Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Poems for Feb. 24-5

Poems for February 24
1905 – by Marilyn Nelson + Portrait
On Friendship – Hegit Grossman (translated from the Hebrew, by Benjamin Balint)
The Heart Is a Foreign Country by Rangi McNeil
The Golden Hills of California by Susan Cohen
Near the End of a Day -- Anne Stevenson
Frond by Wendy Battin(from Poetry, March 1996)

Although some thought “Blue or Green” difficult to fathom, sometimes ideas come “out of the blue” — thanks to discussion. And what if every poem were some sort of Ars Poetica… ? What does a poem do? How does it do it?

Calling a poem by a year, opens up possibilities for parallel lives, in this case, two extraordinary men: Einstein and Carver. The writing is a pleasure-- oxymoron of "wild-haired/gentle eyed", the elevated register of "quotidian" for everyday, finger-smacking-licking sounds like the "preacher-pleasing mock-fried chicken" which says so much more than what was on the table, internal rhymes, imagery (platoon of skinny dogs) and the brilliant end which ties in Einstein with the locked glance of Carver -- indeed a whole century ahead filled with transformations, learned at the "velocity of light."
In the Rundel discussion, the 1905 Cotton convention came up, and the 1906 Atlanta Riots, and issues of race and history of lunchings, etc. What we remarked on the writing was how beautifully Nelson pads each sentence to say much more than one meaning.
2nd stanza next to last line: “free themselves” is not just about being a slave to coffee… ,
3rd stanza: “shoulder to shoulder” is not just about students/assistants in the cab, but working together, just like the internal rhyme of “braid/raised”, for through community connection, they could raise the standard and rise above slave conditions.
The glance meeting the eye is powerful — eye to eye, connecting — and the brilliant “velocity” (Einstein reference to speed of light) where light is more than the physics, but enlightenment!

The next poem has long lines, which slide into a recounting of a moment. Rules... and when not to follow them... Written in 2nd person, it is as if the woman narrator is talking to herself,
aware that a friend wouldn't come by for no reason. “On Friendship” announces an essay, and we were curious how it would be in the Hebrew original. There’s a sense of mystery — who are these people in this vignette couched in terms of conditional? Is Merhav a proper name or Arabic for “welcome”? The meditation paints a scenario of what will happen if you invite someone in if they call out to you, how precious that is. We loved the repetition at the end of “sublime” — rendering a simple, possible “quotidian” moment as something approaching sacred. The moral of the story that friendship is one of the most important things to honor. The common things, (pineapple juice, a little conversation) and the adjustments (the clean shirt, dealing with the children) support the offering.

The note to the McNeil poem sets a wry tone with a sense of humor. Why a tercet followed by a stanza of five lines? Perhaps like translating English/Danish, black/white, male/female
the heart is more than familiar, universal tendencies... just as words too have individual layers ... He chides himself, and acknowledges there is not guarantee -- the world "owes us nothing". And yet, how free is that -- equivalent to a specific parameter... "Wednesday".
The title reminds me of Pascal — “le coeur a les raisons que la raison ne connaît point” (the heart has reasons, reason cannot know) — rather like the contradiction of “familiar”(personal feeling) and “universal” (Reason). I love the juxtaposition of the world being an independent agent outside of us, and our business is to choose. "Call it:” The short, succinct sounds of a choice as opposed to the meandering and long first paragraph.

The next poem was a beautiful metaphor for what we consider to be the "fabled" "Golden State"...
and how light... repeated as first word of the first two sentences, becomes "it", at first sunlight, then fire... the sh sounds predominate -- burnishing torching, shingle, latch, ash, combustion, and the final word in poem, "crushing". All that gold, and burning. However, it's hard to see burning as crushing except in the sense that both transform, and produce some good after the damage is done.

The delicacy of the Anne Stevenson repetitions, which slow us down, allow a slow unfolding as one thing is confused for another, butterfly/leaf; feather/fur and the idea of a cyclic process, reassuring because of possibilities which metaphors give.
The “f” sounds float in the choices… butterfly,feather, but not in caterpillar and wheels of life, where the reassurance is the sense of discovery. The repeated words, “leaf”, “feather” — what falls, is discarded yet also part of living also will repeatedly fall.

The final poem captures the Zen spirit of "one-hand clapping" , and again, the subtle repeat of "Applause. Applause" as the final word which could not happen if a twin frond had not appeared !
The first stanza reads a bit like a riddle (How can there be a cherry without a stone), and it takes a bit of work to see that the frond has first cradled, then left the "globe of water". Who could discard a drop of water that can hold the sun as it rises?