Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Her hands have washed my children's skin

Today I'm thinking about my stressed out wife, too busy to recognize how awesome she is. So someone's got to step up and testify. 

Her hands have washed my children's skin
by Gideon Burton
Her hands have washed my children's skin
a thousand times.  Her eyes have traced their moods,
supplying comfort like a healing food.
Her arms have ferried loads of laundry in
and out of closets, washers, dryers.  Quick
to clean, and slow to salve a sobbing cheek.
Her skin has flushed with bright and ruddy heat
from ordering our little world.  The thick
and thin of rearing offspring, fixing meals,
of stroking fevered foreheads, making peace
amid the rhythmed din that robs our ease
--I haven't known a wound she couldn't heal.
     All this, as much as all her youthful glory,
     adds chapters thick to this our loving story.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

unholy sonnet

Here's something new. I've remixed the form of my sonnet, putting it into a Prezi presentation. If you haven't heard of Prezi, it is an amazing zoomable presentation tool that puts PowerPoint to shame. I don't know how much its artistic possibilities have been exploited, but this is a shot at rethinking an old form within a new one. I've made a movie out of the Prezi, which you can play, or you can click here to go to the Prezi presentation itself, which you can click through at your leisure (sequentially or not). You can also copy and remix the presentation for your own purposes if you wish. All in the spirit of remix culture!  Anyway, I'd love feedback from anyone on how this works. How does experiencing the sonnet in these different forms change its feel, its effect?





unholy sonnet
by Gideon Burton

to try to trace this rivering desire
to face this shivering of fire and ache
this trembling to require a bloodied blade
a muddied, scabbed, persistence of desire

oppresses me it presses me a shade
of wanting haunting me with buried fire
a darkly embered orange smoke a choir
and chorus, coarsely chanting sooty fate

I taste I waste a prey of praying's grace
unwieldy, not so wholly holy, ghost
and knotted flesh compounding tears and time

and time again to groan toward his face
with blinking stutttered broken breaking hopes
I claw the bread I claim the spilling wine

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. (This goes for the Prezi presentation, too!)


Monday, March 29, 2010

I know I have explained the crimson waves

I know I have explained the crimson waves
by Gideon Burton


I know I have explained the crimson waves,
the troughs of lucid pigment washing stain
across the iris, through the lens. The caves
of light that safeguard what is cool and plain
ascend, they say, but in the oily depth
the heated ink congeals against the doors
of what we plumb. Not even eels can guess
the thinning length of it, the rocky floor,
the tepid surface moonlight floating weak,
unfiltered by the viscous undergrowth,
the staid and steady vessel where the creak
of new antiquities relinquishes its smoke.
At least, I know we swam this course before:
no water, not a ship to claim the shore.



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - Nataraj Metz

Sunday, March 28, 2010

John Donne: Holy Sonnet VII

Since this week leads up to Easter and celebration of the Resurrection, today's sabbath sonnet comes from John Donne, whose Holy Sonnet VII so vividly imagines the return to bodies.




Holy Sonnet VII
by John Donne


At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go ;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, dea[r]th, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there.   Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood. 



Photo: flickr - globevisions

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Believing other messengers: the tide




Believing other messengers: the tide
by Gideon Burton

Believing other messengers: the tide
alive with curling currents; moons in phase
across a summer; waving wheat in wide
complacence greening through the warming days.
Confessing awkward liberties, the stilts
of bored flamingos, limestone hollowed walls
that crevice desert canyons in the guilt
of sad arroyos. I await the call
of constellations bending their arrays
to novel polygons of wonder, stark
and sensuous where ether creatures play
among the distances of quiet dark.
More sleepy now, more settled snugly firm,
the soil is boiling, chewed by silent worms.



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - oceandesetoiles

Friday, March 26, 2010

Who knows what trances, what pale ash, what tin



Who knows what trances, what pale ash, what tin
by Gideon Burton


Who knows what trances, what pale ash, what tin
Remittances escape in vapored questions,
A marbled weakening along the thin
Allowance embered in the evening, lessened
By azure remnants, scraps of afternoon
Abandoning their grasping tones, and sheared
By capillaries branching hot and soon
Among the aspen summers.  Can the clear
Desire of animals or patient rock
Embalm the ebony again?  Can God
Bring texture to the lands he mocks?
The cubes of oxygen, the evens odd
Along the furrowed waves?  Who knows the deep
Enameling, the place where iron weeps?



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - azglenn

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A labyrinth of flame and heated air




A labyrinth of flame and heated air
by Gideon Burton

A labyrinth of flame and heated air
above the canopy of oxygen:
it writes in silence, finding clouds to tear
with cable strands of light.  The sunset blends
along the ocean’s border with the sea
itself, and shimmered water breaks its glare,
then carries cups of salted fire to me
along the dimming shore.  I can’t compare
the island stars, though dense with gassy heat,
to all this dance of color, water, air;
nor will the still of midnight ever meet
the melodies the lapping wavelets share.
  Accompany me seaward as all dims:
  the water warms, the sail of evening trims.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr: szeke

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Snow



Snow
by Gideon Burton

It is a shaken spice, a moist and sweet 
relief to slake the blandness of our souls.
It is a heavy ripened grain, the wheat
that in the ether grows until we’re whole. 
It is the feathers of our mothers’ prayers 
returned fulfilling which the angels shred 
as gossamer, as grace redundant, layers 
of frozen time as we lay still in bed.
It is the cracking of the darkest sky,
soft meteors, the billion stars descend;
all victims cease from aching, asking why
the dirt, the noise, the gross confusion ends.
    What had been frozen thaws beneath its coat;
    what weary, rests, while worries grow remote.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr -  bridgetmckenz

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Yes, this is mist and tongues my neck

I found a sonnet I composed exactly 10 years ago today during another misty Spring morning. It seemed fitting for the day.

Yes, this is mist and tongues my neck
by Gideon Burton

Yes, this is mist, and tongues my neck,
the cool and wettened tissues of my eyes,
and this the sunlight, this the muted trek
of morning.  Even all the rain that tries
to shoulder hills with noisy coiling clouds
subsides, impossibly reduced to mist,
less amiable now.  The sun grows loud
along the steaming sidewalks.  Buds, like fists,
push hard against the breaking ground, content
to wait for pollens in the coming noon.
The early sparrows pause, their singing spent,
and they will turn to other matters soon.
    Remembering the mist as though a friend
    had called again, some idle time to spend.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - net_efekt

Monday, March 22, 2010

Since I Toward Your Lively Mind



Since I toward your lively mind am drawn
by Gideon Burton


Since I toward your lively mind am drawn
as much as to that honey voice that smooths
a calming passion into reason's grooves--
Since I toward that rising dawn
that is your lovely face to gaze upon
have greedily consumed what I might lose--
I must resist the worship I could choose
from sights and sounds too ready to be gone
when you grow absent from your husband's side.
Have mercy: send me silent, written thoughts;
no metaphors-- use chastity of speech.
So easily distracted by my bride,
your very sense in senses' web is caught,
and I may only grasp what I can reach.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Batter My Heart - John Donne

For this week's sabbath sonnet I post one of the holy sonnets of John Donne. Pictured here is the sonnet from a 1639 edition of Donne's poetry that I own -- one of my great treasures. The little book is the same size as a prayer book. Devotional poetry is poetry of piety and praise. But it is also private, something that you carry with you in a little book, or in a little poem of just over a dozen lines.  Donne's imagery is bold and his tone far different than the sentimental verse of so many religious writers. This guy is in the trenches of spiritual warfare, and he's calling in the General.

Holy Sonnet XIV - Batter My Heart
by John Donne

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Pyramids Conspire


The Pyramids Conspire
by Gideon Burton

The pyramids conspire to remain
the metaphor despite their long erosion.
Despite the plunder, all of the corrosion
by robbers, tourists, treading down the range
of holiness erected by the same
compulsions – East beyond the West’s implosion,
reduced to glimmers, none of the explosion
of oily heat that bathes the Nile like rain
from some elapsed and sleeping god. The flood
of due affection waters marsh and shore,
provoking hope in soft ceramic folds
until the Hebrew turns it all to blood.
We lapping drink, and drinking gasping more
than this renewal of the green of gold.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - Damon Photography

Friday, March 19, 2010

Nacho Hell

Okay, I'm on that food jag again. First there was the toast sonnet, then that one about cheetos, then the white chocolate one. Here's a little Mexican food oriented poem, more spicy in its tone than many.


Nacho Hell 
by Gideon Burton 
The ancient Mayas fried their mash of maize,
creating crispy strips of crunchy corn.
Upon an altar, smoking fires ablaze,
tomato and cilantro slush was born:
the Holy Salsa, hot to feed the gods,
was slathered on the chips with shouts of glee;
a taster slave would have to beat the odds
as JalapeƱos melt him to the knees.
A vat of rude Velveeta, spiced and warm,
would through a trough be splashed upon the mix.
The priestesses of munching would perform,
cavorting like a mass of colored sticks.
     Today, no take-out fetched from Taco Bell
     could match the brimstone of that nacho hell.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - kd bug.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

White Chocolate: A Vituperation

Well, continuing with the same tone as yesterday's sonnet, I thought I'd express just how I feel about that great impostor known as "white" chocolate. Seriously. What sort of fraud is this? Anyway, another food sonnet for you.


White Chocolate: A Vituperation
by Gideon Burton

White chocolate, oh oxymoron foul,
No cocoa bean did bless your candy vat.
We chocoholics taste you and we howl.
What are you? An albino slab of fat,
Hydrogenized and sweetened past remorse,
Then peddled with hyperbole and fraud
To unsuspecting chocophiles, of course,
Who'd rather gargle liver oil from cod.
I've gnawed on better plastic in my day;
More flavor can be found between one's toes.
Perverse confection, fit to throw away,
Unworthy of my chocolate-sniffing nose.
     White chocolate, a joke not semisweet,
     Your coming means our end is near complete.


Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - kitchen wench

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pollen Count

Yesterday I posted a sonnet cheering the early arrival of Spring. But I must confess that I hate the Spring, notwithstanding all its potent symbols of new life. Hate it. For me Spring means two very dreadful things: 1) the end of the skiing season; and 2) the beginning of allergies. I don't know how I make it from one glorious Winter to another. It makes me miss living in Quebec, where it was either Winter, or July. But in any case, here's a snarky little sonnet about my greatest biological enemy.


Pollen Count
by Gideon Burton

A froth of pungent pollen floating wet
upon the afternoon swells up its tide
then crashes over us, a sticky sweat
both rough and smooth, it sinks and glides
along the porous tissues of the eyes
until its claws invisible with hate
make clenching holds, they seize with dark surprise
the hottest triggers of our quickest fate.
I wash my hands my throat my face my sight
my mind a haze of mucous pressured fast
against the walls of swelling cells whose blight
of blood makes dying seem a sweet repast

     For I am eaten, chewed with spring’s attack
     and curse the world that frost and snow will lack.


Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - gravitywave

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dawn

Today it seemed Spring was peeping one eye open. Warmer, lots of people out, jogging or stretching their legs. 57 degrees. The dawning of a season, if not its full light.

Dawn
by Gideon Burton

A dome of milk so fine it can be breathed
into our panting lungs, it can be swum
by winging flocks who have the mountains wreathed
with fading summons, easy does it come
upon us, spilled across the eastern crags,
this broken whitewash filtered through the mist
of morning’s silken patience, rippling, drags
its sun-wet newness where the dew has kissed.
A lessening, a weight relieved, a call
to step away from cloistered cave and cell,
brief destiny, to breathe into the small
of dawn’s perfumings, stroke it well.
        I rise to join the living of the day,
        so rich, so soon, so filled in every way.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: Flickr - Robe Warde.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Proposal

Nowadays, as I'm thinking about my older sons and their girlfriends, I wonder about whether they will charm their future brides with the sort of earnest courting that they will deserve. So much less formality about dating today. "Courting" sounds old school. Well, I graduated from that old school, and maybe that's why I like the romantic variety of sonnet. If it was good enough for Shakespeare, it's good enough for me. Here's a sonnet about that electric moment of the proposal...


Proposal
by Gideon Burton

One word slow ripens, opens on her lips
twice stirred by kisses, silenced, pursed,
the current aches in her, she tastes she sips,
demure to savor silence, let him first
unwind her gaze, distill to language white
and fine as pearls or milk one drop one word
resigns her will and still he waits and weights
the time with heavy hope, he moves toward
the, oh, so simple syllables, he breathes
to stow the courage, births the thought in flesh
"And so–" "Don't speak, I know," say eyes and seethes
and flows their minute, minds, and hands to mesh
     combine, contract, renew, awake, confess:
     one word she urges, sudden, quiet: yes.


Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo courtesy of Rachel Rueckert Photography



Sunday, March 14, 2010

Baptism

I've written a lot of religiously oriented sonnets. Some are imitations of scriptural passages, others are meditations on various spiritual matters or items from church history. Maybe I'll try to do a series of "sabbath sonnets" for every Sunday. So here's one:



Baptism
by Gideon Burton

A gray and troubled ocean laps around
my chest, the chilled and murky liquid stings
my limbs, my skin. My heart, a stone, now sounds
another fathom: darkens, quiets, sinks.
Above, the twilight weakly plies the surface,
grows distant; I drop in ashen silt.    
The downward current traps me with its bias,
all color black but this my crimson guilt.

With sudden force, uprushed into the light,
I burst into the breath of boldest day.
By hands unseen, with grappling grace and might,
the murky ice dissolves to passing spray.
   With calming force he warms a chilling soul;
   With arms and warmth revives and makes me whole.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - ant.photos

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Incisions, crimson, ripple down the skin

I watched a National Geographic show about Angkor Wat, Cambodia with the kids. Mysterious, ancient, eerie. This poem seemed to fit the image of this library in ruins from that strange spot in Asia.

Incisions, crimson, ripple down the skin
by Gideon Burton

Incisions, crimson, ripple down the skin
of western sky, as though the other side
were blood and thunder stanched by timely light.
The remnant moisture glistens in the thin
and thinning twilight. Vapors melt, subside,
relax into oblivions. The might
of sunrays abdicates, the crickets’ fright
is amplified in quickened thrums. The dried
and sullen face along the rising moon
approves or disapproves in measured pride,
and if and when a thunderhead compiles
in thickening stealth, the moment is too soon:
our Amazons are filling full and wide
with tempered salt, with sinners rank and file.


Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo credit: flickr: stuck in customs

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fire and Music #1

There is a line from All About Eve where Betty Davis refers to love (somewhat dismissively) as "fire and music." It seems fitting to find -- within my wife's favorite film -- three words so apt in describing her. I thought I would use "Fire and Music" as a series title for my uxorious sonnets.



Fire and Music #1
by Gideon Burton

Not to a flower, not to mornings bright
Can I compare her whom I call my wife.
Her skin, her eyes, though lovely to my sight,
Conceal what matters: food and drink and life
To me, no less than water, bread and air.
And so of her topography, though fair,
No map I make for onlookers to stare.
I cannot dress with metaphors the bare
And simple substance of her company:
Companion strong in mind and single will
Who will to me so much so long so free
So give herself my hunger hungers still.
    While other men analogies compose
    She rhymes with me beyond a poet’s prose.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Feast of Cana

I've always been fascinated by the fact that the first miracle Jesus performed was not the healing of the sick, but the livening up of a party -- a wedding party, in fact. The role of God in weddings would seem to be just at that sacred, ceremonial moment where man and woman are made one before God. But at Cana, Jesus used his powers to provide for the feast. So the picture that goes along with my sonnet retelling the bible story is not Carl Bloch's solemn painting about Jesus making wine out of water. I chose the picture of some wedding guests dancing and enjoying themselves. I think this is just what Jesus was after.



Feast of Cana
by Gideon Burton

Perhaps he was a guest, perhaps a friend
rejoicing in the union taking place
that day.  Two pairs of parents, proud to blend
their common blood.  Strong joys to light the face,
and wine to lighten footsteps for a dance.
He must have overheard their worried talk
as servants hovered over jars.  He grants
it is a little matter, yet to mock
the loss were nothing kind on their behalf.
A wave, a word, a hurried, baffling sip.
The host and hostess, crying, start to laugh;
the guests raise happy cups to smiling lips.
Great miracle, indeed, to raise the dead,
to lift our hearts, as well, through wine and bread.



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Her fingers knew the alphabets of rain

Her fingers knew the alphabets of rain
by Gideon Burton 

Her fingers knew the alphabets of rain,
the spilling heavens, spelling as they fell
among the hollyhocks.  Her lips could tell
the droplets’ pacing as their rhythm framed
crescendos to be felt but never named
by children watching sidewalk gutters swell
against their borders.  She could sound the well
of noons’ humidities until the drained
and flaccid clouds retreated to the east
beyond the tearing mountain summits.  This,
her testimony of the moistened light,
and this, the calm recession of the beast.
A marbled moment, braided with her kiss
along the shining edges of the night.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship

Photo: sk8geek on Flickr

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cheetos

Okay, so I figure I need to mix it up on the moods of my sonnets. Here's another food sonnet. Something lighter. Enjoy!


Cheetos
by Gideon Burton

To cows of any breed there’s no relation,
Nor to their dairy products milky fat,
Yet Cheetos have addicted half the nation --
Oh my, my spit was orange when I spat.

A certain cheesiness, perhaps, plus salt,
A puff of corn, a thing of air and crunch.
It’s all we need to make our snack assault
Foregoing something wholesome for our lunch.

Amorphously composed, like mutant worms
And dusted with fluorescent orange tint
Their carbohydrate glory in us burns
Until reduced to pulpy junk food lint.

    The Cheeto, more like Styrofoam than cheese
    No matter, for its taste with us agrees.


Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship




Monday, March 8, 2010

The Stone of Fear

Here's a moody little sonnet for you. Go figure.



The Stone of Fear
by Gideon Burton

Come here and place your hands along the stone
of fear. And feel its cool relief, the breath
of sympathetic coal, of rivers sewn
with threads of night into a salty mesh
of swallowing. The patient nerves explode
in silence, frayed with razored fire quick
and coarse. Remove the moonlit cover, load
each palm with oily pitch, your skin grows slick
enough to ripple in the very scent
of hair, and every felling stroke betrays
the origins you’d long suspected spent
and empty, lacerations in the grey
of graces. See them rising, moon and stone,
each sentence pregnant, visible, alone.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgement of authorship

Photo: "Moonset" by Clive Shaupmeyer

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Percussive Grace



Percussive Grace
by Gideon Burton


Percussive grace, as frequently and sure
as rivers washing silt to moonless shores
along that deep and silent corridor
in which both time and space collapsing blur.
Unlike the rain–whose fingers pry and twist
the faces we had readied, pale and low–
the drumming wind both warm and burning slow
discovers porous reasons we had missed.
Relentlessly the purity of stark
forgiving winter muzzles seeping greys,
announcing mutely what the sinner prays:
his angry words, her testimony, dark
enough to merit contrapuntal light,
more vibrant in its chiaroscuro fight.



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgement of authorship


Photo: Keith Sketon, www.californiaphotographyworkshops.com

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Creation



Creation
by Gideon Burton


Not only in the center but the seams
where hydrogen will tear the cold, the black
of quiet space like cellophane that cracks
or curls to cinders in the sudden steam
of fission, or the sharp and mute attack
of first creation: brooding doves and streams
of errant magma wide as devils' dreams
where elements dissemble, vapors stack
and twist to igneous confusions, grey
with sudden sinking, sullen age, or dumb
allowance for the hovering pregnant dove.
Not only in the vagaries we pray:
the pressing wish to bleed and to succumb,
to wash with ashes snowing from above.



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgement of authorship

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oregon Fog: A Petrarchan Sonnet

Here's a sonnet I wrote following the Petrarchan rhyme scheme (ABBA / ABBA / CDE / CDE). It doesn't quite have that same "wrapping up" feeling you get in the typical English sonnet with its closing couplet ("So long as men shall breathe or eyes shall see / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee"). But it has its merits. 

