Friday, January 23, 2015

discussion Jan. 12

The End of the Holidays by Mark Perlburg
Insha’Allah by Danusha Laméris*
Trying Fourleggedness by Rebecca Hazelton

Nighthawks by John Logan
The Lie – Anne Waldman
what we can’t know by James LaVilla-Havelin
One Heart by Li-Young Lee
A Lover by Amy Lowell

How simple to start with an airplane company name, "United" and the practical sign in the airport, "Departures". Perlburg takes the universals of leave-taking, adds a season, "winter barred its teeth", and contrasts contemporary speech with heightened language. The perfect line-break,
Shift/baggage, links the personal to a nautical practical, after the repeat "come together and divide" applies to summer leaf, and saying good bye to a thirty year old. The gentle tone has a tinge of humor in the acceptance of departing with all the unsaid parts of feeling united.

Insh'Allah appeared in Ted Kooser's site, American Life in Poetry, with this introduction:
"Just as it was to me, Insha’Allah will be a new word to many of you, offered in this poem by Danusha Laméris, a Californian. It looks to me like one of those words that ought to get a lot of use."

It captures for the non-arabic speaker more than a simple word, but the full gamut of life, lived with a sense that what will be, and what one hopes will be requires such an intercession. The automatic "God Willing" threads through the poem like beads on a rosary, as the reader follows birth, health, safety, the end of war. Without exaggerating the Middle Eastern connections, the final stanza captures poignantly the connection between "Insh'Allah" and hope.

"How lightly we learn to hold hope,
as if it were an animal that could turn around
and bite your hand. And still we carry it
the way a mother would, carefully,
from one day to the next."

Our discussion explored the ways we cope, both trying to avoid clinging to hope, yet not fall into the opposite realm of worry. What happens, happens, whether we hope or worry or do some of each. "Trust... but verify"... References to Kina Hora, to the function of talismans, magical incantations.
We all enjoyed the simple but strong message.

Trying 4-leggedness, (from poetry, 2013) by the title invites images of a toddler crawling, as well as horse, dog and more quickly dispelled with the first line: "The boy and the girl were mostly gesture," and then plunges into sexist innuendoes, if read from a feminist perspective.
A good exercise is to compare the Hazleton to Jane Hirshfield's "This morning I wanted four legs".

Who does not know this painting by Hopper?
Our discussion ranged from comparing poem vs. image; poem without image and what it evokes by itself. The consensus is that the painting is stronger than the poem because it is evocative, carries a sharp sense of unease, tinged with an anomie, empty loneliness... The poem is more didactic.

The bio on Poets Walk: Logan (1923-1987) taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Notre Dame, St. Johns College and other institutions. He received the Rockefeller Foundation Grant and the Guggenheim Fellowship. He spoke as part of the Plutzik Memorial Reading Series at the University of Rochester.

I am not sure when Logan wrote this 15-line poem, but it would help to imagine the public viewing Hopper's America in 1942 with "hated, hook-nosed" inserting an anti-semitic reference. The flat, concrete language has some surprising assumptions: "squats" at the counter? The 8th line is not at all poetic, and why tell that "details abound" when 3 lines of details follow? In the painting, there is no sense of "all folks" which takes the reader out of the poem... but the final two lines balance the emptiness... but not hopefully... the hands almost touch. Perhaps our poetic expectations in 2015 have also changed.
The painting gives us a sense of the middle of the night, interior slanted against the exterior,
the handful of hangers-on. One can argue that the clatter of /k/ gives an edginess to the poem. Isolating the words, one can feel their slice: back/counter/capped/cook/complicated in the first two lines of the poem continues sparingly (coffee/look/customers/hook/cafe) only to disappear by the eighth line until the marvelous "tie around the neck of the cook" -- which feels like strangling, not just the bowtie. Folks, is the last /k/.

Anne Waldman's poem has the paver "I want a rare sky", words perfectly picked by Cochran for the poem tile, captures the sense of rare as a multifaceted adjective. How does "rare" work with sky? Something tending towards raw? clouded or unclouded, filled with lightning, painted with an unusual sunset or stars? To use the terms of the poem, "what we can’t know" by James LaVilla-Havelin, in Waldman's almost-villanelle, she shows "what we can't know" -- how lie uncurls* as we seek to understand what we think is knowable, such as a bird's heart, dirt's weight...
The rhyming link to lie, die, cry, and double sense of eye, I evokes a biblical mote in the eye... we never see what we think we see... The poem merits reading again and again, to discover the complexity of art, as vision, sight/insight and what this means about us as we wonder,

"How to fuel the world, then die
Distance yourself from artfulness"

We read James LaVilla-Havelin line by line... admiring how the poem's powerful images starting with
"the number of dead" leading to "a lie’s uncurling" ... only to end on "how we are remembered"...
The poem includes what we think is "knowable" -- yet invites us to go on to list 10 more things that are whoa-worthy...the strong emotionality of some of the lines put us in a feeling of thoughtfulness...

The Li-Young Lee poem reminded us of Keats' "negative capability" by the sensuous ambiguity.
How does freedom fasten one heart to each falling thing?

Finally, we arrive at the imagist Amy Lowell, dubbed "Amy-gist". But if you didn't know her, her background, how would you read her two lines? I challenged the group -- and offered a sentimental, Hallmark-y rendering, to which Judith answered, absolutely not, with a story about her grandmother meeting the big-voiced, big-boned Lowell, with a personality like an ice maiden, backstage.
Her comment, " “At Hallmark the bunnies do not have fangs..." which apparently excludes any romantic notions of the two lines.

It is interesting to contemplate What a poem brings out in us without knowing poet or context.
What we take in...what we think is expected of us to take in...

compare Pound's imagist poem:

In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

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