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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August 24



A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman (Jan's pick)
Tomorrow by Charles Wright (Kathy's pick)
Mirrors by Tada Chimako (translated by Jeffrey Angles)
The Composition of the Text by by Adriano Spatola, translated by Paul Vangelisti
If I Were Another by Mahmoud Darwish
Song for the Last Act by Louise Bogan

What poems move us? Why? What poems beg an explanation from the poet, and leave us by the roadside? Tomes have been written about craft, the reader being the instrument to bring alive any sound of sense, but the questions remain.

Whitman's two stanzas are satisfying as they link in free verse, a natural world with lovely metaphors that transfer with ease to the spiritual plane of the soul.
Spoken aloud, the rhythm captures our ears the way the repetitions and alliterations do.
But for me, the joy is the sound of the words miming the spider/soul at work
You cannot hurry through the first line: A noiseless patient spider, z-ss-sh-s...
the sibilants are already at work, weaving.
Vacant vast surrounding. vv s rr d
Nor would you use machine gun fire for "filament, filament, filament"
The links of reeling / speeding with the bright ee is also woven with "tireless", a silent music joining noiseless.

Like ceaselessly... and the consonants threading the longest line of the poem:
musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
z / v/ tsch/ thr/s/sf/ arriving at the occlusive /k/ of connect, the "ct" feeling like a good sticky glue...

Jan explained she didn't like other things by Whitman,which to her feel overly effusive and claustrophobic, but enjoyed the spareness of this poem and the comparison of human spirit throwing out questions to a noiseless, tireless spider.
The topic of music came up -- what would this sound like set to music? And other references came up... and Jan has sung Ned Rorem's setting of Frost – stopping by woods. It's yet another way to appreciate the words. Poems have their own music... and good ones can stand on their own. It might inspire good music -- but not do the poem any service.


Kathy's pick, from Wright's Sestets, balanced the Whitman with an even more spare use of line, breath. The pull of the title "Tomorrow" and the density of the images, compressing time
sunrise (named) sunset (transformed to drop of blood in evening trees)
further transformed (a drop of fire).
Whether or not you agree that you are darkness if you do not shine, and the future merciless,
that is not the point. we join as names inscribed on that flyleaf of the "Book of Snow".
Images of snow as flake, each one different, gathering, only to melt, disappear.
Lovely idea of layering together, yet impermanent...

Kathy's comment: she never reads this poem the same way.. always learning from it.
Paul added he thought the first line was going to go to a playful place.
David wondered if the first line made the poem any clearer.
Indeed, Wright transformed the quotidien into the extraordinary. Kathy shared with us:
“If you can’t delight in the everyday, you have no future here... and if can, no future either.
We're only on the flyleaf...and that too is no guarantee...
You’re on your own now, together with everything.


The next poem, in three parts:Mirrors by Tada Chimako (translated by Jeffrey Angles)
We did check the Japanese and read the katakana for "Lacedaemon".
Judith gave us a good dose of Japanese culture: sun, sword, mirror and a memory of Cocteau's film, Orphée. Vitrier... I shared this quote about mirrors:
"Warning: Reflections may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty."
A poem to read again... person and mirror as conversation -- who starts-- how we breath a mist onto the mirror-- does it absorb us, or do we absorb something from it? There is just one gravestone -- and not for our mirror!

The next poem we dutifully read and concluded it was an experiment with more pleasure for the writer than the reader. Difficult to read, because so many lines could be read differently, with no help of punctuation.

Echoing the mirror is the Darwish:
I as other... and I as other within myself. I'd love to see the original and have that explained. The translation allows us a message about doubling... expanding yourself... be your best self... but also the nuance "who I am is also part of you... And the pull,

If I were another on the road, I would have said
to the guitar: Teach me an extra string!

begging to be taught how to play an extra string, but also humbled knowing everyone has the same distance.

We ended with a marvelously-crafted poem by Louise Bogan.
Did she think up the repeating lines first? Or simply have three strong opening lines with an echo at the end. Rhyme without sounding "twee".

