent purpose damming

briefly at turnstiles before cleaving

into streams for an 8th or 7th Avenue

train, an A Train, the Two,

and while quick, diverged currents, hot

and breathless, pick platforms, stop

to listen for slivering steel drums

in the wait for translation to work or home,

here, at the side of a narrow island

forty feet under ground,

with a wind-rush and rattle that drive

away agile, enterprising mice,

Ett Tag, Bir Tren,

Mmoja Treni, Een Trein,

Premier Train, Jeden Trenovat,

the red One Train halts

And the motley, mustered public steps

forward, hushed and obscure, hips

shifting at doors in slide-by

witness, separate bodies white

and yellow, brown, black and tan,

pocked or whiskery, whiskeyed, wan,

green, gray, big or bone-house,

the meek, mouthy, angry, lost –

a tourist who trails maps and binoculars

jamming last onto the crowded car.

App-trance and defensive doze,

deft conventions of eye and elbow

mind the tribes. A breath brushes

your strapping hand. The platform passes.

 

Tumbled from the scrum of Penn Station,               34th Street

a handsome hardboy’s followed by nuns,

louche in blue loafers, who start

with the tame tourist, a fresh mark,

move to a laptop on a clenched lap,

a  plugged hummer, a patient cop,

a girl in a green hijab who quits

her Misbaha, nods at the matching habits,

smiling saints panhandling

the parish – the buxom beauty who pulls

open her purse, offering slowly

to a witness of rapt women as she throws

dimes into the can, clink, clink:

“The thing of it is, here’s the thing,

the reason. The reason being: yes.”

Eyes rise to Viva Las Vegas!,

Absolut, a scratched Cadbury ad:

Amy + Elvis – together at last.

 

Morning unfolds. A uniformed girl,                   28th Street

perfumed and stage-painted, twirls

on arrival, greets the hardboy’s attitude

with a teasing parade of school plaid,

half-and-half harlot, ingénue,

in salsa, sour grape, Tabu,

 

Opined widely by a man who makes                     23rd Street

his mute partner blush back,

a blonde by the busty mater, opposite

his signing hands and the black habits.

An icon-minded, common commute

Flourishing below Fashion Avenue

in GAP and caps, Jets, Giants,

Puma, Nike, and tapestry pants,

N.Y.F.D.,

in the sexy matron, the sibyl, who speaks

with sly and cryptic, wisecrack sadness:

“A known fact: apart. Anonymous,”

 

During a door delay in which a pigeon,                        18th Street

engaged in a serious, moral mission,

preens onto the car, the pride of Chelsea,

an urban bird who avoids the eyes

of travelers, they in turn avoiding the bird

behind pickets of print and posture.

The nuns, surrounded by trousers, smile.

The bumpkin, gaze behaving, smiles.

The worldly pigeon, a positive nodder,

fronts the speechless woman who figures

food with a brown bag at her knees,

and witness-wise, dumb as destiny,

fate or whateverhappenshappens,

eats seeds from her open hand.

 

Lights flicker. The train, in fits,                 14th Street

limps to the Village, St. Vincent’s.

The sage woman, staring intently

at a dark wood of girders and graffiti,

bristles, bosom and big rings:

“The only rebuttal’s love. Longing.”

The cars start. Peeper skews

to Viagra, Visit the Brooklyn Zoo,

listens to chatter blend with brat-

happy prattle, the porn plot

girl who giggles like tickling and sways,

sailor, to the rock and roll of the train,

mix with tin clinks of a can’s

conjured coins, the cluck of nuns,

whole rests from the help-meet

whose pigeon pecks at sunflower seeds,

a tightly fused and multi-tracked

Suite for City in Clickety-Clack.

 

At Christopher, a drunk curses Christ,               Christopher Street

easy credit, his mother, the Mets,

warns of the end of the world and laughs.

No one gets on, no one off.

 

The train stops short of Houston,                     Houston Street

stops in the sealed tunnel. Engines

stop, dull lights die

as bodies breathe an undivided sigh.

Lights on. Off. Tense

whispers worm the blind silence,

the stage stripped to underlying time,

a long, long loss of light.

When a Zippo’s flicked at the far end

of the car, the steely woman sends

down a candle, the candle slow

to return in grudged transfer, glow

soft on the row of stoic handlers,

godgift and galoot, gangbanger,

faces awake in dim, driven

epiphany, grace held and given.

The hardboy’s forehead flames with lipstick.

The blowzy bird runs from a kick.

Lights. Jerk of cars. Lurch.

Shoes shuffle, buttocks touch,

breasts and elbows, corps de ballet

in brave, awkward, standing balance.

 

During the usual shift and witness,                   Canal Street

the school girl, in gimmick innocence,

leaves with hardboy and his target heart.

“Scratch and match! Tartan. Tats.”

The bird, confident that symbol solves

for self, takes a seat after Canal.

 

At Franklin, it’s good-bye to the bum, who rises     Franklin Street

with help from the hardy nuns, good-bye

to the quiet signers who nod and stand,

fire quiet hand-in-hand.

 

Riders, their rides ending or begun,                 Chambers Street

are off and on, fungible, one.

You, with your field glasses and guides,

you become everyone too, quietly beside

yourself in witless, wondering joy,

no longer alone, no longer on the way.

Ett Tag, Bir Tren,

Mmoja Treni, Een Trein…

One: existing whole in a sphere,

a numen or essence and no more.

The reason? The reason being: yes,

the breath and brush of necessary witness,

superposition of drunk and dove,

an oracle, blue loafers, love

struck in fugitive communion, our close

going on the warm, coincident cars.

 

 

Box 5524

Gloucester, MA 01930

Copyright (c) 2017 by John J. Ronan