Wednesday, December 28, 2011

last O Pen of 2011: as we get older...Bly, A.E. Stallings+

Bly once said, of growing older: "I was very surprised to find out, as my poems pick up more and more of the past of human beings, the ancient culture, more and more of the grief and the suffering of human beings — the poems become funnier! I don't understand that, but I love it. I feel that there's some way that as the mind gets more mature, in the midst of a lot of grief, it's able to dance a little!"

There's much to be said for "play" and for "form". Bly's use of music --appropriately titled in the book "Eating the Honey of Words" is gratifying. Whether the "eh-eh" bleat of a goat in "reckless" and "red" and "chevrolet" (not to forget French chevre as goat) the predominance of swallowed "l's" (pull, stubble, whole hill, single, frail)or simple repetitions, he catches the reader in the scene with sounds. "To pull in air was like reading a whole novel." requires quite a bit of pushing out to sound the words -- but one moment expands into story and we look at the "we" that has goats and washes up, and feel the we of "ordinary" looking on at the magic of what Bly observes on the farm in the early morning.
The personification of the earthworms looking up like shy people trying to avoid praise", the awkwardness of goats and turkeys, and dual sense of "washed up" all have a dance to it -- a joyful recklessness of just being.

Tale of the Reed Flute by Rumi
In the beginning, the great separation and how better told than by a reed, cut to make music... Kathy noted the problem of no period here:

Due to separation, I want chests torn to shreds
To describe the pain of desire
which could also be read to be understood as a period after "shreds"
and an awkward syntax of:
To describe the pain of desire
Anyone distant from his origins
Will seek to return to them.

How do we understand these words which describe two different "pains of desire"?
We want what we don't have; we want others to feel our pain; we lament -- but what do we truly lament?

I read the short translation of Nahid Yousefi:
Everyone's heart is broken one way or another
Whether by strangers or by friends
There is no objection if it is broken by a stranger,
But by the friend, why?

Rumi's poem allows a second look at what we expect, desire, truly want -- for so often it is a fleeting whim. True understanding -- the "secret" the reed possesses,
what we feel hearing it, but cannot put into words, we often overlook.

3 POEMS by A.E. Stallings -- totally delightful -- form, wit, and wanting every line!

"Aftershocks" -- a short sonnet which starts with this line:
We are not in the same place after all.
How after 8 lines, we are rocked out of place with a question mark
with a wonderful linguistic kiss as we go from literal to metaphysical considerations. The word play, slight references to Bishop's Villanelle "One Art" just enhances the problem of just what it is to be "grounded".

RepRoach was simply sheer delight. What representative of reproach do you pick?

After a Greek Proverb (A.E. Stallings p. 299 Poetry, Jan. 2011)
¨Ουδέν μονιμότερον του προσωρινού”
(nothing is more permanent than the temporary"
is a marvellous villanelle.

Inspiring discussion... the feeling of having read something-- enjoyed it, related to it, bolstered to have a line which puts temporary into perspective.
"We’re here for the time being, we answer to the query,"
query with em-dash; with period; with comma.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day after Solstice: UU Dec. 15; O Pen Dec. 14 + 21

Solstice and three discussions of poetry dealing with titles like
Winter Night, Christmas Circular letter, Sabbaths, Shapes, White Morning, Corona, Bread Boy, Enemies, Stifled.
Without knowing the "stakes" of the poem -- without knowing the discovery the poet shares with the reader, it would look like each title announces an aspect of the Christmas season, even "Stifled", written by "anonymous" as a summary of political frustrations in congress. It reminds me of all the flavors of Christmas notes --
the cousin who comments on world affairs, the missionary who comments on spiritual work; the weather reports, family measurements, or the philosophers who note human behavior and the natural world.

Sarton captures a prayer-like feeling with an Antiphon -- as if birch trees in winter under starlight call for a different kind of radiance than what we expect with dawn.

How does this relate to "preparing for a new year" and the familiar call to "prepare for a re-birth"? There's "no telling" -- "who can say that darkness falls" ?
I love the way Sarton captures mystery -- the way W.S. Merwin in White Morning
loops us into an end of summer in the pasture rich with vetch, velvet of wild thyme and straggling eglantine -- leading us, without any punctuation or guideline through an "age of mist" to the sound of crows in white air, "their wings dripping"...
and whether it is the lights breaking in their tongues, or the cold, and this sense of stories that mainly have to do with vanishing.

So this magic of waiting, this intimacy of being, ensconced in a whiteness Merwin is generous enough to share with the reader -- the "I" not appearing until the 9th line, but then so present, up to the penultimate line, "with friends in the shade they have all disappeared/ most of the stories have to do with vanishing.

As Jim says, "so this nature opening up the mind bit -- how did that work out for you?"
The same with Dante Micheaux's poem, "Enemies -- in the sunlight, they, or you, become invisible... and the rich line: "Remember what makes one human, / animal, is not the high road / but the baseness in the heart.
One as unique person; or example of universal principle, human as animal, alive; high and low as base -- the baseline start -- or whatever it is in the heart that is not loftly...

As with Celan's Corona -- crown, or arrangement of petals, or flames of the sun,
Who is friend: man and leaf? or man and autumn? The WE that allows us to shell time, return it to its shell -- the beauty of a word that is both noun and verb,
the one the evidence of what is left; the other the act of dispensing with what holds what will be left. Just as a day of the week can be seen in the mirror,
and the sense that much more is mirrored... we check -- are you male? female?
what dark words are exchanged? This inner being shared, on view -- an invitation to know that it is time for a stone to be as flower, unrest to have a heart, that it is time for time to be. One can almost translate the last sentence, "such is time."

One word, many meanings -- so it is with Ruth Stone's "Shapes" -- as noun,
a plurality of form -- but what is the shape of hands, what is the completion of a moment in a film, one line of a poem, a sketch -- in that pause in space, "a violent compression of meaning/ in an instant within the meaningless." Again, the lack of certainly in the outline, the blur -- the just out of sight -- and accepting it.

And what stories do we tell? What do we write to each other at Christmas? The news of births, deaths, some travel, the small pieces that mark a month in a way our mind wants to remember... And then, perhaps an idea of a man coming to the country to bargain for trees... and the idea of taking a tree at three cents, to send to a dollar friend...

It is hopeful to hear someone like Wendell Berry note that even on the heels of justified despair at the waste we've made of the world, we can still find "angels of the thicket" -- unaccountable happiness -- "the way it turns up like a prodigal/who comes back to the dust at your feet/ -- or the uncle you never knew about, who flies a single-engine plane onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes into town and inquires at every door until he finds you asleep midafternoon...
it even comes to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Poems on Poet Walk - Nov. 30 Ashbery, Brooks, Carruth + Nye

Why do we pick a poem? Would we pick the same poem at a different time? Have you ever wondered why you liked something in one way, at one time, then changed your mind? or discovered something new that intriguedyou in a different way, or made you dismiss what originally attracted you? What goes into our “selection” and “appreciation process”?

ABC: Ashbery's "North Farm" is accessible and yet, addresses a subject as complex as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. What is the nature of our desire for more than we think we have, (or don't have) and desire for what we think we need? The opening of this 14 line poem, "Somewhere someone is..." starts in an indefinite sense of space, hurtles the verb "travel" forward with the adverb "furiously", and whizzes through blizzards, heat, torrents, to a three-part question on the 3rd line. "But will he know where to find you, recognize you, give you the thing he has for you"?
Concurrent is the sense of gratitude, that in spite of hard conditions, there is enough. Bursting sacks, streams filled with sweetness, and the ominous detail: "birds darken the sky". The final question pivots with "is it enough" with different extensions: a dish set out at night, but is it enough as well, that we think of him sometimes (like the somewhere) but also "sometimes and always, with mixed feelings."
The repetition of "you" as the last word of 4 lines, the lower case h for twice-mentioned "he" and him, the singular use of "we" reinforce a sense of the understood, targeted "you", a hidden, mysterious "he" and a sense of relief to be included as reader in the "we" with mixed feelings.

Gwendolyn Brooks "a song in the front yard" read by Almeta Whitis on the eventual "cell phone tour" plays with time, so that the voice can be speaking as young girl, or grown up "bad" woman. The flat rhyme of the last two lines of each quatrain
is just enough to be enjoyable, especially with uneven line length.
The adjectives: hungry, (on the same line as rough, untended)
charity children, brave stockings add texture, setting up the "front yard" appearance with the allure of "back yard". In a way, the poem seems to be more a portrait of a judgmental mother who is missing out on knowing the many sides of her daughter. Why the title of "song"? Perhaps because a song can express yearning, sing the blues, tell the story like ballad, and rise up to carry beyond the parameters of the front yard, where it starts out.

The Cows at Night -- we have discussed before -- but Maura brought us the link
of the trumpet and tuba calling in the cows -- who will come home even without "When the Saints go Marching in" -- but what fun!
The enjambments allow a pause for phrases to sink in on the line they leave,
as well as carry the meaning to the next word.
leaving for light / faint stars
through the mist / of mountain-dark
sad / and beautiful (sad is repeated as end word, mid-word and first word)
The delight of seeing: I saw / the cows.
(great breathings)
could I explain / anything.

We discussed the last line -- what would happen if it were omitted:
And then / very gently it began to rain. It helps soften the sense of being caught in a moment, a sadness, not knowing what to do, yet not wanting to leave.

We ended with Naomi Shihab Nye's "Shoulders". (Also read at UR Library Dec. 7)

list of poems sent:
North Farm: Ashbery
A song in the front yard : Brooks
The Cows at Night: Carruth
May my heart always be open to little -- ee cummings (not discussed)
Shoulders -- Naomi Shihab Nye
It Wasn't the Wind: Linda Allardt (not discussed)
A Woman and Her Dog : Stephen Lewandowski (not discussed)

Dec. 8 Bly, Howe, and Ginosko

Thanks John, Noel, Jen, Joyce for the good discussion yesterday.
Everyone: Here are the names of the poets for the first two:
Tightening the Cinch: Robert Bly
What the Living Do: Marie Howe — both the title of her book, and the title poem.

