Thursday, June 7, 2012

Poems for June 27

I Dream a World – by Langston Hughes
Picture Postcard From The Other World – by Philip Levine
Numbers – Mary Cornish
Passage by John Brehm
The Effort -- Billy Collins

I had sent the poems with this prelude..
Dreams, Numbers, Passages and a touch of mockery…

"Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!"
(A Midsummer Nights Dream Act 3, scene 2, 110–115)

but come to think of it... following the discussion, we thought that superintendents of schools should have them to distribute to all math, english teachers, and use the opening poem as a school motto and use the Levine poem for the philosophy club,
which, if it doesn't exist, could start with a discussion of alternative
worlds and what that means from Plato's cave and beyond.

So what was special about each one? The anaphor in Hughes "I dream a World" slightly modified the 3rd time, and ending the poem "of such I dream, my world"
allows the reader to join of dreaming of a just world -- and if it is addressing the world as an intimate, we all join in. The poem is stronger than rap, more Martin Luther King style -- and it would be cool to hear a black person read it outloud.
That Rich was so taken by this poem, he set it to music, starting with a trumpet fanfare, in true heroic style, fits the semi-formal aspect.

For the Levine, the fact that the poem is very long with six lines before the first period, 8 lines before the 3rd period, 10 lines before the 4th period, with irregular line breaks, makes it an ideal poem to read aloud. The images evoke a desolate distance, set from the start in the title with the idea of the "other world" -- the I of the speaker inventing a you. And yet, the magic is that we are the you.
In the 19th line, "I give you the gift of language..." with the speaker's idea of what language is, without defining it, is followed by a pronouncement about the power of words "words... meaning no more/than the full force of their making" and the role of the you in translating them... This allows both the rambling up to that point and rambling after... and what it is we do when we invent -- creating gifts...words, sleep, waking. We looked up "chiffonier" the high chest of drawers with a mirror, and tried to image a face balancing on an orange -- but that's not the point really.
What is it? has as answer "it could be... 5 times -- putting face on things, or the nothing said so perfectly-- the "how" of a postcard...

Numbers is pure delight -- playful! "subtraction is never loss" turning addition into a recipe, multiplication into breeding fish, amplitude to long division, and a peppering of daily details whose "remainders" end with the one footloose sock, that isn't any where you look!
A delightful meditation on generosity, plenty, remainders, and the surprise of the unexpected.

Passage is a delightful poem juxtaposing human nature and our tendency to get caught up with doubt, fatigue, exasperation, while the forest stretches calmly--

Ending with Billy Collins, juxtaposing teachers expecting answers and the nature of art which requires that we not set out to state a question and provide an answer,
Martin pointed out, in art, what is bubbling under the surface, but not explained or perhaps "obvious" is the most important part. His example was Street Car Named Desire --
what is not said is that in 1947, women who had been doing men's work during the war, all of a sudden were being told "get back in your place".

As always, a delightful discussion, which enhanced the appreciation of the poems!
What a gift!

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