Saturday, November 7, 2015
Poems for November 5-6
The Exile by Michael Wasson
How the Milky Way was Made by Natalie Diaz (From American Poet, Fall/Winter 2015)
The Circus Animals’ Desertion by William Butler Yeats
Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (mock medieval ballad... 6 feb. 1888)
Permanently by Kenneth Koch
Sop Préacháin [A Crow's Wisp] by Aifric Mac Aodha translated by David Wheatley
I am so glad to see American Indian voices in the Journal of the Academy of American Poets!
The Exile demonstrates the power of a poem to make this point: If you cut out the native tongue, you make a culture disappear. The crafting is intriguing, with the long open spaces,
a sprinkling of Indian words (with translation at the end of the poem) and choice of a footnote-sounding epigraph at the beginning (mention of the Chilocco Indian School, Oklahoma, 1922 and the words of the disciplinarian).
I find myself wanting to copy out the poem-- with notes. It MUST be read. If you haven't read it, get a copy of the Fall/Winter 2015 issue, Vol 49, and let's hope it appears in Poets.org.
To give you a flavor:
The words in the Indian tongue (not identified) translated in the first section:
just in sudden silence;
sound of bones and flesh;
sound of a mouth breaking;
And then the image of a season disappearing, layers into the cutting between a victim self and oppressor self in two languages in the second section:
"half an autumn
rusting the edge of winter that is
knifing between me & 'iin" (the pronoun "I" in this Indian language)
"you& 'iim 'ee" (the pronoun "you" with emphasis)
This is followed by a mini-drama, "boy/ have you forgotten us"
indeed it is NOT what the oppressors are saying --
but then, there is a subtle hope -- this is almost a century later, and the "choreography of bones" is followed a third section that starts
"mouth your birthplace"
with this sprinkling of words in the native tongue (at the heart; intimate word for mother;
The penultimate section -- "You are torn & you are what song fills... " the color of carved out tongue..." (again the ampersand used for the dual "duel" of English and Native American)
And finally, after "the unbreakable/taste of ash/blown among the stars
the "Milky Way", known as "the ghost's trail -- which shivers with embers able to keep alive memory of those who were persecuted, speaking a language that is "brightly echoed."
The final word in the Native American is "The Ghost's Trail/Milky Way" and these two lines:
"so, there had to be breathing
there had to be."
A very different celebration of Native Indian traditions, is the poem by Natalie Diaz.
She makes the point that the incorporation of native language is more than a craft choice, (language, verb,) or some "naked" folk-art, referring to something ancient, primitive and dead.
When she performs poems, she is commended for a "good reading" -- as if she didn't "toil over her poems, but simply performed her nativeness".
"... poetry is a place to remember, a place to challenge the world, elegize our loved ones, a place to be hopeful and grateful, a space that simultaneously encompasses the past, present and future."
That being said, Her poem is more than a "creation myth" and indeed, the crafting is evident.
The short staccato bursts in the opening couplet; the sounds of the fish, "up there they glide, filled with stars... god-large, gold-green sides... galaxy road... hundred-thousand light year roads"; the moon-white belly, breast, sweet milk body, throat, thighs of the milky way,
how Coyote "unzipping the salmon's silken skins with his teeth"...
A blend of cosmic with overtones of politics of water, exuberance and desire, a feel of living endlessness...
The Yeats poem has a primal feel among its many layers, in spite of the end-rhyme.
Three parts; Parts I and III only one stanza. Part II three stanzas. Curious that the first line "I sought a theme and sought for it in vain"-- and the middle line of the last stanza
"old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut..." do not have end-rhymed counterparts--
and yet, "vain" is repeated 3 times in stanza 1 part 2; "old" is repeated five times--
the line before "Old iron", (Old Kettles, old bottles) old is replaced the third time by "broken", keeping the dark O.
Again, it is hard to resist the temptation of asking you to simply take out this poem --
note the repetitions, (how clever, how the sound of 3rd line of the first stanza, "broken man" is repeated in 4th line final stanza "broken can"); note how Stanza 2 + 4 are all end-rhymed; Stanza 3 has end-words "destroy" and "enough" that have no rhymed counterpart;
Such craft choices are not random.
I love the metaphor of "circus animals" -- the things caged and put on display -- but loses in his brain... the way one tries to recreate epics and preserve heroes... but what does a poet
do in climbing a ladder towards the sacred altar of "big P" Poetry?
Without the ladder, one returns to the essential emotions. Foul is a strong and unusual term but the counterweight to elevate it, lies in the heart (where all ladders start).
No more need for lofty epics, myths. Words don't save our epic heroes, and perhaps as Auden said in his elegy for Yeats, "poetry makes nothing happen". Yet Yeats also wrote "to the cracked tune that Chronos sings, words alone are certain good"... Perhaps here, we go back to the line about "Players and painted stage took all my love,/and not those things that they were emblems of". Start again... use those poet-tools... ground them in the heart. This is a meditation from an older, wiser Yeats on what all this (life, poetry) is about.
Jabberwocky... ah! The pleasure of the sounds of words! Frabjous can indeed be fabulous and joyous; Uffish, a bit uppity and offish, a fuming and furious match up in furious, but even without stretching "suitcase" words, one understands the epic story: The proud father welcoming home his son who has slain the monster... Paul gave us the story of the girls who wrote Lewis Carroll to have permission to use "Jabberwocky" as name of their newspaper -- especially appropriate as wocor has its roots offspring and jabber as – excited and voluble – much excited discussion -- although Carroll worded it more masterfully (see Websters). What I like best of all, is remembering how our senior High School class threaded the poem in our yearbook... and Elaine shared that her class had a newspaper called "The Bandersnatch"! Oh Calloh! Callay!
Permanently is a brilliant poem -- not just personifying parts of speech -- but using them to demonstrate relationship... with a pun on the only adverb used as title "permanently" --
nothing is... except the announcement of something that is... back to Yeats' rag and bone shop of the heart. The singularity of a kiss... helps untwist the contradiction of conjunctions which by nature should not be lonely, isolated as single words... and the shifting sense of nouns, flavored by adjectives... the power of the verb to drive sense...
back to the Indian poems about what lies in the root of our tongues and mouthed from the heart.
For Pittsford, we closed with a delightful reading in the Irish the poem by A. McGee
or so Paul said that's how you pronounce Aifric Mac Aodfha. This opened a parenthesis about
Gaelic script – how the Celts brought it from Baltic... development of the language. How silence improves lipstick...(I wrote that down -- but relationship?) and definition of a crow’s wisp... woman a man has dropped... some other crow will snatch up to add to its nest ... Africa is Poetry editor of the Stinging Fly...
The translation was witty in and of itself, but did not mirror the original in the last stanza
There’s no thanks, and no-thanks-but-frisky—
If that makes me Adam, then you must be ...
Perhaps that's why the poem in the Irish original had the final line in English
"No thanks, I’ve read the Bible."
We could have spent hours more discussing. For Rundel, we didn't discuss the first or last poem, which allowed a more thorough appreciation of the Koch.