Thursday, December 11, 2014

December 1

Please find poems for the first of December! I have finished galloping behind in the November issue of "Poetry" and in the email provided links to translators notes in this special issue on translation. To keep up the Irish spirit, you will find a translation of Seán Ó Ríordáin, but also Yiddish and French.
I was delighted to see a Chinese and Anglo name for Liu Xia's ekphrastic poem, UR's Jennifer Grotz and Piotr Sommer* for Jerzy Ficowski's poem and further to find out more about the poets themselves. Grotz alludes to George Steiner’s “total reading” where meaning and interpretation lie beyond the text and a quick look at Bonnefoy will yield this thought: poetry is less about saying something about reality than coupling with it, less an accidental formulation than a quest for a light that is beyond words.
Although Larry Levis writes in English, I like how he adopts 15th century French poet François Villon.

Empty Chairs (p. 110) by Liu Xia
August 5, 1942, (p. 112) by Jerzy Ficowski
The Museum (p. 123) by Yves Bonnefoy
Switch, (p. 136)by Seán Ó Ríordáin
What Will Stay Behind (p. 147) Abraham Sutkzever

Also considered, but not used:
François Villon on the Condition of Pity in Our Time (p. 116) by Larry Levis

The first poem implies connection, and a state of becoming in spite of repeating three times, "empty"
and "leave", where empty chairs seem to wait, trapped in their "frozen state". It's the sort of poem I like, because I read it several times, and start to see new relationships... ideas -- one doesn't question that the speaker of the poem is sitting in a Van Gogh painting, nor that he doesn't see her.

The Ficowski poem is memorable, with the repeated "I don't know", the doctor in the holocaust... the comparison with Charon, the "I know" at the end...

After it, it feels trivial to comment on the sounds of Bonnefoy's poem, or the changing registers of the Riordain.

In a way, all of the poems addressed the "mirror man" of our selves. Certainly the Sutzkever, one of the “Diary Poems” were, like his earliest work, a navigation through the landscape of the self. We closed with the In Memoriam by Alastair Reid 3/221926- 9/21/2014 printed on the inside cover of the November issue of Poetry.

Could it have been mine,
that face—cold, alien—
that an unexpected mirror,
crossed by a quick look,
flashed me back?

It was a moment’s chance,
since, at second glance,
the face has turned familiar—
my mouth again, my eyes
wide in surprise.

Now, though I verify
oddness of bone and eye,
we are no longer one,
myself and mirror-man.
Trust has gone.

I had thought them sure,
the face and self I wore.
Yet, with no glass about,
what selves, whose unsuspected
faces stare out?
-- from Poetry, February 1959
reprinted in the inside cover of the November 2014 issue

Friday, November 28, 2014

Poems for Lunch November 20

To Spareness -- Jane Hirshberg
The Sentence -- Ana Akhmatova***
Moon by Frederick Smock;
Theory of Memory by Louise Glück;
Dreamwood by Adrienne Rich
Song in Winter by Marianne Boruch
Song Again, in Spring

see discussion on November 17 (summarized by Kimberley) of the Hirschberg and Akhmatova.
Hirsjhfield's definition of spareness by defining the opposite, in a full round of views
honors Spareness as if to praise it.
I brought up the French épargner: to spare also means to save. Hirshfield's words invite opposite meanings like that, for spareness.

For the Ahkmatova, the discussion revolved around how to understand a fragment of a translation.
What survival skills-- how to live, if you kill memory, imagine brilliant day/deserted house?

The Smock seemed childlike -- first stanza engaging, but the next two arrive like adult sledgehammers.
So, in case you didn't get it: We're the illusion the moon is looking at. There's no magic, no discovery.

The Glück comes from her new book, "Faithful and Virtuous Night" which just received an award.
Prose like this is not as compelling to me as poems. If the future will erase the present... or vice-verse, what is the difference of understanding dream/hypothesis vs. what we think is?

I picked Dreamwood because one of my friends used the opening lines as epigraph for his chapbook and I find them intriguing. We noted "late report" was not "last report" -- late as in tardy, as in dead. -- material and dream.
Compared to the short prose passage, there was substance in images: typing, map, wooden stand...

The Boruch poems also border dream/reality. Doom is or it isn't.
Shape seeking..
this "we", this "our " and "us" thing...
a play on part -- as a share of something -- part coward...
something divided...
strange meditations.

Poems for November 17 (report from Kimberley Ferrance) _ Nov. 24

1. Judith: Although she could not be here for our Nov. 3 discussion including Grass Fingers by Angelina Weld Grimke, she will share an 1868 letter from Angelina to her newly discovered nephews...
2. Although we discussed somewhat that beauty of this poem, read aloud, here is the audio version: followed by the written version

Poems: (see discussion November 5 at Rundel)
First Song by Galway Kinnell
The Cellist by Galway Kinnell
Saint Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell

To Spareness by Jane Hirshfield
The Sentence by Anna Ahkmatova

Each one of these poems demand a quiet space to allow the words to resonate beyond the sounds they make.

Kimberley reports: Our minds ran away with us a little with the sexual inuendos in the Cello poem. The First Song evoked appreciation for simple things and how sometimes you may find the beauty in something that others wouldn't have thought to. The Sow went as expected, Emily expressed her love of all animals and cherished the sow. Everyone was wondering if there was a story behind the Saint Francis and sow connection outside of him being patron saint of animals. Jane Hirshfield wowed many people, especially all the detail and examples of spareness she includes. As a group we recalled that we all always love her work and never came across a poem of hers we didn't like. The Sentence was looked at after a handful of people had gone since it was 1:15ish. Also, it felt like a fragment and that it needed some context. We compared two translations of the second stanza and marveled at what a difference the translator can make. I had recalled that this was part of a longer piece but never can pull things out of my brain when I need to. So I refreshed my memory at home and shared.

