Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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!

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