Friday, December 6, 2013

O Pen : December 2

November for Beginners by Rita Dove
Remembrance Day by Evelyn Lau
Advent by Mary Jo Salter
After Pisarro – by Byron Beynon
if the night is long, remember your unimportance by Grace Marie Grafton
Teacher W.S. Merwin

In today's discussion we focussed on titles: What does "Beginner" evoke, or "Remembrance" or "Advent"?
Something about beginnings, brings a sense of hope, as we remember the past and move forward. What is new,
for architecture? I think of the currently oldest standing bridge in Paris called "Le Pont Neuf". Certainly the poem "After Pisarro" could mean the traditional, "In the style of", but how does the perfectly aligned
right margin correspond to that? This 17 line poem brushstrokes a present moment long past, with the
long, final fragment, "His early canvas/for a new, tragic century, created from observation through "rented" panes. (I apologize for bad typos: 5th line: strength; of course 15th line, umbrellas; no period, line 16 after day; of course only one s on observed.
The two poems by Grafton and Merwin are similar: one created "after a line", although with a completely different tone, reflecting quite different times. Merwin's poem, from the Miner's Pale Children, was created in 1970, addressing what seems to be quite real pain, played like a record at the close of a year.
The parallel construction:

What I live for I can seldom believe in
Who I love I cannot go to
What I hope is always divided

supports an image of acute emotional pain, followed by "but" which changes perspectives, that do not rely on justifying, or sure promises, and "yet" this too is part of learning.
Grafton's poem, taking the line "if the night is long remember your unimportance" adopts a flippant tone,
with delightful details of play-acting including "no one wants to be the bramble. "Oh me."
The speaker of the poem goes on to ruminate on the role of the wraith, whose only strength is time
to ruminate on self-improvement courses. Cheeky, fun, but self-absorbed without letting the reader in.

But to return to the opening poem, the enjambed lines, the braiding of mood with a hint of King Lear,
We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,

What is it that aches in us, that we keep in secret, what is it we memorize before leaping into a stanza
beginning with a gloomy line, yet which ends with Zithers? The titles is intriguing -- as we review the year, start with November -- the softness of snow... and end with promising to play the fool in Spring. It is not a primer, but more "where to start", November, which doesn't necessarily have the "easy way out" with snow-- but rather is a pre-advent advent season, to prepare us for celebration, born in Spring.

Remembrance day probes beyond "armistice" day. What is time when shopping on a dismal November 11th is interrupted by 60 seconds of remembrance? The poet doesn't make a break from that experience to recounting her friend's memory of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, including horrifying details of a street urchin's head in a bucket, the rest of him used for food. Bunkers provide relief -- and you realize, the speaker of the poem is still in the store, the 60 seconds of remembrance over, and back to the poem goes on to search for the perfect dress, and the store a relief from remembering.

Mary Jo Salter's poem, "Advent", in 20 tercets combines weather, building a gingerbread house five days before Christmas, and the Advent calendar with windows so carefully coaxed open to reveal the old masters who painted the Christmas story. All this while the gingerbread house receives shingled peppermints, and the shutter, snapped off, retrieved... with a mysterious last stanza "a page torn from a book/still blank for the two of us,/a mother and her child." Comments included making Mary real... the sense of vulnerability, with the future waiting to be written.

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