Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inauguration Poems -- January 2017

In this article, an uplifting reminder of how an Inauguration could be, with the fine
voice of Elizabeth Alexander. We will discuss the first two poems she mentions in the article.

below the Frederick Douglass by Robert Hayden and the Inauguration Poems for JFK, Clinton and Obama.

Our country has a strong tradition of including poetry to bring dignity to celebration of important events. (More on that another time: I’m reading, “Songs of Ourselves: the uses of poetry in America”
By local UR scholar, Joan Shelley Rubin.)
You might enjoy reading these “inaugural poems” and the article from Rumpus.

There are many voices, strong voices — we each can share a poem on this inauguration day…
And keep writing, and keep our voices clear, and celebrate the best hearts that beat
And celebrate the wisest people from history.


Frederick Douglass by Robert Hayden

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing

Praise Song for the Day -- Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

The Gift Outright by by Robert Frost
Poem recited at John F. Kennedy's Inauguration 1961

The land was ours before we were the land’s
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she will become

The inaugural poem that was not read, due to the glare of the sun.

Dedication by Robert Frost

Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country'd be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by the example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.
And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are our wards we think to some extent
For the time being and with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
"New order of the ages" did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
'Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had the better of.
Everyone knows the glory of the twain
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom's story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an's and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right devine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young amibition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.

On The Pulse Of Morning - by Maya Angelou
read for Bill Clinton’s Inauguration, 1993

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Mark the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spelling words
Armed for slaughter.
The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A river sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more.
Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow
And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.
The river sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing river and the wise rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the tree.
Today, the first and last of every tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the river.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.
Each of you, descendant of some passed on
Traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name,
You Pawnee, Apache and Seneca,
You Cherokee Nation, who rested with me,
Then forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of other seekers-
Desperate for gain, starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,
Bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the tree planted by the river,
Which will not be moved.
I, the rock, I the river, I the tree
I am yours- your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes,
Into your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Of History and Hope by Miller Williams. (2nd Inauguration of Clinton)

We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

One Today by Richard Blanco (for 2nd inauguration of Barack Obama)

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the "I have a dream" we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn't give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

Poems for January 17-18

At the Entering of the New Year by Thomas Hardy
Remember by Joy Harjo
Autumn Ritual with Hate Turned Sideways by Brenda Hillman
You Can’t Put Muhammad Ali in a Poem, by Juan Felipe Herrera, (+ vimeo
The Shapes of Leaves by Arthur Sze
Resolution by Lia Purpura

The first poem, written Dec. 31, 1917, is set up of contrast between the "old style" and "new style" to celebrate Christmas holidays and preparations for a new year. The former has a lively sound, and one senses the delight of lively dancing,
a sense of promise. The end-rhyme falls on alternate lines: 2-4; 6-8. Men, again, echo in "casements, line 5;
In the second stanza, booming/lambings; almost rhyme, bounds/rounds, delight/sight continue the pattern,
as do the non-rhyming "duly"/"promise".he

In the "new style" there is no break with the alternate end-rhymes.
Muffled, steal, bereaved, lend a mournful tone... dusk of a pine-tree limb -- not branch or trunk, but severed member;
"to feature" harkens to a bleak future... where "Youth" is unmasked, untied -- but not associated with promise.
Who is the "good friend"? Youth-- the ghost? No blame for the wish not to converse...

I find the poem inspiring in form... a way to review perhaps the transition from 8 years of one President who is a compassionate, articulate leader, to the unknown of a president-elect who may well put well-being of the common man and the world at high risk.

Remember, by Joy Harjo, repeats the command like a meditative prayer. "You dance not for yourself, but with all your ancestors before you. Remember the earth whose skin you are: -- 5 different colors... how we, along with plants, trees, animals and all the histories are the living skin... Everything is "alive poem"-- history included.

