Tuesday, November 24, 2015

poems for Nov. 18

Sent in body of Email:
When Giving Is all we Have -- Alberto Rios
from APR - Nov-Dec 2015
The Sun Got All Over Everything Gabrielle Calvocoressi
To the People of 2060 by Carl Dennis

Around Us by Marvin Bell
What Was Told, That Jalal al-Din Rumi, 1207 - 1273

Liberty by Edward Thomas, 1878 - 1917
Going Away by Howard Nemerov

For Rundel: the first 5.

A meaty series in which to contemplate light and dark as we inch towards winter solstice...

I am grateful for contemporary voices and the American Poetry Review who provides 6 issues a year for sampling them. With climate change increasingly on the radar, it is refreshing to see how many ways one can use "Sun" -- perhaps in the first poem, there's a bit of 16th century John Donne, who calls the sun unruly for different reasons than "making a mess of a day". The conceit of the sun, acting like something sticky that has spilled over everything starts as a visceral and sensual heat, that interferes with a girl's plan to grieve, which we find out at the end, is her mother.

When Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) coined the term metaphysical poets, he meant it as an insult: "Metaphysical poets" such as Cowley and Donne, he wrote, used their conceits to present "heterogenous ideas ... yoked by violence together"; "they were not successful in representing or moving the affections.
What would he have to say about the penultimate lines, the juxtaposition of "somewhere my mother was dying"/and someone was skinning a giraffe. Calvocoressi picks up on incongruity,
the "ridiculously" blue sky, the way some remember the sky on 9/11. The incongruity of forgetting a death entirely, along with forgetting about the global consequence of icebergs melting leaving polar bears without a place to stand. This is highly successful and moving.
In the same way, the colloquial tone, "so broke" (and the distraction of buying groceries she can't afford), the appointment with anguish, forgotten because of the sky... with the cracked yolk of sun all over it.

The conversation between sun and girl, the response of the sun pouring over the girls, the erotic instead of the yahrzeit candles, the pull of living against remembering the dead...
The poem affirms life by putting grief on the table...
Elaine shared her research on the poet, whose mother committed suicide when she was 13.

The sun scorches in a different way for the people writing to the people 45 years hence.
How much emotional juice, and how much narrative cleverness? I love the play in the 5th stanza, "as a problem we're free to pass on". Although not everyone agreed it was a successful poem, it did bring up anecdotes of how we used to plan for the future... and the necessity to continue to do so. But is the heart moved? One person brought up Hayden Carruth's poem: I could take:
I could take
two leaves
and give you one.
Would that not be
a kind of perfection?

But I prefer
one leaf
torn to give you half

(after these years, simply)
love's complexity in an act,
the tearing and
the unique edges —
one leaf (one word) from the two
imperfections that match.

But that's a different goal and message.

Around us, by Marvin Bell seems also a poem addressed to the future, although there is no sense of urgency. The line breaks seemed arbitrary, just as "whatever good we did" sounds a little too facile. I'm not sure that if we keep pines, silvery stream, a smooth bed of pine needles, someone will necessary give a sound of thanks, although I do love the sound of of "a zipper or a snap"-- but it's too vague to think we have saved nature, done any good. One person offered that a practicing poet is a dancer" -- in this case dancing around nature, gliding through the twilight and hoping it will be there. How would you read "whatever good we did" -- equal weight on "good" and "did", "good- we -did", or a slur without emphasizing "did" at all?

The Rumi, regardless of what one says about translation, is a lovely psalm of praise for the Creator. The placement and lineation of "What was" gives a beautiful sense of oneness in a convincing wrap of mystery.

For the Thomas: the rhyme weaves between pattern and liberty from pattern, the moon, both white and dark... a meditative piece of poet and moon, capturing the darkness of war, the darkness of loss, the importance of not to be shackled by inaction.

The Nemerov is a metaphoric war,"Keeping our faces to the front, there is
A moment, after saying all farewells,
when we taste the dry and bitter dust
of everything that we have said and done
for many years, and our mouths are dumb,
and the easy tears will not do."
as he faces exile, forced to leave one position for another --

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Poems for Nov 11-12

My Life Was the Size of My Life by Jane Hirschfield
Samurai Song by Robert Pinsky
I have not disappeared by Major Jackson
There's Nothing Like the Sun -- Edward Thomas
Small Philosophical Poem - by Anne Stevenson
Arrowhead by Tasha Cotter

We read through both the Hirschfeld and the Thomas, line by line. I love how certain poems invite such a slow procedure... voice after voice chimes in. In the case of the Hirschfeld, it underlines the phrasing, the recurring commas and periods, on each line until the 10th:
"It ate, it slept, it opened/
and closed its hands, its windows.
How might this spot in the poem prepare us for the unpunctuated, breathlessness:
we could not keep/
our hands off our clothes on
our tongues from

The tick-tock sameness of phrases, sentences has gone; the predictable s-v
disappears without a verb in the last three fragments. I find the conceit humorous --
as one would not ask, "what size life do you have", or "what kind of rooms feel "room-sized" to you? Imagine, each soul, the same soul-sized, traveling through the everydayness of traveling.
Why are length and depth different than "size". The poem invites me to ponder on what parameters determine my life-- how am I part of determining it, working with it, and then I remember hearing "I'm sick of my life" -- what makes us say that? It's not the same as "I'm sick of living"... perhaps it takes leaving, trying out someone else's life-- but finding nothing to add -- only the hunger of appetite... without spelling out desire.
Some labeled it dramatic... tautology... [(I had to look it up: (rhetoric), a self-reinforcing pretense of significant truth. Tautology (grammar), the use of redundant words. Tautology (logic), a universal truth in formal logic.]
Pleasing, playful, but serious, and even reassuring...

The Thomas also used commas, periods, two hyphens and one colon which gives a sense of "stop-start". It also allows a slower pacing, and accentuates the enjambment:
whistling what/
once swallows sang. But I have not forgot/
that there is nothing, too, like March's sun...
the rhyme is unusual
abab//cdeecffd gg hh i g-2 g-2 i

Note how he works the title, completing its phrase in three different ways:
There's nothing like the sun : 1) as the year dies; 2) that shines today; 3) till we are dead.

The negatives are also interesting: "Yet never shone the sun as fair as now" introduces the rich alliteration of sweet-last-left damsons... spangles of the morning's sort drop down... This is a beautiful moment of flex and compression, rhythmic variability. In David Rivard's article in APR, he notes how these lines have "something of the heightened perception of a haiku." and quotes John Ruskin's famous comment about painting: "composition is the arrangement of unequal things."

The starling, a well-known mimic also brings to my mind Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds", flocking and attacking. replaces the "cheedeep" of the graceful, swallow, known for its aerial-courtship. To quote Rivard again, "Hearing it, you feel the truth of Pound's claim about space and time being stretched by an image."

"That there is nothing, too, like March's sun" -- the "too" falls in a strange way, followed by the listing of all the months, all with equal days, (unlike the child's rhyme to learn the unequal assortment of days)... how are they all different from November?… I return to the phrase, “Yet never shone the sun as fair as now”… That he is caught in this moment, instead of merely describing it, he makes the light of the sun that much more precious “as the year dies”. The premonition of death is clearly there; we know he will die in world war I in 1917 -- but how wonderful that he felt the warmth of the sun, heard the song, witnessed the sweet ripeness.
Moments like these are precious, and I feel grateful for those who share them.

For Samurai song, the repeating anaphors, and juxtapositions (roof/audacity; care/order; temple/voice; tactic/strategy) verbs associated with nouns (eyes listened/ears thought/absence of thought/waiting; no enemy, body opposed work to create a portrait of the detached Samurai life. The one place where there is no "when":
"I have /no priest, my tongue is my choir. calls attention to the loneliness, the terse discipline, reliance on a strict internal discipline.

I find it an intriguing poem, but am left wondering why Pinsky wrote it, and what he wanted readers to find in it.

For Major Jackson's poem, the anaphor, "I have not disappeared" works well, especially when it disappears in the 6th and 8th stanzas. These are the two places there is no "I". It is interesting that lists the poem with a different title: "On Disappearing".
David offered, tongue in cheek Mark Twain's quip: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” But, here, one senses the weight of the Black American life, the "shrug of a life in a sacred language" (poetry). Yes, the poet shares with the reader how he goes into his depths and being... a mysterious journey, but many felt too long and wordy.

