Sunday, August 14, 2011

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?

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