Friday, November 7, 2014

poems for November 5 Tribute to Galway Kinnell

First Song
The Cellist
Another Night in Ruins

In choosing some Kinnell poems, to honor this beloved poet who just passed away, I stumbled on a site about his 70th birthday, with poets choosing poems to honor.

Another Night in Ruins -- Galway Kinnell
chosen by Anne Marie Macari for Kinnell’s 70th birthday party.
(a poem, in part, about poetry as life’s work.)

"Galway, you are amazing," said Yusef Komunyakaa before reading "Vapor Trail Reflected in the Frog Pond" in a deep, sonorous voice.

"You make me feel less embarrassed to be human," explained Marie Howe, who chose to read "Freedom, New Hampshire."

Robert Bly prefaced "The Bear" by calling Kinnell "a wonderful bear of a man."

Doty explained that Kinnell's work showed him where the imagination could go, then read "It All Comes Back."

Williams was blunt: "When I first heard Galway read, something in me said, 'Holy shit.'" He concluded with "The Porcupine," his southern accent gliding across the stanzas.

Sharon Olds launched straight into "Oatmeal,"
which, like so many Kinnell poems, uses an experience rooted in physicality (eating) to discuss a mental experience (writing poetry). In this case, the lonely speaker decides to invite an imaginary companion to share his unappealing bowl of gloppy oatmeal—he chooses John Keats so that they might enliven the meal by discussing literature.

I choose these quotations at random, to give a flavor of his thinking:
“ What troubles me is a sense that so many things lovely and precious in our world seem to be dying out. Perhaps poetry will be the canary in the mine-shaft warning us of what's to come. - Galway Kinnell

“To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment”
― Galway Kinnell

And what a rich experience it is to be a Galway Kinnell recounting this.

poems for October 30

With Halloween ghosting the week, herewith faintly related seasonal poems.

For Open, suggestions included When the Night Winds Howl” from Ruddigore and we did
a group reading of MacBeth’s witchew chimint in on —
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
I also highly recommend this “dance with death” — if you don’t know The Green Table— an amazing ballet:

Poems for Lunch: October 30-- see also Oct. 27

“Of calling shapes, and beck'ning shadows dire, And airy tongues that syllable men's names.” — John Milton in 1634 from Comus, a mask

Early October Snow by Robert Haight
The Haunted Oak – Paul Lawrence Dunbar
All Souls' Day by Frances Bellerby (1909-1975) (discussed O Pen 10/27)
Theories of Time and Space Natasha Trethewey (discussed O Pen 10/27)

Haight: The writer's imagination unfolds, a sense of ghost... looking outside window and in mirror.
Dunbar: wonderful rhythm and drum beat which increases sense of inevitable.

poems for lunch Oct 27

The Vampire Conrad Aiken, 1899 – 1973
The Haunted Oak by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (June 27, 1872 – February 9, 1906)
All Souls' Day by Frances Bellerby (1909-1975)
Theories of Time and Space by Natasha Trethewey (b. 1966)

“Of calling shapes, and beck'ning shadows dire,
And airy tongues that syllable men's names.”
— John Milton in 1634 from Comus, a mask

How is it that only part of a poem will start people? In this Halloween selection, these comments just about the Aiken:
Langston Hughes: Harlem Renaissance
what was before my eyes, but made me see it.
5 ladies to dance. Geoffrey Holder

Carmin de Lavalade
The creation...

negative anima... la belle dame sans merci..
war goddess: Gamoragon...
war as ultimate temptress...
conjure up an enemy...
“All the Light we Cannot See”... WW2... We lost 2 million in the first war; they lost a million and a half there will not be another war.
What is war to you... what kind of job do you do in war... embrace war or not.
result the same: people still dead...
finding meaning in agression.
Green Table: Ballet.. Kurt Joose

0:59 / 1:56
The Green Table (Kurt Jooss)(Joffrey Ballet Chicago) DVD

Vampire – what sucks and takes...
Aiken discovered his father who shot his mother and himself. age 11.
Short story: Secret Snow, Silent Snow

from Kathy: this 14 stanza poem gets more frightful as it goes on!

