Friday, January 23, 2015

discussion Jan. 12

The End of the Holidays by Mark Perlburg
Insha’Allah by Danusha Laméris*
Trying Fourleggedness by Rebecca Hazelton

Nighthawks by John Logan
The Lie – Anne Waldman
what we can’t know by James LaVilla-Havelin
One Heart by Li-Young Lee
A Lover by Amy Lowell

How simple to start with an airplane company name, "United" and the practical sign in the airport, "Departures". Perlburg takes the universals of leave-taking, adds a season, "winter barred its teeth", and contrasts contemporary speech with heightened language. The perfect line-break,
Shift/baggage, links the personal to a nautical practical, after the repeat "come together and divide" applies to summer leaf, and saying good bye to a thirty year old. The gentle tone has a tinge of humor in the acceptance of departing with all the unsaid parts of feeling united.

Insh'Allah appeared in Ted Kooser's site, American Life in Poetry, with this introduction:
"Just as it was to me, Insha’Allah will be a new word to many of you, offered in this poem by Danusha Laméris, a Californian. It looks to me like one of those words that ought to get a lot of use."

It captures for the non-arabic speaker more than a simple word, but the full gamut of life, lived with a sense that what will be, and what one hopes will be requires such an intercession. The automatic "God Willing" threads through the poem like beads on a rosary, as the reader follows birth, health, safety, the end of war. Without exaggerating the Middle Eastern connections, the final stanza captures poignantly the connection between "Insh'Allah" and hope.

"How lightly we learn to hold hope,
as if it were an animal that could turn around
and bite your hand. And still we carry it
the way a mother would, carefully,
from one day to the next."

Our discussion explored the ways we cope, both trying to avoid clinging to hope, yet not fall into the opposite realm of worry. What happens, happens, whether we hope or worry or do some of each. "Trust... but verify"... References to Kina Hora, to the function of talismans, magical incantations.
We all enjoyed the simple but strong message.

Trying 4-leggedness, (from poetry, 2013) by the title invites images of a toddler crawling, as well as horse, dog and more quickly dispelled with the first line: "The boy and the girl were mostly gesture," and then plunges into sexist innuendoes, if read from a feminist perspective.
A good exercise is to compare the Hazleton to Jane Hirshfield's "This morning I wanted four legs".

Who does not know this painting by Hopper?
Our discussion ranged from comparing poem vs. image; poem without image and what it evokes by itself. The consensus is that the painting is stronger than the poem because it is evocative, carries a sharp sense of unease, tinged with an anomie, empty loneliness... The poem is more didactic.

The bio on Poets Walk: Logan (1923-1987) taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Notre Dame, St. Johns College and other institutions. He received the Rockefeller Foundation Grant and the Guggenheim Fellowship. He spoke as part of the Plutzik Memorial Reading Series at the University of Rochester.

I am not sure when Logan wrote this 15-line poem, but it would help to imagine the public viewing Hopper's America in 1942 with "hated, hook-nosed" inserting an anti-semitic reference. The flat, concrete language has some surprising assumptions: "squats" at the counter? The 8th line is not at all poetic, and why tell that "details abound" when 3 lines of details follow? In the painting, there is no sense of "all folks" which takes the reader out of the poem... but the final two lines balance the emptiness... but not hopefully... the hands almost touch. Perhaps our poetic expectations in 2015 have also changed.
The painting gives us a sense of the middle of the night, interior slanted against the exterior,
the handful of hangers-on. One can argue that the clatter of /k/ gives an edginess to the poem. Isolating the words, one can feel their slice: back/counter/capped/cook/complicated in the first two lines of the poem continues sparingly (coffee/look/customers/hook/cafe) only to disappear by the eighth line until the marvelous "tie around the neck of the cook" -- which feels like strangling, not just the bowtie. Folks, is the last /k/.

