Monday, March 17, 2014

Poems for March 13

Speakers of Wintu-Nomlak, by Scott Coffel
Sonnet for my Son, by Henk Rossouw
City of Orgies, Walt Whitman
Analytic Poetry: (Ali Shapiro) +
Shakespeare Sonnet 18
William Carlos Williams, So Much Depends
Dylan Thomas, Do not go Gentle
Elizabeth Bishop, One Art

Why do some poems become famous? Who uses what criteria to select a "prize-winning" poem? How subconsciously do we use a culture's opinion on what we consider valuable?
What is a memorable poem to you?

Using Ali Shapiro's delightful graphs for the Shakespeare and Williams, how does such a visual component enhance understanding? How do they compare to the first two poems, which received first place in a renowned poetry contest?
How does Whitman's style prepare the way for much of contemporary poetry?

These are questions which ask for more than an hour's discussion. On March 13,(Poems for Lunch) we enjoyed scraping the surface of them -- and on Monday 3/24, and 3/31 (O Pen) we will look again at some of them.

I like what W.S. Merwin says, "Poetry is like making a joke-- if you get one word wrong at the end of a joke, you've lost the whole thing."
The first two poems come from the Boston Review, the first the winner of their 2013 poetry prize. The title alerts us to a voyage in a world most of us don't know --who speaks Wintu-Nomlak -- and after the poem's last words, "false friends", the poem invites us to work again through the free-flow of puns and leaps that do not rely on meaning or logical sequence. How does the first person, arriving in stanza 3 work in the array of satirical surprises?

For the sonnet, one thought is that the speaker of the poem is referring to past traditions (compromised by changes in the environment, spawned by human desire with detrimental effect) which no longer will be available to his son and future generations.

How do details of language “supper to supposition” and “Kodiak instance” ,“airfoil of the present” strike you?

We had quite the time with Whitman's "City of Orgies" where the words "incongruous", "rhapsodic" and difficult syntax were the first to come to mind. What Whitman witnesses, what goes beyond his self-centered exuberance, is this (undefined, but clearly suggested!) love in the full "isness" of a moment. Perhaps as readers, we blink, as if in blinding sunlight, imagining what Whitman witnesses, feeling these lines: "But where is what I started for, so long ago/and why is it yet unfound?".

(taken from an essay by Jeffrey Brown in the March issue of Poetry, p. 569, discussing poetry of witness and "news")

Ali Shapiro's grids and circles point to a different way of conceiving "isness" --
For the Shakespeare sonnet: time/fairness graph the importance of the "you", we would want to preserve in words; for the William Carlos Williams, the intersections of circumstance. I quoted Dylan Thomas and his all-inclusive idea about poetry:

Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world that your bliss and suffering is forever and shared and forever all your own.

For his villanelle, we felt the battle of the son, the urgency of his feelings raging.
Reading the lines so one person pronounces those that end with "ight" the other the sandwiched line; then re-reading so two people alternate the final line, brings out some of the beauty of the form.

We will continue with the Bishop on 3/20.

No comments: