Thursday, March 10, 2016
Poems for March 9-10
Aristotle by Billy Collins
Abuelo by Cecilia Llompart
Archeology by Katha Pollitt
In your next letter by Carrie Shippers
Untitled – E.E. Cummings ("next to of course god america i)
This week's poems brought up the topic of accessibility - and its corollary, what gives us pleasure in poetry. Billy Collins has a knack for producing accessible poems, but most, I might hazard the guess, come from a very knowledgeable ledge where feet hang
in the deep waters of "telos", that wonderful Greek term for an ultimate object or aim.
What is it we seek to understand, seek to practice, achieve in our stories? How do we tell the beginning, the middle, the end? Using this as starting point, Collins provides us both an ars poetica of the creative process. The images for the "anything can happen" are pulled from bible, science, a humorous jab with "the first word of Paradise Lost" (which happens to be "Of" [ OF MAN’S first disobedience]) the letter A, which of course is the first letter of Aristotle, and a reference to the opening of a play.
Does it matter that it be a scene of Endgame with the heavy curtain rising, or Hemingway?
Indeed, the poem has many references which could act as large parentheses to explore...who are Miriam and Edward, and does one need to look up the comments about Sylvia Plath's suicide or know the story of St. Clement? The poem does not require us to know that Aristotle was a famous Greek philosopher, interested in the theory of causes,
or even to know the term "telos" which can be opposed to "techno" or rational method.
However, starting the poem with his name, and ending it with a six line sentence,
"This is the end, according to Aristotle", having watched an opera and a climbing party progress from beginning to middle to end, along with countless details. But, if you probe the end too deeply, you might lose the charm. Namely, the end, as what we wait for? (hmmmmmm...) what everything comes down to (pun?), the destination we cannot help imagining (fear?, reassurance to imagine how we will die?) -- perhaps a streak of light in the sky... but he leaves us with something familiar. We all can imagine someone's hat hung on the peg... still there after they are gone... we all understanding about falling leaves.
Abuelo is a beautiful poem which pays hommage to a Grandfather, filled with repetitions of "it is / here is" but broken deftly with line break. Here/
is your body...
It is// broken second line, of opening and penultimate stanza.
The tongue is not made OF stone, but "is made stone" ; the heart, a stone...
There is a mix of accessible, but also a sense of distraction -- what is the fortress without walls? what overturns what because it has loved it most? The ending image of the sky lowered to walk with the departed is beautiful.
Katha Pollitt spells "archaeology" with the middle A, and in two stanzas gives us a "you" that may well be an archeologist himself, but perhaps the reader or writer as well. What do we dig for? The epigraph by Galas (President and Publisher of Farrar, Straus, Giroux, translator and fine poet who reminds us that most poetry is destined to be forgotten) reminds us that the essential is to dig deep inside ourselves. The piling up of the dry sands, winds, the shards, the "random rubble you'll invent" mimics the creative process, but also the piecing together we do as we live our lives.
Carrie Shipers is a new poet for me, and all of us delighted by her fine poem, which captures a palpable longing, and the "stuff" that indeed makes "no place like home".
One person referred to it as "an artefact of nostalgia". What do we miss? Why does that last line strike home?
McDougall, like Shipers, also follows the technique of using the title as part of the first line. The set up of ordinary, and the sudden appearance of the daughter who "steps out of the radio" and grief, about which we don't know much, but feel catching in the throat by the end of the poem.
The Cummings which blends patriotic songs in a breathless 13 lines in quotations,
completes the sonnet with a line describing the man delivering them, and his rapid swallow of water. Much can be said of the political satire here. Pittsford will open next week with it.