Brenda Hillman may well have known the nursery rhyme about the 5 little monkeys jumping on the bed, but here, pulls 4 letters, treats them like children to bed to rest... What happens to "hate" when E turns sideways into
a suggestion of the bottoms of windows. The H, swings from the first stanza like a rope. A is pushed to the left. T pushed to the right. Like a Cross. A weapon. E on its back... Hate cannot be spelled to mean something.
Autumn ritual -- like burning leaves... the end of a season as winter approaches.

We listened to Herrera read his poem. Muhammad Ali,who said, "float like a butterfly,sting like a bee"...
He changed his name from Cassius Clay-- the old tradition of taking on a new name/identity -- perhaps to do those things which do not have a name... Just like the boxer, the letters dance on the page.
It would be interesting to listen to the poem with the audience saying the words in parentheses.

The Arthur Sze poem also very powerful-- beautiful enjambments. Second line... "our emotions resemble leaves,
and alive" -- like the bright EE in tree, grief, field, speak, leaf. Contrast of the network of roads with veins in a leaf... how pure anger, aspen gold can being both light, beauty, yet convey spilled and molten.
Some saw the anger as something like Judo, when one deflects another's energy to one's benefit...
Is it an elegy? Reminiscent of Bin Dahn's work.

The final poem we read both line by line and segment by segment up to a comma. The more you look at it, the more clever is appears... 3 times "morning", followed by a parenthesis echoing 3 times "more, more, more?)

So much more to say... the discussions were rich, inspiring people to speak about much more than the poems..

Thursday, January 12, 2017

poems for January 11-12

Southern Exposure by Joseph Millar
This Did Not Happen by Thylias Moss
Still Life with Defeats by Tatiana Oroño
When I Buy Pictures by Marianne Moore
Or by Thomas Sayers Ellis
New Year Poem by May Sarton

The first three poems came from Jan-Feb. 2017 issue of American Poetry Review; the Marianne Moore,
from an article by Jennifer Grotz regarding poetic authority. Part II refers to Harold Bloom and his meditations on literary originality, and Part III, cites a poem by Sylvia Plath and the one discussed by Moore. "Anxiety of Influence" is hardly friendly to female poets. Moore imagines herself as the imaginary possessor of a work. This is not about achieving authority but as Grotz confirms,
"poetic authority ought to authorize the poet to see and say as much as possible."

In all the poems this week, I felt each one declared an existence that felt necessary, worthwhile.
Each one felt authentic, with a distinct style.

Southern Exposure: the title allows several ideas: the more clement side of a house exposed to the elements; a view, which quickly is established with traditional details of the South-- grits, pine-tar, pounds measured by cotton, tendon & bone. the civil war.

We were reminded of Emma Lazarus, "Bring me your tired, your poor huddled masses" with the repeat "Bring me..." as well as Blake's "Jerusalem"
"Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

Silent lake unfurls to / November rain and sounds... then the "troublesome blurry stars".
Suddenly it is not about "bring me" but a sense of flash back, up to Lincoln's ghost in
a clatter of /k/ with the unusual verb, "squat".
The last four lines lace the occlusive "curse" and "scar" with sibilance... blues, moans, sometimes,
and you, is not the you of "your mouth" but includes all of us.

In the Thylias Moss poem, we paid careful attention to the very long wide spaces, allowing the measure of silence for all that is not told of what happened... Some awful thing... white space does not tell... and the title reflects the common psychology of denial as response to trauma. For some, the separate spaces felt like sobs, or gasping.
I liked the "double duty" of the enjambments that fall after a space. "I couldn't dance // anymore.

but tried to hurt no one //else.

The line, "I was in, pink,/sequined -- with the repeated "in" in "been" as well pressurizes the details...

People thought of these two references: "The Fits": film about Afro-Am. girl training with boxers and joined dance group. and "Beast of the Southern Wild".
link with last line of first poem.

For the third poem, Tatiana Oroño (Uruguay) is a professor of literature and well-known art and literary critic. Translations of her poems by Jesse Lee Kercheval has appeared in "Ploughshares" and "Guernica".

