Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Summer O Pen... 8/23 and 8/30: WCW, CK Williams, XJ Kennedy, Robert Hass

Working backwards...
August 30 : The Long and Short of it
August 23 : Parody and Irony
I usually don't like poems over a page and was pleasantly surprised to discover "A Swimmer in the Air" by Howard Moss -- having only known his tongue-in-cheek, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day". (O pen -- 8/23). These two poems illustrate the difference between a short, witty poem which gives rise to a chuckle, and a longer poem which probes into mystery, wrapped in melopoeia, phanopoeia, logopoeia. The former falls in the category of "delightful conversation" equivalent to so many scarlet maple leaves, pressed between wax paper for a time, hung in windows, until the next season... The latter delights the ear, the eye, (each stanza can be seen with a left margin, fish-like mouth, and trailing right margin fins. The latter evoked the following:
Gould's "lung fish" and a story of evolution
the creation story with God's Hand, a snake, choices
ancient pre-civilization juxtaposed with the vernacular of modern times;
medieval mystery play and the beginning of the Word

Moss challenges us to see the undersides of being, whether metaphysical ("Man is an animal that needs a warden/to frighten off the Master's face") psychological, ("the idiot... "as spit and image of our wish"...). In the voice of collective humanity, six of the 12 stanzas involve the sea in some way: mirror, burial and breeding ground, site of the beginning Word, home of articulation's fishnet.
He links our "dry translations tidied from the deep," to the closing line, "part man, dry fish, and wingless bird": "abnormal dryness" in stanza 10, drying memorials, What is shed, "fingernails of scale" shed in spring, coil after coil... facsimiles, though not quite dead -- and the salt shed from our tears and blood.

The layers are exquisitely crafted with a b cc b a rhyme and echos of internal rhyme.

A poem to read for the beauty of its magic. A poem which stretches far beyond popular contemporary poetry, content to stack together some thoughts with linebreaks.

Length can be considered also as a horizontal stretch -- as in "Greeny Asphodel" where words defy a justified margin. In Robert Creeley's "The Language" he breaks line across expected grammatical pauses. Perhaps we do need Moss' last "condensed reader" who can figure out not only the abridged alphabet, but syntax axed by space.
Locate "I"
(wouldn't that be great -- locate the ego, the "I" that is you)

love you some
(as in somewhat, not somewhere)

eyes, bite
(OUCH! OUCH! with a comma yet -- as if eyes are taking their time to open their jaws)

love you
(AH, it's starting to come together!)

Without the line breaks, this poem couldn't work so well.

then what/
is emptiness
(especially if the next line is two prepositions!, followed by a dive into space between a repeated "fill, fill.")

He then takes us through the vowels:
fill, full, holes, aching, speech, mouth

I added CK Williams "Roe vs. Wade" which appeared in Poetry Northwest Fall/Winter 2010.
It gives you chills to read. Miserable mysteries.
His poem "Wait" deals with time -- the chop, hack, slash of it -- how perfect a title, "wait"
how we can't wait, plead the other to wait, or can't wait to forget how we tried to run away from the inevitable last breath where we hope our anguished wish is that our last word not be "Wait."

XJ Kennedy's Death of a Window Washer appeared on writer's almanac.
What a metaphor -- what do we wash, when we wash windows. What is suspended, no longer suspended when someone plunges down to his or her death? Kennedy gives food for thought.
How do we regard the man who has no relationship to us? What shakes us to look, think, even if fleetingly, it could have been me.
3 syllable words: obstinate, forgotten, copying, barricards.
they lead up to a 4 syllable word: coincidence
then the 3 syllables again: uttering, tedious, legacy.
The one which has an accept in second place is "forgotten"... associations with Christ and sacrifice.

Donald Hall says that analysis of poetry is only a chance for us to catch our breath, to be able to absorb the intensity of it. Experience the wild sounds.

Finding a corresponding work of art, gives yet more time for breathing. Look at Giacometti, "Figure" -- we would not pay attention to him unless by accident -- in this case, framed and hung in a museum. He is a ghosted outline on a suggestion of boards and there is a scribbled, smudged sense of uselessness in his hands -- perhaps they would have wanted to stop the "mindless copying machine" that "kept making scores of memos no one wanted."

Another two great sessions of reading great poems...

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