Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 23: Dean Young, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Poets Laureate

Open : May 23, 2011

Dean Young : Elemental
Is it Possible -- Sir Thomas Wyatt
From The Poets Laureate Anthology.
Epigraph – Archibald MacLeish
Separation – W.S. Merwin
Selecting a Reader – by Ted Kooser
Halley’s Comet – Stanley Kunitz

Dean Young:
Kimberley brought in his book Recklessn ess and mentioned how he writes about trying to avoid traps to arrive at a a poem that leaves you w/ more questions than answers…” As Mallarmé put it, three-quarters of the enjoyment of poetry lies in discovering, little by little, what it means.

Elemental, which relies on repetition, reversals, enjambments (like sneak attacks on meaning) has both flow and startling imagery. Dean Young interlaces the connections between “fundamentals” by saying what cannot summarize one thing into another. Before his heart surgery, he almost died, and so perhaps this experience provided him this striking love-poem which addresses death and survival (from the late Latin supervivere: to live after death).
It’s the sort of poem one doesn’t fully grasp – yet reads again, and find the pleasure of digging. It seems to come from stream of consciousness yet there is plenty of crafting of opposites, repetitions, contradiction which adds to the complexity and deeper clarity.

With the fire image, one person thought of cremation; another of 9/11. Others might think of Whitsuntide and Pentecostal fire. With further study, the title prepares us for interconnected spark/fire, fire/water; fire/air.

The repetition of summarize, asks the reader to reflect on what it means to “sum up” one thing, reduce it, abstract it, outline or wrap it up in another thing – just like two people in love; or the pull of dark/light, tangible/intangible, winter/summer, coming/going. One thing is completed by another, perhaps, but the spark which provides the “fixing” part of fire (light, warmth), the spark of life beat in the heart, cannot guarantee perpetuity, and skirts the edge of burning up.

The poem is from the collection “Fall Higher”. Was Dean Young reading Sir Thomas Wyatt whose penultimate stanza of “Is it Possible” mentions "To fall highest , yet to light soft"? However, Wyatt’s poem punches the reader with the word possible, which hisses to create a quite different tone. Even with the sizzle of the repeated sound in “summarize” in Young’s poem, the “spark” connects to water and air and dream with overtones of Roethke’s villanelle, “The Waking”. There is a long softness to the song, where as the clipped syllables of Wyatt cut the rhetoric into diamond hard facets.

This five stanza poem, which poses 3 stanzas hemmed in by the relentless question “is it possible” addresses very universal aspects of human nature, not confined only to the times of Henry VIII. The two stanza answer, repeats the sandwiched “possible” with the switch from “it” to “all”.
Leave can be understood both as “permission” and men leaving their ladies after the licenced marriage.

For Merwin’s modest, early three-liner poem titled Separation the one WITH punctuation in the Merwin selection that Billy Collins picked (saying
"I have long envied Merwin’s ability to transcend punctuation”)
We went around the table to say what these three lines evoke –

Here are many of the responses:
Kathy has used it to send as a sympathy card.
Another feels the reassurance that even Absence is a presence.
Another feels Absence pulling the many colors, length of a life.
Another feels Absence: the thread can’t fill the space…
Then the discussion turned to the nature of the needle: how it pierces.
How it is difficult to thread. The sound of the word stitch – and what it means to have visible/invisible stitches.
One was delighted to understand it right away. Another said she wasn’t sure if she truly understood it.

How simple. A title. Separation
Which could mean death, divorce, being apart. And how words in two breaths touch us.
We admired Ted Kooser’s humility in his poem about the “ideal reader”. The detail that strikes me is the moment: “at the loneliest moment of an afternoon” -- this is a reader who won’t hoard, practical, and yet, regardless that she puts the book back on the shelf, there has been some intimate connection. The wet hair, rain, raincoat details affirm the everyday carrying on of life, which he captures in deft strokes.

Stanley Kunitz’ poem “Halley’s Comet” allows a situation to offer wings to small boy wishing to be noticed. As Collins says in his introduction, "the deft way it shuffles together the domestic and the cosmic." Especially poignant as Kunitz’ father commited suicide before he was born, which gave some readers a different understanding of the "coarse (rhymes with course) gravel bed" of a rooftop.

We will discuss the next two poems June 6.
Rita Dove's "Day Star" -- an empathetic portrait of a wife and mother who commits the terrible sin of doing absolutely nothing right "in the middle of the day".
And Mona Van Duyn's sonnet, which compares love to a sensuous seismic catastrophe.

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