Friday, January 20, 2017

Thought Provokers


They finally found him –
that anonymous guy
who faced down a line of tanks
in Tiananmen square
that day in 1989
in that shot that
stopped the world
in its tracks
and seared the retina
of the globe
like a soldering iron
to the eye
and made you chew
your lip like jerky
at what actual courage
looked like –
a skinny crazy guy
so way out and alone
and far beyond mercy
poking a beautiful
brave blood flower
down the barrel
of Mao’s old
faceless metal beast

Yeah, Tankman!
They found him!

And now he’s found an agent
and done Oprah
and ghostwrote a bestseller
and they’re making the film
with Jackie Chan
and he’s putting his name
to a Revolutionary clothing brand
with a cute little tank logo, and …

It’s nice he didn’t die.
But I dunno, maybe
some things are best left
to the imagination
where they’re free to live
bigger, richer lives.

Like, I never want to know
who Jack the Ripper ‘really’ was,
would be happier if the Titanic
had been left to lie, undiscovered,
encrusting mystery in the depths
of the mind …

I mean good luck to Tankman
plucked from obscurity like he was
from flipping eggs in that Shandong Diner

He’s big now, a ‘brand ambassador’.
Only careful what you wish for.
We wanted him and now he’s here –

moved on from that old massacre
to a much bigger campaign
doing ads for Tourism China

– Tug Dumbly

This is a fantasy, of course – not the original incident, which was very real and widely witnessed, but Tank Man's current history as imagined by the poet. Wikipedia outlines the original event (too momentous, after all, to be called a mere 'incident') and makes it clear that the man's subsequent fate is unknown.

(I can't show you the famous photo as it is clearly subject to stricter copyright than covered by our usual disclaimer. However, the same Wikipedia article includes it if you would like to refresh your memory. Instead, this intriguing photo of Tug Dumbly perhaps makes a fitting statement.)

I came across this poem just before the US election, and then thought I couldn't include it here immediately, because everything political (and pretty much everything else too) would inevitably be seen through that filter at that time. In the aftermath, with the inauguration looming as I write, perhaps that still pertains; but one could wait forever, and there's little point in that. 

I don't actually see this poem as political criticism, so much as social satire.

How stirring the first stanza is! And indeed, it was a heroic gesture. And what do we do with our heroes in today's world? We like to turn them into celebrities – not quite the same thing. And of course, many of our celebrities are not heroic at all but have other claims to fame, from genuine musical or sporting talent to big boobs or pots of money.

Some heroes are not admired at the time, perhaps quite the reverse. Whistle blowers risk imprisonment. One Australian of the Year earned widespread public opprobrium for daring to be proud of his Aboriginality. Even in this poem, the fictional celebrity of Tankman happens many years after his real act of heroism.

Then again, perhaps it is political commentary after all. Wheels coming full circle and all that. Revolutionaries, if they succeed, may become the next generation of tyrants ... or acquiescent advertisements for the status quo. 

Well, those are some of the things it puts me in mind of. What does it say to you, I wonder? (We'd love to hear your responses in the comments.)

I've shared Tug Dumbly's work with you twice before in 'I Wish I'd Written This'. If it wasn't for my commitment to bring you a variety of poets and poetry in my Friday columns, it could be a lot more. He keeps writing poems that absolutely blow me away. 

To refresh your memory about his life and work, check details and links at this post.

Material shared in 'Thought Provokers' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Unity

UNITY, a new interactive public art project created in response to the divisiveness and negative rhetoric in American politics.

 “We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business;
we are each other's magnitude and bond.”
“Pit race against race, religion against religion,
prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer!
We must not let that happen here.”
“I felt knowledge and the unity of the world
circulate in me like my own blood.”

Sculpture "Unity" at Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma LCCN2010720603.tif
 "Unity" Sculpture at Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Midweek Motif ~ Unity

Is there anything that doesn't work better with Unity?
As a principle of design, unity: "occurs when all of
the elements of a piece combine to make a balanced,
harmonious, complete whole. Unity is another of those
hard-to-describe art terms but, when it's present,
your eye and brain are pleased to see it."

Dis                 u

i                                                     ty

Your Challenge: In a new poem, bring diverse or disparate entities into unity.  

Excerpt from The Anti-Suffragists

Fashionable women in luxurious homes,
With men to feed them, clothe them, pay their bills,
Bow, doff the hat, and fetch the handkerchief;
Hostess or guest, and always so supplied
With graceful deference and courtesy;
Surrounded by their servants, horses, dogs, —
These tell us they have all the rights they want.

Successful women who have won their way
Alone, with strength of their unaided arm,
Or helped by friends, or softly climbing up
By the sweet aid of ‘woman’s influence’;
Successful any way, and caring naught
For any other woman’s unsuccess, —
These tell us they have all the rights they want.
. . . .  (Read the rest of this amazing poem HERE.)


So much from God
That I can no longer
A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
A Buddhist, a Jew.
The Truth has shared so much of Itself
With me
That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even pure
Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed
Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and then visit others in the spirit of the community.

( Next week Sumana’s Midweek Motif will be ~ Change)

Monday, January 16, 2017


Today, my friends,  we have poems written by, in my humble opinion,  three of the most electrifying poets writing in the blogosphere today, Shay Simmons of Shay's Word Garden, Kelli Simpson, of another damn poetry blog, and Joy  Jones, of Verse Escape. I am sure most of you are familiar with these dynamic women from either Poets United or our sister site, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads. Draw up a chair and enjoy these poems, which just might leave you as breathless as they did me.


The train that I took out of London seven years ago
appeared in my dream last night.
It had dinner plate wheels and hung on a chain that hoisted it up to a mailbox
where letters spread their wings to dry.