*** from Kimberley:
For explanation purposes, I think it best to start from the micro-perspective and put the piece in context with the macro, therefore anyone can explore as far as they wish. My main source for this information is The Complete Poems of ANNA AKHMATOVA: Updated & Expanded Edition; 1994; Translations by Judith Hemschemeyer and Editing by Roberta Reeder. (forgive me, I forget my APA citing format)

The Sentence is seven (VII) of a fifteen part poetry & prose cycle entitled REQUIEM. This part is dated June 22, 1939, which is the actual day Anna’s son, Lev Gumilyov, was sentenced to a labor camp in Leningrad. Therefore, the title is literal. Of course we can all then explicate that the “stone word” is a metaphor for the verdict passed down. (or not, who am I to interpret for you)

Lev Gumilyov came from the union of Anna and Nikolay Gumilyov, Anna’s first husband. They met in 1903 when she was only 14, then married in 1910. By the time of The Sentence, Nikolay had already been imprisoned for taking part in a counter-revolutionary plot and executed in 1921.

REQUIEM is described as “a tribute to the ordeal of the victims of the Terror and women who waited in the prison lines hoping to get word of them,” and is “based on her (Anna’s) own experience in Leningrad.”

This is all in the time of Stalin and his “purge” that took place in Russia. There was a ban on publication of Anna’s work from 1925-1940. She began writing REQUIEM in 1935, but was afraid to actually write it down. She recited the verses to trustworthy friends so that they could be passed along, memorized and later reassembled.

REQUIEM wasn’t published in the Soviet Union until 1989.

ref. AKHMATOVA as a “pen name”: carries more weight than that. Her father insisted she change her name when she was just a teenager and had begun writing poetry. He did not want his name to be associated with the trade of a poet. The name comes from a maternal ancestor.

Poems for November 24
Eaven Boland
Atlantis—A Lost Sonnet by Eavan Boland
The Lost Art of Handwriting by Eavan Boland
The Lost Land by Eavan Boland
The Journey by Eavan Boland

In “The Journey,” you write that “somewhere a poet is wasting / his sweet uncluttered metres on the obvious // emblem instead of the real thing.” What is that “real thing” poets should write about, but don’t?
Well, in that case, an antibiotic. Literally. The poems begins with a riff about that: that there’s never “been a poem to an antibiotic.” It’s at the heart of this fairly long dream-poem. “The Journey” is essentially a poem about child mortality; our own infant daughter had recovered from a dangerous meningitis around that time. But it’s also about the fact that such subjects are extraordinarily absent from poetry. So the poem begins and continues with an argument about the way ornamental language can protect a poet from reality. It’s something I think crops up from time to time, the old debate about what agency language has in a poem: whether it merely decorates the subject or reveals it. And that’s the larger theme of “The Journey.”

Loss:the common denominator:
We discussed at length this line: "An art is lost when it no longer knows
How to teach a sorrow to speak,"
signs for sounds... her words there to imagine the voice...

Thank you all who were present for the thoughtful discussion of the poems yesterday. How great to have a group share so many layers: "How does poetry arise from a life experience…” a summary of Irish history, knowledge such as the translation of Dublin as “Black Pool”; info on the importance of the Boland name; and how to understand the loss, role of language if mute before sorrow and what that means. As promised in my note, I read the poem below.
As we approach Thanksgiving, indeed, one of the wonderful gifts for which I give thanks is this group of remarkable people who gather to discuss poems each week.
I am grateful to each of you for what you bring. Thank you!
With heartfuls of good wishes,

by Eavan Boland

Poems for November 10

See below for a tribute to Galway Kinnell.

Wait – by Galway Kinnell
Suitcase by James Longenbach
On Beauty by James Longenbach
Exquisite Candidate by Denise Duhamel
Neverland - by Galway Kinnell

The first poem

Poems for lunch November 13

“ 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


Wait – by Galway Kinnell
Suitcase by James Longenbach
On Beauty by James Longenbach
Exquisite Candidate by Denise Duhamel
Little Champion by Tony Hoagland

My question for Wait: what lines work for you? How?
Does the poem work without a story?

Wait, as noun, as verb, and even if pinned down in syntax, quivers according to tones -- commands,
desperate plea, gentle suggestion. If you pin a poem down to an aphorism such as "time heals all wounds" it loses in power, but here, there's a tinge of sadness, navigating past and future, repetitions -- "no one is tired enough" leads to another wait -- hair has become music of hair, pain, music of pain, and instead of seasons and gloves becoming lovely again, a music of looms weaving all our loves again...
a unique and singular time worth waiting for, only heard when exhausted. Death? or the idea that we cannot change until we are pushed to the limit? However one understands it, there is need, enormous emptiness carved out of our tiny beings, asking to be filled...

The Longenbach poem felt Kafka-esque by contrast -- mysterious or perhaps sinister as the suitcase allows us to imagine the excitement of leaving-- and then that curious contrast of packing a suitcase, like organizing choices,unlike building a fire, with necessary space for air. Why would the former be one of life's greatest pleasures? Perhaps the suitcase is a metaphor for a poem -- the packing, the writing.

On Beauty is almost surreal-- capacity to be overwhelmed by the beautiful-- telling a story of survival in gruesome war time.

The Duhamel a romp through satire.
People didn't warm up to the Hoagland. Not even a chuckle at "heteronormativity".

I asked what lends itself to a satisfaction level... The opening Kinnell poem allowed more universals, includes us as opposed to the thought of the butterfly, who gives solace to the speaker of the poem, who we regard as an outsider.

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.