Thursday, February 8, 2018

Poems for February 14-- Pittsford Only

Two poems outstanding:  Enough, by Ellen Bass and the Ursula LeGuin that Judith so thoughtfully  (and carefully!) typed up. I put them in again… 
To hear Danez Smith  (who wrote “little prayer”)  in action at the Chicago Humanities Festival :  (thank you Kathy) "Dear White America  - a poem from his book Don't Call Us Dead
Such a different tone from the one we read.   To feel calm again, try reading “Little Prayer” backwards:
Let it be
& if not,
let this be the healing
& find a field of lilacs
… etc.


Heart to Heart by Rita Dove 
Battery by Anne Waldman,
What Words Will by Richard Wehrman     

Poems for Feb. 7 + 8

Poems discussed:
Beverly Hills, Chicago, Gwendolyn Brooks
my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell, by Gwendolyn Brooks
What would Gwendolyn Brooks Do? Parneshia Jones
Little Prayer, Danez Smith
The Subject of Retreat - Yona Harvey

“I am turned into a sort of machine for observing facts and grinding out conclusions.”
- Charles Darwin

I think of Darwin writing this over a hundred years ago... and how he might feel now...
What happens in 100 years?  Celebrating Gwendolyn Brooks whose centennial was last year, allows a look at racism, America...  what comes through that is universal, and what
particular to the times?   When contemporary poet Parneshia Jones in her poem,
"What would Gwendolyn Brooks Do?" refers to "another day of fractured humans/who decide how I will live and die,/and I have to act like I like it/so I can keep a job;..."
and how we must hold on to what makes us matter -- to ourselves, to each other.
We are not some number some machine has concluded... nor should we allow ourselves to be so.

Many of us looked up "Beverly Hills, Chicago", surprised to find it existed in GB's hometown... Her description of the great divide between rich and poor, is subtle in
understatements of what it is like to be black, "below the stairs".  What draws us into this poem, is a sense of complicity, as we too look at the rich...  It is easy to become vain or bitter when comparing oneself to another, but GB rides a fine edge that ressembles a
generosity of spirit, with a jibe here and there, ("They make excellent corpses among the expensive flowers).  And yet... a long enough life to have enjoyed "white" hair.

The beautifully-crafted sonnet sets out an octave of nine "I's" that end with "eyes pointed in".
The inwards reflection swells into hope... that what is put on hold will still be good--
will fill the hunger and complete what cannot be completed until "the day arrives".
How hard it is to be told to Wait with a capital W.  Indeed, as Adrienne Rich says
in the passage I shared with both groups, GW's work ranges from exquisite satire to lamentation... and she hold up a mirror to the American experience.

So, I picked Parneshia Jones poem, who wonders what GW would do -- hoping that the waiting is over.  Not yet.   Recognizable troubles that don't seem an improvement over those in GW's lifetime.  Repeated in the poem, "hold on"... and hold on to everyone in your community.. hold on and keep holding.

We ended with two poems by two young Black poets.
I find "Little Prayer" could almost be read backwards:

let it be
&if not
let this be the healing
&find a field of lilacs

let him enter the lion's cage
where there was once a slaughter

let him find honey
let ruin end here
little prayer
The pronoun "him" is ambiguous -- not Him, as in a God, but perhaps a generic "him"
which hums presence of everyone...  Let is be as a slant "amen"

The final poem, has a curious title:  The Subject of Retreat.
Not, "On the subject of retreat" or "retreat" or "Subject:  Retreat".
Is it withdraws, or spiritual drawing away to a quiet space to meditate,
The repetitions of "The snow..." line break...
but what is "snow" we don't mention, or "on the other side" -- being white?
numb? drugs?  Black coat -- a skin? an itentity one can wear...
two realities... what the "I" knows and the refusal (retreat) of the other...
I like the ambiguities but have a hard time reconciling the various parts.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