The Vampire Conrad Aiken,

The Bellerby is subtle, extremely sad... How is the craft disguised? Is there a hint of sentimentality, or intimacy?

The Trethewey start with a provocative title. Does it work?
I think it does, especially with the opening line, like a student responding to an academic lecture.
There is journey, what we might/might not remember and undertones of tomb as tome..
comments from group:
Embarkation of Cythera (Watteau – thin silks)Aphrodite
time waits for no photographer

random blank pages – what we might not remember... but also... that black prisoners not noted although white were...before Katrina -- 60 miles away from New Orleans
Ship Island split and washed out to sea.
Consider me a colored boy – Langston Hughes
Once nobody, now me.
Here is a case of knowing the context of the poem, which enhances it.

poems for lunch October 23

As 10/20:
Merwin : Still Life
Kooser: Two
Strand: The Hill
Stone: American Gothic

+ two UK poets represented in the October issue of Poetry:
Caleb Klaces : Moths
Amy Key: How Rare a Really Beautiful Hand Is Now, Since the Harp Has Gone Out of Fashion!

Poems for October 20

Still Life -- by W.S. Merwin
Two – by Ted Kooser
Testimony -- by Joseph Fasano
Curio a prose poem by Meghan Privitello
The Hill by Mark Strand
Very Far After e e cummings
American Gothic by John Stone

This morning, seeing the announcement of yet another writer passing, and then looking at my selection of poems, thinking of older poets Merwin and Strand, I’m reminded by the celebration of Cummings’ birthday on Writer’s Almanac 10/14, there is no better place than poetry to embrace the living/dying cycle. I’m hoping the Jon Stone response to American Gothic (same poet who wrote “3 for the Mona Lisa”*** we discussed last week) will help us at the end… With great affection to you all for all the wonderful sharing!

Still Life:
How do you read the title? As words imitating a painting... or Still (as in ongoing) Life, which the present participles seem to elaborate upon. Or the sense of "It's life, even with this going on".
Merlin's lines allow for simultaneously different meanings to work all at once.
Comments from the group: How little we know of nature, color spectrum of sun, accessible, but not always visible.
last line: unexpected... powerful... everything goes on... memory
old person/child..
present participles..
present tense claim of person...
we live in the now we cannot grasp gone before it (arrives)
continuum of time.
child... no demarcation

Two: beautifully crafted to demonstrate the value of "a bonded two-ness"-- how two men separate, then come back, but we learn they are a father/son only in the middle of the poem. The only 4-syllable word: interwoven. The only metaphor: their hands making a gate and yet the poem breathes, each sentence a frame.

images: moon /lantern...
enjambments (and separated piece...)
being along w/ oneself... seems to echo Merwin's poem.
Knowledge not given easily...after all is said and done, you have yourself...
pain of change...

The poet says he was thinking of Galway Kinnell’s reunion with the ‘wild darkness,’ and of Mark Strand’s wish to ‘lie down under the small fire / of winter stars.’ So I did. And the stillness that I heard there became this poem. Of course we’ve all tried to return somewhere and found it impossible, but sometimes that very impossibility can become its own song.”

She’s having fun...but are we? is it cute... or annoying? Is there a worthwhile sentiment?

The Hill: Strand creates mystery...what do we, have we missed... yet reassures... "echoes this is the way I do it" as if to accept life as it is... (and sure, and if life isn't a terrible place, God Bless it...)
hill: aloneness of effort... life difficult... (he's missed lots of different transpiration -- but hasn't "missed the boat" one person joked). We loved the "So what" about the leaves rattling.
poetic feet...match how he steps along.

Judith snuck in the next one -- in the style of Cummings, but it is hers!

And since we enjoyed John Stone's "3 for the Mona Lisa" I had picked "American Gothic".
We could feel the personality of the couple... If you know where the poem will end up, it is a trick poem, but this isn't. Who would have thought she wondered about turning off the stove while posing -- and what a wonderful element to add to the tone... It took us back to Frost and the process of discovery--
one finds the image... like an ice cube on the stove riding on itself.
Auden: how can I know what I think until I see what I say...