Anne Stevenson's "Small Philosophical Poem" has nothing "small" about it -- as potent as any size glass of doubt! She is a clever daughter of a philosopher, and clearly enjoys playing with double meanings, and two well-placed "but".
It is tempting to go through line by line, and explain, here, I see this... here I understand that... how much should we be thinking about Jungian terms, or power plays of Dr. Animus, vs. his untitled wife, Anima; yin and yang at work... how do you read "there" when the plates lie
(do they negate truth, or simply placed) there and there -- "just where they should lie."
Who gives that conditional imperative? He eats his un...
In the version on the internet, it did read "pour his a small glass of doubt" -- but it makes more sense to read "pours him..." What is observation of him, (smacks and cracks) and what is conjecture (the world is pleasure of thought" passes into what might be. And that second "but" arrives, announcing Anima's hunger... she fills the room with love. And fear. And fear.
Twice. Brilliant and fun, and not at all self-evident.

The final poem evokes American Indian tales... a slight difficulty in two places for the syntax. Arrowhead to understanding the word enemy? or Arrowhead (title) To understand (cut the gerund) the word enemy.
But what about the arrowhead? Instrument in hand (whose hand... ) Tiny monster -- is arrowhead also?
Strange little poem, perhaps with intentional "non-sequiturs"...

However, wonderful discussions!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Poems for November 5-6

The Exile by Michael Wasson
How the Milky Way was Made by Natalie Diaz (From American Poet, Fall/Winter 2015)
The Circus Animals’ Desertion by William Butler Yeats
Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (mock medieval ballad... 6 feb. 1888)
Permanently by Kenneth Koch
Sop Préacháin [A Crow's Wisp] by Aifric Mac Aodha translated by David Wheatley

I am so glad to see American Indian voices in the Journal of the Academy of American Poets!
The Exile demonstrates the power of a poem to make this point: If you cut out the native tongue, you make a culture disappear. The crafting is intriguing, with the long open spaces,
a sprinkling of Indian words (with translation at the end of the poem) and choice of a footnote-sounding epigraph at the beginning (mention of the Chilocco Indian School, Oklahoma, 1922 and the words of the disciplinarian).
I find myself wanting to copy out the poem-- with notes. It MUST be read. If you haven't read it, get a copy of the Fall/Winter 2015 issue, Vol 49, and let's hope it appears in

To give you a flavor:
The words in the Indian tongue (not identified) translated in the first section:
just in sudden silence;
sound of bones and flesh;
sound of a mouth breaking;

And then the image of a season disappearing, layers into the cutting between a victim self and oppressor self in two languages in the second section:
"half an autumn
rusting the edge of winter that is

knifing between me & 'iin" (the pronoun "I" in this Indian language)

"you& 'iim 'ee" (the pronoun "you" with emphasis)

This is followed by a mini-drama, "boy/ have you forgotten us"
indeed it is NOT what the oppressors are saying --
but then, there is a subtle hope -- this is almost a century later, and the "choreography of bones" is followed a third section that starts
"mouth your birthplace"
with this sprinkling of words in the native tongue (at the heart; intimate word for mother;

The penultimate section -- "You are torn & you are what song fills... " the color of carved out tongue..." (again the ampersand used for the dual "duel" of English and Native American)

And finally, after "the unbreakable/taste of ash/blown among the stars

the "Milky Way", known as "the ghost's trail -- which shivers with embers able to keep alive memory of those who were persecuted, speaking a language that is "brightly echoed."

The final word in the Native American is "The Ghost's Trail/Milky Way" and these two lines:

"so, there had to be breathing

there had to be."

A very different celebration of Native Indian traditions, is the poem by Natalie Diaz.
She makes the point that the incorporation of native language is more than a craft choice, (language, verb,) or some "naked" folk-art, referring to something ancient, primitive and dead.
When she performs poems, she is commended for a "good reading" -- as if she didn't "toil over her poems, but simply performed her nativeness".
"... poetry is a place to remember, a place to challenge the world, elegize our loved ones, a place to be hopeful and grateful, a space that simultaneously encompasses the past, present and future."

