Thursday, March 26, 2015

poems for March 23

Aasifa* by Andy Young
Dedication by Czeslaw Milosz
My Father as a Guitar by Martin Espada
The Goddamned Crucifix --by Martin Espada
She Said by Ditta Baron Hoeber

I love how poems grow upon reading them multiple times and multiple ways.
The first poem, taken from Verse Daily, uses a 5 line stanza, where lines 2 and 3 are indented, and line 5 is offset starting often flush with the last word or phrase of line 4. Line by line, stanza by stanza-- or in our case, imagining the lines which have to do with Hurricane Katrina, set in opposition to the lines which have to do with living in a desert part of the Arabic world -- two weather occurrences: one an unplanned accident, the other a predictable, named and put-on-the-calendar as both natural and expected. The two worlds mesh,
but not predictably. I asked Kathy to summarize and she puts it this way:
A poem of journey meandering back and forth from present to past story and from windstorm in Egypt to hurricane Katrina. There is ambiguity in the poem as to where these elements of time and place shift. Also the use of Biblical references added to the directions the poem took us. As to form, it was the indented line breaks rather than stanza breaks which were helpful. The turn in the poem was
"we didn't know

yet what we would
speak of later".
Fran was intrigued by the "you" and the "we", the self-referential you, but yet, there's a sense of an understood "you", that edges to invite the reader in. Can you substitute the "you" with "I" and vice-versa?

We also noted the festivities going to Sudan, the sound of the Arabic for storm, (Aasifa, the nuance of Biblical references (fleeing Egypt, walking on water, etc.). Just confusing enough, but as Kim Addonizio says, you don't have to understand something to be affected by it.

Milosz' poem -- remember we are in Warsaw, in 1945. Martin Espada quotes Milosz’ poem explaining his subject: justice.
In the Republic of Poetry,/the guard at the airport/will not allow you to leave the country/until you declaim a poem for her/and she says, “Ah! Beautiful”.
I would love to know Polish to hear and understand the strength of the words.
"The connivance political lies/of A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,/ Readings for sophomore girls.
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,
In this and only this I find salvation.

The ending image is haunting -- perhaps that words can be the memorial, to put the rest the hungry ghosts.

The two Espada poems were selected thanks to a special interview with Chard DeNiord and Martin Espada in the Mar-Apr issue of APR. "In this new collection of poems, Martín Espada crosses the borderlands of epiphany and blasphemy: from a pilgrimage to the tomb of Frederick Douglass to an encounter with the swimming pool at a center of torture and execution in Chile, from the adolescent discovery of poet Omar Khayyám to the death of an "illegal" Mexican immigrant."

My Father as a guitar...ends with his father being that instrument, he
is a guitar-- p. 23, "CD: There is a sense of transmission there, as if he is passing his mantle, which is his heart, onto you.//Espada: It’s more a sense of helplessness. There’s a hole in his heart and I’m trying to put my hand over it. There’s music, but I can’t cover that hole.

The command of the father to remove the Crucifix, pulls at the commandment to honor one's father and gives us a portrait of a powerful man, who does and knows things...
I quoted the story about the father attending a baseball game when he was 11, asking his father where the black players were. The new collection is called "The Trouble Ball" – the metaphor that addresses the answer and the only thing his father remembers of the game...

The final poem had the breathlessness of traveling as if "several miles from the next semi-colon." Of course, there are no semi-colons, and only two periods, but with implied sentences which heightens the ambiguity of who is saying what about the past. The play on he said/she said a gives a theatrical version of the difficulty both to say words... and address what has happened.

Friday, March 20, 2015

poems for March 19 to be repeated March 30

3 poems from short list of “10 Best Poems of Ireland”
(Winner: Seamus Heaney’s Sonnet # 3 from Clearances
“When All the Others Were Away at Mass”
Quarantine Eavan Boland
A Christmas Childhood by Patrick Kavanagh

A person protests to fate by Jane Hirschfield
Dreaming in Swedish – by Philip Levine


added for people to look up:
shortlist: 10 Best Poems of Ireland.