Poems for October 16

a few poems that appeared this week... some old, some new.

To the Happy Few by W.S. Merwin
Composition by John Ashbery
Preludes by T. S. Eliot (chosen by Poem a day, 9/26/2014)
The Emperor of Ice Cream – Wallace Stevens
two versions of Poems by Zen Master Dōgen (Stephen Berg)
Postcard to Herself -- Peter Sears

If Poetry is supreme fiction... what world does the poem create?

In the first poem, Merwin addresses a fictitious "happy few" who escape identification by some larger corporate or national body... in order to address the question of identity... who are you "without a word /of explanation/
and only yourself/as evidence--

as if the division is about the self (you without a word... only yourself) and others (explaining you as evidence).

In Ashbery's poem, the reader has a view of a day, as if portioned into tv, news, perhaps a memory or two...
I find the ending delightful. What is home? The fact that we can't define it, and the speaker of the poem tells us it is a nutty concept, (although not "rented depression"in the pure and troubled time of next month...)
and the play of intermittent "now and then" is broken into "now" / "then" -- and imagining them as lovers,
then as your lovers...

And speaking of nutty concepts, surely "home"
is way up there on the list. I feel more certain about "now"
and "then," because they are close to me,
like lovers, though apparently not in love with me,
as I am with them. I like to call to them,
and sometimes they reply, out of the deep business of some dream.

How different the TS Eliot...fragmented, depressingly so, free verse and yet a hint of form:

His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o'clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

The Stevens strange juxtaposition of living and dead, another modernist poem tomes have been written about.
with little time left to discuss the "Versions of Poems by Zen Master Dōgen" or the fine Peter Sears poem,
which goes beyond modernism to look at self as a young American in Europe,
"So, ruffled, she went sluffing by the sea,
sealed in the pink envelope of herself."
and ending with a cryptic irony,
Soon she would be home,
she thought, with only herself to tell about.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

O pen : October 13 -- more ekphrasis... with a bit of soap...

Next Day - by Randall Jarrell
Angel Surrounded by Paysans – by Wallace Stevens
Villanelle - Two de Chiricos - Mark Strand
Vermeer - Howard Nemerov
Breughel: Triumph of Time by Howard Nemerov
too long for discussion, but interesting to read: “The Painter Dreaming in the Scholar’s House” and “Drawing Lessons” by Nemerov and
Three for the Mona Lisa by John Stone

Continuing with Ekphrastics... except for Next Day...

How does the title prepare us -- and how do you read it? The first two poems of the bunch present two very different problems. "Next Day", a persona poem of a woman fearing the aging process, can lend itself to both a scene in a grocery store, admiring all the optimistic names of laundry detergents, which happens after the lady attends her friend's funeral, or after her reflection about her friend's in the poem, or as an invitation to a general sense of "next" to load onto "day". Perhaps more. The diction in the poem, the skillful line breaks, the flow of the stanzas is rather like skating up the aisles of a grocery store, getting to the parking lot,
and thinking about "next" and ending by the grave. The "box" in line two, refers to "Cheer", "Joy" and "All"
but as scrub-away coffins perhaps. And yet, the soap bubbles and illusions subside, leaving these last and wonderfully honest lines:

But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I’m anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

How different the Modernist poems... and abstract art. In Longenbach's elegant and articulate volume, "The Resistance to Poetry" I found this reflection helpful: "We read poetry not to understand... but "to experience the sensation, the sound, of words leaping just beyond our capacity to know them certainly." Discovering in a poem something strange in what we thought familiar, we draw fresh wonder at the alien beauty of our own becoming in the world."
Let's start with the title of the Stevens' poem:
Angel Surrounded by Paysans --
English (singular) surrounded by French (plural) -- lofty by lower class... or maybe the Angel needs the French peasants to overturn the hierarchy of things and bring some francophone culture? Or...

