Friday, December 13, 2013

Poems for Lunch: December 12

From a Drumlin, November, Late Afternoon –Mike Yaworski
What the Heart Cannot Forget by Joyce Sutphen
First Snowfall in St. Paul by Katrina Vandenberg
I Looked Up by Mary Oliver
As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare
+ Untitled (Abraham Lincoln)

If you are already subscribed to Garrison Keilor’s Writers Almanac, forgive the repeats in poems 2-4— but even so, sharing and responding in a group, in person, elicits a different response to a poem perhaps already heard on the radio, or read in a daily email. Mike generously agreed to share the first one.
Hearing a poem, read by the author, can be a wonderful bonus, when rhythms and cadences match the poet's intent, and indeed, Mike's poem, filled to the brim with alliteration and parallel structures is no exception.
It evokes the landscape of Auburn where he grew up, which, even in the dormancy of November, offers a sense, indeed a real FEELING of endless beginnings, possibilities.

The topic of "sentimentality" came up with Joyce Sutphen's poem, along with a discussion of both title and final stanza. What is remembrance when coupled with the "heart"? Sutphen starts with a large generalization,
"Everything remembers something" that evokes the beginning of the Earth. Each tercet then proceeds to exemplify the idea of memory, cloud, turtle, tree, and finally the human casing of skin, frame of bones,
acts of the feet (dance) and arms (lifting up a child). Is the last stanza necessary after arriving at
this sense of connection? She repeats the title repeated, reversing the subject/object: the Heart remembering Everything, and embraces everything again, as something both lost and found and personalized
with a double meaning of "the heart cannot forget" by itself, but attached to the idea that if we love,
we then have a basis for what it is we will remember.

We discussed the process of poetry -- how often we can edit or revise our original idea, but lose something with such refinement. By taking away the last stanza, perhaps the sense of having the point nailed in so we don't miss it, might not be there, but the reader might not think about the "how" of remembrance the same way.

The next poem needs to be seen as well as heard, as if read "according to the syntax of things" the flow would not capture the feel of beginning drivers braking and skidding in the first snow. The delight of seeing
the poem scratch out the effect of the jerking whine of wheels as the girls learn to take the driver's seat.

Mary Oliver's poem repeats the first three syllables of the title to complete a sentence which leaves us in mystery: what is "it" in "there it was"? We thought of owls, the silence that ruffles as they use their enormous wings. The use of metals for color evokes a phoenix rising, an otherworldliness one feels as the sun sets, catches the "opulent" wings "wreathed in fire". We discussed the role of the judgmental reference to fear of death, limitation of faith which seems to come out of the blue. Such "misery" and "wretchedness" exclude possibilities. "Looking up" thus expands beyond physical observation to mood, with a spiritual connection.

Although I had originally chosen the Hopkins as a natural segue to Mary Oliver's poem, Elaine was quick to point out the connection with Joyce Sutphen's poem -- starting with the physical details and leading to the trinity. Taashire picked up on God creating Man in his likeness, which led to a discussion of the paradox of
God being thoroughly, yet invisibly present. What keeps us going is the faith in practicing what is filled with justice and grace.

We ran out of time to discuss Sonnet 73. Another sensual poem that starts with a visual observation of autumn leaf, the implied sound of their shaking and echo of birds in the branches (in undiminished choir lofts!) and both end of day and life. (sleep, as death's brother). The second sentence brings in the poet's desires... and how "self-substantial fuel" in Sonnet I returns in the self-nourished, self-consuming fire of 73. The third sentence represents, according to Helen Vendler, a change of mind, thus 73 is an example of the "sonnet of self-correction". She goes on to summarize: "Once it is admitted that youth wanes, it is clear that the only locus of true life is the present..." The couplet tie "leave" as noun in line 2 and verb in line 14
re-enacts the loss of love.

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