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.

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