Calling Martha Stephens, keeping my promise!

blogging, poetry, Thoughts, United Kingdom

cropped-oldnorth.jpgOne of my favourite poems is by Stanley Kunitz.  I came across his poems by reading his obituary a few years ago.  I had a very curious reaction to the article I read about the poet, and immediately was drawn to read some of his work.  Before I had done so at any depth, the curious part of this story identified itself – I wrote a poem about a poet I knew very little of, it arrived all by itself really.  Now I am going to share this poem with you because in the space that we inhabit internetwise, I have been delighted to make a new acquaintance Martha Stephens via this blog page.  I recommend her blog to you, and in our conversation I remarked how striking it is that an artist can connect regardless of the time or location they are writing in.  So I present my poem to her, and to you as a comment on that everyday miracle.  I don’t think it is a particularly good poem, but the provenance of it is interesting.  Then I want to share one of my favourite poems of Stanleys.

In memory of Stanley Kunitz

Hear this; all poets, would-be wordsmiths,
Stanley is gone. Stanley Kunitz, died 101.
(Read and grieve, grieve and read)

A magician amongst wizards, Auden,
Cummins, Ginsberg went before,
overshadowing Stan, but not outliving;
the man , as was the poet, worthy
of our awe.

His lifetime lived in query,
of a father never known;
death by suicide, and Stan
warm in the womb.

(Read and grieve, grieve and read)

His muse played amongst
beloved plants and flowers,
man of spirituality,
knowing the depth
of their heavenly powers.
‘Desire and desire
and desire’ his hand me down,
a way to live, a tinderbox
to ignite others fire.

Loving Keats, and Blake and
struggling, as poets do.,
the chaos of being here,
and now;  the conundrum.
Hear this; all poets, would-be wordsmiths,

Stanley is gone. Stanley Kunitz, died 101.

And this is the poem that I put to music and image, the poem that is playing continously in the background of my life.  A wonderful evocation of how change is inevitable , and how as humans we need to be able to  accept ourselves as we are, as we have been and knowing there will be new challenges to face.

The Layers


I have walked through many lives.
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.



3 thoughts on “Calling Martha Stephens, keeping my promise!

  1. Hey, your Post does come up now! My network has been failing half the time, so I’d better write fast. Your poem does sound so much like what I have come to know of you. The chaos, you write, of being here is much on your mind, and yes, chaos is the right term for all that huge cloud of complexity we face every day. And then the conundrums . . . yes. Kunitz’ poem does catch very fluently much of the same mode of thinking. He’s not sure there won’t be more new stagings of his life and thought, already written somewhere probably. SOMEBODY, some spirit, knows we’re never finished with the reinventions that keep happening to us . . . when we thought we had felt and seen just about there was. Hey — thanks for this merging of the two minds of you.


    1. Hi Martha – sun is shining here and my tiredness has threatened to overwhelm me today. Thanks for the reply!! Got to save some energy to roast some of a lamb for the football sons returning! I wish I had a cook and a bottle washer, alongside a maid to do my house which is looking worse for wear in the March sun streaming through the window. TAke care. Anne


      1. Hey, thanks, Anne. I’m having to apologize to certain guys for not getting all my mail in New Mexico. Hope I didn’t fall strangely silent, at some point, at your end. Tiredness . . . too uch life all at once soemtimes . . . a major malady of our time, it seems, and we — I for one– never know quite what to do about it.


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