How do we deal with loss and remain "engaged"? What strikes us — what in our daily-ness makes us yearn "for this to last"? I love that "neighboured" is a verb — reminding us of our shared humanity.
John's summary seemed perfect.
Bly shared a sense of angst, Howe, a sense of yearning; "Elegy" by Ben Howard had a warm sweetness to it; Wendell Berry offered a little mini-sermon on the importance of reverence; and Ann Carson, a perfect epitaph which embraces our being — it reminds me of Taoist — thought to word, to action, to habit…
And brings us back to examining "thought". She understands our perception of being "scattered" -- pins it without commanding us, like Bly to "hold on" -- rather life is held gently in parentheses (this simple thing.)

Here is a term Robinson Jeffers (mentioned in Bly's poem) coined. Look how powerfully, he translated his thought to word.

"Jeffers coined the phrase inhumanism, the belief that mankind is too self-centered and too indifferent to the "astonishing beauty of things." It offers a reasonable detachment as rule of conduct, instead of love, hate and envy.... it provides magnificence for the religious instinct, and satisfies our need to admire greatness and rejoice in beauty." (from wiki)

Thank you all for the rich sharing! I look forward to next week!

PS. Noel — thank you for the 10 questions posed to John Ashbery! He answers with his signature aplomb and wit without pretension! His answer to "Do you think about death": "I've never thought about it. There are not that many things to write poetry about. There's love and there's death and time passing and the weather outside, which is horrible today. I'm so glad I'm not writing poetry today. The weather gets to me when I write.

PPS to myself: Ginosko: from Greek. To know.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Poems for St. Nicholas Day -- 5 carols selected by Duffy

Poems for December 6 –

The Bee Carol -- Carol Ann Duffy
Hark – by John Agard
Mumbai Kissmiss by Imtiaz Dharker
Slowed Down Blackbird by Alice Oswald
The Passion of the Holly (air: The Sans Day Carol* see links below) by Ian Duhig
+ links + stories!

Carols according to the 1928 edition of The Oxford Book of Carols, are 'simple, hilarious, popular and modern'. They are a kind of folk song where direct poetry and accessible music eagerly meet. The oldest of our carols date from the 15th century and 'give voice to the common emotions of healthy people in language that can be understood'. British Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy

The Bee Carol:
Rhyme, just enough, with slant rhymes, the bright ee sound of Eve, key, bee,
silver frieze/freeze -- both a way to preserve - and the tension of what is (and isn't or won't be) leave/believe; the short i sound in shivering winter, gift, cling, flightless, lengthens to the long silent hive...

Who would think of bees at Christmas in the cold... the queen protected by the faithful... like a ghazal, instead of a couplet, each quatrain ending with "winter cluster of the bees" (except the/ within the/ feed / bless the)
and a rethinking of "gift". Playful, yet poignant.

Hark -- with no exclamation point -- harkens on puns, rich alliteration and lilts with yuletide vocabulary -- mince pies turn into "don't mince" on pies, rhyming with "gourmandize" just as stock up, stockings and crack up, crackers and lithe "l"s link
telly, legless, feel, trolley.

Slowed Down Blackbird:
Amazing poem using the eye to key into capital letters, a bit like reading German with nouns benefiting from the majesty of uppercase, but more than that. Upper case makes for a line-break feel, midline, but stop/start; how do you understand "The Slow is settling Stillness is afloat"
The slow is settling stillness;
It makes you think about punctuation, the placement of words;
Rhyme through out but sneaky: wind/behind (eye rhyme) snuggled between hedge/edge
afloat/note; but no sandwich rhyme.
leaves/breathes/grieves: for the stanza starting with "awkward things"
slant rhyme of underfoot
Snow substitutes it's N for L, so some might think, "no" for "lo" in the Winter season... and the first line sounds like the beatles Blackbird.
Slowed down, by capital S: seven "Slow", one Slowy, and Slowed in the title;
two "Stillness" and "Storm" ; one sky; one Now as the final word.

The Passion of the Holly takes the "Sans Day Carol"
changes milk to bone; silk to gone.
The black as coal, links to miners, who give daylight their living to make,
sacrified more when the holly wore black.

singing from he grave; you can hear us b/c we are singing of love.
Not quite rhyme vs. the original.

The stories associated w/ the Carol, the strength of the singing, the maintenance of
Cornish and parts of Great Britain which speak other than Queen's English; the strength of one Manchester teacher who had her 8 year old charges sing for 20 minutes, for just a moment, allowing them to be children, even the bullies,
and to drop the mask necessary to survive fear, violence.

Fun day of sharing!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

poems poems poems: Dec. 1, Dec. 8 titles

UU Church:
Dec. 1
They Are Hostile Nations by Margaret Atwood (Poets Walk)
When the War is Over by W.S. Merwin
Japanese-American Farmhouse, California, 1942 by Sharon Olds
Everything by Sharon Olds


Tightening the Cinch -- Robert Bly
What the Living Do – Marie Howe
Elegy -- Ben Howard
2 poems from Ginosko

Supplement -- Almeta reading 3 poems from Poets Walk
Joy Harjo : Perhaps the World Ends here
Gwendolyn Brooks : A song in the front yard
Janine Pommy Vega: Which Side are you on?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nov. 16: Metaphor as a way of thinking... Boland, Hafiz, Nye

Metaphor... as a way of thinking.
Marriage is a bungee jump – by Walter MacDonald
This Moment – Eaven Boland
Two poems by Hafiz
Two poems by Naomi Shihab Nye: Burning the old year; Boy and Egg

What fun to see how MacDonald develops the idea of marriage as a bungee jump!
Just as bungee jumping and marriage are unpredictable, uneven, so is the use of rhyme and slant rhyme.
The final two stanzas: strain/pain; vows/now
echo the rhyme of the opening quatrain: canyon/minion; brushed/enough.
The leap to the next quatrain

... The ropes felt new enough

and he swore he measured them, the fall to the rocks
a lovers' leap eighty stories long.

The end, in a long leap -- prepared for in the penultimate stanza contains two breath-holding enjambements...

Hand in hand we stepped up
wavering to the ledge, hearing the rush

of a river we leaped to, a far-off
cawing crow, the primitive breeze of the fall,
and squeezed, clinging to each other's vows
that only death could separate us now.

The contrast of Boland's "This Moment",
breathless, fragmented, is a different sort of suspense.
Masterful. We reviewed her reading last Thursday...

UU Church, Nov. 16: picks from Poetry Nov. 2011

We might not remember all the details, but we do remember how something feels to us.
This week's discussion focussed on what touched us in the vignettes each poem provided.

Bryant Park at Dusk:
The rhyme, along with the wordiness of the poem, feels like a confession of rambling thoughts about loneliness in a convenient, sing-song ballad. However, looking at one man's observation at a woman, reading at dusk, gives the reader eyes to see
more than this simple scene. Instead, it is an invitation to think about dusk,
how it is a dividing line between familiar, unfamiliar, the end of a work or public day, and the beginning of a private day.
But she is on intimate terms, it seems, with the rhythms of Bryant Park,
"And what I loved was this:
when dusk had darkened her pages,
As if expecting a kiss,

She closed her eyes and threw her head back,"

Note how the poem allows space for the kiss to skip across a stanza break. The "kiss" rhymes with "this" -- what the observer loves. He continues...

"For that’s when the floodlights came on, slowly,
Somewhere far above my need,
And the grass grew green again, and the woman
Reopened her eyes to read."

Grendel's Mother is a masterful non-story that sets up the powerful tale of Beowulf.
The Danes are no saints, and like any culture, demonize the very things they are and fear. Two stanzas; three sentences. 8 lines. Note the CH sounds of scutcheon, touches, vetch, the T's and double O's, the way SC appears in scutcheon, scar,
the X of foxglove. The tenses start with the future; move to the past (he stood) and end with the present, simultaneous with the past and future -- as if fate has already been woven, as it weaves again and again. Here is the poem:

When the moon’s worn scutcheon
touches the flint-gray flood,
I will lave him in foxglove
and vetch until the blood
of his wretched heart heals.

Without a scar, he stood—

as the men make their way
into the quaking wood.

In King Tut's wife, we enter the grandeur of King Tut, the immortality of his tomb brought to size by his wife's feet -- and how the poet allows us to think why we would like her better. Certainly, the poet makes us feel something for her, which we don't for Tut.

The world is in pencil
is a small gem of 16 short lines, with the first a last lines as singletons,
followed by succeeding couplets. Who cannot love the way the Title links
to the first line : m-dash not pen. And the way the repeat m-dash and resonance of O's
I’ll bet it felt good
in the hand—-the o

of the ocean, and
the and and the and

of the land.

Delightful "happy-go-lucky" tone, yet behind the shiftings and recirclings as Ocean, land, mapping, tracing, retracing, permanence and impermanence have a deeper final say.
It reminded us of a creation story or sense of evolution.

Enoch's Blocks is a small "tour de force" of a small boy with his own version of the tower of Babel.
To understand these lines:

So CAB was a whirring warbler.
BACH was the Spanish Armada crashing

you would want to connect A + B + C from their first mention to CAB:
A is the color of fleet,
B is the color of war and demolition,
C is the color of echo and blur,

He is learning language as color... and the complexity of understanding
"And ENOCH he couldn’t describe.

And when it reached the height of Enoch,
standing, he tore whole tongues
down to their colors."

John says to review Ravel: L'Enfant et les Sortileges;
and Das Capital: Vol 3. The fetishism of commodities and the secret thereof.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

UU Church: theme of Story: Kunitz, Shihab-Nye, Service for Nov. 10+ metaphor

Stanley Kunitz: The Portrait
Naomi Shihab-Nye: My Father and the Fig Tree
Robert Service: The Quitter

How do we remember? What metaphors do we choose to live our lives?
If "I" is an Other, and people use metaphor every 10 to 25 words, as James Geary suggests reports, indeed, our idea that we see the world "directly" is indeed an illusion.

