Friday, October 11, 2013

poems for October 7

Green-Striped Melons by Jane Hirschfield
Make It New by Alice Fulton
from Mean Free Path by Ben Lerner
The Moose by Elizabeth Bishop

This week's poems are in response to a letter to the editor of Poetry Magazine, criticizing Michael Robbins' review of the Norton Anthology, Postmodern American Poetry.
You might enjoy this 2008 article about Ezra Pound who coined the term "Make it New" --
What does "make it new" mean in 2013? Below some old, some new, some long, some short. The point is not to belabor an academic approach so much as to see how each poem is working.


For 10/7, I picked four poems, two of which are “old” to form a sandwich around two of which are “new”, using these terms loosely. Although the name Ezra Pound is often inseparable from his phrase, “Make it New” (the “it” meaning the culture of the past) perhaps the question is more to make artistic expression something which allows
a reader, viewer, witness to ponder on what brings vitality, meaning—and to walk away
feeling that the experience (poem, concert, art exhibit, performance, etc.) in some way underlines that life matters.

The first poet: Jane Hirschfield’s biography underlines her contributions as poet, essayist, teacher, translator, ambassador. To quote Rosanna Warren from the American Poet site,
“Hirshfield has elaborated a sensuously philosophical art that imposes a pause in our fast-forward habits of mind. Her poems appear simple, and are not. Her language, in its cleanliness and transparency, poses riddles of a quietly metaphysical nature...Clause by clause, image by image, in language at once mysterious and commonplace, Hirshfield's poems clear a space for reflection and change. They invite ethical awareness, and establish a delicate balance.” - See more at:

The first poem, taken from her 2001 anthology, “Given Sugar, Given Salt”
demonstrates how she shares “riddles of a quietly metaphysical nature”.
One could read “Green-Striped Melons” as 3 stanzas (broken into two quatrains, one couplet) which have nothing to do with traditional meter. Or count syllables and admire her delicate weave of repetition:
“they lie” and a line break to “under stars” vs. “they lie under rain in a field”. vs.
the fragment. “Under sun.”
The Comparison of melons to “some” people continues the idea of something hidden, unexpected expressed by “under”. The group picked up on a play of implied homonym weight/wait for ripeness and ambiguity of “lie” as both position and how depth is deceptive, whether in melons, people or paintings. Judith recalled the concierge in “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.”

Born a year before Hirschfield (1952), the second poet, Alice Fulton, is known for her innovative use of language and her explorations of “poetry as sensual math”, “fractal poetry”etc. The poem under discussion, “Make it New” which appeared in Poetry Magazine, this October (2013) demonstrates her facility to vivify both line and cliché, to make the reader think about perception, and what it is that we really “know”. One person offered the idea of the setting of a graveyard (inscriptions on implied tombs in a blizzard), corroborated by “what I do for a dying”. The “how” of the lines play in multiple ways.
There is an injunction to avoid collective thinking, a twist on the slang for “get out of here”, and an idea of a cathedral, although “stained” glass might mean also, hoist up what we have sullied, colored rose, or altered to suit our personal agendas:

"Avoid the hive mind. Go fly a kite,
raise a stained glass window in the sky.

It’s the opposite of making love to drudgery,
what I do for a dying."

We all laughed when reading the poem sentence by sentence and Larry read with full exclamation as the punctuation demands.
“... The curiosity rover

lands on Mars! “
Curiosity as adjective, also acts as name without a capital letter and rover, points at the space between the couplets as if roving to land... The next statement, uses the 1890 word “hooligan” (note, not new slang, although echoing the vowel sound “oo”.) Again, she breaks into a stanza break – and we discussed “rests” as “remains” or “lies” or even, unassembled. The idea of video games, or an abacus for “reckoning frame” comes to mind.

“New is a hooligan.
It breaks the reckoning frame and rests

in pieces."

At this point, I hope you will want to read the whole poem, to appreciate the format, the tone. (see: )
I often ask “which line hits you the most” – and for many of us, it was the final couplet which contains the personal expression of grief.

“Let me collect its dna
from the tears on your desk.”

We read through and admired the Ben Lerner, whose poem title,
"from Mean Free Path" evokes this bit of physics: the average distance a particle travels between collisions..., and Lucretius. Lerner, with a light dust of humor over something serious, threads musical references, repetitions, into a personal voice, caught in its sphere, desiring to connect, find a way to communicate.
What the “this” is that surrounds us on our journey? – How do we talk about it with others? He opens with:

“What if I made you hear this as music
But not how you mean that.”

(source: Paris Review, 2013:

The final poem, The Moose by Elizabeth Bishop we have read before – but the pleasure does not diminish. Each time we visit, revisit a poem, we are making it new.
Comments included: “It’s like seeing a movie... you don’t have to figure anything... It’s a communion-- nature—with history. We too are on the bus moving into darkness... It’s a symbolic journey where people talk about tragedies and remember and tell... but something arrested for a moment... by moose in complete innocence... reminds of something else of life. new mood. moving into sleep. wakened..."
The moose reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ Aslan – the largeness of spirit some call God,
in a visible visitation. The question of why we all feel “this sweet/
sensation of joy?” does not ask for answer, so much as remind us to take note, remember,
as it comes in the midst of our living stories.

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