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.
Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.
Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.


What a pleasure all these sharings. Thank you all for the contributions!







Monday, August 24, 2015

favorite poems... August 17

Favorites:
III from Tristan (Edna St. Vincent Millay) (from Judith)
ITHAKA by C. P. Cavafy (from Carmin)
Inniskeen Road: July Evening by Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) (from Paul)
The Faces at Braga - David Whyte (from Bernie)
When Death Comes - Mary Oliver (also from Bernie)

in the email: mentioned
Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver

And looked at a file which had Elizabeth Bishop’s “Something I’ve meant to write about for 30 years”
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/03/06/something-ive-meant-to-write-about-for-30-years
Linda Gregg, “The Problem of Sentences” http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/02/14/the-problem-of-sentences
Wislawa Szymborska, “Could Have” https://www.english.upenn.edu/~traister/szymborska.html
And “Some Trees” by John Ashbery written when he was a student at Harvard, http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/some-trees.html

With Al Filreis’ comment: “just attend to the words… the relationship is formed by arbitrary connection… we have left the world and how have connection in the poem…”

What makes a “favorite” — which poems do we return to… and what connections have we made to poems tucked away in a special place because they tug at our being? Feel free to make a list and share!


Judith shared with us a different aspect Millay, so often described as “twee” (excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental.)
(the first Fig in Figs and Thistles
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
Source: Poetry (June 1918)

Here, Tristan is speaking... and Millay, as poet of the outdoors brings us wonderful names--
"alkanet" and "costmary"-- they were fresh and brash and fragrant, but a man
can forget / All names but one. I was not alone in the room.
A "heady" setting for a night with Isolde... It's the sort of poem where you can't miss the building and binding passion. Then the sudden shift... Tristan back on his boat (late)...
"Women there,
With sea-wind slashing their hair into their eyes, were drying
Long net and long net and long net.

like the herbs Tristan and Isolde meant to have tied... and the two other association in the repeated monosyllables, a sense of long net cast into the sea of the story, capturing the
rhythm of waves...


I love how myth captures the universal placing it in perfectly modern settings. Such it is with Ithaca and the return of Odysseus to regain his kingdom. As opposed to the passion/pressure in the room containing Tristan and Isolde, this poem captures a journey, and a bit of well-wishing to make the most of it. Perhaps, as one person brought up, Odysseus is the symbol of the spiritual incomplete,but substitute "Ithaca" for the there: "Arriving there is what you are destined for." Without the Trojan War, Odysseus would never have had the ten years of difficulties to return home. The poem encourages us to accept all that comes on our path as we set out and return in our birth-death trajectory...
Let go... allow experience its due... and enjoy the ride.
"Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean."

I love how Graves trusts that by the end of our lives will will have accumulated enough experience to understand what Ithaca means, as Kingdom before the war, kingdom to return to, and all that might not be Ithaca when you do. How do you find your haven?

Paul shared the liveliness of language with Kavanagh's Inniskeen Road: July Evening. He sums up his pick this way: "
This is not my favorite, but a favorite of the moment. Kavanagh's poetry, here, reflects an inner loneliness he felt throughout his life and he pictures in this work the motion of bicycles, the coming fellowship and expectation of the joy of a Saturday night barn dance....one that he is not going to, and then, the solitude of the empty road: not even a shadow thrown. Alexander Selkirk was the model for Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. What better example of being cut off from one's fellow men."

This little sonnet indeed shares "the wink-and-elbow language of delight" but the question for me is why the poet could not also join in the fun? What does "A footfall tapping secrecies of stone" mean for him. Who is the audience?

Bernie's pick: The Faces at Braga - David Whyte from Many Rivers Meet. (1960’s)
From the Medieval realms of Britain to antiquity in the Mediterranean, to perhaps mid-20th century Ireland, we arrive in Nepal, and a Buddhist parable about carving.
"If only we could give ourselves
to the blows of the carver's hands,
the lines in our faces would be the trace lines of rivers"...
how wood contains imperfections, yet can be carved into something beautiful -- how the world carves us, and how we respond ... When we fight with our failing...
we ignore the entrance to the shrine itself.
Wonderful poem about letting go... the importance of "Ithaca" as experience, the starting point and an opportunity.

