Wednesday, July 1, 2015

O Pen : Poems for June 29

The Thing Is, by Ellen Bass (see June 18)
Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings by Juan Felipe Herrera
ORAL only :
Kiss over Zero by George David Clark
The Untied Stales by Paul Hostovsky
Always Something More Beautiful by Stephen Dunn (see June 25)
In Love, His Grammar Grew by Stephen Dunn
Brothers in Arms by Carl Phillips

We had discussed two of the poems, and this is where I enjoy the variety of two different groups, rather like being a teacher with the same material taught in two different sections, or even teaching the same book from year to year, but never ever repeating the prep in quite the same ways.
For Ellen's poem, everyone appreciated the uncomplicated way she deftly moves through the body, from the visceral "no stomach for it", to holding a face, looking deeply into the eyes of life, as if to peer beyond the physical-- nothing fancy, a plain face, without sacred violet eyes, but the inexpressible whatever it is about doing that, that allows you to love life again.
The ambiguity of "body" -- as in the physical body, or the normal person, the " you say, yes, I will take you" which could be both yes, I will say these words again, or, yes, I will feel the sense of these words again. We spoke as well of the difference between sadness and depression, and the title. The thing is... as both cliché, but also, emphasizing "is" -- the thing being love.

We skipped over the Herrera -- no one chose a favorite of the 10, but I mentioned his energy, the flawless English which can melt into flawless Spanish, and the discussion came up about how a National Poet Laureate is picked...

I do love the group though. Today, I picked poems which made us laugh no end! It wasn’t the poems themselves, but the camaraderie of the group, who took a poem called “Kiss Over Zero” with these opening lines:

anything over zero is zero
anything over one is itself

Imagine 14 different people giving explanations of what the 11 couplets mean – from stories of romances and marriages gone sour, to admiration of mathematical genius.
some said, "an intellectual exercise, no feeling which ends up as nonsense... we don’t know what anything means... others, a little negative (double negative...) and one summarized it as a fun night of casual sex...
How do you read this line: and the minute hand eating its tail --
the clock's minute hand, or the tiny hand of ... well... an ouroubouros? Intriguing, and the more time we spent with it, the more we found.
for instance this couplet:
"the memory of laughter
is a lamp over one"
do you pronounce the stress O'ver one,or, over ONE? Can you hold both meanings?
The footnote mentioned the inspiration of the poem coming from a course in translation and a line in Bei Dao* where one student read ‘over’ as shorthand for ‘divided by. So, a misty poetry, is behind it all -- and how does THAT change the reading?

The Untied Stales... or shall we say "slates" or skate over the unbound ties of united...
a small gem of a poem. The choice of verbs leads us to politics... bleeding/ spilling... and David brought up Elizabeth Bishop's poem, Geography. The adverbs describing the child scribing the title of her map brought forth ideas of childhood as well.

We found reading the Stephen Dunn poems line by line more gratifying than stanza by stanza, and a second reading of course allows a chance for repetitions, tenses, sounds to work their magic.
See comments about 14 different people giving explanations. Always Something More Beautiful” also had a variety of opinions.
Is it a poem about a jogger running a race... a simple progression of the pursuit of beauty, perhaps odd, perhaps daring, or something someone else remarks, saying “beautiful” “as if something inevitable about to come from nowhere is again on its way”.

In Love, His Grammar Grew by Stephen Dunn reminds us of the relationship between grammar/glamour about which I just heard Mary Szybist speak. The rules of grammar, told as a love story, is beautifully executed. The one short line, which starts after a sizable indent "... For love," makes it clear love making every bit as amorous for language as for the body.
"/he wanted to break all the rules,/light a candle behind a sentence/named Sheila,"
Does it matter who Sheila is-- or simply the fun of a named run-on sentence and knowing she is "queen of all that is and might be", created by the largesse of grammar.

The last poem "Brothers in Arms" by Carl Phillips also ripened, read sentence by sentence...
What kind of comrades...what sort of struggle...Echos of Gertrude Stein who when asked, "What is the answer" answered... no answer... then what is the question." Phillips seems to struggle to reconcile himself with himself in the poem, although any allusion to being black and gay is not evident. Some of the enjambments feel awkward, but perhaps that is the mood of the poem.
The key, "gratitude’s the one correct response to having been made,
however painfully, to see this life more up close.", one senses is something he cannot feel.
There’s a rumored
humbling effect
to loss that I bear no trace of." with "humbling effect, far to the right, is immediately refuted: "It’s not loss that humbles me."

By the time we arrive at the ending lines, it is not a feeling of bitterness, resignation, but a quiet acceptance: "Not knowing exactly what it’s
come to is so much different from understanding that it’s come
to nothing. Why is it, then, each day, they feel more the same?"

As ever, such a gift to share insights. Thank you all for participating!

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