Thursday, October 11, 2012

Poems for October 15

In the poem "Song of Myself," Walt Whitman wrote of a writer's need to embrace apparently irreconcilable points of view: "Do I contradict myself?" wrote Whitman. "Very well then I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes)."
Is this a good measuring stick for a poem? We'll discuss:

Big Game -- by Brenda Shaughnessy
Coyote – by Kathleen Flennikan
Constantly Risking Absurdity -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti
When Ecstasy is Inconvenient by Lorine Niedecker
two poems by Rebecca Hoogs: Self-Portrait as San Carlito

In an interview posted by this year,
Brenda Shaughnessy states that she sees the role of the
poet as someone “whose role it is to push back against anti-intellectualism, anti-activism, and passivity in general. The purpose of this pushing back is to show that there are always infinite sides to a story, amazing unimagined perspectives on any narrative, and no limit to how weird and wild and unexpected our language and its meanings can get.”

Certainly, Big Game, (—after Richard Brautigan's "A Candlelion Poem) captures a multi-versed world involving images of fire, memories of childhood, a nesting of images and containment. Whether fire as ideas, life, family hearth, spirit, there is something about “turning a candle inside out” that makes no sense in “real time” and yet, (not yet dead, yet dead) the image of getting to the heart of the candle, the wick of things seems clear. The clich├ęs and rhyming, the small aside of the ripped paper bags provided momentary distraction, but the ending line points out how we do “live in our heads”, not necessarily aware of what plays at the edge of shadows.

Coyote, by contrast, was a very accessible poem, although not simple. How are we defined? by linguistics, pronunciation, region, our reputation? What is that part of ourselves we cannot name – and if unnameable, what is our relation to it? The use of “I” and “you” is open enough to allow several interpretations – “you” as name, in one place,
and name in another – who is “you”? “You live outside language or memory” is followed by “changing your name” and “interchangeable homes” laced by the strong words: abandon, betrayal. At the end, “ I am become you” supports “change”. Crafting delights include the enjambment of “gaze” after the sibilant of ‘silver, slope-shouldered form” which support images cast upon the coyote as outcast, not trusted. And yet, who has betrayed what in terms of building cities?

Because we enjoyed Ferlinghetti’s “Dog” last week so much, another from “Coney Island of the Mind”, “Constantly Risking Absurdity” mimics in form, the balancing act involved
with the creative process. What better description of poet than acrobat in these lines:

For he's the super realist
who must perforce perceive
taut truth
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
with gravity
to start her death-defying leap

the double p’s, t’s, st’s, d’s balance the actions of the “supposed advance” (starts and ends with “s” sounds) towards Beauty (doubling the “ty” with gravity) who also embraces risk – and there is no guarantee the poet will catch her.
Although the risk taking is told in a clownish way and reminded people of "Send in the Clowns" (song by Stephen Sondheim from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music, an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer ...) the subject itself is far from playful.

“When Ecstasy is Inconvenient” by Lorine Niedecker is an equally intriguing title, followed by three rather enigmatic stanzas which cause a long pause whistling “so...”
until one remembers that Niedecker in the poem last week was explaining her work of “condensing”. Given the “wildfire” of ecstasy, we thought of both Shaughnessy and the Ferlighetti, which could be reduced to “metapoems” – that inspiration, like madness
sketched by the only adverb in the poem, “amazedly” must be contained, held in. David noted it contrasted well with Emily Dickinson’s inebriation in “I taste a liquor never brewed”. I brought up Viktor Frankl (author of Man’s Search for Meaning) who stated that it is in the pause between the stimulus and our response that we make our choice.
In the last stanza, it is the poet who chooses to embrace the madness, where “keep” it
has a double entendre: both safeguarded, but also contained as if within a castle keep.

The Linda Pastan poem allows a long pause between the question in the title
and what we called “the zapper” or the restatement of the title, where the understanding of “dark” is equated with sadness, arrived at only by considering the moon, the white and black of creation, crows, ebony. Our discussion remarked on the patient dialogue with the title, with associations with the gibbous moon where you can see the dark part, and Elaine’s memory of seeing the moon, (as witness in the poem) as
a wide-mouthed face looking aghast.

The two Rebecca Hoogs poems were delightful, and seemed to explore the process of writing, the fear of not having anything meaningful to say. Do you know where San Carlito is? Is that where writers go when they feel writer’s block? Or is it simply Self-Portrait as ...a sacred place? Like Ray Bradbury’s electronic bees in “Fahrenheit 451” the repetition of “um” the summons and refutation of being summed up, create “seashell-ear-thimbles” with homonyms, slant rhyme.

The second poem by Hoogs, Pseudomorph, seems to be also a self-portrait, like the second wife of the mysterious Rebecca in du Maurier’s mystery novel. Marvellous plays on language, with the b’s of beak, bubble, blurry, so-so-blurb on the back of a book,
which wrap like octopus arms on the “thin skin” of wearing a name and being in the thankless position of ink-tank without a think.

We left, feeling the gratitude resulting from good discussion, which allows a closer read,
and appreciation for the complexity of the poems.

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