the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Clock and Crow

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crow2.jpg

I think I made a giant step forward in my appreciation of poetry today (as a participant in Lynn and Liz’s Poetry Thursday).  I was asleep this morning; it was about 6AM.  The morning light drizzled through the blinds and rested on my naked body sprawled across my bed like the Roman God of Virility announcing to the world, “I am Man.” 

“Damn alarm clock!” I said, as this annoying sound pounded into my ear.  I slammed the alarm clock into “snooze” mode.  But the sound continued.  It was not my alarm clock.  It was some stupid bird outside in a tree (a crow, perhaps?).

To me, this crow sounded like an alarm clock.

Now, what does this have to do with poetry?

On Monday night, I went to the Beverly Hills Library and skimmed through some poetry books.  I noticed that poets are always using nature as a way of describing their lives.

“She was as angry as a tornado.”

“Her green eyes were like leaves of grass.”

Etc.

Now, I grew up in New York, and spent much of my adult life in Los Angeles.   I love nature as much as the next guy (despite being allergic to most of it).  I’ve seen the greatness of Yosemite — and even got a cool Ansel Adams poster at the gift shop.   I love the sound of rivers flowing.  I’ve enjoyed Vermont and her colorful Fall.  

But I’m not really at home with nature.  It doesn’t really feel natural for me to describe Sophia as “a tiger in the bedroom,” because I have no idea what a real tiger would do in a bedroom.  I’ve seen tigers in the zoo.  I’ve seen tigers at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I know a tiger mauled Siegfried — or was it Roy?

So, as I woke up this morning, I gave some thought to the statement:

“That annoying crow sounds like my alarm clock.”

I’m sure if Yeats was alive today and living in my crappy apartment instead of me, and the alarm clock would go off, he would have look over at the clock and say:

“That weird clock with a smiling face sounds just like a crow!”

He knows about crows, but nothing about alarm clocks.  I know about alarm clocks, but nothing about crows. 

Maybe I would enjoy poetry more if I can find some poems that related to me in a more personal way — more about how crows sound like alarm clocks rather than how alarm clocks sound like crows.   You know, the way women eat up all those chick lit novels because it relates to their own lives. 

So, today I searched around for poems that focused more on the urban experience, and I found quite a few.

I particularly liked the following poem by Amy Lowell (February 9, 1874 – May 12, 1925).  Lowell, was an American poet of the imagist school, who posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.  Many of her poems have lesbian themes, but this poem focuses on the darkness of Industrial Age New York City.

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New York at Night by Amy Lowell

A near horizon whose sharp jags
Cut brutally into a sky
Of leaden heaviness, and crags
Of houses lift their masonry
Ugly and foul, and chimneys lie
And snort, outlined against the gray
Of lowhung cloud.  I hear the sigh
The goaded city gives, not day
Nor night can ease her heart, her anguished labours stay.
Below, straight streets, monotonous,
From north and south, from east and west,
Stretch glittering; and luminous
Above, one tower tops the rest
And holds aloft man’s constant quest:
Time!  Joyless emblem of the greed
Of millions, robber of the best
Which earth can give, the vulgar creed
Has seared upon the night its flaming ruthless screed.
O Night!  Whose soothing presence brings
The quiet shining of the stars.
O Night!  Whose cloak of darkness clings
So intimately close that scars
Are hid from our own eyes.  Beggars
By day, our wealth is having night
To burn our souls before altars
Dim and tree-shadowed, where the light
Is shed from a young moon, mysteriously bright.
Where art thou hiding, where thy peace?
This is the hour, but thou art not.
Will waking tumult never cease?
Hast thou thy votary forgot?
Nature forsakes this man-begot
And festering wilderness, and now
The long still hours are here, no jot
Of dear communing do I know;
Instead the glaring, man-filled city groans below!

A year ago on Citizen of the Month:  A Letter to Diane Keaton 

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42 Comments

  1. Heather

    If you really want your female readership (and possibly some of your male…ahem) able to focus, try not to start out your posts with phrases like “naked body sprawled” and “Roman God of Virility” “beads of sweat glistening on my thighs.” Oh wait, that last one was mine. Anyway, very nice selection. How well that translates into our present.

  2. Nance

    Good for you, Neil! And isn’t she better, more profound, and more evocative than Billy Collins? (Sorry…snooty English teacher comment. Feel free to edit.) I won’t recommend any other poets or poems. A great part of the total experience of poetry is finding it.

  3. Dagny

    In my neighborhood the birds start making noise long before time for the alarm. I never mistake the two.

    After reading Heather’s comment, I am struck by why she did not mention the last line of the poem. Then I remembered that perhaps she didn’t mention it that far.

  4. Bre

    I myself think that Yeats would have used the alarm clock as some grand symbol of the coming of the morning to fight new battles for Irish freedom… but that may be because I spent my entire senior year of college obsessing over Yeats.