A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford by Derek Mahon

Dublin by Louis MacNeice

Easter 1916 by William Butler Yeats (as ANGE MLINKO writes about this in Poetry,
“One of the most powerful political poems of the 20th century was written by a man who was ambivalent about politics”

Fill Arís by Seán Ó Ríordáin (Gaelic version with subtitles and interview

Filleadh ar an gCathair by Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh (she reads it in Gaelic here: (no subtitles)

Making Love Outside Áras an Uachtaráin by Paul Durcan

The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks by Paula Meehan

So much comes out in reading in a group in different ways. For instance, we read the Heaney sonnet first line by line. Then stanza by stanza.
The first reading allows us to pay attention to the syntax and how it “breaks” against, or sometimes inside the line.
The “all” of the first and second line — the first “all" for the others, the second, not a noun at all, but to mean “entirely” — as if underlining the contrast between the public sharing of mass, and the intimacy of a moment, drawn in the first stanza, and recalled after her death in the second.

I suppose, since we do not live in Ireland, and don’t know the circumstances, it is best not to draw any conclusions about why the mother and son were not at mass, or imagining the roomful of people around her bed, where the earnestness of the priest’s work marks the prayers. It did come up in the discussion whether the “hammer and tongs” was anti-Catholic, but that isn’t the point of the poem. The image of the potatoes “like solder weeping”, the contrast of earthy food and cold steel… the way one cannot hurry through saying “little pleasant splashes”. The “again let fall” works for the repetative work of peeling… the sense of being totally in the fact of mother and son, peeling potatoes. The emotional sense of the poem comes through in spite of any confusion caused by isolating details.

I actually used this poem on Wednesday to send to my husband’s cousins as consolation as they scattered their mother’s ashes. It is a wonderful poem that way, bringing a dear one departed close.

For Quarantine, Eavan Boland explains that she retold a story told in a collection about the great famine. Constance remarked that this was a subject about which little was written. The gift of narrative poetry brings us the heartbeat of meter, the flow of rhythm, the repetitions — w’s in the opening, as if the wind were howling around this young couple;
The shivering f’s in the second stanza. The fragments: Of cold. Of hunger. Of the the toxins… like so many nails pounded into their fate. The penultimate stanza as a prayer — the only stanza with an enjambment where line 2 hovers on “inexact” only to fall on “praise” in the third line. The merciless inventory, with a colon, then a silence of stanza break. The unspoken stammers in “what they suffered. How they lived.” And the darkness swallows the tenderness of the young man, embracing his little wife’s feet, with his warmth and love. Indeed a tear jerker.

Kavanagh is a magician with sounds as well. Note how he rhymes the first two stanzas and the final two.
Pastes the Christmas story on his childhood, and yet, this is no 6 year old voice opening the poem.
“To eat the knowledge that grew in clay” is very Adam and Eve, in the beginning, followed by “and death the germ within it!”. The music of milking… the short voweled crispness of “twinkle” of frost and stars,the “winking glitter” offset by “wistfully twisted” bellows wheel
So the w’s moan the melodion. One see a cemetery, a child’s curiosity picking out the letters. Even Cassiopeia, the constellation identified by a W, or upside-down chair is there…
He could have ended the poem with a different verb than “had” in the 3rd line.
My father played; my mother milked; and I pinned a prayer
But having a prayer, is like a small gift — the having of it, ready to offer, like the music.

The Hirshfield is a marvelous Buddhist sermon. I love that Fate nods. We so often ascribe to fate a cruel and unwarranted punishment… — but here, fate is simply destiny— and the speaker of the poem even allows that it is sympathetic. It reminds me of the book, “The Book Thief” where death is kindly. I love how she arrives at the “long middle” followed by riddles. We discussed the mechanics of a rivet — head and tail, perhaps warmed up to solder one piece to another; does one ever master anything? Especially a tango, comprised of two people. Train a cat?
And our desire to preserve one delicious moment or on the contrary our stubborn hanging on to a negative thought — favoring it over the “now” of whatever moment we are in, with one foot in the past…

I just love the idea of all the varieties of penmanship we have mustered in our life — the child learning the letters, the flow of younger writing, the less clear handwriting when we hurry— but this is love practicing, inside of us,
Guiding our thoughts with our heart.

The final poem, by Philip Levine, the “working man’s poet” is a satisfying look at figuring out what anything has to do with anything else. A nice dream sequence and then a canvas bag, eventually associated with the mail, and what does this letter “have to do with us… and the snow coming down all day without purpose/or need?”
We had fun imagining the days of letters crossing — the letter that went astray that would have changed everything… the way conversations in letters go, where we need to pay more attention to “the penmanships love is practising.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

March 16

What are we looking for as we read poetry? Even though the Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver poems are so drastically different, both provide a rich reassurance about being human.

