Thursday, February 26, 2015

Feb. 26

cutting greens -- by Lucille Clifton
The Ether by Rae Armantrout
Inheritance by Philip Levine
Three Days of Forest, a River, Free, Rita Dove
Boy Breaking Glass by Gwendolyn Brooks
A Furnace Door by Dane Gordon

We listened to Lucille reading her poem with the preface about people who laughed at her title, as usually we mix greens, but her thought about the poem was that maybe the greens did not want to be mixed. Sensual, pulsing with an aliveness, the greens and her hand join into a third dimension where something not quite expected clashes, the way it can be with mixing two individuals... She has captured in 15 lines (curling into two sentences)a sense of what it is like to be alive, sensing the "taste" of connection.

The poem is rich in contrasts, both of sound, but also unusual juxtapositions and images.
The kitchen as spine, without which we cannot move, but it twists dark; greens roll black under the knife; a kiss making hand/bedpot. Bond can make you think of bondage -- unchosen positions.

Many of the /k/ sounds of curling, collards, kale, black...also ply the liquid /l/ as
curling, collards, black.
cutting returns (this time as part of the noun, board); kitchen, dark-- thinking contains the word kin, although the poem states "thinking of everything but kinship"
The /l/ in roll, roll black under the silent "k" of the knife.

The poem ends with the /l/ in natural, live have no "cut".

We experimented to see what would happen if you removed the adjective "obscene" from embrace; removed the entire 3rd line from the end:
"and the kitchen twists dark on its spine".
Paradox of kissmaking hand/iron bedpot,
the white silence after "my hand".
Too sweet -- not as much punch to it, or depth of intrigue.

We admired the language play of Armantrout, but it lacked the sense of satisfaction we experienced with the Clifton.
Read twice, first stanza by stanza, then sentence by sentence, the enjambments (end/game; practiced/precision; stop/a moment;) are clear, but perhaps the most effective was
"Of" can take care/
of itself

which could be "Of can take care" -- without saying what prepositions might not take care
and "of itself" could be stressing, "of" itself -- not of, connected to anything else.
It also allows a syntactic leap of faith, deleting "of" two lines before to read: "speed is the essence". Are we to walk the plank of the cosmos as we play with ether, play inattention against absorption?

The Philip Levine poem in its long column with the occasional indented line provided a long discussion, not just about the poem, but about treasures, the way we hang on to things, not ours, with no magical power such as an amulet to protect us. The tongue-in-cheek ending addressing a mock grandiosity (Infinite riches in a little room, a great spiritual revelation,
ends satisfyingly on what the pen, watch, even the tiny pocket knife (used to separate truth from lies) and the ivory cigarette holder (which might entail an exaggeration and a mistake) they are-- amulets against nothing. And Nothing, unfolds into a largeness.

There are so many satisfying lines -- the "back of beyond"... the watch which "finally threw up its twin baroque arms/in surrender to the infinite.../the jeweled wheels/and axles that kept time alive. the anthrophomorphizing of his leaks and that of the pen (only ink, never a word best/left unsaid) and ; the way once both watch and ear worked...

Our conversation covered everything from the irony of retirement gifts (here, now that you have time, a nice watch to watch yourself in your retired state... but also perhaps, the idea that the watch will be part of the inheritance of the next generation, and reminder of values to be passed on. We talked about how it used to be that everyone carried a little pocket knife--
the usefulness of being able to fix things on the spot...

Only three poems, but it allowed us plenty of time to discuss each one, and a chance to comment on a "favorite" and why. The Levine was ahead. For me, it was a tie between Clifton and Levine.

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