Friday, March 20, 2015

poems for March 19 to be repeated March 30

3 poems from short list of “10 Best Poems of Ireland”
(Winner: Seamus Heaney’s Sonnet # 3 from Clearances
“When All the Others Were Away at Mass”
Quarantine Eavan Boland
A Christmas Childhood by Patrick Kavanagh

A person protests to fate by Jane Hirschfield
Dreaming in Swedish – by Philip Levine


added for people to look up:
shortlist: 10 Best Poems of Ireland.

A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford by Derek Mahon

Dublin by Louis MacNeice

Easter 1916 by William Butler Yeats (as ANGE MLINKO writes about this in Poetry,
“One of the most powerful political poems of the 20th century was written by a man who was ambivalent about politics”

Fill Arís by Seán Ó Ríordáin (Gaelic version with subtitles and interview

Filleadh ar an gCathair by Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh (she reads it in Gaelic here: (no subtitles)

Making Love Outside Áras an Uachtaráin by Paul Durcan

The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks by Paula Meehan

So much comes out in reading in a group in different ways. For instance, we read the Heaney sonnet first line by line. Then stanza by stanza.
The first reading allows us to pay attention to the syntax and how it “breaks” against, or sometimes inside the line.
The “all” of the first and second line — the first “all" for the others, the second, not a noun at all, but to mean “entirely” — as if underlining the contrast between the public sharing of mass, and the intimacy of a moment, drawn in the first stanza, and recalled after her death in the second.

I suppose, since we do not live in Ireland, and don’t know the circumstances, it is best not to draw any conclusions about why the mother and son were not at mass, or imagining the roomful of people around her bed, where the earnestness of the priest’s work marks the prayers. It did come up in the discussion whether the “hammer and tongs” was anti-Catholic, but that isn’t the point of the poem. The image of the potatoes “like solder weeping”, the contrast of earthy food and cold steel… the way one cannot hurry through saying “little pleasant splashes”. The “again let fall” works for the repetative work of peeling… the sense of being totally in the fact of mother and son, peeling potatoes. The emotional sense of the poem comes through in spite of any confusion caused by isolating details.

I actually used this poem on Wednesday to send to my husband’s cousins as consolation as they scattered their mother’s ashes. It is a wonderful poem that way, bringing a dear one departed close.

For Quarantine, Eavan Boland explains that she retold a story told in a collection about the great famine. Constance remarked that this was a subject about which little was written. The gift of narrative poetry brings us the heartbeat of meter, the flow of rhythm, the repetitions — w’s in the opening, as if the wind were howling around this young couple;
The shivering f’s in the second stanza. The fragments: Of cold. Of hunger. Of the the toxins… like so many nails pounded into their fate. The penultimate stanza as a prayer — the only stanza with an enjambment where line 2 hovers on “inexact” only to fall on “praise” in the third line. The merciless inventory, with a colon, then a silence of stanza break. The unspoken stammers in “what they suffered. How they lived.” And the darkness swallows the tenderness of the young man, embracing his little wife’s feet, with his warmth and love. Indeed a tear jerker.

Kavanagh is a magician with sounds as well. Note how he rhymes the first two stanzas and the final two.
Pastes the Christmas story on his childhood, and yet, this is no 6 year old voice opening the poem.
“To eat the knowledge that grew in clay” is very Adam and Eve, in the beginning, followed by “and death the germ within it!”. The music of milking… the short voweled crispness of “twinkle” of frost and stars,the “winking glitter” offset by “wistfully twisted” bellows wheel
So the w’s moan the melodion. One see a cemetery, a child’s curiosity picking out the letters. Even Cassiopeia, the constellation identified by a W, or upside-down chair is there…
He could have ended the poem with a different verb than “had” in the 3rd line.
My father played; my mother milked; and I pinned a prayer
But having a prayer, is like a small gift — the having of it, ready to offer, like the music.

The Hirshfield is a marvelous Buddhist sermon. I love that Fate nods. We so often ascribe to fate a cruel and unwarranted punishment… — but here, fate is simply destiny— and the speaker of the poem even allows that it is sympathetic. It reminds me of the book, “The Book Thief” where death is kindly. I love how she arrives at the “long middle” followed by riddles. We discussed the mechanics of a rivet — head and tail, perhaps warmed up to solder one piece to another; does one ever master anything? Especially a tango, comprised of two people. Train a cat?
And our desire to preserve one delicious moment or on the contrary our stubborn hanging on to a negative thought — favoring it over the “now” of whatever moment we are in, with one foot in the past…

I just love the idea of all the varieties of penmanship we have mustered in our life — the child learning the letters, the flow of younger writing, the less clear handwriting when we hurry— but this is love practicing, inside of us,
Guiding our thoughts with our heart.

The final poem, by Philip Levine, the “working man’s poet” is a satisfying look at figuring out what anything has to do with anything else. A nice dream sequence and then a canvas bag, eventually associated with the mail, and what does this letter “have to do with us… and the snow coming down all day without purpose/or need?”
We had fun imagining the days of letters crossing — the letter that went astray that would have changed everything… the way conversations in letters go, where we need to pay more attention to “the penmanships love is practising.”

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