Thursday, May 5, 2016

Poems for May 4-5

No theme binds the poem this week, aside from hubbub of National Poetry Month.
The first from Rita Dove's book, "American Smooth" (National Poetry Consultant),
The next two featured in "American Poet" new books;

Fox Trot Fridays by Rita Dove
Golden Oldie by Rita Dove (from collected poems 1974-2004; see NPR interview with her 5/5
Blue with Collapse by Thomas Lux (from American Poetry, Spring-Summer Issue 2016)
The thing is by Ellen Bass (a useful poem for condolences...)
The Poppies by Jennifer Grotz (mentioned in a book review in American Poetry**)
Forgive me by -- by Laverne Frith (Verse Daily 4/2/2016) (did not get to)
Autumn Passage -- Elizabeth Alexander (another National Poetry consultant)(did not get to)
Uncouplings by Craig Arnold (Source: Poetry (October 2008) (did not get to)
When the sun returns by Sarah Browning (did not get to)
see May 11-12 + May 11-12 supplement.

** Her newest book, "Window Left Open" (3rd and best collection whose attitudes and rhetoric can echo that of Larry Levis and Robert Hass. 'She doesn't want the language, she wants the something' is how Grotz ends an ekphrastic poem about Grease's "Boy with a lesson book".
That authentic something, that sense of how to live, remains a goal throughout the long lines and large pages of this relatively short volume. "Piano on top of the Alps" and "Sundials" symbols for poetry itself (Zbigniew Herbert), "do not make a shape themselves but rather inspire ideas bout shadows, about symbolism in parallel."

How did I stumble on Poppies? well... Paris Review, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.. who says:

"What I love about poems is how they change in the light of repeated readings. Now this is true of most art (and I guess most things), but because poems are (often) so short you can actually experience the change over a series of days or weeks of rereading, or even, still, over the space of years. When I first read Jennifer Grotz’s “Poppies” all I could tell you was that I liked its sound. I didn’t have any idea what the poem was about. I just liked letting the words fall off my tongue when I read it aloud. It was elemental, and I think almost every poem I love is like that for me. At a base level it just sounds good. “That’s how the rain comes” just sounds good. “Black pepper and blood” just sounds good.
Multiple readings eventually lead Coates from sound to sense, and he began to detect some of the ideas at work in the poem:
Grotz writes of our constant desire to tame the world, and even the righteousness of that desire (“shouldn’t we love all things equally back?”). She writes of the anguish that ultimately comes from trying (the poppies are beautiful but only “like the feral cat who purrs and rubs against your leg / But will scratch if you touch back”) and then, finally, our sadness at the whole thing. “Love is letting the world be half-tamed,” Grotz writes. I think you could say that about a lot more than just the natural world that she is addressing. That’s a lesson we’re constantly learning."

I find it interesting to know "where" a poem comes from -- which editor decided to choose which theme, and which poets to elaborate on it... what was the poet surrounded by -- what time, place, circumstance... how much of that particular allows any reader, any reader at all, to connect to some universal?

I'm also interested in connections such as a line from Jennifer Grotz, "Love is letting the world be half-tamed." (Poppies) and thinking about "Let it come/like wildflowers,/suddenly, because the field/ must have it: wild peace." This is by Amichai and the poem, "Wildpeace" was written between the period of the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Week after week, I cull my pick of poems, so often finding a theme... that depends on the threads of universals. What seemed to be a chaos of poems, swept into music...

But to discuss the poems in order:
Say the title -- Fox Trot Fridays -- like "quick-quick slow and" of Fox trot -- not easy to dance well as one of the smooth dances which changes tempo. The enjambements are delicious --
the opening couplet, where "tuck in" at first is self-sufficient applied to a day, but then, falls through the stanza break to "grief"... followed quickly by the fun of "lift your pearls (innuendo, girls, lifting chest -- but also white teeth, and all that you value...) Smooth, with the long O, simmered in the sibilance of "slow satin smile" -- "easy as taking/one day at a time" -- perhaps bringing a smile to the reader, who knows
that's not always easy... followed by a hint at creation... stolen entry into paradise, indeed, count your blessings... the sweep and space of a song, the wonder in it --
Don't you want to read this poem now, discover for yourself the multiple ways the words create magic?

In the next poem, also by Rita Dove, the speaker of the poem is "caught in a tune" -- a moment, hearing an old song, (listen to the Supremes singing "Baby, where did our love go")... The long O appears this time in "crooned"... also the last word of a series of enjambed lines evoking the lyrics sung by a young girl. The speaker turns the air conditioning off, as if to allow the heat of the moment (the lyrics "burning, yearning, whenever I'm near you" are not detailed, but you can feel the "young girl dying to feel alive"). But then, the "off" is enjambed through a stanza break where present and past blend in -- and the sentence continues through another stanza break, to possibilities in the future, echoing the "discover" hanging before landing on "a pain majestic enough/ to live by." Again,another brilliant poem by an amazing poet who gives us a feel of effortless balancing between opposites.

The set up of the Lux poem, with no breathing space and a discombobulating rhythm, long and short sentences, presents quite a different feel. The juxtapositions of "hope" as a last word of a line to the hyperbole of "Then I read a few thousand history books." is both ironic, funny, but also sad. I love his "lies"... his allusion to Othello -- who we know if affected far more than "a tittle, a jot".

Ellen Bass also does not let any space to allow breathing... The thing is to love life -- its tangle combined in one relentless mass: a declarative sentences, the repeated "when grief" ending in a question. A final declarative sentence.
Comments of the group: No stop... grief unrelenting... semi-colon... like sob... gasp...
sequence of images... things held dear... vanish... what left is weight..
Many remembered the Jo MacDougal poem we discussed a few weeks ago: This morning...
There are 100 places I cannot go. The only cure for grief... is to live life.

Grotz speaks of sadness... the kind that hides and lingers, without letting us in on why she starts with that... How the poppies lead her to questions... how she leads us with an enjambed "with unstoppable force" with not only a line break, but also falling through the white space of a stanza. She gives us scissors... of moth wing, blackbird, that allow us to transform the world... to reflect as she does on a disheveled stand of poppies in the sun about loving things back, and how clouds will come... and the reader can follow all this, without understanding.

discussion: Christian song, vs. the "There will come soft rains"short_story about nuclear warfare...
polarity... what we want to see in nature... vs. the duality of pros and cons...
sadness – recognition we control... Crow Climate: natural wisdom how humans idealize wilderness...
“Poppies” originally appeared in The New England Review.

We will continue with the other poems next week.

I love that Miles didn’t hear Herbie’s chord as a mistake — but as an event — just what was happening at the moment.

For mother’s Day:

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