Friday, October 11, 2013

Rundel: Poems for Lunch: October 10

Words for Worry by Li-Young Lee
One Heart by Li-Young Lee
Angels of Radiators by A. Poulin, Jr. (professor, poet-translator, editor) (b. 1938-1996)
Hurry by Marie Howe
Three Days of Forest, a River, Free by Rita Dove

Sunday, 9/30, Li-Young Lee was guest of BOA editions and read at the Memorial Art Gallery accompanied by sitar player, David Whetstone. The program included Words for Worry. Outside the MAG, you might have seen the tiles for “Poets Walk”: Li-Young Lee has one, as does BOA founder, A. Poulin, Marie Howe and Rita Dove. You might enjoy imagining what phrase or words you would use from the poems to put in a tile on a poets walk. For more information: (

The first poem by Li-Young Lee is worth reading in different ways in order to appreciate the nuances of "Worry".
It starts "in media res" -- in the middle of things -- "Another word for father is worry" -- as if we have dropped in on a conversation. A single line. Stanza break. 3 couplets. A quatrain with hypenated words creating names and ending with five lines where the final 3-line sentence breathes. More than a catalogue, it reminds a reader of the experience as a child, providing a parent with worries... and if a parent, one thinks of one's children.
Lee shows the various facets -- the embodiment of "worry" as father, boiling water, taking care of a child --
which segues into the word "son" -- with a play on "delight" and "hidden". One person remarked on the use of indigenous people to hyphenate names, often with a verb -- so a son is also the action of leaving and returning.
The language in the quatrain adopts an elevated Biblical register, which makes me think of Father-Son as Christian relationship, although followed by a fragment which starts the final stanza: "But one word for father."
And after this exploration of words for "worry" -- the reassurance of the final sentence which flows easily,
unlike the previous choppy rhythms.

The second Li-Young Lee poem feels like a meditative breath which takes us "up" as James said, "like an out-of-body experience" -- a superior point of view... and yet freedom spirals to fasten onto each falling thing.
A good poem doesn't need to explain, postulate or pound sense into the reader. This is a perfect example
of suggestion, contradiction gathered into the unity of "love".

A. Poulin, founder of BOA and renowned teacher and figurehead in Rochester, provides a poem which creates
the sounds of old cars, regulators and the feel of angles of night, cold, and the "angels responding to blank space" which respond to "sing wild allelujahs warm as Spring". The metaphorical "furnace fails like heaven"
and work of the radiator where "The water that will turn/to steam and turn to heat/and rise as grace runs out."
requires the mortal action of going down to turn the valve to "filling up" for those angels to return...
As one person put it: here's a simple, mundane object like a radiator, given "high-flown" worth.

The poem by NY State Poet Laureate, Marie Howe, "Hurry up darling" brought a few of us to tears -- how what we do as parents, then is imitated by children, who take, tease and grow up, and hold the keys... It's so easy to recognize in the opening enumeration" We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store/
and the gas station and the green market and/ "
the pace with which we lead our lives. Howe cleverly stops this endless bustle by following "and" with
Hurry up honey, which spins the crux of the poem into orbit.

The poem by Rita Dove, US Poet Laureate, 1993–1995, recreates a gripping narrative of an escape to freedom,
which bears examination about the twisted logic of slavery. We started the discussion by examining what "duty's whistle" means, both in and out of the context of the poem. It follows the opening sentence: "The dogs have nothing better
/to do than bark;" But, isn't that what dogs do? And when do they bark -- to greet, to warn,
when they are in pain, i.e. to communicate." And dogs as a fill-in for "inferior to human", or perhaps at best,
faithful servant... and later, "Who can point out a smell/
but a dog? " -- both the dogs set to chase a fugitive -- but also the ability of a dog to point out things for what they are. The paradox in this stanza is worth noting as well: "The terror of waking is a trust/
drawn out unbearably/
until nothing, not even love,
/makes it easier, and yet
/I love this life:"
The title prepares us with the word "free" to understand more fully the final word of the poem "underground".
the river to cross, as the river Styx or the Ohio and boundary between life/death... the visible/invisible,
all these themes intricately bound up in a poem where each line bears the weight of saying one thing, but meaning yet another -- what Robert Frost calls "ulteriority". Case in point: the final sentence broken into 5 lines: Faint tongue, dry fear,

I think I lost you to the dogs,

so far off now they're no

more than a chain of bells

ringing darkly, underground.

Thank you all for coming and for the wonderful discussion and sharing!

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