Thursday, March 27, 2014

O Pen April 14

Poems for April 14
I'll be back for this one-- but sending in March, so people have the poems...

Trying to Name What Doesn't Change by Naomi Shihab Nye
City Without Smoke by Edwin Denby (suggestion from Judith)

Introduction to the March issue of Poetry: (see notes below)

from Tablets by Dunya Mikhail -- the entire set here:
14, 15, 16, 21

Tim Seibles in the same issue has 12 pages in a poem called “Mosaic”
A few poems.

11 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti,

How is Poetry of witness is better than the news? And what news stays news? Jeffrey Brown's article in this issue gives a wide range of examples. How can we allow war after reading such as lines as these: "Now the earth/grew stained with bright blood as men fell in death... so all fought on, a line of living flame" (Iliad, transl. by Robert Fitzgerald and Alice Oswald, "The first to die was Protesilaus/a focused man who hurried to darkness." p. 569 of the March issue of Poetry)

The penultimate essay by Slavoj Zizek calls on the idea of poetry as language in a torture house (citing Lacan) as he looks at Yugoslavia. He first mentions
Plato and the danger of poets as manipulators leading people away from the rational angles of truth... Next, Hegel's mention of the silent, ceaseless "weaving of the spirit": "the underground work of changing the ideological coordinates, mostly invisible to the public eye, which then suddenly explodes, taking everyone by surprise.

How do the "Dichter und Denker" (poets and thinkers) become "Richter und Henker" (judges and executioners?
I only chose a few stanzas from Mikhail and Seibles -- both long poems, presenting as fragments, the first as "Tablets", the second as "Mosaic". How do the titles prepare the mind? Tablet and I think of Commandments-- but also ancient laws, and possible destruction of the tablets, so man might need to construe what is missing... Mosaic -- again, pieces, but do we have all of them, and what part of what story is told? I particularly like the moment when Seibles enters the fragment "Insert your story here".

My hope is that people will read both poems in their entirety... and discuss the "parts" stand out? What are the commonalities, what lessons move us to remember?

poems for April 7

Poems for April 7
I'll be away for moderating this one too...

Favorites posted by Poetry +
Spellbound by Emily Bronte
Love is Enough by William Morris (Elaine's pick)
The Gift by Li-Young Lee (an old favorite)
Mother Goose Self-Help by K. A. Hays
Sky Burial by Ron Koertge (suggestion from Don to discuss prose vs. poetry)
III from Tristan by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Enjoy all the links to the poets on the sidebars as well!

From the clip "First poem/poet you fell in love with":

Spellbound by Emily Bronte – but Ed Hirsch thought it was by his grandfather.
Mother goose...
Dylan Thomas
The Highway Man, by Alfred Noyes:
Gertrude Stein, a Rose is a rose...
Asbery: Flowchart

My first poem was probably John Masefield’s “Sea Fever”
or Walter de la Mare, ‘Some One ‘

The rhythms and sounds captivated me.

O Pen Poems for March 31

Elaine O. will share her favorite by Loren Eisley, A Hider’s World”

These poems were discussed in "Poems for Lunch"
For these two see discussion March 13:
Speakers of Wintu-Nomlak, by Scott Coffel
Sonnet for my Son, by Henk Rossouw

For these: see discussion March 6
he Barnacle and the Gray Whale by Cecilia Llompart
Yard Sale by George Bilgere
The End of Science Fiction by Lisel Mueller
Time Enough by Dennis O'Driscoll

One other thought on the Mueller poem:
Of the 7 things to invent in this charge to “Invent something new” why does she use old myths and references ? Can we re-invent our lives, our Heros with 1,000 faces? (Adam and Eve, Christ, Ariadne, Ulysses, David and Goliath, Lot’s Wife , etc.)

Gallagher's short 12 line poem (The Barnacle and the Whale) gives a lovely sense of epiphany as she contrasts singular to plural, the idea of "clearing a view" with allowing the possibilities (every tree with an unseen nest!) inherent in the "messiness". A new term: OSEC: Openness, Snow-Elevated Consciousness.

The parable can be taken like that, but was written to address the Deep Water Horizon disaster. She thought the poems would be filled with anger. Instead, they turned out to have a quiet, contemplative, dreamy quality--an interesting comment on the process of composing poetry.
What pulls us, up and down.. how is it that conscience rubs against us like a barnacle.

