Saturday, May 2, 2015

poems for April 27 AND April 30

Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish, 1892 – 1982
Baseball and Writing by Marianne Moore
Ars Poetica #100: I Believe by Elizabeth Alexander
Control by Rae Armantrout
Overturned by Cornelius Eady

What is poetry? As we conclude National Poetry month, this is a good question.

I just skimmed through the introduction and several of the poems in the 2014 "The Best American Poetry".
As Terrance Hayes remarks, it is important to separate "taste" from "best" and ponder poems from many angles. I've included some old timer's advice along with some contemporary works, so you can formulate your own opinion, not only on what poetry is, but what a satisfying poem is to you, and what discoveries this invites.

MacLeish: Why after reading this poem 40 years ago, does it come back to mind so easily, engage us with a pleasurable sense of delight? What makes something memorable? On first reading, perhaps your ear will enjoy the end rhyme,
mute/fruit; dumb/thumb;/ stone/grown; and your eye will note irregular lines. Perhaps on a second reading you will try out with two different tones of voice, the 4th couplet from the end:
a poem should be equal to:
not true.

Can a poem be equal to something else? Does the colon stop us, and the meaning guide us to think,
no, a poem cannot be equal to anything -- or is the "not true" the enjambed weight of the unpinnable
"not true". And how clever-- MacLeish has set up half the couplets as rhyming, half the couplets as not;

The old rule of "show, don't tell" couples with the sense of the unrhymed "A poem should not mean/but be."
But read the syntax in which it is couched: For love/the leaning grasses and two lights above the sea-- i.e. a poem includes images for abstract or universal things of importance.
A poem does much more by being, using rich diction, unusual images, like "night-entangled tree", things that are understood intuitively, emotionally, philosophically that elicit multiple associations: a globed fruit; sleeve-worn stone. But read the syntax in which it is couched: For love/the leaning grasses and two lights above the sea-- i.e. a poem includes images for abstract or universal things of importance.

On Thursday, Connie brought up the example of teaching her high school class symbols, and they didn't think symbols were of importance, just as poetry and symbolism were something unnecessary. She took the American flag hanging in the classroom, threw it on the ground and stomped on it. The students were appalled.
What's the problem? It's only a piece of cloth with some stars and stripes she said-- and promptly had them understand how symbols work. So it is with this delightful poem.

Marianne Moore: She would have been 26 in 1913, and eager to put into practice the new modernism of the Armory Show and the spirit of Ezra Pound who encouraged poets to break all rules to "make it new". In this poem she plays with rhythm, and repeats catchy series,such as first stanza:
pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter. // or in the penultimate stanza, "Cow's milk, tiger's milk, soy milk, carrot juice".. She sprinkles rhyme, along with names of baseball greats, and the reader enters a game,
invited to join the "I" in the first stanza in answer to the question, "who's excited". We watch the "we"
of a team the battle of pitcher/catcheer... individual players (Each. it was he).
One person came up with the sense of time as pitcher: future; batter: present; past: catcher -- and the fact that in baseball catchers tend to be the best hitters, as they are observing each hitter, signaling to the pitcher how to craft the pitch.
There is a difference between enjoyable and memorable. This parody of poetry contains poetic elements, but seems to brush with the personal fun the poet is having in a way that is clever, but not as long-lasting as the MacLeish.

Elizabeth Alexander: The title is worth dwelling on. Why #100 for this Credo? As we read the poem,
it seems a simple amble, through an omnipresence of poetry, starting with the delicious word, "idiosyncratic" which has multiple definitions (self-indulgent, characteristic, peculiar, unique, etc.) and ending with the human voice, and a question put quite simply: "and are we not of interest to each other?" Poetry indeed, slows us down.

The final two poems, selected by Terrance Hayes for the 2014 "Best of American Poetry", a series founded in 1988, demonstrate the power of a poem to allow a thought to find form, sound-- language as Gary Snyder would say "that brings you in community with the other." Control? When I don't have any thoughts,/I want one!

It launches a discussion about a collection called "Best" --
David Lehman's forward acknowledges the impact of technology on poetry -- that a tweet, with the 140 word constraint, and the "be up to speed" brings the clock into the game... Byte-sized poetry as a benefit of ADD! He calls on the 1959 lecture in which CP Snow points out the chasm between humanists and scientists.
And also FR Leavis' response in 1962 filled with invective against Snow. But he was right about one thing: the poem on the page, art in the museum, concerto in the symphony provide a bulwark to culture as we traditionally knew it. Leon Weiseltier told the graduating class of Brandeis in May 2013 to be careful-- as the digital age reduces knowledge to the status of information, and the devices we carry like addicts in our hands disfigure our mental lives. "Let us not be so quick to jettison the monuments of untagging intellect.

In 1888 Walt Whitman read an article forecasting the demise of poetry in 50 years "owing to the special tendency to science and to its all-devouring force." (Whitman responded that he anticipated the contrary -- a firmer, broader new area will begin to exist.) In the 2011 issue of Ploughshares, is an article about the 3-story "Sentenced Museum" which resembles an inverted pyramid with the literature of self-reflection on the ground floor, the language of witness one flight up, and a host of "tangential parlors, wings and galleries."
In the back of the 2014 "best" each poet makes a comment about their poem. Lehman selects Dorianne Laux's: "Death permeates the poem, which wasn't apparent to me until I was asked to write this paragraph."

Eady (Rochester-born in 1954, MCC, Empire State College, who went on to win the 1985 Lamont poetry selection of the Academy of American Poets, has dabbled in works of musical theatre) doesn't comment on his poem.

Armantrout does: "'Control' begins with the experience of learning (or trying to learn) to meditate. The first stanza reproduces the instructor's advice that we should 'set obtrusive thoughts aside'. The 3rd, 5th, 8th stanzas develop my response to this experience while the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 7th stanzas present the obtrusive thoughts as fragments of the debris field of American media culture. For instance, I recently heard a politician say, "It takes an American to do really big things". He was talking about our space program, which, of course, is being systematically defunded.

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