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!


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 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.
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!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Poems for July 6

What We Might Be, What We Are by X.J. Kennedy
The Surely – by E.E. Cummings
There is a gold light in certain old paintings – by Donald Justice
At North Farm by John Ashbury
The Gathering Evening by Alberto Rios
Human Habitat by Alice Deming

The first poem is filled with rhythmic fun whose potentially serious title seems to be discarded for nonsensical “ifs”. One person suggested this be a new model to replace a Dear John letter... What I love about the poem, is that a savvy group like O Pen will come up with good questions: How does the title work, and what would change if it did?
Are the rhyming and wit distracting or do they engage us to seek a pattern to what seems to be a puzzle? For instance, note how the rhyming 2nd and 4th line of each stanza end on a strong beat, but the 4th line contains reference to relationship; The 1st and 3rd lines end in a dactyl, except for the curious pincushion with the extra beat of the indefinite article before it. By the 3rd stanza, the pairing stops and there is only one “if” with the final stanza declaring (with two lines for “you”, one for “I”) the decorative ribbon and mosquito, which are as far apart from each other as Bali and NJ.

“There’s a hellavah good universe next door.” – E.E. Cummings
How to read "The Surely" -- as a grammatical billiard game, or as I found out, an actual one:
"English" means to put the spin on the ball; caroming suggests a "carom shot", used in billiards, and certainly one can imagine the spinnings! Or, maybe the poem is a versatile Ars Poetica, filled with synesthetic details, visual delights of misbehaving words colliding together and Cummings having as much fun as PDQ Bach, creating new ledger lines for music only to have the staves crumble under the weight of notes? (Reminds me of the poem I sent out of the Communist Manifesto, where all the letters have fallen into a black heap) Poem of the Day: fallen
BY JÖRG PIRINGER (jörg piringer works in many forms, including visual, digital, and sound poetry, as well as music. In "fallen," piringer combines a visual sensibility with computer programming skills to tumble text from the English translation of The Communist Manifesto into a pile at the bottom of the page. The result is a mass of letters stripped of their original meaning and representing the failure of an idea.—Geof Huth.

There is a gold light in certain old paintings – by Donald Justice: Beautiful poem, with each stanza labeled with a number, as if 1, 2, 3 were separate instances, held together only by the title. Perhaps three different paintings : Christ on the Cross, with the light "sharing its charity"; Orpheus, with no light, and only long O's of sorrow, even that, desirable as something to prolong... and then the complicity of working in the world with "uncle" .
One of those poems which satisfies without need to give explanations. So many associations came up: Martin recalled a sermon reminding us that the idea of working faster was not to have an exhausting 60 hr. week; Milton: sonnet on his blindness... Mahler : kindertotenlieder. sorrowing for dead children. Dark Elegies ballet... -- but the final stanza does not wrap up the poem in light, or sorrow... but rather a hope, even though knowing nothing is here to stay. The work will be clean and good.

North Farm by Ashbury is on Poets Walk -- two stanzas with commas-at-the-end-of-each-line (except for one : enough) and two questions, made Paul think of Santa Claus. I love the specificity of the title -- which pulls at the indefinite "somewhere" -- the sense of an inevitable "someone"-- and the universal question of whether one will be recognized.
The contradiction of "Hardly anything grows here,/
Yet the granaries are bursting with meal" likewise holds paradoxical truths simultaneously without seeming impossible, or needing explanation. One person recalled the depression, how even though they had little, they felt rich.
As Ashbury says, “most poets who give us meaning don’t know what they’re talking about.”

I had included this w/ the poems: John Ashbery (born in Rochester, July 27, 1928) (he reads the poem, followed by interview). His new book, Breezeway was reviewed in the New Yorker and also noted in American Poets which remarks, “Ashbery’s latest offers a collage of marginalia brought to center stage and eerily lit by a submerged psychic disturbance, as in the poem “A Breakfast Radish” where he write, “Whatever we’re dealing with catches us/in mid-reconsideration.” We might call this whimsy if it didn’t seem like a “cloud of knowing” to comprehend our own unknowing.
cloud of knowing” – 13th c. book...

