Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013! Poems for Jan. 7

Ode to Repetition by Ellen Bass
The Conductor by Jacqueline Berger
Frankly by Naomi Shihab Nye
Happiness by Jane Kenyon
Push Back the Catastrophes – by Jayne Cortez

How to start the new year... examine what "new" and "same" mean, and read a bit of Ellen Bass. What an audacious title -- an ODE to repetition -- so the same walk,
looking at the sea which not only cycles through tides but reflects the weather; wash the same dishes, and in the same breath think of the rhodendron making not just blossoms but "pink ceremony". Water then, will be a gift, lampposts will wear halos in the fog, and the moon will rinse parked cars as we age, and we can find reassurance in stars, call them faultless as they disappear into day. Well, of course, you can't paraphrase a poem, but you will want to enjoy the colloquial tone that Ellen Bass sprinkles with such unusual images. Have you ever thought of waves as "surf's drunk crashing into the cliffs like a car wreck."

We discussed at length the nature of repetition -- how especially in music, even though the notes might be the same, they aren't played the same way when repeated. The variation hanging on the repeated hanging on we do to the familiar. How Bass challenges the metaphor of the "fixed town of your life" with line breaks that suspend the possibilities only to surprise you. I'm grateful, is followed by an observation
that the toilet is in it's usual place; back in bed she finds that the same woman in bed is not the same; The opening of curtains repeated the second time has no closing. A wonderful poem to read to be reminded not so much of what happens (repeats over and over) to each of us, but the possibility of how we face that fact.
We could despair, be afraid, or watch how same wears a different face, as we do.

The next poem allows us to think of who we are -- from the front, or the back, old, young, healthy or stricken with a disease like parkinsons; the role of music; the role of "composing" or "constructing" a face. The two "I" sentences could be the conductor speaking, but just as easily the speaker of the poem, who seems to be able to "wear his skin". Twice the use of innocence, but the repetition expands into trying to pinpoint the meaning of "the face/unconstructed". The ending question, stretched over seven lines implies for how close he is to not being
able to be a conductor, or alive, twice, repeating the word "edge".
the description of Parkinsons' effect, "fingers tap their useless code" and what else can he do, but show us who he is/ a man standing too close to the edge,/ edge no one can call him back from.

Martin called on the fact that the poem comes from a book entitled, "The Gift that Arrives Broken"-- all of us are born with something slightly "broken" -- sometimes not apparent, sometimes declaring itself much later in life. Perhaps there is a play on the word "construct" and "conduct", which would accentuate the unconstructed smile, is attached to the person whose gift broken, will prevent him from conducting both music and his life.

We did not discuss "Frankly" by Naomi Shihab Nye very long, but admired the wry tone, and how indeed we do not know how to be with the dying, let alone make time for them.
What is labor? What do we bare, bear, as in carry, and what bores us in all the senses of the word, what penetrates through us, or cannot engage us.

Kenyon's poem, Happiness develops a fine context to show happiness as something
that appears as unpredictably as a prodigal son, an uncle you never knew about.
And so you feast, "and weep... to know that you were not abandoned" in those "unmerciful hours of despair". Three times she repeats in the final stanza,
"it comes" with the fourth time repeating, it even comes... followed by a list of inanimate objects: boulder, pine barrens, rain and wineglass. Why is it weary of
holding wine -- the waiting for celebration and feast -- as if to underline that
unpredictability of happiness.

The final poem, I wonder, if it were performed like Jayne Cortez' "endangered species" which is spoken with music, might come across better. But the message is clear. Whether it is Gaia, mother earth, or an endangered animal or human,
catastrophe is pushed back to the root cause: the catastrophers.

No comments: