Friday, May 8, 2015

poems for May 4

Blessed Be The Truth-Tellers – by Martin Espada
Doha Thing Long Thought and Kind by Alice Fulton
The Shoots by Shane McCrae
Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye
Synchronicity by Pat Janus
Ode to Love by Jennifer Militello
As long as we are not alone-- by Israel Emiot, transl. by Leah Zazulyer

The classical adage of the 17th century that great art should honor truth and beauty and send a moral message does not exclude the view that literature exists to communicate significant experience, in a concentrated and organized fashion. In the case of the first poem, the foil of Jack the Truth Teller around a story of getting tonsils out and the lie of the ice cream, does not embrace "beauty" per se, but rather the figurative beauty of someone who is not afraid to call the shots as he sees them. Is Jack a Jesus, a tough guy, and does it matter, as we think what truth-telling means, and whether we too lie, line up good intentions to cover up the "bits of glass" in our snowballs. I love the cleverness of adopting the tone of Beatitudes, "Blessed be... for they shall..." in the title, only to jump to different observations contained in each stanza that bring a patchwork of vivid voices. as full of flavors as metaphorical ice cream can promise. The particularities of being twelve, the schoolyard banter, the bravado before the operation, countered with the blunt voice of Jack, the casual mention of Johnnie the ice cream man who allegedly sells heroin, the snow of 3 Kings Day, the truth of the tonsils and lie of the ice cream, and then the end: What does it mean that Truth-Tellers will have all the ice cream they want -- the hoped-for comfort, as imagined by the boy, or the real "Holy Guacamole" of choosing to expose ice cream for what it is?

The question always arises about what is temporary intrigue in a poem -- isn't a poem's job to look at the ordinary, the contemporary, allow us to contemplate it with a different, unhurried lens? Does Espada do this? Is it pleasing? Memorable? Not everyone thought so.

The next two poems had explanations by the poets. I think this helped both the poems, and one question to consider is how much we need to know about the poet, or the stew in which the poem is simmering, and how well does the poem stand by itself. The Thursday group came up with the idea that we had to work really hard at the poem, especially linking the broken lines, figuring out ways to link a gift as risk, guess, task, test. Is it two voices in schizophrenic dialogue, a study of aphorism -- "long thought and kind"
in the title, joining the repetition of "long thought and kind of.../clumsy. Why a gift? A lesson in the arbitrary nature of gifts? A warning not to depend on them? A reminder that spiritual wisdom needs you to dig for it?

The Monday group felt compassion for the poet/father writing Shoots. Here, the line-breaks supported the emotion. It puts the onus on the reader to connect his thought, especially without the help of punctuation. Months.... he.... months go...
possibly I might understand, but "months he ago" with no space is difficult. I love the idea of "a he ago"...

We certainly enjoyed Naomi Shihab Nye's "Kindness", reading it line by line, with a beautiful threading of sound and a depth of understanding revealed gently. What is required to understand it. How different from the idea of "the gift" . Before... repeated three times... it is only kindness... repeated three times.
It reminded me of Kahil Gibran's saying that Joy and Sorrow are part of the same cavern -- the more sorrow carves, the more room for joy. But there is a difference -- this is not a dualistic comparison of Joy and Sorrow, but kindness as a response that is learned by accepting and staying with sorrow.

For the Poem Synchronicity, Thursday's group thoroughly enjoyed it, and engaged in a discussion of confirmation, choosing a new name, exploration of faith and what willing to do, to become this "who I am".
The second line, "lost" can be verb, as in lost the battle; or adjective, as in a part of the self that strayed away, both of which fit. The two sentences thread down in a vertical string of succinct words.
Lovely example of effective simplicity. Monday's group was more focussed on discussing synchronicity, both as title, and what it means to be synchronous -- synchronize an old and new me. Some of the thoughts: someone comes into our lives... and you take on a role in their life you hadn’t previously played... that’s synchronicity; it enhances everything when we feel synchronicity. a sense of a choice everytime we make a friend or don’t because we feel in cahoots, or don't. A little bit of "When the student is ready, the teacher appears...

Monday's group didn't spend much time on the "Ode to Love" but certainly the final poem in translation gave rise to discussion. We will look forward to having the translator, Leah Zazulyer come June 16 to discuss it.

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