Yard Sale allowed us a good discussion of "stuff", what we discard, the role of isolated facts unconnected to wisdom... -- what yard sales used to be like, and what they are like now... how we organize knowledge...

Just as an encyclopedia is "outdated" Mueller allows us to think about the "end of Science Fiction"
which has morphed into fantasy universes as the fiction of science is replaced by fact. 8 times, Mueller asks us to invent -- and yet the "new" calls on other myths: Adam and Eve, Ariadne, Ulysses, and then in the last stanza, "invent us as we were/before our bodies glittered/and we stopped bleeding.
David and Goliath, Lot's wife, whichever myth you want about a brother stealing his brother's birthright...

How do you invent something that once was? The harder reality speaks of slowing down, allowing emotion,
the difficulty of love. Mueller's poem raised many issues: what is poetry when it proselytizes? How do we live without myths-- and are we in danger of forgetting them...

The final poem, which looks a bit like a receipt, does not sermonize, but rather builds up everyday details, recognizable doubts only to conclude, the tongue in cheek conclusion that one lives, in spite of whatever thought you might have about it, one's life as it is, to its full.

Just a few thoughts. What I love about poetry, is the reading aloud, the way the poem triggers so many different things — and in our discussion, how we find universals that link us all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Poems for Lunch March 27

Wondrous by Sarah Freligh (see comments from March 10)
Searching by Billy Collins
Cities in the Sky -- by Mary Jo Salter
Monody to the Sound of Zithers by Kay Boyle
Trying to Name What Doesn't Change by Naomi Shihab Nye

Looking beyond tercets... quatrains, cinquains...
I won't be there to moderate but put some notes in the margin for Carol...
books, memory, to thought clouds, fear of loss, and an elegy which speaks of desire.
Knowing the group, good connections will be made. I’ve made a few notes in the margin to spark a few comments (or not).
For reading — it might be interesting for people to contrast the first two poems in tercets, the Kay Boyle poem in quatrains…
What keys us to “turning pages” — what kind of pages — what do we seek, and how do we deal with loss?
The Mary Jo Salter poem with clouds taking shape, to thought clouds has a very different affect than the more formal “monody” which technically is an elegy, and yet if you didn’t know, might not guess. How do both poems surprise ?

For discussion: I put this footnote under Wondrous:
This poem appeared in August 2012 issue of The Sun Magazine
The poem acts not only as elegy, but a reminder of the interconnectedness of memory. Why would E.B. White cry as he tried to record the words “she died alone”? Who can forget the selfless bravery of Charlotte, or this poem which so beautifully “does the math” of grief. Note the enjambed stanzas, the repetitions both of words and sounds which help tighten the emotion. Note how “ridiculous” with its patter of 4 syllables contrasts with the title, repeated twice, for both Charlotte “spun out of the silk thread of invention” and the mother.

Compare tercets in Wondrous and Searching: how does the form help each poem?
What makes both of the poems "accessible" -- which one moves you more?
compare tercets in Wondrous and Searching:how does the form help each poem?

How does the Anna K reference work, as opposed to the children’s story read by the mother (for the 5th time.) Both poems embrace life/death/transformation:
Anna K becomes “her” – becomes Snowflake and the poem ends addressing “you” – -- a different sort of metamorphosis than the life cycle of a spider, preparing her egg sack. Wondrous as title, weaves into the poem as opposed to the title, "Searching" which ends with the speaker turning pages looking for a "you" who may be as fictitious as Anna K, as ephemeral as a snowflake in Spring. What is it we look for when we read? How does that affect the reading?

With the Cities of Clouds, a different weaving and transforming occurs. One point of interest to me for a longer poem is how length can be dismissed if one feels engaged with the poem. How does Salter keep the reader on the edge of his/her seat? Where do you see these lines repeated but with specifics?
somewhere changing to something.”
The weaving of "clouds" and "thoughts" (French, "Chateaux en Espagne" or castles in the air) goes along seamlessly until the wham on the final stanza.
Did the final stanza catch you off guard? Who is the house guest? Why ask such a question “idly”. How does that contrast with the real here and now: don’t die. The irony of “only 8:00am” as if that would mean business as usual. Where and when do we attach “business as usual” to circumstances? What other fallacies do we have in our “thought clouds” and actual thinking.