    Love Amy Lowell though – quality choice!

  5. AWE

    I once knew a lady from Nantucket.

  6. Tatyana

    Here’s a different New York morning:

    For many years,
    Mrs. Groszmann and
    Ms. Segal
    lived in different apartments
    in the same
    building
    on Riverside Drive

    in Manhattan. Each day
    at 7 a.m., the daughter
    would take the elevator
    down
    to have breakfast
    with her mother,
    who until three years ago

    rose
    at dawn
    to squeeze grapefruit juice
    for the two of them.

  7. jackt

    Being a guy with a blue collar sort of sensibility, I usually just skim over posts that refer to literary works.

    But this particular post read word for word all the way through. Twice. Excellent piece of writing- or, more simply put, I really enjoyed it. Thanks.

  8. Sarah

    I’m really enjoying reading about your foray into the world of poetry as a layman. I have always been a fan of poetry, or rather, was turned onto it by my freshman year English T.A. in college whom I had a crush on, to Leaves of Grass. I started writing my own and reading, eventually becoming mired in a ‘scene’ that was happening in Philly back in the early 90’s, when ‘slam poetry’ began to get noticed (I’m not a fan). I gave readings, hosted readings, listened to hours upon hours of open mikes filled with horror and the occasional gem.
    Have you read any Carl Sandburg?
    I love Billy Collins, by the way, and I say that as a former English major.

  9. Neil

    Thanks, Sarah. I majored in English myself, so I can’t say I’m ignorant about poetry and poets. It only makes my lack of interest in poetry look worse, because I have no real excuse. It just never seemed like a “guy” thing to do while growing up.

  10. Bad at Life

    I like that sort of poetic inversion. I too like to avoid nature, but describing natural things as objects is a trend I could get behind. I feel that would make poetry far more accessable–at least for me.

  11. Lynn

    Nance, I am standing by my position of loving Billy Collins, so there. And Neil, I have no idea what a tiger would do in the bedroom either. If I ever encountered one in mine, I guarantee you I would run.

  12. Catherine

    We once had a canary that learned to imitate the beep that the microwave did when something was done. It drove me nuts.
    I think modern poetry uses cities etc lots more. But here in New Zealand I don’t think our cities are very city-like. My own back yard, growing up, had lizards and grasshoppers, and a couple of hen houses full of hens. And I spent a lot of time at the beach with gulls and sealions (well, one sealion, anyway). So nature still resonates with me.
    You might like to look into Robert Pinsky who said that the poets challenge is to write about something that isn’t considered poetic, but that “importantly moves you”, and make it poetic.

  13. Fitèna

    I once did a recording for my Franch pen pal. The writing was too tiring and invilved toomuch writing, so we recorded instead. In the first recorded reply she sent me she remarked about how she loved my recording because of the birds she could hear singing away in the background. When I recorded back, I listened to the tape before sending it and she was right. I had stopped hearing them, maybe because I wasn’t listening.
    Your poem is beautiful but reading it, I don’t feel like ever visiting New York. It does not sound inviting. Is it the case?

    Fitèna

  14. Neil

    Fitena. I hope you don’t think I wrote this poem. It was written by a poet named Amy Lowell who died in 1925. She’s describing an earlier version of New York — a dirty and grimy place, with more industry and manufacturing, and huge gaps between the rich and poor. Visualize the London of Charles Dickens or the Paris of “Les Miserables.” Now New York is more of a place where it cost $200 to see “Les Miserables.”

  15. mariemm3

    Eyes like Leaves of Grass? Not a Whitman fan?

    I am not a big fan of nature analogies either. Most overrated device in poem.

    Love your Amy Lowell choice.

  16. lizardek

    I’m loving your Poetry Thursday choices. The last line of that Lowell poem is so completely perfect.

  17. C. Delia

    I was hooked from the odd amalgam of crow, alarm clock, and Amy Lowell–some sort of found poetry/haiku brewing here. Seriously, the choice was perfect…maybe you’re finding your way into poetry yet?

  18. Liz

    Living in the suburbs of New Jersey (and within a 40 minute ride to NYC) I am relating to this post on soooo many levels.

    Damned clocks & crows!

  19. jennifer

    You got me LOL this am! Great poem. I think you might like the one I linked at the bottom of my entry today (skip the first one)

  20. AscenderRisesAbove

    A very clever entry… just imagining Yeats waking up and looking at the happy face clock… I would think that he would wax and wane the hours away wondering what happened to fine art while he was sleeping; I imagine he would have a few choice words about pop art and ponder how a circle with two dots and two lines recieved such a corner on the art market. Enjoyed every word of your post today.

  21. scott

    I posted on a similar topic today. Not exactly the same, but similar. Personally, I’m a combination of nature-boy and city-boy.

    Your post reminded me of a favorite “prose poem” of mine called The Language of Crows by Louis Jenkins. It’s great.

    Hello, Neil.

  22. bettyonthebeach

    If you want to woo a woman, try
    Pablo Neruda
    Beautiful stuff!

  23. vicci

    Bravo!!!!! I love it! and your description is wonderful!

  24. treespotter

    Neruda is just the sort of things that sounds beautiful to read but you will spend the rest of your life trying to find the right girl to read them to.

    Here’s one my fave poem of all time, two liner (the only one poem i can remember in full, really – just not a guy thing to do again)

    We dance around in a ring and suppose,
    The secret sits in the middle and knows
    Robert Frost

  25. Jenni

    SHEESH! What a downer. It’s funny how even back then everyone was being brought down by The Man.

  26. Stefanie

    I just want to weigh in that as far as nature goes – not into it either. But, hey, I was born in NY and lived most of my life here too so many it’s just not in our blood. But I would like to TiVo some nature just so I could skip through the boring parts. I don’t want to go rock climbing unless the rock is in my backyard. I don’t want to do much of anything that requires “loading up the car.” Have you heard the Evan Dando song (or possibly recorded as Lemonheads) I Lied About Being the Outdoor Type? One of my favorite.

  27. Tongue in Cheek

    Neil, give the clock away, and wake to the bird singing. Or use you cell phone to wake you with the sounds of naute, Lighting cracking, or dogs barking, or maybe the splash of a mermaid’s tail.

  28. Neil

    Tongue in Cheek — The mermaid suggestion certainly caught my attention. Is it weird to admit a long-time crush on Ariel from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Hey, I know she’s a cartoon. But poetry is all about imagination, right?

    And thank you for all these poetry suggestions. With American Idol and 24 ending soon, I’ll have much more time to read.

  29. Sandra

    Ever read anything by Edna St. Vincent Millay? She’s pretty kick-ass, and I’m normally not even into poetry. Kind of an angry feminist sometimes, but fairly cool.

  30. better safe than sorry

    and here i thought you were going to write about smut.

  31. Diana

    I loved this! I am also put off by a lot of poetry that focuses on nature. I grew up in L.A. (I no longer live there) so I can relate to poems about the sea and the sun, but too much about trees and wooded hamlets or whatever and I’m moving on.

  32. Nance

    You go ahead, Lynn, and stand by your man! I am off to your site to poke around awhile. Hope you don’t mind; I’ll leave my snooty persona back at the Dept.

  33. DebR

    This is the first time I’ve read that poem and it’s very interesting in a dark-and-rather-creepy sort of way. Very evocative of a particular time and place. (It reminds me of the city descriptions in one of Jack Finney’s books.) I love the photo you posted with it too.

  34. Nancy

    Very touching poem. Thanks for sharing it.

    (a CROW would sound like an alarm…)

  35. Jacynth

    So, do all haikus put you off since they technically have to relate to nature?

  36. New York Moments

    You could really lose your peepee with a tiger in the bedroom…

  37. Eileen

    Hi Neil, take it from a poetry teacher – you’re on the right track.

    Try some early T. S. Eliot – maybe “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” or “Portrait of a Lady”.

    Or some Fernando Pessoa (a Portuguese poet, the Penguin translations are good); he had over 70 heteronyms but I think you might find him writing as Alavro Campos quite entertaining.

    Cheers Neil!

  38. Paris Parfait

    Thanks for reminding me of this poem; I like the industrialized city photo accompanying it. As for crows, I hate them! They’re always on the course at Longchamp, looking for worms in turf kicked up by the horses. They’re noisy and annoying and no I wouldn’t like an alarm clock that sounded like one.

  39. mads

    What is the rage about nature. Love the coastline. The sea is fantastic, love the rolling hills, beautiful trees, Blah, blah….
    Not so chuffed with the foxes screaming like murdered babies outside my bedroom window every night (always during the best part of the best dream) and the seagulls trying to shag one another on my window ledge at 6 am and then when I tell them to get lost they shit on my car!
    p.s. went shooting last week for the first time. missed everything in sight but was very satisfying to think that I coulda…

    mads

  40. Pearl

    I got absorbed from the beginning. Particularly the light like a Roman God on your naked body. But I was still there when you got to man-filled city groaning. lol. Did I miss anything between. (halo)

  41. mernitman

    Ms. Dowd’s right there with you, bro:
    http://select.nytimes.com/2006/05/20/opinion/20dowd.html?hp

  42. Sedulia

    Well, I don’t like New York (I lived there for five years and just got back from a visit, so I feel I have the right to say so!).

    My favorite poem about it is from Robert Lowell and includes the line

    New York
    drills through my brain

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