Wednesday, June 26, 2013

poems for July 1

Being But Men by Dylan Thomas
End -- John Cage
Waking Early Sunday Morning -- Robert Lowell
The Coat -- Alan Shapiro (1998)
(I love the diction, contrasting assymetry of three sentences not fitting into 3 stanzas of 10 lines, piling up of negatives, the image of a coat, whose purpose is warmth, bringing ghostly cold.)
The Beach Chair – by Alan Shapiro
(** This poem selected for the 1999 Breadloaf anthology.
I’m not sure why Alan Shapiro dedicated this poem to David Ferry – perhaps they are friends – but 11 years later, Shapiro writes this about Ferry’s latest book:
“There is no better poet on the planet than David Ferry, and Bewilderment is his best book. For the music that only poetry can offer, for the acute sensation of time passing, for the feeling of life as an effect of absent causes, for the haunted house that is both the present moment and the language by which the present is expressed, the poems in Bewilderment cannot be beat. This book should be read in the same spirit by which it has been written: by heart.”


I love in the Thomas poem how the starting point is our human-ness, and our fears...
that “afraid” is different than the cause of something anticipated that we should not do.
At first, afraid, we “whisper” so as not to wake the rooks (dark, unknown, fears) with the oxymoron that we would “fear to come noiselessly into a world of wings and cries” – What sound we should make? What is walking into trees? The childlike innocence, confusion of wonder/chaos into bliss does not stumble “into the woods” or bump into things –

The Lowell, inspired by the 8 line tetrameter of Andrew Marvell, "Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland"
was discussed as it was on the page, with wondering about Lowell, and in which part of his career it is written.
We want to know our poets, the context -- and yet, if you let the poem speak for itself.
This stanza sums up an ars poetica-- formal rhyme complaining about form-- or, by extension a 1967 protest of what societal constraints need also to be "chopped and crucified" (can there be resurection?)

O Bible chopped and crucified
in hymns we hear but do not read,
none of the milder subtleties
of grace or art will sweeten these
stiff quatrains shoveled out four-square –
they sing of peace, and preach despair;
yet they gave darkness some control,
and left a loophole for the soul.

As opposed to Dylan Thomas, Lowell mounts the pulpit:

Sing softer! But what if a new
diminuendo brings no true
tenderness, only restlessness,
excess, the hunger for success,
sanity or self-deception
fixed and kicked by reckless caution,
while we listen to the bells –
anywhere, but somewhere else!

The last three stanzas thunder into breaking loose, like the salmon, like Marvell's indefatigable march...
(see see:
Andrew Marvell: Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.

The two Shapiro poems work on the metaphor of container -- once containing, and just what is/was/will be contained. In the case of the coat -- how do we keep memory warm of the person held in by the coat, protected from the cold, etc.; and in the case of the empty beach chair-- where even the shadows of leaves prepare to fall.

How does a poem "work on the reader" -- I love poems which pry open an angle that allows a bit of light to glimmer on this complication of being human. And I love that week after week, we gather to discuss all the various angles of light.
How Don brought up Gogol's "Overcoat"; the discussion of who "you" can be... and how The Beach Chair has no you -- and so we experimented with a man reading and then a woman reading the poem -- imagining to whom we as reader might dedicate it.

poems discussed June 17/24

"The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper" -- Yeats

Poems for June 17 Poems for June 24

For Once, Then, Something by Robert Frost Love – Dorianne Laux
A Green Crab's Shell by Mark Doty The Witch of Coos -- by Robert Frost
SUNFLOWER NUMERO DOS – by Joseph Millar Indian Stream Republic by Stephen Burt
Sunflower William Blake Room in Antwerp by Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Sunflower Sutra – by Allen Ginsberg

Although I wasn't here to moderate June 17, a dose of different sunflowers reminds me of how "different" is only an excuse to pay attention to a unique quality in something. We say one thing, mean another, by the nature of language. "Truth?"
"Not exactly green" scuttles into looking into a small part of ourselves and what might lie underneath...

In the same way, Dorianne's poem from "The Book of Men", Love, takes one sentence, wound into 13 carefully crafted lines.
Dead center, is the root... the closed heart, where the ones you love, (magma core of regret) lead you. The title, love, repeated in the first two lines, returns with multiple mmmmmm's,as a muddy, misshapen country-- the phone ringing, ringing, interrupted by "for your mother's dead and buried sake". The clipped diction "pick up" is a perfect confirmation of the opening "The ones you love make you/remember why you love them/when all you want to do is forget.

