Thursday, January 22, 2015

Discussion at Rundel January 22 -- 3 poems from Poets Walk

Linda Allardt: "It wasn't the wind"
Margaret Atwood: "They are Hostile Nations"
Ralph Black: "Notes for a poem about a Dream about My Daughter in which Moths Appear

If someone said, "surely you can discuss three poems in an hour", the response would depend on which poems and who is involved with the discussion.
The three poems listed above, all on Poets Walk invited a lively discussion among the 8 participants which carried over the hour. Reading poems line by line outloud, vs. chunked into syntax or stanzas allows "the sound of sense" to become a surprise beyond the words. The line breaks, the tone created by sound, phrasing, the role of title-- each one so different in impact, invited us to guess the poet's intent and share the effect on each of us as reader.

Both Linda Allardt and Ralph Black are poets living in Rochester, and I have matched their poems with possible paintings in a powerpoint I'll be presenting on Poets Walk on February 1st. I had met with Linda, now in her 80's, who thought the painting that best caught the spirit of her poem resided in her living room. When I showed it to the group after a lengthy discussion of the poem itself, all 8 participants were surprised, having envisioned something quite different. One had an image of a cartoon of solar wind, another an image filled with great light and found the abstract whites and grays too dense.
I didn't show the two possible matches to Ralph's poem, as it was clear the poem was doing the work of a good poem and not needing "illustration."

Today, I was reminded of the truth of Edmund Wilson's words: “No two persons ever read the same book”. So it is about seeing the "same" painting, or understanding the craft of the poem.

For the first poem, in which the title spills into the first four lines, we read it first sentence by sentence, followed by a small discussion of the movement through syntax. The poem, in 17 lines, four sentences, two first person pronouns, starts with a Keatsian sense of “negative capability”.
The first sentence is concrete, physical. "Chasing squirrels" can be both active, by an unseen person, animal, or simply the squirrels themselves chasing". The second sentences introduces an "I" and thought extended to solar wind. The third demonstrates the long sweep of travel "past planets, micro-impacts" through 8 lines to end on light meeting light between paired stars. The "I" comes back, stretched, as is the reader, who without being told, might also re-think one small clump of snow falling off the trees and power of the sun in the past, and wonder about in the future.
Our discussion covered everything from solar wind, the wetness of the sibilant sounds, the difference between reading the poem in four sentences, vs. reading it line by line where the feel of it becomes more apparent, carried by the sounds. Are the "I"'s the same-- the one thinking and the one after being stretched? How does "bent" which can be a verb, but used as noun add to a sense of invisible energy which combines a quality of insistent, but not straight?

** This same poem, discussed February 3, at Pittsford, with just 3 people, a delicious sense of traveling with the speaker of the poem in her imagination. What is the feel of sailing on solar wind? What happens to the I... and do we need to know about the paired stars? The Helen Suhr for them matched the mood perfectly!

For the Margaret Atwood: Written in 1974, They are Hostile Nations could well be about her own thorny break-up, although relationship here extends both one to one as nation as well as collective to Earth.
The three part poem demands a reader's attention. In the first stanza already the first three words,
"In view of" followed by "the fading animals"-- whose view, and who is "They" is in the title already establishing a distance of looking on disappearance remotely. The juxtaposition of sewers/fears--
the physical conduit for the unwanted coupled with the emotion most would prefer to dominate,
then leaps to the conclusion of forgiveness...
I think of the Teddy Bear Cholla in the 3rd stanza...what looks so cuddly, yet will bite...
we/ touch as though attacking-- and "we" starts a series of enjambments which call attention to the end word, such as "stay" (last line penultimate stanza) which means both keep off, and remain.

Here, a personal truth, her own private story translates into a universal about our selves within our selves, to the very real risk of being extinguished as we extinguish the very planet we live on.

** This same poem, discussed Feb. 3: We remarked the lines would be great in theatre! "Put down the target of me
you guard inside your binoculars. David's take on the three parts: a progression from
expository statement; imperative; present to future...

The final poem has an intriguing title -- is it a poem if called "notes for a poem"?
First... Next... Later... and a surreal dream is confirmed... the appearance of the daughter coming with the shift in weather, introduces "trilling" an unlikely way of describing captured moths, not in a net, but a sack. Each moth with "eye-spots like a world of vision." The capture is not as important as the vision and "how flowers can name themselves" and working the mouth shaped by trillium three times. This poem is delicious to say outloud, with the light touches of t's, the l's blooming,
lifting, entering flurries, fills... and we enter the dream of "what wings are" and the clever whirling world... child, moths, dream, all readying us indeed to be lifted.

More delicious details: The color of black as bruised plum; the personification of the planet "rocking in its tresses; voice like water; mouth like a dish of kisses"; the synaesthesia of trilling-- where music and movement combine. And more, and more. A comforting poem after the anguish of the Atwood.

*** Discussion Feb. 3: Effect of the word "Swing" -- air clearing after thunder cloud... strange... mood swing... (bi-polar planet)... sounds... breath... wind and motion...
I'd forgotten that cottonwood trees are another name for poplars... the beautiful shimmer of leaf... and how they are white underneath.

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