Wednesday, May 27, 2020

May 27

For whoever stumbles on this site... The 5 poems of the week:
2 line poem by Alexander Pope
A Popular Personage at Home  by Thomas Hardy
Dog by Lawrence Ferlinghetti  
Emily Dickinson A little Dog that wags his tail
Monologue of a Dog Ensnared in History by Wislawa Szymborska

 I am grateful that 16 people came today to continue this weekly tradition of gathering to read the poems aloud and discuss.  Zoom technology may not allow the same sense of connection, but connected we are, and as ever, richer for it.
We started by testing our microphones with a sentence about dogs... 
If you ever are at a loss of a conversation topic, this is a winner!  You do not have to love dogs,
you do not need to have known the incredible gift dogs give those who care for them to appreciate the  association of those who give. without question, with fidelity... who have a joy unto themselves, nor the history where dog is metaphor for the one controlled.  These poems allow the dogness of dogs, in all the doggedness of life to help us.

2 line poem by Alexander Pope
Anyone at court is someone's dog!  The stinging question is how to avoid a master and remain
one's true self.
A Popular Personage at Home  by Thomas Hardy
The title does not prepare us to expect a dog!  After 5 stanzas, a change of speaker.
Dog by Lawrence Ferlinghetti   
Perhaps the favorite in the discussion today: how he stages the repeated first line, travels the neighborhood, 
and that detail of Chickens in Chinatown windows… //their heads a block away  and then breaks out
as a “real realist” with the lines also breaking out—
a delightful way of reminding us to be living question marks as we look into  “the great gramophone of puzzling existence”. 

As for the RCA Victor* symbol,  Thank you Barb for filling us in on the 1898 painting "His Master's Voice.
you might enjoy this angle about Nipper, the dog listening attentively into the gramophone.

I hope John, will find out why Ferlinghetti changed “seriously” to serious 52 years after published “Dog”
Marna brought up the homonym, Serious... as Sirius, the Dog Star

Emily Dickinson A little Dog that wags his tail
We puzzled over this one.  A "little jack horner" flavor to "what a good boy am I" applied to a dog?
Unselfconscious Innocence, vs. a cat pinned to her reputation as mouse-catcher... and a boy pinned to his reputation as noise-maker by those who neither "please nor play".  If the wag of the tail be pleasing for no reason, that is reason enough? 

Monologue of a Dog Ensnared in History by Wislawa Szymborska
Szymborska’s monologue  struck at the heart…  the point of view of the dog accentuates the  impact of senseless and incomprehensible whether you want to believe it was Hitler’s Dog, or some other master…   “There’s fate and fate.”  Back to Pope reminding us not to be someone’s dog.
We admired the title which seemed to point to Poland's history, WW2, the Holocaust, and the universal lessons...
He highly recommends Mitchener’s Poland:

Although we only had a few samples of the strength of having the dog take the microphone, it gave rise to
all sorts of considerations about “masters”, how to cope with them, the imperative to resist them, the curious bondage to their  position which in turn raises the question on how we might inflate our position in the world, how the prized position is no guarantee of safety… 

Specifically mentioned: 
 David quoted The Span of Life” by Robert Frost:

The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
 I can remember when he was a pup.

 What a delightful image this barking backwards, as if a dog were reviewing his life-- this sense of unspooling his life, going back to the beginning... although it is the speaker of the poem providing the image, and doing the same.

From Bernie

: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein 

The story of Enzo and the humans around him. 

I mentioned two more dog poems:  

Emily had sent Fetch, by Tony Hoagland:
Maura suggested Dharma by Billy Collins

This is also a fun reading by Billy where he reads A Dog on His Master. and  The Revenant.

As for the RCA Victor* symbol, you might enjoy this angel about Nipper, the dog listening attentively into the gramophone.
Thank you Barb for the info about the dog who modeled for the  painter... 

*(RCA Records (originally The Victor Talking Machine Company, then RCA Victor) is one of the flagship labels of Sony Music Entertainment. The RCA initials stand forRadio Corporation of America (later renamed RCA Corporation), which was the parent corporation from 1929 to 1985 and a partner from 1985 to 1986.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Poems May 20

Opus from Space by Pattiann Rogers
Returning Birds  by Wislawa Szymborska

The next two poems come from  a fabulous contemporary journal which posts a poem responding to an artwork each day, sometimes, several!  Artwork:
The Swing, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (France) 1767, and Peonies, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scotland) 1920)
Fragonard’s The Swing by  Dan MacIsaac
Peonies  by Barbara Crooker

Discussion: See May 18 for  further discussion. Shared with those present:
For the Ada Limon…  Concentrating on each word of the title allows us to think about what “end” and what “poetry” means.  I loved the questions people shared  — Why this title?  What is meant by end?  by poetry?  What is the purpose?  What would the beginning of poetry look like?

The difference between “enough”,  enough of, and what could be an apostrophe to “enough” to say “I am alone, etc. 
Well worth listening to the poetess read her own work which allows the sound and gentle flow not sound at all like “the end”.
We did not discuss who “you” is… but it is logical to think it is poetry — but coupled with an underpinning of our confinement, where we miss the actual physical touch of others.  Touch, as in move the heart, have an effect. etc.

I am grateful for our sharing of how we feel the touch of each poem!

For the Pattiann Rogers:  Having spent time thinking about “Opus” and different ideas of “space” in the title,
it was exciting to think of space including as well what is around us before we are born, what is around any living creature in its confined shell before born.  The first line allows an expansion of what “glad” means (etymology goes back to Old English  glæd with the original sense of “bright/shining”; Related to Old Norse, glathr‘bright, joyous’.
the enjambed “glad/to be born— is like a birthing of creation!  Discussion focussed on the urge and pulse in the word
“rage” — not as anger, but like a river overflowing; the building whether physical body or metaphoric, “speeding 
with clear and total/ fury” (what a surprise that fury!) to this singular honor.
Deft use of rhythms, line breaks, vocabulary,  amazing imagery including “dust-congealings” not to mention the contrast between stanzas 1 and 2, and so much more…

For Szymborska: In two stanzas, a tapestry of ideas including biology, philosophy, religion, Greek drama, garnished with a treasure-trove of images,  adjectives alliterated with nouns… The discussion could have gone on all day… 
Compared to  the Rogers before, the indignation here is quite different from the accelerating fury.  In the end, all dies, 
whether instinct is right or wrong— and yet the poem is laced in optimism.  We enjoyed high-lighting the many superb moments…I doubt any of us can think of a bird other than as  miraculous structure and now beaks can be associated with Benedictine patience, and Angels as earthbound protein, 
How to understand the tone… rejoice with no exclamation point, the joke fate plays on instinct  of birds to return… but alas too early.  The stone might see a chain of failed attempts… but perhaps the title allows us to return to birds,
their returning.

Dan MacIsaac
bio from The Ekphrastic Review: Dan MacIsaac, a trial lawyer, served for ten years as a director on the Environmental Law Centre board at the University of Victoria. In 2017, Brick Books published his collection of poetry, Cries from the Ark. His poetry, fiction and verse translations have been published in a wide variety of literary magazines, including Stand, The Malahat ReviewArc, and The American Journal of Poetry. His poetry has received awards including the Foley Prize from America Magazine. Dan MacIsaac’s work has been short-listed for the Walrus Poetry Prize and the CBC Short Story Prize. His website, which includes links to his poetry published in online journals, is
Dave :  If Judith were participating in today's meeting, she would probably point out (as our expert on dance) that the first act of the Tony award winning show, "Contact," was an erotic dance impression of this same Fragonard painting. In the play, a man who appears to be a servant makes love to the girl while the two of them are on the swing. At the conclusion of the dance, it's revealed that the supposed servant was in fact a nobleman, who switched roles with his servant and pretended to seduce the girl as a servant, apparently for the nobleman's own amusement. The amusement of the master at the idea that a mere servant could make love to the beautiful girl is perhaps symbolic of the class structure that prevailed in pre-revolution France.

