A Portuguese man o’ war that washed up at Island Beach State Park June 28, 2015. (Credit: Kevin Knutsen/New Jersey Jellyspotters/Facebook)
Portuguese man o’ war, floating terror, bluebottle,
with venomous tentacles delivering a painful sting.
Not common jellyfish, not single multicellular organism.
A colony of specialized minute individuals attached.
Well-armed surface sailor incapable of independent survival.
Here is a bit of background to accompany today’s little ronka poem. I was inspired by news reports of man o’ wars appearing in the ocean off New Jersey recently.
The name “man o’ war” comes from the man-of-war, an 18th-century armed sailing ship, which this creature resembles if you see a Portuguese version at full sail. Like a well-armed ship, they pack a punch with a sting that can last for about an hour after a human comes into contact with the marine cnidarian. People who are allergic to the species’ venom often need to be hospitalized.
Their appearance off NJ can be blamed on the Gulf Stream which took a sizable population of them that with a few days of strong northeasterly winds, pushed them on shore in New Jersey. A rare but not unheard of visitation.
Seeing the exit sign for Paterson, NJ
she said in her deep smoker voice,
“Dr. Williams. I wanted to take off
my clothes and lie down in front
of him.” Doctor and poet. Examination time.
This anecdote was posted by the poet Mark Doty on his blog about a comment made while driving to a poetry reading with Carolyn Kizer. Kizer died this month.
The Wizard of Menlo Park, New Jersey,
from telegraph to telephone to gramophone,
thinking he could record the human voice.
Stylus-made impressions on strips of paraffin paper.
Letters (gramma) given a new voice (phone).
Thomas Edison with his second phonograph, photographed by Mathew Brady in Washington, April 1878 (LOC)
“Edison immediately tested the machine by speaking the nursery rhyme into the mouthpiece, ‘Mary had a little lamb.’ To his amazement, the machine played his words back to him.” from a History of the Edison Cylinder Phonograph from the Library of Congress
In summer Jersey streets and narrow driveways
not urban enough for stickball, we played
kickball, freeze tag, dodgeball and wiffle ball.
I whiffed in many at-bats, happy strikeouts,
yellow plastic bat to curveballs, sinkers, risers.
I wrote a guest post for Adele Kenny’s poetry blog, The Music In It, about my daily writing practice this year and the ronka poems.
It is a good exercise to get “meta” about your writing once in awhile and think about what you write and why. Treat yourself as an assignment from that poetry class and look at the themes that run through your poems, the language etc. (I didn’t realize how many birds were flying into my daily poems.)
Adele offers regular writing prompts that are very well explained and illustrated. She is a fine poet herself – check out her collection What Matters – and she has written many books on a variety of topics.
A former professor of creative writing in the College of New Rochelle’s Graduate School, Adele Kenny is founding director of the Carriage House Poetry Series (NJ), which is where I first met her. She is one of those many people across the country whose local efforts keep poetry alive. The readings have featured New Jersey poets and nationally-known poets, including Mark Doty, Jim Haba, Stephen Dunn, BJ Ward, Renee Ashley, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Laura Boss, Marie-Elizabeth Mali, Diane Lockward, Alicia Ostriker and Patricia Smith.
Adele is also the poetry editor of Tiferet Journal. She has read in the US, England, Ireland, and France, and has been a featured reader at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.