Friday, October 9, 2015

Discussion October 7-8

I opened with a few reflections from BOA poet. Nickole Brown.
beauty and truth, called as unnecessary,in the same category of friendship which we know gives value to survival. When we read poems out loud, we can taste the word music... what feels like “uncanny butter on the tongue-- stains it ... / thickens the saliva. Laure Bosselaer's choices: plethora, indolence, damask, lasciviousness...
At O Pen: a few offered these words: cellar door/salubrious/marmelade...

I am so grateful for our fostering of community! the poems we carry with us...
and demand our awareness ... like a spiritual devotion to paying attention...

The poems this week except for 2 had a prose-poem look of block text. Why this choice and how does it affect the poem's working?
Flowering Olives, by James Wright
Regret for a Spider Web, by James Wright
From Blossoms by Li-Young Lee
136 Syllables at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center by Allen Ginsberg
Going Home by Maurice Kenny
Einstein's Clock (1905) by Campbell McGrath

3 of the poems came from the APR Sept/Oct. issue. How different the tone of James Wright from Campbell McGrath... how different again the use of blossoms, with Wright's olive blossom, Li-Young Lee's peach blossom, both folding layers of mindfulness into them...
How clever of Ginsberg, celebrated for his reading of "Howl" this week, to take 136 syllables in haiku technique ... and another poem from Poets Walk by Maurice Kenny who captures the heart-wrenching experience of going "home" in winter, and what "home" means when returning to an Indian reservation. We end with a prose poem that winds the energy of science in 1905 with a bit of tongue-in-cheek about just what mass and energy, and touch of hunger for a bit of sausage, rye, apples and tea.

oh... as Lee says, impossible... referring to the blossoms-- but also how the 30-odd people reading and sharing these poems each draw a different depth of meaning from them--meaning is perhaps unpinnable, but like blossoms, regenerative, as it cycles from a look at nature, being human, spiders and poets weaving webs of meaning.

The first lines of the poems are wonderful points of departure:
It is futile to pretend...
Laying the foundations of community...
From blossoms
Tail turned to red sunset
The book lay unread in my lap
Something is ticking

But I am not being fair to the poets. The first line involves deep looking; the second, the solitary labor of a spider and a humble poet observing the web she is making over him;
In the third poem an evocation of jubilance of peach, which came from a blossom.
In the fourth poem, my next to favorite line is "A dandelion seed floats above the marsh grass with the mosquitos" which resolves my favorite : Mad at Oryoki (mindfulness) in the shrine-room-- thistles blossomed late afternoon. Nothing to do with the lone magpie in the opening line. Except, the alone-ness shared by the spider.

By the time we arrive at the Native American poem, filled with adjectives like "tired" for rivers; "closed" for mills; "cold" for graves, "steaming and frozen" for horses and earth;
and the unrecognizable "home" with gossipy aunts and unknown faces, we are back in recognizable poetry territory. Lines that strike at emotion of one man's story, and a wondering about those door "my father shut" which ends the poem. A little peep into someone else's life, which makes you want to count your blessings for connections in your live.

The last one is a heaping of leaping strokes of history-- 15th century clocks along with 1905-- with a mention of Marie Curie's 1911 work; paradox of radium; David quoted Stevens' famous line about surrealism: invents without discovery. Certainly that feel of an endless wading through an encyclopedia, but not without a sense McGrath is having a lot of fun.

The more I read it, the more I can chuckle at it, but I confess, it took a while to get in the mood to appreciate such a relentless block of text. Is it a prose poem? It is more than a self-absorbed list poem... how does it grab you?

Fun discussions both days -- do read the poems and share your responses!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Poems for October 7 (Rundel for Oct. 8) + commentary on Prose Poem

Flowering Olives by James Wright
Regret for a Spider Web by James Wright
From Blossoms, by Li-Young Lee
136 Syllables at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center by Allen Ginsberg
Going Home by Maurice Kenny
Einstein’s Clock (1905) p. 21 APR, Sept/Oct 2015*by Campbell McGrath

I include Campbell McGrath's "Prose Poem" below--
How do you read a block of words like this? After reading, are there phrases you return to?
what meanings appear to you? Discussion will be mainly on the James Wright poems, as prose pieces compared to the McGrath. In contrast, a lyric/narrative/epiphany by Li-Young Lee, a beat poet experiment, an American Indian poem
The Prose Poem
Campbell McGrath

