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.

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