We discussed the dance, the ominous, the end of innocence… the sensual language… very much like the painting… and also like the other poem from the Ekphrastic Review, by Barbara Crooker.  I still haven’t figured out a good way to read a poem sentence by sentence…especially with 12 voices!   However, I appreciate all the perceptive comments — how the one block of stanza supported the monologue, the density of the words packed like a peony’s petals… a different sort of confinement…
In the one poem, the end of innocence and the other, no permission needed to “carpe diem” … returning as we began to touch… 
and to be touched.

email sending the poems:
I know many of you see the “Poem a Day Feature” which is below this message. As you may have noticed with many sites, the recording of the poem heard  is not the voice of the poet.  Indeed, in this case it would be hard to have Dunbar’s ghost return to say his 1905 poem!  I have taken some of  his words to pen this message of caring for all receiving this email who I have known in the past twelve years linked by a love of poetry.  
yesterday, those of us who met in person said
“could anything be sweeter
Sharing lyric song, admirable meter ?”

Today, let us be thankful for virtual connection—
let virtual not be a source of sorrow,
but help us stay connected,  
look forward to the gleam of tomorrow.

 I understand completely  that not everyone wants to try the electronics of teleconferencing, and for sure, it cannot be substitute for the intimacy of meeting in a group around the table— nor can it allow us to replicate the way we used to read the poems together.  

I have therefore made two versions of the weekly  poems.  One is to read privately, which I label “non-zoom” for those not attending the zoom meeting.
The other version is intended for those who will participate in zoom.  I will give further details and instructions on Wednesday to those present.  Kindly remember to mute when you enter the meeting, especially if arriving late. 
Heartfelt thanks to Elaine for arranging the technicalities — I will send out a confirmation of meeting ID and password once I hear from her.  I am grateful for her assistance and for everyone’s patience and good will.

interactive poetry: May 18

I shared with Kathy Potetti beautiful video sent by my friend based on a poem by by Haroon Rashid :  words are here — it’s nice for people to see how the poem evolved…

Suzanne (Mrs. Olson gave many suggestions including:
The Villain by William Henry Davies  (1871 – 1940) 
Bali Hai calls Mama by Marilyn Nelson
Butterfly Laughter by Katherine Manfield
The Nuthatch by Mary Oliver

The ones chosen:
Opus from Space by Pattiann Rogers
Returning Birds  by Wislawa Szymborska
Ode to the Whitman Line “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd”  by Kimiko Hahn
The next two poems come from  a fabulous contemporary journal which posts a poem responding to an artwork each day, sometimes, several!  Artwork:
The Swing, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (France) 1767, and Peonies, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scotland) 1920)
Fragonard’s The Swing by  Dan MacIsaac
Peonies  by Barbara Crooker

The final one is by local writer and teacher, Wendy Lowe:  Continuing Education

Far too many for a half hour of sharing -- but a lovely variety...  We will start with "first lines" --
what makes you want to continue reading?
How do you leap from the possibilities of the title to the tease of the first line?

1. Almost everything I know is glad// to be born—not only the desert orangetip,

2. This spring the birds came back again too early. / Rejoice, O reason:  instinct can err, too.
3.  I cannot consider scent without you, I cannot /think that color so gay, so Japanese, so vernal/without you
4. This slip of a girl, / pushed by a priest / 
5. The peony on the left speaks: /So what if my leaves are starting/ to droop
6. The poet, at 75,// has learned to drive

We so enjoyed discussing the possibility in the titles and the leap to the first line.  Just the focus on the set up of the poem allows the time to imagine what the poet is setting up for us.
Pattiann Rogers:  Opus!  Space!  A great work?  Who is writing it?  Is space the outer space in which our planet circulates in its solar system,  the "inner space" of our atmosphere, or perhaps some other idea of airy place?  Is it a letter from space, or about space?
The first line sounds so optimistic -- "Almost everything I know is glad..."
the bigness of "everything" and "gladness" --!  "to be born" -- emphasized in 4th stanza with
"Almost everything I know rages to be born" -- no enjambment.  The rich vocabulary filled with sound... but what of those perfumed linen sheets?  The craziness of birth, (and even before... dark, dust-congealing of pure frenzy!) the raging to be born-- the total fury towards this singular honor!

This should pull the most despairing out of depression... acknowledging the release from all the varieties of shells...

Returning Birds: Usually an optimistic sign -- but here... too early... what error is afoot?
contrast of reason and instinct... Aristotelian drama ... The adjectives in the first stanza: conscientious, sensible, stunning, Benedictine do not hint at indignation-- ... 3rd stanza adjectives: earthbound, living, singular, common, archaic, simpleminded, failed.
Woven into this mix of foolish fate... a recognition of bird (living kite, both name of bird and winged machine) as fallen "angel of earthbound protein".  The ladies felt in spite of the injustice, the palpable optimism in what could be. One bird flying into a window, falling to the ground does not mean birds (plural) will not return.

MacIsaac: Delightful and vivid description... perfect sense of the French aristocracy... expression of a shoe dropping... but hers won't.

Crooker:  personnification of peonies.  Carpe Diem

Hahn:  I explained how she said she has difficulty memorizing poetry, but remembers specific lines.
In this case, Whitman, from Leaves of Grass.  First line... how to understand "last"?  The liquid sounds of the l's are nailed by the final D... the last year, blooming,  the year before... and this year... something gone.  The richness of the word "last" -- to go on, to hold, to "memorize fast" as in keep safe.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Poems for May 13

Correspondence by Jericho Brown
On Angels by Czeslaw Milosz
Quarantine by Eavan Boland
Lines Written on a 30th Anniversary —  Eavan Boland
Twilight Time  by Jerl Surratt
On the Edge of Time  by Marc Harshman
The poems for May 13 include a sampling :
Jericho Brown, who just received the Pulitzer for poetry for his collection Traditions;   
Eaven Boland, who passed away April 27.  It seemed timely to include her poem about the 19th c. Irish Famine which appeared in her 2001 collection, Code.  
 the 2020  winner of the Tor House Poetry Prize as well as one of the Honorable Mentions for the 2019 Prize.
This site will provide you with many pleasurable hours of reading.  I love the quote on the masthead by Robinson Jeffers, (1887-1962) the California Poet honored by the Tor House foundation:
It is curious that sometimes flower-soft verse/ is sometimes harder than granite/ tougher than a steel cable,/more alive than life.
 Jeffers  preferred nature to man because he felt that the human race was too introverted, that it failed to recognize the significance of other creatures and things in the universe
Jericho Brown: The “other side of a body”  is a novel way of referring to a self,
both as a place, but also in time — the place “where I have never been/ shot…which we thought referred to the innocent time of childhood (children, hard/to kill comes later).  The poem is rife with possibilities as sentences in the present tense refer back to a time past.  It ends with the striking image of how he has prepared a place for "you" -- possibly, the you of reader, the you who could correspond to him (both in letters, and in terms of being relatable to him, a corresponding human) I love how the sentences could be parsed from masked pauses like the 4th to 5th line:  "I have to go back this far in order/to present... (as in present tense presentation) as a whole being... Brown could have ended there, but enjambs a further idea of this whole being -- not unique in itself, but broken by the line break, as a being "you'd heed and believe in."
Who is this "you"?  
We discussed the word "penetration" -- with sexual implications but also possibly a knife or bullet piercing the skin.
We also discussed the "sweet"... the implications of pacifying a child... but what kind of crying?  We have just had the shock of reading, "The young are hard for you // TO KILL."  
It helps to know more about his work and the reference to the Jerome Project.  See background below.

Czeslow Milosz : We admired the conceit of angels... perhaps in the first stanza, hinting that they are not sacred messengers, but
all of us have a capability of being so.  Who do you trust if you are Czech in the 2nd world war, or occupied by Russia afterwards?
We picked up on a political overtone... If in stanza 4, he says "humans invented themselves", that is a perfect correspondence with inventing the idea of angels... but the poem does not delve into this but rather speaks of The voice -- which although not a capital V voice, has celestial power, weightless as it is.  We loved the parenthetical (after all, why not?)... say lightening as verb, not a noun.
Usually we expect angels to help us do things.. but here, the angels turn the tables to remind us "to do what you can."  Simple, prosaic, instructions with no grand orders or expectations.

Eavan Boland: Two of her poems, both of which came from Against Love Poetry.  Kathy shared the content of the poems listed below.
Paul, in abstentia said this about the selection of poems: "All poetry is philosophical, full of love of wisdom, imparted or absorbed. 
As for  Quarantine he mentioned An Gorta Mor (the Great Famine ) 1845-50.  He find the poem " a harsh and beautiful love story set in abject-ness, the hopeless trudge to escape starvation, an gorta mor, of mid nineteenth century Ireland. So many unrecorded things, so many acts of love given and gone. A million others would follow them in death in and out of love. Eavan Boland, RIP."