That being said, Her poem is more than a "creation myth" and indeed, the crafting is evident.
The short staccato bursts in the opening couplet; the sounds of the fish, "up there they glide, filled with stars... god-large, gold-green sides... galaxy road... hundred-thousand light year roads"; the moon-white belly, breast, sweet milk body, throat, thighs of the milky way,
how Coyote "unzipping the salmon's silken skins with his teeth"...
A blend of cosmic with overtones of politics of water, exuberance and desire, a feel of living endlessness...

The Yeats poem has a primal feel among its many layers, in spite of the end-rhyme.
Three parts; Parts I and III only one stanza. Part II three stanzas. Curious that the first line "I sought a theme and sought for it in vain"-- and the middle line of the last stanza
"old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut..." do not have end-rhymed counterparts--
and yet, "vain" is repeated 3 times in stanza 1 part 2; "old" is repeated five times--
the line before "Old iron", (Old Kettles, old bottles) old is replaced the third time by "broken", keeping the dark O.

Again, it is hard to resist the temptation of asking you to simply take out this poem --
note the repetitions, (how clever, how the sound of 3rd line of the first stanza, "broken man" is repeated in 4th line final stanza "broken can"); note how Stanza 2 + 4 are all end-rhymed; Stanza 3 has end-words "destroy" and "enough" that have no rhymed counterpart;
Such craft choices are not random.
I love the metaphor of "circus animals" -- the things caged and put on display -- but loses in his brain... the way one tries to recreate epics and preserve heroes... but what does a poet
do in climbing a ladder towards the sacred altar of "big P" Poetry?
Without the ladder, one returns to the essential emotions. Foul is a strong and unusual term but the counterweight to elevate it, lies in the heart (where all ladders start).
No more need for lofty epics, myths. Words don't save our epic heroes, and perhaps as Auden said in his elegy for Yeats, "poetry makes nothing happen". Yet Yeats also wrote "to the cracked tune that Chronos sings, words alone are certain good"... Perhaps here, we go back to the line about "Players and painted stage took all my love,/and not those things that they were emblems of". Start again... use those poet-tools... ground them in the heart. This is a meditation from an older, wiser Yeats on what all this (life, poetry) is about.

Jabberwocky... ah! The pleasure of the sounds of words! Frabjous can indeed be fabulous and joyous; Uffish, a bit uppity and offish, a fuming and furious match up in furious, but even without stretching "suitcase" words, one understands the epic story: The proud father welcoming home his son who has slain the monster... Paul gave us the story of the girls who wrote Lewis Carroll to have permission to use "Jabberwocky" as name of their newspaper -- especially appropriate as wocor has its roots offspring and jabber as – excited and voluble – much excited discussion -- although Carroll worded it more masterfully (see Websters). What I like best of all, is remembering how our senior High School class threaded the poem in our yearbook... and Elaine shared that her class had a newspaper called "The Bandersnatch"! Oh Calloh! Callay!

Permanently is a brilliant poem -- not just personifying parts of speech -- but using them to demonstrate relationship... with a pun on the only adverb used as title "permanently" --
nothing is... except the announcement of something that is... back to Yeats' rag and bone shop of the heart. The singularity of a kiss... helps untwist the contradiction of conjunctions which by nature should not be lonely, isolated as single words... and the shifting sense of nouns, flavored by adjectives... the power of the verb to drive sense...
back to the Indian poems about what lies in the root of our tongues and mouthed from the heart.

For Pittsford, we closed with a delightful reading in the Irish the poem by A. McGee
or so Paul said that's how you pronounce Aifric Mac Aodfha. This opened a parenthesis about
Gaelic script – how the Celts brought it from Baltic... development of the language. How silence improves lipstick...(I wrote that down -- but relationship?) and definition of a crow’s wisp... woman a man has dropped... some other crow will snatch up to add to its nest ... Africa is Poetry editor of the Stinging Fly...

The translation was witty in and of itself, but did not mirror the original in the last stanza
There’s no thanks, and no-thanks-but-frisky—
If that makes me Adam, then you must be ...

Perhaps that's why the poem in the Irish original had the final line in English
"No thanks, I’ve read the Bible."

We could have spent hours more discussing. For Rundel, we didn't discuss the first or last poem, which allowed a more thorough appreciation of the Koch.

