Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Poems for Nov 11-12

My Life Was the Size of My Life by Jane Hirschfield
Samurai Song by Robert Pinsky
I have not disappeared by Major Jackson
There's Nothing Like the Sun -- Edward Thomas
Small Philosophical Poem - by Anne Stevenson
Arrowhead by Tasha Cotter

We read through both the Hirschfeld and the Thomas, line by line. I love how certain poems invite such a slow procedure... voice after voice chimes in. In the case of the Hirschfeld, it underlines the phrasing, the recurring commas and periods, on each line until the 10th:
"It ate, it slept, it opened/
and closed its hands, its windows.
How might this spot in the poem prepare us for the unpunctuated, breathlessness:
we could not keep/
our hands off our clothes on
our tongues from

The tick-tock sameness of phrases, sentences has gone; the predictable s-v
disappears without a verb in the last three fragments. I find the conceit humorous --
as one would not ask, "what size life do you have", or "what kind of rooms feel "room-sized" to you? Imagine, each soul, the same soul-sized, traveling through the everydayness of traveling.
Why are length and depth different than "size". The poem invites me to ponder on what parameters determine my life-- how am I part of determining it, working with it, and then I remember hearing "I'm sick of my life" -- what makes us say that? It's not the same as "I'm sick of living"... perhaps it takes leaving, trying out someone else's life-- but finding nothing to add -- only the hunger of appetite... without spelling out desire.
Some labeled it dramatic... tautology... [(I had to look it up: (rhetoric), a self-reinforcing pretense of significant truth. Tautology (grammar), the use of redundant words. Tautology (logic), a universal truth in formal logic.]
Pleasing, playful, but serious, and even reassuring...

The Thomas also used commas, periods, two hyphens and one colon which gives a sense of "stop-start". It also allows a slower pacing, and accentuates the enjambment:
whistling what/
once swallows sang. But I have not forgot/
that there is nothing, too, like March's sun...
the rhyme is unusual
abab//cdeecffd gg hh i g-2 g-2 i

Note how he works the title, completing its phrase in three different ways:
There's nothing like the sun : 1) as the year dies; 2) that shines today; 3) till we are dead.

The negatives are also interesting: "Yet never shone the sun as fair as now" introduces the rich alliteration of sweet-last-left damsons... spangles of the morning's sort drop down... This is a beautiful moment of flex and compression, rhythmic variability. In David Rivard's article in APR, he notes how these lines have "something of the heightened perception of a haiku." and quotes John Ruskin's famous comment about painting: "composition is the arrangement of unequal things."

The starling, a well-known mimic also brings to my mind Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds", flocking and attacking. replaces the "cheedeep" of the graceful, swallow, known for its aerial-courtship. To quote Rivard again, "Hearing it, you feel the truth of Pound's claim about space and time being stretched by an image."

"That there is nothing, too, like March's sun" -- the "too" falls in a strange way, followed by the listing of all the months, all with equal days, (unlike the child's rhyme to learn the unequal assortment of days)... how are they all different from November?… I return to the phrase, “Yet never shone the sun as fair as now”… That he is caught in this moment, instead of merely describing it, he makes the light of the sun that much more precious “as the year dies”. The premonition of death is clearly there; we know he will die in world war I in 1917 -- but how wonderful that he felt the warmth of the sun, heard the song, witnessed the sweet ripeness.
Moments like these are precious, and I feel grateful for those who share them.

For Samurai song, the repeating anaphors, and juxtapositions (roof/audacity; care/order; temple/voice; tactic/strategy) verbs associated with nouns (eyes listened/ears thought/absence of thought/waiting; no enemy, body opposed work to create a portrait of the detached Samurai life. The one place where there is no "when":
"I have /no priest, my tongue is my choir. calls attention to the loneliness, the terse discipline, reliance on a strict internal discipline.

I find it an intriguing poem, but am left wondering why Pinsky wrote it, and what he wanted readers to find in it.

For Major Jackson's poem, the anaphor, "I have not disappeared" works well, especially when it disappears in the 6th and 8th stanzas. These are the two places there is no "I". It is interesting that lists the poem with a different title: "On Disappearing".
David offered, tongue in cheek Mark Twain's quip: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” But, here, one senses the weight of the Black American life, the "shrug of a life in a sacred language" (poetry). Yes, the poet shares with the reader how he goes into his depths and being... a mysterious journey, but many felt too long and wordy.

Anne Stevenson's "Small Philosophical Poem" has nothing "small" about it -- as potent as any size glass of doubt! She is a clever daughter of a philosopher, and clearly enjoys playing with double meanings, and two well-placed "but".
It is tempting to go through line by line, and explain, here, I see this... here I understand that... how much should we be thinking about Jungian terms, or power plays of Dr. Animus, vs. his untitled wife, Anima; yin and yang at work... how do you read "there" when the plates lie
(do they negate truth, or simply placed) there and there -- "just where they should lie."
Who gives that conditional imperative? He eats his un...
In the version on the internet, it did read "pour his a small glass of doubt" -- but it makes more sense to read "pours him..." What is observation of him, (smacks and cracks) and what is conjecture (the world is pleasure of thought" passes into what might be. And that second "but" arrives, announcing Anima's hunger... she fills the room with love. And fear. And fear.
Twice. Brilliant and fun, and not at all self-evident.

The final poem evokes American Indian tales... a slight difficulty in two places for the syntax. Arrowhead to understanding the word enemy? or Arrowhead (title) To understand (cut the gerund) the word enemy.
But what about the arrowhead? Instrument in hand (whose hand... ) Tiny monster -- is arrowhead also?
Strange little poem, perhaps with intentional "non-sequiturs"...

However, wonderful discussions!

No comments: