Tuesday, April 21, 2015

poems for April 20

The Mrs. Cavendish Poems: links:
Solitude (I) (or also translated as “Alone”) by Tomas Tranströmer
Strike-Slip by by Arthur Sze

We are midway in "Poetry Month" and the Stephen Dunn persona poems seem the perfect place to start...
What does one learn by writing such poems? And what does one learn in solitude... or just simply by picking up a pen or pencil and starting a poem about a compass, and end up with an ars poetica?

For the Cavendish poems, there is clear delight -- a tenderness in the tone, and the wisdom of the lessons with an acceptance and understanding of Mrs. C. as "wanting it all/to mean something in a world crazed
and splattered with the gook/ of apparent significance, and meaning/
had an affinity for being elsewhere."
Don't we all want meaning? But would we be as courageous as she is, to dance a tarantella with an slick stranger, and wouldn't it be nice if we were to face our loneliness with someone so apparently filled with bravado of the moment, to have a kindly friend warning us-- not in a condescending way, but tenderly, with
compassion...? We had fun looking at the root of "scrupulosity", Latin scrupulum, a sharp stone, implying a stabbing pain on the conscience. Judith brought up the popularity of writing a novel through a sequence of poems in Victorian times... Emily reminded us of the book "Crossover" which is a modern version. Mrs. Cavendish could well be Jimmy Durante bidding "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash".

The title, Mrs. Cavendish and the General Malaise, personifies Malaise as army chief -- and indeed... one picks up the pun of having an army of things contributing to a feeling of Malaise. Again, staring meaninglessness in the eye, the tongue-in-cheek attitude, is welcome: "The best we can hope for
is a big, fat novel, slowing down the course of time." Scrupulosity re-appears, and there is a comfort of facing death, not alone at all, but with the voice of Stephen Dunn who invites us to join him in "resisting" those "who think suffering leads to enlightenment". The little history of light, implying our human need for both physical and metaphysical light, our interference with desire to turn natural moonlight into the more modern lightbulb, leads beautifully to the paradox of the "same old" being new without such insistent effort.

The difficulty of being "alone" receives a different lens with Tranströmer's "Solitude I" which is a retelling of an earlier poem published in 1966 as "Alone". I did some research after our discussion to try to find out more about the original, and why the disparity of translation between the Robin Fulton translation and the Robin Robertson version we discussed, which we found so much more satisfying. Apparently, Tranströmer often reworked the same material, and I enjoy this comment he makes: "Oh dear, how complicated I was in my younger days". After his stroke in 1990, he wrote very little that is new. It is hard to know who is behind each translation one finds -- Robert Bly, May Swenson also have worked with his poems. How much credit do we give the original author, or the translator, and what do we really know about who is responsible for which words? Perhaps we can never know. Suffice it to say, "Alone", is a poem in two parts, whereas I cannot find a part II of Solitude, and what we have in the Robertson translation
feels complete and satisfying. The poem certainly brought back memories of driving in winter and untoward spinnings on black ice...

The next poem, even with Arthur Sze's comment was difficult. The title could be referring to the geological term of a Strike-Slip fault. Although there is a little pattern — each stanza contains 3 disparate things— a little like the word in French for fruit salad (macédoine de fruits — as the area of former Yugoslavia has always been chopped up into little pieces…)but the overall effect for a reader may well be to wonder how to understand what seems to be a very private collection of random information…
As meaning-seekers, seeing the depth of deep water to highest mountain…what is at risk comes to mind…
The next poem by James Dickey also addresses possible extinction… The Wolverine is a very ferocious animal — and possibly this poem triggered a discussion about “wildness” and our American approach which wants to control, e.g. Free play in non-man-made environments for kids; facing natural order, etc. There is a mythic quality to this poem — like Götterdamerung... world tree and eagle at the top…
The Form is 1, 2, 4 lines; it’s good to observe spacing...
capitals on each line…

Lively discussion and certainly, all of us look forward to the appearance of Stephen Dunn's new book!

Comment sent to group: Dear all,
On Monday’s discussion, we compared the Tranströmer “Solitude-I” translated by Robin Robertson with the Robin Fulton translation of the 1966 poem, “Alone”. Apparently, Tranströmer worked and reworked many of his poems, and wrote very few new poems after his stroke in 1990. It is curious that “Solitude” without the corresponding second part stands on its own. For further comparison:
Remember, as you read the preamble by a reader, that is just his view, but it adds one more voice to our discussion.

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