Sunday, October 25, 2015

Poems for October 22-23

Keeping up with keeping up:

What attracts you to a good poem? Sometimes, we can identify echoes of other poets, sometimes, in the act of translating from one language to another, we "steal" a different glimpse of universals both as readers and writers.
In October’s issue of Poetry, last week, we read the William Jay Smith, this week, a memoriam to Charles Tomlinson, and poems that are inspired by translation,
including an adaptation by Franz Wright from the original notebook fragment written by Rainer Maria Rilke in Spain, 1913, a lengthy poem by UR Professor James Longenbach inspired by the 15th century Italian 1st booke of the Courtier of Count Baldessar + Castilio.

from "Dark Honey” by Reginald Gibbons
In homage to Osip Mandelshtam
Eye Test by Naomi Shihab Nye
The Dream – by Naomi Shihab Nye
Flyleaf by Michael Gessner
Fourteen Lines, Resisting by Lisa Zimmerman

see October 23 review of Reginald Gibbons.

By using the terminology "good poem", I realize I have entered treacherous territory.
What is a "good" poem? Can it bridge both individual preferences for what satisfies the ear, the eye, and soul and meet a level of universality?

I am eager to read Reginald Gibbons newest book, "How a Poem Thinks". In workshops I've attended, tricking the "self" out of the way, so the poem can guide the way, provides a good exercise especially in the review process. Does the sound support the sense? Does the poem want a special or restricted audience, and does that matter? Is the form/pattern pleasing? Is there something surprising? etc. Garrison Keilor in his introduction to "Good Poems" says this about the poems he selects to read on the radio. "Most poems aren't memorable, in fact they make no impression at all. There are brave blurbs on the back cover... but you open up the good and they're like condoms on the beach, evidence that somebody was here once and had an experience, but not of great interest to the passerby."

And then, he also admits, sometimes one is dead wrong... I agree... after several readings and thinkings, or in the case of the Gibbons poem, where I could not help but try to find out more, as the poem tickled my puzzling bone, a poem seems to take on a life of its own, and to return to Keilor, "offers a truer account than what we're used to getting."

Naomi Shihab Nye does this with "Eye Test". The use of the word "test" instead of chart allows the first line to evoke school, and the letter D, for poor, and the desperation of the student who receives it. Letters mirror back to us desires and traits. We stumbled on the repeated story, story,/Can you read me-- until the lack of pause (like P between thoughts) where story
bumps into the interrupted question, "story, can you read me?" because of the line break,
mimics the difficulty of "reading" someone else. The secret? It is not thumped out or explained. How do we befriend a squinting boy? How do we deal with our fatigue of meaning nothing to another?
What an amusing way to sketch complicity of letters and a boy into a message of hope.

Her next poem, "The Dream" also addressed the commonplace, the idea of a dream that flattens... whether in sleep, in the subconscious or what the first stanza sees to set up, the dream that you wished for, which hits you when it becomes true. It's not just a "be careful what you wish for" as an exploration of what dreams open up... the persistance of dream... the largeness of a dream that calls forth a part of you, perhaps forgotten. The second stanza plays the pronouns, of I and you. "I liked it better before" allowing the "you" a presence that could both be someone other than the reader of the poem, as if eavesdropping on someone else's dream, or a more objectified internal dialogue between dream and dreamer which invites in the reader of the poem.

The "In Memoriam" (no title) brought us back to the theme of another poet facing death, or writing about writing and how to preserve it. "It" is a powerful pronoun... It points to poetry, but also something mysterious and unnamed. Don pointed out the ear rhyme of "Gauds" and "Gods"... how easily "haven" could be "heaven", and "Hallows" as "hollows".
How many ways can you read "Without excess, it betoken haven, an ordering, theAs darkness held but not dismissed." What is gained with the words in parenthesis, in this case, barred from entering the poem? We thought of the ox-head A in the Gibbons poem, plowing furrows in stone... but in this case, the process of an individual -- sealed... preserved after death...
I don't mean to paraphrase. This poem is enjoyable to read, examine from many directions.

Flyleaf, was an interesting reflection on how a book is put together... with a bit of discordance for some in some of the images. We all pronounced "creation" to test out if it crinkled... but the "twig that bows" took some of us out of the poem. Perhaps the poem could have ended without the 4th stanza.

I would love to steal "angels jostling in awe" and the round syllables.

I was of two minds with the Zimmerman poem.
On one hand, brilliant personnification of sonnets, their constraints, and a conversation between form and content. Not pretentious, and a clever way of addressing the difficulty of saying the truth. On the other hand it felt a bit like an exercise... and the vague reference to missing a teenaged boy and mother did not pull at my feelings.
Who... blue... son/guns.. sisters and insisted... lose, choose, find, kind as crossed end lines are good, but is this enough to really evoke empathy in the reader?

As always, many angles for a rich discussion in both groups.

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