The train that I took out of London seven years ago 
only moves in one direction: away, and yet there it was,
undeparted, filling like a lung.
I have sung everything into the parish poor box--

those things I loved most, first to go.
I have sung until I am mute, and as unsentimental as an oxygen tank.
The priest cut off his ears and put them in my pocket
like coins. I told him his wish is dust, and he turned into Jericho's wall.

The train that I took out of London seven years ago
took off its clothes and reported my movements from memory.
The tracks only go in one direction: away, and yet there I was;
I woke up in love, a stone in flight, a letter with no address,

a dove that left its light down a well, yet sings in the dark when I'm gone. 

Shay Simmons, August 18, 2016

Sherry: Where to start, with how much I love this poem. I can feel it, the having-given-it-everything-I've got, that which "only moves in one direction, away", the "things I loved most, the first to go." I love the letters spreading their wings to dry.

Your closing lines leave me with tight chest, no air to breathe. I have so been there, and perhaps am there still. Sigh.

Shay: The poem is about a dream I had, but it had nothing to do with the train, which was something that actually happened. it represents giving up on love, and then i dreamed i was in love with someone, and when i woke up I was thinking, wow, I had forgotten ever feeling that way.

Sherry: Love is glorious, but when we lose it, it hurts. We are not always up for risking that much pain again. I  know the feeling of giving up on love.

Shay: Except for doggy love!

Sherry: Of course! Doggy love is the truest kind; it never fails us.

Shay: I had the Fleetwood Mac song "Sara" going through my head. Also, the person I was in love with in the dream was not anyone i know in waking life. 

Sherry: Thanks, Shay, for sharing this poem with us. That "dove with its light down the well, yet sings in the dark when I'm gone" will stay with me a long time. 

Now let's hear from Kelli, with a beautiful poem called  "Stars", written by someone who clearly still feels the full breadth and flight of loving.


I will write my love in stars;
let every letter burn and fall
bright - my wishes where you are.

My want is strong enough by far
to shrink the world between us small.
I will write my love in stars.

Need is wild within my heart,
beating thunder at the walls
tonight - my wishes where you are.

I love with every piece and part;
my skin, my cells - you have it all.
I will write my love in stars.

So let a longing for me start.
A want, a need, a love; call -
don't fight - my wishes where you are.

I'll split the earth that keeps us apart
if you give me any hope at all.
I will write my love in stars -
light - my wishes where you are.

Kelli Simpson, August 3, 2016

Sherry: This is so beautiful, Kelli. I adore "I will write my love in stars." Tell us about this poem.

Kelli: "Stars" is a villanelle, a form that should probably have died with Dylan Thomas. Oh, I'm kidding! Well, mostly. I find the villanelle an almost impossibly difficult form, and I generally avoid it like the plague. But in this case it felt right, and I'm actually not completely embarrassed by the result.

Sherry: I should hope not! I, too, find the villanelle very difficult. It is odd, as I love the pantoum, but somehow the leap from pantoum to villanelle just floors me. You employed it to perfection though. You inspire me to try again.

In closing,  let us enjoy a wonderful poem of Joy's, about one of my favourite creatures, the wise old elephant. Let's take a look.

Thunder mumbled all night,
thunder subdued, a cello played
by a sobbing storm,
or the beat of a drum: an elephant's steps
on the following walk, trunk to tail through
the wrong end of the kaleidoscope
up the curved wall and
down down again toward the moving end.

As the stained-glass lights blind,
she shows me the way
to balance my bulk
up on a ball, on one oak-like foot,
small eyes sunk and kind
too old for my mind.

She's a thing born for trust
despite what we've seen
from killers and users,
pale abusers who'll never hold
the blowing rose that drops away
as they push close.
She knows
all our possum secrets,

our summer fades,
how we murder our minutes
to buy our day.
She sways, a grey
forest that grows wild and wide;
she blocks the dead light

that increases night.
She'll let my feet slide
down the dodger's paradigm
towards the planet that struggles
to be a star, to the music
womb-warm but
played from so far. She bends
down her great head

to let me ride, for going there
might take a fall, and all
that's left of our lives, drums in the rain,
footsteps patient--cello gone soft
thunder subdued,
thunder in mourning.

Joy Jones August 21, 2016

Sherry: Where to start, for it is all wonderful! The cello, the "small eyes, sunk and kind / too old for my mind", and the drums in the rain - such beautiful images. One feels the slow, plodding steps of the elephant.

Joy: Most of my poems start as a thought or a phrase. I scrawl them out and put them in a file to mature till hopefully something comes of them. This one had nothing to do with elephants when it first came to me, but it did have a spirit in it, a somnolent, wise and suffering one, so that when Shay asked us to write about elephants for a prompt, something just clicked and I began to rewrite it. The painting I found to illustrate it added the cello music in the opening. The elephant became part of the soul of the world, and of our own souls in that world, a mirror for both our best and worst selves, and for whatever is greater than each. And in the end, a force to give us strength and comfort.

Sherry: I love the concept of the elephant as part of the soul of the world. We need such mirrors of our best and worst selves, and the treatment of animals on this planet is perhaps one of the most disturbing. Thank you, Joy, for this wonderful poem. 

Kids, these three talented women collaborated on two amazing books : Three Note Howl: The Wild Hunt, and Gemini / Scorpio / Capricorn, both available by clicking on the links. I proudly own both and they are excellent reading.

Thank you, Shay, Kelli and Joy, for stopping by to share these beauties, and your love of poetry, with us. We appreciate it.

Wasn't this wonderful, kids? Three wonderful poems and poets. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!