Wednesday, June 3, 2015

poems for June 11

The General Law of Oblivion – Thomas Lux
Dream Lens
The Horse Poisoner by Thomas Lux
Old Japanese Mask
The Coming of Good Luck by Robert Herrick
Ballad of Orange and Grape by Muriel Rukeyser (see June 8)
Slaves of Hope Live Only For Tomorrow – by CAConrad

What does a poet born in 1591, (died October 15, 1674) have to do with contemporary poetry?
Worse for me is the memory slip -- someone recently in a contemporary poetry review mentioned Herrick, and I can't for the life of me remember why. In this state of tabula rasa, I hang on to the power of a well-crafted poem. Does it matter the nationality, the time period of the poet? What is in the poem that is so ramrod true the reader's subjectivity cannot alter it?

I had originally slated the first four for June 4, but we got involved with a discussion of translation, and the dual layers of poetry: imagery, literal levels; vs. subtle effects of form, music, suggested meaning.

Lux refers to Proust's "cookie" with a slant reference to Billy Collins... but for those who do not know Proust's experience with madeleines, or know even what this cupcake is supposed to ressemble to the tongue, what good is it? How does the poet interfere with the poem or allow the crafting of the poem to carry the multiply-layered message ?

June 11:
What expectations do we have of words, and especially, words in a poem, where we hope to find supporting evidence of craft?
How much background is necessary for enjoyment, for instance in a poem with a title such as “The General Law of Oblivion” and the opening reference of “Proust” ? What allows a reader to feel included or frankly, ignored? The fate of the poem, depends on such considerations as something memorable enough to be read again, shared with someone else.

Last month in Pencil Marks, was a fine review by Carol McMahon of God Particles by Thomas Lux. Indeed his tone “swings between poignancy, irreverence and satire” and his poems do indeed give pause. I picked one from with a reference to Proust from this slim volume to contrast with The Horse Poisoner a recent Tom Lux poem which appeared in the May 2015 issue of Poetry. Both have intriguing titles that stand on their own.

What tone is implied in The General Law of Oblivion? Is this supposed to be funny, supported later by the clever enjambment that demonstrates the nature of semi-colons
(“the period//that leaks”)? Is the general disdain for Proust the best way to “zero in” on the pain of forgetting expressed in simple terms: “it breaks my heart /that I am going to forget you”. Did Proust indeed associate memory with oblivion or merely point out that portraits and photos are as subjective and imperfect as memory? And why refer to the French cake called Madeleine, dipped into the herbal tea which unleashed Proust’s memory, as a cookie? Billy Collins used it more effectively in his poem, The Lanyard.
(No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past --)
Compare with Lux: “And I am so godamned tired
of hearing about that cookie!
As if he were the first (first fish were!) to notice
the powers of the olfactory!

Oblivion as noun, is often associated with the strong verb, “condemned to” as opposed to a vague and rather nebulous noun such as memory, often associated with the adjective, “fading”. Indeed the title gives rise to thought, as the poem points to the dangers of self-absorption, the the use of “zeroed” as a verb, circling the bullseye of the hurt of forgetting. Although he doesn’t mention it, the last sentence daggers in a truth about aging, dementia, the slow effacing of such dreadful diseases as Alzheimer’s, and vanity of thinking, no matter how famous a life, nothing is here to stay.

The Horse Poisoner by Tom Lux has the tone of a wry, somewhat cryptic story teller, although the actual story seems just a notch into far-fetched – and why the last line of the sugar cube mixed with the carrot? A little Madison Avenue, or an LSD trip?

Dream Lens started out in the reality of cooking, but took a sudden turn into the surreal, and the final line asking “what to make of such mystery” does not include the reader, but rather leaves the reader hanging.

Japanese Mask, people enjoyed as a cleave poem and Jim mentioned the word persona means mask, so a person, bears a mask, separate from the ego.

I loved the staggered lines, the fragmenting of the word “ab/str/action” where abstract is divided from “action” as a brief echo of “hope” as something separate from any here and now. Interesting the picked flowers was read as “pickled” flowers...both have a connection with gathering/preserving what is over. How do you wake to dream?
Does this poem satisfy you with such an ending?

How different the marvellous poem by activist poet Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980). The title gives a sense of old-fashioned story – will grape be related to farm laborer? How do we look beyond word, misappropriated color? The conceit allows a discussion of politically correct verbiage for difficult problems of race, violence, injustice, war, peace.

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