The world as our carver... and our choices in understanding what might feel as blows.
Do we fight, hide, or use the blows as opportunities?

The final poem by Mary Oliver "When Death Comes" ends with "I don't want to have felt I have just visited this world."

It reminded Judith of this poem by Millay:
An Ancient Gesture

I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can't keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don't know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope…
Penelope, who really cried.

**
Favorite poems remind us of what tugs at our hearts, reminds us we have only one life, and encourage us to keep on going, remembering there is always amazement.








Monday, August 17, 2015

poems for August 10

Fern Hill, by Dylan Thomas
Summer Rain by Amy Lowell
To Hayden Carruth by Wendell Berry
The Cows at Night by Hayden Carruth
A Man Learns to Fly by Peter Connors
Giving and Getting by Tony Hoagland
I have a Time Machine by Brenda Shaughnessy
The Vacation by Wendell Berry




Who could not love Fern Hill? Six stanzas of sheer delight some consider an exercise in capturable syllabics. The lilt of it, the alliterations, the weaving of song and nature with the delight of the rhythms coupled with sounds and unusual associations create a breezy memory of childhood. Imagine being perched in apple boughs by a "lilting house", feeling "lordly" in this childhood of climbing above a kingdom filled with barley and daisies "down rivers of windfall light". The blithe tone rolls green, golden, and time into motion together.
Time is responsible for "hail and climb" for "play and to be... golden"; time allows (in all his tuneful turning) flying and we are, of couse, in the mercy of his means as the poem goes from joy to a sadness. Likewise, the singing which predominates, from freely lilting in the house with tuneful chimneys, to being in chains. Such progression works a metamorphic magic on the color green as well, which has a springlike freshness to it, "young and carefree" associated with happy, to the energetic "whinnying green stable". The alliterations, chains of words that resist any hurry, my wishes raced through the house high hay (the words cannot race) "lamb white days"

9 line stanzas, comma-ended lines, giving breath, and the lovely enjambed line where the wind of "h"in "hay" sweeps through: hay/fields as high as a house. The first two stanzas contain one sentence; the next two, two stanzas, and the fifth ambles into the final stanza without stopping. Flow, repetitions, assonance, alliterative consonance, rhythms and lovely spins on commonplace, such as "all the day long" as "all the sun" and "all the moon" ...
How would you be happy? As "happy as grass as green" has a blithe belief in innate and unshakeable joy. And in spite of the chains, the singing continues, like the sea.

Summer Rain : as one astute person remarked, 5 lines of sound/ 5 of color.
the house encloses... and writer enclosed by words of lover...

Wendell Berry's poem to Hayden: I love the line "vour great dignity of being necessary"--
it mirrors a conviction that each of us, no matter the difficulties we face which can bring us down, each matters. And for a poet, who did not make it to fame and recognition, to have a friend testify to his courage to create... the point is to begin again and again... authentically... as opposed to being dead -- for those are the choices.

Although we discussed the Cows at Night before, it seemed fitting to bring it up again,
in tribute to Hayden Carruth's ability to weave a spell. Judith reminded us of this quote by him: "The discipline must precede the rejection of discipline."

Peter Connors: prose poetry, this poem chosen for poets walk. Original -- the flying image includes the "ornithology of family" -- and many saw similarity with the Dylan Thomas childhood. The thickness of the first paragraph, representative of all the father taught him... followed by two short sentences, the father's death. Such visual arrangement heightens the impact-- the haunting of the final command in the father's note: "Help me to fly".

The Hoagland starts with a dying scene, memories, the balance of giving/receiving. Discussion included our power of choice, how to put it into action, not balancing in thoughts; how do we deal with the negative shadow? How do we remember the dead? One person brought up the cemetery at Le Caen -- the way the Americans buried their dead differently from the Germans.
Let us remember the wrong we have done... not just remembering the dead.