Friday, October 30, 2015

poems for October 28-29

Frequently Asked Questions : 10 by Camille T. Dungy
The Gaffe by C. K. Williams
Fall by Edward Hirsch
Self-Portrait on the Street of an Unnamed Foreign City -- Jennifer Grotz

What expectations and assumptions do we bring to poems? How does a poem share associations particular to the writer, and how do these match those of the reader? As Doris says, the answers we give are formed by the questions we ask.

So we start with Dungy's poem. Apparently, even if we didn't know, she's had a lot of offensive questions. There's a universal on which to hang the personal. Most of us have had a few baffling questions that invade our boundaries. It's one thing to ask genuinely, "could you tell me a little about you and your family" vs. the question #10. "Do you see current events differently because you were raised by a black father and are married to a black man?"

What? What are the circumstances, configurations, motivations and agendas in this question?
I love that it takes a poem to answer such a question. A poem which takes grackles, those invasive, noisy, crop-destroying birds, as metaphor for people who ask such questions.
A mob of them... that attack the feeder... the mess of hulls they leave.
Let's just dwell on that for a minute -- a literate person who knows the latin name for the common grackle prepares a "complement of unanswerable questions". The hulls are like empty shells of guns... and the tongue-in-cheek response of the (black) father, mentioning a different kind of seed... well, what if only racist-spawned look-alikes and populars were around...
The language trips us to a certain frame of mind, and the intention of grackle attacking is "hurtful loud". Paul noted that the sheets could be white... as the husband remarks "crackles", and the crackle of the sheets pulled apart, and the static that stings.
Details such as longevity of a black man, less than that of a white... and the passerine claws,
the father, facing back, the poet, her husband and daughter facing forward... are also grackle,
bright within their blackness.

A deft and brilliant poem -- and there's a podcast to go with it, with a reading by the poet followed by an interview.

CK Williams passed away in September just before his 80th year. I picked "The Gaffe"as a tribute to him, as it also deals with questions --when are they appropriate, and how to put them... and when. How a comment cannot be taken back, and leaves an indelible layer. Mike shared how people try to correct themselves in front of his blind daughter, although what has been said doesn't bother her. Story after story of a "gaffe" rolled out... how among the layers of ourselves, is a recriminatory voice. How does one deal with grief? And don't you want to tell the child in the poem, that it is common to laugh as well as cry when someone dies and it's all part of the cathartic stop and sob, sob and start. All we want is someone to explain... we just want to feel we haven't made a gaffe... The poem itself offers a compassionate understanding, not a flip "welcome to the club" but a sensitive understanding for the someone you are, not yet you, always with you, as you are, who keeps on to be the you, you will be.

The pairing of the Hirsch poem to Marsden Hartley painting is a totally different conversation -- and many felt it didn't correspond to the feeling tone of the poem.
We read it line by line, which further slows down the unfolding of a poem, allows repetitions and sounds to sink in. Definitely a feeling tone... not just a description, although there are plenty of adjectives. How do they do their work? the maples are "long-haired" with "veiny hand-shaped" leaves. They embellish different ways red enters the picture, in the season of "odd, dusky congruences"; the bruised cloud; winter's hard revision; twilit pockets; brief, startling moment...
invisible and weightless are not connected to a noun...and there lies a key to the poem..
the pause in the middle of a long walk home... the touch of fall, as metaphor, as season, as change; changing.

The final poem had a poet's statement which begs the question -- is this necessary, and since it is there, does it help understand the poem ? Are poems meant to achieve something?
Is it "registering what it feels like to pass through time"? I was reminded that any poem is an act of courage, and much as I might lend a critical eye, it is important to try, in this case, to see as the self-portrait is seeing. Glimpse, surface, look. Loneliness and the enigmatic "you. I only wish that last line were not there. It's as if the speaker of the poem could not get out of the way, and we are left with an anonymous portrait. No real details... of the street or anything to elucidate " Myself estranged is how I understood the world.
My ignorance had saved me, my vices fueled me,". Foreign indeed.

response to request to know more about Gibbons/Mandelstam

Don Share, editor responded to my letter to the poem "from 'dark honey' that appeared in the October 2015 issue of Poetry.
"It was actually slated for a translation issue, so you’re quite onto something. But really, it’s a version, or what Robert Lowell (and Dryden) might call an “imitation.” An homage, really, tho’ a close and (I’d say) deep one." He shared these notes from Gibbons.
I understand how hard it must be to determine which poem has the podcasts "Poetry" makes available each month. It would have been helpful!

Gibbons comments:

"I have been reading Osip Mandelshtam’s poems in every available English-language translation for many years, and also have returned to his essays, especially the “Conversation about Dante.” I have learned from working on translations with Russian poet Ilya Kutik that the movement of Mandelshtam’s poems (as in some other poets of his generation, such as Marina Tsevetaeva and Boris Pasternak, and in certain later poets, including Kutik himself) is a repeated opening, within a poem, of what seems to the reader (and was for the poet also) an unforeseen way to what poetic thinking can discover and foresee. “The poet begins from a point far away—and then goes further,” to paraphrase Tsvetaeva. What I have tried to do in the sequence to which these poems belong is to move my poems in something like the way such Russian poems move—on the basis of the sound or morphology of a word, or on the back of a metaphor that produces another metaphor (see below), and to throw some of my poems, too, off what might have seemed to be the courses they had chosen and into new ones, the real ones, the ones that make the discoveries, and from within the new course do this again.

In Mandelshtam’s “Conversation about Dante” (1933), he writes that “Dante’s thinking in images” creates what Mandelshtam calls “convertibility or transmutability… [J]ust imagine an airplane (ignoring the technical impossibility) which in full flight constructs and launches another machine. Furthermore, in the same way, this flying machine, while fully absorbed in its own flight, still manages to assemble and launch yet a third machine. To make my proposed comparison more precise and helpful, I will add that the production and launching of these technically unthinkable new machines which are tossed off in mid-flight are not secondary or extraneous functions of the plane which is in motion, but rather comprise a most essential attribute and part of the flight itself, while assuring its feasibility and safety to no less a degree than its properly operating rudder or the regular functioning of the engine” (translated by Jane Garry Harris and Constance Link).

Neither my purpose, in my homage to Mandelshtam, nor his conception of the “flight” of the image (and of metaphor) and then the subsequent flight of the image (or metaphor) that it produces out of itself, may matter, finally, to an English-language reader, unless, as I hope, my poems in homage to Mandelshtam move in a way that’s interesting in English. But out of my sense of gratitude to the Russian poets whom I can’t read in their own language, I offer this explanation, as well as the poems, in these pages of Poetry. In some of the poems in this sequence, I have used or adapted a few images, phrases, and figures from Mandelshtam’s poems, and the last poem in my sequence, “For your sweet joy, take,” is a translation of a complete poem, albeit altered in format."

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Poems for October 22-23

Keeping up with keeping up:

What attracts you to a good poem? Sometimes, we can identify echoes of other poets, sometimes, in the act of translating from one language to another, we "steal" a different glimpse of universals both as readers and writers.
In October’s issue of Poetry, last week, we read the William Jay Smith, this week, a memoriam to Charles Tomlinson, and poems that are inspired by translation,
including an adaptation by Franz Wright from the original notebook fragment written by Rainer Maria Rilke in Spain, 1913, a lengthy poem by UR Professor James Longenbach inspired by the 15th century Italian 1st booke of the Courtier of Count Baldessar + Castilio.

from "Dark Honey” by Reginald Gibbons
In homage to Osip Mandelshtam
Eye Test by Naomi Shihab Nye
The Dream – by Naomi Shihab Nye
Flyleaf by Michael Gessner
Fourteen Lines, Resisting by Lisa Zimmerman

see October 23 review of Reginald Gibbons.

By using the terminology "good poem", I realize I have entered treacherous territory.
What is a "good" poem? Can it bridge both individual preferences for what satisfies the ear, the eye, and soul and meet a level of universality?

I am eager to read Reginald Gibbons newest book, "How a Poem Thinks". In workshops I've attended, tricking the "self" out of the way, so the poem can guide the way, provides a good exercise especially in the review process. Does the sound support the sense? Does the poem want a special or restricted audience, and does that matter? Is the form/pattern pleasing? Is there something surprising? etc. Garrison Keilor in his introduction to "Good Poems" says this about the poems he selects to read on the radio. "Most poems aren't memorable, in fact they make no impression at all. There are brave blurbs on the back cover... but you open up the good and they're like condoms on the beach, evidence that somebody was here once and had an experience, but not of great interest to the passerby."

