Friday, February 5, 2016

Poems for February 3-4

Mud Season by Tess Taylor *
Lessons by Vanessa Stauffer ***
Magnifying Glass by Tim Sables *
The Layers by Stanley Kunitz *
Between the World and Me by Richard Wright

*discussed at Rundel 2/4
*** will be discussed at Rundel 2/11

We have discussed so many different approaches to poems... role of the title, role of line length (and breaks), images, and even how a poem will read differently because placed in a certain group of poems, which for big picture people allows categorizing commonalities one might not see. We experiment with how we read them -- stanza by stanza, line by line, sentence to sentence so the syntax plays against the line and listen to a group of 20 or so different voices all adding to the "voice" of the poem waiting to be woken by sound.

In this grouping, a moment looking at the garden tangle in winter (mud season), origami and memory, ants, and how we treat them, a meditation on the many layers of a self walking through life, and another "embedded memory" of narrator/persona stumbling on evidence of a lynching, and then being in the midst of one, one could argue there is an over-arching theme of "layering". However, the take-away point that came up is that poems come alive by what we bring to them, and by sharing them in a group, we see things we might not see reading them on our own.

The point is reinforced when I share the same poems with the Rundel group, much smaller, and more diverse, comes up with different angles. It reminds me of my teaching days, how even though the subject was slated as the same, the class composition changed the game plan. If you are part of one group or the other, I hope you will forgive me that I lump the comments-- and perhaps consider this blog yet another follow-up discussion.

Starting with Mud Season. For those gardeners, the very title evokes Spring, getting ready to plant, and the clean-up of all that wasn't completed before winter set in. Metaphorically, mud season
as loosening of dirt in snow-melt and rain, is a "loosening" stage, arriving in the last stanza at a sense of what lies outside of us, loosening in "wild unfrozen prattle"-- the r's and l's called liquids, are also a "foreign liquid tongue" -- seductive, and flowing, but clearly not tamed, or able to be pinned in words. More than one person picked up on the effect of the "un" words -- onstage, gunplay, unfrozen, the sense of the season undressing, and a visceral sense of lurking fertility. The rich texture of words, the substance added by adjectives, choice of strong verbs, add to a mood of sensory
vibrancy. The poem takes a turn exactly half-way through the poem, splitting the 4th couplet. From prodding things in the ground, the sky takes over with the starlings and rain. Wonderful mood capturing muddy March, a foothold in Winter, but so wild with anticipation of Spring.

The next poem Lessons, uses origami as a starting point, a “universal truth” followed by something witnessed woven into a personal reflection and the reader is invited to speculate on both with multiple ideas of what is implied by the choices at the end. In Origami, one of the first things you learn is the crane --a symbol of remembrance/ healing. Another lesson I remember learning is my grandfather's lesson on lying: he folded a piece of paper, showing that when you unfold it the line is still there. This demonstrate the power of words,
which once said, leave their trace, even if you want to retract or correct them. Stauffer picks up on this with a memory -- we don't know why the girl is going under the fence, and maybe the speaker of the poem does, but the fact that no details are given point to the fact that the point is not the story of the girl, but the fashioning of memory. The girl "folds herself under the fence" -- but what memory will she keep of the why -- and what curious choices:
"locked out, or being made//

to break herself in".

Is "Lessons" a good title? The opening line gives the first lesson: "To crease a sheet of paper is to change/ its memory," The other lessons? the unspoken lessons of a school, the consequence the girl will face, the observation of the speaker of the poem about her own memory, and the poem itself, offering to us, a lesson, upon which to reflect on our own lives.

Magnifying Glass, one of the "eco poems" in January 2016 issue of Poetry is a long,largely monosyllabic, skinny poem-- with two "spots" where an extra space appears.
It begins with "No one" -- which could be followed by "no one + noun would..." but is that true that no one would pass judgment on someone stepping on an ant? Note the verb is "burn your name" -- and suddenly my mind whirs with childhood memories: step on a crack, you'll break your mother's back... jump-rope jingles like "Susie,susie, higher, higher, or you'll set your pants on fire. Again, marvelous use of adjectives: careful antennae (vs.our careless footsteps, not mentioned), our "shoe" next to "six legs/almost rowing/it along".

Read the poem -- examine the line breaks, the layers of meaning.
Who/ line break, stanza break... would be upset...
The questions: Do they / dream / anything? No / one should -- line break, stanza break.
How many/books have they/read?--- that/brain a virtual /speck.

The overlaps are legion. The we vs. them. Do they dream... is different from "do they dream anything." the space for a speck after brain, like the unmarked mark on your soul
if you / mash one...

Is a bug really a "nearly/less than/little thing: at most/ ?

Who would -- now the conditional joins the subject, but the next line, out of context could be someone telling you "curse your life"...
Bless the adjective handsome, next to brittle, for the description of head.
Whose? Both ant and human?

People were drawn to confess killing bugs, ants, shake fists at carelessness and lack of curiosity! What is magnified here? Just as in the passage in the Merchant of Venice, "does he too not bleed..." -- what is your attitude to the other. Cited also was
E.E. Cummings' poem of the poisoned mouse:
and E.O. Wilson.

The next poem, we read line by line, and I asked what words/images pulled at each person.
"scavenger angels"; the heart of the poem mid way "How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses" (with oxymoron...) the turn at "Yet I turn, I turn...
every stone precious to me... "nimbus-clouded voice...
The poem gathers momentum to the message "Live in the layers, not on the litter"...
a poem written by Kunitz in his 70's and a reminder indeed, we have many lives... and that "you" is a moving target -- as well as our memory of who we are. "God will not ask you why you weren’t Moses... but why you weren’t you." A sense of reincarnation.
Coupled with the ballets "The Swan" perhaps the slow unfolding of the swan up to its death is a fitting aural and visual accompaniment.

The final poem, "Between the World and Me"by Richard Wright, like the Origami poem, recounts a lynching, but then, the speaker of the poem experiences it as it happens to him. The song, "Strange Fruit", made famous by Billie Holiday, was mentioned.
Bernie sent me this link: -- which refers to the song as "a haunting protest against the inhumanity of racism. Many people know that the man who wrote the song was inspired by a 1930 photograph of a lynching of two Indiana African-American men." The article explains that Abel Metropol, a white Jew originally write a poem called "Bitter Fruit" later setting it to music. Carmen further paraphrases:

Like most of Meeropol's life and work, "Strange Fruit" was unabashedly political in its ambition. After two failed attempts in Congress to pass an anti-lynching bill
(in 1919-22 and in 1934-36), copies of the song were circulated to 96 senators "accompanied by a letter urging passage of the bill so that treatment of minorities
at home would not diminish American influence abroad."

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter cry.

Carmin noticed in the lyrics there two words that are changed depending on the singer. "Some use "sweet and fresh" and others "clean and fresh" after scent of magnolias. .... last line "here is a strange and bitter cry" - others - "here is a strange and bitter crop". The original poem used "sweet and fresh" and "bitter crop" -(which rhymes with drop). Rather unimportant data in light of the revolutionary message".

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