Wednesday, September 19, 2012

poems for Sept. 24

A Supermarket in California – Allen Ginsberg
Whitman at Armory Square -- by M.C. Allan (published by Linebreak, Sept. 17)
a few lines from Whitman, Song of Myself
I taste a liquor never brewed -- Emily Dickinson
Spring and Fall – Gerard Manley Hopkins
Cello - by Dorianne Laux
Porch Swing in September by Ted Kooser

Inspired by the Filreis Modern Contemporary Poetry, a quick look at our American modernist stage-setters: how are they still alive? Does rhyme stop us from singing "all truths (that) wait in things" -- what makes a poem "successful" for you? Do you have expectations or come with an empty mind? When you make associations, are there judgements involved? Just as representational painting shows us something we might see and recognize, words paint both physical (sensory) and emotional experience.
How do such diverse poets do this-- and what contexts and philosophy do they reveal in so doing?


The first two poems reflect the ever-reaching influences of Whitman. As I shared with those present on 9/24, I am enjoying thoroughly the free on-line course offered by Al Filreis, U Penn, and faculty advisor of the Kelly center, called “Mod-Po” or Modern Contemporary American Poetry. (To see the endless FREE courses on-line: Re:
To see the Mod-Poetry course:

Whitman’s exhuberance can feel arrogant, until you consider his “democratic” understanding that we all have access to “truth” which waits in things. “In all people I see myself – none more and not one barleycorn and the fool less, and the good or bad, I say of myself, I say of them.” ( He identifies with a collective self, becomes the voice-piece of America in this role,
singing the vitality of a new nation. His enumerations, capturing the “blab of the pave”, his almost overwhelming celebration of the sensory and sensual self, opened a door for poetry, loosened from strict meter and rhyme, and nourished by experience, not thoughts.

Ginsberg captures the spirit – starting with the nourishment of supermarket, which spills into his own “blab of the pave” including Lorca by the watermelons. Almost a century later, Whitman is called “a lonely old grubber” which is a sharp contrast from what one called Whitman’s “playful lechery”. “Which way does your beard point tonight” in the penultimate stanza has a “we” which could be Ginsberg and Walt, or a larger we. The role of pronouns in Ginsberg’s poem allow an open-ness, characteristic of modern poetry to be more than one thing: “we” as reference to gay men/ gay people or a larger collective, including the reader...
The final image gives due homage to Whitman as “courage-teacher”, and leaves us with the finality of death... our own, and that of our country Whitman had once sung with such celebration. Which bank is smoking? The one of the living or the dead? And we are reminded of the river of forgetfulness, the final word, “Lethe”.
Certainly questions remain: what meanings does Ginsberg ascribe to the lost America of love? And you, the reader?

The next poem by M.C. Allen we read with Elaine reading the regular type, and the rest of us reading the italics as a chorus. The form of the poem could be a collage of two poems, the regular type as one, the italics as another, drawing on Whitman’s “The Wound Dresser”, although not quite. Chilling reminder of the Civil war, but also of the need for healing. Because the poem is a collage, open-ness of interpretation is not limited to a sexualizing of Whitman, but a more general call on his long-lined, confident poetry which can uplift the spirit, and a celebration of writing. Perhaps the threading of what was this way, is a reminder of what continues in the voice of the wounded.

The Dickinson poem uses an economy of meter, rhyme, a breathlessness of dashes which hint at what is not spoken, shifting metaphor, to fully embrace an earthly experience which transports the spirit. We discussed the capitalization of certain nouns, as one does in German, and the hymn-like rhyhms, where the beats alternate from 8 syllables to 6, except for the “tippled” penultimate line. Informed by Emerson, Emily’s introspection brings her to imagine a world of possibilities which leaves the reader to discover. Marcie summed it up as the “Omigod – sex with the air” on one of those days one feel exhilarated by the energy of a beautiful day. Emily spoke of a program in which experts have determined that Emily was quite the lush and “hit the bars of Amherst” at night.
There’s so much more to know about a person – such as the “meaning” of dashes rising up, or slanting down – all we can trust is the poem itself and the clues it provides.
On a personal note, I thoroughly enjoyed writing an essay on this charming poem, and reading other students’ essays as part of the Filreis course.

The Gerard Manley Hopkins “Spring and Fall” was missing the final line:
“It is Margaret you mourn for” and some of the accent marks.
We agreed that wanwood would be “pale” wood and thought of the physical fall,
(Goldengrove, leafmeal, colder) juxtaposed with the fresh innocence of Margaret—
can one grieve loss in such a state? Perhaps the greatest loss, David suggested implied in the word “blight” is Man’s fall from grace, symbolized by being cast out of the Garden of Eden. We do not grieve that as much as watching a Margaret change from child to suffering adult.

Dorianne’s poem, Cello is a true chef-d’oeuvre. Three sentences, 2 ½ lines , 5 ½ lines, 7 ½ lines long. The lengthening of the lines of the repeated adjectives in “ish”, the accumulative sounds of the “dead music” juxtaposed with the “rosined bow sound of the living”. Like Hopkins’ “heart heard... ghost guessed”, it is up to us to shoulder our losses and departed loved ones.

Kooser’s sonnet, “Porch Swing in September” allows us to admire the detail of a spider’s work in the fulcrum of man-made swing and seasons, wind. The intricacy of each “world” is caught with sounds of wood, “soft vibrations of moths/the wasp tapping....”
I can’t think of a spider at work in morning on her dew-jeweled web without imagining
“time for the cool dewdrops to brush from her work” – each one reflecting both itself, the worlds we don’t usually see, and the web. Perfect imagery without any artifice that captures the sense of the ephemeral without hounding the reader about change.

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