Read aloud, we were sensitive to the sounds of the w's in the first stanza, the repetitions of worst hour/worst season...
The fragments in the third stanza and repeat of last heat / last gift.  In her reading, she does not pause on the word
"inexact" and the sudden line break to "praise", but the visual impact of the enjambment puts a stress on "inexact",
in the middle of the quite precise details.  She pronounces "inventory" the Irish way with the accent on inVENT...
The sibilance of Merciless disguises the cruelty... she has told us, "there is no place here for easy graces and sensuality".

Kathy reminded us that she distinguishes between "history" and "Past".  History, with its chronicled dates might appear in books, but the "past" lies in personal human stories.  This poem touches us by this short glimpse of a last night before
death and  the last haunting line.  Which darkness indeed, in this litany of death, suffering, how they were forced to live,
their life as man and woman... 

 Lines Written:  There was a typo after the final period.  No quotation mark is there.
We discussed the dashes, the repeat form of a line ending with a colon speaking of the outside rain.  Then small glimpses of the people inside and how they were being worn away.  The description of the rain, like small diversions.  After the second  colon-- "It happened under our lives:" are short bursts:   the rain,/the stone.  We hardly noticed.   Then the final lead to the colon after "to wonder:"
The constancy of weather,  and of a couple enduring.  But she arranges it perfectly with the final colon after
 this constancy.  There is no parenthetical addition between dashes; the reader is left with the lingering sense of "what wears, what endures."

Jerl Surratt:  I was pleased that Rose Marie shared the expertise she and Tony have with keeping bees.  She confirmed that all that is mentioned in the first three stanzas is indeed evocative of bee season. Everyone enjoyed the poem.   We noted the ratios between this year and last...the diminishment,  understated in "no plague of purple martins" ... the tone shifts, again those w's . "what I'm growing... watching... way to wish them well... Everywhere..." line and stanza break...  and he winds the remainder of a complex sentence over four lines...
bees -- and he, a human being, at the "threshold of personal nonexistence", that "vast-enough catastrophe". 

Marc Harshman:  Jan noted that he gives us a broad hint by noting "After Reverdy".  On the Edge of Time is the English of "Au bords du Temps"  which experiments with cubist technique, seeing "the sublime simplicity of reality."  I am afraid Reverdy's short poem even though accurately translated by Lydia Davis has fewer overtones than  Reverdy's poem "Afternoon"  where there is also a rooster, a bridge, a ruined wall . Harshman's  beautiful poem flows like Debussy's piano piece, "revêrie" or dream.  We pondered who the "animal without feathers" could be.[1] It is a lovely poem exploring time... The I and You suggest a love poem in Spring.  However, there is no such reference in Reverdy.  What the 21st century American and 19th century French do share however, is a sense of dream... that state of timelessness... 

[1] Plato was applauded for his definition of man as a featherless biped, so Diogenes the Cynic “plucked the feathers from a cock, brought it to Plato’s school, and said, ‘Here is Plato’s man.’ ” When asked about the origin of his epithet, cynic deriving from the Greek word for dog, Diogenes replied that it was given to him because he “fawns upon those who give him anything and barks at those who give him nothing.”

Background links:
sent to those present 5/13:
For references today:
Thinking of Kent State, 50 years ago… the 13 seconds that ended 4 lives…and Martin Luther King’s speech 3 years prior, “King:  If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.” 
Correspondence by Jericho Brown
title:  dual meaning : a close similarity, connection, or equivalence; exchange of letters; for more about the Jerome Project:

Eavan Boland
Kathy shares this about Eavan Boland and kindly added texts and minutes.
The first 2 poems she reads are:
   "Quarantine"   text
   “The Science of Cartography is Limited” about the the famine roads   text

Oher poems she reads: 
daughter    "The Pomegranate"   (at minute 6:17)        text at
marriage   “Thanks Be to Fortune”  (at minute 13:50)
mother     “An Elegy for My Mother in Which She Scarcely Appears” minute 18:56  text  

Thank you Jan for suggesting Afternoon as well as the  On the Edge of Time  by Reverdy — both translations here by Lydia Davis  are good.