I've only been to Oregon once. Its moodiness impressed me. So I wrote this to remember it by. How about you, do you memorialize places you've been in some artistic way or another?

Oregon Fog
by Gideon O. Burton

Another thing, not smoke at all, not dry
Nor ashy, something close to water yet
Another thing, not clouds that nestle, set
In lumpy languor on the hillsides, high.
It is a brooding, patient thing, a sigh
These swaying redwoods breathe, a kind of wet
Companion, fingers dangling where they shed
A lacquer for the leaves. It doesn't fly
Away, but lingers in the early, late,
Then dissipates in silence as the trees
Emerge, ungraying, colored, thick with juice,
The grasses, ferns grown glassy in the great
Baptizing morning rite. The paws release,
The captive ground uncaptived, fragrant, loosed. 

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgement of authorship
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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ozymandias - A classic sonnet

Egypt: ThebesImage by Brooklyn Museum via Flickr

(For some reason my auto-posting didn't work and so yesterday (3/3/10) nothing was posted on my new blog promising something posted every day (alas!). So, today I'm posting two sonnets to make up for it. ) 

The previous sonnet, "Rosetta," was in part inspired by this classic one from Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ozymandias." I remember once when I was in high school, working a summer job with a lot of misfits scraping weeds from school parking lots. One of the men paused from his work, leaned on his hoe, and then recited Ozymandias in mournful tones somehow very appropriate both to the poem and that moment. I've learned not to underestimate either those who labor with their hands or with their iambic pentameter:

Ozymandias
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
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Rosetta Stone

A block of broken basalt, food for sand,
a grave and silent priest who holds his tongue
and hides his triple tongues that praised the man,
King Ptolemy, whose benefices sung
in trio, quarried chorus etched in white
on black, that conquering Greece could ready read
what ebbing Egypt eked with chiseling bite
in sacred glyphs due honors to be said
in swift Demotic, deference and dread.
A stone, confetti for a king’s parade,
though pharaohs of the pyramids lay dead
whose mighty mysteries in silence fade.        
   Not sphinx nor obelisk in desert found        
   compare to this light stone left on the ground.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Toast to Toast

This is one my students have enjoyed. It's important not to feel like sonnets are always really heavy or romantic. I wrote this one while my wife and I were up late having a snack. I grabbed a napkin, told her "Give me any subject in the world! I'm writing a sonnet about on this napkin right now!" Guess what she said.

A Toast to Toast
Gideon Burton

Of all the snacks that beckon in the night
When tummies growl and gnawing hunger calls,
But one can satisfy my famished plight
And summons me to stumble through the halls.
Oh piece of bread, so humble in your slice
What magic turns your skin from white to brown?
What arrogant aromas do entice
When toaster pops and butter coats you down!
With cinnamon and sugar or with jam
I dress you in the ornaments of sweet
More sated, I, than proverb's happy clam
When crispy, hot and warm my lips you meet.
     Of every night-time treat you are the most
     I honor you, great food, whose name is toast.


Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgement of authorship

Monday, March 1, 2010

Two manias, a second renaissance, and a classic sonnet from Sidney

So, it's like this. I have a great passion for the Renaissance, for Shakespeare, for Milton, for the metaphysical and devotional poets, for iambic pentameter, and for that redoubtable form that has proven so hearty for so very long -- the sonnet. 

That's mania #1.

Oh, and it's a true mania. I memorize sonnets. I assign my college students to memorize, recite, and write them. For a period of nearly four years, I wrote a sonnet EVERY SINGLE DAY. That's about 1200 sonnets. Crazy. After that, I tried to swear off of them. Really. But I'm back on that crack cocaine of English literature. Not quite to that earlier extreme. But there's something about them that keeps me (and so many others) coming back to them...

The other mania I have is for the digital renaissance that's now upon us. It isn't just my interest in technology or Web2.0; it's that I see a kind of creativity being made possible nowadays that has not been operative since that first Renaissance four to five hundred years ago. We see the democratization of the media, broader access to art and literature, but also the tools for creativity being much better distributed and having lower thresholds for entry.