Tuesday, January 21, 2014

poems for lunch: January 16

Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye
Removing the Dross by Thomas R. Moore
Time Problem by Brenda Hillman
After Rumi by Janet Sternburg (p. 67, Al-Mutanabbi St. Starts Here)

January is a fine time to review priorities, sift through “old” to make way for “new”, and to take words out of context from Greek Poet, Yannis Ritsos in his diaries, “struggle to bind our attention”… to details we often miss in routines.
To a color to a stone
To the way an ant walks. A bumblebee
Creeping along a dry leaf as noisy
As a passing tram. That’s how we realize
What silence has settled within us.

Well, not much chance of bumblebees in Rochester in January, and we have no physical reminder of war, but many chances to share words
And see how we too can fit into the voice of the poem, “at the edge of our handkerchief/tied tight as a knot” which binds us to the world.

For the first poem, we spoke of ceremony -- the ritual of burning, sacrifices. What is interesting in the poem however, are the things we don't notice, which 'COULD BE" flammable -- or put on an altar for a venerable burning: notes, lists, juxtaposed with the absences that shout and leave a space.
In four stanzas, 5 lines, to 4, 3, 3, we follow a meditation of fire : sizzle, swirling flame, and the crackle after the blazing dies. Only the 3rd stanza is devoid of fire. I like to ask if there is any place of "puzzlement" -- and indeed, the last line of the 2nd stanza, "so little is stone" was such.
What does that mean? weight? solid as in rock, or something that lasts.
In a way, you could read the last line of each stanza and thread a poem-- which also works with the first line of each stanza -- which gives a sense of "frame". Perhaps that is what our minds do, piecing together fragments, like a prism.

Letters swallow themselves in seconds (letters in envelopes, but maybe also a child's alphabet letters)
So much of any year is flammable
Where there was something and suddenly isn't
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves

Marry the air
so little is a stone
I begin again with the smallest numbers
crackle after the blazing dies.

A poem like this one is satisfying for the invitation to read again and again, and still feel on the brink of discovery.

Removing the Dross has a strong rhythmic feel, in six squared blocks (tercets) linked by enjambments
across/ ... before/... rubbed... / He marked... /

Perhaps a Bruce Springsteen reference (and his E Street Band, Nicknamed "The Boss"), a Vulcan reference
which might have to do with the part of Hephaestus' story when he was given the Goddess Venus to marry. It was said that whenever Venus is unfaithful, Vulcan grows angry and beats the red-hot metal with such a force that sparks and smoke rise up from the top of the mountain, to create a volcanic eruption.

When did snow-shoveling become a biography or memory of a father? In this poem selected by Ted Kooser.

Brenda Hillman's poem gave rise to discussion, but also frustration. Why the extra spaces, the references to Hawkings, the sense of academic writing for people who like this kind of heady stuff which sounds like a tape-recorder left on in a therapy session. Was she too busy to edit? To what point can connect. We gave it a shot, putting on our best time-space-push-the boundary hats, but had many questions, without an urge to spend yet another bit of time on it.

The last poem presented an intriguing title. What does "After" mean? In the style of, in pursuit of, or speaking chronologically, 800 years later.. Rumi
This short poem with parentheses (each of us)
(most of us)
(some of us)
dwindling an "all" to a "part" comes alive at the repetition of "Rumi tells us, in/translation, always/
translation. He tells us in /juxtaposed with how translation continues to translate. What does the heart do, each morning, empty and scared? First praise the book. But even getting to that "sense" might not be what the poet wants. Given that her poem appears in "Al-Mutanabbi St. Starts Here" it would well be a poem embracing all the possible "Afters" of Rumi. Without him, (through books, translated) would we know there are a thousand ways to kiss the ground in Praise? Without him, can we bear how pages of books, ripped from bindings on Al Mutannabbi Street share their leaves. Multiple meanings here are again satisfying.

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