Wednesday, August 29, 2012

poems for September 17

Excerpts fom the Pope in St. Lucia by Laurence Lieberman (p. 38-40 APR)
Writers Writing Dying by C.K. Williams (p. 46, APR)
Full Moon and Little Frieda by Ted Hughes
American Wedding by Joseph Millar
Facts about the Moon -- Dorianne Laux

Don't miss Dorianne's reading at the MAG (part of BOA's wine and dine) 3 pm,
Sunday September 23.

Although we only had excerpts of a very long poem, Lieberman gives us a snapshot of Dunstan St. Omer and refers to the cathedral he prepared for the pope’s visit to St. Lucia,
some refer to as an undertaking as daunting as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. I had little knowledge of Carribean culture, aside Derek Walcott’s “Omeros”, nor much knowledge of Lieberman, who says that His goal as poet and traveller is to 'take in my hands, all, all! that I touch! and leave/ no fingerprints. No signature.'
In the small example provided, certainly this is true. We have a snapshot about a situation, and learn something about the man whose hands will restore the peeling murals. Lieberman paints a scene where the artist’s soul wrestles with God – but it is only reading more about St. Omer, that I found out he was the first to paint Christ as a black man, to make him accessible to the West Indian people living Castries.

For more about St. Omer:
Lieberman uses a rolling line, which surges like the sea in the “three unveilings”, as it tells the story of the painter, the painting, and what it is to paint the house of God.

The next selection, of CK Williams’ prose poem, Writers Writing Dying engages us with a vernacular wit that makes a serious subject (how we spend our lives before we die) an accessibly interesting subject. The title alone gives pause for thought: Is is writers writing the word “dying”;
writers engaged in producing writing, with an obviated “about” before dying... or perhaps a triumvirate of writers, writing and dying, or any combination thereof? In the opening paragraph, composed of two sentences, Williams employs a dash – followed by a humorous and long commentary on the reaction of a person who died while sleeping which of course, is an exercise in imagination— a projection on the part of the writer, of the position of the now dead person’s voice. I am reminded of the Oliver Herford poem, “The Elf and the Dormouse” where an elf gaily absconds with a mushroom as umbrella, under which a dormouse was protectedly sleeping. “"Where is my toadstool?" loud he lamented.” arrives in the penultimate couplet. see: (1)

Of course, Williams carries the lament further, with a delightful image of rubber gloves, and human nature idealizing the “way we want to go”.
“and never forgiven the death they’d construed for themselves
being stolen from them so rudely, so crudely, without feeling themselves like rubber gloves
stickily stripped from the innermostness they’d contrived to hoard for themselves.”

The poem sallies forth, ending on a note like Li Po’s poem about Chuang-zu and the butterfly and the fun of wondering whether one is the man dreaming he becomes a butterfly, or butterfly becoming Chuang-zu at waking.
See poem here: (2)
The ending words, “what for” has the same feel as the “so what” – and Williams ends on a note of celebration for the fun of writing – which is the way we defy dying, which we are doing of course, while living.

Since Williams had referred to writers, coupling Sylvia Plath/Hart Crane, whose suicides deprive us of more stanzas they might have written, the next poem provides a snapshot of Plath’s daughter and husband. We questioned the lines in the second stanza that bridge the cows going home and the exclamation of “moon” by little Frieda: “A dark river of blood, many boulders, /Balancing unspilled milk.” which act rather like a separation between visible (daylight) of familiar (cows) and the not yet that we cannot foresee and the mysterious (moon, which has the sound of a cow, closed by an “n” ).

Joe Millar’s poem is packed with nouns that paint a dancing portrait of a family at a wedding that has nothing static or posed. One adjective that stood out, plangent, has a double edge to its meaning: both loud and reverberating, and expressive, plaintive. It’s dropped in the opening part of the poem like the Yiddish words in the opening line, and the Ketubah that follows. The image “unschooled like a map of the world” works for both the father-observer, and the new couple who have yet to discover what the promise means to them.

Eating, listening, observing, and two stanzas of what their future might entail, (with humorous details that the father knows from experience... ) lead to the final stanza where everything is swallowed whole. The moon isn’t just any moon, but speckled, torn, hinting at the emotion of the father giving away his daughter in marriage. The moonlight, the perfume of the rose on his “worsted” lapel where “worst” and “stead” combine sounds with material all twist like the worsted: yarn or thread spun from combed, stapled wool fibers of the same length. And yes, as reader, one swallows the nuptial wine with confidence, ready to cheer the father about to “dance all night” on this occasion of two families woven together by a wedding.

To repeat the “blurbs”: "If you want the real news of how America lives, of what it's like to be here with us...Millar will tell you with exactitude and delicacy in poems like none you've read before. He knows a country, an America, that's been here all along waiting for its voice. It's time we listened." -Philip Levine

"Millar can ride a poem into some wildly imaginative territory, and he knows how to sound the blue note at just the right moment. His impulse is to tell a story, but he never forgets, as a poet, to tell it one line at a time." -Billy Collins

In honor of her upcoming reading on Sunday, we closed with “Facts about the Moon” by Dorianne Laux.
The title announces facts, and indeed, it starts with one which points to the impermanence of the moon’s position, and our own. The rhetorical vernacular, “What’s a person supposed to do” in response, allows
the reader to join in the vulnerability of being human, where life is rarely governed by fact.
The collective responsibility of “we” stands out by rejecting the attitude of “don’t worry about that”, and the petulant truth of the speaker’s opinion.
“And please don't tell me
what I already know, that it won't happen
for a long time. I don't care. I'm afraid
of what will happen to the moon.
Forget us. We don't deserve the moon.
Maybe we once did but not now
after all we've done.”

The “secret pity for the moon” bridges into the empathy we owe anyone in trouble, and the moon turns into troubled mother. This allows the facts about the moon’s role as gravity regulator for oceans and poles, to take on new gravitas, where moon and mother have no choice but to accept the inevitable pull no matter if harboring the undeserving.

No comments: