Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Discussion of poems 6/21: Windhover, Words under Words, Rereading Frost

Reading Gerald Manley Hopkins is a pleasure for the tongue exploring the range of the bocal cavity. Why is The Windhover such a great poem? One could do worse with the opening lines:
triple "m" leading to the "m" of kingdom on the second line which introduces a double triple "d" - dom/daylight's dauphin and dapple-dawn-drawn... dawn referred to in three ways -- and since the poem is addressed "To Christ Our Lord" , the Trinity is not far behind.
I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon

the trinity only resumes at the end with the g's of gall/gash/gold.
gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion. a true sacrifice.

we discussed at length the last stanza.
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

I brought in the idea from "Elegance of the Hedgehog" that "true art is emotion without desire". There is no desire here -- only a feeling, a doubling hovering of such great power --
sh/pl, bl/ l's gathering force to furrow sillion, to gash vermillion. The energy of the poem is akin to the idea of making raku pottery -- the ecstasy of firing a pot without knowing how it will turn out.

For Words under Words... each stanza sketches a different aspect of the grandmother...
particularly poignant to me is an old women, so glad for mail, even though she cannot read it, but has the message read to her -- and what do we put in our mailboxes?
Do we know the spaces the ones dear to us travel through? This women becomes quite complex,
and full of wisdom -- nothing surprises her, and her peace is inspiring. "Answer, if you hear the words under the words-- / otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,/ difficult to get through, and out pockets full of stones.".

We admired "November" by Robert Frost. Armistice month... the repeat of "down" and "waste"
coupled with falling leaves.

and Linda Pastan: Rereading Frost -- the problem -- haven't all the best poems been written?
And yet, the sentences cannot be contained in the stanzas, and the poem picked is "I have been one acquainted with the night". How what counts is the sharing of the words -- the thrill of seeing how well a poet can bell the words.

clean-up poems 6/2010

New version of "Pop-a-lock"


What to do as life grows wild around you
and you are locked out of your house
your mind a mill of excuses?

Hop next door,
call pop-a-lock and wait and then,
attend to spring:
toothy waves of dandelion in the grass
staccato notes of nettle to sting the nose.

Wait for pop-a-lock with a trowel
to root out those dandies
before spring pops their lock,
their wound-up clock out of control
while last week's daffodils no longer
jazz with the sunshine. Rain or no rain
they've finished their lick
while a new platoon of jonquils croons.

The locksmith arrives, pulls out his kit,
concentrates, inserts a needle,
fingers the metal and twists.
Tells how he used to work for the police,
how he had to be real quiet
because you just never knew
what was waiting
behind the door,

and then pops
the lock

like spring.



A boneless intelligence gathered under a sharp beak,
a peak in the middle of four sets of arms,
eyes that secrete programmed death weeks after
reproducing, but charmed with three hearts.
Perhaps the advantage is the ability to squeeze
past tight places, call on use of tools and ink.

A poem with book title prompts

In the French browns of mown fields
polished by the sound of rain's dance steps
(five quick notes, two hesitant plock-plocks)
a hedgehog appears, his quills awry
under the heavy quilt of a frowning sky.

He rolls by a girl with a dragon tattoo,
whose bones carry her etched skin, the blue
weight of silence, her stock of rounded
thoughts and letters sheltered in her hood.

And there they are, in the fierce fling
of wind-slung drops, quills at the ready.
What would you want to know about them?
Ask them please to write it down.

Maybe they’ll toss some feathers of advice
From Leda’s mother, or list what they see
In the Junk Yard, interesting things
To put into some marvellous

font (with all the reasons they chose it)
Along with a poem written by a river,
which has swallowed
all sorts of poems others might have written

along with all the junk no one really wants to see
such as facts one overhears on a cellphone when
The plane has landed: how one is standing up,
Taking luggage out of the rack, how the baby

didn’t stop crying the whole trip. You might hear
“I’ll fin this shit” instead of I’ll finish it,
as a girl passes a book
to a man with a brushcut, who looks

as if he could barb her with a porcupine quill,
but changes his mind, passing
perhaps as a lonely hedgehog
curling his seven thousand smooth spines

out of reach of her beautiful blue tattoo.

(Tiny poem)
Brook Painting
chuckles measureless
beyond frame
to sundances

a short clip about wooly bears in the Farmer's Almanac...
the admitted confusion about whether the length of black or rust bands
corresponds to harsh or mild winter, and yet no two of these caterpillars
are alike in a year. So find one the color that suits you
and opt to think what you will.

Behind the Thorn, Soft Down

a reminder of unpredictable.
And yet, we tried to cut down a shaggy tree
Which this year shelters the cardinal's nest;
For two months pulling thistles growing thorny-thick
Which now provide soft purple flower
that will seed to feed the finches.

For what all this effort to control and tame?