You might enjoy comparing how Harshman takes the words (whether from the original French or the translation) as springboard!— 

Interactive Poetry, May 11

Email text and poems distributed: 
Last week, it was suggested to look at poems which “paint”.  This introduces us to the idea of 
Ekphrastic: it comes from the Greek for the description of a work of art produced as a rhetorical exercise, often used in the adjectival form ekphrastic. It is a vivid, often dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined.

In simpler terms, it means using the craft of poetry to paint with visual and aural techniques, 
The poems this week are playful, and yet reach beyond a simple summary.
Many of you might know that E.E. Cummings was both painter as well as poet.  His self-portrait
can be seen at the Memorial Art Museum, as he was good friends with James Sibley Watson.
is on Poets Walk that runs on the sidewalk in front of the MAG from Prince to Goodman on University Avenue.  Here are two examples of his wit and playfulness.  In the words of the French writer Jean Cocteau, A poet unties writing and ties it up again differently.

Forward to an Exhibit: II (1945)  by  E.E. Cummings
mOOn Over tOwns mOOn
The murder of two men by a kid wearing yellow kid gloves by Kenneth Patchen
Nude Descending the Staircase by XJ Kennedy  (after painting by Marcel Duchamp (1912); 
How Ovid Tells the Story of Icarus (excerpt) (trans. Rolfe Humphries)
W.H. Auden’s response to Breughel:  Musée des Beaux-Arts
excerpt of The Old and The New Masters by Randell Jarrell — 

Only Robin and Suzanne appeared.  Unlike the familiarity of O pen and Poetry Oasis, because this is a new program, and "on-line", it feels more like a teach-in than interactive.  However, we all enjoyed the fun of Cummings mocking the conventional idea of "everyone", his fun of capital O's for the full moon, chosen for the appearance of the Super flower moon.
Patchen's two-word poem depends on the title for the dramatic clue of how to deliver the word wait.

We enjoyed XJ Kennedy's deft handling of line, with repeating rhyme and inner rhyme schemes
descending and interlacing in his 3-stanza poem just like the cubist nude of Duchamps' painting.
This is one of my favorite poems to show how words can elaborate with sound and arrangement a response to a painting that truly brings an aliveness to both.

The Breughel painting, the "old master" and 20th century versions to the story of Icarus is also a source of delight.  Everything lies in the way the details are arranged... and the background context.
In the case of Auden, with the title of the museum where you can view the Old Master painting,
the embedded story within the story in the painting, retold in two stanzas is more commentary on
human nature than re-telling of the myth and its moral warnings about hubris.

Consider the perspective:  Would an “old Master” have given the idea that even the heroes need ordinary people to do extraordinary things sometimes? How would this be a message for 1938? 
Auden's choice of adverbs and adjectives reinforce a cryptic almost cynical view of life going on, with no one paying attention to the actual story.  That an "expensive delicate ship" shuns this quite amazing event, sailing calming on certainly mirrors contemporary choices even now.
We did not discuss the entire Jarrell poem, only 4 lines:
full poem here:
Compare with this excerpt from  Randall Jarrell’s poem written in 1963 which  also refuses 
About suffering, about adoration, the old masters
Disagree.  When someone suffers, no one else eats
or walks or opens the window – no one breathes
as the sufferers watch the sufferer.

It confirms not only  the power of the human imagination to apply myth to help us understand our behavior, but our disagreements about it.   A friend forwarded this YouTube which offers insights
into the dual realities humans create:  the ones shared with other animals on Earth, and the abstractions we invent such as nations, Gods, and money, and protect by wars, laws that favor those privileged to have power. Yuval Noah Harari on Why Humans Run the World.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Discussion May 6

Complaint of El Río Grande by Richard Blanco[1]  from How to Love a Country, 2019 (he read "Perhaps the World Ends Here, by Joy Harjo" saying, "poems pull light out of darkness...)
Identity Lessons by Abby Murray
Plato, or Why  by  Wislawa Szymborska
A Time to Talk by Robert Frost - 1874-1963
I Could Give All To Time  by Robert Frost

Discussion 5/6:  We decided that we would share the emails of those attending on zoom in case people had further comments to make.  As always, anyone is welcome to make comments on the blog!

