Monday, July 21, 2014

July 21, 2014~

I've missed O Pen -- and so grateful that the group wanted to carry on and self-propel over the summer. Next week, David and Judith will carry on, and then I resume August 4 as moderator. What an honor.

There is something sacred about reading words of poems aloud -- like prayers.
Today, we shared "humorous" poems each reading aloud individual picks. In no particular order:

David: "In a Poetry Workshop" by Richard Wakefield
Joyce: "The Cure" by Ginger Andrews
me: "Immigrant Picnic" by Gregory Djanikian
Kathy: "A Downward Look" and "The Candid Decorator" by James Merrill
Elaine R: "last poem in the world" (2-liner by Hayden Carruth; "Local 328" by Michal Donaghy; and "Denial" by David Lehman.
Judith: How the Helpmate of Blue-Beard Made Free with a Door -- Guy Wetmore Carryl
Susan and Don both picked William Carlos Williams, "This is just to say"
Don added fresh plums and "Variations on a Theme by WCW" by Kenneth Koch.
Bernie brought in examples from "Haiku Humor" by Stephen Addiss w/ Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto as well as Sharon Olds, "Self-Portrait, Rear View".
Cindy: "No Place to Go" by Edgar Guest
Carmen: "Gold Rush" by Jan Boyley Taupe (another 2 liner) and Japanese microsoft error messages as haiku expressing a universal, timeless message, powerful insight through extreme brevity.
Elaine O. "The Lived In Look" by Marge Piercy
Martin: I met my grandmother in Italy

Can you guess which line came from which poem?

"I find her where I least expect her"

"This is the sweet imprint of your life/and loves upon the rumpled sheets/of your days."

"First snow, then silence.
This thousand-dollar screen dies
so beautifully."

"... the joy of having/no place to go."

"-- even the word saddlebags has a/smooth calfskin feel to it."

"Taking a nap / looks more refined / when holding a book."

"Forgive me, I simply do not know what I am doing."

"so sweet / and so cold"

"But here's the truth unqualified, / her husband wasn't mollified / her head is in the bloody/ little study/ with the rest."

"An Irish doorman foresees his death,/waves ad runs to help it with its packages."

"... On high, the love
... still radiates new projects as old as day."

"you could grow nuts listening to us,"

"she's been suffering/from a bad case of the mulleygrubs."

We spoke at the end of Why is something funny? Why does linking familiar with unfamiliar make us laugh?
Is it only incongruity? infractions? predictable form with unpredictable message.

Regardless, it was great sharing and a wonderful time.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Poems for Lunch May 29

To my Mother by Mahmoud Darwish
For Once Then Something by Robert Frost
Affirmative Action Babies by Amaud Jamaul Johnson
Map by Wislawa Szymborska
Choices by Nikki Giovanni
Twigs by Taha Muhammad Ali

Depending on which translation of the Darwish poem you use, the reference to "mother" takes on a yearning for homeland (Palestine) as opposed to the physical birth-mother.
Jim felt both poems sought approval by "the mother". The more literal translation gives a sense of great love and supplication:

Because I’ve lost my strength to stand
بدون صلاة نهارك
Without the prayer of your day
هَرِمْتُ، فردّي نجوم الطفولة
I’ve grown old… return the stars of childhood
حتى أُشارك
So I can share
صغار العصافير
with the sparrow chicks
درب الرجوع ..
The way back

I appreciate the many comments and insights of our group! Especially for the Frost poem, where logic and emotion reflect each other in the well, water. How to read,
For once (and see the divide of the 15 line poem, "Once... ) the pause after then,
something, which refers back to "a something white"... our discussion revolved around the play of time, the different ways to understand repetitions. What is the "sound of sense" in this poem -- how does it help lead the reader through ambiguity?

We didn't spend long on the Affirmative Action Babies-- picked up on the sarcastic tone,general bitterness and tried to imagine where the poem takes place -- perhaps Mexico, the south west... a metaphorical Ellis Island...

