Friday, August 26, 2016
poems for Aug 17
The Black Woman’s Tears Swap Meet Is Open Every Day by Douglas Kearney
My Luck by Joyce Sutphen
Enemies by Wendell Berry
The Chairs That No One Sits In by Billy Collins
To Tell of Bodies Changed to Different Forms by Jorie Graham
Note with the poems: For those of you who missed David’s selection on Wordsworth, you missed a good discussion on the thoughtfully-prepared material he prepared. The discussion did not seem to want to leave what poetry is , can do— and how it has changed…
This week, we looked at how some contemporary poets “walk a line”… and the taste of contemporary poems of very different flavors… What would Wordsworth say? Frost? And you?
I treasure the insights shared in these weekly discussions.
Poems for August 17
The first poem is a masterful elegy that maximizes on the possibilities of the English language sounds (homonyms, load/lode;) and spellings. “Tears” can be noun, verb, or both (torn calendar tears) and is supported by the unusual form, where sentences have an unexpected cut off, just like bursting into tears for no reason. One person noted the large
amount of white space through which the black letters fall. The “unfinished” phrases, omissions (“she peers/through the wide between her &. “) contrast with a sense of on-going, ceaseless quantity of the amazing variety of tears.. The truncated “she always finds them in the / finds them in / finds them,” mimics a sobbing, persistence which echoes the “run-on” where tear is a “run” in a stocking. The rich metaphors and descriptions of tears, including , a multiple choice pick of tears, slant allusions to Helen of Troy (whose eyes launched the ships) and Cassandra, where tears sink the ships...
is masterful. One person commented, like “jailhouse rock”; another felt the rhymic pull, like a call and response. Rattle a scabbard of tears... tears of Mondays, Marches, 29ths, 91s, 83s – calendars-full until “wicker bin choke, shredder hacks”.
Although it is a black lament, and one feels the history of slavery, mistreatment, Kearney
paints a history of grief – who would you like to swap tears with – is someone else’s sorrow any easier to bear – or just part of the endlessness of grief.
I asked people how many ways they could pronounce the title of the next poem (by Poet Laureate of Wisconsin (check)
My Luck. Neutral descriptive. my LUCK. vs. my misfortune. MY luck – as in woe is me... Tongue-in-cheek, fun because of the element of surprise, but also you trust the speaker of the poem, even though the examples seem improbable that she knows something about luck. Carmen brought up the Chinese story about what seems like a misfortune (the son breaks a leg) but turns into a blessing (but therefore, does not have to go to war). What happens is simply what happens, and luck, perhaps that ball that hasn’t dropped yet, but very well could.
The Wendell Berry poem is quite cyclical – what is an enemy? What happens when you try to love them as yourself, -- can we love what is our enemy? Forgive ? But what exactly is forgiveness ? The poem starts with equal sorts of opposite monsters...
The key seems to lie in the brief moment described as “sun on a green branch”.
Free from them... all is well, until you think of them again... understanding you are both kinds of “monster” – indifferent, or unable to love your enemy.
The next poem Billy Collins could have referred to as “The empty chairs” or
“The vacant chairs” or even “Why you never see people sitting on their chairs on the front porch” , but he is more clever than that. “The chairs that no one sits in” doesn’t include “any more” – but simply invites us to wonder what people would look at...
if they did sit in them. Evocation of quiet/ Beauty of twoness... But on a second read, it is quite clearly a “waiting for death” poem.. He leads us gently to the turn when the clouds are “high and massive” when he imagines what is deserved to be looked at... Perhaps a tongue-in-cheek pondering about what the sound of one hand clapping could be – in this case, the sound of looking, wondering if the anthropomorphized details of the two bird calls might be joy, or warning.
Is life then, simply a case of distraction while waiting? Best not to sit in a chair
if this thought depresses you.
Jorie Graham picks up this idea in her free-flowing poem. It reads easily although it covers several pages. Although it feels to flow in a stream of consciousness, nothing ever stable – even the “subline with massive firm edges” – quickly followed between dashes “albeit under erosion” – like “men at work” and things “under construction”. Aren’t we all – and as soon as we think, we know what we are dying to be, (this question posed twice) we already a forced to “withdrawal from an occupied terrain” – the who we are then, is already replaced by the who we wear now, soon to be replaced.