The Song of the Banjo by Rudyard Kipling
In Poetry in Person edited by Alexander Neubauer, which Carolyn brought to class,
the interview with Li-Young Lee speaks about interiority-- the pilgrimage in search
of self. For him, writing is an act of love... so this search for the self has nothing
of Byron's solipsism... His poems are shapes of love. So it is with the first poem,
which opened and closed the session. He captures the "one-ness" and connection,
the sounds of ethereal "f"'s (flying, first, freedom, fastening, falling) threading
the sense of release in the "work of wings" as we are born, journey to the end of life.
Note the past tense -- the work was always freedom...
The use of "even" -- it is not just flying that is born of nothing -- everything is --
very much like a Zen Koan.
After ending with long and rather tedious Kipling describing the Boer war, we returned
to Li-Young Lee after speaking of Kipling's contradictory story of sending his legally blind
son to the front... the conflict of patriotism and wanting himself to serve, and projecting that
on his own child, he willingly sacrifices. How do you resolve that?
Li-Young Lee perhaps allows us to examine the I, which preoccupies him, without using
the pronoun or giving a sense of the poem as a mirror as Hillman does when she reduces herself to
little i (Species prepare to exist after money). Who is I, in a culture, in the inexactness of the self
we live with yet, also the I which is the universe... where all small i's are extinguished.
From Blossoms, allows us the journey of the peach from blossom to the fruit savored from hand to mouth--as if ripe juice were running through our fingers and chin... Sensual, the gentle mix of
outward sign (Peaches, painted) and inner "jubilance". Little English glitch... the brown paper bag
does not come from blossoms... From blossoms comes peaches in a brown paper bag...
the b's and p's (blossom, brown, bag, bought, boy, bend... boughs... bite, full circle to repeat of "blossom" accentuating the miracle of peach (4 times mentioned, and "eaten" in the 4th and final stanza... peach as eternal life in Chinese culture, allowing joy.
We enjoyed the first Brenda Hillman poem... the title is a wonderful hook.. We explored "silver"
and "nothing" the repeat where the two words are separated... the blend of lyric and prosaic...
the sense of moonlight, flash of feather, a distant ice age, and "caged" stars. In the end, it felt
we were rewarded with increased enjoyment. Less so for the second poem, which also contained
counting -- seven tiny silences... like the 5 zeroes + one. There was a cleverness to it but I am
reminded of Auden's comment: "Poets who want to change the world tend to be unreadable."
Robert Hass: His poetry doesn't push beyond the normal breath. His image of "whole notes of a requiem the massed clouds croaked" could be referring to redwings, cattails, or details of Polish history. Odd "lifeline" effect of the opening line repeated line 15. No stanza break, everything smashed together...which gives a feeling of assault. Night as beggar; two different ways...
first, with silence in tatters; secondly simply dressed as beggar only to end on children begging chocolate. Unsettling.
Between wars... 1922 ...
Kipling's style seems incongruent with the horrors of war with "pilly-willy-winky-winky popp"
and tump-tumpa-tumpa-tump... tunka to tinka, plunka with a tara-rara-rara. We discussed at length the contradictions of his personal life.