How much more refreshing to read the Szymborska, which teases us, yet giving us depth in which to consider how we trade reality for a map, given adverbs such as "kindly blue" and "great-heartedly/good-naturedly spread" a counter-world without access to"vicious truth". What do we record? remember? Maps are temporary records (I mentioned the map which clicks through 1,000 years of history and the shifting boundaries which reflect rise and fall of power) and indeed, the who we are where we are on them indicated by tiny black pinpricks, of very tiny consequence indeed.

We ended on Giovanni's poem, discussing the conscious/unconscious, and poetry as a way for us to survive, maintaining feeling... One of Maya Angelou's quotes
came to mind --
People will forget what you said/People will forget what you did/
But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Thus concludes a wonderful season of sharing poetry -- to resume September 4th.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Poems for May 19

I will be taking a break from O Pen and Poems for Lunch over the summer,
back in August for O Pen, and in September for Poems for Lunch at Rundel.
Do mark your calendars: Sunday, October 5, at 2 pm, I will be giving a powerpoint talk, "When Painting Speaks and Poetry Paints" using some of my Ekphrastic Poetry.

I share these poems for our last meeting before I return in August:

Images: 1490, Bosch; 2012 Nikon
In Mother's Kitchen
Girl with Gingerale
Visiting the Magritte Museum
Plane and Boy

for discussion:
One Hand in the Fig Basket by Catherine Blauvelt (winner of Boston Review Discovery" Poetry Contest. May 01, 2013
Revenge by Taha Muhammad Ali,
translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi and Gabriel Levin

Each poet comes with his baggage of culture, experience, his personality and style, his choices of words and sounds to create a spoken tapestry to share a glimpse of what it is to be alive and human. And in our group, each of us responds with our baggage of culture, experience, personality and style to these choices in different ways, sharing what each poem gives to us. And is that not the greatest gift that draws us to feel amazement?

I first heard Taha Muhammad Ali and Peter Cole in Seattle in 2007 when we were there on sabbatical. He, like Naomi Shihab Nye, who I had meet in 2005, and met also in Seattle that year, gave me courage to believe in the power of poetry and to work for my MFA at Pacific University. If we could all take the time to see each other, imagine the peace of understanding.

The comments:
sincerity in every word-- and yet associations abounded:
Kipling's story, "Dayspring mishandled" ( which tells of rivalry of two men
and why the one who worked so hard for revenge refused at the end to reveal his scheme.

The more we addressed the complexity of revenge, tied to our human need for connection, the more we fell into specifics: how we punish with prison, how with programs such as "Pathways to Peace" they still fail to save the youth who will follow the same path of those who respond to their anger with violence.
We spoke of the spirit of the Middle East, the gentle aspects of the Arab culture, and the various attempts by prophets (Navi) to bring peace... yet another modern version of Gabriel speaking to Mohammad...

I shared the poem "Twig" for yet another inspiring poem by Taha Muhammad Ali-- I believe his last sentence:
"After we die,
and the weary heart
has lowered its final eyelid
on all that we’ve done,
and on all that we’ve longed for,
and all that we’ve dreamt of,
all we’ve desired
or felt,
hate will be
the first thing
to turn to dust
within us."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Poems for Lunch May 15 + 22

to finish up from May 8: /Rain Song, by Mattawa (see May 12)

The Pregnancy of Words by Bob Hicok
from the sequence The Word and the World by Gregory Orr “There’s a Japanese term...”
They Flee From Me by Sir Thomas Wyatt
Sonnet 135 by William Shakespeare
For the Anniversary of My Death by W. S. Merwin

for May 22
Hard Life with Memory Wisława Szymborska, (see May 12)
Mirror by Sylvia Plath (see May 12)
Autobiography by John Skoyles
Triolet with Pachyderm by Hayley Leithauser
Northern Motive by Philip Levine

I will not be there to comment on the Skoyles, Leithauser and Levine May 22.

The first question I posed after we slid through the Hicok poem, sentence by sentence, was how the poem left you feeling. It took a bit of work for some to slide through the homonyms, the double possibility of pronouncing "live" as verb and adjective; "read" as present or past tense, the backwards spellings. The sound and play is very strong, but it was only after discussing how the poem provides a commentary on words, that Nancy, new to the group, pinned an aggressive tone, with a sense of raping, especially getting to the anal egg. Is the poem purposely arrogant, or pretending to shrug off
responsibility as we "tinker and smash", and ignore that we have no clue to our nature as a disaster. Finally, the crux of the poem reminds us that words need a "u" an audience to hear them, discuss them.

For the Word and the World, a very different approach to word, and use of a foreign language. Sabi, which if from the Japanese Wabi-Sabi meaning transience and imperfection, would be the loneliness of things. In the final stanza he does not repeat "the heart doesn't change" -- but repeats the loneliness of things.
Poets as connectors, poems as needing "midwifery"-- a bit of gestation as we read them line by line, and discuss.
Because "newfangled" came from the Wyatt, we look at the Wyatt poem which addresses love, the fickleness of those who give it. We find it is no dream, and yet, it feels
dreamlike "through gentleness into a strange fashion of forsaking".
And from Wyatt, to whom the Ballad of Will is uncertainly attributed, why not Shakespeare's sonnet where "will" is not only desire, but filled with bawdy puns and definitions of "will" and Will as male and female sex organs, lust, obstinacy, and the name of William.

We ended on Merwin's poem, "For the Anniversary of my Death".

Such an unusual title -- to celebrate something which has not yet happened.
What is beloved is yet to be discovered. How do the stanzas bow to each other?
Role of "And" -- the suspension of each line. We addressed the second stanza as a way of summarizing Merwin's biography, but also the distraction of "and the love of one woman/and the shamelessness of men which could take a biblic turn.
coupled with the other two "And"s, one with the final line; one in the first stanza
"And the silence will set out."

We did note the 3 days (time between death and resurrection) and wren. The Celtic symbolism would suggest that since both male and female birds take part in raising the young, they represent a fresh, innovative angle... and since they don't rest on their laurels, they further suggest that progress is made each day.

And so,with the wren in mind, we bowed, with humility, deference, to the unknown, to the one thing that is true to all, yet not yet clear and may (in the sense of perhaps might) never be known.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

O Pen -- May 12

Hard Life with Memory Wisława Szymborska
Mirror by Sylvia Plath
Benton’s Persephone by Robert Wrigley
Star in the Throat, Fire in the Cupboard by Catie Rosemurgy
Rain Song by Khaled Mattawa
Mother Goose Self-Help by K. A. Hays (see May 1)

Sometimes a poem is so good, just the conceit is enough to carry it, as in Szymborska's "Hard Life" where Memory is personified as "she". I'm not sure if in Polish there is the same gender-rich duality of French with "le memoire" being a written account and "la memoire" being the physical working of memory. One person did speculate about how the poem would change if Szymborska had made Memory "he".
With her inimitable wit, we are taken for a romp through human behavior with someone we care about-- how they can demand all our attention, remind us of details we'd prefer to ignore, and how we build our defenses, sticking to a story or version of ourselves we'd like to think as true. It's interesting how empathy works into the final stanza, where after revenge, memory comforts, and we are reminded, when memory goes, so do we.

Plath's mirror gives another reflection on how we deal with ourselves. What happens when the poet is speaking as mirror? The first five lines proclaim truthfulness.
unmisted -- and homonymic "unmissed" comes to mind. What is missing in this truthfulness? And then arrives the meditation, looking at a wall. How many ways can we understand "opposite wall"?

I think of Apollinaire's calligramme which makes a mirror frame about him -- “In this mirror I am enclosed alive and true like one imagines angels and not like the reflections (in this mirror…

The second stanza reflects the first, another "she". The diction churns: "Searching my reaches for what she really is". Ambiguity augments.
"Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon." -- perhaps romantic associations, but candles and moon are liars because they do not reveal the whole truth -- and the moon only shows one side, and even then, only parts of it as the sun changes what reflects.

How do you understand:
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
(The back of "she"? the back of the person looking in the mirror? seeing as in guiding her back?)

And how do you respond to the "reward" for this ?
"She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands."

Keep reading... and the complexity increases, as if to bring the water of the lake to drown the young girl, to keep alive that terrible fish of the old woman.

Wrigley's poem without looking at Benton's painting still can evoke a lush, sensual imagery that retells a contemporary version of Persephone -- but fixed, as if in paint, where the "curse of desire" is never satiated. Brilliant examples of rich diction, craft of this myth and painting that explore desire.
Setting: first two words. Autumn, Harvest
Sounds: “sh” in sheaves; last stanza: the air would cleave;
Personnification: Knees of oak; gnarly, knobby, quivering;
Passive woman: double negative; “made for his mouth”
Enjambments: heighten tension and yearning.
Rhetoric: balances familiar and formal speech
Juxtaposition of Beauty/Sin: mismatched donkey and horse in the painting;
verb tenses: present/subjunctive/conditional; possibilities that are not actualized
Bank: as bank of River Styx and storage place (bank) of desire.

There's much more -- so do explore!

Star in the Throat: like an ekphrastic poem with its painting-- does an explanation
of a poem help us understand it better? Here, we remained confused.
The diction is rich as are the images but one senses a layering that resembles this line which opens the final stanza.

"I believe the stories got wet and began to bleed together."
The final line lingers deep to resonate --

I’d like the water to douse the match that’s growing out of the bones
of my hand.

What is it the light shows? burns?
I return to the other haunting line at the beginning:

My mother, bless her, is a speck of color in the flush of a great cheek.
I’ve come to ask you to consider praying for that giant child.

Rain Song -- a different way to deal with "losing it" --
note the epigram "After Al Sayyah" -- after the storm.
Just as shorelines change, so do we, as we live our lives.
Rain song, "dialogue of souls", and the radio coming back to pay devotion to "the lifter of harm from those who despair"

The poem starts with the radio blaring and a woman -- but we don't know time or place, and only know she hates clouds. To leap from her question, "where is the sea now" to "Where is it from here, to
What is its name, intensifies the ambiguity as a 7 yr old boy is introduced. It -- as the sea? as the radio? the song? the name of what?

I'd like to read all the poems in the volume, "Zodiac of Echoes" -- the role of chance -- and what "the throb of stars in reachable depths" can mean, other than (perhaps) a reflection of stars in the water.
"Grief bordering happiness" -- could be what the 7 year old iteration, of the writer of the poem, or his more recent self -- but what stays is a melding of storms,
physical, emotional, and symbolic, -- and this sense of amazement that approaches the majestic and sacred of "lifter of harm" which pulls us up.

Poetry in the Garden -- May 10

Poetry in the Garden – May 10 – Rochester Public Library

“Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, from
Leaves of Grass

What was the first favorite poem (or who was the first favorite poet) you remember?
In Poetry in the Garden day, bring your lunch and come to enjoy a range of poetry.

The original word for garden, spread into Persian literature as pairadaeza (walled-around) to other cultures: paradeisos in Ancient Greek; paradisus in Latin, and onto variations on paradise. Come enjoy the magic of the “walls enclosing spiritual and leisurely meetings with others in the lovely garden accessible through the Bausch and Lomb Library across the Street from Rundel.

p. 137 Untitled –Ibn al-Utri
Just Like A Departer by Mustafa Köz
Rumi: 2219 Man gholam-e qamaram
Market Forces Runon by Tony Krantz
p. 248 Verses for Everyday Use -- Fadhil al-Azzawi
Silence by Billy Collins
Jane Hirshfield, "For What Binds Us"
For Once Then Something by Robert Frost
To My Mother By Mahmoud Darwish
Selections from "The Essential Rumi"
Affirmative Action Babies by Amaud Jamaul Johnson
In Just Spring -- E E Cummings
Maps-- Wislawa Szymborska
Wondrous -- by Sarah Freligh
Hafiz: It Felt Love
Choices by Nikki Giovanni