And then, he also admits, sometimes one is dead wrong... I agree... after several readings and thinkings, or in the case of the Gibbons poem, where I could not help but try to find out more, as the poem tickled my puzzling bone, a poem seems to take on a life of its own, and to return to Keilor, "offers a truer account than what we're used to getting."

Naomi Shihab Nye does this with "Eye Test". The use of the word "test" instead of chart allows the first line to evoke school, and the letter D, for poor, and the desperation of the student who receives it. Letters mirror back to us desires and traits. We stumbled on the repeated story, story,/Can you read me-- until the lack of pause (like P between thoughts) where story
bumps into the interrupted question, "story, can you read me?" because of the line break,
mimics the difficulty of "reading" someone else. The secret? It is not thumped out or explained. How do we befriend a squinting boy? How do we deal with our fatigue of meaning nothing to another?
What an amusing way to sketch complicity of letters and a boy into a message of hope.

Her next poem, "The Dream" also addressed the commonplace, the idea of a dream that flattens... whether in sleep, in the subconscious or what the first stanza sees to set up, the dream that you wished for, which hits you when it becomes true. It's not just a "be careful what you wish for" as an exploration of what dreams open up... the persistance of dream... the largeness of a dream that calls forth a part of you, perhaps forgotten. The second stanza plays the pronouns, of I and you. "I liked it better before" allowing the "you" a presence that could both be someone other than the reader of the poem, as if eavesdropping on someone else's dream, or a more objectified internal dialogue between dream and dreamer which invites in the reader of the poem.

The "In Memoriam" (no title) brought us back to the theme of another poet facing death, or writing about writing and how to preserve it. "It" is a powerful pronoun... It points to poetry, but also something mysterious and unnamed. Don pointed out the ear rhyme of "Gauds" and "Gods"... how easily "haven" could be "heaven", and "Hallows" as "hollows".
How many ways can you read "Without excess, it betoken haven, an ordering, theAs darkness held but not dismissed." What is gained with the words in parenthesis, in this case, barred from entering the poem? We thought of the ox-head A in the Gibbons poem, plowing furrows in stone... but in this case, the process of an individual -- sealed... preserved after death...
I don't mean to paraphrase. This poem is enjoyable to read, examine from many directions.

Flyleaf, was an interesting reflection on how a book is put together... with a bit of discordance for some in some of the images. We all pronounced "creation" to test out if it crinkled... but the "twig that bows" took some of us out of the poem. Perhaps the poem could have ended without the 4th stanza.

I would love to steal "angels jostling in awe" and the round syllables.

I was of two minds with the Zimmerman poem.
On one hand, brilliant personnification of sonnets, their constraints, and a conversation between form and content. Not pretentious, and a clever way of addressing the difficulty of saying the truth. On the other hand it felt a bit like an exercise... and the vague reference to missing a teenaged boy and mother did not pull at my feelings.
Who... blue... son/guns.. sisters and insisted... lose, choose, find, kind as crossed end lines are good, but is this enough to really evoke empathy in the reader?

As always, many angles for a rich discussion in both groups.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Reginald Gibbons in October 2015 Poetry

I picked Reginald Gibbons’ poem in the October issue of Poetry to give the group the challenge of a poem that had no footnotes yet uses an unidentified, non-attributed translation. I was intrigued what we might learn, just from the way the poem was set up.

As it turns out, I ended up doing a lot of research both on Mandelstam and Gibbons whose biography in the back of this issue of “Poetry”, only states that his book “How Poems Think” was published in 2015.

But allow me to backtrack. This is what the reader sees:
3 stanzas, followed by 5 stanzas of a translation of Mandelstam in quotations. The title of the poem: “From ‘Dark Honey’ followed by an epigraph In homage to Osip Mandelshtam. After reading the poem, I do not know why ‘Dark Honey’ is in quotations in the title. Is it something written by Mandelstam, or something written about him?

My question is how to access such a poem. Is this a poem that wants an academic audience clearly versed in Mandelstam? Or is the lack of reference a comment about attributions and references? If so, how and what is the reader to know?
Could the poem be self-sufficient as a three stanza poem by Gibbons? What is the rapport with the 5 stanzas of Mandelstam?

