Tuesday, June 8, 2010

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.

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