Thursday, February 26, 2015

Feb. 26

cutting greens -- by Lucille Clifton
The Ether by Rae Armantrout
Inheritance by Philip Levine
Three Days of Forest, a River, Free, Rita Dove
Boy Breaking Glass by Gwendolyn Brooks
A Furnace Door by Dane Gordon

We listened to Lucille reading her poem with the preface about people who laughed at her title, as usually we mix greens, but her thought about the poem was that maybe the greens did not want to be mixed. Sensual, pulsing with an aliveness, the greens and her hand join into a third dimension where something not quite expected clashes, the way it can be with mixing two individuals... She has captured in 15 lines (curling into two sentences)a sense of what it is like to be alive, sensing the "taste" of connection.

The poem is rich in contrasts, both of sound, but also unusual juxtapositions and images.
The kitchen as spine, without which we cannot move, but it twists dark; greens roll black under the knife; a kiss making hand/bedpot. Bond can make you think of bondage -- unchosen positions.

Many of the /k/ sounds of curling, collards, kale, black...also ply the liquid /l/ as
curling, collards, black.
cutting returns (this time as part of the noun, board); kitchen, dark-- thinking contains the word kin, although the poem states "thinking of everything but kinship"
The /l/ in roll, roll black under the silent "k" of the knife.

The poem ends with the /l/ in natural, live have no "cut".

We experimented to see what would happen if you removed the adjective "obscene" from embrace; removed the entire 3rd line from the end:
"and the kitchen twists dark on its spine".
Paradox of kissmaking hand/iron bedpot,
the white silence after "my hand".
Too sweet -- not as much punch to it, or depth of intrigue.

We admired the language play of Armantrout, but it lacked the sense of satisfaction we experienced with the Clifton.
Read twice, first stanza by stanza, then sentence by sentence, the enjambments (end/game; practiced/precision; stop/a moment;) are clear, but perhaps the most effective was
"Of" can take care/
of itself

which could be "Of can take care" -- without saying what prepositions might not take care
and "of itself" could be stressing, "of" itself -- not of, connected to anything else.
It also allows a syntactic leap of faith, deleting "of" two lines before to read: "speed is the essence". Are we to walk the plank of the cosmos as we play with ether, play inattention against absorption?

The Philip Levine poem in its long column with the occasional indented line provided a long discussion, not just about the poem, but about treasures, the way we hang on to things, not ours, with no magical power such as an amulet to protect us. The tongue-in-cheek ending addressing a mock grandiosity (Infinite riches in a little room, a great spiritual revelation,
ends satisfyingly on what the pen, watch, even the tiny pocket knife (used to separate truth from lies) and the ivory cigarette holder (which might entail an exaggeration and a mistake) they are-- amulets against nothing. And Nothing, unfolds into a largeness.

There are so many satisfying lines -- the "back of beyond"... the watch which "finally threw up its twin baroque arms/in surrender to the infinite.../the jeweled wheels/and axles that kept time alive. the anthrophomorphizing of his leaks and that of the pen (only ink, never a word best/left unsaid) and ; the way once both watch and ear worked...

Our conversation covered everything from the irony of retirement gifts (here, now that you have time, a nice watch to watch yourself in your retired state... but also perhaps, the idea that the watch will be part of the inheritance of the next generation, and reminder of values to be passed on. We talked about how it used to be that everyone carried a little pocket knife--
the usefulness of being able to fix things on the spot...

Only three poems, but it allowed us plenty of time to discuss each one, and a chance to comment on a "favorite" and why. The Levine was ahead. For me, it was a tie between Clifton and Levine.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

February 23

Ode to my Hands - Tim Seibles
two poems to honor Philip Levine (b. 1928- died 2/14/2015)
What Work Is
Our Valley

The Blizzard by Phyllis Levin
About Not Writing by Naomi Replanski

I also read aloud a Lucille Clifton poem that Carmin had mentioned:
Here Rests, by Lucille Clifton

Ode... hymn of praise -- so a beautiful thing to be grateful to hands showing us how "they love us" and on we gallop through five digits, five senses and ideas about hands we might not taken time to notice -- how we need them to "talk" how they also can be mischievous and get us into trouble, and to culminate on a note of gravitas --
I just wanted to know
what the strings would say
concerning my soul, my whelming
solipsism: this perpetual solstice
where one + one = everything
and two hands teach a dawdler
the palpable alchemy
of an unreasonable world.

