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”.

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