Is the "deepest cabinet" a metaphor in the Kunitz poem?
What happens when a photograph is ripped in silence?
What emotions make our "cheeks burn"?

How different from Shihab-Nye's memory of her father "weaving folktales like vivid little scarves."They always involved a figtree and if there weren't one, he'd add it in. What are the objects to which we attach such importance, because they help us personalize the world?
What kitchen implement would you choose to be?
What would you give to people to be remembered?

How different the "hell-for-breakfast" and sore-as-a-boil world the quitter can't take anymore -- how do you relate to the advice? it’s dead easy to die,
It’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard. What metaphor would you use?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

UU - Nov 3 poems that didn't use story

What kind of stories do we look for in a poem? Ballads, legends, or snapshots that hint at more than what meets the eye?

The poems today:
David Ferry: "Seen Through a Window" and The Crippled Girl the Rose
were snapshots like a still life, captured from the perspective of the describer "I"
telling the reader that what he sees. Who ARE the people in the scene? Why as readers do we feel both observer and observed as distant, unknowable and only hints of more fully-lived lives? Our perceptions, whether of color, of how we perceive "hunched strength", or a blue bruise "flowering in plump, standing-milk flesh" by our very choice of description tells us more about the viewer than what is viewed.

After Ritsos, by Malene Morling is a 7 stanza poem divided into two long sentences and two short ones. At first, there is the address of the moment of dusk where light disappears, and a mystical experience so strong, that EVEN the man who mops the floor in the execution room of the prison stops to witness. The two short sentences confirm the importance of the moment. the sense that no matter the circumstance, "imprisonment" is not possible.

some Ritsos poems:

The Beggar's Cup perhaps summarizes us all -- the who we are and who we aren't,
holding out our cups to life to see what drops in.

Boland, Ryan, Szuber, Hirshfield -- + 3 Witches 10/31

Eaven Boland: The Pomegranate
Kay Ryan: Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard
Janusz Szuber: About a Boy Stirring Jam
Jane Hirshfield

From MacBeth: 3 witches and "boil caldron, boil and bubble"

Reading well-crafted poems allows the magic of language -- stirred i' the charmed pot!
The Pomegrante: a new spin on an old tale.
I moves through the poem as speaker, as mother, as invitation for the reader to become the other known as I, and Ceres, through past to present. The pomegranate is the SOUND in Frenc of apple -- which opens up the garden of Eden, as well as the gates of Hell. What do we know about a child's hunger? How can we protect the ones we love. A mother can only give her beloved daughter rifts in time...
"If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift."

This poem "In a Time of Violence", 1994 addresses
more than the teenage appetite that is hungry --
or a simple Adam and Eve reference, connection to Iraq through the Pomegranate... or application of the Greek myth to modern-day life.

If Yeats and Sylvia Plath had a love child, it would be Eaven Boland... she captures, mood, movement, time, speaking in fragments, short bursts of sentences which contrast with the lone nine-line sentence of the daughter plucking the pomegranate.

Kay Ryan's poems always bear up well under scrutiny, revealing that less is a well-condensed and pithy "more". She starts and ends with the same sentence -- but the title gives a different sense than the ending sentence. Coupled with her sense of humor is a broad depth, sprinkled into short lines. Why is running the same rut hard? or the wearing down of things? or ending in a small box? What is grand and damaging about walking in the public parade, as opposed to wondering at the marks on the every day, private things we touch.

Szuber's poem about a boy stirring jam from the blather is pulpy plum and snapshot of the details of making jam -- at first green and unappetizing, but then rich and dark purple, although the poem doesn't mention this. The language is alive, as if hand-crafted by someone who remembers a moment when they are young, and call it forth, alive -- like all unmentioned details, but fully knowing "each particle of time has an ultimate dimension."

UU - Poetry and Spirituality Oct. 27

Follow-up from Poetry and Spirituality
October 27, 2011

What a terrific group! Thank you Joyce, Phyllis, Rich, Mariano, Noel, Emily, Martin for your thoughtful participation.

For those who couldn’t make it, we discussed the church theme of “discipline” with four poems. For more reading, I highly recommend:
David Whyte, Poetry of Compassion
most any Mary Oliver or Ted Kooser
Stanley Kunitz, Passing Through
(you can also check out )

Here is a quick sketch to summarize the main points ofdiscussion:

Adding to the mix of associations of discipline as commitment, a stick-to-itness of positive habits, a focus on priorities, as well as discipline as an area of study, a profession, or even a corrective measure, the poems brought out other aspects and benefits related to discipline. Perhaps surprisingly, openness, allows a receiving part of discipline, where in David Whyte’s poem, it “steels us” for revelation to allow a discovery of an unknown part of ourselves which like Lazarus is revived.

Mary Oliver’s confession of being deaf and blind to the metaphorical “honeycomb”
does not dwell in a “woe is me” chastisement, but rather, a desire that the “unknowable touch the buckle of her spine” – which brings to mind a posture of supplication and humility without stumbling on doubt. The last stanza, rather than certifying or confirming anything, leaves the reader to contemplate her attitude and confirms the importance of a discipline of faith.

Ted Kooser’s depiction of a dark, musty basement store, where an old man is trying out glasses, wearing another person’s rejected clothes, turns in the second stanza to a universal “you” where the reader also participates in “trying on new glasses” and looking into the mirror to check the fit. Plural mirrors reveal him, looking at us, and the opportunity to look beyond “the particular” and the past. Finally, Kunitz’ round mimics the repeating music, like Oliver’s repeating summer, of a glimpse of joy and his discipline to trudge to his semi-dark cell to try to capture it in words.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 10 Tranströmer, Bly, Rilke

As a segue from Robert Bly, it is only fitting to leap to one of the poets he translated --
Tomas Tranströmer – who just received the Nobel Prize, jokingly referred to as Mr. Transformer.
Tomas Tranströmer
After a Death,” as translated by Bly
After Someone’s Death trans. By Robin Fulton
Lament trans. By Robin Fulton

The Sonnets to Orpheus – First Series - #8
(transl. by A. Poulin)

Taha Muhammad Ali : Revenge

on translation: Robin Hunter and Rilke; Patty Crane and Transtrome

Thank you everyone for the great discussion today! (10/17) Thank you Kim for sharing the Robert Hunter translation of the 4th Duino Elegy . The link to see it (and Maureen Hunter's wood block print)
All of the elegies:

It was hard to pick poems from Collins' new book "Horoscopes for the Dead"- so I'll be glad to lend it out next week. One of my favorites from this book is "Symbol". You can hear Billy read it here:

Also, if you want to check out a different translation of our Swede, Patty Crane does a good job here: plus you can hear the Swedish:
Poem : Like Being a Child
Compared to the Robin Fulton --
Line 1: Sudden Patty: "enormous
Line 2: jerked over Ptty: pulled
Line 3: mesh Pty: sack's stitches

Stanza 2
Line 1: insult affront
Line 4: look forward take pleasure in

Stanza 3
Line 1: glimmering wooly hat : shimmering wool hat
Line 2: stitches weave
Line 3: straits bay
crowding teem
Line 4 earth land

list of poems for Oct. 31/Nov. 2 + and a small note or two

Poems for October 31 and Nov. 2

From Kathy:
--- Eavan Boland (reading at Berkeley, at minute 6:58)
--- “Of Antibiotics and iPods: On the Troubles, Irish poetry, and the details of an old Dublin Kitchen” ( interview)
--- THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2011 @ 5 PM Plutzik Reading Series, Eavan Boland, Hawkins-Carlson Room, Rush Rhees Libray U of R

Eaven Boland: The Pomegranate
Kay Ryan: Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard
Janusz Szuber: About a Boy Stirring Jam
Jane Hirshfield : Three-Legged Blues

Wednesday Nov. 2:

Hayden Carruth: They Accuse Me of Not Talking
From Kimberley:
Adrienne Rich: Storm Warnings
Rich's work, the poet W.S. Merwin has said, "All her life she has been in love with the hope of telling utter truth, and her command of language from the first has been startlingly powerful."
Margaret Atwood: The Door

If you have a teenage daughter, Boland's poem, "The Pomegranate" captures a glimpse of the depth of the Persephone/Demeter story -- the archetypal break, the letting go of what is most precious, because all a mother CAN give to her daughter are "rifts in time". The nine line "She put out her hand and pulled down the French sound for apple..." ends with "by the time/the story was told, a child can be hungry."
The short, staccato sentences in the present tense pierce the internal thoughts --
as the love and blackmail story handed down from ancient times weaves into a modern story. If Yeats and Sylvia Plath had a love child, it would be Eaven Boland, someone said. Boland seeks to bless the ordinary, sanctify the common.

Kay Ryan's poem is characteristically funny, yet never without prodding us to think beyond the words. We enter a world of "should" which of course, indicates this is not how it IS, and a small snapshot of philosophy along with how we wear down the things in our life -- how we too are worn down by the "grand, damaging parade" --
which has an ominous "better watch out" as we balance our public and private lives.

It's refreshing to have non-Hallmarked moments and language.. Like the boy stirring jam,
seen by his grown-up version who understands, like Robert Hayden, how little we understand of the details -- whether "love's austere offices" or how important it is to give our full attention to whatever we are in the act of doing -- for only that will provide memory and meaning.

Hirshfield's 3-legged blues is a pure delight -- tone is "Buddhist meets the country western" which provides a delightful tongue-in-cheekness.

Storm Warnings: Adrienne Rich
Perfect alignment of barometer, measuring the pressure and internal weather
"weather abroad/and weather in the heart alike come on / regardless of prediction."
Without giving personal details, Rich provides us powerful contradictions and images -- glass, shattered fragments, and glass as protector, sheathing the candles; how clock and weatherglass are no guarantee of control of time -- what are instruments but simple proof of naming, a proof AGAINST something that has nothing to do with what it will do in spite of our measures. We can only keep the windows closed, draw the curtains, shield the light against the draught whining through the keyhole.

brrrrr. It is not the storm -- just the warning -- and we know, storms come and go.

Hayden Carruth takes another view of storm -- if words are what the speaker feels -- and yet he is struck dumb... it strikes us harder to hear the question: "To which love can you speak/ the words that mean dying and going insane/
and the relentless futility of the real?

Finally, the Door -- by Atwood --
an amazing tour de force of repetition and variation that take us through a life --
ever at the edge of crossing the sill, but not until the very end.

Thank you Kathy and Kim for your choices!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Oct, 17 Hoagland, Bly, Tranströmer, Rilke and Bilgere, "Jane"

Tony Hoagland: Please Don’t
Tomas Tranströmer : Elegy
Rainer Maria Rilke: excerpt from 4th Elegy

So, what does a brilliant 20th century American in his late 50's, understanding the pitfalls of soul-killing aspects of America have to say about the 85 year old Bly?
It depends which part of Bly's career we look at -- and also the change in our country in the last 50 years. To summarize Hoagland's article on Robert Bly in the Sept/Oct. issue of APR, "the US government is involved in multiple conflicts; citizens are more economically polarized and manipulatedby ever more sophisticated, pervasive forces of media and consumerism. "Everywhere one looks, one sees human beings with heads down, focused on handheld devices, phones and computers. Thanks to technology, awareness is more far-reaching, yet more narrow than ever. It is richer in potential and yet ever more degraded in practice. As Rilke would say, we reach for everything and grasp nothing. " (Tony Hoagland on Bly, p. 48)

How refreshing then to read Hoagland's "Please Don't -- and the fresh diction of words like "swobtoggle" all "dizzy / Gillespie" as he describes our illusions of grandeur, which like flowers, grass, remain dreams of significance...
It is complex being human -- and although conditions may have changed, the problems remain.

Elegy reminds us -- loss is everywhere -- but deep in us Joy remains -- "balanced within, like a gyroscope". Elegy gives us room for celebrate "music's voiceless half" -- and just like Bilgere's Jane, headed for a "facility" -- as if a storage place for the aging can be made "facile" or covered up by a different name.

Whether addressing lament, by saying it needs to be embraced by the realm of Praise,
the bottom line, whatever time period is that part of our duty as humans is to celebrate Joy as it comes, to prepare us for our eventual death.
Whether the tone be tongue-in-cheek, or somber, upbeat or pessimistic, the theme bears out the complexity of what it is to be human.

Oct. 10 (2)Transtromer, After a Death, Rilke Sonnet to Orpheus I-8, Revenge

Two versions of "After a Death" (Bly) and "After Someone's Death,” as translated by Robin Fulton. Tranströmer imagines the aftermath of something momentous, the moment after.
Rick gives Bly the edge, if only for his conciseness and more conversational word choice which may have something to do with American English vs. Scottish English. Either version, a very unsettling and humbling poem.

The images of Winter, the sense of inner landscape, the shock which leaves us unable to see beyond the snow globe shaken all around us moves along the skis into a Swedish forest, where loss is further evoked by old leaves, compared to pages of phone directories -- without saying anything about additions and subtractions, just that names eaten up/swallowed by the cold. (Fallon adds "subscribers' names)

Is there a difference between "feel" and "hear" a heart?; having a shadow"feel" vs. seem, more real than a body.
The leap to the samurai -- the hero, where the line breaks on "insignificant" applying both to the man, and his armour of black dragon-scales.

For Rilke, imagining Orpheus, how do we understand?
What is the difference between Lament and Regret -- the disconnect of unsayable thoughts flying around us like moths.

We ended with Revenge by Taha Muhammad Ali -- where the thought of anyone's humanity will keep us from killing -- but as soon as that disappears, we deal the worst retaliation: indifference.

For knowing we all will die, what keeps us from getting close to the truth?

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 3 and Robert Bly, Sam Abrams

The Sept/Oct. issue of APR has a picture of Robert Bly on the cover, with a loose red tie with what looks like colorful fish on it, his long white hair blowing away from his round glasses and steady gaze and what looks to be a thoughtful, yet amused smile.

The issue opens with four of his poems, followed by an interview where Chard deNiord holds a conversation with Robert and Ruth Bly. He starts it with a recent poem,
"You and I have spent so many hours working
We have paid dearly for the life we have.
It's all right if we do nothing tonight.

We've heard the fiddlers tuning their old fiddles,
and the singer urging the low notes to come.
We've heard her trying to keep the dawn from breaking.

There's some slowness in life that is right for us,
But we love to remember the way the soul leaps
Over and over into the lonely heavens.

Thanks to poets like Robert Bly, American audiences have been exposed to poetry from all over the world. Perhaps Bly developed his characteristic "leap" by translating surrealist European poets.

The poems we shared today all contain elements of playfulness.
About Nirmala's Music, Bly comments, "we have to stop denying that the dogs are disappearing".

In the interview, Bly speaks about dying, drawing on Rumi, who writes, "I lived thousands and thousands of years as a mineral, and then I died and became a plant" -- and on it goes from plant to animal, to human being. "Tell me, what have I ever lost by dying?"

He ends with some whimsical question. "A hundred boats are still looking for shore." Is that true?
and then reads the four lines.
A hundred boats are still looking for shore.
There is more in my hopes than I'd imagined.
The tiny roof nail lies in the ground aching for the roof.
Some little bone in our foot is longing for heaven.

Robert Bly: Early Morning in your room;
Love of the Wind
Nirmala’s Music
Tightening the Cinch
Sam Abrams: The Orchid Flower

Early Morning in your room brought up observations about Bly's fun with contradiction -- light-hearted books, such as Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, Kafka... the one leg, and dancing, one eye, and vision of the blind. The sound of coffee, the start of a morning perhaps a cold, grey, autumn day. The tone is unsettling, as he reminisces, comes to term with his life, makes comments like "If you had a sad childhood, so what?" -- but not in a bitter or belligerent way, but rather, coming to terms with confusion. What kind of room? where? Home is understanding what haunts you perhaps.

Love of the Wind repeats the title twice, but again Bly pulls us, but saying
"I've never been an old friend to the wind." Is it the wind's love, or someone's love of wind? We turns to I and a bit of defensiveness -- "don't expect me to be happy about..." We enjoyed following the leaps from sailors, a neighbor's sorrow, a question about what it means that Jesus had no sister, a dog, haystacks scattered in a storm, Spanish armada. And then the last line. "Even old sailors keep their love of the wind." Wind as spirit, as energy...

Nirmala's Music had a mythic tone, primal energy with prowling tigers, and the priceless end of the 3rd tercet. "what does it all mean?"
Two-toned Nirmala -- "the one who finds lost things" and "the one through whom everything is lost." Repeated as last line.

Tightening the Cinch plays the energy of galloping horses, refers to Robinson Jeffers, and has a ghazal-like feel of disparate images linked by echoes of repeated words.

In comparison, Sam Abrams, beloved teacher at RIT and fine poet wrote a fine, clear poems, "The Orchid Flower" -- also good music, image, and a sense of honesty devoid of any complications.

What prompts us to look for illusions? How do we need them, and how does that affect us? How do we live the questions, play with them?

how to play music... how to read a poem.

music score with "play antisocially, without posting to facebook"

one might add, or to one's blog...

How to help recorded messages such as
"Press one if you wish to speak English"
Crescendo, at""if you wish" from a triple piano "press one"
rubato with an agogic accent on "to speak"

and waver as if executing a slow turn on "English."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

O pen September 19 and 26 : images and sound

September 26: Ö – by Rita Dove
A few samples ofLorine Niedecker
Saving Just the Real – by Clarence Major
The Mind of Oatmeal – by Joanne Clarkson
Little Porch at Night – by Gibbons Ruark
Ö – by Rita Dove (2nd poem on podcast – also she says it in German: :

Rita Dove, first black woman, and youngest woman to be nominated as National Poet Laureate is known for her work with Black Identity. I love that she speaks fluent German and the Swedish umlauted "O" takes us to homonymic associations -- whether see/sea with the glass forehead; the rich overlay of present as time and gift;
Rather like a Chinese landscape with many foci, many centers, this first poem starts with human lips, forming sound -- the perimeter of an island -- and are we not islands? One word... changes the landscape, the neighborhood, the possibilities.

The clever line-endings, "we don't need much more to keep // things going.
you start out with one thing, end // up with another and nothing's / like it used to be, not even the future.

For Niedecker, both objectivist, but also soundscape artist, I am reminded of Milosz explaining "Epiphaneia" in his "Book of Luminous Things". It is that privileged moment when we intuitively grasp a deeper more esential reality.
The examples of economy, fragile formalities that do more with less, make reading her work an exercise in paying extreme attention. "Sound allows imagination to flower in ways logic would deny as irrational."
"I was the solitary plover
a pencil
for a wing-bone

addresses the process of writing -- but is so much more --
Friends of Niedecker created a website called "Solitary Plover".

Saving Just the Real perhaps reminds us of the 19th century, "Make it real" vs. the 20th century injunction, "make is new" -- although Major explores the new and liberty to explore the fragmenting of self... This short 14 line poem in two sentences mystified us. I offered that reading a poem one doesn't understand is an invitation to examine it more closely -- perhaps like St. Augustine -- "if no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to a person who asks, I do not know anymore..."

Everyone loved "The Mind of Oatmeal" -- one of the best demonstrations of alzheimers...

and the lovely villanelle by Gibbons Ruark ...
although he orders us around -- "summon the fireflies" -- but who cannot love the image "matches struck and gone" or "Morse code of the stars who've lost their places."

Apparently Sept. 19 everyone loved Stephen Dunn's Grudges and the two odes.
The group was puzzled about exactly what was going on in "Afterwords" for
example---two sisters, a couple with a sister having an affair with one
of them? etc. I find the beauty is the layering of nature -- the passing of summers from many viewpoints -- before the speaker was born, the various people who might have had a picnic in the spot... the play on afterwards and after word -- a sort of postscript for a story which is not told. Something is missing from the start, and the "you" which never bears a face, contradicts with a presence that must be released.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September 12 -- Levine, Taylor, + scattered notes. to be continued

Salt and Oil: Kathy Commentary: vs. Salts and Oils;
The Valley

Salt and Oil as two characters... and as preservatives... how Levine draws us in --
"we", "you", "I"... repetition. How to use memory and writing to preserve... which is what the poem does.
vs. Pluralizing... a scandal of particularity that reveal a God in the shabbiest of places...
Louis MacNiece: Snow. vase of roses on one side... The world is suddener -- he sees reflection... the world is always more than one flat picture.
incorrigeably plural...

anomalous specificity

The words have come the whole way... time out of time... vs. 1948...
the real salty and oily food...

Two Henry Taylor poems:
Riding One-Eyed Horse

Perspective... like Odin...
undismissable dignity...

9/11... and lots of poetry ten years later.
Last night heard a poem about 9/11/11... and the day after 9/11/11...
Wage Peace -- attributed to Mary Oliver

It was refreshing to read a Richard Wilbur article from 1969, reprinted in the electronic Shenandoah... Richard Wilbur: from 1969:
There are two main ways of understanding the word “poetry.” We may think of poetry as a self-shaping activity of the whole society, a collective activity by means of which a society creates a vision of itself, arranges its values, or adopts or adapts a culture. It is this sense of “poetry” which we have in Wallace Stevens’s poem, “Men Made Out of Words,” where he says

The whole race is a poet that writes down
The eccentric propositions of its fate.

But “poetry” may also mean what we more usually mean by it; it may mean verses written by poets, imaginative compositions which employ a condensed, rhythmic, resonant, and persuasive language. This second kind of poetry is not unconnected with the first; a poem written by a poet is a specific, expert, and tributary form of the general imaginative activity.
the desire to lay claim to as much of the world as possible through uttering the names of things.

I am struck by the poetry of poets who have this sense of "a whole race" -- not just an original voice... or a voice that could just as well be droning on a phone as opposed to line-breaking and calling it a poem.

Philip Levine is NOT a droner surfing through linebreaks. We enjoyed

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Phillip Levine: August 23 + 29

Discussion: Philip Levine:
Review discussion:
What work is
Fear and Fame
Belle Isle
They Feed They Lion

Yeats: Our quarrel with the world we express in the rhetoric of prose;
For our quarrel with our selves, we use poetry.

Levine’s poems call on personal experience, but sweep us into universals
Of the who we are . What is work? What is fame? Recognition? What is love?

Levine’s poems seem simple – but in a poem such as What Work Is you can see he knows how to thread his repetitions, twist in new details that change meaning and keep us on the edge of our seat. Not only does he mention the word “brother” 4 times, but the word “waiting” — how work in and of itself, does not shift — but rather our relationship to it and others does. That he uses gerunds contrasts a sense of “work” as being a solution as we prolong uncertainty. What can we see? Understand? It is not just the rain in the glasses that is blurring the eyesight — but the vision of who we are to each other as brothers... How easily we dismiss the "other part" of a person when they are not at work. What is so difficult about telling your brother, who is learning to sing opera you hate, that you love him? Without banging on the truth that maintaining family relationships is hard, we relate to that truth.

The first time we read Fear and Fame we were left with a new appreciation of what goes into the making of things we use. After Jim’s columns, we were able to more fully appreciate the driven sense of getting a job done, which overshadows any fear. To know in oneself that fear, and that heroic response to danger is only half of what is necessary to be distinguished among women and men. Levine doesn’t spell out the other half. Survival tactics: heat to quell the heat, the third cigarette (held in a shaking hand) to wipe out the taste of the others. Half an hour to dress to do this job; 15 minutes to eat a salami sandwich before returning. One understands why O’Mera drank himself to death. This hero won’t. He straps on his other self, the one that will distinguish him, not because of the black shoes and white socks and Bulova watch... but what this self outside of work is. This is a hymn to people who work in underground, hidden ways, but also a hymn to the part of a man who can inspire us as he keeps on in spite of fear...

After discussing the descent into the pickling tank, our group appreciated the honest appraisal of our fortune of living in a different social situation – and how, these poems about work open our eyes to what it is like to do a job no one would choose to do. To work with acids that fog up glasses, stick in the throat, and which could dissolve your wedding ring, is indeed to descend into hell. The return to sharing food, “normal” activity before donning the gauntlets and playing knight, contrasts the edge of fear on which a hero treads with the every day.
In Belle Isle, a descent into the dirty Detroit river could be seen almost as redemptive – where “baptized” becomes a holy place for an initiation rite. I love the idea that finding joy ensures a pathway for dignity. On the first reading, the group had a sense of “we’ll never think of a blind date in the same way” – but after the second discussion, thanks to your opening, we had a deeper sense of life-force in the young people, a deeper understanding of what it is one needs to allow us to survive. May God protect the joyful!

They Feed They Lion, with its liturgical force, the "lionization" of verbs, the 3rd person objective "they" gives a tone of sacred, mysterious. Lion as God, as Aslan, but we become lion taking ordinary work; earthy to industrial. Mary mentioned the expression of "coming with their 5 arms and 2 legs" -- i.e. fairly heavily burdened.
Metaphors bridge the familiar to the un-nameable...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

O Pen -- August 8 - Poems from Mark Doty's Art of Description, 2 New Yorker poems and a hop into Keats

Two poems From the New Yorker
Dothead by Amit Majmudar p. 66 of August 1st issue
Reconstruction by Stephen Dunn, p. 90 of July 11 & 18 issue
Prayer by George Herbert
Little Lion Face by May Swenson
On the Grasshopper and the Cricket by John Keats
r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r -- by ee cummings

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
TS Eliot

Many of the poems read today, were "picks" of Mark Doty in his book, The Art of Description. I hope you are happy that we arrived at a perfectly wonderful understanding of the poems, inferring what he said, but not needing his words!
The two "New Yorker poems" gave us a fresh understanding of tone -- Dothead could be an adolescent speaking, with insulting implications, handled with aplomb, but delving deeper into the significance of a red dot on the forehead, which pushes beyond the boundary of India to universals. Stephen Dunn's clever turns, twisting dino behavior to recognizable contemporary human behavior gives "Reconstruction" multiple meanings as well. Who would guess the poem would arrive at "forgiveness" which has a dubitable existance regarding a "certain slithering and the likes of us."

Delight continues with George Herbert who strings apositives in a way that reads like sentences -- and the eye can ply diagonal sentences as well as it scans a stanza.
For instance, Prayer in breath (in man) heart in heaven and earth.
Words gain value by their placement, even subconsciously beyond the usual sounding out line by line. (think vertical anagrams, accrostics) and certainly a line like
"Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear" will review the fears of the beginning of the poem, and prepare the softer possibilities of joy, love, bliss which end it.


Books mentioned:

Dean Young: The Art of Recklessness (Graywolf, 2010)
Mark Doty: The Art of Description (Graywolf, 2010)

Quotations: epigraph of Doty’s book.
“We delight in our sensuous involvement with the materials of language, we long to join words to the world— to close the gap between ourselves and things—and we suffer from doubt and anxiety because of our inability to do so.” - Lyn Hejinian

What Doty had to say about May Swenson’s poem:
Chpt. 7: Speaking in Figures
The way language connects like and disparate things to the richest possible effects.
Figurative speech is one of the poet’s primary tools for conveying the texture of experience, and for inquiring into experience in search of meaning.

May Swenson: Little Lion Face 77-79
1. use metaphor and simile to describe what something’s like
2. figures work together to form networks of sense – how the act of picking a flower is standing in for something else.
3. Figuration is a form of self-portraiture
4. Metaphor introduces tension and polarity to language.
5. Metaphor’s distancing aspect may allow us to speak more freely.
6. Metaphor is an act of inquiry (not an expression of what we already know.”

As for cummings’ grasshopper Doty makes this remark:
“You can track and unscramble Cummings’ words, but it is clear that he wants them in a stubborn suspension, not quite parsable , till we get to that marvellous interleaving of rearrangingly and become. That’s what the elements do: rearrange and become so that the event that can be seen takes place. (embodying worldview of 20th century physics with its emphasis not on solidity but on motion, the patterning of life of energy, waving its way into the world of forms. It’s just the right gesture for this poem to end on a semicolon; even though we’ve finally arrived at a recognizable, solid word, that mark of punctuation tells us the sentence is not complete, the grasshopper is soon to leap again.

You will find a small discussion of the Herbert poem, “Prayer” on pp. 35-7. “plummet”: I was wrong to think of “plume” – it comes the French for lead, “plomb” like a plumb bob. Doty says this :“Prayer is a swift mode of traversing heaven and earth, and its plummet (plunge) leads to the depths of the stanza to follow. (Which Kathy pointed out is all positives.) “It’s extraordinary to think of railing at God – using words as engines of war , building a tower in order to thunder back at the old thunderer.”
If you re-read it, look for how Herbert values the active role of intuitive grace he calls “understanding”.

My book review of Doty’s book:
Description is one of those words that is worth holding up, like an ode, especially if one is a poet. How we describe an object, person, scene, experience is to imbue it
with a life beyond what our eyes see. Doty takes us through the layers of perception and discussion of image with words that are not lost in some academic subtext. He provides the reader not only with examples of poems, quotations and ideas ranging from George Herbert to contemporary American poets, but also with a set of keys to engage new understanding.

We know the rule, “show don’t tell” – which caters to the definition of description as the act, or technique of describing, not simply listing facts of what we see. He reminds the reader of Proust’s descriptions, resembling those Japanese flowers gathered tightly into a small sea-shell of a capsule which when dropped into water, slowly and yet surprisingly, expands and blooms. So it is to braid layers of perceptions, including all the senses, and reflect both on what we notice and what is invoked from the past, and if we’re lucky, to find a metaphor, stumble on a point of view, so as to create a totally unique flower. Doty has one chapter devoted to different Sunflower poems, where he analyzes the tone, message; an entire chapter on Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, The Fish and references a dozen complete poems.

