Saturday, April 17, 2010

Portraits -- 4/22 -- a few thoughts

What does a portrait tell us? What is it that we like (or not) to remember about someone?
We discussed "The Woman's Portrait"; Szymborska
Stanley Kunitz -- the Portrait
Theodore Roethke's My Papa's Waltz
and the love poem by Ellen Bass, "To Praise."

I love Szymborska's poem (translated by Grazyna Drabik and Sharon Olds)
The Woman's Portrait.

As ever, I wonder what the original Polish says -- and whether Grazyna translated it to English, and Sharon added her touch -- and how fitting -- three women speaking about being a woman.

Yes... "must be open to choices / changing, only let nothing be changed".

a Universal woman, no matter who makes the prediction -- how some things are not of choice -- eye color, whether they fill with tears or are merry... with or without reason...
how many children she will bear.
I love the contrast of holding a sparrow with a broken wing along with a meat chopper, a compress, her own money for a long journey, and a glass of vodka.

Where is she running like that? Isn't she tired?

Oh no, only a little bit, very, it doesn't matter.

After a series of 3 options to choose from, there are now only 2:
She either loves him, or has just set her mind.

What is involved with that choice?

And the poem ends with three choices, like boxes nesting in boxes, whatever these complex connections, it is this :
for good, for bad, and for goodness' sake. -- in all senses of Goodness, and the cliche.

For Christ's sake -- for God's sake, and Godforsaken: sake -- Much of the word's original meaning has been taken over by case, cause, and it survives largely in phrases for the sake of (early 13c.) and for _______'s sake (c.1300, originally for God's sake), both probably are from O.N

I love that a poem is called "To Praise" -- where the definition of the verb is linked to the desire to praise everything about a lover -- the orgasmic extravagance that brings you to praise. But the title also calls us, to look at how we offer words to praise -- as in
"to a rose" -- how we are writing a letter to this idea of "preis" -- the value, the precious quality in something.

For Kunitz: the poem is about the portrait his mother rips into shreds -- how he takes three angles: the father who committed suicide; the mother who cannot forgive him for doing that -- all of which happened before Kunitz was born... Can you imagine knowing that your father had a name, a life, a story, but it is secret, "I could hear him thumping" -- as if the father the mother refuses, is in his heart... and how she punished him with that slap when he brought down the pastel of the stranger. And that word hurts. Stranger.

My Papa's waltz. The child speaking. An angry mother in the background. You can see him, as high as his father's belt -- the drunken father swaying... and how in spite of all that craziness, the "clinging to your shirt" is a double-whammy of a child's innate love and need for a father

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