Anne Waldman's poem has the paver "I want a rare sky", words perfectly picked by Cochran for the poem tile, captures the sense of rare as a multifaceted adjective. How does "rare" work with sky? Something tending towards raw? clouded or unclouded, filled with lightning, painted with an unusual sunset or stars? To use the terms of the poem, "what we can’t know" by James LaVilla-Havelin, in Waldman's almost-villanelle, she shows "what we can't know" -- how lie uncurls* as we seek to understand what we think is knowable, such as a bird's heart, dirt's weight...
The rhyming link to lie, die, cry, and double sense of eye, I evokes a biblical mote in the eye... we never see what we think we see... The poem merits reading again and again, to discover the complexity of art, as vision, sight/insight and what this means about us as we wonder,

"How to fuel the world, then die
Distance yourself from artfulness"

We read James LaVilla-Havelin line by line... admiring how the poem's powerful images starting with
"the number of dead" leading to "a lie’s uncurling" ... only to end on "how we are remembered"...
The poem includes what we think is "knowable" -- yet invites us to go on to list 10 more things that are whoa-worthy...the strong emotionality of some of the lines put us in a feeling of thoughtfulness...

The Li-Young Lee poem reminded us of Keats' "negative capability" by the sensuous ambiguity.
How does freedom fasten one heart to each falling thing?

Finally, we arrive at the imagist Amy Lowell, dubbed "Amy-gist". But if you didn't know her, her background, how would you read her two lines? I challenged the group -- and offered a sentimental, Hallmark-y rendering, to which Judith answered, absolutely not, with a story about her grandmother meeting the big-voiced, big-boned Lowell, with a personality like an ice maiden, backstage.
Her comment, " “At Hallmark the bunnies do not have fangs..." which apparently excludes any romantic notions of the two lines.

It is interesting to contemplate What a poem brings out in us without knowing poet or context.
What we take in...what we think is expected of us to take in...

compare Pound's imagist poem:

In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Poems for Jan. 12 + Jan. 19 + Jan 26

The End of the Holidays by Mark Perlburg
Insha’Allah by Danusha Laméris
Trying Fourleggedness by Rebecca Hazelton

Nighthawks by John Logan
The Lie – Anne Waldman
what we can’t know by James LaVilla-Havelin
One Heart by Li-Young Lee
A Lover by Amy Lowell

(see discussion -- Jan. 12-- separately)

The poems below sent out for the next two weeks are from Poets' Walk: far too many to be able to discuss in two sessions!
A Coat of Faded Blue by John McNaughton
The Logic of Death by Dane Gordon
Sestina d'Inverno by Anthony Hecht
Emancipation Proclamation by William Heyen
Boarding a Bus by Stephen Huff
Flip Book by Tony Leuzzi
Choose by Carl Sandburg
A Woman and Her Dog by Stephen Lewandowski
Late Fall by Eleanor McQuilkin
passage from San Ildefonso Nocturne by Octavio Paz
beware : do not read this poem by Ishmael Reed
Communion by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse
Which Side Are You On? Janine Pommy Vega
Touched by Deborah Tall
It Wasn’t The Wind by Linda Allardt
They Are Hostile Nations by Margaret Atwood
Notes for a Poem about a Dream about My Daughter in which Moths Unexpectedly Appear
by Ralph Black
Blessing of the boats at St. Mary's, Lucille Clifton
Brahma, by Ralph Waldo Emerson


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Discussion at Rundel January 22 -- 3 poems from Poets Walk

Linda Allardt: "It wasn't the wind"
Margaret Atwood: "They are Hostile Nations"
Ralph Black: "Notes for a poem about a Dream about My Daughter in which Moths Appear

If someone said, "surely you can discuss three poems in an hour", the response would depend on which poems and who is involved with the discussion.
The three poems listed above, all on Poets Walk invited a lively discussion among the 8 participants which carried over the hour. Reading poems line by line outloud, vs. chunked into syntax or stanzas allows "the sound of sense" to become a surprise beyond the words. The line breaks, the tone created by sound, phrasing, the role of title-- each one so different in impact, invited us to guess the poet's intent and share the effect on each of us as reader.

