Poetry Duet by John Taggart & Elizabeth Willis

Editor’s Note

 

It is always wonderful to find a poet’s work that grabs you and brings you to new and unexpected tropes, whether it be in form, concept, use of language, or artful accretion of ideas. Elizabeth Willis and John Taggart are two American poets who remain fresh through reading and rereading; their poems expand poetry’s window of possibility.

 

In “Slow Song for Mark Rothko” John Taggart repeats words, images, and actions persistently, insistently, while moving forward line by line, pulling, with an incremental momentum, those repetitions through in a meditative weaving of meaning and sound. Technique here is matched perfectly with the poem’s dedicatee, Mark Rothko, painter of large reverential, meditative paintings which shift colour ever so subtly. If you know the paintings, they, mysteriously and magically, come to the inner eye, through Taggart’s words, which do not literally describe the artworks.

 

In two of Elizabeth Willis’ poems included here – “The Witch” and “Blacklist” – “witch” is a recurrent word, appearing in some form in almost every line – “witch,” “witches,” or “witchcraft.” Each poem is a listing of witchy people and events, yet there are constant surprises in the statements, images or meanings. In “In Strength Sweetness,” while some terms are repeated, it is the repetition of structure which is most striking, a weighting of terms on each side of a backslash – “/”; the juxtapositions are provocative, entertaining and often surprising. “Classified” is an imaginative take-off on personal barter ads, which repeats familiar language and juxtaposes this with surprising images. In each poem the repetition throughout provides a progressive cohesion; these are process poems that float in a kind of ‘on-goingness’.
It is intriguing to see the different ways John Taggart and Elizabeth Willis use repetition to structure shape and meaning in their pieces. Each brings a particular musing and music that rings.

 

 

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Slow Song for Mark Rothko by John Taggart
Read here

Slow Song for Mark Rothko

 

1

To breathe and stretch one’s arms again
to breathe through the mouth to breathe to
breathe through the mouth to utter in
the most quiet way not to whisper not to whisper
to breathe through the mouth in the most quiet way to
breathe to sing to breathe to sing to breathe
to sing the most quiet way.To sing to light the most quiet light in darkness
radiantia radiantia
singing light in darkness.

To sing as the host sings in his house.

 

 

 

 

To breathe through the mouth to breathe through the
mouth to breathe to sing to
sing in the most quiet way to
sing the seeds in the earth breathe forth
not to whisper the seeds not to whisper in the earth
to sing the seeds in the earth the most quiet way to
sing the seeds in the earth breathe forth.

To sing to light the most quiet light in darkness
radiant light of seeds in the earth 
singing light in the darkness.

To sing as the host sings in his house.

 

 

 

 

To breathe through the mouth to breathe to sing
in the most quiet way not to
whisper the seeds in the earth breathe forth 
to sing totality of the seeds not to eat to
sing the seeds in the earth to
be at ease to sing totality totality
to sing to be at ease

To sing to light the most quiet light in darkness
be at ease with radiant seeds 
with singing light in darkness,

To sing as the host sings in his house.

 

 

 

 

2

To breathe and stretch one’s arms again
to stretch to stretch to straighten to stretch to
rise to stretch to straighten to rise
to full height not to torture not to torture to
rise to full height to give to hold out to
to give the hand to hold out the hand
to give to hold out to.

To give self-lighted flowers in the darkness
fiery saxifrage
to hold out self-lighted flowers in darkness

To give as the host gives in his house.

 

 

 

 

To stretch to stretch to straighten to stretch to
rise to full height not to torture not to
to rise to give to hold out to
give the hand to hold out the hand to give
hope hope of hope of perfect hope of perfect rest
to give hope of perfect rest
to give to hold out to.

To give self-lighted flowers in the darkness
perfect and fiery hope
to hold out lighted flowers in darkness.

To give as the host gives in his house.

 

 

 

 

To stretch to stretch to straighten to stretch to
rise to full height not to torture to
give the hand to hold out the hand to
give hope to give hope of perfect rest to
rest not to lay flat not to lay out
to rest as seeds as seeds in the earth 
to give rest to hold out to.

To give self-lighted flowers in the darkness
fiery hope of perfect rest
to hold out light flowers in darkness.

To give as the host gives in his house.

 

 

 

 

3

To breathe and stretch one’s arms again
to join arm-in-arm to join arm-in-arm to
join to take to take into
to join to take into a state of intimacy
not in anger not in anger
to join arm-in-arm to join arms
to take into intimacy.