Complaint  of El Rio Grande: Blanco: Everyone loved the "Complaint", meaning lament in poetic terms.  It is often "directed at an ill-fated love, or may be a satiric attack on social injustice and immorality.   The use of personnification is especially powerful for this river which starts in the Rockies in Colorado, and runs down to divide Texas from Mexico.  For a map and more information about this third largest river in the US see:

The opening line, "I was meant for all things to meet:"   echoed in the final stanza's last line, has a biblical authority. We noted the softer sounds in the first two stanzas, the change of tone with the introduction of "you". The repetition
on "before" three times, emphasizes  an Old Testament feel, before the arrival of those who named and used it.
The third stanza brings up the recurring theme of artificial divisions, and a stronger division between the River,
where all things meet, (repeated in first and last stanzas: sky, rain, rock, birdsong) and the "you" of civilization inventing territories, maps, definitions of who is what, and what belongs to whom, and systems where  "life's worth is relative".
The language of the 4th stanza is filled with K sounds, the I sound in divide names river, draws, splits.  One feels the cut of spic with no span, linking bank to bank, but the border and walls built where river becomes murderer. 

One feels all the things meant to meet:  the mirrored clouds, the sun's tingle, the wind and its dust, rush of mountain rain--
the quiet vowel in us.  Not the short /u/ sound.  The tongue is relaxed, set low in the mouth.  The /u/ in sun, dust, rush, love whether loveless or lovesick, humble.  So different from the long /u/ pushed forward in you, the /u/ tangled in the /tr/ and /th/ of truth. What happens to the River's I when it is seized for( long/u/ )use by the "you"?  "You name me",  where "me" is object, not subject; The river is your geography, it's identity stolen.  
Stanza 3 and 4 development the metaphor of the physical map "jigsawing the world into colored shapes and colors, into the psychological implications of Yankee, Gringo, those who belong, those who don't.  There is an accusatory, bitter tone.
As readers, most of us want to cry out, protest, weep, wrenched by anger and sorrow... and then, Blanco returns to the voice of the River... the forgiving tone of the river, who acknowledges the similarity between our human blood, and its water... the importance of this truth:  "be one in one another."  Blanco brings us to a place of hope.  A reminder to be
respectful caretakers of each other and our world.

Identity Lessons: Murray We all enjoyed the poem, seduced by a quiet scene of mother/young daughter walking under cedars and imagining all the various questions.   As Bernie said, "why hasn't anyone ever said "we are wearing the shadow of an old cedar" before?  It's such a cool image... And a 6 year old's questions, filled with insistence and honesty are irresistible.  The short lines, especially in the second stanza, echo the slow walk on the last line of the first stanza.  They quietly move to a pause at the end of each line, and visually form a sort of wedge in the shortest line "once spoken".
Although we weren't sure how to understand "wedges of bread" the sense of questions  feeding, resembling water beneath a glacier, roots under the earth share a  non-judgmental connection.  We questioned the "fight me" in first stanza.  It seemed to come out of nowhere.  It's  tricky business  to address a child's questions and match the honest curiosity with an honest answer.Perhaps the "fight me" relates to that?  It is a relief to get to the next line.  "We are quiet together."
The other question was connected to word choice.  Is "crackers" quite the right sound?  Maybe the "mother stability image" of bread as staff of life contrasts with the fragility of thin, at-risk-of-fragmenting crackers.  Certainly, the square shape and cracks of sidewalks caused by roots fits, but the tonality didn't match.  We also wondered about "fragile".  This is not a poem about fragility.  Questions cannot be killed... but things do fall apart.  Perhaps the adjective needed would express more the uncertain, unpredictable nature we have... how so simply, we could be murderers, or victims?

ABBY'S COMMENTS: Thanks so much for sending this feedback! I'm glad everyone liked the poem, and the questions about a couple word choices were warranted.

Though I don't like the word fragile (because it is overused) (especially in poetry), I do think this poem is about fragility. White fragility, in particular. The discomfort we feel when confronted by our histories, which need confronting. It's also about fragility in that it's looking square-on at the absurdity of "claiming" land and destroying it. I agree though, that there isn't fragility in the strength of questions. I'm glad that came across.

I went back and forth on using the word "crackers". I'm not sure yet if I like the tonality either-- on one hand, it's disruptive, which I'm drawn to. This poem is, in itself, a disruption... of comfort, of assumption, of blindness. On the other hand, well, it's disruptive.

"Fight me" is my own outburst. I feel surrounded by people who'd like to tell me either a) it's no use hashing up the past when it comes to white peoples' treatment of indigenous cultures, or b) I'm wrong / selfish / obnoxious to consider the truth.

I'll go back to the "wedges of bread" line. I was thinking of land as sustenance, so continents being split by glaciers and roots splitting cities pitched deep in the ground... but maybe it's not working.

Plato or Why: Szymborska:  God bless humor, intelligence, good translators who bring us Wislawa's wisdom!
The very title of the poem, refers to the philosopher who relies on questions and posits the idea of Ideal, with art being the
imperfect copy.  So Why does Plato do this?  And the Why continues in the poem, pondering the various questions for the Ideal, seeking thrills outside of its perfect world.  How delightful can you be describing the "bad company" this entails?  The idea of Wisdom limping, Harmony derailed, Beauty holding the shit of  guts with the enjambed Good perhaps involved,
although clarified with the question about the shadow.  What a litany of how the Ideal can and will never be...
How did we come to think there was even an ideal?  What rules does History leave us as Naked Truth ransacks, perhaps too busy to notice anything.  The poem is an invitation to ask ourselves questions... what's our responsibility here?
As Marna pointed out, we respond kindly to humor, but the bottom of the matter is that Szymborska leaves us with hard questions, albeit presented humorously.  Would we prefer Ideal?  Why?  Why not?  David reminded us of Odysseus and the ideal world of Calypso... but... that meant giving up all he was about -- his fame, the excitement of risks, his heroism...
Why on earth do we want perfect, is the question Szymborska turns on its head, as she personnifies Ideal Being,
pinned under an interrogation in which the reader can participate.

Time to Talk: Frost:  Ten lines sketch so much, without telling us a thing in the way in which we usually tell a story.
A simply moment of two people; one at work, one passing by.  The delightful phrase of a "meaning walk" -- to which the horse is slowed... where the message is in the change of pace... Frost tells us what the response of the farmer working the hills of squash is NOT.  Common sense would say, there's a time to work, a time to talk... with a faint echo of Ecclesiastes.
David drew a splendid picture of what was happening with "I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground/Blade-end up and five feet tall".  The handle was thrust into the soft ground, already hoed; his hoe a stand-in.  And later when he returns, it will be easy to pick it up this way. His decision is  made, but not eagerly.
He plods.  The ambivalence is clear,  even the clever break of the sentence "I go up to the stone wall/ (which doesn't sound very friendly or promising)/for a friendly visit.  There is an intimated calculation of cost here or the work in choosing fellowship.
We noted  an echo in the present moment, how with the social distancing, we tend to talk more behind our masks-- whereas close together, we paid little attention .  

I could give all to time: Frost.  Emily last week had referred to this poem mentioned in an article in the Atlantic which mentioned how  Robert Frost was not someone you could know easily.  He never fully revealed himself to others.  She had brought it up I believe with The Third Dimension  by Tony Hoagland, and the images of self-protection.
This poem is like the character of Frost -- difficult to know.  Time, personified at first as objective, 
unmoved by forces of nature.  Time does not call itself brave, does not feel overjoyed, but that double mention of grave in the last line is sobering.  Impartial... the the final word of time, we do not know
in our graves.   The impartiality continues in the second stanza.  What becomes interesting is the personal
entrance of the speaker of the poem in the third stanza.  The double mention of except-except, to say what it is he would not give to time.  We grappled at length with it.  What is it that Frost carries, crossing over to Safety?  One conjecture would be his work -- his poems, his published work.  But, there's no guarantee, although more than half a century after his death, it would seem time has not effaced that.  What makes more sense is what Elaine brought up : that the poem was written after the death of his wife, the death of his daughter, and the suicide of his son.  This is his personal experience.  Time has nothing to do with his memories, his grief.  He is almost adversarial  in guarding his private world.  And as reader, we can only
guess what that is.  If anything, it invites us to think what we would want to keep safe from time... or consider what isn't.