Shaugnessy's poem came from a summer issue of the New Yorker.

Comments: rehearsing Hamlet. Self-conscious and boring.
Poem loses energy...
examples not convincing.
anxious to get to the future. Things coming at you so hard from the past.

another poem exposing how we’re not living in the moment. eating both ends of the banana without getting to the middle. Jerome + afternoon of the faun. always looking in the mirror,
never engaging with the audience. Susan Sontag on Photography. Looking at world for the perfect photograph. Billy Collins...
push and pull in poetic line... Welsh... I’m willing to tell you/ wanting / waiting...

Judith recommends "The Crowning Privilege: Collected Essays On Poetry"
by Robert Graves

We ended on the sad vacancy of a man unable to connect with his life. The Vacation -- in which he would never participate...







Monday, August 10, 2015

Poems for July 27

My Daughter Describes the Tarantula by Faith Shearin
Natural Disasters by Faith Shearin
Song for Lonely Roads by Sherwood Anderson
Begin Summer by Ingrid Jonker
The Coney by Paul Muldoon

Two poems from a new collection by Faith Shearin, Telling the Bees. © Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2015.

The first about a spider most consider dangerous, from a childlike point of view woven with wisdom about the need to be understood. Beautiful web of sounds, light d's (delicate, die, tidy, dry, decorated, mild) f's and s's which bespeak fragile and silk, and two enjambments which augment and extend meaning: "threatened they fling their hairs trying/
not to bite"
what a surprise -- not to attack, but in defense, not to do harm. Clearly we have misunderstood if we understand such spiders as a threat, "and suddenly her description becomes/
personal..." What brings us to identify with another living being?
The poem allows a child's voice to carry what I call a stubborn, "Little Prince" wisdom, with a hint of E.B. White's Charlotte.

The other short poem doesn't have such charm, addressing the conceit of "truce". Perhaps one can balance large-scale law of nature vs. small-scale family quibbles in 15 lines, but the group was not convinced it was successful.

The third poem is 100 years older, indeed, a song, filled with rhythms of a searching person seeking to bargain with the gods. Some enjoyed it, some felt the poem short-changed a possible personal narrative.

The poem by Ingrid Jonker, an anti-apartheid South African, creates a delightful, yet ominous
scene of a child at the beach ending with the hint of a tinkling ukulele, charming, vulnerable, sweet...
"your mouth surely is a little bell
tiny tongue for a clapper"

The pleasures of sound:
The sibilant sum-mer /sea
interrupted by "the cracked quince"
the sound of the waves in sk and ch of sky and child
and visual pleasure of double l and double o in balloon.
Sticky sweet pleasure of stripy sugarsticks -- under which are "ants of people".
The teeth of gold arriving after the "gay laugh of the bay" is unsettling.
Yellow with the occlusives in "bucket"; and the odd detail -- "forgotten pigtail".

Without background, would you have guessed at some danger?

Thanks to Paul Brennan, I was happy to include "The Coney" -- pronounced "cunny" which means rabbit in Ireland. Listen to these sounds animate the half-acre garden: p-st-ck / c-fl-st / f/c/garden:
"last year's pea-sticks
and cauliflower stalks"
Delightful dialogue where we learn the name of the cauliflower is "all year round"and that the garden is not particularly an easy place to grow things; and who's the coney, stripped of its bathing togs, to "parade/and pirouette like honey on a spoon:
How did we get from garden to swimming pool?