Still Life is a loaded term. Whether as art term, or "life" deadened/stilled/ended, or life still pulsing. The opening line as well calls on the richness of the verb "to know" (understand) vs. to know how (have a certain savoir-faire) -- a beautifully balanced sense of touch... which can bring danger/death or sensual pleasure ... the beauty of the Medusa, and whatever "floral taciturn measure of the defeat" multiples into bread and defeats. Perhaps it is too far-fetched to see "pain" as both pain
and bread... how do you touch the "curve of the pain"? Responses were uniform: Here is an intense... tactile... sentient poem which captures the irony of being.

The Marianne Moore, for me, is a winner with her wry humor.
"When I buy pictures/or what is closer to the truth..." I love that the process of imagining being the owner of something -- with 12 long lines citing possibilities of what that might be. We learn much
about people by what they desire... I love the idea of something that gives pleasure in the "average moments" -- and how, without pounding us on the head, we learn the pleasure is indeed that whatever the picture, it is "lit with piercing glaces into the life of things". I'm not sure from whom she stole that line -- but she certainly claims it with the final acknowledgement of spiritual forces involved to make it. Art is never merely a reproduction of something seen. It touches us when it goes beyond
the recognizable into a different light.

I fell in love with "Or". In line with the idea of poems rife with repetition -- what "or" (ore/oar)
is NOT in the poem? How do you organize the "or" -- the one indented OR split in O-the-R. Even without going into politics, aesthetics, the poem romps on how OR is not just a sandwich cookie
of black and white o-(re)-o -- there's a dark underpinning under the playful quality.
Both groups picked up on Zora, as in Zora Neal Hurston who wrote, “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”

Barton's poem repeats the opening line 3 times, each a little differently.
"Let us step outside for a moment... and breathe the new air..."
Puts us in context of nature -- how clouds, ocean, islands have always been there, unlike us.
The final "Let us step outside for a moment." Is self-contained. How satisfying to read, "It is all there..." and the authoritative warning...
How else can we help people to be gentle unless we have them step outside for a moment -- away from whatever we are burying ourselves into.

Friday, January 6, 2017


-- Waking in Trump's America by Jan Steckel (Goodreads Author)
but why not have a bit of fun?
-- A Snap Quiz in Body Language by David Wagoner
-- Last Century Thoughts in Snow Tonight by Peter Gizzi
-- I Asked Mr Dithers Whether It Was Time Yet He Said No to Wait
-- Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda
-- Dear Reader (Rita Mae Reese)
-- Cartoon Physics, part 1 By Nick Flynn

I love that both the Pittsford and Rundel groups thought of this iconic photograph with the David Wagoner poem. (Sailor kissing the nurse, WW2)

Another person was reminded of the cartoon in the New Yorker “Not tonight dear”
And Judith provided us with Goya. On the site, scroll down to Capricho 7: "Ni asi la distingue" (Even like this he can't make her out)
Emily brought in Klimt, "The Kiss".

ASHBURY - 2 poems
We discussed “I asked Mr. Dithers, etc.” but not the second one, “The Lightening conductor”. to view both:
Two Poems by John Ashbery

For those who agree with Samuel Johnson, “Language is the dress of thought”, I enclose the original Spanish of the Neruda poem with a translation by Stephen Mitchell.

CARTOON PHYSICS (Nick Flynn) has been “illustrated” here:

Quite by accident, it turns out that the title of each poem selected this week provided much food for thought about the role of title. To take the poems in order: Some thought "Waking in Trump's America" too specific, written for the occasion of the Inauguration, but without the title, saw a much more universal poem. The idea of "Waking" gives a sense of a country that has been asleep. The title establishes the "here and now, January 2017, but also embraces an underpinning about what our Statue of Liberty symbolizes about democracy, and the delicate and complicated issue of immigration. Without the title, the poem could refer simply to what America stands for: the personified Statue of liberty is the one who needs help, unable to welcome immigrants given that torn rotator cuff. It's a reversal of the Lazarus words, "give me your poor, huddled masses yearning to be free". The torch, which boils in the sea, the seething Island of waiting immigrants adds sizzling anger. Dual passport -- returns with "résistance" as an echo of the French in WW2. But the delight of the humor, couples with the surprise in the 3rd stanza, line 8, a lovely "volta" where all readers are addressed: Friends, look at the person next to you.// Put your arm around their shoulder.
It was amazing that in both groups, we all did turn, look at each other, put our arm around each others' shoulders!

