Tuesday, September 9, 2014

poems for September 8

How do poems reflect time periods political and social slants? If someone wrote a baseball poem in 2014 would it have anything in common with Thayer's late 19th century favorite, or Williams' approach?
In contrast, what are the satisfying characteristics of Kenyon's "songs", Ryan's pithy wit and Siken's self-absorbed man?

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer (published in the Examiner, 6-3-1888 – for fun see

The crowd at the ball game by William Carlos Williams (1938)
Three Songs at the End of Summer by Jane Kenyon (in Otherwise, published by Graywolf Press in 1996)
In Case of Complete Reversal -- Kay Ryan (in Poetry, September 2014)
Landscape With a Blur of Conquerors by Richard Siken (2014)

I wonder, like Auden about influences -- who has read whom, and can we tell?
“When reading a poet who found his own voice after 1922, I often come across a cadence or a trick of diction which makes me say “Oh, he’s read Hardy, or Yeats, or Rilke” but seldom, if ever can I detect an immediate, direct influence from Eliot. His indirect influence has, of course, been immense, but I should be hard put to it to say exactly what it is.” – W.H. Auden

This heads an article about Eliot and oral performance of poetry.
Would we change our opinion of The Waste Land if reading "He Do the Police in Different Voices"? How differently will we read Casey, the crowd, the sounds of summer and the sobs, Ryan's clipped almost cryptic short lines... the meditative verse of the poet talking to himself -- or maybe to nobody...

Monday's discussion started and ended with poems that hook the audience -- diction, sounds, images wrap us into a baseball came, and a painter's world of choices, making us feel part of the process -- and arriving at more universal considerations.
Whether written in 1988 or 2014, written as a joke or as a serious writer, the point remains, that we poems that touch us, give us a piece of ourselves to think about in the larger context of humanity.

Casey at the Bat, written in 1888 is "The Night Before Christmas" has lively sounds that bring alive a gripping baseball game, the hopes pinned on a hero, his arrogance and his downfall. The anti-climatic stroke is the failure of the bat to meet the ball,but more than "air" is shattered by the blow -- we as readers are, and know the spectators in Mudville. The poem doesn't tell us this, or try to hammer us with a lesson, and we in our discussion, we enjoyed bringing in examples of politicians and iconic figures who are built up as answers, but whose arrogance interferes.

Williams delivers a more cerebral poem about crowd mentality, where the baseball game is quite incidental. Written in 1923, a quick review of history will reveal changes in Europe, the return of the last US troops from Germany, the rising price of bread, fall of the German mark, rise of power of Hitler. Also, some KKK action, and in Italy, all non-fascist parties are dissolved. George Bernard Shaw's "St. Joan" is performed. All of these events have an impact on crowds...
Williams captures in clattering couplets what is.... parallel to what the crowd is...

Kenyon's "Three Songs at the End of Summer" started a discussion about depression, happiness, the difficulty of being so when someone is screaming at you, "Relax, relax", and how she blends different aspects of time. The crescendo of feeling from crows and midwives, to the "right now" of the sounds of the camp, breaks into the 6 lines of wrenching sobbing that wracks her entire body, before entering a
childhood memory... as if the tears were her entry way to the deep interior part of her, knowing, she is about to die...

The Kay Ryan poem, elicited a discussion about accessibility, and what makes a poem, feel like a poem: how do we sense that each word is carefully chosen... how does the non-linear arrangement of two sentences reveal a depth of thought over time?
Martin reminded us that built into an event is the opposite. Hearing “your son fell off the horse...” might sound bad, without knowing this is the thing that will save him from going to war.
How strange to talk about a thing that isn’t, a direction that could be!
how to understand this... the age of miracles...
how we find ways to cope.
vs. Kenyon's “this is the only life I have...”

Many felt Ryan reinforced the resilience of life to adapt...
Is a stack of minuses thus, not negative, but rather a storehouse that will provide an out?

Judith reminded us that the way to paint bamboo is to paint bamboo until you don’t know you’re painting it.
John brought us the point that as a species, we are programmed to multiply... but have ability to commit suicide... abort...

The final poem, Landscape With a Blur of Conquerors by Richard Siken feels as if it is on the way to being abstract... but is recognizable... How do we create, and what how do we wield power? We go with Siken to explore what this means in the poem.
One of his comments about the poem was this: "I’m uncomfortable with the way I contaminate the world with myself, with my greed and hungers and multiplicities. What’s the answer? That’s a good question.”

He allows us as readers to look at our greed, hungers and multiplicities.

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