Here, have some butter ‘n eggs
and all that delights the eye,
bee, butterfly

enjoy the colors, the seed for tea,
the unpredictable weed
Known as wildflower.

From a Slip of a Shell

a small whorled welch
scuttles sideways,
shuns his shell

if he had words,
he might skin them too,
the sound of them
until entering another slip of a shell.

O Pen discussion: June 28 - Powerful... Olds, Dickinson, Millay, Peacock

- a mobile of names spinning --
After 37 years my mother apologizes for my childhood
by Sharon Olds.
Long sentences and lines, and many felt that if there had been a stanza break, they would not have finished reading the poem. The poem grips you, doesn't allow you to breathe -- or to bail. The movements of the mother are off-balance : 3rd word is tilted, and everywhere things feel as if they are bursting, cracking, shattering -- and yet all this fragmentation and chaotic mosaic is suspended. Tears crack from eyes, a terrible liquid like balls of mercury from a broken thermometer -- and the speaker's eyes simultaneous with the mother's chopped crockery of hands, those bursting faucets of eyes, could not SEE what to do with the rest of her life. Repeated, could not see what the days would be like with the mother sorry she had not done "it" -- this terrible guilt, released, and we hardly realize what we are saying in response. "It's all right", don't cry, it's all right, the air filled with flying glass -- isn't that it? We turn on an automatic stream of words, disassociated -- and in this conditional of coulds and woulds and implied past and future, imagine we have forgiven... Have we? Could you?

After great pain, a formal feeling comes… poem #341

After great pain a formal feeling comes—
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions--was it He that bore?
And yesterday--or centuries before?

The feet, mechanical, go round

A wooden way

Of ground, or air, or ought,

Regardless grown,

A quartz contentment, like a stone.

This is the hour of lead

Remembered if outlived,

As freezing persons recollect the snow—
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

Why is this poem so famous? Aside from capturing the trauma of deep grief, how shock numbs us, the reader understands that these words are spoken by someone who can look deeply inward and capture what it is. The seemingly arbitrary capitals of

are linked by the capitalization -- one personal pronoun, one possible verb, ought, treated as noun, thus a synonym for Nothing or Zero (Zero to the bone)
linked by the repetition of “or” (Of Ground, or Air, or Ought)
and one adjective. Nouns are lifeless without verbs, just as Nerves, Heart, Feet are stiff, mechanical.

Although this is one of her less formal pieces, and the meter and rhyme are not consistent, there is a predominance of dark vowels sound of “O” and the body is referred to in parts : nerves, heart, feet.

The spondees (great pain; stiff Heart) seem to nail in ineluctable numbness.
the image of Quartz contentment, jars with stone.

For more discussion this is good :

Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver

Form and variation, a sense of Walter de la Mare in the rhythm, a little Match Girl sentimental, the spookiness of Grimm's fairy tales... some loved the harp weaver, the dreamlike possibilities... some shivered at the social commentary. How our mothers sacrifice for us...

Molly Peacock: Anger Sweetened

What a sonnet!
To be posted in the office of Doctors who treat people with symptoms resulting from pent-up anger. How a leap of anger becomes a grasshopper covered by coagulating chocolate... and then we eat our words and gag. That's bad enough, but to do it as skillfully as Molly leaves you convinced of the nefarious weight of sweetening the very bitter thing we recognize as alien to us. Sweet isn't the answer. Nor is anger. Observe those leggy words, to and from where and how they leap!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Poems discussed 6/7: Maxine Kumin, Surprises; Sharon Olds, The Talk;

What is the poem stewing in? How is the reader engaged?
So started our discussion -- and we admired the deft workmanship of Kumin, preparing us for "surprise" and the delight that the surprise could not be guessed! Now, THAT makes poetry fun!

if a line ends with 100...
the reader is given a chance to think of all the 100 things -- in this case, covered with dew that the morning sun licks off...

After 15 summers....
and the reader has not only a line break, but a stanza break, and the next words fall weightily, on what in French is called "le rejet" of the enjambment, "of failure", and the "f" of fifteen
slides into the "f" of suffer" sucked into the dark vowel sound of "u" ... glut, success, clustered, and a delightful pull of su/ccess and su/ffer --

and we can laugh with the flip tone, "doubtless this means..." but that stanza ends with "beauty" enjambed to "albeit trampled..."

So a poem is set up, we are engaged, and then we have the comparison of Mother's roses... and a small portrait of mother... we can see the little girl observing her mother...
and see the older woman this little girl now is, and value her look, "backward longer than forward, nothing/ too small to remember, nothing to slight/ to stand in awe of, / her every washday (back to the opening stanza's dew)

Monday baked stuffed peppers (as in the ones that after 15 years are successful!)
full of the leftovers she called surprises.

Without telling us, we understand.


A very different telling with Sharon Olds, from an anthology called "Poetry Speaks Who I am".
Perhaps that is the only story (according to Northrup Frye)...

The identity of an eight year old as a sibling... and what lies behind the cry
"I hate being a person" -- and that pain of diving into the mother --
and she cannot swim, the child cannot swim." Because the poem is told in third person,
the she gathers power as both mother and daughter.

Poetry Magazine -- June 2010 -- critique 6/8/2010

In this issue, I was glad to be introduced to Anna Kamienska, and read 19 pages from her notebook, "In that great river". That and the letters responding to the April issue, counterbalanced a sense of exasperation, turning the pages of the tedium of the other poets.

I had high hopes for Ron Silliman, with the opening "From Revelator"
Words torn, unseen, unseemly, scene/
some far suburb's mall lot/
Summer's theme: this year's humid
-- to sweat is to know --

but he continues with the word play and loses me. If "poetry is a foretaste of truth" as Kamienska is quoted as saying on the back of the magazine, Silliman's columned drivel is perhaps poetry for him, a snagged 'snarcissism, to play as he does -- where is any effort to engage the reader?

To quote Kamienska again, "Anxiety is creative./ Confusion is not creative. The beautiful greeting "Peace be with you" arose in times when every stranger might be an enemy with a weapon in his hand./Peace be with you! Silence be with you!"

Perhaps Silliman's offering does not awaken a connection in me -- nor does it bring comfort because it does not feel like a gesture of love (to quote Kamienska again.)

In the midst of pain, there sits an indisputable nugget of love. Recounting what one sees,
throwing words around to jostle into each other misses such poignancy. Somehow, Averill Curdy had words that could evoke pain -- but the way they were strung together left them as simply... words. If there is a Chimera involved (as the title says) I have lost interest after the first clumps of 10 lines, 8 lines, (with space to indicate periods -- and an extra LONG space of a complete line with "Then aftermath's" hanging out like a ships bow to fall into the enjambment
"vegetable melee -- large space (maybe a weighty comma) limbs and bodies."

I really don't care. 4 more lines and a list with two W's two S's and slipping names
and a "he" arrives.

I'm somewhat interested by the language on the next lines

I like the idea of air flexing and bruising green around wounded bodies, and love the paradox of "they didn't know what to do and carried on doing it" -- the image of trapped flies works.

But slogging on to "That the fury never ended he would learn/walking the eye of its silence//

After the hurricane the stunned brilliance." I'm out of the boat.
The end line, 5 pages later "A channel for pain and a channel for hearing" hangs like a loose shutter

It's a relief to read where the inspiration came at the end: from a Spanish explorer.
Not for me.

The letters to the Editor were welcome relief!
I wonder what TSE would say of the poems in this issue. The first letter called on Eliot's observation that a poem "can communicate before it is understood."
If that is true, just what is communicated in these poems? And do I care to put in a lot of energy to find out? I don't mind working hard at poems -- but I do want a pay off of some "aha, that was worth it."

I did enoy "working" at Todd Boss' poem, "It is enough to enter" - in fact, spent a good 4 hours thinking about his poem, which reminded me of Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese". She allows us images, draws us from a title, to an assertion that circles to a sense of rightness, without falling into the irritating tone of "here are the facts" -- but rather hovering, like the wings of the geese, connected to sinew and heart, of a beating of life force. No such luck with Boss.
He shuns details, tells us they are not necessary. The letter responding is surprised that he thinks you don't need to read the Bible either, and yet, there is something reminiscent of the Passover Seder. What I found interesting, this ""dayenu -- it would have been enough" is how it opens up a keatsian "negative capability" -- a hovering over uncertainty -- which Boss does not allow. He stays with his rhyming "or", which makes him nervous, his staccato lines which seem more like words thrown like darts to corroborate the excuse that you don't have to / understand. But what is he really communicating? How does he allow the reader to feel that "It is enough to have come just so far" --
Oliver's poem ends with an address to the reader :
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

How different from Boss who tells us :
You need
not be opened any more

than does
a door, standing ajar.

I loved the letter which said the explanations were interesting, and it would be great to leave out the poems, and let the readers write a poem to fit the explanation. I also appreciated the letter which spoke about Rae Armantrout and her poem "Paragraph" and whose explanation "seemed as muddled and obscure as the poem itself". Well, good for her spending her life writing poems "beautifully immune to meaning" -- but if it had been Joe Blow, would that poem have been picked out of the 90,000 poems Poetry receives each year?

I would like to feel that poets "strain at particles of light in the midst of great darkness" -- and that they be open to the imagination -- but I don't think Keats would endorse laziness in craft. Wisdom comes from careful scrutiny of images provided by the senses, and like Plato's cave, Let our mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts -- but poetry requires making something of them, scrutinizing the gifts provided by the senses, the wisdom of images allowed to work by their own force. This is not a simple task. Perhaps contemporary poets and poetry editors would do well to present poems like the emperor's new clothes and hope there is some child left in us that we trust.