I picked Kay Boyle's 1922 poem, to contrast with the more free-form of both the Salter and Naomi Shihab-Nye poems.

In poetry, the term monody has become specialized to refer to a poem in which one person laments another's death. (In the context of ancient Greek literature, monody, μονῳδία could simply refer to lyric poetry sung by a single performer, rather than by a chorus.)
In music, monody has two meanings: 1) it is sometimes used as a synonym for monophony, a single solo line, in opposition to homophony and polyphony; and 2) in music history, it is a solo vocal style distinguished by having a single melodic line and instrumental accompaniment.

Boyle is clear about what she wants, but perhaps the form distracts us from the bluntness of "don't die, it's only 8 o'clock."

I love the masterful way that Nye can juxtapose the concrete detail with a sweepingly large universal: e.g. "Every Tuesday on Morales Street"; with "stars explode"

How does she develop her title? Lead us to explore it with her? What is it that cannot be named?

O Pen : Poems for March 24

Every Day We Are Dancers by Mitch Roberson

(see March 13 + 20)
Analytic Poetry: (Ali Shapiro) +
Shakespeare Sonnet 18
William Carlos Williams, So Much Depends
Dylan Thomas, Do not go Gentle
Elizabeth Bishop, One Art

+ Parody
From Orient Point -- Marilyn Hacker
Era for Recovery by Lo Kwa Mei-en

We had a most "chuckling" discussion -- especially starting with the Roberson-- nine years old — does it feel fresh? Up-to-date? How does it stand up to the test of time?
How are we dancers in all aspects of our life -- from prosaic, to crossing a street with a mirror -- and how we mirror each other...
followed by re-imagining 4 chestnuts, with graphics, and two parodies.

For the Shakespeare... the group went much deeper than the graph provided...
and John brought up: I am but summer to your heart... Edna St. Vincent Millay:
No matter the season, no matter the comparison, is Shakespeare giving us just another Ars Poetica -- without him, no poem, without the poem, no souvenir of "thee" poem who is a different "thee"... Memories of lyrics, “Believe me with all these endearing charms...” and "Maybe I should have told you..." (You are always on my mind... Nelson...) and the saying, "I love you not for who are, but for who I am when I am with you."

After admiring the color wheel of the analytics for Williams' poem, the group went in two directions: 1) Is this poem a joke? and disappointment-- the sort of poem that might discourage people from reading poetry. vs:
2) exquisite image... Kathy recalled Neruda's Book of questions. "Is there anything sadder than a locomotive in the rain."
Bobby brought up the joyful, unexplainable quality of children’s painting...
Haiku. Zen Koan.
Even those who didn't like it at first, felt it captured something, helped us focus on something that isn't said, but only intimated, on which an unknowable "so much depends on" waits.

For Dylan Thomas -- the system of having one person for each repeating line occluded the continuity within each tercet. We remarked how only the final stanza was an imperative and hearing Thomas read it (
will convince you that it is not said as an imperative.

With Bishop's Villanelle, "disaster" is repeated, but not the entire line.
It is better read stanza by stanza. We had a long discussion about how to understand
(Write it!) with multiple valid directions, such as the urge to memorialize, or perhaps the urgency, the desperation, the pain of the loss so hard to put on paper, the poet's insistent voice speaking to herself. How do we wear the skin of another?

Marilyn Hacker's parody of it was fun... but after getting beyond the facile slipperiness of sounds, the advice is sound in such lines as these:

When someone makes you promises, don't trust her

to know she can afford what they will cost her
to keep until they're kept.

In other words, we cannot presume, assume anything about another.
"...Don't trust her

past where you'd trust yourself, and don't adjust her
words to mean more to you than she'd intend."

What is it we must muster to live?

The final poem, we attempted to read as three sentences... which helped a little bit, the overwhelmingness of a single block and also to be able to look at long and short sentences and patterns. It might be the sort of poem that would turn someone away from poetry. However, John had the genial idea of reading it as a monologue which worked quite brilliantly.

What a group -- what a discussion. We could have kept going even after an hour and a half.