I looked up other translations to see if there were a clue to the one Gibbons selected. The same message seems to come across, with “flavor” differences – but it did take some work to find out the title of the poem. I did not find a correspondence to what Gibbons put in quotations and the available translations. I was not even sure if perhaps Gibbons was masking his own translation, but using quotations. Nor am I left with an idea what the relationship of Gibbons to Mandelstam is, or how he envisages this homage. What does he want the reader to understand?

Let us turn to the poem. First stanza. I’m intrigued by the juxtaposition, “I am sure”
the line break between “do” and “not believe”. I’m intrigued by the image of a pencil pulled through a white field pulled by a team of... but here you may need to know the term Boustrophedon . So, as you turn the stone and inscribe mirrored writing, indeed, the ox-headed A becomes plow. An effective image for the blank page and the ravaged earth.

The second stanza starts out like a description of abstract art, “conceiving its infinite in-”
which I find an amusing double play on “in”, as inside the cranium, and broken ‘in-
complete’. It is equally amusing to see in-/complete perfection:
followed by an impressive list from Zeno back to the A, (upside down) that includes twine (not string) theory in 19 lines (one sentence.) Perhaps the idea is to address the exhaustion of possibilities throughout time that words provide in one crowded room.
Or running the plow the opposite way?

Finally, the third stanza is in parentheses, with a complicated embroidery (Tuscan to T’ang) around this message: “tell me how to go into the grave as if made of air”.

Then come five stanzas in quotations, which after research I find is called “For the Joy of my Hands” — if the google translator for the Russian is to be trusted. It is curious that the translations insist on “time” and not “thyme” in the part about the bee’s diet of lungwort, meadowsweet.

Professor Gibbons, at Northwestern has written, translated and thought carefully about poetry, and one review pays him respect for his knowledge about Greek and Russian translations, among other things.

On the back of this issue of Poetry is a quotation from Ange Mlinko. “Language itself is a character in the story, perhaps the closest thing we have to an omniscient one, containing all time and history, obfuscating and revealing at whim.”

One of the participants said the poem felt like a tuxedo on a horse; another said it felt like hot buttons on a computer; others perceived a meditation on writing poetry, with a sense of relief arising with the Mandelstam stanzas at the end.

A challenge from time to time is good for the mind. But it did prompt me to write the editor of Poetry. In the spirit of connection, might it not be kind to give some help for those in the audience who are not enrolled in courses of the various professors whose poetry appears in the magazine?
It felt to me to be an ambitious issue, and I requested the consideration of an introduction, and footnotes, so that lay poets can participate more fully.

footnote: for a review:

To write or read a poem is often to think in distinctively poetic ways—guided by metaphors, sound, rhythms, associative movement, and more. Poetry’s stance toward language creates a particular intelligence of thought and feeling, a compressed articulation that expands inner experience, imagining with words what cannot always be imagined without them. Through translation, poetry has diversified poetic traditions, and some of poetry’s ways of thinking begin in the ancient world and remain potent even now. In How Poems Think, Reginald Gibbons presents a rich gallery of poetic inventiveness and continuity drawn from a wide range of poets—Sappho, Pindar, Shakespeare, Keats, William Carlos Williams, Marina Tsvetaeva, Gwendolyn Brooks, and many others. Gibbons explores poetic temperament, rhyme, metonymy, etymology, and other elements of poetry as modes of thinking and feeling. In celebration and homage, Gibbons attunes us to the possibilities of poetic thinking
Introduction: How Poems Think

1 This Working against the Grain
2 Fortunately, the Marks on the Page Are Alien
3 On Rhyme
4 On Apophatic Poetics (I): “Teach Me That Nothing”
5 On Apophatic Poetics (II): Varieties of Absence
6 The Curious Persistence: Techne
7 Simultaneities: The Bow, the Lyre, the Loom
8 Onyx-Eyed Odalisques
9 “Had I a Hundred Mouths, a Hundred Tongues”

Afterword: A Demonstration
(/ˌbaʊstrɵˈfiːdən/ or /ˌbuːstroʊˈfiːdən/; from Ancient