Spring/Summer 2016 Issue 9: Song Of Myself

Song of myself

Red Wolf Journal Issue 9 (Spring/Summer 2016)
Our theme: “Song Of Myself”

Welcome to the Spring/Summer 2016 issue.

What is this singing which poets do? In Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”, he sings of “fountains, meadows, hills, and groves” invoking spring/summer with the joyous singing of birds. But it is with a “philosophic mind” that he did it. His song is the way poetry lies against time and nature. So poems function as a mirror and as a dreamscape both. You sing of these things. Therefore they exist. Or they exist, therefore you sing of these things. Either is subjectively true. After all, it is the nature of poetry to be metaphorical. Death, on the other hand, is literal.

As a poet, or someone who writes poetry, I don’t stop singing. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll eventually wear myself out and stop. Because poetry is visionary, it keeps wanting to keep going in a perpetual task of witnessing and remaking. As long as you live to see the sunrise, you have something to sing about. In our cover picture–George Tooker’s The Bathers–I see a curious glance backward by one of the bathers. It struck me that curiosity is what keeps us interested. That glance at what engages us is rather personal. The subject of interest brings us out of ourselves, and it also brings us back into ourselves. What is the world that engages your interest? A world that will ultimately pass you by.

Mark Strand in Dark Harbor seems to talk on point:

Farewell no matter what. And the palms as they lean
Over the green, bright lagoon, and the pelicans
Diving, and the glistening bodies of bathers resting,

Are stages in an ultimate stillness, and the movement
Of sand, and of wind, and the secret moves of the body
Are part of the same, a simplicity that turns being

Into an occasion for mourning, or into an occasion
Worth celebrating, for what else does one do.

(Canto XVI)

The title of our issue borrows from the title of Walt Whitman’s famous poem. It is a poem that celebrates the present (“There was never any more inception than there is now,/Nor any more youth or age than there is now,/And will never be any more perfection than there is now,/Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”), is optimistic about life and death both (“All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,/And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”), believes in the divinity of self (“Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from,/The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,/This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.”), is multitudinous (“I am large, I contain multitudes”) and channels many voices (“Through me many long dumb voices”).

What is his song about? It is his poetic bid for immortality, like that of Wordsworth’s, but done in an inclusive, capacious manner, sensory, visceral, philosophic, written in free verse. It is, of course, a self-elegy. Such an elegy seeks to preserve the meaning of one’s life as something of positive value when that life itself has ceased. It does this by much cataloguing and weaving of different strands into one (“And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.”)

So that is to be the theme of our issue. The self, I shall leave to you to interpret in your own unique ways. What would the self say? Say over and over again. Say differently and the same. What stories? What thoughts? Is there more than one self, so you could possibly be many selves? What are these other selves? Is it a self that will help channel other voices? Does self exist only in the text? What, indeed, is the self? Does your poem carry a clear sense of identity? Does it reflect and celebrate many selves or your true self? Does the self become transcendent? Does it aspire to the mythic?

Perhaps, after you’ve pinned it down, you’d think, like Mark Strand in The Monument:

First silence, then some humming,
then more silence, then nothing
then more nothing, then silence,
then more silence, then nothing.

Song of My Other Self: There is no other self.
The Wind’s Song: Get out of my way.
The Sky’s Song: You’re less than a cloud.
The Tree’s Song: You’re less than a leaf.
The Sea’s Song: You’re a wave, less than a wave.
The Sun’s Song: You’re the moon’s child.
The Moon’s Song: You’re no child of mine.

(Section 35)

That’s so funny. What would you sing about?

I’ll leave you with W S Merwin’s excellent poem, “The Laughing Thrush”:

O nameless joy of the morning

tumbling upward note by note out of the night
and the hush of the dark valley
and out of whatever has not been there

song unquestioning and unbounded
yes this is the place and the one time
in the whole of before and after
with all of memory waking into it
and the lost visages that hover
around the edge of sleep
constant and clear

and the words that lately have fallen silent
to surface among the phrases of some future
if there is a future

here is where they all sing the first daylight
whether or not there is anyone listening


Interpret the theme however you wish. Submit poems to us by email here.


Please review the submission guidelines and then send us your poems in the body of an email.

Poems will be published in ongoing posts on this site. Each posting will be announced on the Red Wolf Journal page on Facebook. Your poem may be published at any time from March to August 2016 so please check back here. If you do not see your poem(s) appear, you may deem it as not accepted for publication. We will not be sending out any acceptance or rejection letters.

The entire collection will be released in PDF format in due course. An announcement will be made at that point.

Irene Toh and Tawnya Smith
Spring/Summer 2016 Editors