March 20

Paper Nautilus, by Marianne Moore
The Dance, by William Carlos Williams
With My Fish Drum, Yusef Komunakaa
Alexander Fu Musing, by Stanley Moss
Heaven by George Herbert
Hell by Stanley Moss

Some old, some new -- looking at the Poetic Analysis of Bishop's villanelle,
and her admiration for her mentor, Marianne Moore... the inspiration of Herbert's Heaven echoing on "Hell" by Stanley Moss, and in between, the "round" inspired by Breughel, and contemporary voice adopting the sounds of "shish & tap
of fish skin on waters of a lost road."

Writing up the discussion almost a week later, I know the brief snippets below cannot begin to recreate the fun we had reading aloud such diverse poems enjoying how title, form, sound, suggestion provided a feast of details to share.

We started off the discussion with "One Art"by Elizabeth Bishop -- the rich rhyming, the repetitions of losing, lose, lost, and how the graph captures the relationship of things lost with the difficulty... But more interesting in this Villanelle is the tone, both for the two exclamation points, but also for the words in parentheses.

comparing the use of form with Marianne Moore's Paper Nautilus, which has a floating sea-pull to it. The sounds, the odd line breaks (scarcely // eats... bitten// by a crab.... close-///laid Ionic chiton*-folds)the quiet way in which the 2nd and 5th line share end rhyme. The opening (incomplete) questions bring us to wonder about the Nautilus -- part of the family of Chitons*, which also happens to be one of the choices for feminine apparel* The delicacy of diction, intricacy of repetitions, (ram's horn-cradled; wasp-nest flaws... ) Hopes in the first stanza (authorities of the outside world) contrast with "perishable/souvenir of hope" of the natural world-- the wonder described only to end up with an image of love as small arms around folds/lines in the shell -- akin to the wonder of trust.

The ekphrastic poem, "The Dance", is somewhat like the imagist Wheelbarrow poem, but here Williams creates a marvelous symphony of sound to complete the image of a festival and dancing, rounds of sound...

Back to tercets with Kommunakaa, the oriental look of ampersands,(see
for more on the name and formation of Roman ET). A dream-like feeling -- a sense of displaced persons combined with caravans of old... a blend of Africa, Persia, caravans of history caught in an on-going dance, passed culture to culture.
(I write the line "shish & tap/of fish skin on waters of a lost road" again, so drawn am I to its exotic sounds, as if listening to Scheherezade).

Stanley Moss, also taken from the American Poetry Review March/April issue, has an amusing little poem referencing Alexander Fu, the Martial Arts Film star of the 70's... but who is "you-know-who"... and will it ever be possible for him to create his own lines-- and how do we relate to that?

The fun of contrasting Heaven by George Herbert (with Echo) and Hell (inspired by it) by Stanley Moss provided a discussion of idealization, and cynicism. We felt the Moss poem less successful with the echo, as repeat does not allow dialogue/development, but rather a mocking. Herbert brings back Light, Joy, Leisure.

It reminds me of Wendell Berry's quote: "Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts."

*(Structurally, the most elemental dress type is the chiton, which is constructed in several ways. The most commonly represented is accomplished by stitching two rectangular pieces of fabric together along either sideseam, from top to bottom, forming a cylinder with its top edge and hem unstitched. The top edges are then sewn, pinned, or buttoned together at two or more points to form shoulder seams, with reserve openings for the head and arms.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Poems for March 17

In honor of St. Patricks... Seamus Heaney, a little Irish poetry...

Song of Amergin (Robert Graves Translation)
March by Patrick Kavanagh
The Song of Wandering Aengus – W.B. Yeats
The Otter by Seamus Heaney
The Skunk by Seamus Heaney
Molly Bawn by Dubliners:
version by Chieftains w/ great Irish bagpipes:

Monday's discussion included Judith's suggestion to share Lady Gregory : The Grief of a Girl’s Heart... and a poem by the Earl of Desmond (see p. 219 in Irish Literature)and a lively piece memorized by heart,and much background about Graves' White Goddess. Bobbi kindly shared background on Irish Suibhe (fairies) and Yeats (and his pining after Maude Gonne (and her five refusals), Martin lent his Jungian expertise about the pursuit of the feminine. Don filled us in on some of the ethics problems of Aquinas (which death by trolley to choose, etc.) and so much more.

