Thursday, April 11, 2013

poems for April 15

The Present -- by Jane Hirschfield
Ulysses -- Alfred,Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) 1833
A Paris Blackbird by Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Soul Search in Mexico by Carmen Calatayud
The Plain Sense of Things -- by Wallace Stevens (October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955)
The Poem that Took the Place of The Mountain-- Wallace Stevens

The group enjoyed the challenges of these poems, and will have the added pleasure of hearing Al Filreis and his panel discuss the two Wallace Stevens poems on April 18 at noon.
Postmodern poets focused on the process of their poetry, rather than on what the words in their poems actually said. The purpose was to make poetry and language new again.

The selection: a short poem whose last line catches us unawares, a long poem written almost 200 years ago, a surrealist poem, an poem in musical tercets, and two formal poems, and yet each one pondered a different aspect of immortality.

For Hirschfield, the title can mean both a gift, but also refer to time, and reappears in the last line of the poem to work both meanings. What divides the living from the dead? The poem offers a meditation by the living told in the past tense. Repetitions of the words,
"offered" and "memory", the thwarted desire to be able to give "edible leaf"/fragrance,(flower), or share the emotions that rise in the stages of grief. There is a sadness in this poem coupled with a peaceful reckoning. We think by writing, we can keep memory, but the problem with writing, is its one-sidedness. The Dying do not want to hear the troubles of the living. But Hirschfield is more delicate-- she would never write "why bother" or dismiss,
or expect, but rather, she alludes to the writing done, and the question that allows a shadow of mystery, "but what is memory that dies with the fallible inks?". How do we understand "fine" (musical term for "end" adjective for delicate and "all right") applied to the "mesh"
of death. This is a poem to read again and again, and prompted a discussion about how in our culture, we have little preparation for conversations with the dying.

Tennyson, could well provide a commencement address with his closing line which reminded some of the Dr. Seuss "Oh the Places you will Go".
A quite different meditation on life, what we have been, and the essence of who we are, in the voice of a hero speaking in long lines. "Come, my friends,/'Tis not too late to seek a newer world." Does hubris play a role in Ulysses' desire to be recognized? "How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!" Juxtaposed next to: "As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life..." makes us look again. David gave us a good background of Ulysses, how it starts with his shipwreck on the enchantress Calypso's island (whose name means hidden)and how the ending of the original Homer was lost in the Renaissance so that readers would not know of Ulysses' return, but rather have the vision of him pining away under the spell of Calypso who gave him immortality. He referred as well to Dante, where Ulysses is damned and does not return.
The lofty tone contains a quite human flavor in the last 9 line sentence, stopped first by a colon, "It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:" stopped three times by a semi colon:
"Though much is taken, much abides;
"We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven;
that which we are, we are;
and the final three lines leading to the final line "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield".

Bosselaer brings us back to the present, with overtones of the past contained in the Louvre, and perhaps also the "blackbird" in the title, which I associate with Jacques Villon, who wrote ballads which give voice to the criminal. The poem is filled with weavings of sound,opening with "ch" of chant (French for song),chestnut, enchanting (some bronze-breasted female". Bird to anonymous woman, given a "bronze throat", although I think of a statue from 11 BC as stone, not metal, and bronze a symbolic "memorializing", which links living bird to representation of once was living. The magic of this poem is heightened
by the overlay of meanings: "She looks at me: weary,
terrible with banality" -- "me" could be both the statue and the speaker. The final stanza moves to the crowds milling towards the "Venus de Milo" but the speaker returns to "look at this nameless woman, as I did the scruffy blackbird." How do we look at what surrounds us? How to we imagine the cry caught in a "bronze throat".

Soul Search in Mexico offers a different dialogue between past and present with overtones of Aztec sacrifices and temple ruins, in a vivid surreality, created by phrases that ought to make sense, but don't. How to make sense of this poem? The reader is commanded to be present but many found it difficult to join in the atmosphere created in this stanza: "Vapors rise, and statues grow/ like shadows of the town insomniac/ who wrestles with diamonds at night. Here ambiguity confuses unlike the Hirschfield poem which has a gentle welcome.

The two Wallace Stevens poems, the first, set in a wintergarden, the second wherever a poet might be at work, left us with a respect for the poetry's power of transformation.

The five stanzas of "The Plain Sense of Things" start out with with setting of inertia,
an empty sadness, leading up to the conclusion: " A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition / In a repetitiousness of men and flies. The final two stanzas are linked by a superb enjambment where the end word of the 4th stanza, "silence" falls to the final stanza beginning with
"Of a sort,--
which mirrors the beginning "as if" entertaining the idea of the end of imagination, (and perceiver's death). However, the "plain sense of things" at the end of the poem is reflected in the pond, and the creative act of the imagination of the inescapable fact of repetition of "things being things, mirrored in things" now requires that initial savoir "required, as a necessity requires" --

Such a brilliant intertwining of craft and philosophy indeed needs repeated readings.
The meanings slide around life and death; fact and imagination, giving me a sense of "Oh I get it!" only to wonder if indeed I have begun to understand the unadorned pith that generated the poem.

The second Stevens "The Poem that Took the Place of The Mountain" was more accessible,
albeit an alchemy that would complete "... the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:" explained in two more stanzas,
like a cubist painting where boundary dissolves in a simultaneous, multifaceted, two-dimensionality that refuses to declare space or time:

The exact rock where his inexactness
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,

Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,
Recognize his unique and solitary home.

The poem gave a possibility to create such a mountain... in seven couplets, perhaps like the Biblical creation,
or... the actual mountain he sees, becomes a poem.
Perhaps a different iteration of the necessity of the imagination to conjure up the words to reflect thought in things.

How fortunate to have 16 minds reading these poems outloud together, discussing different viewpoints, understandings, to allow time to think deeply on poems that challenge us to think
about complexity in our own lives.
poem to mountain,

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