Both Linda Allardt and Ralph Black are poets living in Rochester, and I have matched their poems with possible paintings in a powerpoint I'll be presenting on Poets Walk on February 1st. I had met with Linda, now in her 80's, who thought the painting that best caught the spirit of her poem resided in her living room. When I showed it to the group after a lengthy discussion of the poem itself, all 8 participants were surprised, having envisioned something quite different. One had an image of a cartoon of solar wind, another an image filled with great light and found the abstract whites and grays too dense.
I didn't show the two possible matches to Ralph's poem, as it was clear the poem was doing the work of a good poem and not needing "illustration."

Today, I was reminded of the truth of Edmund Wilson's words: “No two persons ever read the same book”. So it is about seeing the "same" painting, or understanding the craft of the poem.

For the first poem, in which the title spills into the first four lines, we read it first sentence by sentence, followed by a small discussion of the movement through syntax. The poem, in 17 lines, four sentences, two first person pronouns, starts with a Keatsian sense of “negative capability”.
The first sentence is concrete, physical. "Chasing squirrels" can be both active, by an unseen person, animal, or simply the squirrels themselves chasing". The second sentences introduces an "I" and thought extended to solar wind. The third demonstrates the long sweep of travel "past planets, micro-impacts" through 8 lines to end on light meeting light between paired stars. The "I" comes back, stretched, as is the reader, who without being told, might also re-think one small clump of snow falling off the trees and power of the sun in the past, and wonder about in the future.
Our discussion covered everything from solar wind, the wetness of the sibilant sounds, the difference between reading the poem in four sentences, vs. reading it line by line where the feel of it becomes more apparent, carried by the sounds. Are the "I"'s the same-- the one thinking and the one after being stretched? How does "bent" which can be a verb, but used as noun add to a sense of invisible energy which combines a quality of insistent, but not straight?

For the Margaret Atwood: Written in 1974, They are Hostile Nations could well be about her own thorny break-up, although relationship here extends both one to one as nation as well as collective to Earth.
The three part poem demands a reader's attention. In the first stanza already the first three words,
"In view of" followed by "the fading animals"-- whose view, and who is "They" is in the title already establishing a distance of looking on disappearance remotely. The juxtaposition of sewers/fears--
the physical conduit for the unwanted coupled with the emotion most would prefer to dominate,
then leaps to the conclusion of forgiveness...
I think of the Teddy Bear Cholla in the 3rd stanza...what looks so cuddly, yet will bite...
we/ touch as though attacking-- and "we" starts a series of enjambments which call attention to the end word, such as "stay" (last line penultimate stanza) which means both keep off, and remain.

Here, a personal truth, her own private story translates into a universal about our selves within our selves, to the very real risk of being extinguished as we extinguish the very planet we live on.

The final poem has an intriguing title -- is it a poem if called "notes for a poem"?
First... Next... Later... and a surreal dream is confirmed... the appearance of the daughter coming with the shift in weather, introduces "trilling" an unlikely way of describing captured moths, not in a net, but a sack. Each moth with "eye-spots like a world of vision." The capture is not as important as the vision and "how flowers can name themselves" and working the mouth shaped by trillium three times. This poem is delicious to say outloud, with the light touches of t's, the l's blooming,
lifting, entering flurries, fills... and we enter the dream of "what wings are" and the clever whirling world... child, moths, dream, all readying us indeed to be lifted.