On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard, though driving past you would hardly notice it, this boundary line or ragged margin, a shallow swale that cups a simple trickle of water, less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell, a tangled ditch grown up throughout with a fearsome assortment of wildflowers and bracken. There is no fence, though here and there a weathered post asserts a former claim, strands of fallen wire taken by the dust. To the left a cornfield carries into the distance, dips and rises to the blue sky, a rolling plain of green and healthy plants aligned in close order, row upon row upon row. To the right, a field of wheat, a field of hay, young grasses breaking the soil, filling their allotted land with the rich, slow-waving spectacle of their grain. As for the farmers, they are, for the most part, indistinguishable: here the tractor is red, there yellow; here a pair of dirty hands, there a pair of dirty hands. They are cultivators of the soil. They grow crops by pattern, by acre, by foresight, by habit. What corn is to one, wheat is to the other, and though to some eyes the similarities outweigh the differences it would be as unthinkable for the second to commence planting corn as for the first to switch over to wheat. What happens in the gully between them is no concern of theirs, they say, so long as the plough stays out, the weeds stay in the ditch where they belong, though anyone would notice the wind-sewn cornstalks poking up their shaggy ears like young lovers run off into the bushes, and the kinship of these wild grasses with those the farmer cultivates is too obvious to mention, sage and dun-colored stalks hanging their noble heads, hoarding exotic burrs and seeds, and yet it is neither corn nor wheat that truly flourishes there, nor some jackalopian hybrid of the two. What grows in that place is possessed of a beauty all its own, ramshackle and unexpected, even in winter, when the wind hangs icicles from the skeletons of briars and small tracks cross the snow in search of forgotten grain; in the spring the little trickle of water swells to welcome frogs and minnows, a muskrat, a family of turtles, nesting doves in the verdant grass; in summer it is a thoroughfare for raccoons and opossums, field mice, swallows and black birds, migrating egrets, a passing fox; in autumn the geese avoid its abundance, seeking out windrows of toppled stalks, fatter grain more quickly discerned, more easily digested. Of those that travel the local road, few pay that fertile hollow any mind, even those with an eye for what blossoms, vetch and timothy, early forsythia, the fatted calf in the fallow field, the rabbit running for cover, the hawk’s descent from the lightning-struck tree. You’ve passed this way yourself many times, and can tell me, if you would, do the formal fields end where the valley begins, or does everything that surrounds us emerge from its embrace?

Friday, September 25, 2015

poems for September 23

Life is Beautiful by Dorianne Laux
Embedding the Cancer Port by Robert King
Veterans Day, 2014 by Jared Harel
Days of Heaven by Carl Dennis
RAS Syndrome by Adam Fitzgerald

Life IS beautiful... and Dorianne Laux reminds us how. "Life is beautiful...
and remote, and useful,"
but stop for a minute to think how these three adjectives work. The effiency of flies, which we wish remote, the whole process of waste and maggots,which normally we do not view as part of "beauty"... Reading outloud, how can you not love the wording... the g’s...verb choices...
Indeed, when you don’t have a ton of people, you see each individual as an individual....
We want flies and worms and garbage remote... and perhaps shun how they might be useful, miss the beauty...
These lines capture the sound and pulse of what lies outside and inside of us:
"hear the dull thrum of generation's industry,
feel its fleshly wheel churn the fire inside us."
Indeed, "We are gorged, engorging, and gorgeous." the first two adjectives so visceral, and leading us to a throaty exclamation of beautiful.

The next poem draws a metaphor of a cancer port to the commerce and trade of a harbor, the balancing act of positives and negatives, exotic goods associated with trade routes and antiquity, and contemporary scientific terms for chemo; line breaks sail like ships
"the narrow street can reach the marketplace
of the aorta, receptive to any

incoming ship," ...
with the first period coming at the end of the 3rd stanza.

Don explained the port to us, and the delicate balance of the chemo so this sentence echoed with real fact --

"I carry it secretly under my skin
because it is easier."

The final sentence weaves lightly through 7 lines provoking a sense of mystery of what we well as the sense of what it is like watching a port inside of you, bringing its "goods and evils".

Veterans Day, which won the Stanley Kunitz prize captures a ragged feel to mood swings and contradiction. The broken lines, repetitions, jarring juxtapositions, sports language enthusiasm applied like PDQ Bach’s mock sportscast of Beethoven’s 5th, clearly had an almost bipolar sense of thoughts/counter thoughts. The shock of watching a beheading on the news, then doing crunches on a clown-nose-red exercise ball, the ironic "never before had I felt
so damaged, so lucky" which packs in survival at a cost... the stray wallet, could be the stray bullet... the happenstance of accident, luck of the game, whether baseball or war.