The Diwan of Abu Tayyib Ahmad Ibn Al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi (B. 915, died 965. in Kufa, Iraq) 892.71 M992d translated and introduction by Arthur Wormhoudt
Diwan means “book” or book of poetry and was spread by Bedouins: Form: last word of second half of the couplet maintains a rhyming sound throughout the poem (which could be 40 or more couplets). The two halves of the couplet appeared as two colums parallel to each other to suggest the duality of reader and writer, listener and speaker or other forms of dialogue.

It was a perfect May day -- with a Dachschund parade in Washington Park, Lilac Festival,
and the day before Mother's Day -- azaleas in bloom, the honeyed scent of the yellow blooms on the holly, buds swelling to attest to SPRING!

The idea was to bridge Western and Eastern thought with a quote from Whitman and one from Rumi -- what does "self" mean to both these giants-- both within their time period but also, how do we interpret their words today? Of course, we do not speak Persian, Arabic -- but neither do we speak the English Whitman would have used.

Failing to fetch me... keep encouraged --
to whom is Whitman speaking here?
Rumi speaks by analogy of human being as reed, cutting openings to make it a flute,
"wailing a tender agony of parting" from the Beloved.

How is praise important -- how do we praise and what, and for what reason?
The first poem by Milosz takes us back to Art and Dutch Masters.
the first word of the poem "we" moves through a judgement about our current art,
which shuns realism for abstraction to Line 15, where the speaker moves to I... Details, experience.

"All this is here eternally, just because, once it was.

We read the few poems from Al-Mutanabbi St. listed above in full from the anthology compiled by Beau Beausoleil;

For the Mustafa Köz:
What strikes me about a difficult-to-understand poem in translation, is to reflect on the nature of our English language which relies on prepositions and positions in the syntax. The poem "Just Like a Departer" by a Turkish poet who questions the "me" and "I" hinges on a word we don't have.

I asked my Turkish friend about it. She sees "departer" as leaving one mortal form, like a closed shell- but also leaving all else inside the shell where there are many ideas hidden.. like doom, death, you cannot fight with what is written "on your forehead"- as well as his intended wordplay of the going/ coming dichotomy as related to "birth and death" but still as a broader idea..

She reads this repetitive phrase as a sign of Mustafa Köz asking for a world of people who are more open and sincere, just like himself. He's saying something like come on! We will all die. I am one of the candidates. I will also depart. Just like you will.. What's this nonsense?
So to understand "departer" and "break away from the blockhouses" we need a little Sufi insight.

She found a different translation of the last stanza whose second line changes from
" cut the ribbon of my heart for you”
"who could name any poem that begins with 'going is good'.

So no "cut the ribbon of my hard" in terms of sacrifice, and Sufi practice does not use confession. She says this: "The mood of the poem is "come and take me, I am ready to die now"... The "you" is ambiguous. Who is you? Love is dense but simple-looking stuff with ambiguities. "The public rejoice" sounds to me like two things: one, the surface qualities of the worldy pleasures. second, the happiness that comes from rejoicing with the idea of "deriving happiness from fearlessness".. What is the root of all fears? Death.. So if you don't fear from anything, you don't fear death. you accept it. What better reason not to rejoice?

Last Stanza:
Me who thinks he is the poet called Mustafa Köz
Who could name any poem that begins with 'going is good'
public rejoices and sparklers
I came amongst you, just like a departer

Complex and rich… and shows the need to understand the background of the poet…

We did not read ALL the poems, but touched on Muslim/sufi advice "say nothing" to Buddhist perspective of how we are bound to earth, to each other, to all that surrounds us, by love. We ended with Billy Collins'meditation on silence,
and how words cannot match the presence it embraces; Cornelius Eady's poem, "Gratitude"; chuckled at Alison Deming's witty "Mosquitos". The last poem, by Dick Allen left us pondering his question of how to keep together child wonder/adult skills. We left,having unlocked doors, ready to "swing on their hinges..."

