Thursday, September 27, 2012

poems for October 1

Celebration by Denise Levertov- (October 24, 1923 – December 20, 1997)
Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain by Louis Simpson (1923-2012)
The President Flies Over by Patricia Smith (b. 1955- )
Enuresis by Cid Corman (June 29, 1924 – March 12, 2004)
Fado by Jane Hirshfield (b. 1953 --) (Fado: A type of popular Portuguese song, usually with a melancholy theme and accompanied by mandolins or guitars.)
Big Game -- by Brenda Shaughnessy (b. 1970- )

A sampler of poems that echo Dickinson's formal "ecstasy" and Whitman's exhuberance from last week; a glance at modernist technique...

I couldn’t help smiling at Levertov’s brilliance – the musical images – the “exceptional”expressed as youthful (green, young virtuoso, prodigy), how the wind provides an oceanic chant,
and all is light, song and sacred, with a touch of Wales providing a backdrop contrast of “reasonable gloom”... It tickles the heart with a gladness of being! Enviable writing! We’re just entering the energetic days of Fall – where the “sh” of shadows contrasts the sound of the other “sh”words (sharpest/oceanic/shine/impatient) which are far from any hush – rather, part of the bright, brassy song such brilliance plays. A great poem to read to snap one’s thoughts to gratitude for living! David pointed out the form as an inverted sonnet -- the volta arriving in the split line after the sestet, where on the 8th line one arrives at "blessing" and the festive rite. A poem evoking "how Green was my Valley" -- the excitement of a Welsh "Breakout" when everything stops, to celebrate the sudden arrival of sun.

Simpson's poem seems a reverse celebration, contrasting Whitman's statue, and memory of Walt's exuberance with the parts of America we might prefer to ignore -- "used car lots", and fatigue of "light sick to death"and our fate, just like Greece and Rome,
is the future in ruins. The two exclamation points, after "cancelled" and ruins,
scissor in an extra shadow of irony, and turn to the final stanza where we can imagine red. We discussed these lines at length as well as "the housewife who knows she's dumb". Dumb, as mute? as the "advertisement" of the myth of the ideal blond,
just as Walt did not "prophesise" but "advertise" ? Note how Simpson speaks for all poets, through Walt, happy at being found out, -- comfortable with the image of
"a crocodile in wrinkled metal" -- loafing -- as if to equate the role of the poet
to be the sly and dangerous animal lying in wait for the red of revolution --
is Italy, the country in the shape of the boot, dancing on Greece? the angel at the gate, perhaps ready to cast out Adam and Eve, imagines red, as Nancy pointed out, a stronger red than that actually painted, a red that has not happened yet -- leaving the reader to imagine what that might be.
David Michael offered a reference to Robinson Jeffers: we’re really ruining things – it will be OK if we get rid of people. Martin offered the optimism of seeing nature blossoming again in Chernobyl...

The Patricia Smith poem is one of a collection about hurricane Katrina, in her book, "Blood Dazzler" but the beauty of her poem is that it could be any President "flying over" -- passing by, one of
"My flyboys memorize flip and soar.
They’ll never swoop real enough
to resurrect that other country,

won’t ever get close enough to give name
to tonight’s dreams darkening the water.

It isn't only the president.. but all of us are at risk for memorizing "flip and soar"... how to turn away from the "other" and soar towards what looks to be "heaven". The discussion revolved around the 1% who are gaining by an astronomical
600%, leaving others behind... the hurricane is like a huge water balloon/elephant,
the last line in the poem " I understand that somewhere it has rained."
equivalent to reporting on a second hand report of the elephant, without ever naming it from trunk to tail. How do we respond to catastrophe? Do we reduce it to a report of rain? a rhetorical turn?

Cid Corman's Enuresis captures a different response to this being human
that of a child fearing punishment, and witnessing the "I am" in the terrible "slam" of the parents fighting. It made us grateful that we didn't have such catastrophe.

Jane Hirschfield's Fado, takes an approach, that embraces the magic of possibility with the hardship of reality. The prestidigitator (quick fingered magician) produces a dove from the quarter behind the girl's ear, and such amazement (comparing the two) then moves to another "half-stopped moment" to a woman in Portugal singing a Fado that balances, like copper bowls, the living with the song. Seamless mastery!

We read the Shaughnessy, but will discuss it next week!

Carmin sent me this afterwards: it reflected our discussion!

"There were a few references in today's poems of finding beauty where you are - a coal-dusty village, singing woman in wheelchair in Portugal, Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain angel in the gate, flowering plum, dances etc.

Though Luis Albert Urrea's books often are in a setting of poverty, displaced people, discrimination, with sometimes vulgar and ugly settings, he seems to find beauty in the people and places. One of my bookclub friends didn't like INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH - "too many smells, too many fluids", she said. While this is true, lots of smells and fluids, how can it be otherwise with the people and locations he writes about?"

The following is from DOMPE DAYS, a short story in the book, BY THE LAKE OF SLEEPING CHILDREN.

Imagine this: a muscular storm came in during the last days, and as we drove into the Tijuana dump, we were greeted by an apocalyptic scene. Let me try to describe it. The dump, as you know, is cheek by jowl with the rangy home-built cemetery. In fact, many of the graves are partially covered by trash. The garbage used to be in the canyon about 150 feet deep; it is now a hill about 40 feet high. Above this hill is a seething crown of 10,000 gulls, crows, pigeons. But mostly gulls. Imagine, further, mud. Running yellow mud; brown, reddish, black wastewater mixed with dust, ashes and clay. The few graves with cement slabs over them glisten with the rain. The mud is a gray so dark it verges on black. The sky is raging. Knots of clouds speed east, far above the gulls, and the gulls rise so high that they seem an optical illusion; from the huge birds to nearly invisible specks in the sky, they seem to hang on wires, a mad museum display, held in place by the violent wind.

Now we drive in, and the muddy graves are pale blue and pale green and pale brown as their wooden crosses fade; the cement headstones are all white or streaked rainy gray. And from the hill of trash, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of plastic bags -- tan bags, blue bags, white supermarket bags, black trash bags, yellow bread wrappers and video store bags -- book paper, newspapers open like wings, ribbons of toilet paper, tissues like dancing moths, even half-dead balloons, are caught in the backdraft and are rising and falling in vast slow waves behind the hill, slow motion, a ballet in the air of the parti-colored landscape, looking like special effects, like some art department's million-dollar creation, Lucifer's lava lamp, silent ghostly, stately, for half a mile, turning in the air, rolling, looping.

And up top, exposed to the elements, the garbage is flying like a snowstorm.

........about 40 pages later he writes: There was nothing left here. Not a voice. I felt watched by shadows as I climbed out, hurried away from the traces of sorrow downwind of the city.

She concluded, "The phrases "optical illusion", "mad museum display", "some art department's million-dollar creation", "Lucifer's lava lamp" fit so well with the scene. I guess this is a pretty eerie beauty but maybe better than seeing only the dump."

I agree.

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