The Carl Dennis poem is a marvelous look at Gods and Humans, and how really, it might be good if we finally "got over ourselves". Days of Heaven, of course, applied to humans could get us into trouble, especially when the Gods cease to be immortal, and mirror back our inescapable headstrong will, quick anger, slowness to forgive. He plays with the metaphor in a humorous way:

Every death means a divine occasion
Has been taken from us, a divine perspective,

and certainly turns the vocabulary that could adopt a sacred tone into a tongue-in-check look, where the breeze ruffles our divinity and creates a halo of cloud... I love that brother sun sets at the end of the poem, "Undarkened by accusation or disappointment
Or the thought of something he’s left undone."

The final poem was fun in a much lighter manner. RAS means (short for "redundant acronym syndrome syndrome") refers to the use of one or more of the words that make up an acronym or initialism.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

September 30

Yesterday I had mentioned "Poets’ Corner” by John Lithgow, available from Rundel as a 5 CD collection that selects poets from Chaucer to present day with biographical material and a sample poem. I like the serendipity of listening to this after just having just read for O Pen some Ben Jonson, (Lithgow calls “The passionate poet” and describes “the tribe of Ben), Robert Herrick (Lithgow calls “The Cavalier Poet) and Filing Station which he selects to demonstrate the art of Elizabeth Bishop (he calls the poets’ poet).
David has kindly offered to moderate next Wednesday’s session with the Wordsworth and Bishop poems from Sept. 9: To wit, The Fish, (read but not discussed), In the Waiting Room, and her villanelle, One Art.

poems for September 9 (see Sept. 30)

David has kindly offered to lead discussion of these poems by Elizabeth Bishop (and one by Wordsworth)
Filling Station
The Fish
My Heart Leaps Up (Wordsworth)
In The Waiting Room
One Art

What a program of poems... it does not surprise me that in the hour and a half, only Filling Station was discussed, and The Fish read.

The Filling Station gives me shivers -- the surprising ending -- how after the relentless repetition of dirty, the station, suit, family,the dog (who is comfy) the pervasive oil, the warning --"Be Careful", the attention to detail, including the taboret, the dim doily (embroidered with daisy stitch...)Bishop might be called "a poets' poet" -- certainly she works her vocabulary carefully -- no one would speak of a "hirsute begonia", which sounds like an "extraneous plant" which indeed has no reason for being in this dirty station.
And then, the final stanza brings in "somebody" -- like an unidentified mystery
Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the cans

for this uncannily soft whisper "es so (it is so), so - so
(not so-so, as not important at all)but so, as in, so it is, which rhymes with sew,
the way our lives are stitched together... how we are, indirectly like those "high-strung automobiles." to which the cans whisper... And then the final "somebody" --
Somebody loves us all.

Rundel : Sept. 17

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963 (see Sept. 2)
And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name by John Ashbery (see Aug. 3)
Breezeway by John Ashbery (see Aug. 3)
The Blues by Billy Collins (see Aug. 3)
My Heart Leaps Up by William Wordsworth, 1770 - 1850 (see Sept. 30)
One Art by Elizabeth Bishop (see Sept. 30)

I love the first John Ashbury poem which I have used previously -- and I love that I can bring the same poem at a different time, to a different group of people, and listen to an entirely different discussion.

For me, the idea of personifying the Horatian advice, "as in painting, poetry" is sheer delight, as that is one of my most favorite things to present in lectures and share, blending my work as docent at the MAG and as poet, especially with the Poets Walk, outside the MAG.

Since the poem came hard on the heels of I, I, I and Frostian choices, the you, you, you, and avuncular advice about what is more or less an ars poetic applied to a poem-painting, seemed rather pretentious with a slightly irreverent tone.
Well... I thought it was funny... tongue-in-cheek, looking at the richness in a world of possibilities -- and a desire to communicate it(the longest line in the poem -- not just desire, but this contradictory "Rousseau-like foliage of an empty mind's desire" --
and this idea of understanding you, deserting you, and the idea of an endless realm of creation, with the act of understanding understood to be something once begun, as an undoing.
Back to that opening line: You can't say that anymore.

Breezeway also struck people as surreal, with everything on a dangling thread.
and one person wondered if it was a way of addressing the need for empathy.
Imagine if we didn't club someone because we don't get along with that view of the universe...
imagine if we weren't like a new catalogue from which a Batman promptly turns away.

The contrast in the easy manner of "The Blues" bringing a healing sense of feelings was much appreciated.

Leaving behind the late 20th and early 21st century, it was pleasant to return the the rhyming of the romantic Wordsworth (1770-1850) -- the poem "surprised by joy" and whose heart leaps up at the sight of a rainbow. Such confidence and exuberance in the exclamation point!
The paradox of being still a child, even in our adult selves, the blending of natural world to spiritual... isn't there some of the Noah seeing the rainbow as God's promise?