To take into the light in the darkness
into the excited phosphor
to be in light in the darkness.

To take as the host takes into his house.

 

 

 

 

To join arm-in-arm to join arm-in-arm to
join to take to take into
to join to take into a state of intimacy
not anger not anger
to take as the earth takes seeds as
the poor the poor must be taken into
to take into intimacy.

To take into the light into the darkness
into the phosphor star-flowers
to be in the light in the darkness.

To take as the host takes into the house.

 

 

 

 

To Join arm-in-arm to join arm-in-arm to
join arms to take to take into a state of intimacy
not anger
to take as the earth takes seeds as
the poor must be taken into
to end the silence and the solitude
to take into intimacy.

To take into the light in the darkness
into the star-flowers before sunrise
to be in the light in the darkness.

To take as the host takes into his house.

 

© 2013 John Taggart

 

 

 

 

 

Four Poems by Elizabeth Willis
Read here

“The Witch”

A witch can charm milk from an ax handle.

 

A witch bewitches a man’s shoe.

 

A witch sleeps naked.

 

“Witch ointment” on the back will allow you to fly through the air.

 

A witch carries the four of clubs in her sleeve.

 

A witch may be sickened at the scent of roasting meat.

 

A witch will neither sink nor swim.

 

When crushed, a witch’s bones will make a fine glue.

 

A witch will pretend not to be looking at her own image in a window.

 

A witch will gaze wistfully at the glitter of a clear night.

 

A witch may take the form of a cat in order to sneak into a good man’s
chamber.

 

A witch’s breasts will be pointed rather than round, as discovered in the
trials of the 1950s.

 

A powerful witch may cause a storm at sea.

 

With a glance, she will make rancid the fresh butter of her righteous
neighbor.

 

Even our fastest dogs cannot catch a witch-hare.

 

A witch has been known to cry out while her husband places inside her the
image of a child.

 

A witch may be burned for tying knots in a marriage bed.

 

A witch may produce no child for years at a time.

 

A witch may speak a foreign language to no one in particular.

 

She may appear to frown when she believes she is smiling.

 

If her husband dies unexpectedly, she may refuse to marry his
brother.

 

A witch has been known to weep at the sight of her own child.

 

She may appear to be acting in a silent film whose placards are missing.

 

In Hollywood the sky is made of tin.

 

A witch makes her world of air, then fire, then the planets. Of
cardboard, then ink, then a compass.

 

A witch desires to walk rather than be carried or pushed in a cart.

 

When walking a witch will turn suddenly and pretend to look at
something very small.

 

The happiness of an entire house may be ruined by witch hair
touching a  metal cross.

 

The devil does not speak to a witch. He only moves his tongue.

 

An executioner may find the body of a witch insensitive to an iron spike.

 

An unrepentant witch may be converted with a little lead in the eye.

 

Enchanting witchpowder may be hidden in a girl’s hair.

 

When a witch is hungry, she can make a soup by stirring water with
her hand.

 

I have heard of a poor woman changing herself into a pigeon.

 

At times a witch will seem to struggle against an unknown force
stronger than herself.

 

She will know things she has not seen with her eyes. She will have
opinions about distant cities.

 

A witch may cry out sharply at the sight of a known criminal dying of
thirst.

 

She finds it difficult to overcome the sadness of the last war.

 

A nightmare is witchwork.

 

The witch elm is sometimes referred to as “all heart.” As in, “she was
thrown into a common chest of witch elm.”

 

When a witch desires something that is not hers, she will slip it into
her glove.

 

An overwhelming power compels her to take something from a rich
man’s shelf.

 

I have personally known a nervous young woman who often walked in
her sleep.

 

Isn’t there something witchlike about a sleepwalker who wanders through the
house with matches?

 

The skin of a real witch makes a delicate binding for a book of
common prayer.

 

When all the witches in your town have been set on fire, their smoke will
fill your mouth. It will teach you new words. It will tell you what
you’ve done.