**
David did recite from memory the Windhover:

Kathy's comments:
The group did make comparisons between Hopkin's skill and Murray's mediocre ability with language in her poem "Survivor-Forever". (on poets walk) Even though she had a powerful message her language skill did not rise to it. David brought up Elizabeth Bishop as a poet who can move readers and do it with very simple well crafted language.
Questions that I raised were:
---What are the purposes of poetry? For some people, the poem "Survivor - Forever" may be so heartfelt that they will treasure it forever. Does that make it a good poem?
--- Does and can anyone today write with the glorious sound of Hopkins? And would it be valued? Would it just be imitation? A great wonder of "The Windhover is that it is explicitly Christian yet can speak so powerfully to non-Christians, even atheists!
For me, during our O Pen discussions, there are the dual and often nearly simultaneous thinking processes of 1. analyzing the skill in a poem and 2. the simple, "How did I experience it; how was I moved by it?". At O Pen you honor both types of response. I had recently read an article about a newly published collection of essays by literary critic Helen Vendler. It was the perennial debate about responding to poetry - "Was it good?" versus "Did I like it?" http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/07/a-critical-review-of-helen-vendlers-newest-essay-collection/







Poems for August 3 to be repeated September 17


And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name by John Ashbery
Breezeway by John Ashbery
The Blues by Billy Collins
The Hook by James Wright
We Would Never Sleep by David Hernandez

How much does a poet change? And how much can we know from a random pick of a 1987 Ashbery poem with one from his latest 2015 book?
I was glad to see this older Ashbery poem. What makes this memorable, or not? Why would one engage, or not?
I love how Horace’s words suggest a woman, in the title, and the first line, instead of slamming a door in your face, actually has a cheeky response to the latin and the whole deal of relationship painting/poetry. For someone not interested in such, would they read on?
I find it sheer delight — the tone borders flip, yet serious, tossing a mirror our way — what do we do as we look at a painting, read a poem, communicate with each other?
My father in law shares this about "Ut Picture"


".............. of its desire to communicatei
........ if only for the sake
Of others and their desire to understand you......"

I wonder if today,30 years later, he still would fall for this kind of projection.

Jim Longenbach responds: "With Ashbery, as with any poet of any allure, it's the language that pulls one down the page; otherwise, we'd just as happily be reading interesting emails, right?!

Why "fall for"? That sounds so suspicious! Anyway I don't think John is an artist who looks back much at all; he's the greatest living English-language poet, but, for him, the only thing that matters is what's happening--next. His new book, by the way, is superb--very wry and very moving, the work of a very very old man ."
I'm enjoying the poems of Breezeway -- which is also title poem of his newest book.

Kathy's report: "Even though we could have written off his 2 poems with a "Huh?", we actually spent quite some time biting off chunks of meaning and discussing his literary arts and pop culture references. And we did like his humor in "Breezeway".

For a painting of John Ashbury, this one is up at the MAG, by Elaine de Kooning:
http://magart.rochester.edu/Obj3880?sid=14334&x=907995


What would be your definition of poetry if you had only these 5 poems?" The group's response was " "wanting to be heard" and "connection with others".

How do the Collins, the Wright and Hernandez paint the tone?

**
I will use these poems again for Rundel September 17th -- start of the new season!

Monday, July 20, 2015

poems for July 20

The Flower Press by Chelsea Woodard
Hedgehog by Paul Muldoon
Hurry by Marie Howe (on poets walk)
Wisteria can pull down a house by Marge Piercy
American Summer by Edward Hirsch
One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda
Never by Meaghan O’Rourke
Breakage by Mary Oliver


John Offered these links to Jackson Browne -- worth a read and listen in the context of these poems!

lyrics:
http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/jacksonbrowne/thebirdsofstmarks.html
http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/jacksonbrowne/colorsofthesun.html

It's quite a marathon of poems -- but in a group of 14, we were able to read, and savor each one.


The first poem, echoes the verbal "pressed, wilted flowers" in the noun of a flower press--
both gifts but decidedly different. One, set in a foreign country, the other, from the world of the child. The poem is a sonorous delight where the words taste as delicious as they sound. Yet for all the beauty, the verbs paint a cruel undertone, a momento mori, as living beauty is pressed into lifeless memory. crushed, pried, turned the screw.
"the star shaming" the others not selected arrives as the worthy prize the "stalking" in the meadow yields, "the belle amid the mass" which could be read as beauty, simply, or bell of a bloom, or church bell.