More delicious details: The color of black as bruised plum; the personification of the planet "rocking in its tresses; voice like water; mouth like a dish of kisses"; the synaesthesia of trilling-- where music and movement combine. And more, and more. A comforting poem after the anguish of the Atwood.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Poems for Jan 5

Gratitude by Cornelius Eady
Playtime by William Bronk
Holy Pictures by Finvola Drury
excerpt from "Ten Cheremiss (Mari) Songs by Anselm Hollo
Marina Tsvetaeva by Ilya Kaminsky
Winter Landscape by Judith Kitchen

These poems come from Poets Walk, the interactive cell phone connected stretch between Goodman and Prince St. on University in front of the Memorial Art Gallery.
The link to see a complete alphabetized list of the poems and bio on the poets:
There are 16 granite slabs, (Cornelius Eady is one) --
we have discussed the "poem slabs" of Sam Abrahms, Adelaide Crapsey, James Longenbach, Naomi Shihab-Nye and W.C. Williams.

For the poem tiles, we have also discussed in the past
Brooks, A song in the front yard,
Carruth, The Cows at Night
Emiot (trans. by L Zazulyer): As Long as we are not alone
Harjo, Perhaps the World Ends Here
Merwin, For the Anniversary of my Death
Hour Of Sadness by Israel Emiot, translated by Leah Zazulyer

The Selection Committee was interested in any poet that had a connection with Rochester at some point, whether they lived or had lived here, had come here to give a reading and/or workshops, etc. After that, members of the committee nominated specific poems by the poets, sharing and discussing them with the other members of the selection committee. They were looking for quality, diversity by gender, race, time period they wrote in, etc, in making our final selections. Finally we voted on the final selection, with the hope that we would have unanimous agreement from the committee, which in almost all cases we did.

In the selection, I chose the eloquent Cornelius Eady, whose long 5-page poem is only partially represented on the Art-drop site. I am grateful for all comments regarding information this site has (for instance, typos, updating obits, etc.)or in the case of Eady, giving a link to the entire poem. The old school, "let a poem speak for itself" does mean the entire poem! On the other hand, the biographical material can often help us better understand a title such as "Gratitude".
Eady acknowledges the education in a privileged private school, as his sentences ring with a Frederick Douglass eloquence and authority. His injunction to love, is not some Hallmark text. The slab does not have this part of the poem:

I’m 36 years old,
a black, American poet.
Nearly all the things
that weren’t supposed to occur
Have happened, (anyway),
and I have
a natural inability
to sustain rage,
the evidence.

The form addresses both sustained/contained rage.

What a contrast with William Bronk's difficult syntax! The key for me was the quotation in which he says, "Poetry is about reality the way a lens is
about light". There are many ways the mind turns to make "We / Us" work in ways we are used to, and yet, the poem refuses logic. My question was to come up with labels for the tone, and the feeling this creates. Some answers: opaque/childlike/facebookish—revealing everything-nothing at same time, like a palimpsest... (presence that seems like an absence...) Other notes: Adult relationships – images we present to each other... God vs. minimized humans... not mocking... but attempts to understand... Play... and games... time-- what gives the “us” substance...yet Leaves us hanging...without hope...
The title itself condenses "Play" (theatre, as well as playground/game play) and time
another loaded word which can both tick chronologically, or sweep abstractly through seasons of life.

Thanks to Paul, we know more about Prayer and Mass cards, daily missiles... name of person for whom you will prayer. A fun poem with a fine use of adverbs and adjectives.
Mother’s face and Savior’s
muddied or tire-marked

I pick them up

wishing the faithful
were a little more careful

By the time the "do not put return address" appears, we were imagining all the Smyrna's... So many in the US, including NY!

The Hollo really had us stumped -- is it just part of something-- a smattering of notes, a Kerouac strip pasted to a love song, cut out of the apple tree....
It allowed a discussion on how things are chosen-- how possibly, the poet might well have chosen something different, the way Ravel really didn't want to be known as the "composer of The Bolero".