We'll get back to the title, after we see where the lines go, what they net, or refuse..
At first, it looks like it will be a dialogue -- "One of the peasant "There is
A welcome at the door to which no one comes?"
as if we have dropped in media res on some conversation. We know from notes that this painting, Still Life by Pierre Tal-Coat (Courtesy Peter Hanchak). inspired the poem “Angel Surrounded by Paysans" . On October 5, 1949, Stevens wrote to Paule Vidal, who had purchased the painting for him:
I have even given it a title of my own: Angel Surrounded By Peasants. The angel is the Venetian glass bowl on the left with the little spray of leaves in it. The peasants are the terrines, bottles and the glasses that surround it. This title alone tames it as a lump of sugar might tame a lion.

That explains nothing to me, the reader, who cannot see the dark Venetian glass bowl as an Angel of Reality --
give me the creased white tablecloth, which looks as if the wings are clipped...
Stevens gives us beautifully seductive language, such as "liquid lingerings" which seem (to quote Longenbach's phrase) to privilege sound over sense. And the questions marks which end both the Angel's 10 couplets, as well as the broken line of the peasant, complicate matters. Is the Peasant inside, wondering who is outside the door or vice-versa?
If we believe the Angel, " I am one of you and being one of you
Is being and knowing what I am and know.
how do we know about being? He seems to intimate that the Angel, half-figure pointing to meanings, is poetry-- both not of this earth, yet what allows us to connect to what is "real".

Strand's responses to the bleak De Chirico paintings, give a similar unease of not understanding.
The Villanelle keeps turning the gaze.... but does it develop the thought?
Both paintings are disquieting... like the poem... Some of the responses:
A sense of sterility with none of us in it and no signs of life in poem... a sense of no entry as opposed to a sense of being crushed out of reality in the painting...
The first villanelle plays on the word "content" as noun or adjective -- is it stated that the Philosopher's content? or it announcing the content a Philosopher addresses? The second villanelle, The Disquieting Muses
embraces disquiet, which contrary to what one might hope a muse would inspire, reinforces boredom and despair.

To offset such depressing and glum thoughts, Vermeer and Nemerov cheer us on.
The assurance of the first stanza, at first glance is a comfort! That "is" is stated, first, as a complete and contained standpoint, and then repeated with a looser brushstroke -- gives an optimism of "reality" -- and does it matter how to read the last sentence? Is it beautiful that modesty is seductive or that the care for daily things is -- or it is both, and why the strange adverb "extremely"?

Taking what is, and seeing it as it is,
Pretending to no heroic stances or gestures,
Keeping it simple; being in love with light
And the marvelous things that light is able to do,
How beautiful a modesty which is
Seductive extremely, the care for daily things.

The seduction of the next stanza again reassures, with the marvelous "holy mathematic/
Plays out the cat's cradle of relation/Endlessly;even the inexorable/
Domesticates itself and becomes charm.

What is wrong with us -- or what is wrong with our words and understanding as Nemerov presents the next supposition: if you could feel what I feel, I think we could be happy...
If Vermeer could paint what he did...
"In the great reckoning of those little rooms
Where the weight of life has been lifted and made light,
As it was, under a wide and darkening sky."

Perhaps it suffices to know art exists, captured in little rooms of stanzas, paintings... allows us to deal with what we know will be coming

Nemerov and Breughel, leave us with quite a different feel. The difficult language agglutinates, two stanzas, both one sentence long ending with the Triumph of Time,
"which everything that is, with everything that isn't,
as Brueghel patiently puts it down, exemplifies."

It was a relief to end the session with the John Stone -- "3 for the Mona Lisa" --
We enjoyed discussing this famous painting... and overhearing people talking about it,
not knowing quite how to respond to her delightful concentration. How does one capture emotion, feelings?
capturing the difficult reaction to the painting...

The discussion ended with a mention of the novel "Headlong" by Michael Frayn --
The plot centres on the discovery of a long-lost painting from Pieter Bruegel's series The Months. The story is essentially a farce, but contains a large amount of scholarship about the painter. Frayn distinguishes between the iconology and iconography of the paintings and suggests that rather than simply being a series of pastoral images they symbolise a Dutch populace undergoing great suffering as a result of Spanish rule.