The final poem has the same sonic entrancement, yet, is called "breakage"-- and in spite of words like "scarred" and "tattered" a childlike sense of discovery of predation... that nothing stays whole, there is a beauty of broken things...


The second poem, Hedgehog by Paul Muldoon was intriguing -- how we anthropomorphize, and how an Irish poem would have an infusion of catholicism, especially in the 3rd stanza.
As Benjamin Franklin says, (thanks John W. who just finished a bio about him): "If you would keep your Secret from an enemy, tell it not to a friend."

One technique I enjoy is to try imagine a poem with a message as a prose passage, and then see what would be lost. I was prompted here by the opening two lines which break on "a",
The snail moves like a
Hovercraft, held up by a
Rubber cushion of itself
Sharing its secret

-- we'd lose the unfolding, hesitations, the liquid trail... sn... sh... sh... sss
the Hovercraft and Secret, and the fact that the stanza break brings the secret to the hedgehog, who closes his stanza on a definitive period.

The short quatrains involve three characters, (snail, hedgehog and human) the idea of outside protection and inner vulnerability, and our curiosity about why the hedgehog distrusts...
Is it a "put up job" David wondered, quoting Frost...where the end is known and the idea is to arrange the poem to arrive there? The more we discussed, more levels appeared -- a parable
about trust, or a way to wonder if God has something better than what the world offer?
As human beings, we never quite say what we mean, or surprise ourselves with what we say, not expecting some unpredictable comment. Nor do poets or hedgehogs say things directly, or openly about our sense of vulnerability...
The example of the first confession... which is a lie, and hence, a sin and confessable came to mind.

David proposed reading G.M. Hopkins Windhover, Paul cited these lines from Chesterton's
“The Ballad of the White Horse”:

For the Great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad.

and John also offered original poetry.

Unlike the snail, Marie Howe's poem on Poets Walk, "Hurry" takes a typical mother-daughter scene, but with the delightful turn in the last three lines, where the daughter is given the opportunity to practice being the one in charge. Both say "hurry" four times, the mother, in a spread of place to place to hurry to, but for the little girl, "hurry up honey" turns into a more concentrated and intimate "hurry up darling" and ending up holding the key.
We were reminded of Cat's in the Cradle, and Kathy brought up the idea of being on “Ordinary time”...which Marie Howe wrote about in her book dedicated to her (adopted) child...where the church does not interfere with every day with some ritual...

Marge Piercy's poem can be read on several levels -- the primal, survival mode of the wisteria overtaking the house as jungle or sea monster... or political... or a fine linguistic eeee...
weaving through allowing us perhaps to imagine the earth without us... The hedgehog came up again, as also the thought of God at odds with nature...world as place of conflict.
Her Short Stories are marvelous too : "Dynastic Encounter" and "Sleeping with Cats".

Hirch's poem paints a great summer of a 16 year old -- twisting details of the work day with the night baseball -- a great way to think of identity -- the work self, and our free individual self...
"and each day was another lesson in working,
a class in becoming invisible to others,
but each night was a Walt Whitman of holidays,

the parameters of work open the gates... "the clarity of a whistle at 5 P.M.,
the freedom of walking out into the open air.

From Adolescent love, to a more mature view -- beyond cliché --
rose of salt!
topaz! or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.


the odd dichotomies ending up in the pair of lovers are twined so closely, they share eyelids and dreams--
captured in the translation which blends proximity to physically closing:
"so close that your eyes close with my dreams.

"Never" beautifully winds the sounds of loss, the pull of forever yours, never...
ever... aver...

which leads us to the final poem and carefully chiseled sounds of shells breaking.











Poems for July 13

Doing Laundry In Budapest by Anya Krugovoy Silver (ALP)
In Two Seconds by Mark Doty (May/June issue, APR, 2015)
Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy – Terrance Hayes (Poetry podcast)
Man by Thomas Sayers Ellis

What is it about poetry that makes it worth the effort to delve and discuss, keep listening?
For me, it's the power of a well-crafted poem brings me a mirror, gives me courage to express my own truth. The poems in this batch succeed in this way.