The poem written by an anonymous inmate in prison confirms the empowerment of words.
Read the poems!
Edna St. Vincent Millay: Sonnet: "Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!"
Wendell Berry: Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Mary Oliver : Wild Geese
Dreamcatcher :(site:
which is a collection of poetry written by women in prison. Their lives,
feelings, and frustrations are evident in these creative pieces of writing).
Last poem: Salt Heart, by Jane Hirschfeld.

In an interview between Martin Espada and Chard DeNiord in APR's March-April 2015 issue, Espada proclaims:
I think America wakes up and then nods off again. Every time I think things are moving in the right direction, they move in the wrong direction. Whether we’re talking about politics, history or poetry, things move in cycles. Change is not linear. Change does not move in a straight line. We lose ground and then we gain ground back again. ... On the one hand, we now live in a culture that is less literate than it has been in years. On the other hand, this is a culture that craves meaning, and poetry often presents people who crave meaning with meaning they crave.

This issue is timely, with another article on racial politics, citing the examples of the discordant introductions by Terrance Hayes and David Lehman, and an article by Tony Hoagland about race, poetry and humor.

Why humor? When such big subjects are no laughing matter, human is a way, says Hoagland, to let the cats and dogs out of the bag. He cites Paul Beatty, Thomas Sayers Ellis and wonders if poetry and poets lag behind an integrated cultural subtext because they are doomed to be categorically sincere... sensitive to the point of silence.

In Monday's poems, we saw wonderful examples of humor -- the caustic wit of Millay to dish out anger, and the defiance which rides the plow of the "Mad Farmers".

The pick of the poems was influenced by this article,
where a mother puts poems in her daughter's shoes... including also the palliative "Wild Geese".

The Hirshfield poem linked the Oliver-esque, David Whyte-infused, Rumi-overtoned Wild Geese,
to the personal detail of losing a friend. As if in two parts: one the sense of mourning at a funeral, the other a meditation on the heart salts of wanting, of will, of grief opening the second stanza with this line:
"Failure -- uncountable failure -- did not matter."

Measurement, what is unmeasurable seemed to be an underlying theme. Berry captures it in this paradox: Expect the end of the world. Laugh. /
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful /
though you have considered all the facts.

But Hirschfield's Buddhism asks us to ponder the one word that comes from the quiet voice inside us. Is it "come" (as in invitation, as in time marker?) coupled with "joy"--
after wondering where it hides... Our discussion included references to Dickinson, drowsy bees, lulled in lavender -- how the poem earns the final line, without boxing the reader in,
rather inviting acceptance:

The ordinary moment swept in, whatever it drowsily holds.
I begin to believe the only sin is distance, refusal.

All others stemming from this. then come.
Rivers, come. Irrevocable futures, come. Come even joy.

So much more to say about the discussion-- truly memorable.

I meant to bring this up for Dreamcatcher (see March 12 discussion)
beautiful twining of half-remembered / twine of the string where two is both halved, and twisted together.
An idea of sisyphus -- where, the dreamcatcher protects from the reality, so the rock-rolling cannot hurt in the dream, but the last line, plunks us solidly into the living nightmares.
Brilliant use of half rhyme, sounds, images of what thoughts arrive in the dark.

Poems for March 12

Alone by Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014
3 poems selected by Ploughshares by Rosalie Moffett, for her poems, “Why Is It the More,” “To Leave Through a Wall,” and “Hurricane, 1989.”

We compared "Alone" with the spirited poem by Angelou, "Phenomenal Woman"-- and my question was, what kind of day would you be having to want to read the poems?
One reminds us of power,the other of the importance of collaboration, but, both have a warm embrace that connects us to feeling alive, with a sense of the possible.

The three poems by Rosalie Moffett give us a different woman's voice-- addressing events in her life that lead her to seek patterns.

We read "Why is it the more" connecting the title to the first line, "I see of the world..."
and thought the NBC headline might be a better title, than brazenly interrupting the flow of thought -- but perhaps that is the point. We re-read the poem by sentence, pondering how the form helps or hinders our understanding as reader. Some of the line-breaks are highly effective, e.g.
"I'm sure there is someone / close by (note, how the words are far away from someone)
... to tell me this / is ill-guided." Followed by a fragment naming this idea as "hope",
immediately contradicted by this wrong/way to go about it.