 

 

“In Strength Sweetness”

 

in the wind / an inky air

in the air / finchness

in the ink / a stone

in the winter / winter

in the nest / in the piney

in the tree / filigree

in the great / bye and bye

in the worm / William Blake

in the fall / fortune

in the ocean / a figure

in canvas / the grain

in the apartment / a body

in the mountain / its making

in the cottage / a fable

in the mind / its miniature

in the seed/ a sun

in the fist / a question

in the question / an expedition

in the expedition / a bank

in the dollar /a seal

in the seal / another seal

in the sand / a massacre

in the blood / spirit

in the word / your mouth

in the tale / its labyrinth

in the lion / the bee

in the bee / a plain

in the plan / a city

in your city / its anger

in your anger / a harbour

in your harbour / a boat

in the boat / open sea

 

 

“Classified”

 

Will trade fountain pen for outboard motor

a trembling nightfall for government bonds

Will trade this grievance for a moment of silence

that wooded tavern for my aimless youth

Will trade potable water for loyal army

Fabergé egg for interpretation of dreams

Will trade heirloom lilacs for three cords of wood

Will trade this meadow for a person-sized piece of shade

Will trade fluttering leaf for a career in baseball

Will trade class warfare for a place to lay my head

Will trade a life of crime for a month in the country

a decorative pear for a clean, dry pillow

a wheelbarrow for an end to all that

 

 

“Blacklist”

 

Sarah Wilds, Deliverance Hobbs, and Dorcas Hoar were witches.

 

Martha Corey, Dorothy Good, and Rebecca Nurse were convicted of

consorting with devils.

 

Sarah Osborne did not go to church regularly; Sarah Good was seen

begging for food.

 

Tituba was a slave.

 

Giles Corey was pressed to death in the summer of 1692.

 

Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, and Mary Parker were hanged

on September 22nd.

 

A family in reduced circumstances may resort to witchcraf in order to

procure food.

 

A family of witches will put off a bad smell like that of wild animals.

 

Bridget Bishop, Martha Carrier, George Jacobs, John Proctor, and John

Willard were hardcore Salem gothic witches.

 

Kate, Leah, and Maggie Fox were professional upstate rapping witches.

 

Mary Baker Eddy was a witch.

 

Witchcraft can be contracted like a pox and appear in lesions on the

skin.

 

The ability to understand the language of one’s enemy is evidence of

witchcraft.

 

George and Mary Oppen fled to Mexico to avoid being tried as

witches.

 

Louis Zukofsky hid his witchcraft in the music of a long poem.

 

Charles Reznikoff and Lorine Niedecker lived largely incognito.

 

An accused witch is taken into a courtroom backward so as not to

bewitch her accusers.

 

Eugene Debs was a witch.

 

Ronald Reagan was a cardinal in the army of the witchhunters.

 

Samuel Beckett and René Char lived for a time underground, as

witches do.

 

Leadbelly was a witch.

 

Spencer Tracy and Paul Robeson were witches by association.

 

James Baldwin and Woody Guthrie were witchlovers.

 

Joe Hill was a stonecold singing witch organizer.

 

Simone Weil, Orson Welles, and Edward Dmytryk were witches.

 

John Wieners and Tallulah Bankhead consorted with witches.

 

Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinem, and Barbara Jordan were witches.

 

Un-American witches may appear to believe less in money than in

other forms of circulation.

 

Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, and Dalton Trumbo

were witches.

 

Alfred North Whitehead was a witch sympathizer.

 

Charles Olson worked for FOR.

 

Sappho worshipped with other witches in an ancient witch temple.

 

Frank O’Hara conceived “Personism” as a defense of witchcraft.

 

Billie Holiday was a witch.

 

Billie Burke, Veronica Lake, and Elizabeth Montgomery were witches.

 

Robert Creeley voted for McGovern.

 

Nazimova was a witch, and Garbo was bewitching as a humorless

Russian.

 

Hattie McDaniel, Madame Curie, and Mercedes McCambridge were

witches.

 

Anne Hutchinson was a monstrous talking witch.

 

Arthur Miller was a witch.

 

Maria Talichief danced bewitchingly.

 

Very few people were actually afraid of Virginia Woolf in spite of her

witchcraft.

 

The supernatural powers of the aristocracy have occasionally mingled

with those of a commoner.

 

Hilma af Klint, Hilda Doolittle, and Helen Adam were witches.

 

Teresa was first known as the Witch of Avila.

 

Joan or Jeanne attempted to escape prosecution by leaping from a

tower.

 

Agnes Martin, Agnes Varda, and Agnes Moorehead are witches.

When Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Robert Kennedy spoke,

the power of their words could be felt in disparate locations at the

same time.

 

Engine trouble at 20,000 feet may bring a witch back to earth.

 

Harvey Milk was shot right in City Hall while trying to reason with a

witchhunter.

 

I have personally known witches whose voices seemed to rise out of a

hole in the earth as if it were a mouth.

 

Hannah Weiner saw words — like the Apostle John — and if she is not

a saint, she is a witch.

 

© 2013 Elizabeth Willis

 

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