“Every object rightly seen unlocks a new faculty of the soul.” (Emerson)
This book will provide you with a “workshop in your pocket” to help you see and unlock. This book is well worth the romp through the territory called by Coleridge “Best Word, Best Order”.

O Pen -- new poet laureate, "left over" poems August 15

Poems for August 15:
Levine: Our Valley
Susan Stewart: A Language; The Forest
A History of the Night (Alistair Reid transl.) of Borges: Historia de la Noche

The theme of "make it new" is part of a talk I'm working on for October. Perforce, my brain is honing in to any article that smacks of a honey called "new" -- which is no surprise, as that's how brains work. If we always do the same old thing, we zone out, and lose that edge of excitement which comes from paying careful attention.

Levine, known as the "working man's poet" is an attentive writer, working connections which keep our brains going, and "peopling" his poems, so that they are not vague abstractions, but grounded and real. The "You" in "Our Valley" works this way, and the entire poem works in subtle layers where, yes, literally, you could be part of the folk in the valley who don't know what an ocean is, and figuratively, yes, one can beg the question "what is ocean" -- whether it's what a mountain says it is... or our preconceptions and experience.

I gauge the worth of a poem by the number of times I go to drink from it, and again, and again, I find refreshment. This is such a poem.

The Susan Stewart poems, found in Poetry Magazine (also this summer) also work layers, in a narrative pinned with a conceit I'll call "what we know, is perhaps not what we know when we think we know about others". In the first, she challenges us to think about how we use language and what intimacy or necessity drives us to create a different language? "In the forest" also addresses this "singularity" and how even when we think, "oh, but that isn't ME", it is a challenge to find, recall, and accept that we are more alike than we'd like to think.

In the discussion of "A Language" the following ideas were sparked: she uses preconceived ideas we express in cliche, or thoughts we accept as given, such as
"If you find a good job, you’ll keep it"
"If you work hard, you’ll succeed"
but life and language rarely work the way we intent.
Others think the conceit was "Stolen futures".
A discussion about making up languages, forcing people to learn a language (such as Afrikaans, a made-up language only good for South Africa, but the Africans want to learn English, for a better chance of connection with the world).
There was variation in the understanding of the details of the couple,
and many felt the poem confusing. Others felt it made perfect sense.

The Borges poem, in both English and Spanish, puts into mind the question of "sight", insight... how we seek to explain dark, the mysteries – the dizzying inexhaustibility of “in between two lights” we can only guess at through myths and dreams. What do we learn from translation?
Our eyes will see patterns, such as white spaces, eye rhyme, discrepancies of line and length; Using two translations and a dictionary will highlight different ways of understanding the content. What is "Historia" in Spanish? Story, History, in Romance languages has the same word. What are our connotations of "history". And what associations do we have with Night?

Monday, August 1, 2011

O Pen 7/18 tabled for 8/1: DH Lawrence, Carol Muske, Maxine Kumin, Mike Meyerhofer, Dickinson

D. H. Lawrence : In a Boat
The Book of How -- Merrill Moore (experimental sonnets)
Carol Muske: To a Soldier
—Lt. Col. Edward Ledford (Verse Daily in July)
Invention of Cuisine( from her 1981 book, Skylight.)
Maxine Kumin: The Immutable Laws
Michel Meyerhofer : New Babel (Michael will be coming to ROCHESTER on October 13th to give a reading at St. John Fisher! His chapbook, Pure Elysium was the winner of the 2010 Palettes and Quills competition judged by Dorianne Laux.
Emily Dickinson – The Sun – just touched the Morning

I was so taken with the sounds and tensions of Michael Chitwood's poetry --"The Docks and Dusk" I wanted another "boat" song and was enchanted by the repetitions, the inner end-rhymes of the Lawrence poem. Although the repetition of "love" can be overwhelmingly insistent, the way the first 3 stanzas use "love" as the end word, first line, then close the 3rd stanza with it, after a perfectly matched "tossed/lost" inner rhyme invites the reader to watch it change place in the next three stanzas. It is in keeping with the instability of watching the stars in the water, and the sudden spark, where even in heaven, stars are not safe. A fringe of shadow limns the poem, so one wonders -- is the speaker talking to a daughter? a lover? And we are wrapped in the question of our own death.

I had made a comment about the delight of poetry and life, when we feel surprised --
and so, the Merrill Moore, the Muske and Meyerhofer poems, whose names might not stir up a reaction or be attached to prior knowledge allowed us to respond to the poem just as they are. How does it change anything to examine a poem "as a sonnet"
or to know who the person is in the title and know the background? What allows a poem to be universal?

Would Moore's poem work, even if you didn't know that Mars was god of war? Would you have paid attention to it differently to check to see if there is a volta at or around the 8th lines? The rhythms one remarked, were regular, like Edna St. Vincent Millay, to create tension with rather irregular questions. How DID God do it?
Is it irreverent to think of him on a ladder hanging the stars as if decorating a Christmas tree? The Book of How -- and its omissions, is a marvellous vehicle for discussing faith and doubt. And then, look him up -- if you are lucky, you will find a copy of his book "Experimental Sonnets", from 1956 and enjoy the wit of this physician from New Zealand!

It gave rise to a few marvellous stories: the nun who said, "The problem with the Bible is that they put a cover on it." and the story of the monk transcribing who raised the question that possibly someone had made a mistake in a previous copying and the head abbott went down to the storage to check who copied who and what. He did not return and so after many hours, the young monk sought him out, and found him with a look of devastation on his face. "The word was celebrate."

The Carol Muske poem, sketches in twelve lines, familiar details with the shadows of war. The enjambments work to draw out the tension and we discussed the em-dash which acts like a diving board to accentuate and dramatize the leap into the next line -- how gold & blood are given time to be autumnal, and military, metaphoric, and colors as first word is followed by a period, cut short. How "armaments" hangs without really being finished echoed by "turning" -- where leaves could be from trees, or the men and women who are given leave, or not, "without color, they die."
A longer, protracted syntax before the word, "die".

If you look up her interview: you will see she had quite an exchange with the specific Lieutenant.

Some reactions to the poem:
soldiers die without growing up/ old enough.
Don’t be taken in -- What price is war? Hand, finger…

Don’t get caught up in syntax/diction… before looking at how the poem was crafted, it was better than after -- the dashes spoiled it.

Even the word "Redemptive" seems odd for Autumn -- until you go back to "not enough Fall to/Make a cliche, the one we love about/ the season's redemptive powers.

A jewel of a poem to be read slowly and many times to see how each word calls another and calls to the reader to meditate -- what would you write to a soldier?

We looked at Wilfred Owens "Dulce et Decorum" -- a very different and powerful poem about war.

Michael Meyerhofer's poem used a different sort of cleverness -- blending in a sense of the modern day life-- gas b/c lazy to walk; the easy clauses of politicians "keep civilian casualties at a minimum" -- and ominous by the fact it's only a goal...
There is a dark underpinning to each flip of line. And you re-read and ask,
what has my conscience asked me to do? what am I too lazy to do with my own feet, but pay lip service to (make sure to give the lecture of civil responsibility); and what should I have written, but haven't... and make a list of what you have allowed,
even said "made sense" ?

We ended with a silly performance of Emily Dickinson :
I'm not sure if this was the poem I saw at a rest stop on the NY Thruway--
but it was a good antidote for feeling the weight of war, the sense of inevitability... mention of the Koran: if attacked, it is your duty to fight;
Krishna saying, go ahead and fight -- it is all this world of illusion...
and a mention of Mark Twain's "The War Prayer", a short story or prose poem which is a scathing indictment of war, and particularly of blind patriotic and religious fervor as motivations for war.

The morning – Happy Thing—

If you aren't sure of how to understand a poem, try understanding it as a sex poem.
Sun (he) – Morning (she) – her crown of dew gone… feebly exiting…

(John provided this one by her.)

Nature at 5
Custom at 7
Laziness at 9
Wickedness at 11

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

open discussion July 25: Mary Jo Salter, Ashbery

O Pen – July 25

Au Pair – Mary Jo Salter
My Philosophy of Life -- John Ashbery
Spacing in Concentration – a response to John Ashbery (yours truly)
2 poems from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror – John Ashbery

I started with a quote from an article by Lisa Russ Spaar, and join her in feeling grateful for the ways in which reading allows what Sven Birkerts calls "the delicious excavation of the self through another's sentences."

The poems this week take different points of view – a French au pair, a philosopher, a noun-laden, myth-referenced “hop ‘o my thumb” where we join we’re not sure who, doing what , and a Rimbaldien “jeu of je” in a drunken boat. "Ashbery involves us in sentences whose machinery makes us feel how, not what, they mean. . . ." Note the paradox of "ecstatic stillness" in the extract of his title poem "Self-Portraitin a convex mirror" below:

Pope Clement and his court were "stupefied"
By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission
That never materialized. The soul has to stay where it is,
Even though restless, hearing raindrops at the pane,
The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind,
Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay
Posing in this place. It must move
As little as possible. This is what the portrait says.


So.. a sharing of AA ADD : age-activated attention deficit disorder—
And how an Ashbery poem allows us to Frank-O’Hara our way through a day, and yet delve into just what living a day, as a philosopher is all about. What affect inflects, injects… not in an Dantesque journey through various circles, but rather more like “a stranger who accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back,revealing a winding staircase with greenish light
somewhere down below” – but that’s not enough – Ashbery adds a friendly, tongue-in-cheek tone with an edge of humane “as the bookcase slides shut”. It is not scary, because you can trust him to handle the scenario (he does say "it is customary for such things to happen on such occasions” and further, introduces
a pleasant fragrance at this point. What coaxes us (rhymes with hoaxes Gus) to join in leaps with a sense of “anything goes” is a delightful blend of recognizing ourselves in surprising ways – understanding that whatever point one thinks one has, is usually not the point – but rather, living the “gaps” fully.

