Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Giovanni, Clifton, and Allen Tate (March 14 tbc 3/21)

Our session today allowed a glimpse of context and associations each of us bring to a poem from our background and experience. Just as reading a poem line by line gives a different feel from reading a poem sentence by sentence, stanza by stanza, so does knowing the time period, information about the author, information about references within the poem. This adds different lenses to our understanding. (This. This. This.)

Today, it came up that Lucille Clifton had an extra finger on each hand, which for some gives authority to this “Larger self” in It was a dream. Jim brought up the story of the black and white girl called Jackie and Esther, as the poem “Survival is it’s own Revenge”is dedicated to Jackie and Esther, although we can’t be certain they are the same. Martin made a connection between the possibility of the author coming from Africa and keeping the original voice alive.

No one made a connection with possum for the lowest animal on the totem pole, often ridiculed in Negro spirituals and stories, (not to mention the final P, the 53rd Governor of Mississippi, White surpremicist Paul B.Johnston, jr. used to explain the initials of N.A.A.C.P. (Niggers, alligators, apes, coons, and possums.) However, no matter what connection, I loved how Giovvani used her edge of ironic humor, and how the last word “and live” could be referring to her, as well as that wet leaf. Humor is an effective tool here, for hinting at something more serious than roadkill.

Jumping to Allen Tate’s poem, Ode to the Confederate Dead brought up discussion of slavery and the civil war and a host of reactions.

Tate, was considered the firebrand of the Fugitives (group started in 1922 in the South) and considered that a good poem relied on craftsmanship. A fine satirist and critic, he prided himself in an almost baroque metaphysical poetry, using words in unexpected combinations, stripped of their usual shades of meaning, implications...

Does knowing this help you read his Ode to the Confederate Dead differently?

Does it help to know what an Ode is?
I paraphrase it this way: it is a lyric poem which holds up a person, place, thing, or idea
like a prism to catch as many angles as possible to bring to light.

Next week, we will briefly resume our discussion of Tate.

Perhaps it might help you to appreciate his crafting of irregular stanzaic patterns, the repetitions. Do you see any set up (by the words or their position )of sacrifice?
How do the 4 couplets, work? What recurrence beside “stone/s, slab, vocabulary of the dead and graveyard, strike you? What other unusual rhyming of words such as : riven troughs (pronounced trawffs – (the open o a bit shorter than aw:
and sough: usually pronounced (suffs):

What ironic transformation does the last word, first line, impunity adopt in the second line? Is erasure of name, for fallen soldiers, often cut down in their prime, weathering of tombstone really to “be exempt from punishment”?

What effect does the implied paradox seasonal eternity have?
Usually it is the wind that soughs but here it is the stone.

2nd stanza, line 6: humors of the year may well refer as subtext to the 4 humors,

immitigable pines: rare adj. which does not define a living tree.
( unable to be mitigated; relentless; unappeasable)

A few more combinations which strike me.
inscrutable infantry? (What is impenetrable, impossible to understand about soldiers trained to fight on foot?)
saltier oblivion (sea) juxtaposed with salt of their blood sealing...
ribboned coats of grim felicity...
verduous anonymity (young, blooming green) – see 3 lines from end the gentle green serpent

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