Wednesday, February 5, 2014

February 3

I Changed My Clothes with a Beggar Once – Frank Gaspar
The Emperor of Ice Cream -- Wallace Stevens
The Term – William Carlos Williams
What He Thought by Heather McHugh
Everyone’s Life Needs Rain by Matthew Lippman

I have picked 5 poems that give a range of suggestions for the question “what is poetry”. This week, I want us to focus on “sound” and the “sound of sense” as well as paying attention to images and other poetic devises. The first and last two are quite wordy looking, so as we read them out loud on Monday, think about what sounds make your ears perk up, trigger emotion or engage you in some manner. I look forward to our discussion!


I quote from an interview of Frank Gaspar and Ellen Bass (Jan/Feb. 2014 APR): Praise and Despair are the rising of two wings that beat together. we rattle around inside something – layers of ourselves...
poem as a tango – dead language and mind making its own logic – psychic “hotspots” we bend to, and then have to bend the poem. Where’s the better poem hiding in this poem?

There was a lively discussion about this first prose poem, which seemed to fuse not only a sense of macro (distant and vast universe) and micro (world under feet)but a blend of registers. For example,
God is complete freedom within his own bounds. (oracular, Sacred subject.)
You can think about that for a while. (conversational aside, which puts us in our human place.)
That "blunders" repeats as singular "blunder"; better is repeated with the strong verbs, "dash" and "shatter" regarding the foolishness of fusing the stars with Clare's feet. A very complex meditation on non-attachment to loveliness, but not as scratchy as a trying on someone else's hair shirt.

It turns out the The Emperor of Ice Cream is one of David's favorite poems, and he did a wonderful dramatic reading of it! Read as a scene from an Irish wake, gives rise to Irish humor. Example from Maura: What's difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake? One less live drunk.
The more you read it, the more the details "cleave" like the concupiscent curds... how a "scream" echoes in the ice cream, the roar in the emperor. How many ways can you read: "Let be be finale of seem."?
("let" as a command with a biblic sound of sense; a vernacular, "leave it alone" (let "be" be); Let "be" be finale; "be" as the end of seem. let "now" be as what is etc.)
The commands, from taking the funeral cloth from the cheap wooden dresser to how to cover the face without worrying about the horny feet, blend linguistic authority with a silliness that allows the reader to relax our vigilance over word-world relationship on which both sense and sound of sense depend...

In the Jan/Feb issue of American Poetry Review, Joy Ladin refers to this in her fine article,
Sense, Non-Sense and Sillness. Other considerations she mentions:
1. Linebreaks ensure that sense is regularly interrupted by the white wordless space beyond the RH margin.
2. When sense becomes the sound of sense, words are used not to mean, but to engage our meaning-making habits.

The title, repeated as end line in both stanzas, with the additional word "only" sounds as if it should w make sense, but reality doesn’t correspond.

We started out the discussion of the William Carlos Williams by letting the weight of the word "The Term" call up different associations: end, short-term insurance; man has an ending vs. what rolls or is blown in the wind.. pregnancy, prison... label as in terms of the deal... condition)

"Simile does justice to a mind in motion." (I wrote down from somewhere...) and here,a brilliant example of the power of likening an inanimate object with no agency, to a human who may well think s/he has some say in how life is lived. The rumpled piece of paper has the "apparent bulk/Of a man)and "UNLIKE" a man, after being crushed by a car, it keeps going.

Among the comments: the poem reminded some of a movie and wondering how we would read it if we didn't know movies... Some sensed a wistfulness, as we can’t be like the paper. The parallel of
Pinocchio and real boy came to mind. Paper tributes; or a sense of wanting to root for the paper – how that gladdens us...or our relief that the paper continues after being crushed. Although the poem is not placed in city or country; streetlight or daylight, it was interesting how different people provided different settings, time of day. Less specific works open up to large audience, inviting the reader to bring his/her own experience.

The next poem by Heather McHugh, we had discussed a few years back. Emily brought it up last week, reminded by the Collins poem mentioning "monad". Giordano Bruno (born at Nola, near Naples, in 1548) reproduced, the Monad of monads, or the God-universe. The poem is a story within a story. blending a conference of poets with Bruno's belief based on science. That it is the one who seemed least poetic who had the final word, challenges us to dig beyond surface judgments, easy words.

The final poem is a clever "rumination" with a wonderful use of repetition -- as for the role of rain -- there is room for the reader to interpret several layers of "oh my, oh my, oh my."

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