Sunday, June 21, 2015

Rundel: Poems for June 18

The Thing is, by Ellen Bass
Blood on the Wheel, by Juan Felipe Herrera (new US Poet Laureate)
An Irish Airman Foresees his Death, by W.B. Yeats
Prayer of a Man in Snow, by Israel Emiot (tranls. by Leah Zazulyer)
Wound of Faith, by Dane Gordon

I love a poem that touches me, and have the feeling that this poem, without any need for analysis or explanation, is telling me something I am so glad to hear. So it is with Ellen Bass' poem. How simple to say, "The thing is to love life..." but it wouldn't be believable for me without her set up of the first sentence winding down 5 lines. It's the delight of pausing on, "The Thing Is" -- and wondering, but what exactly is this thing, and how would I pin one major thought as "the thing" and then falling onto the first line, "to love life" which repeats, "to love it even" and then start the "when's". Three times, "when"... no stomach for it, when grief sits with you, when grief weights you... and the heaviness of grief also winds into textures of heat thickening, heaviness of water, into an "obesity of grief". Three times, the word grief. I love the last sentence, also wound into five lines. Love this poem, so effective in its 16 line package, reminding me of Kahil Gibran's metaphor of the heart being a cave carved out by sorrow, therefore, larger to fill up with joy.

But words like that lack credence is said too glibly, too easily. It's like a composition by a great composer. Sure we can isolate the tune, but it's the harmonies that tug at our heart.

I picked an older poem by our new US Poet Laureate, filled with anaphor, "Blood" (45 times, not counting three times, "Tiny blood", three times "It is blood time", "What blood", Only blood.
We discussed the voice -- the "how of the poem, if the overuse of the anaphor risks boring the reader, or if the idea of "boring" as in drilling a space, a hole, to force the reader to think about the price of blood, the pulse of each person's blood, the livingness of blood, the shedding of blood, the truth, violence, conflict of blood. If this poem were a painting,
I would see reds splashed in dramatic, chaotic lines, crossing the border with Martin Luther King leading the charge along with other brave voices that have the courage to speak.
We concurred that the occasional rhyme seemed incidental and didn't interfere. If the repetition bothers us, perhaps the poem's strength is to push us to think about what we close our eyes to.

We read the Yeats, written a century ago, in the context of WW1, and voice of the Irish airman... which brought up other famous airmen poems. The close clip of the meter, the crossed rhyme keep emotion at bay like the airman, who suspends judgement about who he loves and hates,
the prophetic "waste of breath" of the years to come -- the pernicious waste of war, how human beings have always waged it, always will, the useless rhetoric around it offering explanation.

The Prayer of a Man in Snow, if read without a context, could lead to an understanding of a child, and obviate any sadness. However, knowing the suffering of Emiot in WW2, the gulag experience, the unjust persecutions, snow becomes the mask -- the whiteness being an erasure of life, an empty, unguided loneliness. How even numbers attach to snow, are replaced by it.
And what if your life were reduced to one, cold, isolated, sameness? I shiver at the power of this poem.

We ended with the title poem of Dane Gordon's new book, Wound of Faith.
One question for a poem like this, is how the eye and ear will work together, depending on the reader. The short lines do not ask to be read as enjambments, and depending on the reader could feel fragmented, jarring, or simply add a breathless quality to the ideas.
Indeed, we forget we made a decision... and here, I wish the poem would give us specifics, instead of staying in the speculative realm of philosophy. Is it the "wound" of faith -- or the branding of our decision about faith that marks us? In what way does faith wound?
What deep experience has the narrator had that brings about such a poem?

Hearing the poet read on Sunday, June 21, and again speak with the O Pen group in Pittsford on Monday, June 22, we found out that this title poem came from a couple who he counseled as they explored how to repair a relationship broken from the start. There was no way, except to end it, which they didn’t. Could their sorrows, wounds, quieten enough to hear voices they could not have heard early in our marriage? Such questions are universal, as we imagine the worst... the best... even a defining part of our life. Important questions such as, whether peace can solve death... Dane expects in a year or two he might write a sequel. The person who has wound or flaw is what attracts us. Gives us faith, possibility.

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