Monday, July 20, 2015

Poems for July 13

Doing Laundry In Budapest by Anya Krugovoy Silver (ALP)
In Two Seconds by Mark Doty (May/June issue, APR, 2015)
Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy – Terrance Hayes (Poetry podcast)
Man by Thomas Sayers Ellis

What is it about poetry that makes it worth the effort to delve and discuss, keep listening?
For me, it's the power of a well-crafted poem brings me a mirror, gives me courage to express my own truth. The poems in this batch succeed in this way.

The first poem, combines a pleasure of sound, occlusives with sibilants, and marvelous ambiguities "my shoulders covered themselves in churches" -- where not only are the shoulders covered out of respect, being in a church, but as a tourist, the presence of the churches is worn, as magical as the sidewalk that "bloomed in embroidered linen." Ted Kooser mentions this poem as being one that "tells others what happened beyond the firelight" -- it is no travelogue, but rather a memory of doing laundry in a place most Americans would not, especially in a time period where money was not let out of the country. 4 lines for laundry; 2 lines for the marvels seen with tourist eyes; 3 lines for a memory link, doing laundry in the present, where the moment in Budapest is evoked, folded in, and the surprising 2 lines of the unknown woman pressing wild flowers. We'll never know the reason why -- nor even the reaction of the speaker of the poem -- it presses on our imagination, a sense of something fragile, wild, a once-was-ness usually out of reach of any tourist... but a sense of a bigger picture.

From there, to a longer poem, mostly in couplets, but in brief beads of verse, which string like a rosary of two seconds. Emily had the idea that we should use the poem as a letter to the editor, so I sent this (150 word limit on such letters) to the D&C.

"We live in an age of polarities and binary thinking which promote reactions as opposed to responses. How best to demonstrate the danger than in the following "must-read" poem by Mark Doty.
He takes “two seconds” as the point of departure in a poem about Tamil Rice and the policeman who shot him. Two seconds as measurement: “unmaking/the human irreplaceable”; the time conceive a life or make a decision to pull a trigger. This might have been enough for a poem, and we would feel the sense of tragedy. But Doty goes on to share a refusal to “to try on at least/the moment and skin of another,” not because he doesn’t believe this is part of the work of poetry, but so the reader also becomes complicit in hearing the voice “of that erased boy”.
Submitted by Kitty Jospé,
Moderator of “ O Pen”, Pittsford Library

I contacted Mark Doty, who was glad we were using it, saying "I would like this particular poem to reach as many readers as possible; thank you for helping that along."

We talked at length about the part of the poem where the speaker respectfully declines what he believes a poem should do. The honesty of expressing the difficulty of "wearing someone else's skin"-- it would be disingenuous to try to do so for a boy who did nothing, and was reduced to nothing, and forces us to look at our own role. He does not condemn, but makes it clear it was an awful mistake that came from an imbalanced reaction -- so this to comes to play-- how do we deal with reactive and dangerous actions, and teach a more balanced and thoughtful response? How do we fit in with the "safe act" and a culture of fear... are we not all responsible? And do we respect each life as unique and precious? All these questions arise, and surround the deep grief of the loss of one innocent 12 year old boy.

Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy by Terrance Hayes introduces "lighthead" seemingly inebriated, and troubled. The poem yoyos about in a ruthless and seemingly incoherent and stumbling manner, embracing a quest to prove that Art's purpose is to preserve the self... Here a strobe light on Molly Bloom's soliloquy on "yes" (which I read outloud, to give the example of the breathless, insistent and rising energy)and there, threads of sentences, which by themselves seem to make perfect sense: or do they? What sense lies here: "I know all words come from preexisting words and divide until our pronouncements develop selves." This is not a "poem" or a "guide" "mean" but a plunge into a galaxy where we are invited to grab at partially recognizable "perceptions" following a guide who has imbibed "a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice". It's a romp, but a disturbing one.

The final poem plays on "a part of", and "apart", and love and hate. The sounds sweep us along in a Gertrude Steinish manner... but with a sense of a message, not just incantatory language play... Who belongs where, and what deals are made? Bernie shared research on all the names of the S. Africans mentioned, including "Moneydeala" as Nelson Mandela. The last line:
All American Apartheids pulled South. as in, pulled the wrong way...

We were all quite breathless by the end, grateful for the excellent contributions at which I can only hint here. I thank everyone!

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