Sunday, December 9, 2012

Poems for December 10

Great Things Have Happened -- by Alden Nowland
Contrary Theses (II) -- Wallace Stevens
Butterfly -- Margaret Atwood
Crickets -- Margaret Atwood
Bear Lament -- Margaret Atwood

I was going to start with Rilke's sentence, “Human beings are put on Earth to experience the beauty of the Ordinary”. But opted instead, given the rather loud sounds of the set up of a Hannukkah party which surrounded 18 of us, focussed on the "how" of delivery of a poem. Would these poems be different if read silently in the total peace of your favorite place, sitting in your most favorite chair/sofa/spot on the floor/bed?
The "How" tells as much of a story as the "what". If you start a sentence with "Oh, I suppose..." this will be quite different from a declaration, well, my favorite moment in 1963 was... Just as "But of course we were lying", which drops out of the sky to make you wonder if you should try to believe the speaker, intrigued by such candid surprise, and wondering what "truth" will be told.
Alden Nowland hooks us in, and before you know it, the hinge of the present, remembering the past, folds in the middle on one sentence, ""Is that all?" I hear somebody ask." and the second part of the poem continues the 4 am-cinnamon-toast-eating-occasion, is transformed to a trip to a country never visited before, where "butter is a small adventure" -- and then comes the confirmation of the Great Thing: "except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love."
The exception, imbedded in the exception, of the unique possibility in relationships (with perhaps a raised eyebrow for the 3) and reminding us to look at what moments cry out, "this is really special, really precious."

Emily compared the advent of expecting a child to the country metaphor: You think you are going to "Italy"... but then the child is born, and it turns out it is not the sunny boot, kicking in the Mediterranean, but the North Sea and Dutch dykes...

Wonderful poem allowing reflection about expectation, context, the "how of a moment".
Stevens had a very different approach, setting up oppositions:
not only concrete and abstract, but "natural world/human", the adjective "bombastic" modifying "intimations" and a sense of humor with "martyrs a la mode; alexandrin verve, not verse; wide-moving swans. Although not an easy poem to grasp, the unexpected adjectives like "chemical" to describe the late-autumn afternoon (yellowish, like sulfur), the sonic effect of cutting "c" threads through the entire poem (chemical, mechanical, barked, park, walk, abstract, contours, cold, conclusion, chrysanthemus) with locust and bombastic containing but the cutting edge, and sibilant, the locust joining the other labials in "leaves" and "yellow".
A touch of synaesthesia, "leaves falling like notes from a piano" heightens the scene of a perfect almost winter day.

The three Atwood poems come from her book "The Door". Although you might suspect with a title like "Butterfly" there would be some sort of resurrection, here, it is a story of her 90 year father when he had the experience of seeing one as a boy, and how it transformed his life; how now, in vain, he tries to return to that time and place growing up. She matches a tercet filled with natural detail of the child's world with a tercet matching the abstract world of his work as an adult. The former is followed by the crux of the poem: It must have been an endless/
breathing in: between/
the wish to know and the need to praise/
there was no seam.

the spotting of the butterfly, such a small incident,(heard parenthetically) "shot him off on his tangent. Those who wouldn't know the logged-out bush lots might call them poverty. For him, the wanderings of his life, cannot allow him to get back to meanderings of the river that ran through his 10 mile square of home.

For Crickets, many memories came up: Pinnochio, who is reminded by Jiminy Cricket
comes in the "consciousness" of the chirpers, the idea of finding crickets on the hearth, perhaps a blessing for the heart of the home. Beautifully constructed poem with the sound of the crickets singing first, "here, here, here, here" contrasts with their being stepped on...and for those that survive, there is nothing to eat. "We have become too affluent./Inside, they’d die of hunger." Now they sing
"Wait, wait, wait, wait. But we're as cruel as the ant in Aesop's fable. We have no more hearth for them. The poem could end here:
Nevertheless, they wake us
at cold midnight,
small timid voices we can’t locate,
small watches ticking away,
cheap ones; small tin mementoes:
late, late, late, late,

but the last song carries to four more lines; bedsheets (like shrouds); bedsprings (one thinks of source; beginnings, return) and the ear now hears ghost-like heartbeats.

The final poem, "Bear Lament" sparked a lively discussion about protection of animals, poaching, Eric Good, the NY Restaurateur who gives tons of money to save tortoises (maiming the beauty of the shell to save the animal)
The poem, rife with enjambements cutting endlines as if to whip us awake, addresses
3 levels of survival: environmental, both Earth, and Species as well as our own old age. What will happen to us in all these instances?

Elaine referred to Annie Dillard: Holy the Firm.

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