Lively language and quite a viewpoint overlooking the world.

The second poem left us feeling as if we were witnessing a ghost -- although at the end I am not sure I am convinced that going through a wall is "the only way to return exactly to the same place as/the same person" because I am not sure why this is an enviable thing to do.

The Hurricane created the confusion of disaster -- even the scattered energy of the "little yard leaping with fleas"... and the demise of the brain. Having just seen "The Theory of Everything" about Stephen Hawkings ALS, the metaphor of hurricane seems very appropriate.

Dreamcatcher -- also discussed March 16 -- beautiful twining of
half-remembered / twine of the string.
An idea of sisyphus -- where, the dreamcatcher protects from the reality, so the rock-rolling cannot hurt in the dream, but the last line, plunks us solidly into the living nightmares.
Brilliant use of half rhyme, sounds, images of what thoughts arrive in the dark.

Monday, March 9, 2015

March 9

poem by Simon Perchik* (published in Verse Daily)
read about his process here:

Poems signed by Eric Epstein (link to his tube):

The Crystal Cabinet by William Blake

The Phantom Wooer by Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Mother Tongue -- by Eric Epstein :

Peeling Winter Squash (i poetry finalist, March 2015)

Followers by Rae Armantrout
for another one in the Jan. issue of Poetry: Taking Place:

Today’s session involved a survey of the poetry scene— not the poetry of comfort, or the poetry of caring, but what kinds of poetry appear in various magazines. For instance, the first poem, by the “most popular unpublished poet” who is a lawyer, and whose description of his “process” is even more confusing than his poems! In his defense, people tried to find sense out of water images, and Marvin wanted to come to his defense just because no one seemed to care about his effort.
What do we seek from poetry? From art? Perhaps the best part of the weekly discussions is to find out more about our own expectations, learning from others.

The link to the next poem, by Blake, was to consider how his contemporaries considered him — “a perfect nutcase” as Judith remarked. We got into a discussion of how the word “beautiful” is expressed in sign language, and how the poem seemed different when viewed as a performance. How to understand a trinity… or Blake’s metaphysics… or a time period where Keats would write the ballad of la Belle Dame sans Merci…

The link to the next poem was again the ASL, and the time period — but when in the 4th stanza we arrive at:
"Our bed is lovely, dark and sweet;” it is just ever so tempting to quote Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

I wrote to Eric Epstein, the interpreter to find out if he interpreted the Blake and Beddoes for an assignment, or for some other reason.

With none of us specialists in ASL at all, trying to imagine the feelings behind language as “gunright” and “gunfight” —
How it might feel to speak with hands in a family where others can use voices, but you can’t is hard, so I’ve asked him also about his poem and if he could come to visit our group, and perhaps share his story.
These lines: Mother tongue twister ---
makes rules and wobbles,
hardly a dancer.
brought up the question — is there “lying” in ASL? How do you lie? Does anyone ever “stutter” or have a “sign” problem like a speech problem. Judith, as dancer brought up that Martha Graham’s father had told her that the body cannot lie.

Peeling Winter Squash was one of the 6 finalists on ipoetry . People liked it more than any of the others.

The Armantrout got us into a discussion about language poets. We tried reading “ Followers” in reverse order, line by line, which some felt made more sense, but also allowed us to think about what words were following what… and thread disparate ideas ranging from pine cones which take 2 years to be fertile to what it is like to teach Palmer script.
The other poem by her, Taking Place :
We also read. It had a lot more “pith” to sink into.

We ended on discussing a few more poems by women — and whether you would ever hear someone ask for “3 poems by a favorite male poet” the way some ask for 3 poems by a favorite woman poet”…

Sunday, March 8, 2015

March 2

Sisters by Lucille Clifton

About some of the poems in Golden Smoke:
How do these work with the section title Wordless Charcoal and epigram:
"A poet unties writing and ties it up again differently."-- Jean Cocteau

We think of Cummings, or Collins, reworking Adages... a little Lewis Carroll,
Jabberwocky...Ogden Nash –

Old Japanese Mask (cleave poem): How does the form (read vertically as columns, then again across)
and the non-existent English title (Un-measurable is not an English word) and breakdown of words echo, before looking at the pictures?