In the next poem, "Snap Quiz" ties into the way we make "snap judgements" What does body language tell us? Curious that the nurse in the WWII photograph, indeed, did not want to be in the picture... And I love that many shared examples of art that the poem triggered in their mind. (see above: Klimt, "The Kiss", Goya, "Capricho", the sailor/nurse picture.) The six questions at the end of the poem both invite a contemplation of what might happen (without knowing much about the scene), which mimics the way a court can cross-examine a witness to prepare a certain picture in the mind of the jury. With a group of 25 people, I am guessing that there would have been 25 difference scenarios. How do we form our judgements-- especially from what we think we see in body language?

The title of the Grizzi poem is mysterious-- why "last century thoughts" -- which ones -- are we dealing with New Year's day, 2000, 1900? or the left-over, lasting thoughts that persist from time past...or maybe the last (about to disappear) remnant of some century thought, coupled with snow, which is seasonal, comes, melts, has a plurality of ways of behaving depending on temperature, wind, etc. The ambiguity is not distracting because the sound carries the multiple directions. As a sound poet, it is not surprising how beautifully Grizzi threads sibilance (this/flits/tips/things) with taps of the T's in the first two lines. The reply has "s" only in "sometimes".
"This is winter where light flits at the tips of things.
Sometimes I flit back and glitter."

There are five instances of the pronoun, "I" -- plus a spectacle which implies eye-glasses, and two mentions of self-reliance.

How many ways can you say "ça va"? It could be translated as: "Enough already."; "Are you OK?". "Have you understood."
"This is winter"-- repeated 3 times.
Winter does require resiliance. But there are more layers. Each person in the group found different sources of "astonishment". Where did the blanket come from... Read the poem again tomorrow, it will bend with you.
Reminded some Conrad Aiken: Secret Snow, silent snow...

I only picked one of the two poems by John Ashbery. Grizzi, in an interview says, 'I write to discover what I know...' Ashbery also allows connections that make unusual contact that allow us to think deeper.
I love the title, "I Asked Mr Dithers Whether It Was Time Yet He Said No to Wait" and if you know the cartoon "Blondie" you can see Mr. Dithers and Bumstead, and "you" becomes one of them as well as time.
One person pointed out that the line "Sixty wondering days" might refer to a kind of marijuana...
which would facilitate perhaps imagining such a surreal situation.
How does the final line change the last sentence?
It was New Year’s Eve
again. Time to get out the punchbowl,
make some resolutions,
I don’t think.

I don't think so? Or literally, resolutions made by the speaker of the poem after some punch, where
there are made, but he's not thinking, or... ?

The Neruda is worth exploring in Spanish (see above). Both groups found something in it that referenced resistance to war -- the collective "we" in the opening couplet, reduced to "I" in the final couplet.
And if, I want to say, and if, we truly thought about what we are doing... meditated with a sense of quiet? We might stand a chance to understand the "sadness of never understanding ourselves"; draw closer to the earth giving us so many lessons we ignore in our busy lives.

Dear Reader reminded Judith of the way 19th century novels commenced -- an intimate invitation to the reader disclosing the intention of the book. I can imagine after reading the poem, someone scrawling the words in a diary, not remembering who might find them, but desperate to share the fact that their memory, their own self, is being erased. But that is not the voice that begins.
It is the person who helps that person. The repeat "chair, book, daughter, soup." brings shivers. The daughter as nurse, or perhaps the nurse who knows the daughter... Again, who is we, you, I ? Example:
"I tell you what lies
in each direction: "

"Lies" with a line break, allows us to process it to mean 'what is not truth', as well as what lies in each direction (past, present, future).
Is it the nurse, or the daughter, saying the "useless words" about how the niece must mean so much to her and witnessing the violent reaction, "she is/
everything to me".
If the daughter, indeed the feeling of uselessness of loving someone who cannot recognize, remember is a painful reminder of the slow process of losing them. The poem ends with the echo of the words that might once have connected them: chair, book, daughter, soup.

