Thursday, January 30, 2014

poems for Jan. 30

Verses for Everyday Use (5 excerpts from Fadhil al-Azzawi. There are 4 pages of them in "Al-Mutannabi Street Starts Here".
Silence, by Billy Collins
Snow by Philip Levine
Snow Day by Billy Collins
What’s Written on the Body by Peter Perreira
Sire by W.S. Merwin

Although my initial idea was to read again, this week, "Silence", but out of the context of "Al-Mutannabi Street starts here", and leading into the context of two poems about snow that follow, we started with personal associations with titles. Would this be different hard on the heals of reading "Market run-on"?

Silence is usually associated with peace, stillness. It could possibly be censorship, or refraining from speaking. However understood, the title, "Silence" is a paradox as it contradicts silence by the very presence of the word, which will break the very thing it is when spoken. Collins captures the silence of what could happen, what happens without our noticing, or what we notice only when it stops. The fourth tercet repeats "silence" on each line: intimate silence of holding; silence of a window; silence when the beloved departs. Silence is again repeated three times, in the last line of the fifth tercet, the pile-up of silence breaking into a metaphor, continued in the sixth.
a silence that had piled up all night

like snow falling in the darkness of the house—
the silence before I wrote a word
and the poorer silence now.

This is a poem that gently prods us to read it again, each time, finding poignant revelations.

From a one-word title, and 6 tercet poem that ends on snow as simile, now let's look at a one-word title, Snow, to hold two stanzas, the second of which also uses a simile of snow as tears of lost souls choosing to return to earth. Levine uses the word "filthy" both 4th line for water and 15th line for a window, as he describes the Detroit river, traffic.
The 3rd sentence makes the reader stop, as if we were the ones who hit a parked car. "The bright squads of children/on their way to school howl/ at the foolishness of the world/they will try not to inherit.

The repeat of spring/grass, as spring grass as the earth's song in answer to the new sun, change of season, dark rain of Spring nights prepares us for the final stanza in which snow's response to the Earth, is to comfort. All by itself, the last stanza probably could not stand alone. Against the squalor of the city, the memory of a time before steel and fire, snow, "which has no melody of form", rings with redemptive, unconditional love.

Billy Collins, Snow Day, starts with the metaphor of "revolution", snow waving a white flag, as if announcing "surrender"! Second stanza, the verbs continue the battle: smother, bury, block, the world "fallen under this falling." Snow and anarchy give way to the announcement of nursery school closings,
the names reminiscent of some children's tale, song or rhyme. Ding Dong the witch is dead!
Hi-ho evoking Snow White's dwarves, Tom Thumb, Peanuts -- but even better, an epiphany that these schools are the nests for our innocents/innocence. The narrator of the poem becomes a spy, trying to find out what the girls by the fence are plotting. Although we see the scene, the underpinnings to support "riot" and "queen" as fairy tale figure work our consciousness.

Comparing this poem to Levine's snow, we go back to "the bright squads of children"... who suddenly seem more active as future revolutionaries.

The next poem, written by Doctor and poet, Peter Perreira shares its the title with the collection of poems in which it's found. We "read" people through body language, "read faces", feel deep emotions
without words. We also know of the numbering on the skin of slaves, prisoners. This small vignette
includes a man from Cambodia, his interpreter and the doctor-narrator/speaker of the poem.
We as readers also try to "gather/the tatters of his speech", understand not just the complaint (hit by the wind), the physical "violaceous streaks", but how the interpreter explains the icons and script
tattooed across his back.

I am not sure in what year Merwin wrote "Sire". Another Poet Laureate, like Collins and Levine,
he is known for his suspended lines which do not have periods. This poem is liberal with punctuation.
Starting with the anaphor, "Here comes..." repeated three times in the first stanza, soon pattern disappears, although "Here comes" arrives again in the middle of the second stanza.

Who are the players? shadow, little wind dragged by the hour, the speaker's ignorance, and finally,
a thistle seed the speaker believes to be the lost wisdom of his grandfather.

Indirections, incomprehensions, indecision... wearing shoes, then boots, on crutches, barefoot..
in what shoes does one find oneself?

Threads of biography, including the "good woman" providing children like cakes... "flinging after you/Little endearments, like rocks, or her silence like a whole Sunday of bells."

This poem too requires several readings, each one increasingly rewarding.

No comments: