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September 2005

"In July" and "Autumn Days"  by Günter Kunert (translated from the German by Gerald Chapple) are the two poems for this month's prompt. His writing is not known very well in the U.S. since much of it is not available in translation. These two poems show some of his trademark irony and his "seemingly casual metrical artistry".

Looking at his poems, we tried writing a poem that springs from a particular month, from a season or calendar event. Kunert does a good job in "In July" of mixing the seasons changing and their perceived shortening as one ages in a pessimistic way - and then concluding on the ironic thought that, "Just the same and in spite of it all I'd really like to see my parents once again."  You also need to include that ironic look at the calendar time you choose.  Your poem should not take only one view of that time.

Günter Kunert is one of the most respected German-language poets writing today. Born in Berlin in 1929, he was not allowed to complete his education because his mother was Jewish.  After the Nazi authorities rejected him as "unfit for military service", he began a short-lived apprenticeship at a clothes shop.  When the war was over, he studied at the Academy of Applied Arts in Berlin.  Kunert financed his education by writing satirical poems and stories for the magazine Ulenspiegel.  After five semesters he abandoned his studies to concentrate on his writing.  In 1950 Kunert’s first volume of poetry appeared. His acquaintance with Bertolt Brecht at this time had a marked effect on his creativity.

Kunert, a prolific author, maintains, "Writing is a kind of obsessional neurosis."  His extensive catalogue of works testifies to his attempt to "renounce his pathological existence through writing."  It includes poems, short stories, fairytales, essays, photographic satires, travel journals and children’s literature.

The two poems used for the prompt are from So und nicht anders (This Way and No Other )

The translator, Gerald Chapple, is putting together a book of his translations of Kunert’s poetry; the working title is A Stranger at Home.


Woolen itchy sweater
wraps me in its fuzzy arms,
a memory of grandma -
mothballs and love.

Chill autumn breeze
sweeps flaming leaves,
captivated by the beauty -
cinnamon and saffron.

Icy sweet tart cider
shocks my thirsty tongue,
a tidal wave of pleasure -
earth and change and life.

And across the dusky twilight
dancing in the sunset lingering
musical notes that spin and leap
and weave a song of praise
exalting He, the artist glorious,
who paints this autumn scene.

DM Sheffield


It is the holiday of the dead.
The man from Patzcuaro
holds a sugar coffin in his hand.
He is asking twenty pesos.
Down at the cemetery in Janitzio
they have cut down orange boughs, and
fashioned them into crucifixes three feet tall.
The Savior wears a crown of orange blossoms,
while down at Tarasco
skull flasks are going for thirty pesos apiece.
We toss the pied piper twenty pesos
and join the dancers behind him.
Tonight we will dance until dawn.                   2
It is the night of the harvest moon.
The Village is like a puppet show.
I sit on the sawdust floor of the cafe
pondering my foot
and the future of the sling back shoe.
Above us orange colored lanterns glow warmly
like the nipples on Gaughin women.
Everywhere the exchange of seductions goes on.
The tattooed tee shirt
and the flat-chested Pucci
are drowning their whispers
in tall pools of Madeira wine.
We hand the blind guitarist a quarter
and walk out into the windless night.
Tonight we will dine by candlelight

It is the day of the dead.
Today we will label the meats,
restock the larder, see to the wash,
sort the linens, and balance the books.
There is much to do.
The doorbell rings. It is the pied piper
dressed as a minstrel.
I tell him we have no time for music.
I am only making the rounds, he says.
He is collecting pacemakers from old men.
Do we have any old men?
We hand him a bag of old sugar skulls
and send him on his way. Tonight
we will drink deeply of honey and old wine. 

Gaetana Cannavo


The setting sun bespeaks the glory of
the dark,
the moon,
a mystress, ascending the star path overhead,
and Earth, holy
daughter of seasons, as pleasing
as the conjunction of planets
in ecstatic gyration

Celestial rhythms turn
the great wheel
of days;
evolution, a calendar:
the measure of
turbulent tides
in cosmic seas, ancient ocean currents,
predictable and sure

All change is transformative:
this skin and feathered
garment worn by the soul
in the mirrored
cathedral silences
of the night,
pulsing oscillation, a stirring
of the harmonic

consciousness emboweled
in terrestrial textures:
the wash of wind upon rock and crash
of waves upon the sands,
carved face of fluid mountains,
generative rains falling,
a fragrance of blossoms

Smooth surfaces, abalone
and alabaster
polished to monument,
stone and shell artifacts, scattered
skulls strung across
a snowy landscape
of standing trees: ritual acts of sacrifice
and atonement

Begin again. Ceremonial observances
of solstice, equinox,
the moon’s monthly cycle:
a gravitational prayer wobbles forever
round a vortex of flame.
The very air rustles with spirit:
fire shimmers the obsidian forest,
Life nibbles away

The delicate decay of a black branch,
fallen, on the swollen bank
of a river,
lichen-covered bark, entangled in the creep
of summer vines.
The gourd rattle shakes,
the fluted horn pipe sounds the moment
of seeding and harvest

the bladed grass, the crumbling leaf,
the hover of wings
beneath the reddening sky.
Arcane maze
of knowledge:
this astrology that thins the herd and lifts
the antlered head
heralding the dawn.

Steve Smith


Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? - John Keats

Saw the headline on a newspaper in the store
"Bush Cancels Daylight Savings Time." I find
our president controls the time, he has the floor
and he has the house, so should I bother to wind
my father's watch or ignore the sun and stay asleep?
The trout knows he needs what is on the hook
for the coming winter, we won't fool the flowers,
they know what's going on and squirrels keep
busy in the yard not giving me even a curious look,
as I work at my words and make piles of the hours.

Ken Ronkowitz


A mottled gray-cast battlefield observe,
strewn broken limbs with sinews harshly torn,
and lifeless, shapeless, white-clad fallen forms,
whose chilled, ebbing life's blood flow exudes
from lance wounds where piercing crocuses protrude.
No mild and measured expiration here,
where sun and storm fought fiercely to prevail,
until triumphant Sol calls forth his heirs,
tousled, gold-leafed Forsythia untamed,
and full-gowned, prim Magnolia, blossom inflamed.

Ben Copito


After the scorching summer,
the sky weeps
Dark skies bow to the
swirling wind.
The sun
keeps his head bowed.

What do we know of
conjugal storms above,
we, mere sprouts of this soil?

I salute the glorious monsoon,
I salute her sheets of wetness
that cover the earth, once dead
of heat-stroke.
I salute her caress of life
that makes us, weak shoots,
raise up our arms,
a gesture, at once,
of defiance, against
His life-sapping heat,
and of love,
for His reviving warmth.

I salute
Mother Monsoon,
her flowing dark robes.
I salute
Father Sun,
his burning eye.
I salute the rhythm
of their clashing cymbals.

J. Devika


Patch of red foliage teases,
plays peek-a-boo behind the tree.

August outshines in summer green,
blushes over autumn. Eager,

winds pick up; easy leaves go down
like fat flakes in warm winter squall.

Surprising as a fun hearted
sun storm drips from flaming blue sky.

Contrary like the other shoe
when contentment feels in season.

Victoria Kaloss


November is coming, disjointing the days
He is an icy shadow in the hall
sexy in his apocalyptic way
of all criminals: Stealing
warmth of course, a sense of movement
doesn’t it all seem to halt?

The water in the air cuts cold as diamonds
gives breath flowers and plumes
beribbons the slated sky, hard and low,
The clock ticks backwards
to summer: a fantasy spun w/cruelty
a tale to make us behave.

We have a holiday for gratitude at the end of it
At the very beginning of the first cruel dark month
When the heart beats sluggish in the breast
And we fear to praise its stuttering gain.

Patty Tomsky


February freezes the ground hog’s holes
The wealthy go to the islands.
The others to West Palm Beach.
I stay home and eat oysters;
See opera, dance and theatre.
The weather obliges. The snow is soon shoveled.
I am only cold between subways and high-rises.
A time to pretend to be alive.
It might be better to die slowly in the south.

Ellen Kaplan


Cold crisp air frosts the autumn night.
The amber moon plays hide and seek
With bare trees -
Bearing limbs -
Leaves rustling in the night air.
Persistent breezes
Inundate -
Articulate -
Then vanish
As quickly as they arrive.

Old homes,
Sentries of the silent streets
And silent pasts,
Rest in the shadows of the present darkness,
Shedding warm light
From glowing lamps
In bow windows -
A welcome
To the night traveler,
Tempting him to stay,
Delay the journey he needs to make,
The destination he can't forsake.

Dry leaves skitter-scatter
Before his feet.
Tumbling ahead of gusts,
Scurrying to the curbs below.

Lead onward then,
With lungs full of cold, dry air.
Hair tingling and mingling
With the feeling
Of the frosty evening -
Precursor of the long cold winter
Yet to come.

Christopher Bogart


Last night it turned to autumn.
We wake to blue sky with a crisp
to the wind, too chilly for
September. And still it’s fire season,
red-flag weather. We should sweep
the house, clear out everything,
get ready to run.

Instead we strike words like sparks
between us. We hide behind
the piles of papers already heaped
like dead leaves.
We’re tipped here on a balance,
as if
the planets held us.

Saturn conjunct Pluto, square
the Moon. This morning I woke up
old. You move as if cycling
through the same bad choices. How
could I get out safe
from what we built so many
years ago together?

Taylor Graham


Early October and still the leaves are green.
Only the dogwoods have turned a somber shade of purple,
but their full red berries stand out like scarlet lights.
Droves of cedar waxwings flock to them,
eagerly ripping the brilliant seeds open to feast.

In February, just before the trees begin to bud,
the berries that lingered over winter will ferment
and make the birds so drunk that some will fall
from the tree to the earth below, unaware
their indiscretions have been seen by the cat
that sits at the window and waits.

Mary Kendall


For the Weeniests
It is always dead money
The season of fallen stocks
And an empty pot of honey.

For the Weeniests
The crooks always flourish
While their accumulation
Is never enough to nourish.

For the Weeniests
Each season is an expense
The greenest grass of spring
Means less independence.

For the Weeniests
Their children's success
Is not what others say
A time to bless.

For the Weeniests
Each new change
Across their bitter landscape
Is a black range.

Among  the Weeniests
I spend a lot of time
My thoughts cluttered
By their nickel dime.

Good-bye Weeniests
It time for you to go;
Everything else is good
Better than your old snow.

Edward Halperin



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