The Kaminsky became more real since Jim's wife knew him at Brighton High School
and we had a long discussion about the plight of Russian poetry after the revolution
and Fahrenheit 451 type atmosphere -- for instance Akhmatova whispering one line of her poem to each guest, who would assemble and put the lines together later out of earshot of the ones who could imprison her. A lovely ars poetica paying hommage to a poetess every much an equal to Akhmatova. It would be fun to FaceTime or skype him to ask him to talk about his poem-- does he write in Russian, which has such sensually meaty texture to it?

Judith Kitchen passed away in November of this year. Her winter landscape and musical texture needed no distraction or ornament, so I objected to the awkward enjambement in the next to last stanza.

is the meaning of white—a day

but on second read, the "this" works, rather like the Zen koan, "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" -- the paradox of live atoms and immaterial souls...

Let us believe the impossible. Let us
slide between two griefs so easily
they seem remote as history. This

is the meaning of white—a day

How eager we are to want a poet to be like us! First I object to line breaks, and then John wanted "knit" instead of "weld" ...
ironically the words chosen for Poets Walk are "trees weld earth"

A wonderful, wonderful discussion. Heartfelt thanks to all as ever.

"Poetry Oasis!" Jan. 8 + 22 + 29

Starting the new year at Rundel with a new title and gorgeous flier!
Poetry Oasis: Unwind at Noontime”. The motto is “Experience poetry together.

The poems for January will be drawn from Poets Walk, partly to prepare my talk February 1 at the MAG which matches poems with works of art.
For a complete alphabetized list of the poems and bio on the poets:

Splitting an Order -- by Ted Kooser (repeat from O Pen, 12/29/14)
The Hydra by Mike Keith (repeat from O Pen, 12/29/14)
Winter Grace by Patricia Fargnoli (repeat from O Pen, 12/29/14)
The Coming of Light by Mark Strand, 1934 – 2014 (repeat from O Pen, 12/29/14)

from Poets Walk: DISCUSSED JAN. 22
It Wasn’t The Wind by Linda Allardt
They Are Hostile Nations by Margaret Atwood
Notes for a Poem about a Dream about My Daughter in which Moths Unexpectedly Appear
by Ralph Black

for January 22 !
Blessing of the Boats at St. Mary's by Lucille Clifton
Brahma by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Perhaps the World Ends Here – Joy Harjo
Sestina d'Inverno by Anthony Hecht
The Angels of Radiators by Al Poulin
Boarding a Bus, by Steven Huff
Flip Book, by Tony Leuzzi
Late Fall, by Eleanor McQuilkin
Communion by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse
For February

passage from San Ildefonso Nocturne by Octavio Paz
beware : do not read this poem by Ishmael Reed
Which Side Are You On? Janine Pommy Vega
Touched by Deborah Tall
Dear Father, Dear Sound, by Kazim Ali

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

poems for Dec. 29

We started with 3 of the poems slated for Dec. 15

Splitting an Order -- from Ted Kooser's ALP site
and the two from the December issue of Poetry.
The Forecast by Wendy Xu (p. 239 Poetry, Dec. 2014)
(poem appeared in Poetry, Dec. 2014)

I Wanted to Make Myself like the Ravine – by Hannah Gamble
(poem published in Poetry, December, 2014)

The Coming of Light by Mark Strand, 1934 – 2014
The Hydra by Mike Keith (August, 1998)
Winter Grace by Patricia Fargnoli

In the First poem, I asked which particular details tickle your fancy...
and if the poem contained a spirit of the Christmas season. Beyond the
Norman Rockwell feel, the one sentence poem unrolled as if a ceremonial ritual
with a rhymical solemnity, giving each thing value. Who could not love the paradox that to Split //an order... brings together...

The next poem gave us a cubist challenge with mis-use of commas, scrambled grammar...
where distrust establishes a foothold that contradicts any "I love you" or pledge.
"Not still dead" is difficult to understand.

Now comes the discussion of poetry and what we expect from it. Do we want a message, embellished by craft that leads us to wonder... or can we accept messages that startle, surprise, refuse to provide a pathway to understanding. Imagine the listeners gathered to hear Stravinsky the first time. Is this poem as gripping?