Words… how we use them, understand them – how a poem allows us to teeter on the edge of lines, as in Mary Jo Salter’s poem, surprises ways of thinking – new layers of “self” to discover. We share our stories -- for instance how one person couldn’t get past the first stanza of Mary Jo Salter’s poem, which mentions flags in a flippant, dancing, derogatory way, as she had just returned from her uncle’s funeral and an elaborate flag folding ceremony and what a flag meant to him as marine. And yet, as we read each stanza, other questions appeared – what we worship, value, how we cope with life, what we hope for, as we wore the lens of a speaker describing what the au pair saw.

Ashbery ‘s Hop o’ my Thumb, is a complex story combining myth (Undine and Ariadne) and the fairy tale much like Hansel and Gretl (
Undine, or Ondine is the water nymph and title of the Giraudoux play written in 1938 that tells the story of Hans, a knight-errant who has been sent off on a quest by his betrothed. In the forest he meets and falls in love with Ondine, who is attracted to the world of mortal man. The subsequent marriage of people from different worlds is of course folly. Ariane is the French version of Ariadne, the one who helped Theseus out of the minotaur’s labyrinth in Crete. Massenet’s opera, written in 1937 tells the story of Ariane and her sister Phèdre. The two sisters are both in love with Theseus, yet he chooses Phèdre over Ariane. When Phèdre is killed by the toppled statue of Adonis, Ariane travels to the underworld to beg Perséphone for her sister's resurrection. Softened by Ariane's offering of roses, Perséphone complies and Phèdre returns to earth. Theseus is then made to choose among the sisters again and once more chooses Phèdre, abandoning Ariane on the banks of Naxos. Distraught, she is lured into the sea by the voices of the beckoning sirens.

And as for the drunken boat—whether or not you subscribe to 19th century lit and Rimbaud – or fairy tales.. to thread wishes and desires , a gentle human element pulls you in. The self-portrait, is not obsessed with self in lines like this: “Did they notice me, this time, as I am,
Or is it postponed again? ” but rather ends on a larger universal truth. The last stanza is worthy of memorizing!
The night sheen takes over. A moon of cistercian pallor
Has climbed to the center of heaven, installed,
Finally involved with the business of darkness.
And a sigh heaves from ah the small things on earth,
The books, the papers, the old garters and union-suit buttons
Kept in a white cardboard box somewhere, and all the lower
Versions of cities flattened under the equalizing night.
The summer demands and takes away too much,
But night, the reserved, the reticent, gives more than it takes.

Below is a “clin d’oeil” to Ashbery’s manner of soaking up details from art, literature, history, philosophy, living in the 20th century.


Thank goodness there's a name for this disorder.
Somehow I feel better,even though I have it!!

Recently, I was diagnosed with A.A..A.D.D. -
Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder.
This is how it manifests:
I decide to water my garden.
As I turn on the hose in the driveway, I look over at my car and decide it needs washing.
As I start toward the garage, I notice mail on the porch table that I brought up from the mail box earlier.
I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car.
I lay my car keys on the table, put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table, and notice that the can is full.
So, I decide to put the bills back on the table and take out the garbage first.
But then I think, since I'm going to be near the mailbox when I take out the garbage anyway, I may as well pay the bills first.
I take my check book off the table, and see that there is only one check left.
My extra checks are in my desk in the study,
so I go inside the house to my desk where
I find the can of Pepsi I'd been drinking.
I'm going to look for my checks, but first I need to push the Pepsi aside so that I don't accidentally knock it over..
The Pepsi is getting warm, and I decide to put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold.
As I head toward the kitchen with the Pepsi, a vase of flowers on the counter catches my eye--they need water.
I put the Pepsi on the counter and
discover my reading glasses that
I've been searching for all morning.
I decide I better put them back on my desk,
but first I'm going to water the flowers.
I set the glasses back down on the counter,
fill a container with water and suddenly spot the TV remote.
Someone left it on the kitchen table.
I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV,
I'll be looking for the remote,
but I won't remember that it's on the kitchen table,
so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs, but first I'll water the flowers.
I pour some water in the flowers, but quite a bit of it spills on to the floor..
So, I set the remote back on the table, get some towels and wipe up the spill.
Then, I head down the hall trying to remember what I was planning to do..
At the end of the day:
the car isn't washed
the bills aren't paid
there is a warm can of Pepsi sitting on the counter
the flowers don't have enough water,
there is still only 1 check in my check book,
I can't find the remote,
I can't find my glasses,
and I don't remember what I did with the car keys.
Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today, I'm really baffled because I know I was busy all damn day, and I'm really tired.
I realize this is a serious problem, and I'll try to get some help for it, but first I'll check my e-mail....
Do me a favor
Forward this message to everyone you know,
because I don't remember who the hell I've sent it to.
Don't laugh -- if this isn't you yet, your day is coming!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Open discussion July 11: Poetry mag: David Ferry,

Two poems by Michael Chitwood (from Verse Daily)
(At the Dock at Dusk; Going)
The Poet's Occasional Alternative by Grace Paley
Picks from Poetry July/August:
Two poems by David Ferry:Little Vietnam Futurist Poem
The Crippled Girl, The Rose
Spencer Reece: The Manhattan Project

I love this paragraph from poetry magazine (see above) announcing David Ferry as recipient of the Ruth Lily Prize.
"One of the qualities essential to being good at reading poetry is also one of the qualities essential to being good at life: a capacity for surprise. It’s easy to become so mired in our likes or dislikes that we can no longer recall, much less be, that person inside of us who once responded to poems—and to people—without any preconceived notions of what we wanted them to be."

Michael Chitwood probably has an enormous capacity for surprise and ability to blend paradox: in the first poem of anthropomorphized boats, filled with the sounds of tethered boats at a dock, "drawing an inch and a half of water in a prolonged kiss"
the reader is tucked and tied in the same way, invited as well to "test out what we know" -- how much space we too take in our tippy, tricky walkings, and pausing to reflect on the safety of being tied. The wide mouth of them and the slender Lord,
Buoyancy. Without once using the word "float."

His second poem, also plays with perspective as it lopes down in the page in short-lined couplets -- ending with the word "glint". He allows you to think about the properties of a river -- where the small creek or brook can run a "trickly, cunning"
and you feel the flow imagining both butterflies siphoning out water, and the water rising by itself into reeds like music. Delicate, sensitive, delightful. No preaching. Allows the Ohio to be broad-shouldered rather like La Fontaine's Oak,
while the small river is "un roseau pensant" -- the thinking reed.

Although I enjoy Grace Paley, lack of punctuation is a distraction for me in this poem. I do enjoy the idea of feedback from a pie… and a feeding of one's self.
One senses a wise grandmother... one with a toddler to watch, friends, people who appreciate her cooking -- whereas a poem has a less certain reception.
We wondered if she was related to the CBS Paley and Paley park… and looked it up -- tables, chairs and a lovely waterfall...

For the first David Ferry Poem, Maura remembered the picture of the naked Vietnamese girl (Kim Phuc)
and we admired the skill with which Ferry prepared the scene, which, without the title, could have been so many other things. The pejorative "pajamas" followed by "hideyholes" the unspoken napalm, and the odd syntax of the end lines of the penultimate and final couplets leave you wondering what kind of "future" could be played... what way will we see as we live our stories?
"Into the way that that was how I saw them.

The trees of the kind that grew there establish the place.
We know that way the story of what it was."

The Crippled Girl -- The rose
and of course, the girl arose -- arises in our minds as Ferry conjures up her face.

"It was as if a flower bloomed as if
Its muttering root and stem had suddenly spoken,

Uttering on the air a poem of summer,
The rose the utterance of its root and stem."

How simply a small change of language:
"In what it keeps, giving in its having." turns into

"That what it is is kept as it is given." -- a private and quiet poem.

Finally, the "short story" or prose poem, which sketches briefly the story of the Atom Bomb -- a crazy quilt of details. Just like the silence of the rose,
"The quietness inside my father was building and would come to define him."
Imagine being the designer of such a bomb, knowing what it did to human beings in two cities.

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 13 O pen - Dean Young; Kenyon; Love Song;

Scarecrow on Fire – Dean Young (the other one on poetry foundation, not
Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer by Jane Kenyon
Love Song – a study in contradictions by Joseph Brodsky
Sonnet 29 – William Shakespeare

When you chose me by Pedro Salinas
translated from the Spanish by Willis Barnstone

Although I didn't lead this discussion, the poems gather around "love" and loss.
I would love to hear the original Spanish for Salinas' lines -- the importance of feeling CHOSEN by another, and how skilfully the poet uses the "duende" so gladness is not one-sided joy -- but comes from a deeper place that knows shadows and dark.
"And my gladness was
sad, as small watches are
without a wrist to fasten to,
without a winding crown, stopped.
But when you said: you,
to me, yes, to me singled out,
I was higher than stars,
deeper than coral.
And my joy
began to spin, caught
in your being, in your pulse."

(Kim's notes: Generation of 27: wide variety of genres and styles; cubism, futurism, surrealism. Included Federico Garcia Lorca)
Dean Young -- version of Scarecrow on Fire -- in reprint section of American Poetry Spring 2011 issue, p. 55

In this one-block poem, Young leaps from statement (assumptions of "we" -- "we all think about suddenly disappearing" -- do we? What does that mean...) to question. "What counts as a proper/ goodbye." followed immediately by a last winter in Iowa and ladybugs which are now also included in the "we".
"We all feel
suspended over a drop into nothingness.
Once you get close enough, you see what
one is stitching is a human heart. Another
is vomiting wings.

Humans, ladybugs... life. Another question. Where did we get/the idea to rub dirt into the wound (when we were kids, and was that just in PA?)
and a comment on poetry. Poems ARE made of breath, the way water,/cajoled to boil says, "This is my soul, freed."

