Wednesday, March 6, 2013

March 4 discussion

O pen discussion: March 4, 2013
Poems for March 4

Streetlamps by Brenda Shaughnessy
Hearth by Brenda Shaughnessy
Honda Pavarotti by Tony Hoagland
The Cellist by Galway Kinnel
The Same Inside by Anna Swir

You never know how our discussions will start... and I already am suffering from CRS which Michael kindly explained means (Can’t Remember Stuff (or shit) with a case in point being the “” which David brought up. It was: gelasin: noun: A dimple in the cheek that appears when someone smiles.

And you never know how such a detail will serendipitously fit as if perfectly planned. Today’s word of the day: Sprezzatura. What I aim for when playing piano... Doing (or giving the appearance of doing) something effortlessly; effortless grace; nonchalance.)

My new goal is to mention the birthdates and important places to the poets picked each week. It makes a difference to know Anna Swir is born in 1909 and lived in Poland.
Sometimes knowing a biographical fact is important – for instance, if the poet is writing about grief and references to doctors arriving too late, but does not talk about a difficult birth, cerebral palsy, this information adds a lens which changes out perception.

I picked two very different poems by Brenda Shaughnessy b. 1970, both of which appeared in Gwarlingo last week. They both used couplets, but to quite different effect: the first, with clever enjambments, which stand out in short stanzas, eye rhyme, rhyme and slant rhyme, made us laugh. The second, strongly emotional had a sober and mysterious narrative .

Martin mentioned how he thought “Streetlamps” was a very serious poem, and looked up the author, only to find out she often used humor, which changed the poem completely. Her couplets accentuate the possibilities of paradox and the humor of double negatives, a road being “unplowed” as opposed to a field, the repetition of a quartet of “so” with parallel negative foils, the blending of cliché, “primacy of eggs”, only to arrive at a vocative address: “O streetlamp,/
wallflower clairvoyant,’ you are so futuristically/ old-fashioned, do not allow us to pause, reflect, but rather click along rapidly, yet, demand we slow down, playing serious against funny. Is wallflower or clairvoyant adjective or noun, and after leaping on from light to address “now and later” and the ping-pong of opposites, where “half” turns into a verb to erase the other half, and light, only able to be light in the dark... indeed, makes this reader feel breathlessly insane. The final line, “The only snows are dark snows.” brings us back to the plowed road – what it is we try to “clear”, but also, what snow, white as it is, also wraps things, covers up.

In “Hearth” there is no mistaking the opening as dramatic.
“Love comes from ferocious love
or a ferocious lack of love, child”

one does not joke with mothers, love or lack. The contradictions in the couplets this time drive the poem with urgency: The final sentence brings us home – but this is not to be still – there is an urgency -- and ferocious and lack return in the final sentence: You’ll lack nothing,/ child, and I will never let you go.

Reading Tony Hoagland’s Honda Pavarotti , we discussed opera... how sometimes knowing what is being sung, like understanding some background to a poem, increases enjoyment. Although some opera can be understood no matter what, Jim mentioned hearing a Czech opera in Budapest, translated into Hungarian, and yet could understand 85%. We also discussed the use of “Honda” in the title as well in Hoagland’s latest book, “Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty”. From the experience of driving, listening to Pavarotti, who is a singer who moves even the most misanthropic of opera shunners, a visceral identification with the production of the singing, comes the idea of squandering a life. No place ... “is good enough for this, this thing made out of experience/but to which experience will never measure up.” Note that this is both a dark AND soaring fact – that it pushes us to renounce OR fall in love with the world.

Contradiction remains the theme in “The Cellist” by Galway Kinnell, although many of the class had great suggestions about how he could tighten the effect – perhaps tell us why the speaker of the poem went backstage and what the relationship was, and take out the entire physical description of the girl’s private parts. Martin brought up a painting by Balthus called “The Guitar Lesson” (google Balthus on wiki to see it) which echoes a sense of instrument=woman – but we wondered if the poem is really about that.
What touched most of us was “the dreary in us” – what we have given, received, and cannot balance in a 12 lines sentence including “and for fear I wasn't worthy,
and all I poured out for reasons I don't understand yet.”
The ancient screaming, the cat, the birthing, etc. perhaps are to enhance fear, but most everyone found the pushing of the metaphor was “over the top”.

Anna Swir’s “The Same Inside” is a brilliant poem, contrasting the spiritual and physical beggar, the need for trust, relationship, hearth. Such simple strokes: Beggar, woman going to a love fest; reptilian brain like a dog; money; and an epiphany: “I could not part from her./After all, one needs/someone who is close. This is not the cerebral “love they neighbor as thyself” but a moment of transcendence, where conversing, touching another, feeling their needs, translating them to you own, exposes the artificial trysts for what they are – which are no longer needed.

I ended by reading Tony Hoagland’s “The Loneliest Job in the World.”
We left, feeling we all were better accountants of the heart – having shared hearty laughs, seen in the ordinary things of our lives new insights.

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