Rios: A poem that starts this way,
Shadows are the patient apprentices of everything.
They follow what might be followed,

and continues to explore possibilities of shadow, which could be immigrants, dreams, what architects think about when designing buildings... and those who have passed before us... all linked with patience, waiting-- is one of those poems to read and read again. Please do! I am speechless.

Deming: powerful poem to make us think about environment and human nature. The conclusion troubles me -- does she earn such an ending? For some, it did.
How is it then that I read love
in pages that lie open before me?

One of the more difficult lines was this:
"Hermes prior to chisel hitting wood."
the closing line of a stanza that starts with:
"Being is either actual or potential."

But here you say, give me the filling in between "message and action": so here it is:
The actual is prior to substance.
Man prior to boy, human prior to seed,

Out of context, the layering seems contrived. But with the mention of Stonehenge and Turner, many looked up possible paintings such as this:

other paintings available here.

So much more to say. What I love about the discussions is the way lights turn on in the heads and the respectful sharing. It doesn't really matter what is said, it's like a light show on a poem presented as some amazing dish to taste -- all sorts of colors and flavors. I can't always remember the nuances, or do justice to the discussion. Forgive me, dear reader. Read the poems and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

O Pen : Poems for June 29

The Thing Is, by Ellen Bass (see June 18)
Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings by Juan Felipe Herrera
ORAL only :
Kiss over Zero by George David Clark
The Untied Stales by Paul Hostovsky
Always Something More Beautiful by Stephen Dunn (see June 25)
In Love, His Grammar Grew by Stephen Dunn
Brothers in Arms by Carl Phillips

We had discussed two of the poems, and this is where I enjoy the variety of two different groups, rather like being a teacher with the same material taught in two different sections, or even teaching the same book from year to year, but never ever repeating the prep in quite the same ways.
For Ellen's poem, everyone appreciated the uncomplicated way she deftly moves through the body, from the visceral "no stomach for it", to holding a face, looking deeply into the eyes of life, as if to peer beyond the physical-- nothing fancy, a plain face, without sacred violet eyes, but the inexpressible whatever it is about doing that, that allows you to love life again.
The ambiguity of "body" -- as in the physical body, or the normal person, the " you say, yes, I will take you" which could be both yes, I will say these words again, or, yes, I will feel the sense of these words again. We spoke as well of the difference between sadness and depression, and the title. The thing is... as both cliché, but also, emphasizing "is" -- the thing being love.

We skipped over the Herrera -- no one chose a favorite of the 10, but I mentioned his energy, the flawless English which can melt into flawless Spanish, and the discussion came up about how a National Poet Laureate is picked...

I do love the group though. Today, I picked poems which made us laugh no end! It wasn’t the poems themselves, but the camaraderie of the group, who took a poem called “Kiss Over Zero” with these opening lines:

anything over zero is zero
anything over one is itself

Imagine 14 different people giving explanations of what the 11 couplets mean – from stories of romances and marriages gone sour, to admiration of mathematical genius.
some said, "an intellectual exercise, no feeling which ends up as nonsense... we don’t know what anything means... others, a little negative (double negative...) and one summarized it as a fun night of casual sex...
How do you read this line: and the minute hand eating its tail --
the clock's minute hand, or the tiny hand of ... well... an ouroubouros? Intriguing, and the more time we spent with it, the more we found.
for instance this couplet:
"the memory of laughter
is a lamp over one"
do you pronounce the stress O'ver one,or, over ONE? Can you hold both meanings?
The footnote mentioned the inspiration of the poem coming from a course in translation and a line in Bei Dao* where one student read ‘over’ as shorthand for ‘divided by. So, a misty poetry, is behind it all -- and how does THAT change the reading?