We read the Witch of Coos with a narrator, the men alternating the lines for the son, the women alternating the lines for the mother. Kathy receives kudos for her excellent reading! A great halloween tale, so much fun to read aloud in a group!
David corrected the mis-print of "staid" which should be stayed and the last name: Lajoie not Barre. So, Toffile (Love of God) Joy. A great study of mistaking metaphor for reality, and how easily we can spin different versions of a tale.
"But tonight I don’t care enough to lie—"
and the suprising reflection:
"I don’t remember why I ever cared. What has happened...
"Toffile, if he were here, I don’t believe
"Could tell you why he ever cared himself…."

Truth and history in the Stephen Burt poem brought up Coos as a real place, and brought to life a political incident
far removed from the initial stanzas.

The Laure-Anne Bosselaar poem has all the marks of her usual musical mastery, deft use of imagery of dust lit by the light, rags of noise, building a believable nostalgia that could apply not just to a specific room, but how we remember details.

As ever, what the multiple viewpoints, thoughtful sharing make each poem come alive. The poets have sung of glimpses of magic their senses have captured.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

comments on Poems June 3

We opened the session with a quote by CD Wright about the role, importance of poetry... how reassuring that poems can ground us, uplift us, provide fodder for discussion, etc. unique to poetry. The poems for June 3 blended concepts, imagination, imagery, general craft and diction that brought out many personal stories, and as usual, the feeling that sharing poems made the poems come alive in ways we wouldn't have understood without others.

Palindrome, by Lisel Mueller, in its hourglass shape, captures the playful spirit of the math games and puzzles of Martin Gardner, author of the epigram. What IS forward? Backward? and then, how to think a life this way, which begs the question of how we remember, order, understand living. Maura reminded us of John Lennon's "life is what goes on when we are too busy making plans"... or just too busy to think...

After reading the poem forward AND backward, more questions came up -- I highly recommend it as an exercise....
and then to offer the challenge of separating "lies" from "elegy" in the Bob Hicok poem. Why the title, and why the sense of a poem filled with mourning of a relationship to the extent that the beloved's name is impossible to pronounce.
14 lines, replete with repetitions, subtle variations "pull back the hammer of the gun" ... where "bang" is both
the only sound one can hear, and the anger one wants to express. A poignant, at first seemingly tongue in cheek, but finally quite seemingly real "bang" which of course, is only a word.

After Skate by Carol Muske-Dukes (see movie Dogtown and Z boys)(Lords of Dogtown): the energy of skateboarding, the scenario of empty houses and pools, leads up to the killer last sentence: "Nobody's home to the ownerless: he turns
inside their names, never minds ghosts, nothing in his wake." Skating away... after... after what... gives a sense of desolation...

The next poem, in 6 couplets, Sometimes, When the Light by Lisel Mueller brought forth many stories of haunted houses... the question if all cultures have this Hansel and Gretel/witch in the forest/the goblins will get you if you don't watch out element. The paradox of "marvelous and dangerous" spells magic -- just like the idea of the final choice: "you would die, or be happy forever."

In Portraits in Seasons by Danielle Pafunda drew on many associations: Robert Browning, (What is Wanting -- will be discussed June 10) Mary Cassatt... book-ended between "something feral" -- with a mysterious evocation of a book -- the writing of the book, natural leaf and page...

For the last poem, we read it outloud before consulting the music and video of pictures of the children in Britton, S.D. in 1939. Conjecture of what their lives would be like -- what kind of schooling they would receive (which letters thus, would mean thus)... the contrast of reading the poem, vs. hearing the poem read with the music...
confirms the subjective baggage with which we come to greet poems... and to which the poems respond back.
Some of the comments: the perfect opposite poem for the Dr. Seuss graduation present "the places you will go...”
Irony... “Looking at Smalltown Life”... so different from Dorothea Lange's pictures of immigrants.
Other associations:
Sherman Alexie...
How to make an American Quilt
8 girls making pictures.
amazon review: This captivating novel opens in 1917 as Cymbeline Kelley surveys the charred remains of her photography (studio, destroyed in a fire started by a woman hired to help take care of the house while Cymbeline pursued her photography career. This tension— between wanting and needing to be two places at once; between domestic duty and ambition; between public and private life; between what’s seen and what’s hidden from view—echoes in the stories of the other seven women in the book.)

The power of reading aloud in a group, allows yet again, the multiple lens effect. Thank you all!