Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Poems for Jan. 13

To the New Year by W. S. Merwin
From the First Book of Far Away by Eileen G'Sell
Ilona's Eyelids -- Eileen G'Sell
In the Lap of a Stranger by Karen Whalley
As If by Karen Whalley
Mindful by Mary Oliver

I wrote this when sending out the poems for this week:
My mind is reeling with reading so many poems -- collections of "best of 2013" and a new issue of APR and Poetry, and so many I want to read, mull over, and write of my own... Merwin's poem appeared twice this Christmas, now post-Christmas/new year's season, and 4 of Mary Oliver's gathered together last week as one of my writing groups exchanged emails... they make wonderful, grounded book-ends for poems which
paint glimpses that catch at feelings, signs of life, at once recognizable, yet not familiar, to me, as if calling out both far away, yet echoing inside.

I write this now, after our meeting, which, even with 20 people present, allowed not only a variety of insights and opinions, but brought us to a discussion of what "sentimentality" means, and why some people have an adverse reaction to it; At the end, Jim kindly brought in a comment on his recent readings about the brain, which makes convenient frameworks, so that as time goes on, the mind uses them to sort out information flying in. The problem is of course, no previous framework exactly fits the new experience, so we deal with approximate frames, which in turn slant our understanding, further jeopardizing the hope of "truth".
Judith sums it up with some Kipling:
There are 9 and 60 ways
to recite tribal ways
and every single one of them is right.

The challenge is balance. Regarding sentimentality, one thought is that we sense some disproportion, or some grating by a preconception which excludes our sense of what we consider "worthy". Poems are mirrors,
and remind us that we are constantly changes, and our responses shift in turn.

20 minutes on Merwin, which left me a sense of people really enjoying the poem. I found it easy to find questions -- whether about a favorite line, or considering the "you" as someone other than the New Year.
Responses: the poem is like a grace at the beginning of a meal (year); the sounds and stillness the poem conveys allows possibilities which will come out by themselves...
our age sounds like "hour rage"-- is it modern times out of hand, our inner psyche...
in our "new age” how little we know:
"our knowledge such as it is"
-- is not so much a cliche as hinting that knowledge could be something other than it is-- perhaps unbidden
and "our hopes such as they are"
hints beyond the ordinary.

The final lines combine a great sense of the untapped, and unforeseeable, but with a sense of optimism.
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

After reading the pithy "inner poems" and ending on Mary Oliver's "Mindfulness, her poem to some seemed facile, not one like Merwin's which keeps growing and multiplying in layers. But this brought the group to a discussion about our subjectivity -- today, or this moment, this "now", like a new year, is only one instance in our perception of things.

In the New Yorker issue of this week (Jan. 13) Jennifer Grotz has a poem called "Apricots".
You might want to substitute the word "Apricot" with "Poems" -- we judge them carefully, as though we "have been given the charge to determine/which are good or bad" -- and finding goodness in all the variations... in and out of the tree... "each one tastes different, like a mind having/erratic thoughts." The ending trance..
"halfway between eating and thinking
the thought of an apricot, the apricot of a thought,
whose goodness occurs over time, so that
some had been better earlier, others soon
would become correct, I mean ripe."

There is no "correct"... and can we all agree about "ripe"?

From the First Book of Far Away by Eileen G'Sell: (coming to grips w/ separation)
The discussion included noting the details of "broken", the one long latinate word, "fastidious"
and the idea of sound sweeping us, with a vague idea of sense, but certainly not "pegged" or, as in the poem, Apricots "correct". It is as if we need to be constantly adjusting our understanding.
The poem elicited these comments:
David: Wilde's "Do you understand everything you just said?"
Judith: Auden: "How can I know what I think until I see what I say?"

Ilona's Eyelids -- also by Eileen G'Sell stirred up a lot of discussion -- again the music of the sounds,
and how the poem traced a story of innocence to loss of faith. It is an exquisitely layered poem starting with the name, Ilona, the idea of eyelids, (not eyes) and proceeding from dolls to "mean martinis" ending with a stygian slant:
"A fake boat, bereft of sound.
The soft, cold lips of belief."

Karen Whalley's "In the Lap of a Stranger" gives us a mirror of the "there but for the grace of God, go I" and a chance to reflect on how we relate to each other and what this means about us as humans.
Her other poem, "As If" also painted a heart-wrenching story --where "death circled without landing."
Perhaps Joyce's idea of wanting just one more line was to have a sense of closure or clearer context.

All in all, it was one of the more animated discussions we have had at open, and certainly not finished!

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