Thursday, October 31, 2013

Poems for Lunch -- November 6

I read the November issue of Poetry after our discussion 10/31 about Whitman's "Wound Dresser" and felt as if Tom Sleigh had been privy to it. Tom Sleigh's article starts with his return from Mogadishu, Somalia and sources of rage. And then he continues with insights about the much-neglected David Jones, the great English/Welsh/Cockney painter and poet,author of "In Parenthesis" in part about his experience in WWI.
The title of this long work perhaps can shed light on Whitman's use of parentheses. WWI was like a "curious existence in parentheses" -- but how do you make sense of the 19,000 men killed in one day in Mametz woods?
Jones makes the terror and chaos real through the accents of the voices, rhythms of vernacular and slang, and sensual detail.

Once Jones said he wanted poetry to “be incarnational” – literally “dressing the spirit in flesh”.
There are no Keatsian sound effects, no lushness of orchestration as in Owen’s “Spring Offensive” in which the soldiers experience the traditional enchantments of pastoral.
The walk across no-man’s land is described as “small, drab, bundled pawns severally make effort/moved in tenuous line.” (p. 192)

When is a poem an “alibi for thought, a lot of word-masquerading, a rhetorical jumping up and down and waving of hands... to get someone to pay attention. The marks on the page have less permanence, less vividness of effect than the henna staining the camel and goat seller’s beard in a refugee camp.

He ends with the thought that the artist in necessarily empirical rather than speculative.
The question for the artist for Jones is “Does it?” rather than “Ought it?” – and that perception can’t be faked because it’s important to be... incarnational.!/20585867 (The Wall)!/20588159 (The Tutelar of the Place)

In contrast Wilfred Owens' poem below is highly anthologized.

Sleigh The entire issue had gripping poems about experiences that leave the reader gasping about what "reality" is like in other parts of the world and other times. Vantage points of the poor, the crazy, those about to board a train for Auschwitz-Birkenau, not having chosen an injection, those who didn't thanks to mercury chloride. Poems of parts of the world rife with violence where
"Memory shrinks // until it fits in a fist
memory shrinks // without forgetting
in chiseled columns. A strange poem about kisses and a nine-tailed fox and secrets and singing sentence into stone. All in all, a sense that poets are trying to make things new just as Marianne Moore and modernists were trying. The same problem -- how do we write -- and what matters in our poems. What keeps us reading poems?

So the line up for next week:

October nor'easter by Marge Piercy
Dulce et Decorum Est -- Wilfred Owens
Bad Year Anthem by Matthew Nienow
Things by Lisel Mueller


So often we think in opposites: right/wrong, black/white and indeed in art, the play of light/shadow, positive/negative (whether space or syntax) is fundamental to fleshing out an idea. Piercy gives us four stanzas in which the word "hard" is repeated (although stanza 2, transformed to hardly touched-- which hints at a series of possibilities). She threads the vowels so the ear can travel through the eee-ip--eee
rip of storm, the ay-uh... uh-ay of "rain scuds" (which feels like a noun but kicks the wet off the ocean as a verb). By the third line, the water is scimitar and if you had any doubt about the power of a Nor'easter,
you will be convinced of how it strip everything down to the bone. But isn't that what happens in life as we survive yet another year, arriving at fall's shorter days? Piercy ends with a novel and beautiful luminescent stone. But it is the "If" of standing bare that allows her to see "my bones/
still shine like opals/where love rubbed sweetly,/hard, against them.

Owens' poem leaves me raw. It is interesting to me how even with a snapshot of a real scene, the conversation goes to the political exigencies behind war. It is easier to focus on "issues" as opposed to the grim reality of slaughter. I had forgotten that Vietnam was both the first and last war televised.

Comments on the Nienow poem included assessing how a young, 30-year old poet thinks and a sense that he is on the edge of saying something very wise as he lives his boat-building life. What is this duality he senses in stanza 2: "I stand aside as what is removed is whisked alongside me.
The smallest particles of what is removed thicken the air,

making a dream inside which one cannot live. All day! Accessible, clear, not overdone. The loneliness hinted at in the Nienow poem is shared in a plural "we" and our universal impulse to anthropomorphize. It came up that we add the smiley faces to machines to make them friendlier, give us a sense of connection and response. The verb tenses include two conditionals -- like invitation -- give bells tongues so we could listen... "we gave the country a heart,/the storm an eye,/the cave a mouth so we could pass into safety.

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