Monday, December 2, 2013
O Pen November 25
Morning Prayer – Kazim Ali
Chorus by Catherine Barnett
Variations on a Theme by W.S. Merwin
I Am Vocal and the Salt -- by Alice Notley
Epilogue by Robert Lowell
In the APR (Sept/Oct. 2013) Kazim Ali has five poems followed by an interview with Christopher Hennessy.
He stresses that poetry traffics in the unsayable, not communication. Ali speaks of Emily Dickinson as a "totem poet" (for her penchant for mixing dictions, her breathtaking fearlessness and focus on the soul."
He further stresses that he works in breath "which is to say a sentence that moved through a poem, held by an idea." Language is material we use to create experience, and create a sense of self which is only perception.
For Ali, his love of syllables and vowels "could tolerate words and consonants because they came along with the package", but he works in breath, "how a sentence moves through the poem, held by an idea."
In Morning Prayer, four couplets, held at the waist by the single line "season to season" divide a setting of resonance from two questions. The first, about what it is in us that reaches to know what's after...
the second, an almost meditation on spirit -- is the function to give light, or to hold it.
The discussion of the poem included the feeling of sound as resonance, the idea that a potter can hear when the form of the pot is right from the sound, the image of the Grail, the idea of an autistic child (created by Elizabeth Moon, author) who states, "if light has speed, dark must too."
I enjoyed this poem more than the ones in the APR, partly because the words couched in so much white space,
allow the connection of thought and word, in a changing vibration that does not stay dark or light, contain or give.
The second poem brought to mind the function of the Greek Chorus, to comment on the action. The metaphor of the "elephant in the room" extended to the elephant squeezed into a church is both delightful and effective. I love the anthropomorphizing, the abstract "curtain of light" and metonym in a dirty gown of wrinkles,the whole galaxy shivering! The opening provided by elephant, opens the room up to the larger idea of church, not as building but gathering of spirits in a grand "all of it".
Merwin's poem brought up the musical idea of "fortspinung" -- a musical motif-- a spinning out of thanks,
with an opening, amplification and conclusion. Because of Merwin's style where each line suspends, able to
resonate both with what comes before and after, the theme of "blind gratitude" becomes a thread to life itself and the unknown that guides us. (The blind seer, and idea of the Dog Star, Sirius)
homesickness that guides the plovers
from somewhere they had loved before
they knew they loved it to somewhere
they had loved before they saw it
remind me of Ali's question of what it is "in us" that reaches to know... in this case not what is "after" -- but "before" -- unknowns that have no beginning or end -- and the opportunity to see, visit, revisit them.
The Notley poem addresses so much in the words, "Salt" both by itself (Lot, salt of the Earth) -- and coupled with "voice" and use of first person gave rise to a lengthy discussion. Above the salt, below the Salt and Aethel as lords, and athel as salt cedar that sucks up salt...
Martin understood a psychotic divided into several personalities and voices... but the question remains -- why ARE we here? Which elephants are in the room? How do we reconcile our complexity. Certainly a poem to revisit.
The final poem, rather like a epilogue to the poems gathered picks up Notley's concerns,
Yet why not say what happened?"
John provided the Vermeer painting reference with the map. I was reminded of this quote about photography by Susan Sontag:
"As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure."
-- from Susan Sontag, On Photography
The coupling of 4 adjectives, lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
for the snapshot intrigues me. Why LURID, which implies anything but "threadbare" (bright, brilliant, vivid, glaring, shocking, fluorescent, flaming, dazzling, intense;)
Knowing that this is the last poem of Lowell's last book is paradoxically reassuring. The first line which scans so nicely, "Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme"
no matter which tone attached to it (paying homage, shaking fists at form, at writing itself) remain insufficient to create something unique... Is the question "why are they no help to me now" perhaps recognition that something in the speaker has changed, as if understanding whatever "help" they had provided is also insufficient for the stage he is in. How do we give "living name" to each figure captured?
I love questions that prod us to open up our experience...