Friday, October 30, 2015

poems for October 28-29

Frequently Asked Questions : 10 by Camille T. Dungy
The Gaffe by C. K. Williams
Fall by Edward Hirsch
Self-Portrait on the Street of an Unnamed Foreign City -- Jennifer Grotz

What expectations and assumptions do we bring to poems? How does a poem share associations particular to the writer, and how do these match those of the reader? As Doris says, the answers we give are formed by the questions we ask.

So we start with Dungy's poem. Apparently, even if we didn't know, she's had a lot of offensive questions. There's a universal on which to hang the personal. Most of us have had a few baffling questions that invade our boundaries. It's one thing to ask genuinely, "could you tell me a little about you and your family" vs. the question #10. "Do you see current events differently because you were raised by a black father and are married to a black man?"

What? What are the circumstances, configurations, motivations and agendas in this question?
I love that it takes a poem to answer such a question. A poem which takes grackles, those invasive, noisy, crop-destroying birds, as metaphor for people who ask such questions.
A mob of them... that attack the feeder... the mess of hulls they leave.
Let's just dwell on that for a minute -- a literate person who knows the latin name for the common grackle prepares a "complement of unanswerable questions". The hulls are like empty shells of guns... and the tongue-in-cheek response of the (black) father, mentioning a different kind of seed... well, what if only racist-spawned look-alikes and populars were around...
The language trips us to a certain frame of mind, and the intention of grackle attacking is "hurtful loud". Paul noted that the sheets could be white... as the husband remarks "crackles", and the crackle of the sheets pulled apart, and the static that stings.
Details such as longevity of a black man, less than that of a white... and the passerine claws,
the father, facing back, the poet, her husband and daughter facing forward... are also grackle,
bright within their blackness.

A deft and brilliant poem -- and there's a podcast to go with it, with a reading by the poet followed by an interview.

CK Williams passed away in September just before his 80th year. I picked "The Gaffe"as a tribute to him, as it also deals with questions --when are they appropriate, and how to put them... and when. How a comment cannot be taken back, and leaves an indelible layer. Mike shared how people try to correct themselves in front of his blind daughter, although what has been said doesn't bother her. Story after story of a "gaffe" rolled out... how among the layers of ourselves, is a recriminatory voice. How does one deal with grief? And don't you want to tell the child in the poem, that it is common to laugh as well as cry when someone dies and it's all part of the cathartic stop and sob, sob and start. All we want is someone to explain... we just want to feel we haven't made a gaffe... The poem itself offers a compassionate understanding, not a flip "welcome to the club" but a sensitive understanding for the someone you are, not yet you, always with you, as you are, who keeps on to be the you, you will be.

The pairing of the Hirsch poem to Marsden Hartley painting is a totally different conversation -- and many felt it didn't correspond to the feeling tone of the poem.
We read it line by line, which further slows down the unfolding of a poem, allows repetitions and sounds to sink in. Definitely a feeling tone... not just a description, although there are plenty of adjectives. How do they do their work? the maples are "long-haired" with "veiny hand-shaped" leaves. They embellish different ways red enters the picture, in the season of "odd, dusky congruences"; the bruised cloud; winter's hard revision; twilit pockets; brief, startling moment...
invisible and weightless are not connected to a noun...and there lies a key to the poem..
the pause in the middle of a long walk home... the touch of fall, as metaphor, as season, as change; changing.

The final poem had a poet's statement which begs the question -- is this necessary, and since it is there, does it help understand the poem ? Are poems meant to achieve something?
Is it "registering what it feels like to pass through time"? I was reminded that any poem is an act of courage, and much as I might lend a critical eye, it is important to try, in this case, to see as the self-portrait is seeing. Glimpse, surface, look. Loneliness and the enigmatic "you. I only wish that last line were not there. It's as if the speaker of the poem could not get out of the way, and we are left with an anonymous portrait. No real details... of the street or anything to elucidate " Myself estranged is how I understood the world.
My ignorance had saved me, my vices fueled me,". Foreign indeed.

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