The paddle wheel turns while the river mist rises
and the crew moves slowly so as not to disturb
around this passenger tearing into tiny pieces
manifestos of despair with names she would rather
dispel and forget, if not remember sweetly
was it all just a lesson in love or navigation
of flow or mechanics? she left school years ago.
passengers still sleeping miss the paper snowfall
cannot read or learn and those who snatch at scraps
thinking they know the message, must they crow?
The river boat docks while the new moon rises
and the flag is withdrawn so as not to offend
the merchant class waiting I know who to greet
with crisp bills of lading no starving artists
in this bright new land where spontaneity rules
with civil peace and unity I pen my thoughts
with firmness; to ignore when there’s nothing to be said
keeps the current fresh and the bass notes
played by sailors dreaming offer a finer head of jazz.
This form of poetry, apart from the sonnet, perhaps, has caused more muddle and distress in my creative education than any other. I’m calling it a Spanish romance, not because I’ve achieved it but because, in the chronology of my poetic experience, this was the name given. You could also call it chanson de geste, in the medieval French tradition. Click on the hyperlink, and you’ll see what a poet’s breakfast it is.
The first of two important poets to introduce me to this style is W.S Merwin who, when he was very young, at the urging of Ezra Pound, translated and published Spanish Ballads. The hemistich in the center approximates, for me, a river of space that meanders and holds the left and right apart. By reading the half lines vertically, you can experience two separate poems, which, joined, create the whole piece.
© Elaine Stirling, 2014