How the next three poems fit into the idea of a "false" or "Half" cadence? What part of the story is hinted at? Can you suspend disbelief -- believe some part of it comes from something true?
Section title: Half Cadences (Hinges for a Story)
Epigram: Go home and write/a page tonight./And let that page come out of you—/
Then, it will be true.-- Langston Hughes (Theme for English B)
Falling Rock Zone
What the Repo Man saw
Rug-wrapped Thought

In Falling Rock Zone – the title refers to a “real” sign – then leaps to an invented sign and repeated “save” implying except for. What feeling tone comes through?

How does a persona of a “Repo Man” vs. a photographer change the tone?
Rug-wrapped thought, suggests the persona of the Rug speaking. What light is shed not just on the young girl/woman, but on a bigger universal by this use?

Section Title: Scrambled
“Art is filled with magic, /willing to dare us to suspend belief,
and trick us with surprises that delight.” – Dean Young

Without delight, is there still magic? How does a discrepancy with the epigram operate, since over half the poems cannot delight, but rather address the pain of war, dementia, madness? Does it matter, since this section contains the title poem and overall conceit of paradox?

In the Waiting Room
Section Title: Color for Burnt Land
"By Art Alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours."

How do these two poems work with the section title and epigram?
The first plays on noun/verb homonym and sound; the second, another persona poem of a rock carved into the shape of a Madonna and child.

Wind Will : NB: An Abrolhos squall (or Abroholos squall or simply abroholos) typically occurs from May through August (austral winter) near the Abrolhos Islands off the coast of eastern Brazil near 18°S latitude, located between Cabo de São Tomé and Cabo Frio.
The southeast trade winds of the tropical South Atlantic Ocean acquire heat and moisture traversing the warm Brazilian current offshore, providing moisture for this rain and thundersquall phenomenon. The Abroholos squall typically occurs along Antarctic cold fronts penetrating into the tropics.

Madonna and Child (song of a rock witnessed in Cappadocia)

Oasis - March 5

Philip Levine on peopling the poem:
“Except for the speaker, no one is there. There’s a lot of snow, a moose walks across the field, the trees darken, the sun begins to set, and a window opens. Maybe from a great distance you can see an old woman in a dark shawl carrying an unrecognizable bundle into the gathering gloom.”

When people do appear in poems, Mr. Levine added: “Their greatest terror is that they’ll become like their parents and maybe do something dreadful, like furnish the house in knotty pine.” This man was a thoroughbred moral comedian.

Ode to My Hands by Tim Seibles
Other Lives and Finally a Love Poem by Bob Hicok
The Two by Philip Levine, 1928 – 2015 (Sent 2/19 to Mike, Elizabeth + Denise)

Ode to My Hands: see discussion 2/23

The first stanza addresses the hands... the last line ends with observing the hands, before describing the hands; the third stanza addresses what people don’t know about the hand’s intentions, expressed in musical terms, and mention of Sorrow; Fourth stanza, a whimsical, rather lusty look at the mischief hands can get into, a fifth stanza fills with more uses of hands – they slap the sidewalk when we fall, pick flowers, (small detour around buttercups) and play viola—and ends on a note of gratitude.

Words looked up:
lubricious: offensively displaying or intended to arouse sexual desire.
2. smooth and slippery with oil or a similar substance

solipcism. the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.

verb archaic literary
gerund or present participle: whelming
engulf, submerge, or bury (someone or something).
"a swimmer whelmed in a raging storm"
flow or heap up abundantly.
"the brook whelmed up from its source"

Hicok: It is fun to contrast the Hicok with the Seibles – yet more ways to think about hands. I’ve never thought of hands as having individual lifetimes. Interesting angle of the image of “the rivers/of my palms” with a nuance of hand-reading, which colors the third sentence admonishing the reader not to argue with rivers (now fate). How is this going to relate to the title? Some days, I am entertained by leaps of faith, other days, feel disconnected which can lock into emotions as varied as discouraged, sad, irritated.
For me, the discussion of Hicok’s poem, embellishing his lines, ideas, images was an interesting as the poem. worthwhile experience. It is gratifying to figure out enigmatic slants!
We ended with Philip Levine’s poem, The Two, which reminds me of watching a movie happening in an Edward Hopper painting yet having an intimate conversation with the director, to explore what is really going on.