Not only are the images delightful, but the stanzas entice and intrigue us with suspensions and enjambments :
Stanza 1:
each thought
leaning on its horn. I see you

waiting anyplace always

Stanza 3:
kind quintet x 2
rowing my heart like a little boat
upon whose wooden seat I sit
strummed by Sorrow. Or maybe

I misread you completely
and you are dreaming a tangerine, one

Stanza 4
all the touches
untouched: the gallant strain

of a pilfered ant, tiny muscles

Stanza 5

Once, I played
viola for a year and never stopped

to thank you

This would be a good poem to re-read -- as we did with Philip Levine's "What Work Is" on which we spent almost 45 minutes, although the group had visited it in the past, without so much discussion. Was it because the Seibles' poem preceded it that the turn in the poem from
the waiting in line for work took a turn to the brother, and the simple act of loving--?
After beginning we an assurance that we all know what work is, and imagining the scenarios of waiting for work... to end up with realizing we don't do something so simple as giving a kiss not because of usual reasons, but because we don't realize what work is...
The strange melding of tenses, give a sense of a man's life unfolding, living in a past, but reflecting about it decades later. As Marcie says, it is a little bit like watching a movie -- seeing it, and then, later discussing what it means to you.

Our Valley is another wonderful Levine poem -- but more transparent in the gorgeous lines
evoking the silence and grandeur of this valley in California. The use of words like "salt",
"dust" the repeat of "carve/carved" the sense of a "still small voice" gives a sacred aura.

Not to be confused with Philip, or Levine, the Phillis Levin brings us to the lizard part of our brain in a blizzard, when our survival mode behavior meets the emergency. There is a satisfying ending of the shovel scrape but the poem adds new layers of discovery where neighbors play a new role in emergencies, and we resort to what makes us feel safe...
Discussion included how humbling it is to be reminded of the weather;
as humans, we welcome a challenge and even become a bit self-congratulatory about weather challenge.

We ended on one of Philip Levine's favorite poets... a short, succinct and beautifully rendered poem that moves through the rhymes in short lines. How lovely it is that rhyme can carry and suggest new directions to a writer.

Replanski addresses the gradual process of dying...
without frills. no waste. Perhaps echoed by what Levine is striving for w/ choice of experience.

Terrific discussion thanks to terrific poems. This summary is only a dent.

Monday, February 23, 2015

"Oasis" February 19

Lines for Winter by Mark Strand
The Responsibility by Peter Appleton
I know a man by Robert Creeley
Scotch Tape World by Tom C. Hunley

Today as I write up the discussion, it is snowing again, and I love the idea of "telling myself" the things Strand reminds us to tell ourselves. We will go on, no matter where we will find ourselves, and tell yourself which you know is nothing "but the tune your bones play"
and in the final moment to tell yourself that you love what you are.

What does "loving what you are" look like to you? Do you too wonder what it is that keeps you from loving what you are -- not the "who" you are -- but the bones of it, the how of your tune.

Before reading aloud this poem I had stumbled on a poet's checklist about a good poem:
does it use imagination in a way that is honest with speaking to oneself, inspiring you as you write. I would think as reader, we look at the same: does the poet's voicing engage us, inspire us as we thread through the poem?
I enjoy Strand's trinity of "Tell yourself, each one allowed one line for the three syllables. The first opens the poem, the second after "Tonight as it gets cold" which gives us time and season and the third on the fourth line after "And if it happens that you cannot"
but it's not about not being able to "tell yourself" -- that is so strong, that even if it is your final word, you can end hearing your own voice say "you love what you are".

I find this an incredibly reassuring and restorative poem.