Poems for May 8

poems discussed in April at O Pen:
Daytime Begins with a Line by Anna Akhmatova by Yusef Komunyakaa
Losing It by Margaret Gibson
This Morning I Could Do A Thousand Things by Robert Hedin

It is a privilege to discuss the same poem with different groups. I added comments to April 21.

New: Homework by Alan Ginsberg.
Mother Goose Self-Help by K.A. Hays (Verse Daily: 3/24)
Rain Song: Khaled Mattawa

The Ginsberg is a brilliant poem -- using the timeless subject of how societies behave juxtaposed with his personal view of clean-up. The strong verbs expand the laundry metaphor and become commands to the reader to wash, scrub, flush, drain, cleanse, rinse, squeeze, dry out.
It is good to discuss what happened in the 50's to Iran, as well as unthinking practices that have injured the earth.
Each word is important and carries many associations:

Ivory: a white and mildly scented bar soap, that became famous for its pure content and for floating in water and could clean anything.
A little nursery rhyme: rub-a-dub dub, 3 men in a tub. Here Ginsberg uses this familiar phrase for scrub.
Bluing works by adding a tint of blue dye to clothing in order to make dingy items appear whiter. Note the pun.
Tattle Tail: usually spelled tattle tale (rhymes with battle/rattle / pail or grail). Here the sense of an animal “tail” perhaps of a rattle snake who will strike.
The word aeon /ˈiːɒn/, also spelled eon, originally means "life" or "being", though it then tended to mean "age", "forever" or "for eternity".

The poem has as epigraph: "homage Kenneth Koch". Alan Ginsberg + Kenneth Koch (1925-2002) were good friends. Part of the “Beat Generation”, Ginsberg strives for a lively, spontaneous, style relying on vowel sounds and witty phrasing and is opposed to “False Poetry” – that is, any writing that is self-centered.
Note the date of “Homework”: (1980) Work to do at home... as a country, as an individual to research... is the subject as true in 2014 as then? What timeless subjects is he addressing? Discuss the title. (work prepared for school, work at home, and research.

Thanks to Elizabeth, we had quite a romp after the meeting with the references behind Mother Goose Self-Help. (discussed with O Pen on 5/12) She reminds us that there is actually good advice hidden in these lines. Perhaps a favorite part is the single line after forgetting the "mother songs", the bowl cracked, whole, shining, sinking.
"It gets a little sad here." The tone is upbeat -- and the last word is song, following "crooked". A fun poem that deftly serves our folk wisdom. Perhaps we don't realize how deeply we are influenced by what we learn in childhood.

Another epigraph was left out with Mattawa's "Rain Song".
"After Al Sayyah" -- a storm reference.

The fact that it is called rain SONG, and yet is from a collection called "Zodiac of Echoes", reminds me of the cyclic nature of nature and changes in topography. The poem mentions storm as a source of flood, but also drought -- where is the sea now?
In the ancient world, it is interesting to see how shorelines change.

The poem starts with a radio and a woman (who hated clouds) then switches to another question asked by a 7 year old boy. The radio returns with what sounds like a prayer
and a superimposed memory of anguish which is not spelled out. The juxtapositions are subtle such as the "lifter of harm" which returns at the end of the poem; the metaphorical storms of men, credit/debt; how we are sheltered from harm, whether it be the "slash of lightning" or the "groaning sky" or the storms "we made" --
the we allowing father/son, or human beings in general.

What makes us despair -- lose hope? What is grief, bordering happiness that allows us to go beyond despair?
A storm is filled with amazement that can rekindle our faith perhaps...a witness of Divine power beyond despair...