On a lighter note, we ended with "Cartoon Physics" -- those marvelous moments which we know cannot happen... Some had the image of Wiley Coyote running off the cliff, realizing he is above a chasm... and hopefully able to rewind to regain the path. But we know, usually, he is suspended there for a moment, before falling. It's like a good enjambment in a poem!
In a cartoon everything is possible, like " a man draws a door on a rock/
only he can pass through it."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

December 28

The Oxymoron Sisters by Tom Lux
Snowflakes by Jennifer Grotz
Sundials by Jennifer Grotz
In the Congaree by Samuel Amadon
Cattail History by Noah Warren
They Accuse Me of Not Talking by Hayden Carruth
The Birth of Superstition by Lynn Pedersen

Thomas Lux describes contemporary American poetry as “Burgeoning, chaotic, many, many good poets, a growing cultural profile, a healthy, squawking, boisterous, fractious, inclusive, tradition and (true) innovation marrying or colliding.”

Simultaneous with this, I think of the podcast I heard about "fact-checking poetry"...
how fact does matter, with or without intent of the poet...

Oxymorons... One astute reader quoted Lux as saying: "“I like to make the reader laugh and then steal that laugh right out of his throat."
tragedy right next to humor...
He achieves this with his poem -- replete with wonderful sounds.

Acetylene to snowflakes, and a composite hodgepodge of denticulate dandelion and patter of t's
felt a bit affected. Sundials then measured with the feel that these two poems told rather than showed,
with a preference for Sundials which created visual images of roundness.

The poem commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant also left us a bit cold. Why this?
By then, the group was ill-disposed to workshop Warren's poem.

They Accuse Me of Not Talking is a curious title and we enjoyed delving into the poem. North/South...
"To which love can you speak
the words that mean dying and going insane
and the relentless futility of the real?"

Here we gather faithfully week after week... and at this point I felt I had gathered poems which didn't do justice to the group -- but could resurrect a sense of order with these lines.

What do poems do? If we only read poems, would that be enough to confront the futility of the real?

Ending with a poem addressing the birth of superstition... the lack of certitude, understanding, fact...

Logic is my son’s kite, good so long as you have
wind, string,
something heavier than hope

to tether you.

It felt like a discussion of kites in the wind... different people offering their logic...
not needing hope to be heavy, but simply enjoying the challenge of tethering meaning as we could
in a convivial group.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Poems for December 21

Poem for the New Year by Devin Johnston
Home Town by William Stafford
The Man-Moth by Elizabeth Bishop
I am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Writ on the Steps of Puerto Rican Harlem by Gregory Corso
The Bee Carol by Carol Ann Duffy

As we draw close to Christmas and the end of the year, what statistics do you keep?
What memories of your home town? What accidents and mistakes have produced turns in the path of your life you might not have predicted? What do you wait for? How do you respond to Greg Corso's poem, feed the cluster of shivering bees?

For the first poem: The group commented on the density; regular rhythm; irregular stanza length ... One person commented that
he looks back on the old year, no plans for the new. Then again, it behooves us to reckon with the old before plunging into the new. Dorothy Thompson: first journalist tossed out of Germany. Sinclair Lewis: It can’t happen here...
We are living in a time where we need to look carefully at what has happened...

The 2nd stanza reference to Tao te Ching or book of changes helps stabilize "each dawn a color wheel
to gauge the shifting moods". There is also a shift in tone -- almost humorous if you don't know the Eastern sages.
"each day brings more
and more of less
less and still less
with no end to nothing
and nothing left undone"

From there to the third stanza, where emptiness filled with sound -- of silence, of trucks, planes, the wording is arranged so that simultaneous readings layer together in a shrinking sense of loneliness.

Even here in Bellefontaine
along a winding street
silence brings an interval
holds the less and less
of yet more distant sound
trucks along the interstate
a plane behind the clouds.

