Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Poems for August 4

By Charles Wright:
The first four from Sestets, publ. in 2009
-- On the Night of the First Snow,
Thinking About Tennessee
-- Autumn Thoughts on the East Fork
-- Consolation and the Order of the World
-- Little Meditation Above the Meadow
-- Envoi (from Negative Blue -- the last trilogy of trilogies!)

Happiness by Raymond Carver
Last August Hours Before the Year 2000 by Naomi Shihab Nye

For the reading of the Charles Wright sestets, we first read each line, paying attention to the capital letters to know which was "dropped line" and which a new line; then we read syntactically, in sentences.
For Charles Wright, as he explained in an interview with the Paris Review, his writing is "gists and piths", addressing three things: landscape (not nature, which is sentimental) as a tool for the divine (a tool for transcendence), language and the idea of God.

His ability to bridge the conversational style with a dropped line, allows a long line without sounding prosy,
and "to keep the line from breaking under its own weight".

Here is the prose version in 3 sentences.
It's dark now, the horses have had their half-apple, mist and rain, down in the meadow just a few degrees above snow.

I stand in front of the propane stove, warming my legs.

If the door were open, I'd listen to creek water and think I heard voices from long ago, distinct and calling me home.

Statement, a little mystery about "a few degrees above snow" -- linking to the snow in the title, and perhaps an association to Villon, "où song les neighs d'antan", which actually my computer wants to change to "neighs" --
echoes of American horses to a dead French poet from the 15th century sighing about "yesteryear".
Straight forward S-V format with an "if" clause. Progression of pluperfect; past, the "if" embracing imperfect and condition, ending in the present.

With the dropped line, "mist and rain" connects visually to "distinct and calling me home" but also contains its own echo:
mist and rain bridge the horses... the present tense of the title, and this echo of "time past".
He carries this idea through with the effect of this in the second dropped line.
The poem demonstrates so beautifully, yet without clobbering the reader by telling, the feel of how the past works in us, like a mirror where we feel there, but then not.
A sibilant quality threaded by "st" in each line (mist, stand, stove, distinct, past) mimics a wet hissing on the stove as snow/memory melts.

Is the propane stove present tense, or is it the stove in his mind's eye, back in time, in Tennessee, or both at once. The middle sentence bridges both past, possibility, and present.

So, each sestet, read carefully in two ways begins to yield a multiplicity of meanings, landscape as suggestion, music and substance (perceptions of the 10,000 things of the physical world), language as a voice box of present and past, seen, unseen.
Wright explains his belief that the world is composed of things, not language, which exude an aura of language like mist. "the poet's occupation is to navigate that mist." He humbly admits that he used to talk about his poems when he didn't know what he was doing, but now, he knows he will never know what he is doing. They are what they are.

I would add, his style signals to each reader, a beautiful balance of tactile/metaphorical, abstract/concrete,
in what could be called the "metaphysics of the quotidian.

Autumn Thoughts:
Time, boredom, contentment -- and a line which led us to ponder "engendering" --

"Contentment embraces me
With its spidery arms and its spade-tipped, engendering tail"

But the "sentence" starts with "But in between" -- which reminds me of the French expression,
"entre chien et loup" -- dusk, between the familiar dog, and the lurking danger of possible wolf."
Chinese characters are not simple -- and his insistence that they should be one to capture this
in-between time, when "evening drains the seen world into the unseen"... where seemingly the speaker of the poem enters the actual moment, which allows an alternative to a perception ensconced in boredom.

Consolation and the Order of the World:
We had a lot of fun with this poem, looking at the tone which seems arrogant, the wonderful internal rhyme, the image of a camera (focus drops a stop, flash fails, snaps), and the powerful ending image where darkness thrusts in-- some thought, to give the vain their "come-uppance".
"Fir shadows needling out of the woods,
night with its full syringe."

The title bears some thought -- who finds what "consolation" and "order of the world" -- how to understand?
The topic of lines that are hard to memorize came up: sometimes, something is hard to memorize, because it is not understood, or because of the sound and rhythm, or it surprises us out of a "order of the world" that allows us
to find a slot. There is no one answer to this, just as there is no one way to understand, and we are chided
about our own inevitable hubris.

In Envoi, Wright addresses this again: the ending repeats-- but you realize the speaker of the poem is mirroring a speaker of the poem...

"I like the whole thing, but this bit is my favorite:

My life has become like that,
Half uninterpretable, half new geography…

In a way I can’t fully articulate, I know what he means…"

Things have destinies, of course,
on-lines and downloads mysterious as the language of clouds.
My life has become like that,

Half uninterpretable, half new geography,
Landscapes stilled and adumbrated, memory unratcheting, outlined...
Its voice-over not my own.

** The "in-between part" "As for me..." allows us as reader to imagine what we would say...

We ended with Carver's "Happiness" --
I love how the poem starts in an in between time...and sets mood to pay attention. I chuckle at the second sentence:
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

Then comes a snapshot of a moment, where happiness can be felt, but is not pegged until put into words in retrospect.

"Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it."
David brought up the role of projection -- how the observation of the two boys is a claim the speaker makes that cannot be proven. We don't know that the boys are experiencing happiness -- but we do know the speaker feels happiness, because of them.

We ran out of time for a full discussion of "Last August Hours Before the Year 2000" by Naomi Shihab Nye--
but I was glad people brought up all the panic of 1999, and projections of "end of the world" stuff.
How reassuring to delight in August. She ends with the idea of Wright's layers...a bit like an incantation and advice for an afterlife in his "Appalachian Book of the Dead" ... but a reminder again, Paradise is here,
not something to be yearned for.

"I want to know the root goes deep
on all that came before,
you could lay a soaker hose across
your whole life and know
there was something
under layers of packed summer earth
and dry blown grass
to moisten."

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