The next poem uses the accumulative effect some children's rhymes enjoy, with an agreeable rhyme and repeat taking us from THE Responsibility to being the one responsible "behind it all". A marvelous and sly way to reconsider our actions, and see ourselves in the mirror behind others. This is a very different man than Creeley's with the broken end-lines and a sense of disconnection between a friend and a man called John, which is not his name.
I loved that in reading it, the big car turned into a cigar!

Scotch Tape world pieces us back with Scotch, references to a Kenneth Patchen poem
and Paul Valery -- the first addressing a sense of road block
("The animal/I wanted couldn't get into the world" and the second framing
other lines penned, by Valery's words, "by someone/other than the poet to someone other than/
the reader.) My question to myself was why these references, other than perhaps their brush with the surreal/absurd.
We discussed moods -- how certain poems are more enjoyable depending on how we feel -- for instance, if you are in a funky mood this poem could be fun to play with. The idea of sunlight and mountain both shattering as an ending, go back to the title, where the imagination can contemplate how to piece it all together.

The final poem looks at Pinocchio-- his "Elegy for the Unreal" -- as a slant "if only I hadn't wished for..." with "the grass is greener on the other side. We discussed the child-like anger in the middle of the poem, "Listen up old man"--the way kids want and don't want control.
My last question to the group was whether the poem's ending left you satisfied. How does the image of the spider/luna moth, springing from Gepetto's cobwebbed (abandoned) workshop work for you?
Image of the Luna Moth as the fairy... the dinner too out of reach to be real?
Back to the title... the story, elegy, and our own stories and sense of regret, wishes, thwarted plans and redemption...

A new person, Greg, shared one of his original poems, "Touch".


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Poems for February 16

Credo by Matthew Rohrer
The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes
Adage by Billy Collins
The Brink by Caki Wilkinson
Wonder and Joy by Robinson Jeffers

The question arises, "what is poetry" and an age-old discussion ensues. Each poet, each reader of poetry will come up with a definition, a sense of satisfaction that some inner desire for words to capture feelings, understandings, intimations, mirrors. Perhaps this day, you want a message given with a sense of humor, perhaps that day you would prefer a sermon with notes of irrefutable solace, or a series of enigmatic questions.
Some days form will irritate, and you will want surprises, other days craft will enchant. Like music and art poetic "moods" are as variable as jazz, classic, romantic, or experimental music with further parentheses and overtones provided by different cultures and time periods preferences. Today, do you want to hear a bassoon portraying the Grandfather in Peter in the Wolf... or the orchestra portraying the troika carrying Lieutenant Kijé? Oh, you prefer watching late 19th century sailboats to whole tone scales... or some drama foreshadowed in a Verdi overture... or you want to feel curiosity tickled by a Wayne Higby cloud-covered jar.

But what makes one poem "poetry" more than another. It was brave to bring up the question --
and my hope, week after week, is that the selections and our discussions about them provide a multi-faceted, but never quite complete, answer. Perhaps for any poem we could ask, "How am I engaged with it, and if not, can I at least describe what the poem is doing, or failing to do?"

Given the title, of the first poem, "Credo" -- what expectations do you have? Would you have thought it would turn to address love? How does the enjambed (stanza break) word "entirely" work? Are you expecting "so we fall in love" to complete the sentence, "I believe there is something else/
entirely going on but no single
person can ever know it,..."

Does the consequence "so, we fall in love", some might call an absurd juxtaposition allow the "open cans" to be larger than a simple physical detail to adopt a metaphorical openness and suggest something about "canned" regarding being human?

Words are powerful, but I would argue that Credo is more than words that stir us. The poet has chosen 4 stanzas, line breaks, images, in simple, approachable speech leading us to discover through the choices to an unexpected universal we can appreciate.

For the second poem, I asked if a white person could capture the tone Langston Hughes paints for us as a Negro speaking. One could ask as well, "could a woman write this poem about a man the way the male poet did" -- and does any of this make a difference in the impact of the poem...?
What makes the tone quality? How do the repeated words, like "ancient" change-- or the repeated "My soul has grown deep like the rivers." Does the feel of "I have known" give a more general, distant sense of the past vs. I bathed, built, looked, heard...which introduce past civilizations, the many "colors" of black. My favorite line is the "muddy bosom turned golden" which is loaded with implications.