The Untied Stales... or shall we say "slates" or skate over the unbound ties of united...
a small gem of a poem. The choice of verbs leads us to politics... bleeding/ spilling... and David brought up Elizabeth Bishop's poem, Geography. The adverbs describing the child scribing the title of her map brought forth ideas of childhood as well.

We found reading the Stephen Dunn poems line by line more gratifying than stanza by stanza, and a second reading of course allows a chance for repetitions, tenses, sounds to work their magic.
See comments about 14 different people giving explanations. Always Something More Beautiful” also had a variety of opinions.
Is it a poem about a jogger running a race... a simple progression of the pursuit of beauty, perhaps odd, perhaps daring, or something someone else remarks, saying “beautiful” “as if something inevitable about to come from nowhere is again on its way”.

In Love, His Grammar Grew by Stephen Dunn reminds us of the relationship between grammar/glamour about which I just heard Mary Szybist speak. The rules of grammar, told as a love story, is beautifully executed. The one short line, which starts after a sizable indent "... For love," makes it clear love making every bit as amorous for language as for the body.
"/he wanted to break all the rules,/light a candle behind a sentence/named Sheila,"
Does it matter who Sheila is-- or simply the fun of a named run-on sentence and knowing she is "queen of all that is and might be", created by the largesse of grammar.

The last poem "Brothers in Arms" by Carl Phillips also ripened, read sentence by sentence...
What kind of comrades...what sort of struggle...Echos of Gertrude Stein who when asked, "What is the answer" answered... no answer... then what is the question." Phillips seems to struggle to reconcile himself with himself in the poem, although any allusion to being black and gay is not evident. Some of the enjambments feel awkward, but perhaps that is the mood of the poem.
The key, "gratitude’s the one correct response to having been made,
however painfully, to see this life more up close.", one senses is something he cannot feel.
There’s a rumored
humbling effect
to loss that I bear no trace of." with "humbling effect, far to the right, is immediately refuted: "It’s not loss that humbles me."

By the time we arrive at the ending lines, it is not a feeling of bitterness, resignation, but a quiet acceptance: "Not knowing exactly what it’s
come to is so much different from understanding that it’s come
to nothing. Why is it, then, each day, they feel more the same?"

As ever, such a gift to share insights. Thank you all for participating!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Poems for June 25

A selection of Juan Felipe Herrera (available orally)
Jackrabbits, Green Onions & Witches Stew
Is it Better Where you Are, by Christophe Salerno (poetry foundation post 6/2)
Shades by D.H. Lawrence
We Wear the Mask by Lawrence Dunbar
Always Something More Beautiful by Stephen Dunn

Is poetry at risk of dying? What poems are picked for daily consumption by such agencies as Poetry Foundation, Poetry Magazine, Garrison Keilor's Writers Almanac. Who is the audience?

So, in listening to "Let Me Tell you What a Poem Brings" by the new US National Poet Laureate, we understand a poem is not something to pin down, and even if you compare it to a shopping mall, cannot be compared to a commercial venture one enters, with an inside that might catch you by surprise, pull at your senses. The mist/missed becomes central.

I asked if anyone had a favorite, and Terry proposed "Song out Here".

One of the criteria is to wonder, would I read this again in 5 years and still find it pertinent? How is a poem pertinent? What do we look for in poems?
Perhaps rap and jazzy sounds are in, and support a feel of today, but will they become a simple object of curiosity tomorrow?

In the line-up, I picked a contemporary poem, referring to 19th century Keats, then two poems by poets of the late 19th century, returning to a pick by the June Issue of Poetry Magazine.
Is it better where you are? Involves a "you" that could refer to Fannie Brawne, (the poet spelled it "Braun") Keats, the reader... The poet's last line "These scraps I work at like a crow" feels like a door slammed in the face, which changes the tone-feel of the title to an edgy sarcasm. My question to the group was whether the line breaks supported or interfered with the flow of the meanings. For instance, the "I keep watching the same meteor" (meteor as noun) endgames to "meteor/shower videos on YouTube, where shower acts like a verb.
Similarly, does the parallelism "my arrhythmic heart/aches for the kind of dramatic arc"
draw you in or push you out?

So what does this poem bring you? or fail to bring?
Do we believe the loss of smell will show you will fail at being? And what is the wonder over the weight of meaning?

From there, we enter the underworld of D.H. Lawrence, who according to the American Academy of Poets write up, "believed in writing poetry that was stark, immediate and true to the mysterious inner force which motivated it." This poem, in a book published in 1919 uses form, opening with a question, followed by tercets which echo the end rhymes (gleam, flame, me/seem, same, me; flower, strive, listen; our, deprives, glisten; morsel, tremble, hand; parcel, dissemble, understand) and the closure, "For I have told you plainly how it is."
Really? What is "it"? and to whom is he speaking? there seems to be a subtle communication with the dead, the shades being spirits of the underworld-- perhaps all that we the living shirk? Mysterious, sensual.

From there, the powerful rhetoric of Lawrence Dunbar, son of freed slaves, born and died in Ohio: 1872 – February 9, 1906. The strong rhyme does not interfere with the message. The four times "We were the mask", as title, as opening line, and twice indented could refer to different understandings of "we" -- universal, the mask specific to Americans, the "us" as the slaves, and return to the universal. The break of pattern: subtleties/over-wise/sighs/ (3 lines) sandwiched between guile/smile and while, followed by the indented "We wear the mask"
gives a sense of disparity between inner and outer mask. Note the interweaving of the final 6 lines:
we smile / cries
sandwiches (we sing,... vile/mile with "otherwise, we wear the mask.

Returning to contemporary, the poem by Stephen Dunn from his book, "Lines of Defense".
Is the 6 line, free verse stanza too artificial, or does it imitate the sense of thinking while running, ruminating on lessons learned. Read sentence by sentence, we notice an uneven gait, the occasional internal rhyme. Who is the man with the famous final kick? Death? God? the author of the poem, a different contestant -- all of the above? The last line renders "Beautiful" overheard, and also incorporated and interpreted by the speaker of the poem as the kind of unexpected that has occurred before, pulling the title in yet another way -- always something more beautiful in beautiful.

We ended with "Endings" which appeared in Nimrod's issue "Circulatory Systems" Spring/summer 2015. -- as reworked in my book, "Golden Smoke" -- ah... a hint of pain without a final "n".
end without a final d, a hint of an equation , let "n" equal... a sense of unfinished.
We will resume the Rundel sessions September 17 !

Jim gave me a present -- a copy of a page of I'm not sure from what book, but it starts with "They" and goes into an examination of Eastern and Western mind, the first, containing multiplicity and the second a unity and oneness. Consciousness and form, energy or manifestation are not radically separate... More on this in the Fall.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

poems for June 22 -- special visitor... Dane Gordon

It is one thing to read words, but so different to hear them read by the person who wrote them. Not all poets are masters of elocution, but Dane is. In his quiet philosopher's voice, he engages those around him with important questions. What makes a poet? Perhaps the depth of his reflections on the nature of existence. How in the beginning, life started as one cell and its connections, then self-replicated. His poems explore relationships; the material for them is always there, but the poet's role is to be alert to the flow of activity.

On the cover of his book, "The Logic of Death" is the replication of the memorial plaque in St. Petersburg to Serge Esenin, who was so distressed by the savage way the soviets were treating his village, that he committed suicide. The cover of The Wound of Faith comes in two versions, one the original woodcut print and one the regular print of two columns, the connections to a larger vault on the left-hand side only suggested, and an incomplete wooden vault springing
towards the right, under which the title lies in red letters.

Can peace absolve death? Can a relationship broken from the start be repaired? Can our sorrows, wounds, quieten enough to hear voices we could not have heard earlier? (addressed in the title poem of his book, "The Wound of Faith.) The person who has wound or flaw is what attracts us as if to gives us faith, possibility. Perhaps time repairs, and you can use the example of what we remember. How many of us agonize over the 30 years’ war? How many of us will agonize the way those who survived the Great War did, understand what it meant for the 20th century, centuries from now?

