Wednesday, January 20, 2016

poems for January 20 + Jan. 28

Over in Montana by William Stafford
Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czeslaw Milosz by Matthew Olzmann
The Milosz Poem that inspired Olzmann: Dedication by Czeslaw Milosz
Cartoon Music by John Ashbury
Radical by Marianne Moore

I have interspersed a few comments from the Rundel Group below.

For the first poem, I had received this comment: "I especially enjoyed the Stafford poem and his treading in an out of iambic pentameter, the extension of which seems to add great heft to the final stanza." Rhythm is indeed important and dictated by stresses. It is interesting how Stafford varies both line length, but also enjambment. In the third stanza, the break enhances the action of the trees stretching out:
" ... Limbs
reach out. They touch and shiver."
allow a sense of physical stretching out.

In these line breaks, however, he creates a suspension, a chance to hang on to one meaning before its completion, like waiting for a surprise. How would you end these phrases:
They know what is
up where
They make
millions of

That fact that they invite multiple meanings seems to echo the sense of vibrancy.

what is.... coming.
up where... it's clear
They make... their strange signs

Assonance, rhythm add to a personified Winter unfolding in this visit to the big sky country.
There is mention of a house, but the grandeur of nature overrides any interference of humans.
Rather there is sense of a meditative reflection of a great story like Noah's ark... and all the parts of nature listen. We are included, and thus reminded to reflect on who we are "in our little lives".

A closer study of the textures of sound also enhances the sense of universal aliveness of "a great story", that continues in spite of Winter's "stop"-- the "dead" leaves cluster, actively. Perhaps the stars look to be in a rigid pattern -- but they sharpen, glitter.
a few examples -- but there are many more!
short i/long I:
winter, visit, is, listen, wings, in, shiver, glitter, rigid, millions, little
silent, gliding, nights, wide, lives

ch vs. sh: reach-touches/brush;
the liquids,aliterations
the sibilants alone and combined with st, sh, str,
more assonance..
hollow / burrow

The next two poems start out with the same two lines. Whether discussing Poland, WW 2, universals of human nature, city schools, and in both, a sense of impotence in the face of official lies... rhetoric...
"You whom I could not save,
Listen to me."

The opening lines sound like a confession will ensue, and yet neither poem takes that direction.
Rather the "shoulds" and wrongs done when we haven't followed their moral dictates, bring out the complexity and grief of untenable situations. How do we get ourselves so mired in wars, disagreements, perpetrate injustice and hatred pinned on a racist notion that one is better than another? Of what use are our words?
And yet, from the discussion, we agreed the words were so well put, they allowed us to speak,
share and by doing so feel a sense of salve as we face the unresolved and painful discrepancies of how the world could be but is not.
"That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim..."

Late -- too late? or the fact that we need many years to develop understanding as we open door after door... poetry allows a special consideration of what is on the other side of the door.

Ghosts will go away if there is nothing left for them to do...
classic image of ghost: coming to tell us something...
Emily reminded us of the poem by Mark Doty, "In Two Seconds" we discussed in July about the
boy shot by the policeman...
Don brought up the American “dream” as a myth... with the country built by the blacks...
and more discussion on human beings, politics, countries at work.

Dedication, was written soon after the occupation and destruction of Warsaw. Perhaps it an homage to those who died from one who survived. In it, Milosz acknowledges the difficulty of speaking about the unspeakable, dedicates himself to writing poetry that will grapple with history and memory.
But there is also another angle. If the "you" are the Nazis, "those who infuse hatred into beauty, blind force into accomplishment," then the writing is for them -- may they never visit again.
The second stanza gives hope: What strengthened me, for you was lethal -- Milosz aims for simple speech, images that are undisguised,open. He does not hammer a point or rant but quietly places his words on the grave, for the future.

“Do I wish none of this happened? Yes.” – Gov. Andrew Cuomo. This epigram's context is the hullabaloo on common core and teacher evaluations...
But it applies as well to the Milosz and Olzmann poems.
Reading the Ashbery poem line by line makes a wonderful collage of seemingly familiar words, with
a tongue-in-cheek, commentary with sound-alike words, a little French, and "buttered ramekins" out of context... that never are filled. The title and epigram set a humorous tone.

"You’re not going to have any trouble.
Standard stories of unrest drag on.
Was that a painful moment?"

Ashbery delights in such catch phrases, puns, contradictions."Buzzword conversation"-- but how do we understand it?
Is it painful to read? Perhaps if you stop and think about what lies underneath. Opposition to women's reproductive rights; gays' rights. Aging, disguised with ice cream and mirrors, safety and sickness, standard unrest... Perhaps as one participant says, the poem mimics a politician caught in the cartoon, side-sapping responsibility, so he'll keep his job.

How do we frame what we see, what we read? How do we share what we think?

The Pittsford Group ended on the radical as root carrot, read sentence by sentence.
the strange line breaks like mon / poly (-- mon oh! pole?)
stand / ing
con /
ditions of life pre /

It reminded John of Elgar's Enigma variations: Who was the one with broken speech? And gave an imitation of Wm F. Buckley...
One can look up the poem and read "The poem shows many of Moore's best features: a syntax most readers have to work to decipher; careful if whimsical descriptive phrases, marked by colliding comparisons ("tail-like, wedge-shaped"); a moral at (or near) the end. (Moore's stanzas and lines count syllables, rather than metrical feet: All four first lines here, for instance, have three syllables, and all second lines have nine.)"
It seemed a suitable fit to the others. Radical... this idea of poet as root vegetable...

So much more to say and recount. Read the poems and comment please.

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