Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Poems for October 14-5

I love what Naomi Shihab Nye remarks about poetry — that it celebrates curiosity about each other’s lives…
calling attention to the variety we access, looking through/into/out of/ a window of someone else’s world…
Why would we want to be with people just like us? how dull! Here just a sampling of different voices.

Ne'ilah by Marge Piercy
October Arriving by Charles Simic
Interior by William Jay Smith (from Poetry, Oct. 2015-- in memoriam)
Enough by Ellen Bass
Mosquito by Jane Hirshfield
Next Time Ask More Questions by Naomi Shihab Nye
Unfinished Business by Primo Levi translated from the Italian by Jonathan Galas

So, we start with a poem whose title in Hebrew means "closing the gate" and an invitation to ponder what happens in the Jewish High Holy Days, or any ritualistic beginning. A gate allows access, can swing in two directions, open, close, which echoes the first noun of the poem: hinge. We read it sentence by sentence, and most people did not hurry as one does in a sentence to complete a thought, but like the third line's "slowly slowly". Repetition such as I! I! I! loses power if hurried. The prayer-like "I kneel before what I love / imploring that it may live" pauses on after "I love", giving it the gravity a pause can confer.
Short lines with many I's, 3 mentions of gates (opening / (hanging) /closing swing to the first plural pronoun. We are not alone in our failing and broken promises. But this poem pierces to the core of the need to accept, recognize and hold the "sharp shards" of them. Powerful.

One person saw broken tablets of the ten commandments, the swing of the thou shalt, with thou shalt not.

Charles Simic, who wrote "poems at 3 am", shares a more interior, windowless poem for the speaker of the poem and the "measly ant". In the second stanza, there is a momentary confusion (reverse effect of Frost's comment that a poem provides a momentary stay against confusion!)
between ant and winter. Perhaps the variety of responses speaks to the multiple layers created. My question was how he "peopled" the rooms of each stanza --
first the speaker/ant... the idea of others not there, who instead of an ant, have religion, even clouds... Second: the possibility of winter (in October) and feel of loneliness, the only end rhyme in the poem: hide/decide; third: a continuation of indecision with a "he" that could be speaker of the poem, ant, against a blank wall (winter's white?); The final quatrain is filled with sibilant sound-- and unusual way of thinking of trees losing their leaves, the shuffle of them on the ground, perhaps death, that lies before the speaker of the poem.

Different people tried to paraphrase... or connect the stanzas, and the more we discussed it, the more people who weren't so found of the poem, became drawn into it.

"Interior" was first published by Poetry magazine in April 1957. (Curious that the other "in memoriam" for Tomlinson was also published in that issue.)
The first thing people noticed was the flavor of reading a series of Emily Dickinson poems such as "I couldn't stop for death, but he kindly stopped for me".
In the final stanza, there's an echo of Rilke's panther, and the amazing image of "life's veined ore" -- both lode, and loaded; (I think of Gregory Orr's advice -- load each riff with ore) and a return to gates -- but not like Piercy's, where everything hinges, and we are left holding sharp shards, but gates that open quietly, to reveal (with a final echo of Dickinson)a hearse, waiting. Very different tone than Simic's "sly, sea-surging sound" that erases!
Universe (taken in), Ocean (exterior), emotional Interior, perhaps a sense of being in a lighthouse;
The poem is irregular in rhythm, length of line, irregular, but noticeable rhyme. Again, like the Simic, for some the first response was "that it was jarring". And yet, the more you stay with it, the more you discover.

Jane Hirschfield's poem is a delightful exploration of pronouns. Here, Piercy's I!I!I!
lines up as a pair, sandwiches you, he, and I is astonished, as ice, by water...
the self-centered, with an ant (perhaps Simic's "measly" one?) who makes its own sound on the earth (have you heard it?) with the pitfalls of mis-reading...

The largesse in the Algebra: x (large whale); x (the tiny organisms it eats) told in "little Red Hen" fashion,
"solve for y -- says the ocean, then multiply by existence. Just like an unanswerable "why",
can we let a pronoun alone as it dozes? Which one does?

Naomi Shihab Nye likewise intrigues us to think beyond "I" with a thought-provoking title:
"Next Time Ask for Questions".
What happened? What is the situation that will have a "next time"?
The couplets string along like observations with advice as if someone is talking to him or herself. "...desperately thirsty people wait to drink ... when you say yes or no?... "I don't think so."
"When they say "crucial" -- well maybe for them"
What's good for you, might not be good for you... think before you leap... images of bungee jumping in Hong Kong -- and you would do this because... ? What is critical?
And there comes the hinge, as in the Piercy poem. Who's in charge of your life?
How do you mix the present moment, "I am" with all that has happened before it, the "where I wanted to be" -- perhaps like Smith's panthers in the brain -- pacing out the limits...

This doesn't necessarily mean you are happy that what you once wanted is what you want now.
But it's what you have, who you are... and an opportunity to think of what questions might help you for a next time...

I did not share the Ginsberg with Rundel, as there is a larger time constraint... This is the poem selected for Poets Walk, on University Avenue. Just as the title announces, there are 136 syllables, including the title. Rule-breaking Ginsberg, writes the lines as if a block stanza, but each should be read Haiku style — It reminded people of two versions of mindfulness inspired by blossoms by Li-Young Lee, James Wright, (not to mention Ginsberg’s “Oryoki”) and the power of the Native American poem about “going home”… also on Poets Walk.
(Li-Young Lee's poem on Poets Walk is called "One Heart").

Nor did I share Enough by Ellen Bass with the epigram by Arthur Rimbaud (from "Depart").
I actually disagree with Ashbury's translation. Sound is creating the "tunes" we hear, the sounds of the city are not just physical rumblings, but "rumors", based on conjecture, hearsay.
How to interpret "enough". Basta. The plenitude of what has been lived.

Enough seen….Enough had....Enough…
—Arthur Rimbaud

To start a poem with the word "No." Continue the first line: "It will never be enough".
This is a very different sense of "Enough already, stop."
The last line of Rimbaud's poem: Départ dans l’affection et le bruit neufs ! (affection – as in tenderly loved, not affectation; the adjective "new" is neuf not nouveau which means new to the owner. The word for "rumor" is also the word for "noise" and Rimbaud switches from "rumeur" to bruit" with "neuf" -- new, as in a “brand new—sense of discovery...)
I would translate it as "off into tender affection and new sounds".

Ellen captures the desire for more sensuous "thatness of that". Rimbaud's last line captures that -- no more "assez" -- but going into a new place.

Each detail feels authentic:
"Oh blame life. That we just want more.
Summer rain. Mud. A cup of tea.
Our teeth, our eyes. A baby in a stroller."

The matter-of-fact way she tells the suicide she views through the "small window of my laptop",
a man sitting at the table and drinking poison with his wife.

Haven't we all felt a version of "I've had enough"? And recognize the "and yet..."
note the stanza (and line) break:
"...And yet…

this little hat of life, how will I bear
to take it off while I can still reach up?"

I love the tongue-in-cheekness of "giving the body what it wants" -- oxygen...
then brings the poem back to the beginning.
But I must say no—
enough, enough
with more tenderness...

and an overwhelming interplay of images -- newborn and death.

The final poem, "Unfinished business" is a brilliant satire on "work". Or as Marcie said at first, winner of the "best suicide note". The job of living... the lost opportunities, the relinquishing of self-importance... Why do we accept to do the things we do?
Who is talking ? How do you recognize yourself in this accounting? What plans have you failed to do.

Back to gates. The hinges. Our choices. Endings.

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