Many did not know how funny Seamus Heaney could be, particularly in "The Skunk" and its delightful turn at the end. (I quoted this anecdote about "Had I Not Been Awake at Emory on March 2nd, 2013". The poem, from his final collection, Human Chain, recalls the aftermath of the stroke he suffered in 2006. A fierce wind hits the house “unexpectedly” and “dangerously” but jolts him into life:
“And got me up, the whole of me a-patter, / Alive and ticking like an electric fence: / Had I not been awake I would have missed it”.

I am no expert on 12th century Irish poetry, the book of Leinster, or Celtic languages but enjoy pondering the differences in translation. "Does Gaelic use articles as in English" is a good question that came up. The power of anaphor "I am" speaking as God seems stronger without an article put in front of the nouns. Why in R.A.S. MacAllister's translation is it "I am Wind on Sea... Ocean-wave, Roar of sea, Bull of Seven Fights, vulture on Cliff, etc. but I am A mountain in A Man, A word of skill, THE point of a weapon...

(Note: The transformation of Tuan mac Cairill (to survive the flood and invasions to be the oldest man in Ireland) are: deer, eagle, salmon: implied cosmological significance: eagle (sky); deer (land); salmon sea; boar (otherworld.)

The second, contemporary poem by Patrick Kavanagh gives a flavor to March, and the season of Lent. Many of us wrinkled our brows at "A hell/fantasy/ meadows damned/to eternal April" (an Easter/resurrection connotation?). How is the syntax working? I love the compound nouns -- 'ghost-wind' and 'throat-rattle' to my ear are kennings (A figurative, usually compound expression used in place of a name or noun, especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry; for example, 'storm of swords' is a kenning for battle)-- or if not Kennings, then a marvelously strong and unusual blend. "Hell-fantasy" for example, seems to point to a greater meaning than two juxtaposed nouns
thrown in a compound.
I love this:
"In the wind vacancies (also a kenning?)
Saint Thomas Aquinas"...

Certainly, the scholasticism of Aquinas is part of the Catholic tradition... and how does one make decisions (Don brought up his Ethics the death by trolley argument, Elaine, drones and collateral damage)but perhaps like "wind vacancies", such argument is (to quote Judith) 'useless and pedantic'...

For the Yeats, we enjoyed the language -- and uncanny images such as stars as moth-light flickering. The discussion rambled over mythology, unrequited love, magic, searching for the feminine, the sweetness of pain, "delusional nostalgia" (etymology of place + pain) or some form of grace... For three stanzas to generate such an abundance of response, speaks to the "wandering", threaded time over and again by "and"... We examined how the poem straddles accessible/obscure.

For "the Otter", I admire the opening line -- not one that floats from the pen, but one which reflects much thought, writing, revision, I would think. "You" is yet unnamed,
and clearly powerful, (for me, an image of "rings of bright water" unsettling the surface). Maura shared her memory of her swimming daughter, the holding after a meet.
The line, "Thank God for the slow loadening" stopped us all in our tracks... the O, as longest vowel, with an embracing form, Omega-union..."Otter of memory
In the pool of the moment," moves us to universals, as well as personal reflections.
How different this "real" woman from the illusory one Yeats portrays.

Heaney himself described his essays as "testimonies to the fact that poets themselves are finders and keepers, that their vocation is to look after art and life by being discoverers and custodians of the unlooked for."

The delight of "Skunk" -- Mary's share of her fondness for their special perfume... the images of funeral garb and "broaching" the wife -- (we did discuss all variants of the verb... I go for the slow turning over, warming up of a ghost)and the "slender I"
coming back to him, in a comical gesture, which does not undo the work-up of memory, but rather brings a vibrant humor.

We ended with a snippet of the Chieftains and the slow dirge of Molly Bawn --
the "shooting of his dear" has at least 88 variants (and 19 fragments)--
the lilt of the lyrics, the repetitions (setting of the sun; mistook her as a swan (some say fawn) oh what have I done? reinforce the tragedy of the accident.

I am grateful for the chance to share in dabbling ever so briefly into an enormous subject... As ever, comments are welcome!