Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Poems for February 16

Credo by Matthew Rohrer
The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes
Adage by Billy Collins
The Brink by Caki Wilkinson
Wonder and Joy by Robinson Jeffers

The question arises, "what is poetry" and an age-old discussion ensues. Each poet, each reader of poetry will come up with a definition, a sense of satisfaction that some inner desire for words to capture feelings, understandings, intimations, mirrors. Perhaps this day, you want a message given with a sense of humor, perhaps that day you would prefer a sermon with notes of irrefutable solace, or a series of enigmatic questions.
Some days form will irritate, and you will want surprises, other days craft will enchant. Like music and art poetic "moods" are as variable as jazz, classic, romantic, or experimental music with further parentheses and overtones provided by different cultures and time periods preferences. Today, do you want to hear a bassoon portraying the Grandfather in Peter in the Wolf... or the orchestra portraying the troika carrying Lieutenant Kijé? Oh, you prefer watching late 19th century sailboats to whole tone scales... or some drama foreshadowed in a Verdi overture... or you want to feel curiosity tickled by a Wayne Higby cloud-covered jar.

But what makes one poem "poetry" more than another. It was brave to bring up the question --
and my hope, week after week, is that the selections and our discussions about them provide a multi-faceted, but never quite complete, answer. Perhaps for any poem we could ask, "How am I engaged with it, and if not, can I at least describe what the poem is doing, or failing to do?"

Given the title, of the first poem, "Credo" -- what expectations do you have? Would you have thought it would turn to address love? How does the enjambed (stanza break) word "entirely" work? Are you expecting "so we fall in love" to complete the sentence, "I believe there is something else/
entirely going on but no single
person can ever know it,..."

Does the consequence "so, we fall in love", some might call an absurd juxtaposition allow the "open cans" to be larger than a simple physical detail to adopt a metaphorical openness and suggest something about "canned" regarding being human?

Words are powerful, but I would argue that Credo is more than words that stir us. The poet has chosen 4 stanzas, line breaks, images, in simple, approachable speech leading us to discover through the choices to an unexpected universal we can appreciate.

For the second poem, I asked if a white person could capture the tone Langston Hughes paints for us as a Negro speaking. One could ask as well, "could a woman write this poem about a man the way the male poet did" -- and does any of this make a difference in the impact of the poem...?
What makes the tone quality? How do the repeated words, like "ancient" change-- or the repeated "My soul has grown deep like the rivers." Does the feel of "I have known" give a more general, distant sense of the past vs. I bathed, built, looked, heard...which introduce past civilizations, the many "colors" of black. My favorite line is the "muddy bosom turned golden" which is loaded with implications.

For Collins, we were glad to hear others feel a sense of guilty pleasure liking his poetry, which sounds so simple on the surface, yet which playfully arrives at something more complex. The poem itself demonstrates the twisting of adages to arrive the nature of love. Brilliant!

The Brink: it's worthwhile to read about the author and some customer reviews about Wynona poems:

The multiple meanings of "broaching", the repeated sounds, the development of thwarted development gives a cruel portrait of someone who will probably not escape her double negative,that opens (one indulgence she can't not allow) and closes
(storm that's never not approaching.) the poem.

I suggested reading the Jeffers sonnet line by line, which really is to the detriment of the phrasing.
Although old-fashioned in style, by the third line from the end "...Who never felt" has the sense of being both connected to "is unfortunate" as well as embracing what lies between separated by two colons.
"This wondering joy may yet be good or great:" (a sentence in itself, but enjambed from the prior line; fenced in by the colon)
"But envy him not: he is not fortunate."
It reminds me indirectly of the Desiderata -- "Go placidly among the noise and haste... do not compare yourself to others, for you shall become either vain or bitter". Joy is all about, if we can stop to see it in simple things like sunlight, birds flying...

As ever, the group did a marvelous job bringing in observations, a little research, a few anecdotes, but returning to the poem to allow it to speak.
Were these all poems? Yes. How do they affirm a sense of poetry? Ask the 20 people in the group for a wonderful variety of answers!

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