Is it like a Motherwell painting where someone unaware of his reputation would say,
give me a paintbrush and I could do that too? What do we learn about ourselves?
Forecast. What is cast -- what chaos comes before? What contradiction that we try to predict outcomes.

To give a different light on the subject:
In a 2012 interview with John Hoppenthaler, Xu stated, “I think language is always waiting patiently on us to engage it, to play with it and arrange its parts, to build something weird out of it, but the hardest time to stop and think to do this is any space outside of poems. To ‘negotiate’ with a poem is right—it says things, you say something back, you say YES! or you say OH NO, but the two of you build the complete experience together. I always like when part of a poem’s contribution to the negotiation is a pseudo-‘normal’ syntax, if it seems aware and proud of its glitch, and if it wants to subvert my normalized expectations at every turn.”

The next poet does not have as much bio to draw on, aside mention of her recognitions and success in circles frequented by Bernadette Mayer and company.
OK... Ravine, lowly, at first wonderful, but then receiving everything, closure needs a man-made well with cover to a tight conclusion. No breathing space really or invitation to wonder about being a ravine, leaving me with a sense of "so"... what?

What a contrast to read Strand's 7 lines, each one containing something surprising, yet welcome. Opening to love, to life... opening to another person...
a cyclical sense of death to birth.

The Hydra is a poem of sheer brilliance imitating Blake's tyger, using the periodic table. What happens to the progeny of Satan... more fallen angels, devils.. or hydras...Beware! Such an intact poem... meter/Blake/memory... w/ metaphor of periodic table – comprises everything.

So different from the Northern climate winter meditation... ordinary particulars to galaxies, and pay attention to the watch over the cold; your own solitude.

Poems for Dec. 15

Hour Of Sadness by Israel Emiot, translated by Leah Zazulyer
When Giving Is All We Have by Alberto Ríos
Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye
A Debris Field of Apocalypticians – A Murder of Crows – by Dana Levin
Dear Sir— by Hannah Sanghee Park


I hope the local poet, Leah Zazulyer will come and tell us about her work translating the poet Israel Emiot. There is the school of thought to "trust the poem, not the poet", but as I prepare the selections of poems from poets walk and read the tidbits of background, it helps place the poem, to better examine it like a jewel in its setting. The hour of sadness takes the word "divorce" without hammering it down to mean only one thing... how would you finish the sentence,
"Even though I have given myself..."
what does it mean to give yourself a divorce? In the poem, perhaps a divorce from the loved one no longer present -- but one senses it could be just as well a divorce between body and soul...

What a contrast with Rios who provides the reader with truth put in overly neat phrases... however, beyond the smooth and simple surface, beyond the singsong,
the poem ends with a wonderful enjambement:
Together we are simple green. You gave me

now how are you going to finish that without sounding trite?
and then to say, "you gave me /what you didn't have"
do you expect the speaker to say " and I gave you
What I had to give—
without sounding important or self-righteous?

together, we made
Something greater from the difference

The poem has served him well, Rios explains, to emphasize the importance of giving without grudges/tallies.

How refreshing to return to Naomi Shihab Nye -- intriguing images told with rich sounds, making each line unusual:
"so little is stone" arrives after two stanzas of flammable examples --
a sense of celebration as absence occupies the air... and the delightful
"shuffle of losses and leaves," as if leaves is a verb as well as noun --
and the inviting crackle of all there is to do waiting...

The Levin poem reminded us with its contrast of registrations of something
Billy Collins once said: "slap the poem around until you know what it means." Interesting edges to illustrate the repeated line: "The fact of suffering is not a question of justice".

The poem by Park comes from p. 16 Fall-Winter 2014 Vol 47 of American Poet.
Word play, but without leaving a sense of ending "in wisdom" after delight,
to rephrase Robert Frost.