Phillip Whidden, a poet from Florida, who has lived abroad after his education in four American universities, has seen some of his poetry in book form and in journals and online; his prose (such as literary criticism, campaigning literature for non-smokers’ rights, news writing, and articles on many topics) has been printed around the world and his plays have been produced in Michigan and Maryland. One of them was about the death of the boy Waldo, the son of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Whidden’s first poems were written in Florida and his first published poems appeared in Florida, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Spectrum was the first journal to publish his poetry half a century ago. One of the educational establishments where he trained was near Concord and Walden Pond.
Here are five of his poems.
Mathematics is not the prose part of the mind, logical, as in meaning the opposite of poetry,
Not just set out in indented paragraphs of abstraction.
This is a city where the streets are innocent of collisions,
Where the options are always 0/1,
Are right, left, straight,
Though the results can rise
Out in a gyring arc from a heliport,
Up in a sweep from the long rectangle of the airport runway,
Ocean liners pulling away in parabolas from straight-edged docks
And nothing ever in reverse.
Or this is that capital where the words
Are never pink or the colour of irises,
Where the words are colourless
Or transparent, which is far from colourless,
Where the words are white, whiter even than physics,
Which is tainted with friction and thus the coagulation of blood
And the swarm, the wastefulness of sperm.
Mathematics is urbanity among the cruel oppositions of a metropolis
Where the seamless glass skyscrapers allow penetrating vision
But simultaneously, ambiguously pick up images of pimps and junkies
And reflect them undistorted and in a sense pure
So that the eye sees them and understands their dimensions
Without the blemish of conscience or theology.
Splendor - and the austere - direct the deep grammar of the city's architecture.
There is the severity of stainless girders, vertical, at right angles, vertical.
There the express elevator goes, uncompromising, to the 129th floor.
Or petal-like, its petals fashioned into a dome, the severity, are polished and suaved with elegant thought.
And this architecture is previous to mere buildings,
Pre-existent to the Sears Tower, the Taj Mahal
or Gehry in Bilbao.
Mathematics = the Lincoln Center and Julliard before notes touch the air.
Mathematics is not a crossword
(Minus the coyness of clever clues
Or the fornication of double entendre)
Clutched in the fingers of the idle in an underground train:
The formulae rise from steel foundations.
The clues are an infinite set and always lead to joy or cleanliness.
These are equal.
Super Binomial Byronic Poets
We used to worry that computers might
Take over poetry, that they might thrill
Us with Romantic zings beyond the height
Of human seers, that motherboards might spill
Out glorious epics and the like. But now
We have another worry. Cyborgs are
The future. They’ll be part us. They’ll wow
Us with their sensitivities far, far
Beyond our mankind stuff, their dual souls
Outweighing our mere one-plane spirits. Wait,
Though. Maybe since the cyborgs have two poles,
The human and the cyber, Cybs will hate
Millennia of highest human verse.
What wasn’t by a cyborg will be worse.
Colors Truer than Truth
Not veiled and partly veiled, completely veiled,
The peonies are like a perfect prayer,
Perhaps one to the Trinity. Exhaled
In reverence the pretty petals there
So near the acer leaves send out the pleas.
And who could possibly say, “No”? No Christ
Could turn his holy back or heart on these.
They offer all a transcendental tryst
With frilliness. Their pink and almost pink
With blue in tingeing is eternity. . .
Or maybe not quite that. They make us think
Like Gautama and his fraternity.
The only part of this that is most true
Is pinkness, blue, and pinkness touched with blue.
Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima
The past is nuclear, exploding in
A present moment boring as a brown
Field waiting for some turnip seeds. The skin
Of now is guiltless, threatless till the frown
Of yesterday’s wide sins rips up the fleece.
The grimace is electric in that time
Of innocence thus unsuspecting. Peace
Evaporates as cities in a crime
Of atom bomb catastrophe. The past
Breaks through. It splits the paper walls of rice
On Monday morning with a heat so vast
Kimonos evanesce. This is the price
The past demands, an August factory hour
Wiped out by history’s mistakes, their power.
Resistance to Government
A natural Sabbath brings a depth like Maine
Just off its seashore with its rocks beneath
Or like the deepest blue of Lake Champlain.
Intensity of calmness to bequeath,
A Sabbath made of granite offers more
Than rituals and hymns. A Sabbath made
Of fathoms of philosophy and lore
Of Henry David pondering in the shade
Of war will chant in silence if we let
It. Acers turn to red of soldiers killed
In southern states if men forget the threat
Of lack of granite thought. This blood is spilled
When thoughtful Sabbaths are not turned to calm
Stone thought. Thoreau propounds his peaceful psalm.
Photo by Phillip Whidden
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