One reading: silence brings... holds... trucks along--it
becomes a geometry behind clouds.
We are familiar with "the less and less of yet more distant sound"; trucks and planes can be vehicles producing sound.
The mood is foreboding... a sense of "has been" as if visiting a cemetery.

**The William Stafford poem paints a home town "Norman Rockwell" style -- which is not to say without odd angles,
such as the "bombshell" library. It reads as a prayer for bestowal of goodness.. Peace ON... not "Peace be with..."
Stafford, a conscientious objector – wrote this as a young 28 year old in WW 2...

We admired the line-up of adjectives : safe/comforting/impersonal immensity
continuous/ hidden/ efficient (Sewer system)
Sharp/ amazed/ steadfast regard on the judging ones of the citizenry...
those nosy/incredible/delicious neighbors

I love the "moon-gilding" of "regular breaths of old memories"...
the old whispers, old attempts, old beauties, ever new.

Then ending with the little town, haze-blessed/sun-friended
under the "world champion sky" -- as if to remind us we all live under it.

It brought up the song, "Your State Name's here".

The Bishop poem, inspired by a typo, allows the artist to juxtapose Man with this hybrid, imaginary creature
who observes him. Perhaps autobiographical. One person commented that it sounds a little drunk.
Surreal...and so lonely... The struggle to reach what may well destroy, like the moth drawn to candle flame.
Moon, only a reflection of the sun's light... just as words and poems are only reflection of reality...
Moon, as realm of imagination, vs. Sun as realm of reason...

Indeed, one waits... and applauds Ferlinghetti's marvelous use of anaphor and refrain... awaiting a "rebirth of wonder"...
The power of such a refrain multiplies as each stanza leads up to it in a different way, "rounding a different corner."

Comments: Imagine Trump voters this way... they too are yearning and wishing and needing. The absurdity of what is waited for...

Wonder reborn with every child, but harder to maintain... as one gets older... wonder is at risk of being callused.
Re-birth of wonder – that’s the answer... but will it ever be possible for a collective?

How different from the Corso poem -- where "Writ" could be noun, or vernacular verb.
The disparity between what could be -- like a sense of wonder... and what is...
This line goes straight to my heart.
"Because I want to know the meaning of everything
Yet sit I like a brokenness"
God, death, and hard, hard, hard.

Beautifully read by this teen for Poetry Out Loud:

The Bee Carol with its soothing music brought us out: Same rhythm as Rosetti sung to "I heard the bells on Christmas day".
The golden jar of honey, to feed the bees, to allow them to continue. Be mindful of their shivering cluster.

It is getting harder and harder to summarize and capture all the various commentaries each week.
I hope that people read these poems, imagining our large and multi-faceted group, the richness of the reading aloud, the sharing of craft noticed, associations triggered.

poems for Dec. 14-15

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost
Holidays by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Red Brocade Naomi Shihab Nye
The Year by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Fiction by Howard Nemerov
Jerusalem by Naomi Shihab Nye
Poem for the New Year by Devin Johnston

The first poem is only one sentence, divided into two parts the groups quickly grasped as external cause/internal effect. Some were definitely of the “a crow is a crow is a crow” and some tried for crow as depression. David felt compelled to write this:

"Here was this little poem, lovely and mysterious, refusing to explain what it claimed, a bit haiku-like but more complex for its layering of time and its Frostian qualification: what that bird did "Saved some part of a day I had rued." The earlier feeling was changed by this small event--though not altogether, it seems.
Simple as it is, this little poem reminds me of what's I like about rhyme, the mystery of words so alike in sound but so different in meaning and even part of speech? A good rhyme is akin to a good pun. Here it's ordinary rhymes --crow/snow (noun/noun) and me/tree (pronoun/noun)--leading to a more interesting one-- mood and rued. Who even uses that verb? But mostly I love the way that Frost gives rich meaning to a mere fact in the story. Just as in "A Time to Talk" that hoe set to stand upright in the soft ground becomes a kind of effigy and place-holder for the poet taking a break from his labors, so here, in an even subtler way, all those slight and slender motions--the shifting of the bird's weight on the branch (whether alighting or taking off or just shifting position), the movement of the branch that dislodges the powdery snow, the snow's drift downward, the feel and sight of this delicate snowfall on the speaker ("on me")--together create a beautiful analog for an inner change, a change not even of idea but just of mood. It's another, deeper kind of rhyming. This series of actions, some named, others implied, and none described in detail, dramatizes the poem's very claim that the event that began outside the speaker continued inside him. Meanwhile, the event's delicate beauty befits the small but crucial nature of the inner change. The herb rue has a bitter taste, which says something of the feeling it's named for. Anything, however small,rescued from that feeling is a saving indeed. And how was that done? By the sheer beauty of this action, by the speaker's good luck in being where he was, and by his greater good fortune of having the capacity to receive this accidental gift."

The Longfellow sonnet starts with a universal, and winds up with the idea of fairy tales finding us... The group sensed the poem coming from a dark place... perhaps written after the death of his wife, who burned to death... See "Cross of Snow" -- remembering his wife 18 years after her death... like the mountain bearing a cross of snow... Holidays... and what is sacred,
we keep close in our heart. The tight rhyming abba / abba/cde/cde, the slant rhyme of holidays and unclouded; three times white, for sail (fairy tale); cloud (more f's of floats, fades to echo "full," "feeling overflows""flames");
and for the whitest lily. Laced with l's "holiest, holidays, silence" join the f + l combinations; and sweep along to swallows; gleam; sail, land, lovely landscape.

Both the Red Brocade and Jerusalem allow us to consider the Arab culture and rules of hospitality. Imagine if we took time
to understand each stranger! Imagine if we did not hide behind "busy", did not have to pretend we have a purpose in the world.
We did pick up on the use of the past verb tense "The Arabs used to say," and also, "That’s the armor everyone put on/to pretend they had a purpose/in the world. Is this to contrast with the rest of the poem... the "Let's go back to that" -- the "No, I was not planning to be busy"... I love how poetry asks us to pause, reflect, probe. The poem's title
Red Brocade, returns with the mention of a red brocade pillow, rice, pine nuts, and ends with mint, something to be "snipped together".

Ella Wheeler Wilcox's most enduring work was "Solitude", which contains the lines "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone. Her rhyming couplets are not hackneyed. Using the word burden with its double meaning as musical refrain... and weight, repeated emotions of being human provided a delightful surprise.

Nemerov, Poet Laureate and brother of Diane Arbus, also provides us with surprises. What is reality in a poem called "fiction"?
The elevator metaphor brought up many stories and memories of the first elevators... I love that he "planed" us into 2-D,
... carried us "up." Who are we in 3-D life? How will we "rise and fall" -- are we ready when our number comes up?

The final poem "Jerusalem" is helped by knowing that it means "City of Peace". The epigraph by Tommie Olafsson
addresses inner and outer peace:
“Let’s be the same wound if we must bleed.
Let’s fight side by side, even if the enemy
is ourselves: I am yours, you are mine.”

We discussed the word "riddle" -- as in whatever is at hand, shot through with hints to be unraveled.
"... the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.

Pears looks like "tears" which could be noun or sound like the verb. The explanation is that the boy grew wings--
that only come from understanding he was not the target. What vulnerable spots do we each have? How do we explain their riddle? Why not have an olive tree (symbol of peace) become the son slain in war... Without saying, "Love can do such miracles..." the reader might conclude this. The "monumentally" associated with our slowness to understand, is swiftly
followed by soldiers stalking a pharmacy... The last line, "Everything happens next." has also a riddle-like quality--
all we have done, has effect on the next. Everything is all-inclusive and inescapable.

The poems chosen gave us all rise for lively discussion, mirrors with which to look at ourselves, share our reflections.
Not one laid out "truth" in a way one could summarize; all laid out details which point to it, the way good poems do.

Everyone tells me how grateful they are for these weekly discussions-- indeed! I am a lucky one to have such a group.
Thank you all who attend who might read this.