He did read for us:
The Logic of Death – Dane Gordon + Night Before the Battle discussed 1/19

The book is organized by wars, beginning with "the war to end all wars" progressing to World War II, the Vietnam War, and the title poem comes from a section on the Bosnian war.
Here Dane mentioned Sarejevo where he taught. The city lies as if in the center of a saucer, surrounded by hills. His philosophy classes continued – but at night, as during the day the men would fight. He told the story of the photographer dedicating his work to those who died in the Bosnian war ( poem "Aux Mort de la guerre en Bosnie p. 66) and the poem "The Contradiction" on page 67-8. To quote the poem: . "Is human community a deep current and animosity the turbulence of the surface?" Can we remember what we once thought of people when they were our enemies, but now whom we treat as friends? What is the contradiction of spirit against spirit – one heart beating against itself. "Is there a greater spirit... who could take the contradictions in his hands and like a Potter can mold the separate pieces into one?"

Can a poet have any influence? Perhaps the world falls into 2 types of people... those who react to the flow... and those who try to take a lead. (see his poem Birds and Saints.)
In the introduction to "The Wound of Faith"(A Feeling Intellect and a Thinking Heart p. 8-9, Two Visitors) Dane explains "In the area of religion the responsibility of philosophy is not simply to be critical or dismissive, but to respect opinions when they are sincerely held, no matter how strange; to try to understand them, to try to stand on their side, and then, to be critical.

discussed 2/26/15: A Furnace Door. Reading it for us 6/22, Dane referred to a course on Ethics, where Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire was used. Dane was surprised the students did not understand how cruel it is to destroy someone's self-illusions,as in the case of Blanche and how necessary it is to sympathize, empathize with them first.

also, from his new book the Wound of Faith
the title poem p. 45
37-8 – Three Truths : Epicurus: and the physical;
a question that rides/... above/ all explanations; (it has not been answered, but "continues to be / asked.
For what provides/ our life with meaning/ is not in the physical,/yet seems to hold /the otherwise meaningless /elements of the physical/universe together.

87 Not that at all.
final judgement. " we’ll reach into the tangled mess of our lives... and draw from it one thing... one untarnishable good and will hold it ... do you recognize? and we will recognize and weep regenerative tears."

He ended by reading "Forgiveness: a dialogue" the final pages of the book "The Logic of Death".
Here the intricacy of forgiveness, revenge, the problem of needing death to understand; that forgiveness... the pale sister of hate... does not want, the only member of the family of life that can hold it together.
and on goes the dialogue...
without forgiveness, no hope, no bearable life, we of all people are most miserable.
what did you learn? that forgiveness is beyond our reach, unless you reach beyond it.

There is something healing to take the step of saying, “I forgive.”
if you think your hate will change our love for humanity, you’re wrong.
carrying a grudge – like taking poison and hoping the other person will die.

And we ended on the metaphor of currents and waves... the process...
"Is human community a deep current and animosity the turbulence of the surface?"
"The surface rages and/destroys most of us/who try to sail there./Can we believe/that deep currents flow? And the questions continue.


I had distributed these, but he did not read them
p. 15 I Suppose
p. 25 Apart from Vision
P. 72 Grief is a Dark
Also these titles which I find intriguing in these poems.
A feeling intellect and a thinking heart— prayer to no one (bleak landscape of our choice… ) vs. p. 22 (Prayer) p. 27 (The Lord Tarries all the time.)
34—If the Universe were a person

41 April (with acknowledgements to Geoffrey Chaucer
As in God, all die — p. 66 – (p. 65 As in Adam.... )

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Rundel: Poems for June 18

The Thing is, by Ellen Bass
Blood on the Wheel, by Juan Felipe Herrera (new US Poet Laureate)
An Irish Airman Foresees his Death, by W.B. Yeats
Prayer of a Man in Snow, by Israel Emiot (tranls. by Leah Zazulyer)
Wound of Faith, by Dane Gordon

I love a poem that touches me, and have the feeling that this poem, without any need for analysis or explanation, is telling me something I am so glad to hear. So it is with Ellen Bass' poem. How simple to say, "The thing is to love life..." but it wouldn't be believable for me without her set up of the first sentence winding down 5 lines. It's the delight of pausing on, "The Thing Is" -- and wondering, but what exactly is this thing, and how would I pin one major thought as "the thing" and then falling onto the first line, "to love life" which repeats, "to love it even" and then start the "when's". Three times, "when"... no stomach for it, when grief sits with you, when grief weights you... and the heaviness of grief also winds into textures of heat thickening, heaviness of water, into an "obesity of grief". Three times, the word grief. I love the last sentence, also wound into five lines. Love this poem, so effective in its 16 line package, reminding me of Kahil Gibran's metaphor of the heart being a cave carved out by sorrow, therefore, larger to fill up with joy.

But words like that lack credence is said too glibly, too easily. It's like a composition by a great composer. Sure we can isolate the tune, but it's the harmonies that tug at our heart.

I picked an older poem by our new US Poet Laureate, filled with anaphor, "Blood" (45 times, not counting three times, "Tiny blood", three times "It is blood time", "What blood", Only blood.
We discussed the voice -- the "how of the poem, if the overuse of the anaphor risks boring the reader, or if the idea of "boring" as in drilling a space, a hole, to force the reader to think about the price of blood, the pulse of each person's blood, the livingness of blood, the shedding of blood, the truth, violence, conflict of blood. If this poem were a painting,
I would see reds splashed in dramatic, chaotic lines, crossing the border with Martin Luther King leading the charge along with other brave voices that have the courage to speak.
We concurred that the occasional rhyme seemed incidental and didn't interfere. If the repetition bothers us, perhaps the poem's strength is to push us to think about what we close our eyes to.

We read the Yeats, written a century ago, in the context of WW1, and voice of the Irish airman... which brought up other famous airmen poems. The close clip of the meter, the crossed rhyme keep emotion at bay like the airman, who suspends judgement about who he loves and hates,
the prophetic "waste of breath" of the years to come -- the pernicious waste of war, how human beings have always waged it, always will, the useless rhetoric around it offering explanation.

The Prayer of a Man in Snow, if read without a context, could lead to an understanding of a child, and obviate any sadness. However, knowing the suffering of Emiot in WW2, the gulag experience, the unjust persecutions, snow becomes the mask -- the whiteness being an erasure of life, an empty, unguided loneliness. How even numbers attach to snow, are replaced by it.
And what if your life were reduced to one, cold, isolated, sameness? I shiver at the power of this poem.

We ended with the title poem of Dane Gordon's new book, Wound of Faith.
One question for a poem like this, is how the eye and ear will work together, depending on the reader. The short lines do not ask to be read as enjambments, and depending on the reader could feel fragmented, jarring, or simply add a breathless quality to the ideas.
Indeed, we forget we made a decision... and here, I wish the poem would give us specifics, instead of staying in the speculative realm of philosophy. Is it the "wound" of faith -- or the branding of our decision about faith that marks us? In what way does faith wound?
What deep experience has the narrator had that brings about such a poem?

Hearing the poet read on Sunday, June 21, and again speak with the O Pen group in Pittsford on Monday, June 22, we found out that this title poem came from a couple who he counseled as they explored how to repair a relationship broken from the start. There was no way, except to end it, which they didn’t. Could their sorrows, wounds, quieten enough to hear voices they could not have heard early in our marriage? Such questions are universal, as we imagine the worst... the best... even a defining part of our life. Important questions such as, whether peace can solve death... Dane expects in a year or two he might write a sequel. The person who has wound or flaw is what attracts us. Gives us faith, possibility.