For Collins, we were glad to hear others feel a sense of guilty pleasure liking his poetry, which sounds so simple on the surface, yet which playfully arrives at something more complex. The poem itself demonstrates the twisting of adages to arrive the nature of love. Brilliant!

The Brink: it's worthwhile to read about the author and some customer reviews about Wynona poems:

The multiple meanings of "broaching", the repeated sounds, the development of thwarted development gives a cruel portrait of someone who will probably not escape her double negative,that opens (one indulgence she can't not allow) and closes
(storm that's never not approaching.) the poem.

I suggested reading the Jeffers sonnet line by line, which really is to the detriment of the phrasing.
Although old-fashioned in style, by the third line from the end "...Who never felt" has the sense of being both connected to "is unfortunate" as well as embracing what lies between separated by two colons.
"This wondering joy may yet be good or great:" (a sentence in itself, but enjambed from the prior line; fenced in by the colon)
"But envy him not: he is not fortunate."
It reminds me indirectly of the Desiderata -- "Go placidly among the noise and haste... do not compare yourself to others, for you shall become either vain or bitter". Joy is all about, if we can stop to see it in simple things like sunlight, birds flying...

As ever, the group did a marvelous job bringing in observations, a little research, a few anecdotes, but returning to the poem to allow it to speak.
Were these all poems? Yes. How do they affirm a sense of poetry? Ask the 20 people in the group for a wonderful variety of answers!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Poems for February 12 - Oasis

Ode to Bicycles by Pablo Neruda
Poets Walk poems: also discussed at O Pen Jan. 26
passage from San Ildefonso Nocturne by Octavio Paz
beware : do not read this poem by Ishmael Reed
Which Side Are You On? Janine Pommy Vega
Touched by Deborah Tall

if time this one:
Telephone Repairman by Joseph Millar

In today's discussion, I didn't mean to be the one talking so much, instead of listening...

Ode to Bicycles: questions -- what would the Spanish sound like -- did the translator stay faithful to the form? is a phrase such as "giving/ their eyes/ to summer" an example of multi-layering with an antiquated feel?
I sense workers and girls giving... their eyes to summer -- as in, looking at summer...

only moving... allows us to feel alive -- we come alive when we sense we're needed -- like the bicycle... Lovely loping of lines... to tell a snippet of story...

see Jan. 26: Octavio Paz... Poets Walk poems.
If you don't know where San Ildefonso is, if you do not know the whole poem but only this passage, what do you understand? What keeps it from feeling like a sermon, or somewhat didactic diary? Is the translation imitating the original?
The back and forth of the lineation allows a sense of breath balancing between choices, ideas of what poetry, history, truth as revealed in our lives... A noun such as "sun-on-the-stones,
and the dissolution of the name in the "beyond of stones" is a beautiful place called "poetry"-- the suspension bridge between history and truth--- but then to find out history is not a path to somewhere... but a place where we are given a chance to know ourselves.

Jan 26 post:
Ishmael Reed's "Beware of this Poem" was a great hit -- the play of mirrors, the way the poem itself becomes alive, and when asking Ishmael about the poem, his response: Glad that you liked my poem. I didn't know how to end it. The statistic cited during a radio broadcast gave me the last lines. I don't think the broadcast could have come up with disappearance as "only
a space in the lives of their friends...
Today, Feb. 12 -- Lincoln's birthday, black history month... and George mentioning that Ishmael Reed was the speech writer (he thinks) of Martin Luther King's speeches... 1968 as the radical year... year of assassinations, disappearances... a great poem to match with Beverly Pepper's "Vertical Ventaglio" or "Six Cubes" in the MAG's sculpture garden.

Janine Pomy Vega: see Jan. 26 comments

As a beat poet, she creates a poem which shows tangents, disconnections... the poem itself a "temple of possibility". What are "yellow helmets" -- symbols of war-- what you wear when you go into the deep caverns of self? helmets with lights on them to mine underground...

The poem tile is "gift on the altar" which is how the words feel. She mentions Kabir and Rumi,
with some contemporary spin: "Read the coins you've thrown down into the dirt,
they spell integrity"...
Now what does that mean? (see discussion Jan. 26) perhaps like being on both sides of a mirror -- the part of you put on for appearances or the part inside no one but you can see... Perhaps also a poem written in the Vietnam war period -- taking sides -- who is right? wrong? the sides... might include the "in" and "out" of sides... The question in both title and final line -- how can language help us find the answer?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Poems for February 9 (originally for Feb. 2)

Tableau: 6:30 AM by Kath M. Anderson
See by Sally Bitter-Bonn, from her book Orange
Creation Stories by Tom Holmes
Amelia Bloomer’s Stride by Anne Coon
I Know a Man by Robert Creeley: Audio: access

All poems from Poets Walk:

How to read a poem...
Tableau 6:30 a.m. seems to ask the reader to dwell with it... associations with tableau,
early morning... I thought it would be interesting to allow each person to read the poem silently... you could have heard a pin drop, and there was an uncanny sense for me, watching people read, of being an observer, just as the speaker of the poem was observing a moment between husband and daughter. Usually we just plunge into a poem -- but the idea was to allow
each participant to "view" the poem, the way one might in a museum.
When I asked what picture was evoked, it was fun to see the different reactions -- just like picking up on different details in a painting. For some, a sense of action, others, a capture of nestling. Mentioned: Role of northern lights, associations and memories of a father's fierce love to a little daughter, curiosity about the mother, her role and relationship.
The title prepares us for a "staged moment". It is fitting that the poem tile reads, "flares porous" which brought us to discuss porosity... as two moments which fuse. wealth of past... to now. Time itself has openings as in "the unphrased wealth/
of her three-year old dreams" --

Whatever complication of relationship (perhaps the mother is jealous of the father) in the poem, we did not sense conflict... As reader, we felt invited to look, to be part of the poem...

See: This poem we read in different ways.

Choosing where to pause, so with a progression of readers ready to pick up where one voice stops without a break. Rather magical!
We noted the difference between blending the title into the poem... and not. How that effects "See" as both specific and universal.
One person suggested that the poem end without the
"she gathers clouds
tucks them into her pocket”
Of course, the poem tile has “she gathers clouds” — and it is a charming image, but the person who offered it, felt it edged a little on the “precious”.

We admired how grass tips could be read as one more thing her jumper touches, but also, with “tips” as a verb —as if the grass was the agent “tipping” perhaps both to the line before, and leading to the next line.

Creation Stories:
The first, one after that, and then the next becomes a plural "creations" Stanza break... the last... the verb "invented" is used except one in the second stanza where "created" (not invented)is not associated with things but with the verb consuming-- an ironic twist of
uncreating. If read anaphor by anaphor vs. two stanzas, a quite different feel, but the poem more cohesive in two parts, the first, not so much about "us" as creation; the second about what we have done and the use of kiss, caress, embrace ending in feeding ourselves back to the volcano... perhaps an endless knot -- but also a sense of true end, with a changed use of affection as survival. I've asked Tom to comment on why the poem is "after W.S. Merwin and Rob Carney."

Amelia Bloomer's Stride:
Strong but not strident voice, evocative of the strong women who protested restrictions on women's rights from Amelia Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. -- up to images of Amelia Earhart or Katherine Hepburn in pants. Discussion included a comparison between a man wearing a "tight" bathing costume, vs a women who was arrested for such... bloomers on table legs... refraining from saying chicken "legs, thighs, breasts, etc." The key word: stride which gives the poem a bigger scope -- the very thing despised, the very thing that moves us along.

I know a man: Creeley
We listened to Creeley's recording...
how lines are staccato with gasps... sighs... but what is the tone at the end?
angry? dispairing? Although the recorded voice is less flat than in other poems, the question comes up of whether a poet allows his or her poem to be all that it is conceived to be-- or all the reader wants it to be.
Whether or not one wants to read it as an overheard bar conversation,
a joke of "knowing a man" without knowing...or the speaker revealing himself...
to steal from a John Kelly in the article below: "Creeley’s poetry is sparing without being sparse, emotive without being emotional, spontaneous without being uncontrolled".

For such a short poem, we spent some high-powered time on it -- !

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oasis: Poems for February 5

You Reading This, be Ready by William Stafford
The Kindness by Jan Beatty
Travellers by Philip Larkin (compare it to Perlman

from Poets Walk
Dear Father, Dear Sound by Kazim Ali
Bus Stop by Laure-Anne Bosselaar (-- from A New Hunger. Copyright © 2007)
For a complete alphabetized list of the poems and bio on the poets:

Sadly, not here to moderate, but I trust people will have fun with the poems.

read line by line. Then, re-read, stanza by stanza. It’s up to the reader to determine the pause or not at the end of the line. It’s like a fermata in music – the conductor is the one who determines how long, sometimes showing a new tempo before going on.
How does this change your understanding?
**is the sound is "softened" in a paradoxical way --
*** the waiting is drawn out?

**** this/the line: enjambment drops to New glimpse; as if to ask us to lift it up;
***** another “interval” of silence added before reading "reading'

He has used 14 lines --is it an unrhymed sonnet? The volta (turn) after 8 lines, is the actual word, "turn", repeats at the end of the poem. The "starting" begins the first and last line as well as in the first line of the 3rd stanza. The title warns us to be Ready. The starting brings us to "now" and forces the reader to re-examine the idea of "starting" which never ends.

The line breaks only contain one comma, in the penultimate line, which draws attention to the lines which seem to have an invisible comma, as well as give a "rubato" to the "now," -- a drawn out pause. Perhaps, one could argue that the comma turns "now" within the question. This rubato effect could be used to emphasize the words, "right now" (7th line) associated with the place of now, in the last line "right in this room"(say slower with emphasis) -- the R doubles in "right" and "room" as if to underline the meaning of right as "exactly" and "correct" -- a double underline on the understanding and value of "now".

In this poem, have one person read the italics so they stand out. Read phrase by phrase – so up to the colon; up to periods. AFTER DISCUSSION, read the author’s note –does it reflect the poem the way you understand it?
“In ‘The Kindness’ I speak about the breathlessness of the single gesture. The woman in the poem is transported between worlds inside of one moment—and then saved by the unassuming movement of the baby elk/the human hand.”
—Jan Beatty

Larkin contrast with Perlman (see discussion Jan. 5)

Contrast Ali with Bosselaer
Ali's poem from “The 40th Day” should be read in couplets. It might also help to know more about the entire book. At one point, Kazim decided to play with having a poem have couplets reduce to single lines.
Could any couplet in this poem be “reduced”?
Does it feel disembodied, with an “I” and a “You” that can’t converse with each other?

Do couplets establish any polarity? Any moment of surprise? Or is it a collage, where the sound covers like paint on a canvas. Does it make you curious, or frustrated?

Rochester connection: Ali lived in Rochester, taught at MCC, is a BOA poet, and gave a reading at Steve Carpenter’s Gallery before becoming an assistant professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College and teaching in the low-residency MFA program of the University of Southern Maine and the Stonecoast MFA program. A founding editor of Nightboat Books, Ali is also the translator and author of novels, including Quinn’s Passage (blazeVox books), named one of "The Best Books of 2005" by Chronogram magazine.

This poem captures one moment of overheard conversation. How does the setting play (title); what do we know about the man both from his words, but also by the way he holds his cell as if holding a physical presence... A good narrative sets up a moment of surprise – how has Laure-Anne done it here?

Background: Bosselaar grew up in Belgium, where she worked for Belgian radio and television. Fluent in four languages, she moved to the United States in 1986. She lives in New York City and is on the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College. Her books of poems include "A New Hunger" and "The Hour Between Dog and Wolf," both published by BOA Editions. She read in the Writers & Books Visiting Writers Series