I prefer the other poem of the same title which starts this way:

Everything is brushed away, off the sleeve, Off the overcoat huge ensembles of assertions

** in it, there are no assertions of "we" and the poem leaps with lively sounds and images.

"just jars of buttons spilled, recurring nightmare of straw on fire, you the scarecrow, the scare, the crow, totems gone, rubies flawed, flamingo in hyena’s jaws, noble and lascivious mouth of the gods hovering then gone, gone the glances, gone moths, cities of crystal become cities of mud, centurion and emperor dust, the flower girl, some of it rises, proof? some of it explodes, vein in the brain, seed pod poof, maybe something will grow, another predicament
of bittersweet, dreamfluff milkweed, declarations of aerosols, vows just sprays of spit fast evaporate, all of it pulverized as it hits the seawall, all of it falling snow on water, flash of flying fish, breach and blow and sinking, far below creatures of luminous jelly constellated and darting and baiting each other like last thoughts before sleep, last neural sparks coalescing as a face in the dark, who was she? never enough time to know."

A good poem should leave you with more questions than answers! (Art of Recklessness)

Kim's notes on Jane Kenyon:
Bill Moyer's film: "A Life Together" ends, hauntingly, but lovingly, with Kenyon’s poem, "It Might Have Been Otherwise" which includes the lines:
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

-1st published in Poetry journal, then published in The Boat of Quiet Hours 1986.
-Translated Anna Akhmatova poems; married to Donald Hall.

**Akhmatova connection with Brodsky:
Kim's notes: He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972 for alleged "social parasitism" (living off unearned income) and settled in America with the help of W. H. Auden and other supporters. He taught thereafter at universities including those at Yale, Cambridge and Michigan.

Brodsky was awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature "for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity"

He was appointed American Poet Laureate in 1991

His "Love Song -- study of contradictions opposes two lines in each quatrain --
a rescue with arrest; a free bird with a drills; play with the complexity of mirrors and roles we play -- and the great surge of lava -- and the realization that we can love, but divorce, come together, separate...
If... is only followed by because at the last line.

Sonnet 29
to carry on "contradiction: Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at haven’s gate; I quote my MFA guru, Robert who says "Literally, it means something like, “When the lark wakes up at dawn it sings to heaven from the earth, and this is just like what happens when I am feeling very bad about myself and then I think of you.”
How, exactly, does the poet turn from the previous lines of crying, cursing, and discontent into a lark.

Apparently a prison program uses
beginning of this poem as a spring board for the inmates to write their own version of the poem, tell their own story through their own words. Very cool idea.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state

June 27: Merwin, Wright, Herbert, Jonson, Stroud, cummings, Young

Identity – W.S. Merwin (from 6/20 line up)
Bedtime Story – Charles Wright
Love (III) -- George Herbert
Hymn to the Belly – Ben Jonson
Night in Day -- Joseph Stroud
may my heart always be open to little – ee cummings
Is This Why Love Almost Rhymes with Dumb? -- by Dean Young

What a cast of characters! What wonderful poems... Time's hunger in a scary story turned into a "sometime dance"; Hymns to the Belly, love turning up in Conversation with God, and contemplating the other...

The Merwin is left over from last week -- IDENTITY:
You are what you draw, what you study, what... surrounds you, enters you, what you imagine...
or is it that what you think you draw, is drawing you --
A hedgehog becomes a means for feeling the dark undersides of stones --
but whether one becomes a hedgehog, Hans, the attention spent observing, until one becomes so keenly aware, edges disappear.

In the next two poems:Beispiel compares Wright to Herbert: I love the way all those somethings in the middle of the poem act on and against the natural world: wringing, making, licking, stringing, inching and scratching. In the poem, the bedtime story of existence is simply time itself. Poets are concerned with the subject of time -- I guess the concern is mortality generally -- because not a minute goes by when time does not influence our daily, imaginative and spiritual lives. So, for Wright, time is what he calls the "Something Dance."

Beispiel speaks about Wright's switchback on George Herbert, "who in his masterpiece "Love (III)" lets God into his soul. It's a poem that begins, "Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back" and ends, "'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.' / So I did sit and eat." Here, Wright offers the "meat" to time. Then, like Herbert, letting time in, Wright allows the imagination to consider time more closely, well, another time."

How to take a scary story -- and then have it dance! Time is ravenous -- but Wright treats it a whole new way -- Marcie mentioned "atavistic" as flavor -- this is more than just spooky campfire story.

We questioned: The "generator" in the first line -- yet it has both the idea of "genesis" of something... as well as a machine. cicadas would be too confining.
Also, the "cleft feet" -- come far after the subject they are attached to. Imagine Time’s cloven feet and it seems the devil is walking.
A string of something -- imagining... followed by a string of questions of what we ought to do... How powerful to go from : "Something is inching its way into our hearts,
scratching its blue nails against the wall there." (the nails being fingernails, not spelled out as "evening's dusky blue nails" nor a handful of nails waiting to be hammered in...) should we clap our hands and dance
The Something Dance, the welcoming Something Dance?
I think we should, love, I think we should.

A great poem to memorize and tell again and again!

Along with the next ones!
The Joseph Stroud poem weaves a first line of "night not wanting to end" to leaps to different blacks, to all the glisten of light captured in obsidian, crow, watermelon seed... not scary, b/c of the guzzling sunflowers...

ee cummings beautiful love poem... and what "usefully" has to do with selves with perhaps an agenda not confined to TRULY loving...

We all chuckled and roared at both the Ben Jonson and the Dean Young.

Uplifting discussion!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

O Pen June 20 -- Black Guitar, Jack, Mall, Nancy Jane

Black Guitar by Michelle Bitting
Jack by Maxine Kumin
At the Galleria Shopping Mall -- Tony Hoagland

Although I wasn't there to lead the discussion, two of the poems have names of people.
What happens with a title? If a poem is called "Jack" or "Nancy Jane" what sort of conjectures do we already make as readers?
Would you have guessed that Black Guitar would evoke an odalisque, replete with neck, hips, lungs, pores, or glint-edged glamour, to offset interior syrup running through the O of sound like a locomotive?

What setting and characters do you imagine in the Galleria Shopping Mall?

Much of craft in a poem hangs on the title. That the poem about a guitar is about BLACK guitar, literally colors our expectations. Having a poem with only a first name whets our appetite to want to find out more. It's only in the middle of the 5th stanza that we realize "Jack" is a horse. His name is not pronounced after the title until the penultimate stanza. It stabs us that the "wise old campaigner", the occupant of the "motel lobby", the "he" who prawls out flat to nap in his commodious quarters, has been let out to the world at age 22-- and he has a name. It reminds me of Kipling's poem about his son -- "Has anyone seen my son, Jack?" -- how it rhymes with "he won't be coming back". Turning one's back on an old animal -- no jacking up, only the chewing J and the dry sack-sound which accentuate
grief and regret?

Likewise, with a double first name, Nancy Jane, which sounds more like a little girl, a Mary Jane, a commonplace of a name, Simic disguises a grandmother for only the brief jump from title to first word. But this Grandma is laughing -- on her deathbed, each stanza adding a new paradox or ironic twist to the scene. Ultimately, the loneliness of each one of us, at the end is not still -- but "like a wheel breaking off of a car" -- yet moving entirely on our own.

Monday, June 6, 2011

O pen 6/6/2011 : more Poet Laureates, Szymborska, Dean Young

O pen discussion – 6/6/2011

Daystar – Rita Dove
Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri -- Mona Van Duyn
Vermeer – Wislawa Szymborska
Ash Ode -- by Dean Young For more Dean Young : see interview: Scarecrow on Fire – Dean Young From Dean Young’s new book: Fall Higher
Patriotic Tour and Postulate of Joy –Robert Penn Warren

3 poems by women; 3 poems by men, but all with the human concern --
what is this all about? I quoted from the introduction of David Orr's book "Beautiful and Pointless" -- for what IS the point of so many words... whether poetry of witness, sharing a moment...or puzzling over the complexities of suffering and paradoxes of human motivation.

Rita Dove's title Daystar might leave you thinking about stardom, and the way we cannot see stars in the daytime, and "pure nothing" in the middle of the day -- in what seems to be a woman's effaced existence. The idea of starting a poem with "she wanted" immediately sets up a sense of lack, and the adjective police will attest to the power of verbed negatives: slumped, the pinched armor of a vanished cricket.
I love the power of "why" which makes a comment before jumping after a stanza break to answer a question.
And just what was mother doing out back with the field mice? Why,

building a palace.

Mona Van Duyn's poem allows a reading of "you" to be a lover, the earth,
and calls on all the senses with great intimacy. A great poem to read if you feel tempted to be a pebble hoping someone will mistake you for a planet!

Szymborska -- translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak p. 55 of American Poet Spring 2011 issue.
The power of paint to capture an simple act that is never finished
And the power of this small, one sentence poem which references
Not a portrait of a milkmaid, but the way she is painted,
“in quiet and concentration” and the way art can allow us to survive,
believe, hope that the world too, will go on. The unstated questions,
what will determine the world’s end – and what was the original Polish for the verb “earned” and what is “end”.
Kathy brought up the article by Mark Doty : how poetry consoles us with the thought as we witness – As long as there is beautiful art – the world won’t end…

Dean Young : Reading his poems gives image to thoughts about what we DO, what happens to us, and the slippery nature of language.

Scarecrow on Fire – in his book Fall Higher and on p. 55 is different from “Scarecrow on Fire” which has in a “flow” version where words come into a box S L O W L Y

You might enjoy listening to this poem: (I put a few lines down)
Selected Recent and New Errors

My books are full of mistakes…
Conveyor belt caught the arm
New kid on the job


Do you think the dictionary says to itself…
I’ve got these words that means completely different things
And it’s tearing me apart.

Twisted silver wire of stealth and deception…

We have absolutely no proof God is not an insect rubbing our hind legs together to sing.

How wonderful our poisons don’t kill her.

The Dean Young poems are chock full of images... first a sonnet, also an Ode...
Where the volta "flies off" (along with a woman...) to turn to the sieve of self and idea that one cannot catch another, fix another, keep another reinforced with the metaphor of the sea written in the desert.
The Scarecrow poem creates a collage of images which cinder down into further ashes.
Do we really ever KNOW anyone? What burns when we are cremated? What remains in the ashes?

Robert Penn Warren's poem with his clever repeating form provided a good example of irony.