We ended on the villanelle by Elizabeth Bishop -- this too was not so well-received...
which put a damper on my ability to coax the deeper layers -- the "aster" as the star in disaster; the contradiction of saying losing is an art not difficult to master, when it is anything but easy. Intellectually, we can say losing keys, 3 houses, a watch, cities, realms, is perhaps a regrettable loss... but to turn to the you, to lose a lover, may look like disaster. And so she writes it, a fourth time, balanced with the four times "the art of losing isn't hard to master". From the impersonal, loss is no disaster; missed opportunities, neither will bring disaster; it takes two more stanzas and an accumulation of losses to arrive at
"I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster". Are you convinced by the final stanza of the necessity of mastering the art of losing?

September 16

Telescope by Louise Gl├╝ck (Rundel: 9/24)

Three poems referred to in Tonight, I am in love by Dorianne Laux
Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount by Ben Jonson 1572–1637
Whenas in Silks by Robert Herrick (1591–1674)
from The Temple (1633), by George Herbert: Dulnesse

Tonight, I am in love by Dorianne Laux

You Make the Culture – by Amy King
A Sweet Disorder by John Ashbery
A Sweet Disorder – by Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

The first poem is the sort to be read several times in different ways, and after a third reading, I started to experiment with ending the poem in different places, as if the poem were two separate poems: one addressing an otherworldliness, to which a telescope links us,
the other, a problem of understanding, how it is not perception, but our relationship to it that is difficult. Whether read as a philosophical, psychological, cosmological poem, there is a hint of Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" in the cold hill... and his famous "negative capability" -- that is being able to hold uncertainty, mystery, doubt.
What is our field of vision, as we focus on a far-away object... can we be lost in this the same way without the telescope? How do we bring things into our vision?

For the poem by Dorianne Laux, I selected three of the references, which reminded us of why a delicious use of word and image makes us glad for it. Ben Jonson, as the passionate poet, brings us the slow, slow... the four drops... the tearing tears (eye rhyme producing a sense of torn and teary)and the heavy fall of grief. If you couldn't imagine the grief of Echo and Narcissus, Ben provides you with it. Love, pining, pining away...

The Herrick shimmers with the physicality of silk,the texture of "taketh me" filling the mouth as if kissing... Discussion included the time period of Herrick -- the idea of bringing science into poetry, such as "liquefaction" (applied to garments slipping). A Sensuous read aloud indeed!

The Herbert brought up Bakhti Yoga, (Love of God in personal way); and restlessness in the Gita which asks us to do the work only to which you are you entitled, not the fruit thereof"
Donne: but that you ravish me... batter my heart 3 person god.
Herbert also wrote the Pulley.. God with a glass of blessings...withholds the blessing of rest.
The poem for me rests on this:
Where are my lines then? my approaches? views?
Dulness... next door to the melancholy. Herbert seems to include the reader as he implores God to help him learn to praise Him.

I love Dorianne's poem... indeed, I am in love... with poetry -- which the richness, and love how she weaves in lines from other authors, leaving the feeling her own imagination is infused with them. The pacing, sounds, work like a beautiful jazz improvisation on all poetry provides, has provided, will continue to provide.

Amy King's poem calls on contemporary culture, a very different tone, as if piecing together shards of what is broken. "I break bread with the handwriting of words." -- we commune, breaking a larger spiritual piece, to join together...

The two "Sweet Disorders" made me want to put Ashbery with Herrick in the same room to see who could outwit whom, and who would have more fun doing so! Both have a marvelous conversational flow as they address the imagination.

Summary of Rundel:
The opening poem, Telescope set the tone for the sense of things going in one direction, then changing to another.
References to the Dorianne Laux poem also included Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick and George Herrick… but her words, wound around the inspirations of the old, translate the emotion of what draws us to love…

Ending with two poems with the same title, but over 400 years apart completed the plate. Ashbery/Herrick: Why enter into a surrealist dream, except that the out-of-context conversation leaves you feeling that you recognize something you too understand in terms of emotional response to a situation? Is Ashbery presenting a bad dream or a movie about a bartender and person ordering a “Surely Temple” and all the layers of cherry, Shirley… a flashback about a once lover… Pardon my sarong becomes Pardon my past… and a poke at the idea one should be, look, act a certain way. Do I wake or sleep… and on to odes to Nightingales and Keats…
And Herrick’s disorderly couplets sustaining what Dean Young might call “The Art of Recklessness”.