The first poem, combines a pleasure of sound, occlusives with sibilants, and marvelous ambiguities "my shoulders covered themselves in churches" -- where not only are the shoulders covered out of respect, being in a church, but as a tourist, the presence of the churches is worn, as magical as the sidewalk that "bloomed in embroidered linen." Ted Kooser mentions this poem as being one that "tells others what happened beyond the firelight" -- it is no travelogue, but rather a memory of doing laundry in a place most Americans would not, especially in a time period where money was not let out of the country. 4 lines for laundry; 2 lines for the marvels seen with tourist eyes; 3 lines for a memory link, doing laundry in the present, where the moment in Budapest is evoked, folded in, and the surprising 2 lines of the unknown woman pressing wild flowers. We'll never know the reason why -- nor even the reaction of the speaker of the poem -- it presses on our imagination, a sense of something fragile, wild, a once-was-ness usually out of reach of any tourist... but a sense of a bigger picture.

From there, to a longer poem, mostly in couplets, but in brief beads of verse, which string like a rosary of two seconds. Emily had the idea that we should use the poem as a letter to the editor, so I sent this (150 word limit on such letters) to the D&C.

"We live in an age of polarities and binary thinking which promote reactions as opposed to responses. How best to demonstrate the danger than in the following "must-read" poem by Mark Doty. https://www.aprweb.org/poems/in-two-seconds
He takes “two seconds” as the point of departure in a poem about Tamil Rice and the policeman who shot him. Two seconds as measurement: “unmaking/the human irreplaceable”; the time conceive a life or make a decision to pull a trigger. This might have been enough for a poem, and we would feel the sense of tragedy. But Doty goes on to share a refusal to “to try on at least/the moment and skin of another,” not because he doesn’t believe this is part of the work of poetry, but so the reader also becomes complicit in hearing the voice “of that erased boy”.
Submitted by Kitty Jospé,
Moderator of “ O Pen”, Pittsford Library

I contacted Mark Doty, who was glad we were using it, saying "I would like this particular poem to reach as many readers as possible; thank you for helping that along."

We talked at length about the part of the poem where the speaker respectfully declines what he believes a poem should do. The honesty of expressing the difficulty of "wearing someone else's skin"-- it would be disingenuous to try to do so for a boy who did nothing, and was reduced to nothing, and forces us to look at our own role. He does not condemn, but makes it clear it was an awful mistake that came from an imbalanced reaction -- so this to comes to play-- how do we deal with reactive and dangerous actions, and teach a more balanced and thoughtful response? How do we fit in with the "safe act" and a culture of fear... are we not all responsible? And do we respect each life as unique and precious? All these questions arise, and surround the deep grief of the loss of one innocent 12 year old boy.


Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy by Terrance Hayes introduces "lighthead" seemingly inebriated, and troubled. The poem yoyos about in a ruthless and seemingly incoherent and stumbling manner, embracing a quest to prove that Art's purpose is to preserve the self... Here a strobe light on Molly Bloom's soliloquy on "yes" (which I read outloud, to give the example of the breathless, insistent and rising energy)and there, threads of sentences, which by themselves seem to make perfect sense: or do they? What sense lies here: "I know all words come from preexisting words and divide until our pronouncements develop selves." This is not a "poem" or a "guide" "mean" but a plunge into a galaxy where we are invited to grab at partially recognizable "perceptions" following a guide who has imbibed "a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice". It's a romp, but a disturbing one.

The final poem plays on "a part of", and "apart", and love and hate. The sounds sweep us along in a Gertrude Steinish manner... but with a sense of a message, not just incantatory language play... Who belongs where, and what deals are made? Bernie shared research on all the names of the S. Africans mentioned, including "Moneydeala" as Nelson Mandela. The last line:
All American Apartheids pulled South. as in, pulled the wrong way...

We were all quite breathless by the end, grateful for the excellent contributions at which I can only hint here. I thank everyone!