Wednesday, December 19, 2012

poems for December 31

Hymnal by Hafizah Geter
Apples, peaches by Donald Hall
Winter Solstice by Janlori Goldman
Late December by Joe Millar
Winter Mantel by David Livewell

The question comes up in my mind often, about the arbitrary nature of selecting a poem for discussion. It might be because on a particular day, I happen to be thinking about something addressed in a poem, or perhaps I have just read something about the poet, recognize the name, or simply, something in the title looks appropriate for the season, as in three of the poems discussed on the last day of December, 2012, last Monday.

What is it that we seek from poems, and how do we "complete" them as readers are questions that provide a mirror for our own self-interrogations as we read.

In the case of Hymnal, the discussion among the 18 of us present, was filled with different angles about this "block of 17 lines" -- whose form was as tight and unrelentless (no stanza break, so "breathing space) as the hard smiles of the aunts.
Do we know exactly what abuse or reasons for it the speaker refers to? do we know the circumstances of the father who at age 9 held a shotgun and what exactly happened? As David pointed out, we could argue a long time about comparative evils, and pit faith against our hard core beliefs. It reminds me of "the incoherence of incoherences" -- or how faith and reason/philosophy in their very argumentation will not come to a dialogue that can make sense to either party. Some agreed that violence can only breed violence, some not, but the point of a poem is not to support a "right or wrong" way of thinking.
Why do we laugh at certain details, cringe at others, and which associations are
merely our experience pinned on to the poem as opposed to images proposed to us by the poem?

Hymnal, as title is an interesting point of departure. A collection of songs of Praise. Can it be applied to the rigid belief system confirmed each Sunday in the hard pews, the righteous beatings? The end lines, referring to the spirit,
point to some hope, and also the triumph of the writer, to go beyond such confines,
recognizing how difficult it is to break through the cover ups, self-deceptions, the pain of injustices, etc. The theme of covers: the couches in plastic, the potpourri, the smiles, the "dress like roses" -- what we do to look our best despite circumstances pulls at the details of shotgun, switches, moonshine, and the rot at the root of a family tree.

By relief, Apples, Peaches, which refers to a jump rope rhyme, is a clever imitation of pure rhyme, but substituting modern items and Twinkies and wonder bread, move on to Plague and pestilence, Unicorn sphinx, German women's name, news journals, and each mention of death, is counted in shortened space. How many seasons, months, hours, days, breaths -- until we're dead, cold, stiff, rigid, eaten by the worm.
Clever but sobering. The rhyme allows us breathing space, unlike "Hymnal" and yet, also is relentless, and we can feel the squeezing of the undeniable inevitability,
as marks of culture, history, tick us along to the ultimate end.

Janlori Goldman's "Winter Solstice is "for Jean Valentine, about whom we did not talk, except a slight reference to her as a language poet, which perhaps is reflected in the occasional wide spaces on the line. The 20 line poem has a melancholy feel from the sonics, (slow sheathing of moon in shadow; flow in ... filter out... ripped roots... a meditative flow with the repeated images of round moon, home, space of curling in and repetition of "before that" as if circling through a nostalgic recollection.

We ended with the long title of Plutzik's poem, 3 lines long, which "coupled" with the three couplets. The contrast between realistic title and elevated language of the couplets creates a space for the reader to think on omens and fact, the fragility of what could be depending on your circumstances.

And now, we speed on the first week of 2013.

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