O Pen -- Jan. 31

Global Warming by Jane Hirschfield
Arthritis is one thing, the hurting another by Camille T. Dungy
Tribute to Adrienne Rich: (links and 3 poems: (At Willard Brook, For Example, T

We will start Feb. 7 with Rich: Translations) continue with
Enough by Ellen Bass + note on epigraph (Rimbaud, "Départ" from Illuminations)

In the ten years of leading poetry discussion, we have never spent 45 minutes on just one poem.  This is a tribute then,
to Jane Hirschberg's "Global Warming", where the discussion could have continued even after three-quarters of an hour.   So much is in this 4-line  poem!  At first glance, one wonders why something seemingly  prose-like is a clever metaphoric procedure  rife with poetic devices.

Title.  Not "Climate change" which is more accurate, but the sense of "Global" -- and warm, as in getting closer to the heat.
First line, announcement of location, 
second line: juxtaposition:  Cook .. natives
third line: what Cook says...  ambiguity:  either he wrote:  The natives continued fishing
(and Cook did not  look up [from his writing which seems unlikely]) or the natives continued fishing and did not look up.
(which makes more sense and gives the feel of  two worlds which, although they SHOULD collide, in fact,
do not really recognize each other);
these 3 shorter lines then are followed by a longer line, in the voice of the narrator:
a commentary, like an Asian form Marna was explaining.

The  rhythm of the third line, two sets of 5 syllables, is quite compelling… 
 Two disparate things are held by the poem-- two opposite worlds; each unable to perceive the consequence of
 what's just  happened.  Like Inventions (the car, the telephone, the internet, etc.)  the geographic "discoveries"  happen, without planning any consequence. (What if America remained populated by indigenous natives?!) The shorter lines recount a brief moment in time, held by the longer thread of the final line--
which does not announce a conclusion, but rather makes a commentary on the way humans perceive. 

We are like the natives... we do not look up... many are unable  to comprehend Global Warming or imagine its consequences.    It reminded one person of  Breughel's Icarus.  Who sees that splash of legs in the corner... 
to what do we pay attention? 
 Hirshfield is generous in her attitude…  both to us…as well as the obvious victims.
Another person compared the situation to the oil business...  unable to comprehend the impact or what we need to remedy…
The bottom line:  we can't go proving with fact, but need to imagine a different world than the one we think we encounter… 

The Camille Dungy poem uses a similar metaphoric technique:  arthritis... and hurt... You can peg the world events
in 2006 with the details in the poem... yet they are told in a way that we feel this could be any year... 
massacres, burnings, wars, injustices... 
The play between the advancing rheumatoid arthritis in the hands of Adrienne Rich and the incomprehensibility of world events is sharpened by simple sentences:  "It is not the year for knowing what to do"... for both the poet and her activism. Dungy draws us in by asking, "Should I use indirect voice"... none of us are Adrienne Rich; ..but "these are not my hands"
is packed with ambivalance.  Sure, literally, our hands are not crippled.  We might think we have no "hand" in world events... the year of W and  X and Y and Z-- the sense of a long enumeration of bad things... This poem makes me feel the hurt of both arthritis and the pain of the world.

At Williard Brook:  powerful poem.  Reflects Adrienne's  advocacy…  her life devoted to try to change things… the spirit here – got to dive into the wreck and find out where these things happen… Beautiful opposition of spirit and "law"--
the spirit cannot be pinned down in scientific or human or sacred law or fact... There's a sense that if you want "law"
you take the spirit out of nature and present moment.

For Example: in Pittsford, we talked about "reverberation", perhaps a tribute to William Carlos Williams... the beauty of rhythms heard in the world... repeated...  and got side-tracked on typewriters... 
at Rundel, Mike pointed out the date: the day after JFK's assassination... a very different sense of reverberation.

Rundel discussed the final selection:  What happened on Christmas Day in 1972?  It could have been a masscre in Vietnam...
It is part of a book of the same title which is helpful for a fully understanding.